Tuesday, 30 April 2013

1984 carnage - 5 convicted, main accused Sajjan Kumar acquitted

NB: How can the recorded testimony of witnesses be held against 5 accused and the testimony of the same witnesses not held against one accused? Why was a chargesheet dated 1992 'missing'? Why was an FIR dated 1987 not acted upon? Why is the Delhi Police reluctant to act on a PIL asking for action against policemen who were responsible for these derelictions of duty?  

Those keen on reducing communal bias to a partisan dimension may kindly remember that the Babri demolition case is also hanging fire for decades: Babri demolition case: SC questions CBI over delay in challenging HC order on Advani, othersAnd that the police call records relevant to Zakia Jafri's case against Modi were left out of the Special Investigation Teams report: Police records show Gujarat riots weren’t a sudden backlash
And here are  other cases where the prosecution failed to prosecute:
KPSS demands probe by CBI into all Kashmiri pandit killings


WHO ARE THE GUILTY? Report of an inquiry into the causes & impact of the riots in Delhi (October-November 1984)

NEW DELHI: The judgment in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case was pronounced amid high-voltage drama and chaos with a person hurling a shoe at the judge and the media being manhandled by police. Minutes before the court pronounced its verdict against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar and others,chaos erupted outside the courtroom with Delhi Police refusing to let the media inside. Initially,the court was set to pronounce the judgment at 2pm but deferred it till 3 pm while police sanitized the area outside the courtroom. The Karkardooma court complex soon turned into a fortress with a large number of police officials guarding the gates and 20-30 cops stationed outside the courtroom.The media were asked to cooperate with police and move out of the court in order to do a security sweep of the room. But after being made to wait for more than 90 minutes they were not allowed to enter even the hall outside the courtroom.

As the moment for the verdict neared,anxious spectators,including newspersons and the families of victims, moved towards the courtroom but were stopped short. At 2.50 pm, Sajjan Kumar arrived amid tight security with police forming a human chain around him.Clad in a light grey safari suit, he appeared tired and under strain. As he entered the courtroom, police manhandled newspersons, including female journalists,to stop them from entering the courtroom. Amid this chaos,the courtroom door was shut and within minutes the verdict was pronounced behind closed doors. When the door opened after five minutes, Kumar had already left from the back exit meant for judges.In those five minutes,the judge was also attacked with a shoe by a man identified as Karnail Singh Peer Mohammad, president of All India Sikh Students Federation. Karnail Singh was immediately taken into custody.

Soon after the verdict,Jagdish Kaur,complainant in the case,her son Gurdeep Singh and a few others refused to leave the courtroom saying they wont go without getting justice.I will not leave till I get justice.I will die here.I will sit here until Kumar is held guilty for the crime he committed and gets death penalty, Kaur said.They were later made to leave by a posse of lathiwielding policemen. The verdict also came as a jolt to senior advocate H S Phoolka,who remained silent for half an hour looking visibly shocked. Sitting in a corner, he initially refused to speak. Later, he said, "The court has also not seen the behaviour of Delhi Police from the very beginning. The court has not seen that there were six policemen who deposed in Kumars favour. The police have been shielding Kumar since day one."


 Shocked Trilokpuri relives the horrors
NEW DELHI: When images of angry Sikhs protesting against the acquittal of Sajjan Kumar flashed on the TV screen, 42-year-old Kanwaljit Singh Sandhu was stunned into silence. His wife too watched in shock, sitting by his side in the drawing room of their house in a crowded Trilokpuri neighbourhood. Sandhu's teenaged brothers were burnt alive near Laxmi Nagar and his wife, Simranjeet, an eight-year old then, had seen her grandfather burn before her eyes. "Khoon khaulta hai jab dekhtey hain key koi nyay nahin hai," Sandhu said, pointing at photographs of his parents mounted on the wall. His father died 10 years ago waiting for justice and his mother passed away four years back in November living with the fear that the same fate may befall Sandhu's two sons. "Punish the guilty and the powerful involved. That is what will give us a sense of justice," said Sandhu, who lives on a modest rental income.

Memories of a chilly November 1984 came pouring in with descriptions of rioting mobs ripping through Sikh homes in the congested lanes of Block 30 and 32, killing, burning and brutalizing hundreds. "Yeh kahani bahut lambi hai. Na hum suna sakte hain ise, na aap sun payenge," said 75-year-old Sardar Harminder Singh, a neighbour who survived by hiding in a trunk for three days. A Hindu family kept him safe. He runs a workshop in Trilokpuri.

In the lanes of Trilokpuri, people still point out the chowk that turned into a pyre for burning men, kerbstones that were smeared with blood, stormwater drains and parks from where the army pulled out bodies and media persons who joined rescue teams to pull out Sikhs holed up in cupboards, trunks and bedding. Sardar Harminder Singh told this correspondent that the busy chowk that leads to Block 30 and 32 was where the men were pulled out and burnt alive. There are no Sikh families here now. "Each block has 500 houses where the community stayed. The riots wiped out entire families and houses. The men and boys were killed, the women abused and those who survived fled to Punjab or relocated later in Tilak Vihar. The Sikh families of Kalayanpuri have similar tales. Elderly Sikh men like Bachan Singh, who now work as welders, described how they used rifles to protect their neighbours. Earlier this month, when a trial court ordered reopening of a riot case against former MP and senior Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, residents of Tilak Vihar, where survivors like Charanjeet Kaur live, relived the early morning hours of November 2, 1984. Kaur broke down and asked why her statement recorded more than once hadn't led to the arrest of the attackers. Other elderly women, who were young and happily married in 1984, said the Centre and Delhi government had failed them. Is anyone listening?


'After 29 years, I have lost all hope’
NEW DELHI: "If the court cannot punish the person who destroyed my family, it should instead kill me." With these words, Jagdish Kaur broke down in the courtroom as soon as a trial court acquitted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar of the charges of murder and instigating the mob to kill Sikhs during the 1984 riots. Kaur, whose husband, son and three cousins were killed during the riots, was the main complainant in the case. She was also the mainCBI eyewitness as she had seen Kumar inciting the mob on November 1, 1984. She clearly remembers what Kumar had said 29 years ago. "I saw him telling the mob that 'Kill all the Sikhs and don't even spare the Hindu families which are trying to give them shelter' ," Kaur told TOI after the verdict.

"I have carried around this wound for the past 29 years and now I have lost all hopes," she said. She also alleged, "Kumar had offered me Rs 8 crore to keep my mouth shut and spare him in the case. He had told me that if I do not depose against him, he will get the other accused hanged." Kaur said the court had let off the main accused while convicting the five co-accused "who were less guilty and were only following his dictates". "If it has acquitted the main accused, the others should also be freed." Her son Gurdeep claimed that despite being the complainants in the case, they were not allowed to come inside the room while the accused were there. "It seems he (Sajjan) made some arrangements that is why we were not allowed to enter." 

Senior advocate H S Phoolka, who has been representing the victims in the case, also termed the verdict as "unfortunate". "The victims and their families are now frustrated. They are not keen on moving an appeal. It is me who is trying to convince them to carry on their fight for justice," Phoolka said, who plans to move superior court against the judgment. "The court has taken a very hypertechnical view. How can the testimony of the witnesses recorded by it can be held against five accused and the testimony of the same witnesses is not held against one accused?" 

Acquittal not the end of Sajjan’s woes
NEW DELHI: Sajjan Kumar is not out of the woods yet. Another case registered according to the recommendations of Nanavati Commissionis pending before a trial court besides the one related to the "missing chargesheet" which allegedly named Kumar as an accused but was never put up in court by Delhi Police.  Kumar's fate in the second case being investigated by the CBI is at present in the hands of Delhi high court which first reserved its orders and then on Monday reopened for further arguments his plea against framing of charges in the case.

Justice Suresh Kait has now posted for May 15 Kumar's plea against a trial court order for framing charges against him for a murder in a riot case in Sultanpuri area. HC had reserved its order in December last year in the case in which the CBI has also charged Ved Prakash Pial alias Vedu Pradhan and Brahmanand Gupta for murder, rioting and spreading enmity between two communities . In the other case, it was the Delhi high court-appointed special prosecutor, B S Joon, who discovered the "missing chargesheet" in police files. In a bid to fast-track the riot cases across various police stations, HC had in 2010 put in place a panel of special prosecutors. During his collation of files, Joon came across a chargesheet naming Sajjan Kumar as an accused . The chargesheet was signed on April 8, 1992. The FIR registered in 1987 in Nangloi police station is still pending with no action taken on it.

The police pleaded innocence , claiming it was because they had clubbed it with another FIR. This had led the special prosecutor to question the right of police to do this, arguing that only the courts can decide on this. Surprised by Joon's findings , senior advocate H S Phoolka moved a PIL in HC. Representing the 'November 84 Carnage Justice Committee' , he sought criminal proceedings against the guilty police officers who never put up the "missing chargesheet" before the court. In January this year, HC asked the police commissioner to consider the PIL as a representation /complaint and verify if there was any truth in the charge that the chargesheet was never filed before the court with the "sole purpose of shielding Sajjan Kumar" .

"So far, no complaint is lodged in this regard with the police...we are not inclined to issue any direction," the court had said, indicating its unwillingness to issue directions on the PIL. Since then the complaint has been pending before the police chief.




ONE man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago. I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity. I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
I could have been home years ago — no one seriously thinks I am a threat — but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a “guard” for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don’t even seem to believe it anymore. But they don’t seem to care how long I sit here, either.
When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I’d never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.
I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.
Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I’m sleeping.
There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.
It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.
When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one. I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen’s president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any “security measures” they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary. I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.
The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood. And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.

Monday, 29 April 2013

National Investigation Agency finds Liyaqat crossed over with family, SSB verified his claim with J&K Police

The National Investigation Agency, probing the arrest of alleged Hizbul Mujahideen operative Syed Liyaqat Ali Shah, is learnt to have found substantial evidence that contradicts the Delhi Police Special Cell's claim that they nabbed him from near Gorakhpur on March 20.

An NIA team accompanied Liyaqat to the India-Nepal border at Sunauli, in UP's Maharajganj district, on Sunday. Sources said the Sashastra Seema Bal at the Sunauli checkpost told NIA officials that 12 Kashmiris, including Liyaqat, his wife and step-daughter, had crossed over from Nepal on March 19. The group said they were on their way from PoK to Kashmir as part of the J&K government's rehabilitation scheme.

After reportedly verifying the group's claim with the J&K Police, the SSB arranged to send them to Jammu. But, sources said, the SSB received a communication from the Delhi Police asking them to hand over Liyaqat.

The NIA also examined video footage of CCTV cameras installed at Sunauli checkpost which captured images of Liyaqat and the others. Announcing Liyaqat's arrest on March 22, the Delhi Police claimed to have foiled a plot to carry out terror strikes in the capital.

Wars push number of internally displaced people to record levels

Wars in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) pushed the number of people internally displaced by armed conflict, violence and human rights violations to 28.8 million last year, the highest figure recorded by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva. More than 6.5 million people were newly displaced within their own countries in 2012, almost twice as many as the year before, IDMC said in its annual report. Since these people have not crossed borders, they are not refugees and do not benefit from international protection.
The situation in Syria is particularly critical, as it is the world's largest and fastest evolving crisis in terms of new displacements. The number of Syrian internally displaced persons (IDPs) is now more than 3 million, of which 2.4 million were displaced last year. "The crisis is in its third year and the escalation has gone beyond a tipping point," said Clare Spurrell, an IDMC spokeswoman. "Humanitarians can't save Syria, it has to be the politicians … what you are seeing are people who are utterly exhausted. The internally displaced are completely reliant on others, but host communities are themselves suffering from a lack of food, and diseases are breaking out."
The UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, has described the Syrian civil war as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war, and more brutal and destructive than the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Until the conflict in Syria is resolved, internal displacement will continue to accelerate, said the IDMC, pointing out that this phenomenon has been seen in other countries with drawn-out conflicts.
Colombia has the largest number of IDPs in the world, followed by Syria and the DRC, which has the third largest IDP population. The region with the largest number of IDPs last year was sub-Saharan Africa, where there were 10.4 million IDPs by the end of 2012, almost a third of the world's internally displaced population.
About a million people fled their homes in DRC as a result of attacks from the rebel group M23. In November, 140,000 people fled the North Kivu capital of Goma in a single week as M23 forces entered the city. Conflict in Mali and increased violence in Nigeria from the radical Islamist group Boko Haram also caused large new displacements.
The report suggests that while a resolution to the conflict, particularly in Syria, is critical to dealing with an internal displacement crisis, so too is bridging the gap between emergency response and development. "Ninety percent of the countries monitored by IDMC have IDPs living in protracted displacement, often for decades, while second and third generations are born into displacement,'' said Kate Halff, director of IDMC. She added: ''Governments are responsible for finding long-term solutions for their displaced citizens. However, they can only be realised when the governments and the international community recognise that people forced from their homes require not only a humanitarian response at the height of a crisis, but sustained engagement until a lasting solution is achieved."
African countries have emerged as pioneers in addressing the problem of IDPs. In December, the Kampala convention, the world's first legally binding instrument to outline the obligations of governments to protect and assist IDPs, came into force.
So far, the convention has been signed, although not necessarily ratified, by 37 of the 53 members of the African Union. It binds governments to provide legal protection for the rights and wellbeing of those forced to flee inside their own countries due to conflict, violence, natural disasters, or development projects. Under the convention, governments must gather data and identify IDPs to understand where they are and what they need, provide personal ID documents, trace families and help to reunite them, and consult IDPs in decisions on their needs.

GITA SAHGAL - Backlash against Bangladeshi bloggers

The bloggers of Shahbagh are facing a backlash – hunted by fundamentalists, denounced in mosques as atheists, arrested by the government. Those abroad are under threat. Meanwhile activists are still demanding justice and cyber movements are using their mobilising power to deal with disasters.

This has been a troubling week for those who care about Bangladesh.  The April 26 collapse of Rana Plaza, the garment factory building owned by a prominent member of the ruling party, the Awami League, shows the economic costs of the country’s “economic miracle.”  Bangladeshi cyber-activists threw themselves into raising funds and helping to buy medicines for hospitals running out of supplies.  If lives are being saved, one told me, it is because ordinary people are helping to mobilise relief.
The movement for accountability for war crimes, consists of several generations of activists  - from those who feel strongly about the war because they witnessed its atrocities, to the children of victims demanding justice, to younger generations born since the mass movements of the 1990s first demanded war crimes trials. Each generation has experienced a backlash against it from both fundamentalists and the state.
And this is true of the most recent of these movements. The mass populist uprising occupying Shahbag in Dhaka, calling for ‘maximum punishment’  (the death penalty) for war criminals, was sparked by the triumphant V sign made by a convicted man. He saw his life sentence as a victory.  At first, the political parties courted the Shahbag movement, with the government promising to rush through legislation that  reflected its main demands – allowing the prosecution to challenge the sentence to make it harsher, and amending the law to enable  the Jamaat e Islami  to be put on trial as an organisation. The Jamaat-e-Islami,the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, responded to the conviction and death sentence of the Deputy leader of the party, Delawar Hussein Sayeedi, with a country-wide campaign of violence, with particularly vicious attacks on religious minorities, including killing Hindus and destroying temples and homes. Christian Bangladeshis also reported attacks, but in some cases people were too afraid to make an official report.
Abroad, the conviction was referred to as ‘judicial murder’, to capitalise on the revulsion against the death penalty. But Western criticism of the Tribunal process failed to note also that peaceful opposition to religious fundamentalism was met by death threats, assault and murder. All  opposition to them was labelled ‘atheists’, and a label that seemed intended to provoke mass revulsion, promote extra-judicial killings as well as create a climate for  laws criminalising blasphemy.
 Rajib, a young blogger, activist and professed atheist who was targeted online and then murdered,  has become an iconic figure in the movement. The fundamentalists have gone after a number of individual bloggers, beating people up and issuing death threats online or on mobiles. Labelling people as atheists, whether they are or not, puts them at risk of attack, and the bloggers have been targeted as atheists by both Muslim fundamentalists and the government.
In their defense, atheists, humanists and secularists  and declared April 25 an International Day to Defend Bangladesh's Bloggers. With some more protests planned on 4th May in deference to the tragedy currently gripping Bangladesh.  The young bloggers need all the support they can get, for another fundamentalist group has arisen out of nowhere with a familiar list of fundamentalist demands.  On April 7 this group, Hefazat e Islam, staged a mammonth “long march” of half a million people to protest against the mixed sex, peaceful, candlelit gatherings in Shahbagh.  They made 13 demands,which contain many of familiar obsessions of fundamentalists. Apart from demanding a defamation law with the highest punishment ( in other words making blasphemy punishable by death) , Hefazat wants to declare Ahmadiyas to be non-Muslim, attacks practices such as candle lighting and putting up sculptures, opposes sexual mixing and “promotion of Islamophobia among the youth,” wants compulsory Islamic education at all levels and an end to “ungodly education, inheritance laws and unIslamic laws generally.”  Christian and other NGOs are attacked for proselytizing  and “an immediate and unconditional release of all detained Islamic scholars” is demanded.
Rather than defend the Shahbagh bloggers against fundamentalists, the government has found it expedient to crack down on them. When Hefazat e Islam prepared a list of 84 “atheist” bloggers, the government responded with its own list of those who had “hurt religious sentiments.”  Four bloggers have been taken into custody and more arrests are threatened.  In order to humiliate and terrify dissenters, the police paraded the bloggers and had them photographed with their computers as if they found a cache of stolen goods. One blogger wrote, “it broke our hearts but it will not break our spirits.” Their accounts have been hacked, whether by non-state or state-backed people it is hard to say.  Some bloggers have noticed that their arrested colleagues’ accounts remained active even after they were arrested, and have speculated that “evidence” may have been planted in them.
These demands are nothing new to Bangladesh, where Islamists have been trying to get a blasphemy law passed since the early nineties, when they went after the writer Taslima Nasrin. By labelling all bloggers as atheists, the fundamentalists hope turn the tide of public opinion against them. Throughout the war crimes trials, Jamaat’s strategy has been to say that they are being attacked as Muslims and as an opposition party, and to evade addressing the grave crimes  of which they are accused. Their lobbying campaign has been very persuasive for many MPs in Britain, who  demanded an invitation to monitor the Tribunal while also instructing the government of Bangladesh that they should not have ‘a retributive process’ but adopt a reconciliation model.

That is why it was heartening to see support for the principle of accountability from MPs from a range of parties. Two British MEPs, Charles Taylor, Conservative, and Jean Lambert of the Green Party, addressed a rally on war crimes in London on 28th April, which passed off peacefully. Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Attorney General, who has recently travelled in Bangladesh, acknowledged the strong democratic mandate for the trials and the immense strength of feeling on the issue. She said that if people were assured that life actually meant life, rather than a sentence that could be reversed by a change in government, the issue of the death penalty may not have arisen at all.
Writing in 2002 about the campaign by Jamaat e Islami and other fundamentalist organisations to make blasphemy a criminal offence, Bangladeshi Supreme Court lawyer Sara Hossain described  a three-pronged strategy,  “invoking criminal laws to curtail speech by targeted individuals and groups, fomenting a climate of intolerance against them, and mobilising public sentiment for the enactment of draconian new laws – as key tools in their project of silencing expressions of difference, and asserting their vision of a monolithic Islam.” All these elements are present in today’s battles.
The conflict between Bangladeshi secularists and fundamentalists has spread to London’s East End where, on Feb. 8th, at Altab Ali Park, young demonstrators supporting Shahbagh clashed with men from the Jamaat-dominated East London mosque.  For older anti-racists, the scenes were remniscent of decades old battles where the police simply protected the aggressors ‘freedom of speech’ and right to threaten and intimidate. Fundamentalist demonstrations from the Jamaat associated East London Mosque  have been taking place regularly after Friday prayers, according to activists.  Secular Bangladeshis of all religious backgrounds and none were finally able to rally and march outwards from Altab Ali park through Brick Lane and the surrounding streets. It was a suitable demonstration that the secular activists who have been receiving regular death threats have not been cowed into retreat.
Thousands of leaflets have been distributed from the East London Mosque and across the world labeling prominent bloggers as atheists. Sermons have been read attacking atheists, Hindus and suggestive statements made regarding sexual assault. In Bangladesh, fundamentalists  paraded a banner which said, ‘we demand the death penalty for atheist bloggers because they use obscene language to criticise Allah, Mohammed and the Quran.’  Statements such as these, along with murderous attacks on atheist and free thinking bloggers, need to be considered alongside the leaflets identifying named individuals as atheists and accusing them of insulting religion, to see whether they amount to incitement to  murder. Fundamentalists consider it an obligation for believers to kill apostates; a recent Moroccan fatwa  makes this very clear, as does theexperience of an atheist from Bangladesh, applying for asylum in Canada.
It is clear that free-thinking activists will be actively targeted first by fundamentalists, and then by the state, so can expect no protection anywhere. As Asif Mohiuddin, one of the Bangladeshi bloggers said just before his arrest, “To drag religion into politics and playing with it like a football is the real offence towards religion.”  Authorities in both London and Dhaka are playing with fire if they think protecting hate campaigns is the same as defending freedom of religion. 

USHA RAMANATHAN: Aadhaar: Private ownership of UID data- Part I

As per the report of the TAG-UP Committee headed by Nandan Nilekani, government data and databases would be privatised through the creation of NIUs, which will then ‘own’ the data and the government would become a ‘customer’ to whoever controls the data!

It is no secret that data is the new property. The potential for evolving technologies to record, collate, converge, retrieve, mine, share, profile and otherwise conjure with data has given life to this form of property, and to spiralling ambitions around it. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up with its push to enrol the entire Indian resident population, and with Nandan Nilekani as both its chairman and as chair of committees set up by Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. In this set-up, we are witnessing the emergence of an information infrastructure, which the government helps—by financing and facilitating the ‘start-up’, and by the use of coercion to get people on to the database—which it will then hand over to corporate interests when it reaches a ‘steady state’.

Since Mr Nilekani was appointed the chairperson of the UIDAI, in the rank of a Cabinet minister, he has chaired multiple committees, each of which pushes for the collection of data and the creation of databases, and steers the government to become a customer of whoever controls the database. Several reports on e-governance as part of the report of the National Knowledge Commission: Report to the Nation 2006-2009 as well as Report of the Committee for Unified Toll Collection Technology (June 2010), the National e-governance plan (November 2011, Background Papers), Interim Report of the Task Force on direct transfer of subsidies on kerosene (June 2011), LPG and fertiliser’ Report of the Task Force on IT Strategy and an implementable solution for the direct transfer of subsidy for food and kerosene (October 2011: Final report), Report of the Task Force on anAadhaar-enabled unified payment infrastructure (February 2012), and, of course, the TAG-UP report, are testimony to how Mr Nilekani has been used to promote a set ofdatabase-related ambitions.

It was in the January 2011 report of the Nilekani-chaired Technology Advisory Group on Unique Projects (TAG-UP) that the framework for the private ownership of databases was elaborated and explained. These were about databases constructed out of data that is given to the government to hold in a fiduciary capacity, and expected to be used for specified, and limited, purposes. The Nilekani Committee report directly dealt with five projects—Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), Tax Information Network (TIN), Expenditure Information Network (EIN), National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) and the New Pension System (NPS). It recommended that the suggested framework “be more generally applicable to the complex IT-intensive systems, which are increasingly coming to prominence in the craft of Indian public administration”.

As the Nilekani Committee understood it, the government has two major tasks: policymaking and implementation. Implementation is fettered by absence of leadership and active ownership of projects, outdated recruitment processes and methodology, inability to pay market salaries for specialised skills, lack of avenues for continued enhancement of professional skills and career growth, non-conducive work environment, outdated performance evaluation and preference for seniority over merit, and untimely transfer of officers. Rather than expend time on finding correctives to the system, the Nilekani committee found in this an opportunity for private business interest. Without further ado, and without considering, for instance the capacities and deficiencies in privatising databases, and what this means for citizens and residents, the Nilekani committee found its answer in National Information Utilities (NIUs).

“NIUs would be private companies with a public purpose: profit-making, not-profit maximising”. The government would have “strategic control”, that is, it would be focussed on how it would achieve the objectives and outcomes, leaving the NIU ‘flexible’ in its functioning. Total private ownership should be at least 51%. The government should have at least 26% share. Once it reaches a steady state, the government would be a “paying customer” and, as a paying customer, “the government would be free to take its business to another NIU”. Except, of course, given the “large upfront sunk-cost, economies ofscale, and network externalities from a surrounding ecosystem (and what this means is not explained any further), NIUs are ... essentially set up as natural monopolies”.

The Nilekani Committee evinces a deep disinterest in the various rungs of government. It asks for the “total support and involvement of the top management within the government” -- words reflecting the UIDAI’s experience, with the Prime Minister and Montek Singh Ahluwalia being its staunch supporters, and much of the rest of the administration seemingly unclear about what the project entails. To get a buy-in from the bureaucracy, “in-service officers” are to be deployed in the NIUs and are to be given an allowance of 30% of their remuneration... read more:

Salman Rushdie: Whither Moral Courage?

In February 2012, a Saudi poet and journalist, Hamza Kashgari, published three tweets about the Prophet Muhammad: "On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you."  "On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more." "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more." He claimed afterward that he was "demanding his right" to freedom of expression and thought. He found little public support, was condemned as an apostate, and there were many calls for his execution. He remains in jail.
... the grand old man of Indian painting, Maqbool Fida Husain, was hounded into exile in Dubai and London, where he died, because he painted the Hindu goddess Saraswati in the nude (even though the most cursory examination of ancient Hindu sculptures of Saraswati shows that while she is often adorned with jewels and ornaments, she is equally often undressed).. Rohinton Mistry's celebrated novel "Such a Long Journey" was pulled off the syllabus of Mumbai University because local extremists objected to its content...

We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage - the courage of the life of the mind, or of public figures. A man in a cowboy hat vaults a fence to help Boston bomb victims while others flee the scene: we salute his bravery, as we do that of servicemen returning from the battlefront, or men and women struggling to overcome debilitating illnesses or injuries.

It's harder for us to see politicians, with the exception of Nelson Mandela and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as courageous these days. Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the inevitable compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore. One man's hero (Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro) is another's villain. We no longer easily agree on what it means to be good, or principled, or brave. When political leaders do take courageous steps - as France's Nicolas Sarkozy, then president, did in Libya by intervening militarily to support the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi - there are as many who doubt as approve. Political courage, nowadays, is almost always ambiguous.
Even more strangely, we have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma. It was not always so. The writers and intellectuals who opposed Communism, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the rest, were widely esteemed for their stand. The poet Osip Mandelstam was much admired for his "Stalin Epigram" of 1933, in which he described the fearsome leader in fearless terms - "the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip" - not least because the poem led to his arrest and eventual death in a Soviet labor camp.
As recently as 1989, the image of a man carrying two shopping bags and defying the tanks of Tiananmen Square became, almost at once, a global symbol of courage.
Then, it seems, things changed. The "Tank Man" has been largely forgotten in China, while the pro-democracy protesters, including those who died in the massacre of June 3 and 4, have been successfully redescribed by the Chinese authorities as counterrevolutionaries. The battle for redescription continues, obscuring or at least confusing our understanding of how "courageous" people should be judged. This is how the Chinese authorities are treating their best known critics: the use of "subversion" charges against Liu Xiaobo, and of alleged tax crimes against Ai Weiwei, is a deliberate attempt to blind people to their courage, and paint them, instead, as criminals.
Such is the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church that the jailed members of the Pussy Riot collective are widely perceived, inside Russia, as immoral troublemakers because they staged their famous protest on church property. Their point - that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is too close to President Vladimir V. Putin for comfort - has been lost on their many detractors, and their act is not seen as brave, but improper.
Two years ago in Pakistan, the former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, wrongly sentenced to death under the country's draconian blasphemy law; for this he was murdered by one of his own security guards. The guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was widely praised and showered with rose petals when he appeared in court. The dead Mr. Taseer was widely criticized, and public opinion turned against him. His courage was obliterated by religious passions. The murderer was called a hero.
In February 2012, a Saudi poet and journalist, Hamza Kashgari, published three tweets about the Prophet Muhammad:
"On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you."  "On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more." "On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."
He claimed afterward that he was "demanding his right" to freedom of expression and thought. He found little public support, was condemned as an apostate, and there were many calls for his execution. He remains in jail.
The writers and intellectuals of the French Enlightenment also challenged the religious orthodoxy of their time, and so created the modern concept of free thought. We think of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and the rest as intellectual heroes. Sadly, very few people in the Muslim world would say the same of Hamza Kashgari.
This new idea - that writers, scholars and artists who stand against orthodoxy or bigotry are to blame for upsetting people - is spreading fast, even to countries like India that once prided themselves on their freedoms. In recent years, the grand old man of Indian painting, Maqbool Fida Husain, was hounded into exile in Dubai and London, where he died, because he painted the Hindu goddess Saraswati in the nude (even though the most cursory examination of ancient Hindu sculptures of Saraswati shows that while she is often adorned with jewels and ornaments, she is equally often undressed).
Rohinton Mistry's celebrated novel "Such a Long Journey" was pulled off the syllabus of Mumbai University because local extremists objected to its content. The scholar Ashis Nandy was attacked for expressing unorthodox views on lower-caste corruption. And in all these cases the official view - with which many commentators and a substantial slice of public opinion seemed to agree - was, essentially, that the artists and scholars had brought the trouble on themselves. Those who might, in other eras, have been celebrated for their originality and independence of mind, are increasingly being told, "Sit down, you're rocking the boat."

Books reviewed: What happened to Occupy?

The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, by David Graeber, Allen Lane 

Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics, by Kalle Lasn and Adbusters, Penguin 

Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, by WJT Mitchell, Bernard Harcourt and Michael Taussig, University of Chicago Press

Reviewed by Martin Sandbu

When the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters issued a call to “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) in 2011, the response took everyone by surprise – including the Occupiers themselves. Anti-capitalist activists and their sympathisers flooded the streets, starting in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan and spreading quickly to St Paul's Cathedral in London and cities across the Anglo-American world. Largely supported by the public, they also captured significant media attention.

In retrospect, the real surprise is that all this did not happen sooner. Anger with banks and the mess they had caused had been boiling for three years. Recall, for example, the (thwarted) attempt by the US House of Representatives – not normally an anti-Wall Street body – to impose a 90 per cent tax rate on bonuses by bailed-out financial companies. That the protests proved shortlived is explained in part by the relative speed with which the Occupy encampments were cleared by shamefully thin-skinned authorities. A more profound reason was yet another surprising fact about the Occupy movement: while it suddenly and unexpectedly held the establishment’s attention, it chose to be silent.

Nobody doubted what the Occupiers were against. Whatever else divided them, they were united in their disgust with a financial capitalism that had sacrificed the rest of society to the “one per cent” at the top, and at the politicians who had betrayed the 99 per cent they claimed to represent. But to the frustration of critics – even sympathetic ones – the movement never stated what it was for. In the battle of ideas around the significance of Occupy – and the entire politics of protest in the wake of the crisis – this is the most paradoxical thing: what the Occupiers find most transformative about their protests counts for their detractors as the principal reason to dismiss them.

As a new crop of Occupy-related books shows, it was a conscious choice to forswear a concrete policy agenda – a choice that in the eyes of Occupiers themselves was vindicated by the course of events. David Graeber, the anarchist anthropologist who by his own account played a key role in organising OWS, writes in The Democracy Projectthat it was “only when a movement appeared that resolutely refused to take the traditional path, that rejected the existing political order entirely as inherently corrupt, that called for the complete reinvention of American democracy, that occupations immediately began to blossom across the country”.

Graeber’s book includes a diary-style first chapter that, without apparent irony, recounts his and fellow activists’ role in creating a “leaderless” movement around the Adbusters appeal. His complaints against the political and economic order are all familiar and often warranted: the corruption of US politics by money; the concentration of wealth and power by the top layer of society; and the increasing number of students trapped in debt.

But the veteran anarchist seems strangely incurious about the Occupiers’ ideas for solving these problems. What moves him are the procedures of participatory democracy they adopted: general assemblies; working groups; the “people’s microphone” (the crowd repeating speakers’ words – a technique born out of a police ban on PA systems in Zuccotti Park); above all, decision by consensus. If the system is irredeemable, this is where the action is – in the creation of a “genuinely democratic culture” outside of it.

Other writers echo his view. “Those who incessantly have wanted to gift the movement a reasonable set of demands ... failed to understand that the Occupy movement was precisely about disobeying that kind of conventional political grammar,” writes Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago scholar of politics and contributor to Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. Harcourt distinguishes “political disobedience” from traditional civil disobedience, although OWS surely witnessed some of that too. Civilly disobedient activists, he writes, accept the consequences of breaking selected laws in order to highlight the injustice of those laws; political disobedience refuses to engage with the existing political order at all... read more: