Friday, June 27, 2014

Land taken over by foreign investors could feed 550m people, study finds

The land grabbed in some of the world’s hungriest countries by foreign goverments and corporations could feed up to 550m people, according to new research. The crops grown on grabbed land are frequently exported, or used to produce biofuel, but the new work shows it could end malnourishment in those countries if used to feed local people.
Since 2000, at least 31m hectares (77m acres) of land has been acquired by overseas investors seeking to secure food supplies or increase production, a process dubbed land grabbing. Almost half has been in Africa, particularly Sudan. But Indonesia and Papua New Guinea have been targets too. Proponents argue the foreign investment can increase yields and provide development and employment, but critics say the grabs often occur without the consent of those on the land and lead to food being exported.
“Crucial to this debate is the knowledge of the magnitude of the phenomenon: how many people could be fed,” said Prof Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano in Italy, one of the research team. It found that, even accounting for the crops diverted to biofuels, the grabbed land could support 300m-550m people if yields were raised to the levels of industrialised western farming. Even without those yield increases, the land could support 190m-370m people, the researchers calculated.
“Policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields,” said Rulli.
“The world already produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people go to bed hungry every night, many of whom are the very people who rely for food on land that big agribusinesses are targeting,” said Hannah Stoddart, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam. “Stronger land rights are crucial to ensure that affected communities do not lose out.” She said investment in small-scale farming and more sustainable agricultural practices could reduce hunger for the poorest people.
The new analysis, published on Friday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, calculated the potential maximum crop yield from every known land grab deal over 200 hectares from 2000-2013 and then used the crop’s food calories to determine the amount of people it could feed. The analysis also revealed that while 43% of grabbed land is in Africa, it is the more productive land and more nutritious crops in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea that could provide the most food.
The researchers found many large scale land grabs are taking place in regions facing hunger problems and in great need of food aid. For example, land grabs in Sierra Leone from 2007-2012, were used to grow food crops for export, resulting in local people finding it harder to get enough food and work. In Cambodia, land grabs are leading to the conversion of rice fields to sugar cane plantations and the relocation of peasants to less fertile land.
“Our numbers raise some concern because the target countries have high levels of malnourishment,” said Rulli. “The problem is that there is often no policy in place to prevent investors from exporting the cropsproduced in the acquired land. If the land was previously used for subsistence farming, the situation likely becomes worse.”


Murdered journalist Hrant Dink remembered in Istanbul march (January 2014)

Murdered Armenian journalist Hrant Dink has been remembered with a march through Istanbul on the seventh anniversary of his death. The renowned former editor-in-chief of Agos newspaper was shot dead in broad daylight outside his work premises. 
Extreme nationalist teenager, Ogün Samast was convicted of pre-meditated murder and sentenced to 22 years and 10 months in prison for carrying out the assassination. But many people – including those on the march – believe higher powers masterminded the plan against a man who openly rejected Turkey’s denial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“Government agencies, both covert and public, are involved in Hrant Dink’s murder,” said one man on the march. “They’re now in a power struggle. But the case is not really moving forward. They’re trying to cover the truth up. They shot him together, they killed him together, they protected others together and now they’re covering it up together. Therefore, they’re all guilty.” The acquittal of top suspects in the original trial has since been overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals. Some suspects who had previously been cleared of instigating the murder – such as Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel – are now being retried.
The “Friends of Hrant Dink” organisation set up the march to call for justice in the unresolved case. It claims that almost all of the civil servants who were involved in the death of the journalist were encouraged by the government. Euronews’ correspondent in Istanbul says: “Hrant Dink was not just remembered on the seventh anniversary of his murder, but his friends and colleagues also called for justice. They demanded the trial of not only the man who pulled the trigger, but those who steered him to pull it.”

B G Kolsepatil - Why this deafening silence of the court? // MK Venu - BJP's treatment of Gopal Subramanium is a dark sign of things to come

NB - A fine article, sir. I fear the political forces now in office intend to do to the Indian Constitution what they are doing to our historical archives. The deafening silence you refer to is also apparent in the stance of those who assured us that our democratic institutions could resist such tyrannical assaults. But your article is a sign that citizens of probity can and will speak out - DS
‘(the counter revolution)… tried many forms and devices, but soon learned that it could come to power only with the help of the state machine and never against it... in the centre of the counter revolution stood the judiciary.’ Franz Neumann; ‘Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism’; (1944) 1963, p 27 
For the full citation scroll down
There is plausibly, even hopefully, an inter-institutional confrontation in the offing, between the executive, the most powerful branch of government in the world’s largest constitutional democracy, and the judiciary, the weakest and “least dangerous branch of government”, as described by Alexander Hamilton. This is over the decision of the Supreme Court collegium recommending the elevation of Gopal Subramanium, a distinguished senior advocate, and the purported reservations of the present executive.
First, the facts. In early May, it was decided by a collegium of judges of the SC that two judges of high courts and two distinguished members of the SC Bar, Gopal Subramanium and Rohinton Nariman, who had both served as solicitors-general of India and resigned from these distinguished offices for different reasons of principle, had been recommended for elevation as judges of the SC. Both are respected by the Bar for their finicky, even on occasion prickly, independence, the precise hallmark of a judge of the SC or, for that matter, any court in a constitutional liberal democracy. The only formality that remained was the ritual inquiry report from the Intelligence Bureau, as they were new entrants to the highest judicial service; there being no need for any such reports from the executive for those who already hold constitutional office. 
This is the law of the land, particularly in the aftermath of the ruling in the landmark judges’ case by a large bench of the SC [AIR 1994 SC 268] and reiterated by an even larger bench [AIR 1999 SC 1] that every candidate, whether a serving high court judge or a distinguished member from the SC Bar, recommended by the collegium has always been eventually appointed by the executive. The simple rationale is that judges of the highest court have better expertise in judging who is suitable to serve alongside themselves than the executive for, after all, the judges know more about law and justice than any member of the executive. Another fact that has gone unreported is that Subramanium, if appointed, would have had about 14 months as the chief justice of India.
The Central government, through intentional innuendoes leaked/ planted via the media, made known that there were reservations about Subramanium because of his purported lack of integrity. It was also risibly argued that this was based on certain CBI reports. But even after he allegedly made CBI officers meet the counsel for A. Raja, the then telecom minister and at the time a suspect in the CBI case, the CBI had engaged Subramanium’s services in several sensitive cases, including the Bombay bomb blast case of 1993, one relating to Dawood Ibrahim’s nexus with certain gutkha manufacturers, the demolition of the disputed site in Ayodhya and so on. And after he had resigned from his post as solicitor-general on grounds of principle, his services were specifically sought by the CBI. Further, if these were real doubts that the executive had, then it would have written to the collegium with the necessary confidentiality. It did not. It only leaked tidbits to justify a confrontation with the judiciary in a matter where the law is very clear.
The only ones who could have taken up cudgels on Subramanium’s behalf at this time is the collegium. It is yet to respond. Why this unseemly delay on its part? It is a settled question of law that the Constitution is what the judges of the SC say it is. Will they or won’t they defend him? This is a question that requires an answer.
More so in view of the institutional independence of the judiciary, reiterated by the SC in two concurring judgments that judges know more than the executive about who is suitable to be a SC judge. There are further issues of finer legality or propriety involved. Some respected members of the Bar opine that when the collegium had sent a composite list of four, the executive could not have segregated the same without the prior consent of the collegium. Was this done? If so, was it over a telephone call from the executive?
A famous American judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, once said that the only qualities required of a judge were honesty and courage, and no other qualities, because all the issues of law and facts of the case would be supplied by the counsel for the parties and where it was felt to be required, by the amicus curiae to the case. Subramanium is such a man, whom I can say, with all honesty and conscience, is one who listens to all, in his fierce independent-minded pursuit of the truth of the case so that he may be able to assist the court in the best possible manner, but who, in the end, only acted according to his conscience. This is why he was raised directly by the SC in 1993 as a 35-year-old as a senior advocate. His subsequent assistance to the judiciary was valued and respected by the Bar and the bench, which is why he was invited to join the bench in 2011. He declined this invitation on the highest nuances of propriety, because his relative was an SC judge at the time. The man had proved by the highest account that even as a lawyer he respected the institution of the judiciary, perhaps even more than the judiciary itself. Now, after he had honoured this latest invitation, after he had accorded his consent because his relative was no more a member of the noblest office, why is there such a deafening silence from the judiciary?
It is sad that the Central government is not showing respect for the institutional independence of the judiciary, a basic feature of the Constitution. It is also surprising that the executive should try to encroach upon the institutional independence of the judiciary at such an early stage, when there are so many other problems to solve. Indira Gandhi too made a vain assault on the judiciary by packing it with men she felt were more compliant and amenable to persuasion in a fit of hubris while basking in the afterglow of popular approval for her victory in the 1971 War.
It is necessary to appreciate the significance of judicial independence. The executive government is the highest litigant in the country, like in all other constitutional liberal democracies. When the executive is unwilling or unable to do justice, the common man can only throw himself at the mercy of the court, and the judiciary is expected to deliver justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will — in short, with independence, while always appearing independent. The substance of justice will be spoiled with the slightest appearance of cohabitation with the executive. This is the bedrock of our judicial system: “It is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” [[1924] 1 KB 256]. The appearance of justice is important to the substance of justice and its absence negates the second.
We, the people, who gave unto ourselves our Constitution, await the legal guardians of the Constitution to discharge their constitutional duty. Will the SC be able to take on the executive in this encounter that has been dared by the executive? We are with the SC in its attempt to uphold its institutional independence. We expect the judges of the SC to be men and women of the noblest character, who will respect their own judgement of the man they invited to sit with themselves.
The writer is a former judge of the Bombay High Court
http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-this-deafening-silence-of-the-court/99/

MK Venu - BJP's treatment of Gopal Subramanium is a dark sign of things to come
... the whole episode could even be an early sign of what might be described as the "Gujaratisation" of the highest judiciary. It is plain to the naked eye that sheer use of political power by the Gujarat executive in the past ten years had resulted in a certain loss of public confidence in the entire investigation and judicial system in that state. It was that loss of confidence that had resulted in many critical cases -- starting from those of the riot victims -- being transferred by the Supreme Court to places outside the state. If such a thing were to happen countrywide, god alone knows where this will lead us. One hopes better sense will prevail among those wielding the levers of power.
The killing in an alleged fake encounter of Sohrabuddin, his wife and later Tulsiram Prajapati, who was the sole witness, was one of the many cases which the Supreme Court brought out of Gujarat to ensure a fair investigation and trial. Subramanium has said in an interview that it was entirely by chance that the SC bench asked him to become an amicus in the case. Gopal says he was sitting in the court waiting to argue some other case when the judges,hearing the Sohrabuddin matter, asked him impromptu whether he would assist the court in that case. He agreed and did it commendably by bringing to light the Amit Shah link in the case. Indeed, if Gopal hadn't been present there, he may not have got that responsibility... It is clear that the Amit Shah link is what has created so much heat. Now the BJP government seems to be giving out a signal that its mandate in the 2014 general elections gives it the license to politicise all that the Supreme Court has done so far in relation to several Gujarat cases. There appears to be a mistaken thinking that the mandate itself might dilute many of those cases. Remember, the BJP has made the "people's court" argument before. It is not a coincidence that when Subramanium's appointment was being questioned last week by the Centre, the Mumbai special court judge dealing with the Sohrabuddin matter was chiding Amit Shah's lawyer for seeking Shah's exemption from appearing in the court on rather thin grounds. Subsequently news came this week that the same Mumbai judge has been transferred. One doesn't know whether this is purely coincidental or another display of BJP's newly acquired power...

On justice and politics: 
..Unlike administrative acts, which rest on considerations of convenience and expediency, judicial decisions rest on law, that is on right and wrong, and they always enjoy the limelight of publicity. Law is perhaps the most pernicious of all weapons in political struggles, precisely because of the halo that surrounds the concepts of right and justice. ‘Right’, Hocking has said, ‘is psychologically a claim whose infringement is met with a resentment deeper than the injury would satisfy, a resentment that may amount to passion for which men will risk life and property as they would never do for an expediency’. 

When it becomes ‘political’, justice breeds hatred and despair among those it singles out for attack. Those whom it favours, on the other hand, develop a profound contempt for the very value of justice; they know that iit can be purchased by the powerful. As a device for strengthening one group at the expense of others, for eliminating enemies and assisting political allies, law then threatens the fundamental convictions upon which the tradition of our civilization rests..
Franz Neumann; Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism’; (1944) 1963, p 27 <http://www.unz.org/Pub/NeumannFranz-1942-00027>
See also

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cinemas remove Sri Lankan film after threat

NB- It is a crying shame that a beautiful film made with great empathy for the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils, should be the latest target for moral policing and the censorship brigade which now holds all of India to ransom. I know the film-maker and also know he has often been targeted by Sinhala chauvinists because of his anti-war beliefs. It is a damning irony that he is now the target of our home-grown lunatics - Dilip

The film deals with the consequences of the civil war through a poignant love story between a Tamil girl and a Sinhala ex-Army man

A Sri Lankan movie, portraying the post-war travails in the island-nation, was on Saturday taken off screens after cinemas running the film allegedly received threat calls from pro-Tamil nationalist groups. The producers of the movie, ‘With You, Without You’ (Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka), an Indo-Sri Lankan collaboration directed by noted Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage, have now written to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa seeking her intervention to put the movie back on the screens.

“The film is a sensitive portrayal of post-war Sri Lanka and the consequences of denial of justice to the Tamil population. Instead of supporting the widest possible exhibition of this film in India, we are today witnessing the opposite and all because some stray people have decided without seeing the film that it is inimical to Tamil interest,” the letter read, seeking police protection for the film’s screening.

‘No police support’
Speaking to The Hindu over the phone, Rahul Roy, one of the producers, said the Sinhala-Tamil bilingual film was released in two cinemas in Chennai on June 20. The very next day, the exhibitors received threat calls from groups. “We (producers) were informed that the matter was taken to the local police but there was no support. Hence, we have written to the Chief Minister seeking her intervention,” Mr. Roy said. Shiladitya Bhora of PVR Cinemas tweeted that the shows were being discontinued due to threats from local Tamil associations. However, sources close to the other movie hall said shows were cancelled “voluntarily” due to lack of patronage. Police sources, on the other hand, said they had not received any formal complaint from the producers or the exhibitors.

The film deals with the consequences of the civil war through a poignant love story between a Tamil girl and a Sinhala ex-Army man. Mr. Roy said the film has a strong Indian connection. The lead female character has been essayed by Anjali Patil and the editing of the film was handled by A. Sreekar Prasad, a national award winning film editor.


ANTI- EMERGENCY DAY: 26TH JUNE: NEW DANGERS

'June 25/26 marks not only the declaration of  Emergency in 1975. June 25 is also the Day in 1934 when a lethal bomb was hurled  at Gandhi and his cavalcade by Hindu orthodoxy in Pune when he was on his anti-Untouchability tour'  - Anil Nauriya

ANTI- EMERGENCY DAY : 26TH JUNE
NEW DANGERS 

Dear friends,
Every year we observe 25th /26th June as Anti-Emergency Day to remember those dark days when internal emergency was imposed in the country on the mid-night of 25th/26th June 1975 which continued for 19 months. 
Fundamental rights were suspended, press was gagged, voice of dissent throttled and more than one lakh opposition leaders and critics were detained without trial. Dictatorship was in full swing. Supreme Court, the highest seat of justice, ruled that even if a policeman shot dead a citizen without any cause - or even with malafide intention, the victim had no avenue of redress.

On this day we also take stock of the prevailing situation to see as to what extent human rights are secure and what should be done to check the growing authoritarian tendencies in the governmental set up. 
At present the attack on the rights of the minorities, dalits, tribals, human right activists and other people’s rights organizations are on increase in spite of the change of the government at the Centre. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act i.e. UAPA was amended last year to include threat to ‘economic security’ within the definition of the ‘terrorist act’ and thereafter the I.B. has dutifully brought out a report listing organizations which are posing threats to the ‘economy ’ of India. 

Around 150 Maruti workers still languish in jail for the last two and half years which basically is a labour-management dispute in which around 2500 workers were rendered jobless and their families on starvation. News of large scale retrenchments are pouring in. Such instances are only tip of the iceberg. 

Public Meeting at 5.30 PM, Thursday, 26th June, 2014
Venue : Gandhi Peace Foundation,
223, Deen Dayal Upadhyay
Marg, New Delhi-110002


Speakers include 
Justice Rajinder Sachar (Retd.), 
Shri Kuldip Nayar, 
Shri Ravikiran Jain, 
Dr. Aparna, 
Shri Ashok Panda & others.

All are welcome to participate.

N.D.Pancholi, Dr.N.K.Bhattacharya
P.U.C.L., Citizens For Democracy, Janhastkshep,
The Amiya & B.G.Rao Foundation
(M) 9811099532, (L) 27850073

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brij Tankha - Shinzo Abe's arbitrary ways

India and Japan always seemed as different as chalk from cheese but looking beyond the cultural face of the two countries there are many similarities in social and political processes. The Modi government here, and the Abe Shinzo government in Japan have come out of a very similar political environment and share a political vision. It’s not by accident that Modi and Abe follow each other on Twitter. Abe was quick to congratulate Modi who, in turn, promised to take the India-Japan relationship to a new level.
Prime Minister Abe, unlike Modi, comes from a political dynasty, and is the member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which much like Congress here, has been in power for much of the post-war period but now has had to ally with coalition partners to form governments. 
The Abe government, a coalition much like the BJP led coalition, came to power with a landslide victory. Abe’s personal approval ratings were over 70 per cent. The people, disenchanted with indecisive leaders, wanted someone to turn Japan around particularly its economy. Abe promised to fire three arrows: monetary stimulus, fiscal stimulus and broad reforms to revitalise the economy. His actual performance is a cautionary tale for us.
Abe, and his government, have tinkered with the system but there have been no far-reaching structural reforms. Abe proclaimed, “ Without action there can be no growth”, but his actions haven’t been really innovative. Despite the Fukushima tragedy he continues to think that nuclear power is viable and safe for Japan. Last year while speaking at the New York Stock Exchange he said, “I am thinking of creating a new structure under which companies wanting to demonstrate frontier technologies would operate under zero regulations, provided they independently take measures to ensure safety.” This, when the gravity of the Fukushima accident was aggravated because regulatory mechanisms did not work.
In fact, more than the economy Abe has concentrated on his nationalist agenda which has been internally divisive and has exacerbated international rivalries. He cultivates his support base by his unabashed defence of Japan’s wartime actions and in seemingly taking a tough posture with China. Far from bringing new ideas to the table, Abe is regurgitating old slogans and further degrading an already fragile  political atmosphere. 
Security and a strong military posture are key features of Abe’s vision for a new Japan. This has meant creating new decision-making bodies that operate under his control -- a National Security Council, and announcing a National Security Strategy – and strengthening up defence, particularly in the island chain that includes Okinawa and the contested Senkaku islands. The Chinese claim the latter and call them Diaoyu. 
But, more crucially he has strengthened secrecy laws, despite popular opposition, to make it easier to punish whistleblowers. In part these legal changes were brought in under US pressure. All this to move Japan from 'passive pacifism' to an 'active pacifism'.
But the key arrow that he is still unable to fire is his goal of changing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. The article renounces war as an instrument of diplomacy and has become the central symbol of Japanese political debates. Its supporters see in it the renunciation of the pre-war drive to build a colonial empire and create a militarily dominated society: a drive that wrought death and destruction in it’s path. The post-war period has been built around a rejection of this past.
Abe sees the article as hobbling Japan, preventing it from developing as a ‘normal’ country. His answer to difficult situations is sounding tough. All opinion surveys show that he lacks popular support for this. He first set about trying to amend the Constitution but this is difficult, as it requires not only two-third’s support in both the Upper and Lower Houses, but also approval by a national referendum. This was not possible so he took the bureaucratic route: set up an advisory panel that has advised him, in a report issued last month, that Article 9 can be interpreted in a way to allow for collective self-defence so far banned under the Constitution. 
Hasebe Yasuo, Waseda University Professor of Constitutional Law, in a discussion in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, succinctly described this interpretation as a “jaw dropper” because, in effect, he said, it allowed the government to say that what it called ‘pitch black’ can now be called “white”. 
Abe’s advisors don't see it that way. Shinichi Kitaoka, a key advisor to Abe, reportedly argued, in the 1990’s, that ruling parties can have a time-limited dictatorship till the next elections. Only the next elections should be a check on them. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, not known for subtlety, put it more crassly; constitutional change “should be done quietly. One day everybody woke up and found that the Weimar Constitution had been changed, had been replaced by the Nazi Constitution. It changed without anyone noticing. Maybe we can learn from that. No hullabaloo.”
And on February 13, 2014, Abe told a Lower House Budget Committee that he is the “ultimate arbiter” of affairs concerning constitutional interpretation.
Prof. Hasebe argues that Abe’s ‘hurried politics’ is dangerous precisely because it does not seek to consult public opinion and takes decisions that appear to be tough but can actually raise tensions and lead to unintended consequences. This agenda of denial has roiled the international waters in Japan’s neighbourhood at a time when nuanced diplomacy is called for and internal challenges whether over environmental protection or old age care, are papered over in aggressive posturing.
Abe’s politics of confrontation, of a narrow sense of ‘security’, and using bureaucratic mechanisms to undermine democratic decision has served narrow interests, not bringing about the change that people hoped. 

Sudan death row woman Meriam Ibrahim rearrested

Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman released from death row in Sudanon Monday, was arrested with her husband and two children at Khartoum airport on Tuesday as the family attempted to leave the country.
Agents from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) detained the family just 24 hours after Ibrahim was released on the orders of the appeal court.
Her lawyer, Elshareef Mohammed, who was with Ibrahim at Khartoum airport at the time of the arrest, said more than 40 NISS officers apprehended the family as they attempted to board a plane to the US. Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, is a US citizen.
"It's very disappointing," Elshareef told the Guardian. "They were very angry. They took us [the family's lawyers] outside, and took the family to a NISS detention centre. They have not been given access to lawyers."
He said the appeal court had quashed Ibrahim's convictions and there were no restrictions on her travelling. He added that political differences within the government over the case may have played a part in the decision to prevent her leaving.
"I'm very concerned. When people do not respect the court, they might do anything," said Elshareef.
Ibrahim, 27, had been sentenced to death for apostasy. She insisted that she had been brought up as a Christian, despite her father being Muslim. She was also sentenced to be publicly flogged for adultery following a court's ruling that her marriage to a Christian man was invalid.
After her release, Wani told the Guardian that he hoped the family would be able to start a new life in the US. Ibrahim, Wani and their two children were taken to a safe house following her release from prison on Monday amid fears for the family's safety.
Ibrahim's case attracted international criticism, which intensified after she gave birth to a daughter while shackled to the floor of her prison cell. Her toddler son was kept in Omdurman women's prison with her.
More than 1 million people backed a campaign by Amnesty International to free her. The British prime minister, David Cameron, said he was "absolutely appalled" by her treatment. Political and religious leaders, celebrities and human rights organisations condemned her incarceration. The British Foreign Office and US state department welcomed her release on Monday.
Amnesty said on Tuesday it was investigating reports of the family's detention.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy after the court insisted she was a Muslim because her father was a Muslim, even though Ibrahim said she had been brought up as a Christian after her father abandoned the family when she was six. Following her conviction last month, she was given three days to renounce her faith or face a death sentence.
Then eight months pregnant, she was told that her death sentence would be deferred for two years to allow her to nurse her unborn baby.

Sunalini Kumar - Autonomy for what, from whom, and for whom?

It seems the unthinkable has happened – the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University has resigned over the UGC’s pressure to withdraw the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). I won’t go into the debate on the FYUP, which has been covered extensively on Kafila and elsewhere. I am only interested in two issues that arise from the news coverage of the event as it has unfolded through the day.

One, the question of autonomy. Prima facie, as Apoorvanand and Satish Deshpande have argued comprehensively on Kafila, the resignation of a VC over pressure from the UGC seems to be evidence of bureaucratic or ministerial over-reach. Questions have been raised (rightly) over the timing of this pressure, coming as it does on the heels of a political shift of colossal proportions at the national level. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (I find myself in agreement with Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari’s language on this) to figure out that the change in Delhi University has political backing. For one, rollback of the FYUP was on the BJP’s agenda/manifesto – that is as political as it gets! 

Second, it was this very UGC that had been so coy about commenting on the FYUP for the past one and a half years, a coyness that amounted to tacit support. Only very recently had it moved its mammoth bureaucratic feet on the matter, constituting a committee to look into complaints from students and teachers that had finally reached its mammoth bureaucratic ears. The VC, being well acquainted with elephants, would be able to explain the mammoth temporality of this apex organisation better than any of us, having benefited from it for a goodly amount of time. Even after the constitution of the committee, the VC continued to be lauded by the UGC for his efforts at implementation of former HRD minister Kapil Sibal and his successor Pallam Raju’s efforts at radical educational reform. The committee met at a leisurely pace, no doubt fortified by several hundred samosas and robust air-conditioning in the UGC’s Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg office in central Delhi, while anti-FYUP protestors enjoyed the blazing sun or freezing cold outdoors, as they had been enjoying for a year and a half.
Now, voila, the same UGC is ordering the DU VC to revert to the three-year undergraduate programme, and if rumours are to be believed, threatening it with all manner of punitive action. So should we be worried about autonomy? The short response is yes. In an ideal world, there would never be a good reason to subordinate educational institutions to a national bureaucratic or political class. The long answer to the question of DU’s autonomy is however much, much more complicated. For one, if we accept that the FYUP was pushed by the Congress, it was never autonomous. So a rollback of the FYUP may be, as a simple mathematical reversal, a restoration of autonomy. But does that mean the HRD/UGC are in favour of autonomy? Of course not. The new government has no more intention of staying away from the education sector than the old government was interested in university autonomy. Education is political. 
Let me say that again. Education is Political. Ernest Gellner’s legendary study of twentieth century nationalism reminds us that around the world, education was one of the pillars on which modern nation-states were built. It is the reason we had those patriotic poems and nationalist histories in our textbooks, and it is the reason bodies like the NCERT, the UGC and the NAAC exist. It is the reason private universities must submit themselves to stringent standards laid down by national bodies, and it is the reason political parties have education policy on their manifestos.
Of course, does all of this mean that old, well-established public universities like DU must submit to the UGC? As I said, ideally, no. But why make a distinction between public and private here? Why should any fly-by-night educational operator not have the freedom to offer say a one-year diploma as and when she wants, with as much coursework and whichever method of examination she pleases? None except the most extreme market fanatics would say let this happen, and let the worst operators be driven out of the market. But parents would be up in arms. They would say their children’s future is at stake, that the state has a role to play. Point is, public universities deserve autonomy because they have earned it – they have well established administrative procedures in place, they are answerable to their constituencies – this includes students, teachers, graduates, parents and non-teaching staff; they make their curricula and examinations open to public scrutiny; and finally, they hold themselves accountable to the highest academic standards. In short, a university deserves to be autonomous insofar as it functions democratically and transparently as a whole, from top to bottom. A university’s autonomy does not mean the autonomy of its VC.
The FYUP violated each of these criteria, as so many have noted. It is critical to remember here that it was not simply a dramatic drop in academic standards that plagued the FYUP, it was the utterly undemocratic and downright authoritarian implementation that has butchered its capacity for autonomy in the long run. In fact the big question is not whether Dinesh Singh has finally resigned, but what he has left in his wake. He, more than any other VC in living memory, has destroyed the internal autonomy of almost every academic and administrative body constituted inside the University. He has overridden committees, hand picked appointees, rigged or influenced GBMs, threatened dissenters with bouncers and secret cameras, and finally, amended the statutes of the University to give himself an extension. Serious teachers and academics in the university have watched with horror as one ridiculous idea after another has rolled out of his office, sometimes having to pinch themselves to confirm they weren’t having a nightmare. If college Principals have started secretly weeping and wringing their hands about being treated like servants, you can imagine the autonomy of ordinary teachers and students.
So if we are suddenly crying for the autonomy of Delhi University, we are crying for the autonomy of this VC to continue to be a monarch. That’s the rub.
Second, the issue of students’ future being compromised by the current chaos at DU. I am puzzled, are these the same students who were being taught how to open a facebook account or make momos in their FYUP classes? The same students who, secure in attendance no longer being compulsory under the FYUP (possibly the only positive aspect of the programme), went on long holidays with their friends during term time? In any case, the courses were ridiculously easy, the questions often farcical, and, eager to prove the programme a success, students were awarded obscene marks like so much depreciating currency. The students are ok, they will adapt. They adapted to an academically compromised FYUP, now they may have to wait one more week for admissions to be completed. Term is not a natural force, like the seasons. It is created by humans – us. If we push back term by one week, as the VC had already done by the way under the FYUP, students’ futures will not be demolished. 
The DUTA and other minds in the University have long evolved alternative solutions for the transition back to the three-year programme – all we need is to listen to these proposals and implement the best ones. It won’t be rocket science. In any case, admissions under the three or four-year continue to be drearily and firmly related to cutoffs; those processes have already been completed. So we already have lists of students who will be admitted to political science or maths honours, say, in every college. The only thing that will change is what they will study in the next two or three years.
In essence, the outcry about autonomy and students’ futures both rest on a technocratic and meritocratic fantasy about education being saved from politics. In the case of the FYUP rollback, it is politics in fact that may have saved education. And I don’t mean politics by bureaucrats and ministers – I mean the politics of ordinary students and teachers’ associations who braved intimidation, hopelessness, demoblilisation and plain apathy to force this dramatic reversal to take place. The UGC, the MHRD, the BJP – these will only appropriate the energies of this struggle and make it their own. But the blame for that surely cannot lie with the protestors – it must lie with you and me, the guardians of public memory.
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Dhiraj Nayyar - DU Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh deserves no sympathy

Reports that Dinesh Singh has allegedly resigned brings to an ignominious early end the tenure of Delhi University’s Vice-Chancellor. Under most circumstances, the ouster of the head of autonomous institution under enormous pressure from the government of the day would be an ominous sign. But in Singh’s case, there is little room even for sympathy.
For his supporters that at one point included Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Union Minister of State for HRD Shahsi Tharoor and other UPA Government luminaries including Sam Pitroda, Dinesh Singh was the radical Vice-Chancellor who was willing to shake up the almost 100-year-old university with an ambitious attempt to introduce a four-year undergraduate programme (the infamous FYUP). It seems, however, that Singh’s vanity and the political support he enjoyed got the better of his judgment.
It is important to note that there is a difference between a four-year undergraduate programme and a four-year undergraduate programme a la Dinesh Singh. Singh and his supporters wanted to create an illusion that Delhi University would bring American standards to Indian higher education merely by adding a year to the degree. But the reality is that a quality American undergraduate education is quite different from what Dinesh Singh forced through in Delhi University. Which American university spends its first year teaching nonsensical "foundation" (allegedly lessons in real life) courses to its students? Which American University offers as an "opt out" after three years? Which American University rolls out a new academic programme without adequate thought to curriculum and even minimum consent of teachers?
Dinesh Singh was never able to persuade the two most important stakeholders in the university. It is rare for the constituent politically-affiliated groups of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) to speak in the same language, but the FYUP was opposed by the Left, BJP and Congress affiliated groups. The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) witnesses a similar unity against the FYUP cutting across political divides. Without the support of teachers and students, any radical reform of a university is bound to fail.
Let us for a moment assume that Singh was a visionary and the students and teachers of DU lacked a long term vision. The least Singh should have done was to follow correct rules and procedures in enforcing the change. It is now clear that he simply ignored UGC rules and regulations, which would be okay if the university didn’t depend on the UGC for more than 90 percent of its finances. He was even more blatant. He did not see it necessary to amend the DU Act through ordinances which needed to be vetted by the President of India who is also the Visitor of the University. There always seemed to be an unseemly hurry in changing track. Of course, it is imperative that the government also use this opportunity to fire the Chairman of the UGC who twiddled his thumbs when Singh pushed through the FYUP in contravention of its rules more than a year ago.
It is a mistake to believe that the most sorely needed reform in Delhi University was the FYUP. Singh could have fought plenty of good battles. If he admired the American system, why did he not fight to raise fees which are a paltry sum? DU will only have real autonomy when it has the ability to finance itself without government aid. If he admired the American system, Singh could have fought to liberalise the system of fixed salaries for teachers — DU is starved of star academic talent and paying higher salaries is the only way to attract talent. And if indeed FYUP was what Singh was passionate about, he could have built a greater consensus around it and spent more time thinking about the curriculum.
In the end, Singh rammed through FYUP either because he wanted to please his political masters or because he was vain enough to believe totally in his own ability and invincibility against the odds. But politics changes and vanity evaporates in the real world. It has taken little time for Singh to turn from hero to zero and what’s worse, very few will shed tears for him.
More on FYUP and the VC

Piyasree Dasgupta - Decoding Modi govt's defence of rape accused minister Nihalchand

"Narendra Modi is a good person. He shouldn't have ministers like Nihalchand Meghwal with him." The statement comes across as neither an accusation nor a fervent plea. It's made by the woman at the centre of a new BJP versus Congress tug-of-war. A maroon 
dupatta loosely wrapped around her head, the woman who has accused chemicals and fertilizers minister Nihalchand Meghwal of rape, speaks with quiet defiance - her low, unwavering voice a strange mix of wariness and resilience. "He [Meghwal] is coming to my village and telling the village elders that he will give me money and a government job," she tells the TV journalist. "Ask her to take my name off the case, he is saying. Agar innocent hote, yeh sab nahin karte." [If he was innocent, he wouldn't do all this.]

Nihalchand Meghwal, a Rajasthan MP, had been named in an FIR way back in 2011, along with 17 others. In it, he was accused of drugging her and letting 16 other men rape his wife while she was drugged. The incident took place in Jaipur. After a year, the Jaipur police closed the case, accused the complainant of fabricating the charges against the men. The police also requested the Jaipur court where the case was being heard to close the case. The woman has appealed repeatedly and the case resurfaced in public discourse recently when a Jaipur court decided that her plea deserved consideration. It has asked Meghwal and the other accused to explain to the court why the case should not be re-opened.

When the alleged victim says that Modi shouldn't work with Nihalchand, she is only stating convention. Traditionally, political parties have distanced themselves from members who are going through scandalous situations such as this one. While the police may have dismissed the charges, clearly the court has found some merit in her plea. In such a scenario, the government should ideally have let law take its course.

However, this government, it seems, doesn't need the legal system to settle such matters. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has allegedly issued an advisory to BJP leaders asking them to back the minister of state unconditionally. CNN IBN reports that Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was employed by the Prime Minister to examine the case, is satisfied with Meghwal's explanation. BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi too jumped Meghwal's defence saying, "You can't falsely implicate someone. Nothing has been proven yet."

Lekhi, in her defence of Meghwal, epitomizes the primary problem with getting justice for rape victims in India. Although she says "nothing has been proven yet", she seems to have already reached the conclusion that Meghwal is being "falsely implicated", which means the complainant is to be blamed. Lekhi reminds us of the thumb rule by which most cases of sexual assault are investigated in India: placing the burden of proof upon the one who has been raped even though the law is clear that the accused have to prove their innocence. This social attitude combined with the imbalance of power between the aam aadmi  and the  powerful, political class creates a situation in which Meghwal stands protected and secure while the complainant must contend with disrespect and disbelief.

According to available reports, the woman who has been fighting this had repeatedly complained of how shoddily the initial investigation into the case was conducted. She also accused the police of being swayed by political influence. It is not too difficult to believe her. There are way too many precedents that suggest the Indian police is anything but immune to the arm-twisting done by the powerful.

Take for example the case of law student Priyadarshini Mattoo, who was raped and murdered in 1996. The accused was the son of an influential police officer in Delhi. It took ten years for the case to reach the point of sentencing. In between, in 1999, he was even acquitted by a trial court, based on the evidence provided by the investigators in the case. Eventually, in 2006, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Jessica Lal was shot and killed in front of several witnesses in 1999. The accused Manu Sharma, the son of a Haryana minister, was sentenced to life in 2006, seven years after Lal was murdered. He too was acquitted in between. Most recently, a police officer in Badaun was dismissed after it came to light that he had refused to lodge a complaint followed the twin rape-murder, because the accused were high caste, rich jats.

Meghwal and the other accused have not yet responded to the court's demand for an explanation. Meanwhile, the government has already formed a huddle to protect its minister. There are no official statements and the fact that Meghwal remains in office is a de facto show of support for the politician from his party. Statements by people like Lekhi, dismissed the charges, further establish the party's decision to stand by their man. In the BJP court, Meghwal has been proven innocent. Much like how the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots were felicitated by the BJP because the party was convinced they had no role to play, actions in Meghwal's case speak louder than words.

The complainant in Meghwal's case has an uphill task ahead of her. There's no medical test that can be relied upon. Even when the rape trial is based on circumstantial and physical evidence, it subjects victims to a plethora of questions. All she has, essentially, are her claims of what happened and these will be pitted agains the claims that the police and lower courts have made about her accusations.

Accusing someone of rape is fraught with danger in India, regardless of the demographic to which the complainant belongs. In Uttar Pradesh, a girl was burnt alive in broad daylight because she dared to identify her rapist. In another incident, a rape victim's mother was thrashed by the accused's family for lodging a complaint. With reports like this coming in regularly, you'd think that the newly-formed government would take this opportunity to make a statement. Instead, it has chosen to mirror the practice of victim blaming by letting Meghwal continue in his ministerial position and issuing a gag order to others in the cabinet.

For all the campaigns that assured the Indian electorate that this government wouldn't make the mistakes of the previous Congress-led government, there's no clearly difference between the two in some aspects. Congress MP PJ Kurien has been implicated in the ongoing 
Suryanelli rape case. However, the Congress displayed complete faith in him and he was even allowed to continue as the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition then, too, didn't find it necessary to bring the issue up.

Perhaps the most dangerous side effect of this scramble to look after one's political herd is that it reaffirms the belief that if one has the right connections, they can get away with any crime. At a time when the world is looking at how India negotiates its dismal record of violence against women, it does nothing for the national reputation to have a man accused of facilitating rape -- of his own wife, no less -- in the government. Media gags are all very well to keep the facts out of circulation, but the way the party has handled this case shows a worrying legitimisation of victim-blaming.

Even if Meghwal is actually blameless, the government's stand on the Meghwal case lends a sense of righteousness to the existent social mechanisms of intimidating, silencing victims. It also displays an alarming contempt and lack of respect for the judicial process. The message this sends out to India (and Bharat is simple): rapists don't have to be afraid of consequences. After all, so far the only people who have faced the wrath of strict sentencing for committing violence against women are the rapists who belonged to the poorest, most dispossessed set.


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