Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Photo of Syrian Child 'Surrendering' to a Camera is Breaking Hearts

It is the saddest possible comment on the conflict in Syria, in which millions of children have been displaced or otherwise affected. An image tweeted by photojournalist Nadia AbuShaban shows a four-year-old Syrian child 'surrendering' after mistaking a camera for a gun. The toddler gazes into the lens with lips pursed, eyes grim, arms raised, frozen with fear. 
View image on Twitter

The photo, reportedly taken at a Syrian refugee camp by Turkish journalist Osman Sagirli, has been retweeted over 10,000 times since it was first posted on March 24. The image appears to have been sourced from this un-dated newspaper articleBBC spoke to the photographer, Osman Sagirli who said the picture is of a four-year-old girl, Hudea and was taken at an Atmeh refugee camp in Syria in 2014. Says Sagirli, "I was using a telephoto lens, and she thought it was a weapon. I realised she was terrified after I took it, and looked at the picture, because she bit her lips and raised her hands. Normally kids run away, hide their faces or smile when they see a camera... It makes more sense to see what they have suffered not through adults, but through children. It is the children who reflect the feelings with their innocence."

Ghassan Khatib: The rise of the Israeli far right & the future of Palestine

The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies last week at the polls amounts to a major defeat of left and center-left parties in Israel and is merely one more indication that Israeli society is continuing a strong trend of radicalization. Over the last 20 years, with only some fluctuations, each successive Israeli government and parliament has been more radical and more right-wing than the one before it.

The only way to explain this drift in the direction of increasingly rigid and extreme political positions is the absence of accountability. Israelis have been allowed to have their cake and eat it, too. They have been allowed to continue disregarding the expectations of their backers, particularly the US and Europe, and to continue expanding settlements while ignoring their friends’ chiding remarks. Part of the reason for this is that in the current regional security chaos, Israel is seen as increasingly valuable to Western powers.

Palestinians, meanwhile, have made a mess of their own affairs, allowing an internal political chasm to grow and thus deterring and confusing the nation’s friends in their attempts to offer support. The lack of pressure on Israel means that Israelis do not have to pay any price for their violations of Palestinian rights. Every sign is that these negative trends will continue — leading all involved away from a rational and principled solution to the Palestinian conflict and into an abyss of force and violence.

It is easy to predict Netanyahu’s way forward in dealing with Israeli-Palestinian relations and the future of the peace process. His previous governments were systematic in expanding illegal settlements, consolidating the illegal Israeli occupation, blocking peace negotiations — Israel was openly blamed for the failure of the last round of talks lead by US Secretary of State John Kerry — and continuing to undermine the Palestinian Authority and its leadership.

Netanyahu’s ability to continue on this path is wide open. Israel’s successive right-wing governments have created a status quo that is quite comfortable for Israel while being brutal for Palestinians. This status quo was created partially through negotiations and the fact their outcome has been frozen in time, and partially through the use of unilateral force. Israel gained security and its occupation is less costly than ever. At the same time, Palestinian needs were not met and public frustration has been rising.

The Palestinian leadership last year expressed its inability to live with this status quo by crossing Israeli “red lines” and joining the International Court of Justice, trying to gain back some leverage by inviting outside intervention. But to punish the Palestinian leadership, some Israeli politicians stated in their election campaigning that the Palestinian Authority could be “downgraded” or done away with all together. This might have been election fever — but it also could have been very serious.

It is quite possible, if Netanyahu and his cohorts are given a free hand for four more years, that this will be enough to close the historic opportunity for a two-state solution. The current moderate Palestinian leadership will be the second casualty of such international negligence. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Israeli election results, Palestinians find themselves with only one option to slow this process, which is to challenge the Israeli government where it is weakest, namely to fight Israel in international arenas and on the basis of international law.

This could include joining more international agencies, going back to the Security Council, filing war crimes charges against Israel and Israelis, and doing more to encourage friends to adopt boycott, divestment, and sanctions against an unchecked Israel.

It is the Palestinians’ right to pursue all legal and legitimate means of achieving their aspirations and ensuring their own protection. We must be candid about the future. This approach will not move the parties towards peaceful agreements, but rather will bring about more Israeli recriminations and pressure on Palestinians. Tensions will rise.

The only other countervailing factor is the involvement of the international community.
Unless the US and Europe introduce elements of accountability into their relationships with Israel, the coming four years are likely to be dramatic, and will include the final closing of the chapter started in Oslo over two decades ago.

Ghassan Khatib is Vice President for Development and Communications and a lecturer of Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University in Palestine.

Kazi Mahdi Amin - Murder is now an expression of ideological disagreement in Bangladesh

The murder of Bangladeshi blogger Oyasiqur Rahman by Islamist fanatics came barely a month after another blogger-writer, Avijit Roy, was killed in the country. Both were secular, liberal and freethinkers. Neither conformed to religious norms. Both were felled with machetes. They were however not the only ones to be slayed for questioning the obvious. And it is unlikely that they will be the last.

Roy was hacked to death on the campus of University of Dhaka, which he called home and where his father had been a professor of physics. Though a biomedical engineer by training, he donned many hats. He was a teacher at Bangladesh’s premier engineering university, an internet activist and a secularist writer who condemned religious extremism and superstitions. His blog Mukto-Mona (meaning, liberal minded) was a prominent platform for atheist bloggers and freethinkers.

On February 27, Roy was returning home with his wife from a book fair when they were stopped and struck with machetes. That book fair they visited has been a landmark in Bangladesh’s calendar for years. Inspired by the Language Movement of 1952, the month-long fair is a magnet for writers, poets, thinkers, intellectuals. It is held on the premises of the Bangla Academy, in the middle of the University of Dhaka.

It was at the University of Dhaka too that an attempt was made on the life of renowned Bangladeshi writer Humayan Azad 11 years ago. A professor of Bengali literature at the university, Azad was assaulted with machetes outside the grounds of the book fair, close to where Roy was targeted. The writer was critically injured and died later under treatment. Doctors attributed the death to natural causes.

Azad’s literary work Pak Sar Zamin Saad Baad (the opening lines of Pakistan’s national anthem which mean “blessed be the sacred land”) had agitated Islamist mainstream parties as well as extremists. A vice president of Jamaat-e-Islami had even demanded in the Parliament that Azad be convicted for blasphemy.

Masterminds never found: Rahman was killed less than half a kilometre from his house as he left for work on Monday morning. Locals managed to catch two of the assailants who admitted that the murder was premeditated. They had been shown a picture of the blogger and told where to find him. Both were students of madrasas affiliated with the Hifazat-e-Islam movement. For about two days, they had watched he house and playing cricket in front of it while doing the recce.

Before blogger Ahmed Rajeeb Haider was killed in front of his house on February 15, 2013, it too was recced by assailants who played cricket to blend in. The similarities don't end here. Both Rajeeb and Roy were murdered by a fanatic outfit, Ansarullah Bangla Team, whose members idolise Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda leader who was killed in combat in 2011.

In all these crimes, the police has failed to prosecute or arrest the masterminds, despite there being no doubt about the hand of Islamists.

As each murder sparks off a debate, the government and law enforcers appear to roll up their sleeves and become active. But nothing comes of it and the investigation gets buried once the uproar dies down. There have been no decisive measures against fundamentalism, nor any convincing commitments against fanaticism from the government. This in turn has emboldened the extremists.

There are bound to be disagreements between ideologies, between progressives and others. Alarmingly though, murder has become a common expression of that disagreement. As the society becomes increasingly divided and intolerant of diversity, there is also a change in the choice of targets. Roy and Rahman were more temperate in their critique – they did not instigate people against religious beliefs unlike Rajeeb or Azad. Their killings therefore have a more unnerving significance.

One need not be a strident critic or a non-believer to be marked. One need only be a freethinker. One need only question the obvious. One need only...

See also

Bangladesh post-poll violence hits minorities/Syed Badrul Ahsan: When a party loses its marbles NB: The Jamaat-i-Islami Hind is the sister organisation of the Bangladesh Jamaat. In March 2013, a mass demonstration by an Islamist coalition demonstrated in Kolkata against the trials & convictions of war crime perpetrators in Bangladesh. Supporters of the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh were threatened, & calls made to prevent Sheikh Hasina from visiting Kolkata. In light of the systematic & relentless violent attacks on Hindus & Buddhists in Bangladesh, & the strange logic by which the Bangladeshi Jamaat blames non-Muslims for each & every political setback, it is time for the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind to make clear its position on the vicious deeds of Bangladeshi Islamists & distance itself from them.

Kolkata madrasa head attacked for ‘trying to be a Rushdie’

Masum Akhtar, a newspaper columnist and the headmaster of a madrasa in Kolkata’s Metiabruz area, was attacked by suspected Muslim hardliners on March 26. Speaking to The Indian Express soon after being discharged from the hospital, Akhtar said he feared for his life and would approach Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for help. Akhtar was treated for head injuries after a mob beat him with iron rods. “My life is in danger. I am physically brutalised and mentally traumatised. There is no place for free thinking in the society,” he said.

The provocation for the attack, he said, seems to be a class he took earlier this month, in which he spoke about Islam. “I am afraid some students misinterpreted my teaching and circulated that in the area, after which the attack was organised,” Akhtar said. Akhtar said he had also written an article on the battle of Karbala in the Dainik Statesman last year, giving a historical perspective to the event. After that, he started receiving threatening calls from those who would mock him: “Are you trying to become another Salman Rushdie or Tasleema Nasreen? You will be eliminated.”

Akhtar then wrote an article in the Ananda Bazar Patrika in the wake of the Burdwan blast. He said that if any madrasa was found to be involved in illegal activities, strong action should be taken against it. Officer in-charge of Rajabagan police station S Bhattacharjee said that no arrests had been made so far. “I have received a counter FIR in which local Muslims have alleged that the teacher had been hurting the community’s feelings through various religious statements that go against Islam,” Bhattacharjee said.

On March 26, Akhtar made a call to the police after a mob surrounded his school. Police arrived at the scene, but when they were trying to get him out, the mob pounced on him. Akhtar said he had been told by the police that “maulvis and imams in Metiabruz area as well as other parts of the city have ruled against me and I should be careful”. “The fight is between true Islamists and the distorted ones. I am not anti-Islam. But my free thinking is not accepted by fundamentalist Muslims who are doing a great harm to the religion,” he said.

See also

Bangladesh post-poll violence hits minorities/Syed Badrul Ahsan: When a party loses its marbles NB: The Jamaat-i-Islami Hind is the sister organisation of the Bangladesh Jamaat. In March 2013, a mass demonstration by an Islamist coalition demonstrated in Kolkata against the trials & convictions of war crime perpetrators in Bangladesh. Supporters of the Shahbag movement in Bangladesh were threatened, & calls made to prevent Sheikh Hasina from visiting Kolkata. In light of the systematic & relentless violent attacks on Hindus & Buddhists in Bangladesh, & the strange logic by which the Bangladeshi Jamaat blames non-Muslims for each & every political setback, it is time for the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind to make clear its position on the vicious deeds of Bangladeshi Islamists & distance itself from them.

Why shouldn’t you face Babri charges again, SC asks Advani, Uma & Co

The Supreme Court issued notices Tuesday to senior BJP leaders, including L K Advani, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi, and several others, asking why conspiracy charges against them should not be restored in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case.

A bench led by Chief Justice H L Dattu asked the leaders to submit their responses within four weeks on why they should not be asked to stand trial for their alleged complicity in the demolition. They have also been given liberty to raise objections on the delay in seeking restoration of charges against them. Conspiracy charges were dropped by a trial court in 2001 and the order was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in 2010. The CBI appealed against the High Court order but only after nine months. Advani and others sought dismissal of the CBI petition, citing delay as reason.

The notices were issued by the Supreme Court on a fresh petition filed by Haji Mehboob, one of the original petitioners in the title suit representing the Muslim community in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi land dispute case. During a brief hearing Tuesday, Additional Solicitor General Neeraj K Kaul told the bench that the CBI would require some more time to ready documents to show why the delay occurred. He asked for four more weeks. The bench granted the CBI additional time to file a detailed response.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate M R Shamshad appeared for Mehboob and requested the bench to let him intervene and argue as a party in the case independently. The bench admitted the petition and fixed the matter for a hearing after four weeks.
As reported by The Indian Express, the court had agreed a day earlier to hear Mehboob’s petition which claimed that with the BJP in power, the CBI may not make adequate efforts to get conspiracy charges restored against the party leaders.

Mehboob, 77, said his fears stemmed from the fact that Rajnath Singh, an accused in the case, was now Home Minister and his ministry had administrative control over CBI. Another accused, Kalyan Singh, was now Governor of Rajasthan, he said. Stating that his house was among the many burnt in the violence that followed the demolition, Mehboob said his petition ought to be heard on merits to ensure the matter was not botched up. “There are reliable reports. CBI may not seriously press the said petition in its true intent and spirit,” the petitioner said, adding “it is necessary that a public-spirited person takes up the issue to test the impugned judgment of Allahabad High Court in the judicial scrutiny before this court”.

Two FIRs were lodged in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. One against the kar sevaks who allegedly demolished the mosque while the second named Advani, Joshi, Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Sadhvi Rithambara and others for “making provocative speeches” to instigate the kar sevaks. Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s name was removed after his death. The CBI had claimed it was not possible to separate the accused in one FIR from those in the other, since the offences transposed from the first case to the second. It said all those named in the first FIR should be tried for conspiracy as well. But in 2001, a lower court dropped the conspiracy charge against the leaders on the ground that the case related only to the volunteers who razed the mosque. This order was upheld by the High Court.

Income Tax officers assault CBI team with fire extinguishers in Lucknow

Lucknow: An Income Tax officer was on Tuesday arrested by CBI while allegedly taking a bribe of Rs two lakh from a person, after which his fellow officers assaulted the CBI team and seriously injured two persons. CBI sources said Niranjan Kumar had demanded a bribe of Rs 10 lakh from the man for settling an issue of income tax assessment for the financial year 2011-12. While he was receiving the first installment of Rs two lakh of the bribe, CBI team carried out a search and caught him, they said.

Members of Income Tax Officers' Union soon gathered and assaulted the CBI team with fire extinguishers seriously injuring a witness and an inspector level officer of CBI while three more agency officials received minor injuries in the process. The sources said one of the CBI officers has been admitted in the hospital.  They said the agency will file an FIR against the tax officials at a local police station for alleged assault and obstruction in the work of the government agency. "CBI has registered a case under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 against Income Tax Officer, Range-V(2), Income Tax Bhawan, Lucknow for demanding illegal gratification of Rs.10,00,000 from the complainant for settling the matter of assessment of income tax for the financial year 2011-12," CBI spokesperson said.
She said a trap was laid and the Income Tax Officer, was caught while demanding and accepting the bribe. "Searches are being conducted at the office and residential premises of the accused. The arrested accused will be produced before the competent court tomorrow," she said.

Apoorvanand - जीत की राजनीति की जीत

आखिरकार इन्हीं लोगों ने, जो आज बाहर किए गए हैं, साल भर पहले इसी समिति की बैठक में मधु भादुड़ी को पहले तो बोलने से रोका और फिर जब वे किसी तरह मंच में पहुँचीं तो मिनट भर में उनके आगे से न सिर्फ माइक हटा लिया बल्कि  उन्हें जबरदस्ती मंच से उतार भी दिया था. वे बेचारी अकेली थीं और उनके प्रस्ताव में पार्टी-नेतृत्व को चुनौती भी नहीं दी गई थी! वे तो सिर्फ खिड़की गाँव में अफ्रीकी स्त्रियों के साथ सोमनाथ भारती के व्यवहार की आलोचना करना चाहती थीं. लेकिन उस समय इस आलोचना को भी नेतृत्व को चुनौती माना गया. यह पूरा मामला आया- गया भी हो गया.

आम आदमी पार्टी में  जो कुछ भी हुआ उससे वे ही हैरान हैं जो पार्टियों की अंदरूनी ज़िंदगी के बारे में कभी विचार नहीं करते. किसी भी पार्टी में कभी भी नेतृत्व के प्रस्ताव से अलग दूसरा प्रस्ताव शायद ही कबूल  होता हो .कम्युनिस्ट पार्टियों पर नेतृत्व की तानाशाही का आरोप लगता रहा है लेकिन कांग्रेस हो या कोई भी और पार्टी, नेतृत्व के खिलाफ खड़े होने की कीमत उस दल के सदस्यों को पता है. ऐसे अवसर दुर्लभ हैं जब नेतृत्व की इच्छा से स्वतंत्र या उसके विरुद्ध कोई प्रस्ताव स्वीकार किया गया हो. जब ऐसा होता है तो नेतृत्व के बदलने की शुरुआत हो जाती है.
भारत में पार्टियों के आतंरिक जीवन का अध्ययन नहीं के बराबर हुआ है.ऐसा क्यों नहीं होता  कि निर्णयकारी समितियों के सदस्य खुलकर, आज़ादी और हिम्मत के साथ अपनी बात कह सकें? यह अनुभव उन सबका है जो पार्टियों में भिन्न मत रखते ही ‘डिसिडेंट’ घोषित कर दिए जाते हैं.यह भी समिति की बैठक के दौरान जो उनके खिलाफ वोट दे चुके हैं वे अक्सर बाहर आकर कहते हैं कि आप तो ठीक ही कह रहे थे लेकिन हम क्या करते!  हमारी मजबूरी तो आप समझते ही हैं !
ये राजनीतिक दल कोई सोवियत संघ या चीन की कम्युनिस्ट पार्टियों की तरह के दल नहीं हैं और न उस राजनीतिक आबोहवा में काम करते हैं जो एक ही प्रकार के मत से बनी है. ये तो एक खुले जनतांत्रिक राजनीतिक माहौल के आदी हैं जो इसका मौक़ा देता है कि इंदिरा गांधी तक को भी सत्ताच्युत कर दिया जा सके.फिर ये सब के सब क्यों अपने भीतरी व्यवहार में अजनतांत्रिक होते हैं?
नेतृत्व से यह उम्मीद करना कि वह अपने से भिन्न या विरोधी मत को उदारतापूर्वक स्वीकार कर लेगा, कुछ ज्यादती है. ऐसा करते ही उसकी निर्णय क्षमता पर सवालिया निशान लग जाता है. उसे लेकर ऐसा संदेह पैदा होते ही यह सवाल पैदा हो जाता है कि वह क्योंकर पार्टी का नेता बना रहे! लेकिन जो उच्चतम समितियों के सदस्य होते हैं क्यों वे यह मानते हुए भी कि नेतृत्व सही नहीं, बोलने की हिम्मत नहीं जुटा पाते?
आम आदमी पार्टी में कल लोकतंत्र की ह्त्या हुई,ऐसा आरोप बाहर कर दिए गए लोगों ने लगाया.लेकिन ‘लोकतंत्र’ की उनकी दुहाई की साख उन्हीं के दल के लोगों के बीच क्यों न थी? इसलिए कि उन्हें यह पता था कि मसला ‘लोकतंत्र’ का नहीं है.आखिरकार इन्हीं लोगों ने, जो आज बाहर किए गए हैं, साल भर पहले इसी समिति की बैठक में मधु भादुड़ी को पहले तो बोलने से रोका और फिर जब वे किसी तरह मंच में पहुँचीं तो मिनट भर में उनके आगे से न सिर्फ माइक हटा लिया बल्कि  उन्हें जबरदस्ती मंच से उतार भी दिया था.वे बेचारी अकेली थीं और उनके प्रस्ताव में पार्टी-नेतृत्व को चुनौती भी नहीं दी गई थी! वे तो सिर्फ खिड़की गाँव में अफ्रीकी स्त्रियों के साथ सोमनाथ भारती के व्यवहार की आलोचना करना चाहती थीं. लेकिन उस समय इस आलोचना को भी नेतृत्व को चुनौती माना गया. यह पूरा मामला आया- गया भी हो गया.
यह समझ लेने से कि आम आदमी पार्टी की राष्ट्रीय परिषद के सदस्यों के लिए जनतंत्र विचारणीय ही नहीं था, यह समझना आसान होगा कि क्यों कल के ‘सही’ पक्ष में उनका अल्पमत ही खड़ा हो सका. पार्टी के इन सदस्यों के सामने प्रश्न था सत्ता को बनाए रखने के समीकरण को अविचलित रहने देना. उनके सर्वोच्च नेता ने यही सवाल आक्रामक तरीके से उनके सामने रख दिया. और उन्हें यह मालूम है कि उसके बिना अभी सत्ता उनके पास न होगी.
राष्ट्रीय परिषद के इन सदस्यों के इस आचरण को फिर भी समझा जा सकता है. इनमें से बहुत कम का किसी राजनीतिक संगठन में काम करने का तजुर्बा है.यहाँ तक की सामाजिक आन्दोलनों का अनुभव भी क्षीण ही है.वे स्वयं किसी जनतांत्रिक प्रक्रिया से यहाँ नहीं पहुंचे हैं.उन्हें जनतांत्रिक विचार-विमर्श की कोई आदत भी नहीं पड़ी है. वे सिर्फ यह जानते हैं कि जो किसी भी तरह जीत दिलाए उसे ही नेता मानना फायदेमंद है. इसी मनोविज्ञान को समझ कर कल उनके सर्वोच्च नेता ने उनसे कहा कि उन्हें जीत की राजनीति करने वालों और हार की राजनीति करने वालों में चुनाव करना है.फैसला जाना हुआ था.
असल में आम आदमी पार्टी के जो सदस्य हैं, उनके लिए विचार जैसा कोई भी शब्द उतना ही पराया है जितना नैतिकता. आखिर जो इतना माहिर है कि रामदेव, श्री श्री रविशंकर, किरण बेदी के सहारे भीड़ इकठ्ठा कर नेता बन सकता है और बाद में अन्ना हजारे से मनचाहा ‘उपवास’ करवा के एक जन-उन्माद पैदा कर ले, और फिर उसे ही किनारे कर दे,वह कुछ भी कर कर सकता है! आखिरकार उसके इसी हुनर को देखकर उन लोगों ने भी उसे अपना नेता चुना था जिन्हें आज वह अपनी ‘जीत की राजनीति’ के रास्ते में रोड़ा मान रहा है! फिर जो कुछ भी उनके साथ हुआ वह तो इस राजनीति के लिए तर्कसंगत ही था.

Tolerant India: Woman gang raped in Ahmednagar for refusing to donate for ritual // Dalit Minor raped & assaulted Muzaffarnagar // Judge seeks justice from SC for discrimination on caste lines

In a numbing incident of violence in rural Maharashtra, a 45-year-old woman was gang raped at gunpoint for allegedly refusing to ‘donate’ towards a traditional Hindu ritual in Sonai village in Ahmednagar district. The district police have booked case against a former sarpanch and three others for meting out “rough justice” in an instance of extreme intolerance which has sent shockwaves throughout the district. The woman’s ‘crime’ had been to refuse donation for ‘Harinam Saptah’ — a traditional Hindu ritual involving mass worship of a deity or patron saint during a seven-day period. According to the woman’s daughter, the sarpanch, Laxman Ghule, along with his wife and others from the village, stormed into the victim’s house in the early hours of Friday last week. 
“They beat up my father with shovels and sharp weapons, badly damaging his legs. My brother was later administered a horrific beating. They then set upon my mother with a pistol to her head, brutally assaulting her. No one in the mob of 150-odd people who had gathered, ventured to help,” said the shocked daughter. The thugs further vandalised the house, destroying a motorbike belonging to the victim’s family. Ahmednagar district has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent months with a string of grim incidents of caste violence exemplified in the hideous Pathardi triple murders of a Dalit family. Activists in the district and across the State have castigated police apathy in failing to rein in reactionary violence.
The village of Sonai village itself shot to notoriety in January 2013 after the gory murders of three Dalit youths. The trio was hacked to death by upper caste men and their mutilated body parts scattered in a septic tank in what appeared to be a case of honour killing.  “We have nabbed one of the culprits and registered cases under Section 376 (G) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Arms Act. The hunt is on for the former sarpanch Ghule and ten others. We hope to nab him soon,” said Lakhmi Gautam, the Ahmednagar Superintendent of Police, speaking to The Hindu.
A 25 year old youth has been arrested for allegedly raping an 8 year old-Dalit girl at Nawla village in Muzaffarnagar. The accused lured the little girl by offering ice-cream and took her to the field to rape her. Meanwhile, the girl is admitted in the hospital currently as her condition continues to be critical. "

A dalit district judge from Andhra Pradesh on Monday sought justice from the Supreme Court alleging that he had been discriminated and humiliated on the basis of his caste by a sitting high court judge. But a bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra put judicial discipline to the forefront and refused to entertain his petition. It asked the district judge to get his grievance redressed through the established in-house mechanism. 

"There is a procedure for considering such cases. If an individual writes a letter making complaint against a judge, then Chief Justice of India will look into the issue," the bench said. It said the petition filed by the judge was a private interest litigation and he could not approach the court under writ jurisdiction claiming violation of his fundamental rights. The district judge, K B Gangeyudu, told the court that persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were discriminated regularly even now in all walks of life, including judiciary, and requested the apex court to frame guidelines to prevent such discrimination.

Citing various incidents, Gangeyudu said the HC judge "lost no opportunity to humiliate and harass him on a daily basis on one pretext or the other, reminding him directly or indirectly that he does not deserve the status of a colleague, being born in a lower caste". The HC judge, the petitioner said, was the principal district judge prior to his elevation to the HC. "This writ petitioner, a fast-track court judge in Andhra Pradesh hailing from Scheduled Caste, knocks the doors of this court, being denied the basic human dignity and equal treatment of law by the very custodians of fundamental rights, for the only sin of having born in a low caste," the petitioner said.

"The most humiliating experience was the petitioner was denied even the courtesy of a judicial chair with the official symbol of lions while sitting and discharging judicial duties. Though the petitioner complained about it to the district judge, he just ignored it. At last, the registrar general had to intervene and direct him to provide the chair to the petitioner after one-and-a-half years of posting," he said. Gangeyudu said he had lodged a complaint before the HC against the judge but no action was taken. He said he had complained also to the President and had forwarded a copy to the state chief secretary. The state government kept silent on it.

"While practice of untouchability in its open form is not prevalent in urban areas, it is still being practiced in work places in subtle form. People belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes even though employed as per the mandatory quota system, the discrimination in the work places being practiced by peers, superiors and very often even by subordinates is subtle but ruthless," he said. "Many able employees selected under the reservation system are not being provided proper environment for showing their merit and improve their performance. They are always reminded by the others that they are enjoying a grant and not entitled to it. Every possible trick in the rule book is used against them to suppress these subtler forms of untouchability being practiced in workplaces, the so called reservation for the Scheduled Caste will remain redundant," the petition said.

Prashant Bhushan" AAP dissenters are being targeted

'The same people who clamoured for a Lokpal whose selection must not be left for the government are today saying they will themselves appoint their own Lokpal. Though our party constitution says the outgoing members of the Lokpal will appoint their successors...'

Prashant Bhushan was one of the four leaders who were voted out of the AAP’s National Executive at a the party’s National Council meeting on Saturday. Bhushan, who had raised questions on the party’s functioning and was voted out of the Political Affairs Committee as well, has alleged that hooliganism and goondagardi was rampant in the Council.

Personally, how much has this controversy hurt you?
It has hurt me personally. But it is not so much a question of personal hurt. It is the fact that people whom I worked closely with and who I had supported have descended to such levels of resorting to blatant lies, resorting to fabrications, of resorting to all kinds of unethical and illegal means and now resorting to hooliganism and goondaism. That is what is most hurting. That even the minimum modicum of decency… For example, I didn’t actually see this because I was looking in front. I was sitting towards the front and I was looking at the front. But when this ruckus started towards the end of Arvind’s speech, his MLAs rushed to say: “gaddaron ko phek do, phek do”. They rushed towards my father because his speech was partly aimed at him. My father says he felt the same thing… it was like the one time he was attacked by dacoits and didn’t know if he would come out alive or not. 

So, what kind of MLAs, what kind of people have we bred? What kind of culture have we bred? And all this was on the instructions, planning and the full encouragement of Arvind. He himself instigated those people, he was there when this was happening. That is why I say that it has become like a Stalinist purge. The manner in which this purge is happening within the party, the manner in which they removed Anand Kumar, Ajit Jha, Yogendra Yadav and me and now the Lokpal himself. And now all these MLA’s that dissented are being targeted. Its like a Stalinist purge.

One of the things that they have questioned is that while the party never had the policy of one man, one post, it does have the policy debarring more than one person of a family holding a post. They say that your sister and father both held posts. How do you answer that?
It was that two members of a family can’t hold two executive posts. My father was not holding any executive posts, my sister was also not holding any executive posts. She was originally organisation development adviser which was not an executive post. She was thereafter AAP global team coordinator which was also not an executive post. She was not in any decision making capacity in the party, to make an executive decision. But it is really remarkable that the persons that are raising this issue and wanted to bring an amendment, that two persons of one family can’t even be invitees in order to prevent my father to be invited, are the same people who are most vociferously saying Arvind should continue to hold the post of Chief Minister as well as National Convener.

The same people who clamoured for a Lokpal whose selection must not be left for the government are today saying they will themselves appoint their own Lokpal. Though our party constitution says the outgoing members of the Lokpal will appoint their successors. Quite apart from the fact that the Lokpal’s term was deemed to be renewed by the fact that he was being asked to function by the party as the Lokpal as late as in February. And under the party’s constitution, his term could be renewed for three years. But yet, when he become inconvenient, when they don’t want a neutral observer at the meeting, they tell him not to come, and they remove him because he has been receiving complaints about the conduct of the meeting itself. Then they proceed to appoint his successor without consulting him.

In the run up to the Delhi elections, while you had raised questions on 12 candidates, it is alleged that you worked against the party and told people not to donate, not to volunteer?
No, that is a misreading. I had said that I am not donating this time. You see, there was a whole history to all this. History was that there were institutional problems that one started seeing immediately after the Lok Sabha elections. It started with this attempt to form the government in Delhi immediately after the Lok Sabha elections with Congress support. 

Which we had opposed. Majority of the PAC opposed, and majority of the National Executive opposed. Arvind continued with that attempt and went to the extent, as the Rajesh Garg sting reveals, of asking people to break away six MLAs from the Congress party. The very six MLA’s whom he had himself accused of having bought over by the BJP for Rs 4 crore each. So he had become so desperate that he wanted to form a government in Delhi with the support of six bought over MLAs.

Thereafter, there was this communal poster printed anonymously by the party that “Kaum ke gaddaron ne haath milaya” and when the party was caught with that, they then put up Amanatullah to take the flak for that and offered him the Okhla seat. Then came this issue of the SMS sent by AVAM, which was also sent by the party, but sent in the name of someone. Then came the issue of the party contesting the elections in Haryana and Maharashtra where in the National Executive, by a majority of 5-4, to allow the states to take their own decisions. But the decision was not allowed to be implemented. Then came this issue of candidate selection. Which, as I said, was completely non transparent, a departure from previous practices.

Names were not put up on the site, and names and biodatas were not being sent to the PAC, which was the final approval body. Even when I asked for it, they were not being sent to me in advance. Then, when we objected to certain candidates, they stopped sending it to the PAC. And they got a lot of people as candidates who were pure political enterpreneurs, who had no ideological commitment. So you see at that stage I said look if this is how the candidates are being selected  I will have to resign from the party, and make public the reasons for my resignation. Which is what they are saying I threatened to hold a press conference.

Yes, I did threaten them that if this is not redressed I will have to resign and resign publicly where I will have to give my reasons. At that stage an emergency meeting was held at my residence on January 4 in which I said all these things. And then it was agreed that all right, as a temporary thing, these complaints against the candidates would be referred to the Lokpal and these institutional issues would be taken up within two days of the elections by the National Executive. Meeting of the NE was delayed till February 26, but instead of taking up the issues of institutional reforms it started with Arvind saying that I am resigning because I want these two people out...
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Monday, 30 March 2015

R K Misra on the Modi government and free speech - Legal leash: Rat In, Cat Out

Tallest trees dread thunder the most. No wonder personal freedom is anathema to the power placed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no different. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, he was ever ready to stick a knife into anything remotely resembling a Sonia-Singh led Centre. Now sitting in the hot seat himself, with a majority to match, he is no better than his predecessors. Actually he is worse.

Fast on the ‘tweetstake’ opposing section 66A of the Information and Technology Act brought in by the UPA  in 2006 and  passed December 22, 2008, the BJP (read Modi, for he decides) when in power did a complete U-turn. Challenged in the Supreme Court by a 24-year-old Shreya Singhal, the Modi government  favoured  retaining the Section. A stunning slap from the Supreme Court later, both the Congress and the BJP now sit red-faced, dishing out lame duck laments. The offensive piece of legislation, which authorised police to make arrests for any social media posts it deemed offensive, has been struck down. 

A Goan gentleman who had posted a Facebook comment against Modi last year was hauled over the coals by the cops after one of his highly placed sympathisers lodged a police complaint under the Act. There have been numerous other similar cases to curb dissent in Gujarat where speaking against Modi was treated as a statement against Gujarat by official organs of the state.

Modi’s men, however, are back at work. While attention stands riveted to Delhi and the dust kicked up by the Land Acquisition Bill refuses to settle down, in his own homeland Gujarat, a determined attempt is on to impose another draconian law, which truly invites comparisons to the Emergency era. A legacy of Modi rule in Gujarat, the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) Act, which was twice rejected by successive Presidents of the Indian Union, has now been tabled in the Gujarat Assembly in a new avtaar. It is called the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime (GCTOC) Bill 2015. The Modi government in Gujarat had to eat crow when GUJCOC twice passed by the state Assembly was returned by one President after another. 

All acts of the over a decade-long Modi era in Gujarat — good, bad or ugly — are sought to be revisited again, this time  with a vengeance, now that he rules India. This proposed legislation in question is all encompassing in its sweep, and arms the police with unbridled powers to tap personal phones without permission and detain people without following standard procedures.

A man is known by his deeds and the present Prime Minister’s past battles against Indira Gandhi- imposed curbs notwithstanding, the record does not portend well for the future. As was the precedent during the Modi rule in Gujarat, all contentious issues were brought up on the last day and neatly pushed through after a protesting Opposition had been ordered out. So was it this time as well. The GCTOC bill will be taken up on the last day of the ongoing Budget session, March 31. 

The Bill, which has a provision for death penalty and fine of Rs 10 lakh empowers phone intercepts and its admissibility as evidence in courts. Same applies to confessions extracted by the police. Most importantly, it upturns the law to put the onus of proving one’s innocence on the accused. “The Special Courts shall presume, unless it is proven to the contrary, that the accused has committed such offence”, the Bill states. The statement of Objects and Reasons says, “It was considered necessary to enact a special law with stringent provisions, including the power to intercept wire, electronic or oral communication.” Did the draconian laws enacted during the Emergency, which the BJP fought tooth and nail, not say the same? Then where is the dividing line between the oppressor and the oppressed?  Is it only a role reversal?

The GUJCOC Bill, which came up post 2002 Godhra train carnage and communal riots, was passed by the state Assembly in 2004 during the Modi rule. He needed a powerful tool to curb and control dissent unrestrained, more so after POTA. It was, however, returned by President APJ Abdul Kalam who had objected to clause 14 pertaining to interception of communication and ordered it to be removed. In 2008, the Bill was again passed by the state Assembly after removing the clause, but retaining the clause for confessions before police as admissible evidence. 

In 2008, President Pratibha Patil returned the Bill. In 2009, Modi again passed the Bill ignoring the suggestions made by the President and the matter awaits his decision. Meanwhile, choosing not to let sleeping dogs lie, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, without any provocation, has suddenly woken up to bring in an amended Bill in the state Assembly. It brings back the bulk of the clauses deleted earlier. This defiance of authority is a hallmark of the Modi style. Ironically, he himself has no stomach for disagreement, let alone defiance. Would Chief Minister Anandiben Patel have the courage to bring back the Bill without a tacit nod from the top? Unlikely.

GUJCOC was sought to be enacted after the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act(POTA) enacted by the NDA government in 2002 was repealed by the  UPA government immediately after coming to power in 2004.POTA itself had replaced an earlier  anti-terrorism law known as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities(Prevention) Act-TADA- which was allowed to lapse by the PV Narasimha Rao government in 1995.

Misuse of draconian laws is a time tested tradition, not that the lack of it has ever been any hindrance. In just the first three months of 2013, the Gujarat Police had obtained 90,000 telephone call data records (CDRs) of people and entities — in most cases, without citing any reason. The filth had hit the fan when it was realised that the cops were snooping over fellow cops and other senior administration officials and the wing clipping exercise began thereafter. Gujarat Director General of Police, Amitabh Pathak who accidentally stumbled upon this information and sought to curb it, suddenly passed away while holidaying abroad. That some of these cops  who did the dirty chores are now being rewarded with top postings in central surveillance and investigation agencies in Delhi, is however, a different matter altogether.

Modi rule in Gujarat is littered with examples when even the Sangh Parivar leaders were not spared. Ashwin Patel, general secretary of the Ahmedabad VHP, was picked up on Diwali eve October 29, 2008 and charged with defamation, sedition, anti-national activities and inciting communal passions. Patel who was considered close to VHP leader Pravin Togadia had been a marked man ever since he led the SMS campaign against Modi in the aftermath of LK Advani’s visit to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s mazar in 2005 and the Chief Minister’s support to him during the ruckus kicked up over the issue. Ashwin spent an extended time in jail before he was finally bailed out after VHP veteran Ashok Singhal intervened. With Modi in the driver’s seat in Delhi and his one-time police minister, Amit Shah, now the national party chief, the other members of the inner core are gradually being fitted into key positions in the mosaic of the national administration. It would be interesting to watch as the political chess game unfolds.

Megadroughts the Future of the U.S., NASA Study Says

The United States will likely experience 'megadroughts' the magnitude of which haven't been experienced in a millennium, due in large part to man-made climate change, a new study conducted by NASA, Columbia University and Cornell University scientists said. 
The study analyzed climate models and tree ring records in portions of at least 16 states and found that global temperature rise due to man-made climate change, and not a lack of precipitation, could increase the chance of the West and Southwest experiencing a megadrought -- a  severe drought lasting decades -- by the year 2100 to more than 80 percent, National Geographic reports.  
"This is an amazing result ... The precipitation is not so dire. It is the escalation in temperature that is driving the model simulations toward dramatic aridity, " David Stahle, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arkansas points out to LiveScience.com.
A rise in temperatures due to man-made climate change is creating 'unprecedented' drying across the nation, Smithsonian Magazine reports. Such a megadrought could last decades and be worse than the drought which ended the ancient Anasazi civilization more than 1,000 years ago, LiveScience.com says.   
"The future of drought in western North America is likely to be worse than anybody has experienced in the history of the United States," said Benjamin Cook, the study's lead author and a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, says this megadrought may even surpass the severity of megadroughts in medieval times, SmithsonianMag.com reported. 
This drought could prove disastrous for the West as it will impact agriculture, ecosystems and city water supplies significantly, National Geographic reports.
Cook said that some of the potential impacts from such a drought can currently be observed in California, which is in the middle of a record-breaking drought
However, a dire situation for other regions, like the Central Plains,  is still uncertain, LiveScience notes. Tree-ring records used to examine the likelihood of a megadrought in the West are far more detailed than those available on the Plains. 
The future for our Western states looks bleak, but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
"I am optimistic that we can cope with the threat of megadrought in the future because it doesn't mean no water. It means significantly less water than we are used to," said Toby Ault, one of the study's researchers from Cornell University.
The study's findings were published on Feb. 12, 2015 in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Another Blogger Hacked to Death in Dhakha, Big Knives Used, Says Police // Bangladesh blogger becomes second to be murdered in a month

NB: In the name of 'hurt sentiment', are fanatics are to be protected by the state and all of us driven to the wall by murderous hooligans because we dare to criticise religious belief? I believe in respecting peoples' religious beliefs, but that does not imply that all such belief is exempt from criticism. Do the faithful of all creeds want all criticism of religion to be banned? The communal grip over state machineries in South Asia has become so tight that the police have become their agents in destroying freedom of speech. There are several state-registered ongoing cases against atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. The murdered Avijit's wife Rafida told Reuters: “While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act” . 

Meanwhile this is what is going on in Indonesia: Violent anti-communism is alive and well in Indonesia. And this in India: Smruti Koppikar - Maharashtra CM has no will to probe my father's murder: social reformer Govind Pansare's daughter . Social and political activists need to clear our minds and launch a vigorous defence of the rights of atheists and agnostics to criticise religion. Without blasphemy there would be no science, nor any new religion either. We have made too many retreats in the face of religious sentiment. The result is that these goons hold the whole of society and indeed the human intellect itself by the throat. The attack on the human mind is now become normalised. This sinister development must be recognised for what it is, a preparation for totalitarianism. 

If we don't resist it unitedly, we shall be digging our own graves, as past generations have already done by their compromises with communalists of all stripes - DS

DHAKA:  A blogger was hacked to death in the Bangladesh capital on Monday, in the latest brutal attack on the country's independent writers, a senior officer said. Police have arrested two men over the murder which comes just weeks after an American atheist blogger was also hacked to death in Dhaka, a crime that triggered international outrage, the officer said. "He was brutally hacked to death this morning with big knives just 500 yards (460 metres) from his home at Dhaka's Begunbari area," local police chief Wahidul Islam told AFP. Islam said the men were arrested immediately after the attack trying to flee the scene. Police said they were unsure whether the victim, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was also an atheist blogger but another social media writer said that he was known to write "against religious fundamentalism". "It appeared Rahman used to write using a penname Kutshit Hasher Chhana (Ugly Duckling)," Imran Sarker, head of Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, told AFP. "He was a progressive free thinker and was against religious fundamentalism," he said. Police have also arrested a suspect over the killing in February of American atheist writer and blogger Avijit Roy.

Roy was the second atheist blogger to have been murdered in the Muslim-majority country in the last two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004. His killing sparked an uproar at home and abroad with hundreds of secular activists holding protests for days to demand justice. They also slammed the country's secular government for not doing enough to protect humanist writers.

A blogger known for his atheist views has been stabbed to death in Bangladesh, in the latest of a series of attacks on independent writers in the developing south Asian nation. Washiqur Rahman, 27, died of serious injuries inflicted in the assault on Monday morning in Dhaka, the capital. Police have arrested two men for the murder, which comes just weeks after an American atheist blogger was killed in Dhaka, in a crime that triggered international outrage. Local police chief Wahidul Islam told Agence France-Presse the victim had been “brutally hacked to death this morning with big knives just 500 yards [460 metres] from his home at Dhaka’s Begunbari area”. Islam said the two detained men were arrested immediately after the attack as they tried to flee the scene. The suspects have so far been identified only as Zikrullah, said to be a student at a religious school near the city of Chittagong, and Ariful Islam, who police say was studying at the Darul Ulum religious school in Dhaka. Police are hunting a third man. 

“Those who killed him differed on his ideologies about religion. He was not an atheist. He was a believer. But the way he followed religion was different from the way radical groups insist,” Biplob Kumar Sarkar, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan police, told the Guardian. However, Tamanna Setu, a friend of Rahman said: “He used to write a satirical column on facebook about against believers. He was an atheist. His killing has to be connected to his writing,”

One social media activist said that he used to write “against religious fundamentalism”. “It appeared Rahman used to write using a pen name, Kutshit Hasher Chhana [Ugly Duckling],” Imran Sarker, head of the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh, said. “He was a progressive free thinker and was against religious fundamentalism.” Ibrahim Khalil, a fellow blogger who knew Rahman through events they organised, said Rahman was a “progressive” who wrote against religious extremism and repression of ethnic minorities. “I can say he was a very humble man,” Khalil said.

The Dhaka Tribune reported that the dead man was a member of eight Facebook group pages including Atheist Bangladesh. Rahman, who worked at a travel agency as an IT manager, is the third such blogger to have been murdered in the Muslim-majority country in the past two years. Police have also arrested a suspect over the killing in February of American atheist writer and blogger Avijit Roy. Roy, an engineer of Bangladeshi origin, was killed by machete-wielding assailants near Dhaka University as he and his wife were returning from a book fair last month. His wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered head injuries and lost a finger. She later returned to the US for treatment.

“While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act,” Rafida told Reuters. Roy’s death sparked uproar at home and abroad, with hundreds of secular activists protesting for days to demand justice. They also criticised the country’s government for not doing enough to protect secularist writers. An adviser to Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, appeared in comments earlier this month to pass the blame for the murder of Roy on to the police. “Identify the black sheep among the force and bring them under law and justice to uphold your image,” HT Imam told senior officers.

A suspect in the killing, named as Farabi Shafiur Rahman, had previously threatened Roy several times, including on Facebook, where he said Roy would be killed upon his arrival in Dhaka. Rahman was arrested in 2013 for making threats to a cleric for administering Islamic funeral rites to another atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was murdered. Media group Reporters Without Borders rated Bangladesh 146th among 180 countries in a ranking of press freedom last year. In 2004, assailants attacked Bangladeshi writer Humayun Azad, also with machetes. Azad survived the attack, but died in mysterious circumstances later that year in Germany, where he had gone on an academic visit.
Political violence in recent months has claimed the lives of more than 100 people and left hundreds more injured. Clashes have pitted activists from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), which boycotted general elections a year ago, and other parties against security forces. The latest protests have been called by Khaleda Zia, leader of the BNP, who wants Hasina to resign and call fresh polls. Hasina has said her government would remain in office until her term ends in 2019. Allies of the BNP include Islamist parties. The country of more than 160 million people has struggled to resolve profound disagreements over the role of religion in politics and society in recent years.

Also see:
Subhash Gatade - The Challenge of Unreason in South Asia