Saturday, July 14, 2018

Michiko Kakutani - The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump

From post-modernism to filter bubbles, ‘truth decay’ has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy?.. the more clownish aspects of Trump the personality should not blind us to the monumentally serious consequences of his assault on truth and the rule of law, and the vulnerabilities he has exposed in our institutions and digital communications. It is unlikely that a candidate who had already been exposed during the campaign for his history of lying and deceptive business practices would have gained such popular support were portions of the public not blase about truth-telling and were there not systemic problems with how people get their information and how they’ve come to think in increasingly partisan terms.

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling descrip-tion of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today – a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fear of social change and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines. This is not to draw a direct analogy between today’s circumstances and the over-whelming horrors of the second world war era, but to look at some of the conditions and attitudes – what Margaret Atwood has called the “danger flags” in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm – that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats. To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth, and what that means for the world.

The term “truth decay” has joined the post-truth lexicon that includes such now familiar phrases as “fake news” and “alternative facts”. And it’s not just fake news either: it’s also fake science (manufactured by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccination), fake history (promoted by Holocaust revisionists and white supremacists), fake Americans on Facebook (created by Russian trolls), and fake followers and “likes” on social media (generated by bots)… read more:

see also

‘He has the traits of a psychopath’: the inside story of the parachute murder plot. By Jenny Kleeman

Every year, thousands of people cross an item off their bucket list by leaping out of an aeroplane above Netheravon airfield’s broad, flat grass plain. It’s the largest parachute drop zone in the UK, but unremarkable to look at: military land, little more than two blue and white Cessnas waiting to take off, a few billowing orange windsocks and some picnic tables. There’s an enormous khaki hangar with a corrugated iron roof. This is where the kit room is, where the toilets are, and where Emile Cilliers tried to get away with murdering his wife.

On Saturday 4 April 2015, he took Victoria Cilliers’ parachute rig into the toilets and sabotaged it. The next day, Easter Sunday, Vicky leapt from one of the Cessnas and fell like a rag doll underneath her flailing canopy, 4,000ft (1,200m) to the ground at 60mph, to what should have been her death: the first people on the scene were so sure of it that they brought a body bag. But she was found alive, with a broken spine, fractured ribs and a shattered pelvis, surviving only because her small frame had landed in a soft, newly ploughed field.

It was Cilliers’ second attempt to kill Vicky in less than a week. But it took two criminal trials to prove it, and even after Cilliers was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder in May, and given a life sentence with a minimum term of 18 years in June, the victim herself says she refuses to believe her husband tried to kill her. When someone survives an attempt on their life, it should be a huge advantage for the police investigation. But Vicky Cilliers’ survival made it difficult to prosecute; Emile Cilliers was convicted in spite of her evidence, rather than because of it.

Why did a 38-year-old army officer want to kill his wife, the mother of his toddler and newborn baby? Why do it in such a far-fetched, complicated way? And how close did he come to getting away with it?.. read more:


Image may contain: 1 person, text

Friday, July 13, 2018

New Zealand's most sacred tree is about 2,500 years old. But its days may be numbered

New Zealand’s oldest and most sacred tree stands 60 metres from death, as a fungal disease known as kauri dieback spreads unabated across the country. Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) is a giant kauri tree located in the Waipoua forest in the north of the country, and is sacred to the Māori people, who regard it as a living ancestor. The tree is believed to be around 2,500 years old, and is 13.77m across and more than 50m tall. Thousands of locals and tourists alike visit the tree every year to pay their respects, and take selfies beside the trunk. Now, the survival of what is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest living tree is threatened by kauri dieback, with kauri trees a mere 60m from Tāne Mahuta confirmed to be infected. 

Kauri dieback causes most infected trees to die, and is threatening to completely wipe out New Zealand’s most treasured native tree species, prized for its beauty, strength and use in boats, carvings and buildings. Despite stringent efforts by local iwi [Māori tribes] to combat the spread – most commonly through infected soil tramped in on walkers’ boots, or the hooves of wild pigs – there is no cure, and native tree experts are calling for international help to slow the demise of kauri dieback and save Tāne Mahuta.

Amanda Black from the Bioprotection Research Centre at NZ’s Lincoln University, estimates Tāne has only three to six months before becoming infected – if he is not already – as his mammoth root system spreads in excess of 60m underground. An advisory panel was launched by the government in June in a bid to tackle the spread of the disease, but Black says the panel was the equivalent of “shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.” She wants Tāne soil tested immediately to confirm whether or not the tree is infected, but this option is proving controversial… read more:

Bharat Bhushan- Waiting for Karmapa: Delhi in fix over Tibet

After having alienated the Dalai Lama, India also seems to have marginalised another tall Buddhist leader, the Karmapa. He had gone to the United States for three months last year and has now refused to return. With the 14th Dalai Lama turning 83 earlier this month, India feels the need to cultivate influential monks to ensure Tibetan unity and support for its position on the Tibetan leader’s succession. A disputed succession would divide Tibetans politically and determine the direction of their struggle. It is not clear whether the heads of the various Tibetan Buddhist sects would defer to a child Dalai Lama, whether he reincarnates in India or China. 

It also remains unclear whether the Tibetan monks can be used by India on the Tibet issue. For this, India needs the support of the Karmapa - head of the largest Tibetan Buddhist sect, the Kagyu. New Delhi, however, may have already lost influence over him.  The 17th Karmapa’s position is disputed. While the Dalai Lama and China recognise Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa, India recognises a rival, Thaye Trinley Dorje. The former has been treated shabbily by India because it believes that his escape from Tibet to India in 2000 was facilitated by China.

However, in the post-Dalai Lama scenario, the rival contender supported by India, Thaye Trinley Dorje, may not be of much help. He not only publicly challenges the Dalai Lama’s authority but, like China, he also does not accept the Dalai Lama as the supreme Tibetan leader. New Delhi seems desperate to invite Ogyen Trinley Dorje back. Yet its intelligence agencies promote stories about him seeking asylum in the US, trying to buy land to settle down there or even returning to China. It is not surprising therefore that he has fobbed off Indian requests to return. Last year, he promised to return by June 2018, but that deadline is already over.

Khaled Ahmed - Pakistan: A Poll Outcome Foretold

No PM in Pakistan has been allowed to finish his five-year term. When a Pakistan PM falls foul of the deep state, the Opposition, senior bureaucrats and the judiciary get together against him. Nawaz Sharif knows that the electoral minefield has been laid against him by causing defections in his party, scaring the media into lambasting him as a corrupt man and kidnapping and torturing bloggers who “blaspheme” against the deep state. The caretaker government has bowed to the policy of “mainstreaming” of terrorists by allowing Hafiz Saeed to field his banned Milli Muslim League under the banner of Allah-of-Akbar Tehreek. It has also “mainstreamed” the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba by allowing it to contest the polls in South Punjab.

Nawaz Sharif has accused the deep state of rousing central Punjab’s shrine-connected feudal PML-N loyalists to rebel against him. He alleges that his government was nearly toppled by a foul-mouthed, wheelchair-riding imam of a masjid heading the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Husain Rizvi. Rizvi staged a violent encounter with the police near Islamabad because “the PML-N govern-ment had insulted the Holy Prophet”. Suddenly the Barelvi mystics of Punjab, once ignored because of their non-jihadi faith, have come into big money and mobilise violent mobs. The TLP is fielding 150 candidates — each constituency normally soaks up Rs 2 crore in pre-election campaigns.

The caretaker government is not supposed to take big decisions, especially those relating to security and foreign policy. But by allowing two internationally condemned terrorist organisations to partici-pate in elections, it has challenged the world community, including its “all-weather friends” China and Saudi Arabia. Imran Khan’s party Tehreek-e-Insaf seems the frontrunner in the election. Nawaz’s younger brother Shahbaz was never accepted as a leader by the PML-N, which is now rudderless.

The media has been by and large tamed through threats of violence. TV channels have been converted to PML-N’s opposition. Writing about the newspaper, Dawn, journalist-author Ahmed Rashid wrote on the BBC website: “Dawn has faced intimidation, harassment of its journalists, a ban on hawkers distributing the newspaper… cable operators have been told to take its TV channel off air… advertisers are warned not to promote their goods in Dawn. Last year, in the province of Balochistan, the newspaper was unavailable for weeks on end.”

More posts by Khaled Ahmed

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Andrew Griffin: Ghost particle from deep in space could change our understanding of the universe

Scientists have been mystified by cosmic rays since they were found more than a century ago, pouring down onto Earth. Despite their huge number and intense power, it has been unclear where they come from. The new discovery could finally explain where cosmic rays originate. If correct, the answer would be a fittingly spectacular phenomenon deep in the universe. The neutrinos appear to be spewing out of fast spinning supermassive black holes and the discovery could give us an entirely new way of looking at the universe. The particles might be a “third messenger” carrying energy from elsewhere in the cosmos, in addition to light and gravitational waves.

If so, the newly observed particle would be an unprecedented new way of understanding some of the most intense and mysterious phenomena in the universe. Neutrinos could be doubly helpful because they have no mass and travel in an almost entirely straight line through the universe – which makes them very difficult to detect but very easy to track, as they travel billions of light years. “Neutrinos rarely interact with matter,” said Professor Paul O’Brien, a member of the international team of astronomers at the University of Leicester. “To detect them at all from the cosmos is amazing, but to have a possible source identified is a triumph. “This result will allow us to study the most distant, powerful energy sources in the universe in a completely new way.”

The discovery was reported in two new papers published in the journal Science, and was the result of work by a huge global team of researchers. “These intriguing results also represent the remarkable culmination of thousands of human years [worth] of intensive activities by the IceCube Collaboration, to bring the dream of neutrino astronomy to reality,” said Darren Grant, a professor of physics at the University of Alberta, and spokesman of the IceCube Collaboration, an international team with more than 300 scientists in 12 countries.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sebastian Purcell - Life on the slippery Earth: Aztec moral philosophy

While Plato and Aristotle were concerned with character-centred virtue ethics, the Aztec approach is perhaps better described as socially-centred virtue ethics. If the Aztecs were right, then ‘Western’ philosophers have been too focused on individuals, too reliant on assessments of character, and too optimistic about the individual’s ability to correct her own vices. Instead, according to the Aztecs, we should look around to our family and friends, as well as our ordinary rituals or routines, if we hope to lead a better, more worthwhile existence.

This distinction bears on an important question: just how bad are good people allowed to be? Must good people be moral saints, or can ordinary folk be good if we have the right kind of support? This matters for fallible creatures, like me, who try to be good but often run into problems. Yet it also matters for questions of inclusivity. If being good requires exceptional traits, such as practical intelligence, then many people would be excluded – such as those with cognitive disabilities. That does not seem right. One of the advantages of the Aztec view, then, is that it avoids this outcome by casting virtue as a cooperative, rather than an individual, endeavour.

Aztec virtue ethics has three main elements. One is a conception of the good life as the ‘rooted’ or worthwhile life. Second is the idea of right action as the mean or middle way. Third and final is the belief that virtue is a quality that’s fostered socially. When I speak about the Aztecs – the people dominant in large parts of central America prior to the 16th-century Spanish conquest – even professional philosophers are often surprised to learn that the Aztecs were a philosophical culture. They’re even more startled to hear that we have (many volumes of) their texts recorded in their native language, Nahuatl. While a few of the pre-colonial hieroglyphic-type books survived the Spanish bonfires, our main sources of knowledge derive from records made by Catholic priests, up to the early 17th century. Using the Latin alphabet, these texts record the statements of tlamatinime, the indigenous philosophers, on matters as diverse as bird-flight patterns, moral virtue, and the structure of the cosmos.

To explain the Aztec conception of the good life, it’s helpful to begin in the sixth volume of a book called the Florentine Codex, compiled by Father Bernardino of Sahagún. Most of the text contains edifying discourses called huehuetlatolli, the elders’ discourses. This particular section records the speeches following the appointment of a new king, when the noblemen appear to compete for the most eloquent articulation of what an ideal monarch should be and do. The result is a succession of speeches like those in Plato’s Symposium, wherein each member tries to produce the most moving expression of praise... read more:

Angélica González-García and her daughter. Victims of the President from Hell

Do search for them online, and watch González-García, a 31-year-old Guatemalan refugee from domestic violence, being reunited at Boston’s Logan airport with the eight-year-old, 55 days after they were separated without explanation at an Arizona detention centre.

She was told at the time by immigration officers that she would “never see” her daughter again. Indeed, that vicious prediction might have come true, had her case not been taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union and two law firms. The footage of the reunion is hard to watch: it makes you feel a strange combination of relief, anger and species shame. “Forgive me, my darling, for leaving you alone,” she says to her daughter as they clutch one another. “Forgive me. I didn’t want to.”..

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Bharat Bhushan - Rumour Republic: Weaponising mobs for political gain in today's India

The adage that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on” has been proven in India once again as social media rumours about child-lifting have led to 27 incidents of mob-lynching across nine states of India. They can hardly be pinned down to local issues as the attacks have occurred in states as far apart geographically as Tripura, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. About a year ago, rumours of braid-chopping had spread from Nagaur in Rajasthan, travelling across the North through Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to Jammu and Kashmir. Then they suddenly died out just as the rumours about child-lifters may do.

The rapidity with which the rumours were disseminated and the readiness with which people were willing to act on them point to high public anxiety levels. Such a volatile public mood in the run-up to the impending general election suggests nightmarish scenarios. An anxious polity is a fair game for demagogues who can play on its uncertainties, biases and prejudices to capture political power.
Rumours have always come in handy for canny political forces. They are efficient instruments to channel an anarchic public mood to further their political agendas. They also have the added advantage of being nearly untraceable.

Social networking platforms are available on every other mobile, offering anonymity to agent provocateurs like never before. Research in the United States shows that a false story or a “fake news” report took roughly 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users compared to the 60 hours for a factual story. The influence of a rumour is directly linked to how far and quickly it spreads.
Yet, one must not confuse the medium for the message. Under criticism, the government has asked social media platforms to monitor their content and states have been directed to check mob lynching. But social media platforms are only instruments for spreading messages. The problem is the message itself.

When the political party in power at the Centre encourages the use of social media to spread fractious ideas, what can state governments do? Days after his Cabinet colleague Sushma Swaraj was viciously trolled on social media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised it fulsomely, crediting it with “democratising” public discourse and described it as “endearing”. There was not one word of caution about its misuse.

KASHMIRI PANDIT SANGARASH SAMITI - Letters to J&K Governor Concerning the threat to the life of Sanjay Tickoo, President KPSS

NB: These letters by Sanjay Tickoo, President of the KPSS are posted with his permission. DS

Letter dtd July 2, 2018
To: His Excellency the Governor,
State of Jammu and Kashmir,
Raj Bhawan, Srinagar/ Jammu

Subject: Serious issues related to threat to life to the applicant and one of the members of Kashmiri Pandit (Non-Migrant) Community living in Kashmir Valley.

Hon'ble Sir,
With reference to the subject cited above, it is most humbly submitted as under for kind perusal of His Excellency with the request to direct the concerned to take necessary steps.

That it is a known fact that few days before Shri Syed Shujat Bhukhari, Senior Journalist was assassinated along with his two security guards in broad day light in heart of the city by unknown gunmen. It is also a fact that just few days before this heinous crime a hate campaign was stated on one of the blogs namely was started and the security agencies believe that there is a link between the assassination of Shri Syed Shujat Bukhari and the blog and till date it is not confirmed who actually runs this blog and from which place.

We strongly believe that this blog is more like a hit list of 1990's which were made by the militants to execute the killing of common men and women. After the assassination of Shri Syed Shujat Bukhari, two more journalist names surfaced in the blog and the news of the same came into the press that the journalists are under life threat.

On 28.06.2018, we came to know that on the said blog a list is being displayed with some misleading and frivolous claims and in the list two non migrant Kashmiri Pandit names are also figuring, one is of applicant i.e. Sanjay Tickoo and other name of Vijay who is a government employee and is working in State High Court at Srinagar. Though the matter was immediately brought into the notice of security agencies at all levels, but we are not aware what actually has been done in the matter and how our life will be protected if any unforeseen incident happens to our lives.

On 30.06.2018, applicant along with another victim of this said blog tried hard to meet Shri Syed Ali Shah Geelani at Hyderpora to talk about this blog (hit list) and the threat perception that applicant along with another victim feel, but unfortunately the concerned Police Officers did not allowed us to meet him for the reasons best known to them only.

It is irony, we non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits are under life threat, neither have we been made aware about what State Security Agencies are doing in this regard nor they allow us to take necessary precautions to safeguard our lives. If anything untoward happens to us or our family members, the onus for the same will also lie on the Security Agencies working in Kashmir because of their callous approach on the issue.

As such, it is most humbly requested, that we may be made aware what actually Security Agencies are doing to protect our lives and also the concerned Police Station i.e. P/S Kral Khud be directed to register necessary F.l.R. against unknown persons as we are feeling threat to life and initiate investigations under rules to nab the culprit at an earliest.

Also, a formal communication was also faxed few days before, about granting of some time for appointment to talk various important issues related to Kashmiri Pandits (non-migrant) living in Kashmir, it is requested that the said communication be considered on priority basis and some valuable time be spared from your good self busy schedule so that some hard pressed issues related to Kashmiri Pandits (non-migrant) living in Kashmir could be discussed and redressed properly and obliged

Thanking you in anticipation.

Yours faithfully
Sanjay Tickoo

Dated: 2.7. 2018

Letter dtd June 28, 2018

To: Private Secretary to His Excellency the Governor,
State of Jammu and Kashmir,
Raj Bhawan, Srinagar

Subject: Request of formal appointment to meet His Excellency the Governor, on priority basis, to discuss some hard press issues related to Kashmiri Pandits (Non-Migrants) living in Kashmir.

Esteemed Sir,

With reference to the subject cited above, it is submitted that a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmir Valley under the banner of applicant organization wish to meet His Excellency the Governor to discuss some of the issues related to Kashmiri Pandits (Non-Migrants) living in Kashmir Valley.  In this regard, it is most humbly requested that, on priority basis, some of the valuable time of His Excellency be spared in our favour for formal appointment so that the grievances / issues faced by the Kashmiri Pandit Community (Non-Migrants) could be discussed and redressed in a proper manner and obliged.

Yours faithfully

Sanjay K. Tickoo
Dated: 28.6. 2018

More posts from Sanjay Tickoo
Mansoor Anwar on Comrade Abdul Sattar Ranjoor (1917-1990)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book review: 'Urdu Poetry, 1935-1970: The Progressive Episode'

Carlo Coppola. Urdu Poetry, 1935-1970: The Progressive Episode.  2018
Reviewed by S. Akbar Hyder

Carlo Coppola’s 1975 dissertation submitted to the University of Chicago’s Committee on Comparative Studies in Literature under the supervision of C. M. Naim was no ordinary thesis: it was a meticulously researched and thoughtfully crafted work of modern South Asian literary history, with a focus on the first four decades of the Urdu Progressive movement (the taraqqī pasañd tahrīk). This movement, especially during its formative years in the 1930s and the 1940s, nudged writers and other artists out of their world of conformity, especially in terms of class consciousness, religious and national allegiances, and gender roles. When Coppola submitted his dissertation, there was simply no work, in Urdu or in English, that could compare to this dissertation’s sweeping and balanced coverage of a movement that resonated not just in written literature but also in films, political assemblies, mass rallies, and calls for justice throughout South Asia.

For the last four decades, the contents of Coppola’s work, especially the references, freely circulated among students and scholars seeking to understand the literary networks that brought Russian, English, and French worlds into contact with Urdu, and to some extent, Hindi. Coppola’s effective translations of Progressive poetry set the standards of translating modern Urdu literature into English. It is not surprising, then, that many of us implored Coppola to publish his dissertation as a book; the result is Urdu Poetry, 1935-1970: The Progressive Episode. Der āyad durast āyad (a Perso-Urdu saying that suggests better late than never).

The book comprises twelve chapters, two appendices, a chronology, and a glossary. The first chapter provides a concise historical overview of nineteenth-century colonial-inflected socioreligious reform movements and their impact on the literary sensibilities of the twentieth century. The second chapter treats the fiery collection of Urdu prose, Añgāre (Embers), the sensational impact of which far outpaced its aesthetic merits. The third and fourth chapters are a diligent documentation and narrative of the Progressive Writers’ Association, the literary movement—with its calls to justice and accountability—that is at the crux of this study. The fifth chapter accounts for the movement’s most triumphant years, after it emerged from the fierce and protracted debates in the Kremlin, London, Lucknow, and Hyderabad. The sixth chapter narrates the “decline” of the movement in the wake of the Partition of 1947. In chapters 7 through 11, Coppola parses the life stories and the verses of five iconic Progressives: Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Asrarul Haq Majaz, Makhdum Mohiuddin, Ali Sardar Jafri, and Sahir Ludhianvi. Finally, the conclusion and the ancillary material bring closure to the work and further display the author’s dedication.

Coppola’s painstaking research is readily apparent in his documentation of the interviews and meetings he had with the towering figures of this movement. He documents the letters he exchanged with Amrita Pritam, Ahmed Ali, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Qurratulain Hyder, Ali Sardar Jafri, Mohan Rakesh, N. M. Rashed, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sajjad Zaheer, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Sibte Hasan, Akhtar Husain Raipuri, and others. Our author’s personal engagements with these literary figures paint his perspectives as those of an inside observer. Yet his deft analysis of history and politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and his skill in telling stories through poetry lend this work an aura of scholarship and artistry that is rare in South Asian literary histories written in English... read more:

Friday, July 6, 2018

Solidarity with Iranian Women Political Prisoners and Women Indicted for Opposing the Compulsory Hijab or for other Social Justice Activities

June 17, 2018
Below, the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists is providing short biographies of several of the most well-known feminist political prisoners, in order to heighten awareness of the important role of women in the current protest movement in Iran and to promote solidarity with Iranian feminist struggles, and the protest movement as a whole.

A wave of  protests and strikes have been spreading throughout Iran in opposition to the Islamic Republic since December  2017. Participants include broad sectors of the Iranian working class,  women and men, mostly young.Their protests have been preceded by and continue to involve protests and strikes by employed and unemployed workers,  students, teachers, healthcare workers, retirees, those who have lost their savings in failed financial institution,  political prisoners, and the families of political prisoners. They include members of various oppressed national minorities such as Arabs, Kurds, Lurs and Azaris as well as persecuted religious minorities such as Baha’is  and Sufis.

Many courageous  women who took off their headscarves in public to  protest the compulsory hijab,  were beaten, arrested and temporarily released after posting heavy bails. Among them, several are well-known cases such as Vida Movahed,  Narges Hosseini,  Maryam Shariatmadari, Shaprak Shajarizad. They were charged with  “inciting corruption and promoting prostitution” and face  prison sentences. These women have come to be known as “Girls of Revolution Avenue.”  They believe that wearing the hijab should be a matter of individual choice not imposed from above.  The Iranian regime’s own polls admit that a majority of the Iranian public agrees with them.

Over a hundred women and men attempted to come together to protest in front of the Ministry of Labor in Tehran on March 8, International Women’s Day, following a call by some women’s rights activists demanding an end to gender discrimination in the work place, family and society as a whole, and an end to the compulsory hijab.  Before they could even gather, they were attacked and beaten.  At least 84 people (59 women and 25 men) were arrested by the police.  Although most have been released on bail, they face court trials.

Nasrin Sotudeh,  a feminist,  leading human rights attorney and defender of many of the Girls of Revolution Avenue was arrested at her home on June 13, imprisoned,  and now faces  a five-year prison sentence.  Sotudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, a writer and political activist was also arrested on June 16.   (see next page for further details on Nasrin Sotudeh).

Leila Hosseinzadeh,  an anthropology student,  labor and women’s rights activist,  who was  arrested after the December protests, along with other student activists,  faces a six-year prison sentence.  She and other student activists who also helped organize protests at Tehran University and  face prison sentences, have been charged with  “endangering national security.”… read more:

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Gary Younge - Rudderless and riven by Brexit, the Tories have only one ambition left

The purpose of the Brexit referendum had precious little to do with the EU; it was simply the latest in a litany of efforts to quell the decades-long psychodrama within the Conservative party. Not only did it achieve the opposite – deepening and exacerbating the rancour within the party – it spread the infection to the country as a whole. For the past two years our government has been paralysed by an internal party feud that has held the nation’s future hostage.

“There are two kinds of European nations,” the Danish finance minister, Kristian Jensen, said last year. “There are small nations and there are countries that have not yet realised they are small nations.” Witnessing that realisation dawn on this government has been painful to watch; anticipating the consequences for generations to come has been excruciating. So on Friday at Chequers the government will do what it has been doing for the past two years: spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating with itself before producing a “solution” that is unworkable, only to take it to Brussels and discover it is also unacceptable. The problem is not just that they don’t have a rabbit; they don’t even have a hat.

Through a series of self-inflicted wounds the Conservative party has reduced itself to this: hovering between delusional and deranged, bluster and buffoonery. Insisting on concessions that have not been offered; suggesting solutions that have already been rejected; showing up to negotiations with nothing to offer; refusing to concede anything, only then to capitulate to everything. A party that has won an outright majority once in the last six elections – and held it for all of two years – while averaging 35% of the vote during that time, is pursuing its civil war and we are all collateral damage. If it were a dog you’d put it down; if it were a wedding you’d call it off. Not only for their own sake, but to prevent the harm they might do to others.

For Conservatives this crisis is no longer just about Europe. Brexit has thrown into question their raison d’etre as a party... read more:

Public libraries

The public library is a part of these invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they begin to disappear. A utopian dream - about the place from which every human being will have access to every piece of available knowledge that can be collected - looked impossible for a long time, until the egalitarian impetus of social revolutions, the Enlightenment idea of universality of knowledge, and the exceptional suspension of the commercial barriers to access to knowledge made it possible. The Internet has... completely changed our expectations and imagination about what is possible. The dream of a catalogue of the world – a universal approach to all available knowledge for every member of society – became realizable.

Library Genesis,, Monoskop, UbuWeb are all examples of fragile knowledge infrastructures built and maintained by brave librarians practicing civil disobedience which the world of researchers in the humanities rely on. These projects are re-inventing the public library in the gap left by today’s institutions in crisis...

In What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution? Robert Darnton considers how a complete collapse of the social order (when absolutely everything - all social values - is turned upside down) would look. Such trauma happens often in the life of individuals but only rarely on the level of an entire society. In 1789 the French had to confront the collapse of a whole social order—the world that they defined retrospectively as the Ancien Régime—and to find some new order in the chaos surrounding them. They experienced reality as something that could be destroyed and reconstructed, and they faced seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into tyranny.

The revolution bootstraps itself. In the dictionaries of the time, the word revolution was said to derive from the verb to revolve and was defined as “the return of the planet or a star to the same point from which it parted.” French political vocabulary spread no further than the narrow circle of the feudal elite in Versailles. The citizens, revolutionaries, had to invent new words, concepts . . . an entire new language in order to describe the revolution that had taken place.

They began with the vocabulary of time and space. In the French revolutionary calendar used from 1793 until 1805, time started on 1 Vendémiaire, Year 1, a date which marked the abolition of the old monarchy on (the Gregorian equivalent) 22 September 1792. With a decree in 1795, the metric system was adopted. As with the adoption of the new calendar, this was an attempt to organize space in a rational and natural way. Gram became a unit of mass.

In Paris, 1,400 streets were given new names. Every reminder of the tyranny of the monarchy was erased. The revolutionaries even changed their names and surnames. Le Roy or Leveque, commonly used until then, were changed to Le Loi or Liberté. To address someone, out of respect, with vous was forbidden by a resolution passed on 24 Brumaire, Year 2. Vous was replaced with tu. People are equal. The watchwords Liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood) were built through literacy, new epistemologies, classifications, declarations, standards, reason, and rationality.

What first comes to mind about the revolution will never again be the return of a planet or a star to the same point from which it departed. Revolution bootstrapped, revolved, and hermeneutically circularized itself... read more:

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Victor Jara murder: ex-military officers sentenced in Chile for 1973 death

In Chile, a fascist junta in 2 years, wiped out 30,000 of the population, imprisoned 200,000 and left 22,000 widows and 66,000 orphans...the operation under the management of Augusto Pinochet, was fired off by a collective comprising the CIA, the State Dept & American business interests. (Read about Milton Friedman's contribution here). Another example of the 'liberalism' of the 'free world'. 

The life and death of Victor Jara – a classic feature from the vaults

RIP Comrade Victor. You and your music will be in our hearts forever

Victor Jara was killed in 1973 in the opening days of the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet.
Victor Jara was killed in 1973 in the opening days of the dictatorship of Gen 
Augusto Pinochet. Photograph: Fundacion Victor Jara, Antonio L/AP
Eight retired Chilean military officers have been sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of popular folk singer Victor Jara during the 1973 coup that installed late dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. A judge handed down the sentences after leading a long-running inquiry into Jara’s death on 16 September, 45 years ago, a statement from Chile’s courts authority said. Miguel Vázquez sentenced the eight men to 15 years and one day in prison for the murder of Jara and that of former prisons director Littre Quiroga Carvajal. A ninth suspect was jailed for five years for his role in covering up the killings.

Jara, 40, was a celebrated singer, theater director and university professor who sympathized with the socialist government of Salvador Allende, who was ousted in the 1973 coup. Jara’s work, and the nature of his death, inspired tributes from artists including Bruce Springsteen, the Clash and U2.
He was detained along with his students, fellow academics and scores of other leftists in a Chilean soccer stadium that has since been named after him. According to detainees in the stadium who survived, Jara’s hands were smashed with the butt of a gun and he was badly beaten during his incarceration. When his body was found three days after his disappearance near a cemetery, it was found riddled with 44 bullet holes. His family, including British-born ballerina wife Joan and his daughter Amanda, has fought a long-running campaign for justice in his case and had his body exhumed in 2009 for a full autopsy.

In 2016, a civil court jury in Florida found another former military official, retired army lieutenant Pedro Barrientos, liable for torturing and killing Jara. Barrientos, who lives in Florida but whose extradition to Chile is currently under US consideration, was also ordered to pay $28m in damages to Jara’s family. The case against Barrientos was filed by the US-based Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights advocacy group, on behalf of Jara’s widow, his daughter and step-daughter. During Pinochet’s rule, which lasted until 1990, an estimated 3,200 people were killed and 28,000 tortured by the state.

see also
ALAN ANGELL - Chile's coup: the perspective of forty years
SENAN FOX - Remembering Salvador Allende

Former Chilean army chief charged over 1973 killing of activists // Former military official found liable for killing of folk singer Victor JaraIn Chile, a fascist junta in 2 years, wiped out 30,000 of the population, imprisoned another 200,000 and left 22,000 widows and 66,000 orphans...the operation under the management of Augusto Pinochet, was fired off by a collective comprising the CIA, the State Dept & American business interests.

The ‘Chicago Boys’ in Chile: Economic Freedom’s Awful Toll
It is curious that the man who wrote a book, Capitalism and Freedom, to drive home the argument that only classical economic liberalism can support political democracy can now so easily disentangle economics from politics when the economic theories he advocates coincide with an absolute restriction of every type of democratic freedom

Milton Friedman did not save Chile: Naomi Klein
Uki Goñi - A grandmother's 36-year hunt for the child stolen by the Argentinian junta

The Political George Orwell. By DAVID N. SMITH

George Orwell was serious about politics. That might seem obvious, given the pervasively political valence of “Orwellian” discourse and the politically charged touchstones of Orwell’s famous novels, the Bolshevik revolution in Animal Farm and totalitarian thought control in Nineteen Eighty-Four

But the degree to which Orwell was steeped in the crosscurrents of radical politics has been routinely underestimated. So much has been said about Orwell’s legendarily plain speech and his free-thinking worldview that he now figures, for many, as an icon of non-doctrinaire and even anti-doctrinaire thought. George Orwell, whose most celebrated novel features a thirty-page tract by a fiery Trotsky-like ideologue on “the theory and practice of oligarchical collectivism,” is often treated as a quixotic naïf whose socialism was moral rather than theoretical, intuitive rather than intellectual. The truth is more complex. Orwell was an iconoclast, but within the socialist tradition, not outside it. His satires of ideological excesses rang true because he knew those excesses intimately — ideologically, culturally, and theoretically.

As we now know, thanks to his Complete Works published between 1986 and 1998, Orwell was very much at home in the arcana of left politics. In 1945, when he rebuked pro-Soviet writers for exaggerating Stalin’s role in the Russian revolution, he drew his evidence from an unexpected source: the man who had served as Stalin’s Foreign Minister from 1930 to 1939 and who had returned to the foreign ministry after serving as Russia’s ambassador to the United States during World War 2.
“I have before me,” Orwell wrote, “what must be a very rare pamphlet, written by Maxim Litvinoff in 1918 and outlining the recent events in the Russian Revolution. It makes no mention of Stalin, but gives high praise to Trotsky, and also to Zinoviev.”

Readers who may have casually noticed, in passing, that characters inspired by Leon Trotsky are central to both Nineteen Eighty-Four (Goldstein) and Animal Farm (Snowball) are often surprised to encounter discussions of Trotskyism in Orwell’s letters and essays - unfiltered, heretical Trotskyism. In his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism,” Orwell offered a regular catalogue of political tendencies, including “3. Trotskyism,” in which he said that this term is frequently “used so loosely as to include Anarchists, democratic Socialists and even Liberals. I use it here to mean a doctrinaire Marxist” and “hostility to the Stalin régime.”

He warned, further, against confusing the doctrine with its namesake: “Trotskyism can be better studied in obscure pamphlets or in papers like the Socialist Appeal than in the works of Trotsky himself, who was by no means a man of one idea.” He was equally interested in many other currents, major and minor. This was not an eccentricity. Orwell never romanticized left groups, even those he favored, like the Independent Labour Party in Britain or the militia of Spain’s Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification, with which he fought in the Spanish civil war. But he admired dissent, and he knew that building an oppositional force, however small, is an achievement. “I have never seen him so enthusiastic,” Arthur Koestler later reminisced, as when they decided to work together to found a human rights organization in 1946.

When groups he opposed but respected were victimized, he rallied to their defense, both privately and publicly. During the war he was sharply critical of anarchist war resisters, but when Scotland Yard raided their press in 1944, Orwell published a stinging criticism in the socialist Tribuneread more:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The many deaths of liberalism. Daniel Cole and Aurelian Craiutu

NB: "Nevertheless, throughout the liberal and free world, many of life’s ‘greatest evils’, including slavery, abject poverty, unemployment, race- and class-based legal differences, and religious discrimination have been eliminated or greatly ameliorated."

This assessment is gravely flawed, especially if the authors take the Indian polity to form a part of the 'liberal and free world'. (What is it, by the way?) Throughout the essay, the issues of capitalism and colonial-era 'liberalism' are treated either as irrelevant, or at most a tangential matter. Social theorising does itself a disservice if it misses out glaring aspects of history. DS

Modern democratic governments are founded on liberal principles meant to create the basis of a fair and just society. Liberalism emerged as a reaction against absolute power, in favour of individual autonomy protected by freedom of conscience and the rule of law. As the political theorist Judith Shklar put it in Political Thought and Political Thinkers(1998): ‘Liberalism’s deepest grounding is … in the conviction of the earliest defenders of toleration, born in horror, that cruelty is an absolute evil, an offence against God or humanity.’ That is why liberal principles include, among others, limited government under the rule of law, with individual rights enforceable against the government.

Liberal societies have not always lived up to these principles, which in some respects are always aspirational. But it cannot be denied that political societies based on liberal principles have been more successful, on almost any measure, than regimes that are more authoritarian, communitarian or sectarian. So why do we read so often today that liberalism is in crisis, failing or already dead? Scholars and pundits of various ideological persuasions are busy signing death certificates and offering obituaries for liberalism, often without clearly defining what they mean by that term. Some claim that liberalism has failed to live up to its own promises. Others argue that it has become irrelevant precisely because it has succeeded in building a free society on allegedly dangerous foundations, such as individual autonomy, neutrality with regard to the good life, and free markets.

These critics might differ among themselves, but they all seem to agree that liberalism can no longer solve our deep social, cultural, political and economic problems, and that it has become ‘unsustainable’. Not coincidentally, all of these critics are living, writing and publishing in liberal countries. And they are demonstrating one of liberalism’s most successful features simply by participating in the quintessentially liberal enterprise of dialogue and disagreement under constitutional protections (with liberal limitations). These are, in fact, the only states in which actual competition for power and dissent is not just allowed but fostered. No one living in a totalitarian society has had the luxury of declaring liberalism, let alone totalitarianism, dead. Nevertheless, the pessimism of liberalism’s critics appears sensible, given the current depressing political climate, dominated by fears of the re-emergence of nationalistic populism reflected in Brexit and the rhetoric of, and policies pursued by, leaders such as Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Orbán in Hungary.

Yet, the prediction of liberalism’s imminent demise is hardly a new story. Scholars and statesmen have been declaring liberalism dead or in deep crisis for at least a century and a half. A review of the many deaths of liberalism might have something to teach us about what, in fact, is happening in the world today… read more:

Why is liberalism failing? Supriya Nair

Damian Carrington - Does the moon hold the key to the earth’s energy needs?

Using giant kites, blades and paddles, and mimicking pogo sticks, blowholes and even the human heart, groups around the world are on the cusp of harnessing the colossal power of the oceans.
The challenge is huge - seas have been battering coasts and sweeping sailors to their doom for millennia - but so is the prize: huge amounts of clean, reliable and renewable electricity for an energy-hungry world. Taking on the challenge of operating in this savage, corrosive environment is not for the faint-hearted, and the costs remain worryingly high, as demonstrated by the government’s rejection on Monday of a £1.3bn tidal project at Swansea. “There is no doubt – shit happens during marine renewable energy projects,” says François Renelier at Bessé, a French insurance broker.

But the ocean energy sector is frothing with ideas, with hundreds of companies developing an extraordinary array of devices and backed by billions of dollars of investment. Among the serious contenders tapping rapid tidal flows are 12 metre-wide underwater kites that soar and swoop.

“We fly with the tides,” says Martin Eklund, at Minesto, which is installing a £25m array off Anglesey, north Wales. “The main advantage is we can harvest energy from very low currents. This resource is abundant – it is everywhere.”.. read more:

Monday, July 2, 2018

Market intellectuals The vacant middle. By Mukul Kesavan

Pundits will tell you that a lot of them endorsed Narendra Modi (and his baggage train of violent vigilantes and drilled Golwalkarites) in 2014 because they thought he would privatize Air India. Even when once pro-Modi commentators shyly channel buyer's remorse about the prime minister, they end by writing that if Modi were to sell off Air India, he would repay their political investment in him, renew their faith in the National Democratic Alliance and refresh Modi's credentials as a modernizer or 'reformer' or whatever the latest term of art is for Davos Man.

Selling Air India is shorthand for economic rationality. Economic rationality is a mantra which, chanted loudly enough, builds a wall of noise which keeps the soundtrack of lynchings and suicides off-stage. These casualties can be waved away as acceptable collateral damage, the price India must pay for a muscular leader capable of selling the short-term pain of market rationality to the masses.

Elected sadhvis, sadhus, mahants and pant-shirt bigots tell us exactly what they think of Muslims, Christians and Dalits and what they plan to do to them; WhatsApp mobs kill people in the name of protecting cows from slaughter or children from abduction; a vigilante with a history of violent affray is elevated by the ruling party to the chief ministership of India's most populated province and still these opinion-mongers see and hear nothing. Where others hear mobs shouting 'maar', ' kaat', these high priests of the invisible hand, these pragmatic centrists, these world-weary veterans of the wars against the License Raj, cup their ears and and hear the aspiring masses chanting 'Mar-ket, mar-ket, mar-ket!'

Some of these sages can claim the virtue of consistency. One, for example, candidly admitted that he endorsed Modi in 2014 because he thought that communalism was an acceptable price to pay for economic growth. Four years down the line he said he would do it again because the lack of economic growth was due to global trends, not Modi's policies; the gau rakshasas and their lynched victims were statistically insignificant and, best of all, there had been no State-sponsored pogroms on Modi's watch.

This smooth willingness to grant Modi absolution for not delivering on his original promise, economic growth, while blandly normalizing the savagery that bloomed around this regime's footprint, is one way in which the discourse of economic reform is used: to clear a space for barbarism. It also has the advantage of deodorizing the pundit's journey to the smelly reaches of the Hindu Right... read more:

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Muntaha Amin: What Studying At Ramjas College Did To My Unquestioning Faith In Religion

Born into a very religious family, religion and religious teachings were taught to me as a way of life. The teaching was spoon-fed to me right from childhood. The notion that you can’t question God’s words, rulings, and commandments no matter what, and I believed in all of this and was a practising Muslim. With these teachings being my worldview, I was indeed an automaton to faith. But faith had somehow been more of fear of God’s punishment to me than love for God. And I guess that was the first undoing. I had internalised and normalised all kinds of things and never thought of anything as unjust and repressive. Education in school and higher secondary was yet another training for being automatons and machines in the system, of being – a utility, never questioning, never trying to look at the world from any other perspective, never questioning the ways of seeing. The end product was, very exclusively exam oriented approach, well, almost mugging up and scoring good in the exams which would bring in a good job and add to one’s privileges.

After coming to Delhi and getting enrolled in Ramjas College, the real journey of immense breakthroughs started in my life. My course was an honors in English Literature and my professors introduced me to critical thinking, critical inquiry into social sciences, and I got introduced to different worldviews. In the initial days in my classes, I learnt about ideas I had never thought of or imagined before. The first lecture with Debraj Mookherjee was also one that would stay with me forever. He said we needed to question everything, starting from what we were taught in schools. Lectures with Vinita Chandra started with disbelief from my side, getting scandalised after hearing different notions about gender and sexuality and thinking of them as too radical. Vinita ma’am answered all my questions with utmost patience and never lost her calm to the most regressive defences I showed. I was a homophobe, yes.

Gender in religion slowly started making me very uncomfortable. Questions of choice, will, agency, assertion, wanting representation in all fields of life, visibility in public and political spaces, right to religion or no religion, right to privacy – all these ideas started burgeoning in my personal space.
Conflicting worldviews existing side by side got my mind messier than ever. Questions started piling up, nobody happened to satisfy me with their answers. On the other hand, there were answers in logic, rationality and looking at things from a material point of view rather than ideological. The pull of rationality was strong indeed, but my faith was no less stronger then. A year of questions, insomnia, rapidly losing weight, mind being impossibly active and thinking all the time, mental fatigue and anxiety followed.

Looking at religion critically, I realised that religion would make “us” and “them” of humans in the definition itself, that is where my problems with it started. The first writing tutorial with Vinita Chandra was to analyse John Lennon’s “Imagine” (the lyrics). I’d never heard or read that before. Imagine there’s no religion, nothing to kill or die for. Imagine all the people, living for today. I started imagining, and it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. But the process and my journey weren’t all too easy. It was the hardest time for my mental health… read more:

see also

Monday, June 25, 2018

'Frankenstein's Monster': The Founder Of BJP's IT Cell Says PM Modi's Team Started The Rot

"What does the BJP need that could put it ahead of other parties?" During a car ride to a campaign venue in Uttar Pradesh in 2007, BJP president Rajnath Singh tossed an unusual question at his media assistant Prodyut Bora. The 33-year-old was taken slightly by surprise. He had been a part of the party for less than three years and didn't belong to a political dynasty. But he took his chance. 

Remember, this was 2007, barely a year after Facebook and Twitter had been launched; the IT industry was booming and no party, Bora felt, had a narrative that could attract this new voting class of young professionals. A few months later, the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'IT Cell' was born, with Bora as a national convenor. Eleven years later, Bora, now also an entrepreneur in clean air technologies with an office in Gurgaon, says his brainchild has mutated beyond recognition. 

"It's like Frankenstein's monster," he said.

Soon after he joined, Bora was assigned to the media cell of the BJP in Delhi under Arun Jaitley. The convenor of the media cell at that time was Siddharth Nath Singh, who he directly reported to. Before Bora left to join politics, he had worked in the DT group which has cinemas in Delhi, his first job, he recounts with a hint of pride, was at Biblio, a celebrated literary magazine. In 2007, Bora was nomi-nated from the cell to join Rajnath Singh during the state polls in UP as his media assistant and spent all of January 2007 traveling with him. Then in May-June, the party announced two new cells. One was Bora's IT cell, the other was the cow protection cell... read more:

Sarah Boseley - The children working the tobacco fields: 'I wanted to be a nurse'

Tiyamike Phiri is 14, with the long skinny legs of a girl entering adolescence. In another world, she would be with friends in the school playground. Instead, she is bent double at the hips, gouging out weeds from the earth under a savage sun between banked rows of tobacco plants using a heavy hoe, made of a tree branch and a metal plate.

She looks up in some wonderment, unused to questioning such a life for a child. She is not unusual. There are 18 tenant families on this tobacco farm in the Kasungu district of Malawi, each living in a straw hut. Only two of the other girls go to school, she says. Two-year-old Jackson Phiri stumbles past. He has a miniature hoe, fashioned by his father, Lazaro, because he cried every time he saw his mother and father set off for the fields carrying tools and wanted one for himself. There seems an inevitability about the lives of these children.

“I left school last year because I had no school materials,” said Tiyamike, her eyes on the ground and her voice quiet. “I liked school. I liked Chichewe [her language] best. I got very good grades. But my main problem was I had no exercise books and nothing to write with.” Without a pen and an exercise book, she could not do schoolwork, her teachers pointed out. But she lives with her older brother and his wife and baby and they have nothing. “I help them in the fields,” she said. She would go back if she could. “I would like to do nursing,” she said. Instead, she weeds, builds earth banks for the tobacco plants and sews the harvested leaves together to suspend them from branches so they dry in the air. Weeding is the worst. “It is a hard job,” she said.

Tiyamike is just one of many children in Malawi who see little future beyond the tobacco fields.
A report in 2011 estimated there were 1.3 million worldwide under the age of 14. The figures are hard to come by, but the International Labour Organization last year reported that child labour was on the increase, in spite of the tobacco companies’ protestations that they are working to end it. “Child labour is rampant,” the report said. Research conducted in Malawi revealed that 57% of all children in two tobacco producing districts were involved in child labour; among tobacco growing families, 63% of children were engaged in child labour... read more:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Nayantara Sahgal speaks to Ajoy Bose: ‘We have a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency’

On June 25, 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India that lasted for 21 months. The period saw widespread human rights violations, jailing of members of the Opposition and a clampdown on press freedom. Forty three years later, journalist Ajoy Bose, author of a newly relaunched book on the Emergency, interviews Nayantara Sahgal, who wrote widely and critically about Indira Gandhi’s policies during the time.

Four and a half decades after the Emergency, how do you remember it and what do you feel was its chief significance?: Well to begin with, the chief significance of the Emergency was that we could not be complacent about our democracy. And that we had to be extremely alert to safeguard it. We also realised that we had taken our freedom of expression for granted and had enjoyed it even though, throughout the country, millions of people did not have the same protection against any kind of authoritarian rule or measures. So for me, the chief significance was that we needed an organisation to guard our civil liberties. Just after the Emergency, the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties was set up and I was associated with the founding of it and served as the vice-president of it for some years.

The draconian powers that the state acquired during Emergency allowed it to unleash unprecedented repression including forced sterilisations and arbitrary demolitions of entire colonies of citizens, particularly those who were poor and marginalised. How would you characterise such a state that turned what used to be a democracy into a dictatorship overnight? Why was there so little mass resistance to this? First of all, I don’t think it happened overnight. I was writing political commentaries regularly for The Indian Express during those years of Mrs Gandhi’s reign in power and it was very clear to me that we were heading towards an authoritarian system. We already had the call for committed civil servants, committed judiciary and so on. And there was a bill drawn to curb the press. These things had been happening before the Emergency was declared so it came as no surprise to me at all. Now you speak of silence. I think one has to realise that there are millions of people who cannot speak because it would cost them their jobs, their livelihood, their safety, safety of their families. It was a draconian time and, you know, the whole Opposition was in jail and [also] those who could speak on behalf of those who could not. That is why I wrote a book on the Emergency period and Mrs Gandhi’s political style, which, of course, was not published during the Emergency but immediately after.

Why have people started comparing the present situation in the country with the Emergency even though the current Modi regime came to power through a democratic election and some of the more infamous features of the Emergency like the large-scale arrests of political leaders and activists and press censorship are missing? What are the differences and similarities between then and now?
Well, we have an undeclared Emergency, there is no doubt about that. We have seen a huge, massive attack on the freedom of expression. We have seen innocent, helpless Indians killed because they did not fit into the RSS’s view of India. We have seen known and unknown Indians murdered. Writers like Gauri Lankesh have been killed. And there has been no justice for the families of the wage earners who have lost their lives in this fashion. In fact they are now being called the accused. So we have a horrendous situation, a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency. During the Emergency we knew what the situation was. The Opposition was in jail, there was no freedom of speech, etc. Now we are living in a battered, bleeding democracy. And though no Emergency has been declared, people are being killed, people are being jailed; people are being hauled up for sedition and for being anti-national. It is an absolutely nightmarish situation which has no equal. This government is pretending to be democratic but we see what is happening all around. And nothing has come out of the government’s mouth to condemn all these goings on. So I rate it as a situation which has no equal in India… read more:

Citizens Conclave on safeguarding the Constitution and protecting democracy

NB: This is the programme (along with an introductory note) that I received for a forthcoming Citizens Conclave on safeguarding the Constitution and protecting dissent and rights of minorities. I wholeheartedly support the idea of this conclave, but I think it is lacking in one significant respect. If there is a clear reason why the plight of Kashmiri Pandits need not be raised and discussed at a forum on inclusive democracy, then that reason should be made public. It is not a matter of privately-held beliefs, but of public responsibility, especially as we claim to be concerned with the fate of Indian democracy. Here is the letter I sent to the person who kindly sent me the programme, and to some other persons associated with it. Four of them - thus far - have endorsed my suggestion, including Aruna Roy, Javed Anand & Purushottam Agrawal, but as I have not heard from the organisers and as the matter is urgent, I am posting it on this blog:

Thank you for this invitation for a timely conference. The themes democracy and dissent, and the plight of minorities are very relevant for all democrats. The plight of Kashmiri Pandits does not seem to figure among your listed concerns in this admirable programme (please correct me if I am wrong). The bulk of the Pandit population has been the victim of terror-inspired fear and lacs were forced to leave their ancestral homes. Large numbers were killed by terrorists. A small number of them remain in the Valley, and have repeatedly called attention to their plight. Should not Indian citizens interested in dissent and the rights of minorities listen to them?

Please see some communications from Mr Sanjay Tikoo of the KPSS:

I urgently request you to correct this discrepancy and invite some speakers or Mr Tikoo to speak their minds on this question. It is not good for Indian democracy for its defenders to appear to neglect any section of suffering people. Since your conference is about dissent, I trust you will take my suggestion in the right spirit. 

I take the liberty of addressing this request to those whom I have copied into this message.
My best wishes for the success of the conclave
yours sincerely
Dilip Simeon

Deputy Speaker Hall; Constitution Club; New Delhi 
Safeguarding the Constitution; Ensuring the Independence and Integrity of the Civil Services and Defence Forces 
9-9.50 am:  Registration & Tea
9.50-10.00: Welcome: Dr Harshvardhan Hegde
10 am-1 pm: Session 1
Chair: Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas
Speakers: Air Marshal Vir Narain; Dr. Atul Bharadwaj; NC Saxena, Former Secretary, Planning Commission; Sindhushree Khullar, Former Secretary, Planning Commission; Tuk Tuk Ghosh, Former Secretary & Financial Advisor; Wajahat Habibullah, First Chief Information Commissioner

2-5 pm: Session 2
Chair: Ashok Vajpeyi, Former Secretary Culture; 
Speakers: Air Marshal Kapil Kak; Aruna Roy, Former IAS; Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFS, Former Ambassador; Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd.); Niranjan Pant, Former Deputy CAG; Sundar Burra, Former IAS 

5-6 pm: Tea
Entry Open