Wednesday, 30 April 2014

PATRICIA MUKHIM - Politics of identity and location

The people from India’s northeast face severe discrimination in Delhi and elsewhere. But how does the northeast treat the ‘outsiders’?
(in the late 70's).. claiming to be the vanguard of Khasi society, the Khasi Students Union went on a rampage, pulling non-tribals out of buses and lynching them. A pregnant woman, Gouri Dey was lynched in public but no one was nabbed and the case died a natural death since no one would give evidence. The next phase of communal violence saw a new set of victims — the Nepali settlers who have also lived in the State since it was a part of Assam, and the Biharis who kept cows and supplied milk to the residents. Another time, a number of Bihari families were burnt alive in the dead of night. The culprits were never caught and no one has been indicted in any of the acts of communal carnage that happened in Meghalaya.

Every now and again we hear of a person from one or the other of the north-eastern States of India being harassed, sexually molested or beaten up by irate landlords, mostly in Delhi. If we go by statistics then it appears that people from Manipur are most discriminated against in Delhi. But it is also true that every second north-easterner in Delhi, working in malls and retail outlets or the hospitality services is from Manipur. The protracted militancy and complete failure of the Manipur government to create meaningful employment for its youth have pushed them to a desperate edge from where the only escape route is a ticket to Delhi to find some job; any job to keep body and soul together.

The last horrific crime against a person of north-eastern origin happened on January 29 this year when Nido Tania, a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, was beaten black and blue because he protested against being ridiculed for his hairstyle. Nido succumbed to his injuries. Following this incident, a beleaguered UPA government set up a committee to inquire into this incident and suggest measures to prevent similar outrageous acts against people from the eight north-eastern States working and studying in Delhi. Funnily, the committee consists of retired bureaucrats, many of whom don’t have any inkling about what it is to be a woman travelling through the dark lanes of Delhi’s non-Lutyens’ areas.

For the first time a television channel labelled the Nido Tania episode a racial crime. After that the word “racism” gained currency in the media. And that is not far from the truth. The people of the northeast are racially different. They look different; they have different eating habits and cuisines that can be scrumptious for some and repulsive to others. Their dances are myriad and their socialisation processes are different too. They choose their own life partners and dowry is unknown. Racially there are the Tibeto-Burman groups such as the Nagas, Mizos, Bodos, Garos, etc, and the Mon-Khmer group (Khasis and Jaintias). This is the reason why India is called a diverse country. But while it is easy to use jargon like “celebrating diversity,” or to term northeast a “rainbow country” it is much more difficult to assimilate and appreciate these diverse cultures and not to be disdainful of the cultural mores of people from this region.
The plight of ‘outsiders’

But people of the eight north-eastern States are themselves ethnically divided. There are major tribes and minor tribes. The so-called major tribes such as the Nyishis of Arunachal Pradesh or the Ao and Angami tribes of Nagaland lord it over the smaller tribes who live on the peripheries of development because even development is skewed and happens along these ethno-centric fault-lines. It would be erroneous to assume that the people of the eight States are socially homogenous and that they coexist happily with each other. Within the States there are ferments for greater autonomy. For instance, Meghalaya has three major tribes — the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. The first two are of Mon-Khmer origin and the last a part of the Tibeto-Burman race. The Garos have always felt neglected and have now demanded a separate State. These demands for greater autonomy are not always peaceful. In fact the idiom of engagement with the state has always been violent and insurrectionary because the insurgents claim that the state does not understand the language and metaphor of non-violent assertions.

And in this horrifyingly complex situation we have the non-tribals who have lived in the region for three to four generations and have contributed their mite to the local economy. In Meghalaya, in the late 1970s, the Khasi Students Union — a body that is anything but student-like and has in its fold members who have either dropped out of school or are too long in the tooth to be considered students — launched an insidious attack on the Bengalis living in Shillong. Their reason for doing so is simplistic — the non-tribals are responsible for all the ills that afflict Khasi society. So attractive was the slogan “Khasi by birth, Indian by accident” that the words were splattered across public walls in the city. Claiming to be the vanguard of Khasi society, the KSU then went on a rampage, pulling non-tribals out of buses and lynching them. A pregnant woman, Gouri Dey was lynched in public but no one was nabbed and the case died a natural death since no one would give evidence. The next phase of communal violence saw a new set of victims — the Nepali settlers who have also lived in the State since it was a part of Assam, and the Biharis who kept cows and supplied milk to the residents. Another time, a number of Bihari families were burnt alive in the dead of night. The culprits were never caught and no one has been indicted in any of the acts of communal carnage that happened in Meghalaya.

The rise of civil society
The KSU is avowedly political, having spawned a political party — the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM). The acronym actually means an arrow and the expanded term means the “awakening of the children of the seven huts.” The Khasis believe they used to move freely between heaven and earth over a divine umbilical cord, until one day sin entered the world and the cord was snapped. Of the 16 families that were originally a part of the whole, seven families remained on earth and nine families continued to live in the sinless world. The word “Hynniewtrep” is a much-used jargon by politicians and all sorts of self-appointed guardians of Khasi society. It’s a word that ignites jingoistic feelings and motivates young people to commit excesses against “others” who don’t belong to the Hynniewtrep fold.

The KSU stance against non-tribals had to have an alibi. The alibi is simplistic. Raucous public meetings where the non-tribals are accused of taking away all “our” jobs, “our” land and “our” women became the order of the day. A non-tribal seen with a Khasi woman is taboo. Such a person would be beaten up immediately. At one point the KSU warned Khasi women not to wear the “salwar kameez.” Those who wore them were stopped and their clothes torn. This was in the early 1990s. Thankfully at the time, a leading women’s organisation, Synjuk Kynthei challenged this diktat by the KSU and warned it not to lay its hands on any Khasi girl. It was the first time that anyone had stood up to what the media terms as the “powerful students union.” But it worked and the KSU has since then not dared to tread into the domain of setting a dress code for women.

Ironically, the Synjuk Kynthei comprising some renowned women leaders, who have made a mark for themselves, did not assert itself when the violence was directed at non-tribals although they discussed the matter in their meetings and condemned the violence...

read more:

Violence against non-tribals in Meghalaya - Shame on you Shillong! // Patricia Mukhim on non tribals in Meghalaya – non citizens or half citizens?

NB: Meghalaya has an overwhelmingly tribal population. Its Christian population is over 70%, including Baptists, Catholics and Presbyterians. We may assume that the clergy have a significant ethical status in tribal society. It is the moral duty of Meghalaya's churches to announce their clear and unequivocal condemnation of the hate-speeches, violence & intimidation being directed at non-tribals by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) & its affiliates. Failure to campaign against it is an indication of complicity. It is disgraceful for the Christian clergy to passively encourage such fascist and racist behaviour by people owing allegiance to their faith. As the writer of a letter below says: Shame on your Church elders for turning a blind eye to such evil acts. According to local reports the police, administration and political leadership made matters worse by their ineptness and/or complicity in the violence. This is in line with the sad Indian tradition of state encouragement of vigilantism. Peace loving citizens must ask all these political, administrative and religious leaders whether they stand for law and the non-violent resolution of conflicts or the handing over of social interests to hooligans. DS

Non-tribal trader set on fire in Shillong

Siddharth Varadarajan - The best government that money can buy

Should we worry that Modi may be spending as much on advertising as Obama spent on his entire 2012 campaign?

What money can buy
Economic Times, April 30 2014

The 2014 election is a reminder of the one big loophole in India’s election rules designed to favour parties backed by the rich: While individual candidates are not allowed to spend more than Rs. 54-70 lakh, there is no limit to what political parties may spend to promote their overall electoral prospects.

Parties are only obliged to report their expenditure on general election propaganda to the Election Commission within 90 days of the Lok Sabha election ending. The EC has the right to verify the reported figures but can levy sanctions only if some of that 'general' expenditure was incurred to support individual candidates.

Compare this to Britain, whose election system India broadly follows.

There, a candidate can spend somewhere between GBP 10,500-12,000 (i.e. , Rs 10.5-11.8 lakh) depending on the size and location of constituencies. In addition, a party's 'national campaign' spending is also capped at GBP 30,000 per constituency, or an upper limit of 19.5 million GBP (approximately Rs. 195 crore) for a party contesting every one of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.

In the last British general election, all parties together spent GBP 31 million (Rs 310 crore approximately) in their national campaign. By way of comparison, the BJP alone spent Rs 448.66 crore in the 2009 Lok Sabha election while the Congress too spent a massive Rs 380.04 crore.

While the British and Indian caps cannot readily be compared -- India has larger, but Britain has more, constituencies, and the cost structure of the two economies is totally different – India’s failure to limit what parties can spend on general propaganda has given big money power a huge role in our elections.

Indications are that the amount being spent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, especially by the BJP, runs to a figure at least ten times higher than five years ago. One estimate pegs the BJP's advertising spend across all media including hoardings at a staggering Rs 5,000 crore. That’s just a bit less than the Rs 6,000 crore -- roughly $1 billion the Obama campaign spent under all heads in the 2012 US presidential election! Once other expenses are added, the overall BJP budget will exceed that. 

What impact will the deployment of money on this scale have not just on the election outcome and the policies of the next government but on the future course of Indian democracy? Back in 1974, the Supreme Court in the Amar Nath Chawla case recognised the principle that election expenditure must be limited in order to ensure equality between candidates and to "eliminate as far as possible, the influence of big money in the electoral process." Though it did not set a limit, it ruled that "some limitative ceiling" on expenditure for general party propaganda during elections "is eminently desirable".

The court saw the remote, top-down nature of electoral politics as the culprit. "If there is continuous community involvement in political administration punctuated by activated phases of well-discussed choice of candidates by popular participation in the process of nomination, much of unnecessary expenditure which is incurred today could be avoided... Large campaign funds would not be able to influence the decision of the electors if the selection and election of candidates become people's decisions by discussion and not a Hobson's choice offered by political parties."

If election expenditure were not limited, it said, political parties "would go all out for collecting contributions and obviously the largest contributions would be from the rich and affluent who constitute but a fraction of the electorate. The pernicious influence of big money would then play a decisive role in controlling the democratic process in the country."

This is precisely what is happening with the corporate sector now fully into the act, making both open and hidden contributions. Last month, the Delhi High Court found the Congress and BJP guilty of illegally accepting money from the UK-based firm, Vedanta. Those payments were made by cheque, but cash is still king because it is untraceable. In 2009, cash accounted for 75 per cent of the money raised by the Congress and half of that of the BJP.

In 1943, even before India was free, Babasaheb Ambedkar spoke of the danger posed by the fusion of capital and politics: “These days, with the Press in hand, it is easy to manufacture great men,” he noted caustically -- and presciently. “In establishing their supremacy” our great men “have taken the aid of big business and money magnates. For the first time in our country, money is taking the field as an organised power.”

Seventy years on, the influence of big money has grown exponentially. Yet there is little recognition of the damage this is doing to the integrity of our electoral process. The biggest national and regional parties have a vested interest in allowing the status quo to continue. Change will come only when the ‘aam aadmi’ realizes this is what is keeping him out of power.

Kashmiri Pandits to protest against Jammu and Kashmir government over Shrines

A committee of Kashmiri Pandits today said they would protest against Jammu and Kashmir government for failing to accede to their six demands including passing of the pending Temples and Shrines Bill and a probe into alleged encroachment of temple land in the Valley.
The All Parties Migrants Co-ordination Committee, an amalgam of several political and social organizations, will hold a protest demonstration at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on June 4 in support of their six-points charter of demands, APMCC Chairman Vinod Pandit told reporters here. Pandit claimed the state government had "cheated" them on two previous occasions by making false assurances of addressing their six demands, but nothing was done about it. "I went on hunger strike twice in the past to press for the demands-- once on 10-day long fast in Jammu in 2011 and a 15-day long hunger strike in Porbandar. On both the occasions the JK government assured that they would address the demands but nothing fruitful came before us," Pandit alleged. The six points charter of demands include passing of the pending Kashmir Temples and Shrines Bill in state Assembly, probe into the multi-crore temples and shrines land encroachment in Kashmir, dialogue with Pakistan for facilitating visit to Mata Shardha Peet Temple in PoK (Pakistan), establishment of Mata Sharda Peet University in JK, one time compensation for over-aged Migrant Kashmiri Hindu Youth and special employment package for non-migrant Hindus of Kashmir.

Narendra Modi intended to influence voters, says furious Election Commission // EC orders police complaint against Modi for holding press conference after voting

NB: The man who is being lauded by our leading opinion-makers for being a 'moderate', yet again demonstrates his contempt for the law. Doesn't he understand the simple directives of the electoral code of conduct? And the TV channels which collaborated in this violation, don't they have any idea that there  is a limit to their partisan behaviour? No doubt Modi and his 'parivar' are confident they can intimidate anyone who criticises or opposes them. Modi has declared that an FIR makes sense only if a knife had come into the picture, whereas all he did was 'show everyone a lotus'. This is a mockery. Obviously he has not read (or has no respect for) the RP Act (see relevant section below). Indians who value democracy and the rule of law should prepare themselves for more illegal practices from Mr Modi.  Given the plight of Gujarat police officers who stood up to him, the EC should expect the worst. Or maybe the case will drag on, and ultimately we shall be told 'there is no evidence'. 

All the editors and public intellectuals who keep reminding us of the strength of Indian institutions should speak up now and not allow the Election Commission to be intimidated by Modi and his 'parivar': DS

In its notice, the EC said "it was evident that the said address was in the nature of political speech intended & calculated to influence & affect the result of elections in the constituencies going to polls today, not only in Ahmadabad but also in all other constituencies in the State of Gujarat & elsewhere in the country." By holding that meeting, "Narendra Modi has violated the provisions of Sections 126 (1) (a) and 126 (l) (b) of R.P. Act 1951." "Therefore, the Commission directs... that complaint/ FIR as the case may be, should be filed against Narendra Modi and all others who were involved in the convening and holding of the said meeting...," the EC order said. It has asked the Gujarat Chief Secretary and DGP to send a compliance report by 6 PM today. It also said that all the TV channels & other electronic media which carried the proceedings of the meeting & displayed the election matter should also be proceeded against under Section 126 (l) (b) "by filing separate complaints/FlRs against those channels." The EC took the decision after going through the video recording of the address of the BJP's Prime Ministerial pick at a meeting in Gandhinagar after he cast his vote today. 
Read the entire notice->: EC notice to Narendra Modi

Relevant section of the R.P. Act 1951: <click to read its contents
6[126. Prohibition of public meetings during period of forty—eight hours ending with hour fixed for conclusion of poll.— (1) No person shall— (a) convene, hold or attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or (b) display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus; or (c) propagate any election matter to the public by holding, or by arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attracting the members of the public thereto, in any polling area during the period of forty-eight hours ending with the fixed for the conclusion of the poll for any election in the polling area. (2) Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. (3) In this section, the expression "election matter" means any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election.].

Note: Section 126 of the R.P. Act prohibits public meetings 48 hours before the poll. No-one may hold or address any election-related meeting; or display any election matter; or propagate any election matter by any performance intended to attract public attention for any election in the polling area, during the 48 hours up to the end of the poll. By flaunting his election symbol for TV cameras, Modi violated Section 126. For him to say an FIR only makes sense if he were caught brandishing weapons, or for BJP to say there ‘was no formal meeting’, is making fun of the law. The question of whether or not this was a formal meeting is irrelevant, because the scene was telecast to the whole country and is an irreversible act affecting the fairness of the election. Anyone can see that it is not a matter of being within 100 or 200 metres of a polling booth (which is what the Modi camp is saying). All those who are dismissing this grave violation as a pro-Congress conspiracy by the EC or are making light of it are displaying their contempt of the constitution. State officials are nort servants of government, but servants of the Indian constitution. They should not be intimidated by intimidatory behaviour of the Modi camp and perform their duties without fear or favour. DS

Narendra Modi intended to influence voters, says furious Election Commission
Moments after he voted, Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate tweeted a selfie of his ink-stained finger and emerged from a voting booth in Ahmedabad, flashing a cut-out of his party's lotus symbol and addressed cheering crowds. "After analysing the election process and the voter's mind until now, I can say that this time nothing can save the mother-son government...a strong government will come to power," said Mr Modi, all dressed in white, promising the defeat of the incumbent Congress which is led by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Hours later, the powerful Election Commission ordered that a police complaint or FIR (First Information Report) be filed against Mr Modi, 63, for his actions which it said amounted to campaigning in a polling area, which is banned. "It is evident from Modi's tone and tenor that he made a political speech. He intended, calculated to influence voting today. Modi intended to affect the results of polling today across India," the Commission said. "It was not an organized press conference," said BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi today, referring to Mr Modi's speech this morning. "We respect the Election Commission but Mr Modi did not violate the code of conduct," she added.  Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed accused Mr Modi of being "a serial offender." His party had earlier objected to the release of the BJP manifesto on April 7, when voting in the nine-phase general election began. 89 parliamentary constituencies in seven states and two union territories voted today. Among them was Vadodara, which is one of the two constituencies that Mr Modi is running from. The other is Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, which votes on the final day of the election on May 12.

Narendra Modi on Wednesday triggered a controversy after he openly sought votes for the BJP at a press conference while holding aloft his party's lotus symbol immediately after casting his ballot. With the Congress moving the Election Commission, the poll body sought a report from the returning officer and directed the Gujarat administration to file a complaint/FIR against Modi for "violating" the model code of conduct. Asking the state to furnish a compliance report by 6pm, the commission said Modi had violated provisions of Sections 126(1)(a) and 126 (l) (b) of The Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951. Though it is a normal practice for top leaders to make brief statements to the media after casting their votes, what irked Modi's rivals was a full-fledged press conference that the Gujarat chief minister held.
Modi not only fervently asked the electorate to vote for the BJP but also launched a tirade against the Congress. The BJP's prime ministerial hopeful also clicked a selfie prominently displaying the party symbol and posted it on Twitter. AICC legal department secretary K C Mittal promptly filed a complaint with the EC, saying Modi's speech and display of symbol was in violation of the RPA and demanded an FIR be registered against him. "It is noticed from the live news telecast on various news channels that Modi went to the polling station at Gandhinagar to cast his vote. "And on his way out, he was campaigning for BJP and delivering speech in a fashion to canvass for BJP, himself and also displayed the election symbol to the public while showing his finger for having cast his vote," the Congress said in the complaint, adding, "He may also be disqualified for such blatant violation." Roopwant Singh, Ahmedabad collector and the returning officer for the poll, said, "We have sent a preliminary report. Shall submit video clip..." As per the Election Commission norms, a candidate is liable to be booked for model code violation if he canvasses within a radius of 100 metres of a polling booth. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

JULIA WALLACE - Workers of the World, Faint!

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Just over two years ago, at the Anful Garments Factory in Kompong Speu Province, a young worker named Chanthul and 250 of her colleagues collapsed in a collective spell of fainting. They had to be hospitalized; the production line shut down.

Two days later, the factory was back up, and the mass faintings struck again. A worker started barking commands in a language that sounded like Chinese and, claiming to speak in the name of an ancestral spirit, demanded offerings of raw chicken. None were forthcoming, and more workers fell down. Peace, and production, resumed only after factory owners staged an elaborate ceremony, offering up copious amounts of food, cigarettes and Coca-Cola to the spirit.

This episode, however bizarre, was not singular. In the past few years, Cambodia has experienced a slew of mass faintings among garment workers: One after the other, hundreds of women have fallen to the floor of their factories in a dizzy spell called duol sonlap in the Khmer language. The swooning has been attributed, variously, to heat, anemia, overwork, underventilation, chemical fumes and food poisoning. But according to one group of medical anthropologists and psychologists who have studied the phenomenon, two-thirds of these episodes are associated with accounts of possession by local guardian spirits, known as neak ta.

The mass faintings have paralyzed production, to the consternation of the government, factory owners and international clothing retailers. The United States opened its market to Cambodian exports in the 1990s, and the garment industry in Cambodia has since become a $5 billion-a-year business. According to the country’s Garment Manufacturers Association, there are now over 600 garment factories, most owned by Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong and Singaporean companies. Many were hastily erected on the dusty outskirts of Phnom Penh and in a few other free-trade zones — on land where people believe neak ta have lived for generations.

Although Theravada Buddhism has been the official religion of Cambodia since the 13th century, it never supplanted the existing pantheon of ancestral spirits, local gods and Brahamanic deities. Perhaps the most important of these is the neak ta, a spirit strongly associated with a specific natural feature — a rock, a tree, a patch of soil. These spirits represent a village-based morality and are inseparable from the land. This connection is so strong that in past times even some kings were seen to be merely renting the land from neak ta. Like those kings of old, Cambodia’s deeply superstitious prime minister, Hun Sen, in power for almost three decades, calls on land and water spirits to curse his enemies. Most Cambodians today, while Buddhist, ply spirits with tea and buns at small altars.

These days, when neak ta appear on the factory floor — inducing mass faintings among workers and shouting commands at managers — they are helping the cause of Cambodia’s largely young, female and rural factory workforce by registering a kind of bodily objection to the harsh daily regimen of industrial capitalism: few days off; a hard bed in a wooden barracks; meager meals of rice and a mystery curry, hastily scarfed down between shifts. These voices from beyond are speaking up for collective bargaining in the here and now, expressing grievances much like the workers’ own: a feeling that they are being exploited by forces beyond their control, that the terms of factory labor somehow violate an older, fairer moral more: 

AAP alleges its volunteers attacked by BJP workers in Varanasi // Press Statement on Attack on Shabnam Hashmi

Varanasi: The Aam Aadmi Party has alleged that two of its volunteers were beaten up late on  Monday night by BJP workers in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where the party's chief Arvind Kejriwal has challenged the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the general elections. The BJP has promised action if at all its workers were involved, but has also suggested that the AAP volunteers may have provoked an argument that led to a fight. 

The Varanasi police said AAP volunteers Nandan Mishra and Ankit Lal had an argument last night with some people who wore BJP badges at the Assi Ghat in the temple town, which later turned into a brawl. They have registered a complaint against unknown people. The BJP's Nalin Kohli told NDTV this morning, "We appeal to all supporters and the public not to get into any physical altercation... If a worker is involved, we will take strict action."  He also added, "All people who wear BJP badges are not party workers."

"Nandan Mishra, the guitarist of Play4Change campaign is in hospital now, bleeding bcz of attack. From Varanasi. (sic)," AAP tweeted on Monday night. Play4Change is a musical election campaign that AAP takes from city to city.  

Sometime later, Mr Mishra, with a bruised nose and a nostril plugged, said he was kicked and punched. "After campaigning, I stopped to drink water at a nearby shop. There was a group of BJP workers. On seeing us they argued. One of them came and started beating me. There were around 15-20 people," he said. Ankit Lal said their alleged attackers had criticised AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and when the AAP workers objected, assaulted them. 

Nalin Kohli said, "There are equal reports that AAP people instigate and this leads to heated arguments sometimes. We have even said they should seek police protection but AAP's track record has been that of sensationalism." Varanasi votes on May 12.

Press Statement on Attack on Shabnam Hashmi

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack on Shabnam Hashmi in Rai Barley. She was attacked at about 12.30 on April 28 while she with her associates was distributing leaflets brought out by JAVAB- Janvadi Vichar Andolan Bharat barely 100 metres from the Gadaganj Police Station in side the Rai-Barely constituency.

Shabnam Hashmi and her associate were attacked by a gang of about 20 hoodlums who snatched all the Javab Leaflets while pushing and abusing Shabnam Hashmi in the most foul and sexist terms. At the police station Shabnam had to argue with the SHO, telling him that no one can be stopped from exercising their right to free expression and that he had to file an FIR against the attack on her and the threats of rape and sexist abuses. The SHO did not register an FIR and did not give her a copy of her complaint.

We demand that the hoodlums are immediately apprehended and coercive tactics of the BJP not be allowed by the local administration.

Does Gujarat government's own data show Adani group got land cheap?

 Under fire for receiving special favours from the Modi government in Gujarat, specifically for being sold land on the cheap for his massive port-cum-SEZ in Mundra along the Gujarat coast, businessman Gautam Adani said in an interview to NDTV that the land that was allotted was barren and so there was no question of it being sold at lower rates. (Read: No crony capitalism says billionaire Gautam Adani, wants Modi for PM)

But the Gujarat government's own documents, accessed by website Truth of Gujarat, suggest that the Adani Group may have got land below the market rates.  In a written reply to a question raised in the Gujarat assembly in 2012, the state's revenue minister Anandiben Patel said that until December 2011, the state government sold 14,305 acres of land in Mundra to the Adani Group. 

The reply said that the land was sold from Rs. 1 per to Rs. 32 per square metre. In his speeches, Rahul Gandhi says Gujarat is following a 'toffee model' of growth, of selling land to industrialists at Rs. 1, the price of a toffee.  Mr Adani says these low rates pertain to an earlier period, before Mr Modi came to power. 

However a PIL filed in the Gujarat High Court lists the chronology of land purchases made by the Adani Group which shows that the Group continued to buy land till 2007, much after Mr Modi became chief minister (in 2002).  Further, the Gujarat government has submitted details of the circle rate of industrial land in Mundra between 2007-2008, which average out to Rs. 92 per square metre, three times higher than the highest price paid by Mr Adani. (India Votes 2014: Full coverage)

In some cases the circle rate is as high as Rs. 520 per square metre. Mr Adani did not respond to the specifics, saying that those who know Kutch, the region where the Mundra project is located, would understand that the rates at which he was sold the land were not low.

Open letter to Narendra Modi from Captain Vikram Batra's mother

Kamal Kant Batra, 69, is running for Parliament from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh as a candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party. In 1999, her son, Captain Vikram Batra, was killed in the Kargil War. He was 24. "Yeh dil maange more," he had declared famously in an interview to NDTV, appropriating an advertising slogan at the time to convey the courage of the Indian soldier.

Dear Mr Modi:

In your campaigning, you have used the name and slogan- yeh dil maange more- of my Sher beta.  People call him the Sher Shah of Kargil. He was just 24 when he was killed in the Kargil war.  

Now you are using Vikram's name and slogan. I ask you - in 15 years, how come neither you nor the BJP used either? Just for the elections, you have suddenly remembered it and are using the sacrifice of a brave soldier. This is corrupt politics.

Mr Modi, if you really care for the army and respect  martyrs, a soldier's family for you should be like God. If I were in your place, I would have withdrawn the BJP candidate who is running against me.

If  you respect Captain Batra's family, you should think of me like his mother. If you used "yeh dil maange more" to praise my son...please is not enough to praise should think of what can be done to honour a martyr's family. 

Why was no one from a soldier's family given a chance by the BJP earlier to run as a candidate?

For me, this is not a fight with an individual. It is a fight against corruption. People want relief from  corruption.

All of India knows Vikram Batra.  

In some villages, Aam Aadmi Party workers say "this is Shahid Vikram's mother." There is nothing wrong with that. He did sacrifice his life for the nation. He would be proud that I want to serve his country. Even if my son's name comes up, isn't it my right? 

Your name is everywhere in this campaign.

Only Arvind Kejriwal's party thought of honouring us this way, asking us if we would like to contest. I want to help people.  

I am not just a woman but a citizen. I have the right to join politics. Every citizen has.
When I got the offer from AAP to contest the election from Himachal Pradesh, I could not refuse.

Other parties have failed us.


Kamal Kant Batra

Monday, 28 April 2014

Ajaz Ashraf - Jhadu wave sweeps Punjab

"Na bhukki ko, na daaru ko, vote denge jhaddu ko.” 

AAP has become the beacon of hope because people know it isn’t in the interest of the existing political class to stem the supply of narcotics 
The unexpected surge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab is an outcome of the disheartening disconnect between the politics of elites and the grassroots reality. In the ensuing vacuum AAP has stepped in, riding the desperation of a people forever in search of light in the darkness enveloping the state for well over two decades. The momentum AAP had achieved will see it not only register a high percentage of votes but also win a few seats. 

Earlier, the militant’s gun was the symbol of Punjab’s darkness. Today, it is the young man’s favourite hit – smack or heroin or opium or ice – that has become emblematic of its misery. Punjab has veritably become the land of dope-heads and mainliners. Hear this: a 2011 survey by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment concluded that 40 per cent of those in the age group of 15-25 years in the state are addicts, as are 48 per cent of farmers and agricultural labour.
The survey has its critics for the methodology it employed. But you have to speak to social activists, academicians, police officers, and rural folks and they will tell you, in voices quivering with rage, the surreal nature of democratic politics in the land of drug addicts. Sukhbir Singh, of Valtoha block, Tarn Taran, runs the Baba Inder Singh Memoral Sports Club, but doesn’t have boys scrambling to avail of the facilities he offers. Seventy-five per cent of Valtoha’s boys have crossed the Line of Dependency, desperately in need of a daily fix. Sukhbir and his friends have held marches, petitioned the authorities, submitted a memorandum demanding a crackdown on drug pushers. Nothing happened.
Then Sukhbir decided to welcome AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal on his roadshow in the area early in March. The news of it had an MLA scurrying over to his house. Over the phone, Sukhbir told me, “The MLA asked me, why are you doing this? What do you want? I told him I’m interested in saving the youth.” Over the weeks, the wind in favour of AAP has become Punjab’s new political intoxicant, to the extent that as its leader, Yogendra Yadav, cut a swathe through the state last week, he would ask people at various stops: “Who’s behind the drug racket?” The audience would scream the name of a powerful minister, who is popularly considered the patron of the drug racket. This anger was simmering even in the 2012 assembly elections, but the BJP-Akali Dal managed the elections better than the Congress to forge ahead by 1.77 per cent more votes, despite the alliance witnessing a sharp decline of 5.29 per cent from its 2007 vote-share. The anger stemmed then seems to have bubbled over now.

The hard-to-define hope AAP holds out in the misery sweeping the ‘land of plenty’ is the inspiration behind the catchy slogan that has become extremely popular: “Na bhukki ko, na daaru ko, vote denge jhaddu ko.” (Bhukki is the local name for opium husk.) AAP has become the beacon of hope because people know it isn’t in the interest of the existing political class to stem the supply of narcotics, says former police officer Shashi Kant, who as additional director-general of Intelligence fought the drug cartel. In 2007, Kant submitted a list of the powerful – politicians, police officers, even NGOs – entangled in the clandestine narcotics business to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. No action was taken, in complete disdain of the public knowledge that powerful politicians control the drug-trade.

In this ambience of deliberate inaction, AAP’s astonishing performance in the Delhi Assembly election stirred the beleaguered state. What also inspired its people is the AAP government’s crackdown on corruption and its decision to institute the SIT probe in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. For those accustomed to the betrayal of the political class, AAP appeared an outfit willing to walk the talk. Thus, the state which has had much of its history influenced by invasions from the north-west turned, for a change, to look south-east – Delhi – for determining its fate. “The state is on the path of revolution,” says Kant, who too joined AAP but is now nonplussed at the party’s reluctance to press him into the campaign built, to an extent, on the rampant drug abuse. “The party had no structure here. It has been erected overnight on the shoulders of young men who have persuaded their family elders to rally behind AAP. Even their candidates are not known.”

A few people I spoke to echo Kant, but did not wish to be named, fearing retaliation from the Akali Dal or the Congress. But Jitender Singh Bitta, a Living Media journalist in Amritsar, distils the AAP effect into one simple line: “Kejriwal has shown to the people that anything can be done, and everything is possible.” Does Bitta’s “anything can be done” include merely the eradication of narcotics from Punjab? Absolutely not, for substance abuse is also the symbol of Punjab’s economic slide, falling agriculture yield, rising unemployment, rampant corruption, the collapse of the government education and healthcare systems, and, beyond anything else, the crippling of the robust, optimistic Punjabi spirit, celebrated over the decades.

Social scientists differ over the precise provenance of drug abuse. On one aspect, though, they all agree – consumption of narcotics was a tradition in the state, and considered respectable. For the rich, opium was the preferred indulgence; for the poor, it was poppy husk, crushed and mingled with tea. The consumption received a fillip as the Green Revolution turned the state remarkably prosperous in the Seventies. It prompted drug cartels to push the contraband through the route used for smuggling gold. Over the years, the price for gold stabilized, and its smuggling was no longer lucrative, and drugs replaced the yellow metal as the principal commodity for generating illegitimate wealth.

Other developments, too, brought a spurt in the supply of drugs. For one, narcotics became an important mode for financing militancy. But a portion of the drugs brought into Punjab, says Kant, earmarked for Delhi and, ultimately, the West, was diverted to satiate the local demand. Militancy was rooted out, but not the smuggling of drugs, over which the politicians and the police, granted extraordinary powers to fight terrorism, gained control. Harish Puri, who retired as professor from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, prefers a socio-economic perspective to analyse the drug menace. He says the abuse is rampant in what is called the Malwa area of the state, notorious for its economic inequality – here the landlords, historically, owned sprawling estates, on which lower caste farmers worked as tenants. The Green Revolution enhanced the prosperity of the landlords, mostly living in towns and cities. Conspicuous consumption became a subculture, the use of drugs one of its manifestations.

In contrast, the lower castes didn’t get their appropriate share in the rising profits from agriculture. At the height of terrorism, Puri conducted a study of 28 villages, and found the level of education among them abysmal. Drugs and guns became their tools to overcome their deplorable condition, more so as they were virtually unemployable in other sectors. Ironically, the Seventies and Eighties saw lower castes, or mazhabi Sikhs, flock to village schools, from which upper castes began to withdraw, considering studying with lower castes below their dignity. Since the upper castes dominated village panchayats, schools were deprived of resources – and, therefore, ensued the collapse of the education system.

Over the next two decades, the diminishing returns from the Green Revolution, too, set in. The agricultural growth rate in Punjab has slowed down from 5 per cent in the 1980s to 1.9 per cent in the 2000s. Worse, a 2008 study conducted by Prof HS Shergill, of the Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, shows indebtedness has risen from 68 per cent in 1997 to 84 per cent in 2008, of which 17 per cent are in a debt trap, unable to pay even the interest. An official study found 42 per cent of groundwater in the state has saline and sodic elements, unfit for drinking or irrigation. Sixty per cent of Malwa’s water source is contaminated. Declining productivity impacts the tenant farmer severely, less so the landlords, who are anyway selling land and making a killing. Nevertheless, both are indulging in substance abuse: the neo-rich because they have enormous surplus cash in hand, the poor farmers because it makes the circle of hopelessness in which they are trapped tolerable. Says Puri, with a dash of dark humour, “In Punjab, one section of the youth is waiting for visas, the other for their next fix.”

Puri says people are reacting to their experience and gravitating towards AAP, as both the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP are held responsible for the state’s woes. He, however, adds caveats, “There is tremendous goodwill for the party. But can it turn this goodwill into votes? Does it have the experience to manage booths? Also, I would want the AAP to spell out its policy framework.” Nevertheless, against this backdrop, it is bewildering to find the media obsessed with the cat-fight in Punjab, for instance reporting the daily pot-shots that Capt Amrinder Singh and Arun Jaitley take at each other. It underscores the banality of mainstream political discourse in a state slipping deeply into the mire of misery. After such knowledge, what meaning can politics have for the people? But to hope is to also retain your humanity, a subtext behind the surge of AAP in Punjab.

Australian Financial Review: World is Fukt

The Australian financial newspaper which accidentally published a front-page headline reading "World is Fukt" apologised on Monday to its readers for the error-ridden edition. The respected Australian Financial Review, in a message from editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury, said the mistake was due to a production and printing error.

"The Australian Financial Review apologises to Western Australian readers for the obviously unacceptable state of the newspaper's front page on Thursday," he said in an apology in Monday's newspaper. The accidental front page quickly found fans on Twitter, who approved of the headline which read in full: "Arms buildup - Buys planes, World is Fukt".

They also enjoyed the fact that the headline for a story about a major budget speech by Treasurer Joe Hockey was empty of meaning, reading "Three lines to come here". Using the hashtag #WorldisFukt, readers described the mistakes as a "tremendously great publishing error" and "journalism that tells it like it is". The unusual edition, which was confined to the 16,000 or so copies printed and circulated in Western Australia, is now attracting interest on ebay, with one specimen attracting a bid of Aus$81 (US$75)-- well above the edition's Aus$3.50 cover price.

Stutchbury said the bumper weekend paper beat normal quality control measures and was "an extremely bad result" in Western Australia state. "It is an extreme one-off and we are going through our processes to make sure it does not happen again," he said in an email. Stutchbury said an investigation was underway to determine what caused the problem for the newspaper, which is part of the Fairfax Media group.

But he said the initial assessment was that production staff in Sydney had accidentally sent a clearly unfinished version of the front page to print sites around the country. "This error was quickly recognised and the page was recalled from all the print sites. For whatever reason, the recalling of the unfinished page did not succeed at the Perth plant." 

'Green Nobel' for Ramesh Agrawal - who confronted mining industry

The man walked into Ramesh Agrawal's tiny Internet cafe, pulled out a pistol and hissed, "You talk too much." Then he fired two bullets into Agrawal's left leg and fled on a motorcycle. The 2012 attack came three months after Agrawal won a court case that blocked a major Indian company, Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., from opening a second coal mine near the village of Gare in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh.

For a decade, Agrawal - who has no formal legal training - has been waging a one-man campaign to educate illiterate villagers about their rights in fighting pollution and land-grabbing by powerful mining and electricity companies. He's won three lawsuits against major corporations and has spearheaded seven more now pending in courts.

"When I started this fight, I knew I'd be a target. It will happen again. Let it happen. I'm not going anywhere," the soft-spoken yoga enthusiast said in an interview this month in the city of Raigarh, where he moved around his modest home with a cane and a metal brace screwed into his shattered femur.

On Monday, Agrawal, 60, will be recognized in a ceremony in San Francisco as one of six recipients of this year's $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, often called the "Green Nobel." Among the other winners are former corporate lawyer Helen Slottje who fought fracking - pumping chemicals and water underground to break open shale rock formations - in New York state and South Africa's Desmond D'Sa who closed down one of the country's largest toxic dumping sites. The award was established in 1990 with a grant from philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman to honor grass-roots environmental activists in the six regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America and Latin America.

"This is the biggest milestone in my life," Agrawal said of the award, which he flew to California to receive. "But it also makes me sad, that someone in a foreign country who I don't even know is willing to do so much for us, while so many people here don't even know us or want to help." Activists, lawyers and analysts in India say that's changing as hundreds if not thousands of small, scrappy movements are challenging building and mining projects that local residents believe will damage the environment, undermine their livelihoods or even uproot them from their homes.

"People are gaining confidence and losing patience," environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta said in New Delhi. "These are not established activist groups or nonprofits like Greenpeace campaigning on global issues like climate change. These are regular, everyday people worried about their survival, and their voices of dissent are forcing India to change."

Villagers in the central state of Madhya Pradesh have won national TV coverage for their cause by standing neck-deep in water for days to protest large hydro-power dam projects that would flood their farms and homes. Apple growers in northeast Himachal Pradesh are suing dam builders who they say have tunneling plans that will damage their orchards.

"People used to say, 'You can't fight with the big guys.' But once we started winning a few cases, people started believing in themselves and believing in this country again," Agrawal said. India's rapid economic growth over the past decade has boosted the incomes and living standards of millions. But the environmental impact has often been ignored, and the rural poor largely left behind. The 40 crore Indians who live on less than $1.25 (Rs. 75) a day are dubious about their economic prospects, particularly those who have lost their land or been forced to live with poisoned groundwater, dirty air and fetid rivers. "Why should these villagers pay for development that is defined by shopping malls and luxury items?" Agrawal asked. "We have to redefine what development means, and decide if it's for the few or the many."

Environmental activists are also increasingly facing violence - at least 908 have been killed in 35 countries over the past decade, including six in India, according to a report this month by the London-based Global Witness group. After he was shot, Agrawal's attackers turned themselves in, revealing themselves to be Jindal Steel & Power's security guards. But police never linked the attack with the Indian company.

He also has been jailed for 72 days on what he said were false charges of extortion and defamation that were later dismissed. In the village of Gare, where Agrawal has helped villagers voice their objections to Jindal's plans for more mining operations, the earth shakes violently for a half-hour each morning as workmen blast a gaping coal pit with dynamite, sending clouds of black dust billowing up. The acrid smell of smoke hangs in the air, already hazy yellow from the nearby power plant pollution.

The company has been mining coal in the area for several years, but Gare and the neighboring villages of Sarasmal and Kosampali have seen little economic benefit. No new schools or hospital clinics have been built, and only a few dozen menial labor jobs were offered after protests by residents, who were once self-sufficient growing rice and vegetables, villagers said.

There are, however, new roads on which dozens of uncovered coal trucks rattle through communities every day with coal dust blowing off the back. "For six years I have been sick," 55-year-old villager Sushila Choudhury said through bloodshot eyes and the wheezing cough of an asthmatic. "Why are they doing this to us? We haven't done anything wrong." Dr. Harihar Patel, the area's only trained doctor for 10 kilometers (six miles), said he's seen a jump in the number of people with asthma and other lung ailments, skin lesions and exhaustion. "The system is not working properly. The rich get richer, and the government supports them over us," Patel said. "Twenty years ago we had no idea this could happen to us, to our land and our water."

Two years ago, the court ruled on a lawsuit filed by Agrawal on behalf of Gare residents to revoke Jindal's clearance for a second mine in the area. Jindal has since reapplied for clearance to mine in the village, and Agrawal is preparing another suit to block it. "We have to look after the environment, or there will be hundreds of thousands of people with nothing, no employment, no money, no farmland, no forests," he said. "They will end up cutting each other's throats just to survive."

Desperate Rohingya kids flee Myanmar alone by boat

The two children stood on the beach, at the end of the only world they knew, torn between land and sea. They couldn't go back to their tiny Muslim village in Myanmar's northwest Rakhine because it had been devoured in a fire set by an angry Buddhist mob. In the smoke and chaos, the siblings became separated from their family. And after seven months of searching, they had lost hope of finding anyone alive.

The only way was forward. Hungry and scared, they eyed a rickety wooden fishing boat in the darkness. Mohamad Husein, just 15, dug into his pocket and pulled out a little wad of money for the captain. He and his 9-year-old sister, Senwara Begum, climbed on board, cramming themselves tightly between the other ethnic Rohingya in the small hull.

As the ship pushed off, they didn't realize they were among hundreds, if not thousands, of children joining one of the world's biggest boat exoduses since the Vietnam War. They only understood it wasn't safe to stay in a country that didn't want them. Mohamad had no idea where they were headed. And as Senwara looked back in tears, she wondered if she would ever see her parents again. Neither could imagine the horrors that lay ahead.

From Malaysia to Australia, countries easily reachable by boat have been implementing policies and practices to ensure that Rohingya Muslims don't wash up on their shores - from shoving them back to sea, where they risk being sold as slaves, to flat out barring the refugees from stepping onto their soil. Despite pleas from the United Nations, which considers the Rohingya to be among the most persecuted groups on earth, many governments in the region have refused to sign refugee conventions and protocols, meaning they are not obligated to help. The countries said they fear adopting the international agreements could attract a flood of immigrants they cannot support.

However, rights groups said they are failing members of the religious minority at their most vulnerable hour, even as more women and children join the increasing mass departure. "The sense of desperation and hopelessness is growing," warned Vivian Tan of the UN Refugee Agency. About 1.3 million Rohingya live in the predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million, almost all of them in Rakhine state. Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though some families have lived here for generations.

When the country was under military rule, young men took to the seas on small, dilapidated boats every year in search of a better life. But since the bumpy transition to democracy in 2011, sectarian violence has killed up to 280 Rohingya and forced more than 140,000 others from their homes. Now people of all ages are fleeing, many on massive cargo ships. Women and children made up 5 percent to 15 percent of the estimated 75,000 passengers who have left since the riots began in mid-June 2012, said Chris Lewa of the nonprofit Arakan Project, a group that has tracked the boat journeys for a decade. The year before, around 9,000 people fled, most of them men.

It's a dangerous voyage: Nearly 2,000 Rohingya have died or gone missing in the past two years, Lewa said. Unaccompanied children like Senwara and her brother are among the most at risk. The Associated Press reported from Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on their plight, interviewing family members, witnesses and aid groups. Data were collected from the U.N., government agencies, nonprofit organizations and news reports at the time.

The relief the two children felt after making it safely away from land quickly faded. Their small boat was packed with 63 people, including 14 children and 10 women, one seven months pregnant. There were no life jackets, and neither sibling could swim. The sun baked their skin. Senwara took small sips of water from a shared tin can inside the hull piled with aching, crumpled arms and legs. With each roiling set of waves came the stench of vomit. Nearly two weeks passed. Then suddenly a boat approached with at least a dozen Myanmar soldiers on board. They ordered the Rohingya men to remove their shirts and lie down, one by one. Their hands were bound. Then they were punched, kicked and bludgeoned with wooden planks and iron rods, passengers on the boat said. They howled and begged God for mercy. "Tell us, do you have your Allah?" one Rohingya survivor quoted the soldiers as saying. "There is no Allah!"

The police began flogging Mohamad before he even stood up, striking his little sister in the process. They tied his hands, lit a match and laughed as the smell of burnt flesh wafted from his blistering arm. Senwara watched helplessly. As they stomped him with boots and lashed him with clubs, his mind kept flashing back to home: What had he done? Why had he left? Would he die here? After what seemed like hours, the beating stopped. Mohamad suspected an exchange of money finally prompted the soldiers to order the Rohingya to leave. "Go straight out of Myanmar territory to the sea!" a witness recalled the commander saying. "If we see you again, we will kill you all!" The Myanmar government denied that the Navy seized any ships during that period. The refugees plodded on, but the boat was falling apart
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