Thursday, 30 April 2015

NTUI statement on May Day 2015

NTUI statement on May day 2015

Build a United Struggle for Safe and Secure Jobs and Freedom

If ever we thought that things couldn’t get worse for the working class, we were wrong!
The last twelve months have seen an unparalleled attack on working people. The BJP, which came to government a year ago, has intensified its attack on all sections of the working class. The BJP has recognised that its principle failure during its last term in office (1998-2004) was that while it had moved policy in the direction of the free market it did not create the institutional framework for it. The journey from ‘India Shining’ to ‘Make in India’ is to translate the ideology of the free market into not just policy but also legislation. Hence, the BJP government has now set about to put in place, not just a stronger legislative framework for the right to property, but also to secure the right to profit and the right of companies to enjoy the same rights as if they are citizens. 

Hindutva for Economic Restructuring
When the Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about the need for ‘trust in citizens’ for an environment that is business friendly, he equates the rights of corporates with the rights enjoyed by citizens. This ‘trust’ can only be achieved if the right of the corporate displaces the rights of citizens. Hence the BJP government has set about a programme to attack the most marginalised and socially discriminated citizens, be they women, dalits, adivasis or religious minorities. Be it ‘ghar wapsi’ or the proposal for the Freedom of Religion Bill or the legislation on the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffalos, the aim of the BJP government is to polarise and divide society around their Hindutva agenda. 

These actions are indeed aimed at communalising society along religious lines but are also a clear attack on the livelihood of those engaged and employed in the meat and leather industry and an attack on small and marginal farmers, a large number of whom are from historically oppressed communities. The BJP governments plan of advancing the ‘Maharashtra model’ on animal slaughter to a countrywide agenda will contribute both to destitution of those related to the industry but also add to the problem of food availability and security of the poorest section of the population.

Access to Land to Promote Low Wage Unsafe Jobs
Along with this is comes the promise to private capital to easy and unlimited access to land and other natural resources, through the amendment to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act 2013. When the BJP government has failed to obtain legislative sanction, it has forced it, not once but twice, through Presidential ordinances. The ordinance has diluted the principle of informed and democratic consent by removing social impact assessment (SIA) for a range of industrial and infrastructure projects. SIA was a critical component of the 2013 political compromise that led to the legislation and addressed the effect and therefore relief and resettlement issues of not just land owners but also landless workers who are dependent on land for their livelihood. 

Furthermore the restriction the ordinance places on the Gram Sabha takes away key gains made through the Forest Rights Act.  Added to this the BJP has legislated the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act to delink mineral resources from their final use. In effect what the BJP government seeks to do is to create a framework that allows for the transfer of property rights from peasants to corporates and create a ‘market’ for both land and minerals. And yet in the knowledge that such a ‘market’ may in many cases not assure profits, the BJP government is willing to extend state support to this profit model through government guarantees. This, the BJP government says will bring the ‘poor, dalits, tribals, backwards, those who are landless... 300 million would get employment’.

Race to the Bottom
Clearing land of the poor, dalits, tribals, backwards’ will however not be enough to create the 300 million jobs. For this,‘labour law reform’ is the government’s solution. In the first instance through amendments moved in the Lok Sabha to the Apprentices’ Act 1961, the Factories Act 1948 and the Self Certification and then through its state governments, led by Rajasthan, that also amended the Industrial Disputes Act 1948 and the Contract Labour Act 1971. 

Since then the union government has circulated drafts of the Small Factories Bill, the Wage Code and the Industrial Relations Code. These drafts seek to alter the basic framework of labour law by curtailing basic workers’ rights that are today protected amongst others by the Minimum Wages Act 1948, the Trade Union Act 1926 and the Industrial Disputes Act 1948. By amending the PF and ESI Acts, the BJP government is playing on the financial hardship of low income workers and pushing them to low contribution options of healthcare insurance and retiral benefits in the private sector in the name of ‘choice’. The objective is to universalise, in every sphere of economic life, the principle of capacity to pay and ability to pay. 

These proposals are a direct attack on the freedom of workers to form or join trade unions of their choice and shrink the right to strike and all forms of action by workers in order to agitate their demands including on wages and work place safety and security in what are today already very unequal and discriminatory workplaces.

While seeking to attract investment and compromising with imperialist powers, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently assured a global audience that he will ‘Make in India’ by placing ‘the workforce to power global growth’ at the disposal of capital. Let there be no doubt that by this the BJP government is assuring capital that it will lead from the front in the ‘race to the bottom’ by providing a workforce with low wages and unprotected conditions of work and employment. The BJP is assuring capital that it will clear the countryside of the ‘poor, dalits, tribals, backwards’.  The BJP is assuring capital that it will place land and natural resources at the disposal of capital. The BJP is assuring capital that it will provide government guarantees against possible losses. The BJP is assuring capital that it will put down any resistance from the working class and the peasantry since any voice against ‘Make in India’ is a voice against the ‘national interest’.

The NTUI has always recognised the critical importance of both working class unity and advancing the united front. We note the persistence of the 13 central trade union organisations’ effort. We salute the unity of coal workers for their December 2014 strike as we salute the transport workers for their efforts at a one-day nationwide strike yesterday both of which were against privatisation of the sectors. And yet the NTUI has always recognised that if the working class movement has to succeed in breaching the onslaught of capital then we must prepare our movement for sustained struggle. We know that a sustained struggle cannot be built without an intensification of our political engagement. 

Over these past months we have sought to work with others for a convergence between social movements and trade unions. We are willing to experiment with the widest possible alliance of progressive forces. We have worked to build strong relations between ourselves and other militant trade unions. And we know that we cannot fight our battles alone here and to this end we have committed ourselves with militant trade unions from across the world to build an alliance to fight against all forms of contract and irregular work and for safe and secure workplaces. Just as we put our energies in building strong unions we must  also strengthen our efforts to build stronger alliances with other sections of the progressive movement learning at each stage from our experience so that we can together sharpen our political experience and take our movement forward to build a fair, just and equitable social order.

Let us Unite this May Day and

Fight Discrimination - Fight Communal Violence
Fight to Repeal the Land Ordinance:
No Land Acquisition without Consent of Affected People
Resist the Attack on Labour Rights – Fight for Safe, Secure Jobs and a Just Wage

Usha Ramanathan on how the Modi Government is shamelessly flouting three Supreme Court Orders on Aadhaar

By law, you should not be denied any government service in India if you don’t have an Aadhar card number. So why do various government programs continue to ignore three Supreme Court orders and insist on the dreaded number, and how are they getting away with it?

In the last year-and-a-half, the Supreme Court has said at least three times that having an Aadhaar number is not to be made mandatory. Yet, governments and institutions have persisted with their demand for people’s Aadhaar numbers as a condition for getting entitlements and services. Has the latest Supreme Court order on March 16 – reiterating Aadhaar cannot be mandatory – solved the problem? Here’s the deal with what’s going on.

What is Aadhaar?
Aadhaar is the brand name for the number being produced under the Unique Identification (UID) project. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up in 2009 by an executive notification to generate and assign unique identification numbers to residents. There was, and continues to be, no law governing the project. In December 2010, months after the UIDAI had begun to collect data – including people’s biometric data – and after persistent demands that such a project cannot be allowed to be carried on without at least the protection of a law, a Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. This Bill – the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 – was roundly rejected in December 2011 by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance cutting across party lines: it recommended that the project be sent back to the drawing board.

Although enrolment on the UID database was initially promoted as being voluntary, very soon the element of coercion began to emerge. A notification issued by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas on 26 September, 2011 proposed making the Aadhaar number compulsory for getting gas cylinders. This was soon withdrawn, but, as things turned out, the idea of coercion was not abandoned. Among other things, coercion and threat of exclusion from services has been a way of driving people to enrolment stations, forcing them to be on the UID database.

In the beginning, the central and state governments entered into Memorandums of Understanding(MoUs) with the UIDAI to act as its Registrars. In time, by demanding that the Aadhaar number be seeded in bank accountsgas connectionsration cards and, lately, the voter ID, the governments have been active in introducing compulsion. The reason many people are upset over Aadhaar at this point is that even as the Supreme Court is yet to hear and decide on the many issues raised before it challenging the UID project, and even as the court has directed that Aadhaar cannot be a precondition for accessing services and entitlements, governments have continued to act as if the order of the court does not exist.

For what kinds of services was Aadhaar first made compulsory?
In 2011, Maharashtra was the first state government in which servants and judges were not to receive salaries unless the Aadhaar number was embedded in their bank accounts. As 2012 drew to a close, a series of circulars was issued by various governments that made having an Aadhaar number compulsory for a range of services. In Delhi, for instance, the Revenue Department of the Delhi government issued an order that the application forms for the registration of various documents in sub-Registrar offices – registration of marriages; Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, domicile and income certificates; birth and death orders; surviving member certificates; solvency certificates; nationality certificates – should have the Aadhaar number inscribed on them. Scholarships for students and kerosene subsidies were linked with Aadhaar. As 2013 rolled in, the linking of bank accounts with the Aadhaar number became a prerequisite for receiving subsidies and scholarships. LPG subsidy was made dependent on providing the Aadhaar number and a bank account number. This was launched in a few districts and then expanded to more and more parts of the country. And so it has gone on.

So can I be denied services if I don’t have an Aaadhar number?
By law, you shouldn’t. The first time the Supreme Court ruled that having a UID number should not be a prerequisite for receiving services and subsidies was in an interim order on September 23, 2013, after a spate of cases in the Supreme Court raised a range of concerns about the UID project including the element of coercion that had been introduced into it. “No person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card,” it said.

NICHOLAS EPLEY - The psychology of hate: How we deny human beings their humanity

NB: This is a powerful account of how humans can destroy their own natural emotions, throw aside empathy and make themselves sociopaths. An essay on the roots of hatred and the nihilist disregard for human life that is so common in our contemporary world - DS

Empathy: the power of mentally identifying oneself with, and so fully understanding another person. Sociopatha person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Profile of the Sociopath

"The essence of dehumanization is, therefore, failing to recognize the fully human mind of another person. Those who fight against dehumanization typically deal with extreme cases that can make it seem like a relatively rare phenomenon. It is not..."

One of the most amazing court cases you probably have never heard of had come down to this. Standing Bear, the reluctant chief of the Ponca tribe, rose on May 2, 1879, to address a packed audience in a Nebraska courtroom. At issue was the existence of a mind that many were unable to see.

Standing Bear’s journey to this courtroom had been excruciating. The U.S. government had decided several years earlier to force the 752 Ponca Native Americans off their lands along the fertile Niobrara River and move them to the desolate Indian Territory, in what is now northern Oklahoma. Standing Bear surrendered everything he owned, assembled his tribe, and began marching a six-hundred-mile “trail of tears.” If the walk didn’t kill them (as it did Standing Bear’s daughter), then the parched Indian Territory would. Left with meager provisions and fields of parched rock to farm, nearly a third of the Poncas died within the first year. This included Standing Bear’s son. As his son lay dying, Standing Bear promised to return his son’s bones to the tribe’s burial grounds so that his son could walk the afterlife with his ancestors, according to their religion. Desperate, Standing Bear decided to go home.

Carrying his son’s bones in a bag clutched to his chest, Standing Bear and twenty-seven others began their return in the dead of winter. Word spread of the group’s travel as they approached the Omaha Indian reservation, midway through their journey. The Omahas welcomed them with open arms, but U.S. officials welcomed them with open handcuffs. General George Crook was ordered by government officials to return the beleaguered Poncas to the Indian Territory.

Crook couldn’t bear the thought. “I’ve been forced many times by orders from Washington to do most inhuman things in dealings with the Indians,” he said, “but now I’m ordered to do a more cruel thing than ever before.” Crook was an honorable man who could no more disobey direct orders than he could fly, so instead he stalled, encouraging a newspaper editor from Omaha to enlist lawyers who would then sue General Crook (as the U.S. government’s representative) on Standing Bear’s behalf. The suit? To have the U.S. government recognize Standing Bear as a person, as a human being.

The case lasted several days, during which the government lawyers attempted to portray the Poncas as savages, more like thoughtless animals or unfeeling objects than rational and emotional human beings. Perceiving the Poncas as mindless, after all, is what had made it possible for officials to treat them as property under the law rather than as persons. This perception was clear from the government attorney’s opening question: he asked Standing Bear how many people he had led on his march. “I just wanted to see if he could count,” the attorney explained.

After several days of testimony, the trial drew to a close. Judge Elmer Dundy knew that Standing Bear wanted to address the audience in his own words, as was customary in Ponca tradition, but direct statements at the end of a trial were not allowed under U.S. jurisprudence. Respecting Native American tradition and violating his own, Judge Dundy called the bailiff to his desk, whispered that “the court is now adjourned” to secretly end the official proceedings, and then allowed Standing Bear to rise and address the court.

So it had come down to this. At about ten p.m., at the end of a very long day, Standing Bear rose. Illiterate, uneducated, and with no time to prepare an address, he stood silent for a minute to survey the room. Finally, he spoke: “I see a great many of you here. I think a great many are my friends.” Then he tried to reveal that he was, in fact, much more than a mindless savage. He explained his tribe’s difficulties in the Indian Territory, stated that he had never tried to hurt a white person, and described how he had taken several U.S. soldiers into his own home over the years and nursed them back to health. Then, in a stunning moment that channeled Shylock’s monologue from “The Merchant of Venice,” Standing Bear held out his hand. “This hand is not the color of yours. But if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man.”

Standing Bear was a man intelligent enough to lead his tribe along a six-hundred-mile journey in the dead of winter and back again, a man who felt love so deeply that he carried his son’s bones around his neck to fulfill a promise. Yet he found himself pleading with people from far-off places who had failed almost completely to see his mind and instead viewed him as a piece of mindless property. Facing those unable to recognize a sentient mind before their eyes, Standing Bear had been forced to show his to them.

DISENGAGED : Standing Bear’s case is an extreme example of a surprisingly common failing of our sixth sense. Like closing your eyes and then concluding that nothing exists, failing to engage your ability to reason about the mind of another person not only leads to indifference about others, it can also lead to the sense that others are relatively mindless. Most extreme examples typically involve some kind of hatred or prejudice that distances people from one another. The Nazis, building on centuries of anti-Semitic stereotypes, depicted the Jews as greedy rats without conscience or as gluttonous pigs lacking self-control. The Hutus in Rwanda depicted the Tutsis as mindless cockroaches before killing them by the hundreds of thousands. Exceptions in these extreme cases typically came from those who actually knew the targets of prejudice directly. General Crook had interviewed Standing Bear and his tribesmen in his office; they’d told him directly of their pain and suffering, of their hopes and dreams, of their beliefs and memories. He did not think of the Poncas as mindless savages, and so was willing to orchestrate the legal case in which he was named as the defendant. From these examples, we begin to learn important lessons about what it takes to recognize the existence of a fully human mind in another person, as well as the consequences of failing to recognize one.

Of course, Standing Bear is neither the first nor the last human being to have his mind overlooked and underestimated. The cross-cultural psychologist Gustav Jahoda catalogued how Europeans since the time of the ancient Greeks viewed those living in relatively primitive cultures as lacking a mind in one of two ways: either lacking self-control and emotions, like an animal, or lacking reason and intellect, like a child. So foreign in appearance, language, and manner, “they” did not simply become other people, they became lesser people. More specifically, they were seen as having lesser minds, diminished capacities to either reason or feel.

Similar evaluations play over the course of history like a broken record. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis while supporting a labor strike by sanitation workers whose rallying cry was “I am a man.” In the early 1990ss, California State Police commonly referred to crimes involving young black men as NHI—No Humans Involved. In 2010, thousands of immigrants protested extreme immigration laws in Arizona while carrying signs saying, “I am human.” When people around the planet demand human rights or claim they have been treated inhumanely, the central issue is their oppressors’ failure to recognize their mind. This may be why Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts a person’s mind front and center: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Apparently, it can be easy to forget that other people have minds with the same general capacities and experiences as your own. Once seen as lacking the ability to reason, to choose freely, or to feel, a person is considered something less than human.

The essence of dehumanization is, therefore, failing to recognize the fully human mind of another person. Those who fight against dehumanization typically deal with extreme cases that can make it seem like a relatively rare phenomenon. It is not. Subtle versions are all around us. Even your refrigerator may hold an artifact of one example. When the French began making champagne for the British, the champagne makers quickly learned that the Brits preferred much drier champagne than the French did. In fact, the French found this version to be unpalatable. They named this inferior champagne brut sauvage, poking fun at the seemingly unsophisticated Brits. The joke was eventually on the French: brut is now the most popular variety of champagne in the world.

Our sixth sense’s shortcomings in these cases arise partly from our failure to engage it when in the presence of someone so different or distant from ourselves. It may feed off prejudice and hatred, but it does not require either. Disengagement can come anytime there is a distance between two minds that needs to be bridged. For instance, when team owners in the National Football League proposed extending the season from an already punishing sixteen games to a grueling eighteen, Ray Lewis, one of the most fearsome players in the NFL, protested that the owners had overlooked the players’ experience and were thinking of them only as moneymakers. “[I know] the things that you have to go through just to keep your body [functioning]. We’re not automobiles. We’re not machines. We’re humans.” There’s no reason to think that any kind of prejudice or animosity was involved here. The owners may well have been focused on their own finances rather than on their players’ minds, a focus that would make it easy to overlook or underestimate their players’ pain.

Even doctors—those whose business is to treat others humanely— can remain disengaged from the minds of their patients, particularly when those patients are easily seen as different from the doctors themselves. Until the early 1990s, for instance, it was routine practice for infants to undergo surgery without anesthesia. Why? Because at the time, doctors did not believe that infants were able to experience pain, a fundamental capacity of the human mind. “How often we used to be reassured by more senior physicians that newborn infants cannot feel pain,” Dr. Mary Ellen Avery writes in the opening of “Pain in Neonates.”

“Oh yes, they cry when restrained and during procedures, but ‘that is different.’ ” Doctors have long understood infants as human beings in the biological sense, but only in the last twenty years have they understood them as human beings in the psychological sense. Your sixth sense functions only when you engage it. When you do not, you may fail to recognize a fully human mind that is right before your eyes. It is comforting to imagine that such “mindblindness,” as psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen describes it, is just a chronic condition or personality trait for some people, a condition that neither you nor I have. Indeed, for some it is. 

This is a comforting story because it makes the inhumanity that can stem from dehumanization, from overlooking the mind of another person or being indifferent to it, seem like something that is likely to exist in other people, not in you. Although it is indeed true that the ability to read the minds of others exists along a spectrum with stable individual differences, I believe that the more useful knowledge comes from understanding the moment-to-moment, situational influences that can lead even the most social person—yes, even you and me—to treat others as mindless animals or objects. Engaging with the mind of another person depends not only on the type of person you are but also on the context you are in. None of the cases described in this chapter so far involve people with chronic and stable personality disorders. Instead, they all come from predictable contexts in which people’s sixth sense remained disengaged for one fundamental reason: distance.

DISTANCE MAKES MINDLESS : For psychologists, distance is not just physical space. It is also psychological space, the degree to which you feel closely connected to someone else. You are describing psychological distance when you say that you feel “distant” from your spouse, “out of touch” with your kids’ lives, “worlds apart” from a neighbor’s politics, or “separated” from your employees. You don’t mean that you are physically distant from other people; you mean that you feel psychologically distant from them in some way. You’ve developed different beliefs than your spouse over time and have “grown apart,” your kids’ generation is so different from your own, or you work in a large corporation with more employees than you can name. These two features of social life—the magnitude of the gap between your own mind and others’ minds, and the motivation to reduce that gap—are critical for understanding when you engage your ability to think about other minds fully and when you do not.

Distance keeps your sixth sense disengaged for at least two reasons. First, your ability to understand the minds of others can be triggered by your physical senses. When you’re too far away in physical space, those triggers do not get pulled. Second, your ability to understand the minds of others is also engaged by your cognitive inferences. Too far away in psychological space—too different, too foreign, too other—and those triggers, again, do not get pulled. Understanding how these two triggers—your physical senses and your cognitive inferences—engage you with the mind of another person is essential for understanding the dehumanizing mistakes we can make when we remain disengaged.
Read more:

Excerpted from:
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

Tahir Mahmood - For all the Shah Banos

Na stree swatantramarhati, said Manu, the law giver: the woman does not deserve independence. And it is alleged that the fatal point in Islam is the degradation of woman [as British orientalist Edward Lane once said].” This is how Y.V. Chandrachud, a former Supreme Court chief justice speaking for a constitution bench, began his Shah Bano judgment. Decided on April 23, 1985, the case has kept its proponents and opponents engaged for three decades while the apex court has reiterated its stand in several  rulings, the latest being Shamima Farooqui, decided on April 6.

To tackle the problem of destitution of deserted wives, the old CrPC of 1898 had empowered magistrates to enforce payment of maintenance by their husbands. With the fast-growing numbers of divorcees since the enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the new CrPC, 1973, extended the same relief to them. This development raised the question whether the provision would apply to Muslims, who had religious rules on divorce. No, said Muslim religious leaders, who believed that women’s post-divorce rights were extremely restricted under their professedly divine law. The late Justice Krishna Iyer of the SC did not agree and enforced the new provision for Muslim divorcees in Bai Tahira, 1980, and Fuzlunbi, 1982. Muslim leaders then decided to challenge his views.

A Muslim lawyer from Indore divorced his 60-year-old wife, Shah Bano, and a maintenance application filed on her behalf under the CrPC was decided in her favour. She was awarded a petty monthly allowance by the lower court. But her husband, instigated by the religious leadership, fought the case right up to the SC. The Muslim Personal Law Board intervened, insisting that the CrPC law  could not be applied to Muslims due to a conflict with personal law. 

Admitting the appeal, judge Murtaza Fazal Ali referred it to Chandrachud for a decision by a larger bench. The chief justice then constituted a five-judge bench and, speaking for it, upheld Iyer’s stand. He took pains to convince Muslims that the CrPC law was in tune with true Islamic law and concluded his judgment with a lament for the lack of a uniform civil code.

He generously cited two of my works. “I have quoted you on some vital points,” he said to me during an accidental meeting a few days after the case was decided. It was indeed a great honour. Though proud of it and in full agreement with the court’s decision, I said that the obiter in the judgment had been insensitive to the known idiosyncrasies prevailing in society. In another chance meeting years later, the learned judge also agreed that the obiter was unnecessary and avoidable.

Shah Bano created a storm. Agitated that vested interests had projected it as a death knell for personal law, Muslims demanded “corrective” legislation. In a bid to enhance its pro-minority image, the government enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The bill, apart from its confusing wording, was repugnant to true Islamic law. I conveyed my critique to its architects but Parliament was drawing to a close and they were in a hurry to achieve victory. They agreed to suitably amend it later — a promise that was never fulfilled.

Muslim leaders were not, however, destined to have the last laugh. The constitutional validity of the 1986 act was challenged before the SC. It took 15 years to decide the matter. By then, many high courts had interpreted the act in conformity with the spirit of Shah Bano. In Danial Latifi, 2001, the SC decisively ruled for all time that Shah Bano had not been superseded by the act; it must in fact regulate its implications and application.

Under the Constitution, religious liberty is a qualified right, subjected to the “other provisions of the Constitution”, which include all other fundamental rights and duties. As specified in the Constitution, people’s right to religious freedom does not restrict the power of the state to regulate or restrict, inter alia, “political” activities associated with religion. It is these provisions, not any community’s astha or aqida (religious belief, right or wrong) or claim to hegemony, that should guide the courts in deciding religion-based disputes. Taking a uniform stand in accordance with the Constitution on all such matters, be it personal law, disturbing social bonhomie or anti-minority atrocities, should be as important to the courts as expressing concern about the lack of a uniform civil code.

The writer is former chair, National Minorities Commission

Sumana Ramanan - Film-maker releases a dozen clips of controversial Modi speeches made just after Gujarat riots (2014)

On Sunday Rakesh Sharma, director of Final Solution, the acclaimed documentary on the Gujarat riots of 2002, released a dozen clips online that were not part of the original two-and-a-half-hour version of the film. The film severely indicts Narendra Modi, the state's chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate. 

Many of these short films contain speeches that Modi delivered after the carnage, including during his Gaurav Yatra and campaigning for the state election several months after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. Many of these speeches are no longer available online, Sharma said. Sharma will also release six more clips this week and six the next week, containing more speeches as well as portions of his new film on Gujarat in the decade after the carnage. The short films are all less than 15 minutes long. Click here, to watch them. In this interview, he tells why he put the clips up, discusses his new film and talks about Gujarat under Narendra Modi.

Are you putting these clips up now because the general election is around the corner?
Yes, in a manner of speaking. The fact is that Modi's more communal utterances have disappeared online. There's been a whitewash and a PR makeover of his image. I felt that it was important to put in the public realm what I had documented in 2002 – that in his Gaurav Yatra that year, Modi was endorsing the carnage.

In recent months, Modi seems to have toned down his rhetoric. Does this indicate an understanding that this is necessary to gain the support of other parties or even a genuine change in approach?I don't think there has been a fundamental change in his beliefs. His image as the 'Butcher of Gujarat' had to be whitewashed into the one of the 'Development Messiah' who has all the answers. [Lots of money] has been spent on this image makeover. Gujarat has been made out to be an idyllic land, one that all of India must aspire to imitate.

In any case, Modi has never expressed regret about what happened. His ministers are still under the scanner. It's not as if there has been a great realisation. If Modi is at the helm, similar fundamentalist policies to the one we saw in Gujarat will be played out in other parts of the country. Muzaffarnagar is a similar kind of politics – polarisation for electoral gain. It's not as if this has ended.

When there is this propaganda, I want to refresh people's memories and talk about the ground realities in Gujarat.

What are these ground realities?I've been documenting and filming in Gujarat since 2002. If you travel in Gujarat, you will find that even today the fault lines remain deep. In Ahmedabad, for instance, the localities of Naroda Patiya and Gulbarg Society are on the list of officially declared disturbed areas. If everything is normal, why are they on the list?

What has the Gujarat government done by way of relief and rehabilitation? Very little. The victims of the carnage have suffered twice and thrice over. First they lost everything during the carnage. Then they have been displaced and are living in terrible conditions. For instance, Citizen Nagar in Ahmedabad is next to the biggest landfill.

In the districts and villages, it's not as if those who were victimised and lost property have been able to go back and resume their lives in any normal way. Most people have been uprooted and there has not been any state support. So at the ground level there is no evidence to suggest that there has been any change of heart among the political leadership.

Has the propaganda worked?
Propaganda works. That's why money is poured into it not only by oppressive regimes, but also in contemporary politics, such as the American elections.

As far as the media is concerned, the propaganda has worked. I am not talking only about conventional media, such as print and TV, but also social media, whose spaces are very easy to infiltrate and manipulate. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates have managed to do this well. If Facebook were to hold elections, Modi would be the uncontested prime minister.

A part of Modi's image makeover is to remove from online spaces his communal speeches, ones on the basis of which he built up his image in the first place. The speeches he made during campaigns he ran before previous elections, suddenly you find some of them are no longer available online.

The myth of Modi is now as the Vikas Purush, the Man of Progress. A certain section of the middle class has bought into it, but it is only a section. Even within the Gujarati middle class there is a certain opposition to Modi. Even the best opinion polls, many of which have now been discredited, have a sample of 9,000, which works out to less than 20 people per constituency. So the extrapolations based on such a small group of people are open to serious questions. Both in 2002 and 2009, similar overestimations of support for the BJP took place.

What is the basis of this opposition in Gujarat to Modi? 
It is not as if people's lives have become better in the past 10 years. The fact is that from a surplus state, the per capita debt in Gujarat is Rs 26,000.

Take the Tata group's Nano project in Sanand. Not only were many concessions given in 2008, when Tata Motors moved the plant there from West Bengal, but the condition that local labour must be employed was relaxed for that project. Yet the BJP lost the election in that constituency in the 2009 general election despite the fact that it swept Gujarat on the back of Modi's campaign.

So why was that project so necessary? Because it was after the Nano project and Ratan Tata's endorsement that Modi's makeover could begin. I have been tracking the situation in some districts, and through direct interviews and applications through the Right to Information Act, I know that famerrs are committing suicides in Saurashtra and other areas because they can't repay their loans.

The whole policy is skewed, where state funds are being used to create an image. It is not about development but the development of Modi's image.

Prominent economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya say Gujarat has fared well under Modi.
Statistics can be very malleable. Also, we need to step away from the macro-indicators that they are looking at and look at people at the ground level and see whether their lives have improved. Yes, highways have been developed and yes, there is infrastructure. But that has always been the case in Gujarat for a long time. Constructing highways from Gujarat to Mumbai, for instance, has been part of the state's policies, driven by the business ethos in that state.

But the fact is that he has been elected three times in a row
For the past 20 years, there has been no real opposition party. Gujarat has been reduced to a one-party state. The Congress's institutions and agencies, such as dairy and farmers' collectives, have been taken over by the BJP with little resistance from the Congress. The Gandhian activists in these agencies have not resisted. I have no doubt that when there is a credible opposition of any kind, and actual politics contesting issues at the ground level, things will change.

Tell us more about your new film.
It is a critique of the Vibrant Gujarat story and looks at the political and social impact on Gujarat of the carnage of 2002. I have been documenting the situation there for the past eight years. I have gone to the very people I filmed in 2002. Even in the current clips online, there are two clips of several kar sevak families who were cynically exploited for the election and whose tragedies [in the Godhra train fire] were constantly evoked by Modi in the Gaurav Yatra. That's what talked him up in the first place.

I have filmed about half a dozen families, and they unequivocally condemn the violence that was meted out in their name. Several of them are very critical of the BJP. Some say they won't ever vote for the BJP.

So how do you fund your films?
Even when I did not take any funding whatsoever for Final Solution, trolls online hurled invective and allegations that I have been paid millions by dubious sources. When you take money, credibility could suffer. But I also don't want to take funds because I wish to exercise complete control over the way I distribute my films.

In the case of Final Solution, TV channels did not want the film. It was too hot for them to handle. But I earned a lot of money outside India and I used that to cross-subsidise the film in India, by selling it at Rs 20 and Rs 50 to some audiences.

I have clarity that I am making films not to make money but to intervene, and the intervention has to be through a variety of networks that typically don't operate on a commercial basis. It makes no commercial sense for a classic producer-distributor to adopt this model. A foreign co-producer would be aghast at my distribution methods.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Girl, 14, Dies After Being Thrown Off Bus for Resisting Molesters in Punjab

The bus is reportedly operated by an influential political family

MOGA, PUNJAB:  A 14-year-old girl died and her mother is in hospital with severe injuries after they were thrown off a moving bus in Punjab on Wednesday for resisting molestation attempts by a group of men. The teenager, her mother and younger brother boarded the private bus from their village in Moga district, to visit a gurdwara last evening. There were only a handful of passengers at the time.

"They kept abusing us. No one helped. They first pushed my daughter off the bus, then me," the girl's mother, who was unconscious for hours at a district hospital, said on Thursday. The harassment allegedly began the moment the family got on the bus. "The conductor refused to give my daughter a ticket," said the woman, 38. Around 10 km into the journey, a passenger allegedly started misbehaving with the girl. When the woman tried to save her daughter, she was attacked too. The bus conductor, instead of helping them, allegedly also joined in and started abusing both mother and daughter. In desperation, the woman ran to the driver and begged him to stop the bus, but he allegedly kept driving.

The woman and her daughter were allegedly harassed by half a dozen men, said to be the driver's friends, until the bus slowed down at a turn. The woman alleges that she and her daughter were then pushed off the bus. As hours passed before they could get any medical help, the girl died on the road.

A case of murder has been registered. The bus, reportedly operated by an influential political family, has been found but the police are still looking for the driver and the conductor. Angry villagers at the hospital said 12 hours had passed without any action. "We are investigating. We will not spare the accused," said Jatinder Khaira, a senior police officer.

Taliban and Islamic State Declare Jihad on Each Other // Suicide Bomber Killed En Route By Car Bomb

According to reports from Afghanistan's Khaama Press and Pakistan's Mashaal Radio, the Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) have declared jihad on each other, furthering an already acrimonious relationship between the two groups. Nabi Jan Mullahkhil, police chief of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, an opium-producing region along the Pakistan border, revealed in an interview that he received documents showing that both groups made the declaration.

This news comes after a brutal terrorist attack on Saturday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which killed at least 35 people and wounded over 100 others. The Taliban castigated the incident, with the group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating, "It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it." While Afghani President Ashraf Ghani blamed ISIS for the attack and a spokesman pledging allegiance to ISIS claimed responsibility, Maulvi Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, self-declared leader of ISIS in Afghanistan, said his group was not involved. Both the U.S. and Afghani militaries expressed doubts about ISIS's guilt, suggesting it was possibly the Taliban.

It is unclear who was behind the attack, but there is evidently a rivalry between ISIS and the Taliban. Last summer when ISIS picked up significant momentum, the Taliban warned of the former's "extremism" in an attempt to unify the jihad movement. The Taliban views ISIS's declaration of an official caliphate as premature, divisive, and illegitimate.

Earlier this year, Afghan officials announced that ISIS had moved into southern Afghanistan to recruit and establish a base to further its caliphate. ISIS then said it established itself in Khorasan, a historic name for the region that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of India, and surrounding countries. Some Taliban fighters, even commanders, joined ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan, threatening the former's influence. There has also been fighting between both sides, and the Taliban even arrested an ISIS leader. The Taliban and its ally al-Qaeda, however, still maintain a stronger presence in the aforementioned areas than ISIS.

This conflict for political power manifested in the relations between ISIS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Mullah Omar is Emir of Afghanistan, and followers in the Taliban and al-Qaeda have referred to him as "Leader of the Faithful," a title often used for caliphs. Baghdadi, however, called Mullah Omar a fool and an illiterate warlord who does not deserve spiritual or religious credibility. Conversely, the Taliban has been ordered to not let ISIS's flag fly in Afghanistan. Both men represent the larger conflict between their groups and the divide in the global jihad movement.

Now that ISIS and the Taliban have declared jihad on one another, there may be an escalation of violence between both sides. ISIS has a history of going into new territories and assassinating its Islamic opposition, with Syria and Libya as two examples. In both 
countries, ISIS expanded and killed rival Sunni jihadists in an attempt to gain control. 
Furthermore, if the competition between ISIS and al-Qaeda serves as a model, both groups may attempt to outdo one another through terrorism. There is evidence, for example, of the Taliban carrying out more beheadings recently, perhaps in an attempt to match ISIS's notoriety.

While a Taliban-ISIS conflict may seem desirable as a way for both groups to destroy each other, ISIS expansion will only lead to more chaos. Furthermore, such a fight would not eliminate the basic problem that both groups exist in the first place. It is also possible that they will occasionally work together to fight the West, their common enemy, despite their differences, like al-Qaeda and ISIS did with the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Ultimately, clashes between jihadists do not substitute for the international community actively confronting these groups to root out their ideology and ability to continue fighting.

NB: Lest readers take this literally, this is pure gallows humour, posted for light relief:
BAGHDAD—Terrorist cells in Baghdad are in mourning for suicide bomber Ahmed al-Khalaf, 19, who was killed by a car bomb Monday, 200 yards from an Iraqi police station, his intended target. Sources within the insurgency said al-Khalaf was "on his way to becoming a glorious martyr" when he was struck down by the car-bomb explosion. Twenty-three other civilians were also killed.

"What kind of God allows the death of people who are on their way to kill innocent people?" insurgent leader Abdulwahid al-Tomizie said. "On the one hand, I am elated that the car-bomb explosion was successful, but the loss of the suicide bomber is a tragedy, as is the survival of all the innocent people he might have killed." According to al-Tomizie, al-Khalaf could have killed as many as 40 innocent people, had his life not been cut short.

"It is tragic that al-Khalaf died seven minutes sooner than he intended," said Hassan Abdul Aziz, leader of a local cabal of Sunni separatists. "To think that he was just yards from his intended target. Our thoughts and prayers are with his terrorist cell." No insurgent groups have claimed responsibility for the car bomb, although as many as 18 separate insurgency factions have vowed to carry on the fight in al-Khalaf's memory. In the past week, over 170 Iraqi citizens and U.S. troops have died in terrorist or insurgent attacks, but al-Khalaf's death marks the first time a terrorist has been killed by another terrorist while on a different terrorist mission.

Terrorist leaders have called the incident a "wake-up call." "No one likes to see a senseless waste of a willingness to take human life," said al-Qaeda operative Salih al-Shimiri, in a videotaped message aired on Al-Jazeera Monday evening. "However, there are worse problems than having too many suicide bombers on our streets." Insurgent leaders met Monday to draft new rules to prevent bombing mix-ups like the one that killed al-Khalaf. One proposal would limit suicide bombings to odd hours, car bombings to even. Another designates "Car Bomb Only" traffic lanes to help terrorists get to their bombing locations more quickly and efficiently.

"I had a man last week get stuck in traffic while driving a car bomb to the Mendi Temple," al-Shimiri said. "When he arrived, he found it already on fire. We don't fill the cars up with enough gas to make two-way trips, so he was forced to blow up a nearby disco. This is madness." Al-Shimiri added: "We all have the same goal here—the killing of innocent civilians. Let's stop working at cross purposes." Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr believes all insurgents must find direction in their extreme  fundamentalist faith. "When I close my eyes, all I can see are the faces of all the innocents al-Khalaf will never get a chance to kill. It is a sad day, but we must not let it shake our faith in the wrath of Allah."

GEORGE MONBIOT - Coalfields And Legalised Theft

Wrapped up in this story is everything that’s wrong with the way our economy works. Corporations ream the land with giant holes, extract a stack of money, then clear out, leaving other people with the costs. There’s a briefer description: legalised theft.

This is an account, scarcely mentioned in the national media, of the massive unfunded liabilities emerging from coalfields throughout Britain, that opencast mining companies have been allowed to walk away from. It’s comparable in terms of irresponsibility to the failure by the nuclear industry to fund its decommissioning costs. And it offers a solid argument, even to those who continue to reject climate science, for keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

As I write, Neath-Port Talbot Council in South Wales is considering a new application for an opencast coal mine. The mine is unpopular, but its proponents argue that it’s necessary. Why? Because only by digging a new pit, they say, can the money be made to fill in an old one. How could this be true, when millions of tonnes of coal have been extracted? Where did the money go? You think you are inured to the worst of British politics? Read on.

When British Coal was privatised by John Major’s government in 1994, the company that took over in South Wales, Celtic Energy, was granted a 10-year exemption from paying a restoration bond, in return for offering a slightly higher price for the assets. That higher price disappeared into national accounts, doubtless in the form of one of Mr Major’s tax cuts for the rich.

After 10 years, the exemption expired, and Celtic Energy had to start putting up a decommissioning fund. At East Pit, where the application for new mining is now being considered, the bond now stands at around £4m, while the restoration is likely to cost about £115m. At another vast pit, Margam, near Bridgend, there is £5.7m in the kitty – against an estimated restoration cost of £56m.

In 2010 Celtic Energy sold the land rights, and the liabilities, at East Pit, Margam and two other mines, to a company in the British Virgin Islands called Oak Regeneration, for £1 per mine. Oak Regeneration then passed the liabilities to Pine Regeneration, Beech Regeneration and Ash Regeneration, none of which appear to have the assets required for restoration. Five senior executives at Celtic Energy walked away with benefits worth more than £10m.

The people involved in this transfer, including two directors of Celtic Energy and the former chief executive of Cardiff City Council, were charged with fraud. But last year the judge threw out the case, saying that, while some might regard their actions as “dishonest” or “reprehensible”, they were not illegal. So all that is left, the opencasters argue, is to dig more holes. It’s like the old woman who swallowed a fly.

In a paper commissioned by the Welsh government, I was struck by the mention of the Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine, on which I reported in 2007. This pit was justified as a “restoration scheme”, which would remove the old adits, shafts and spoil heaps left behind by deep mining. Local people were sceptical: one of them told me “you don’t go down 600ft and blast 5 days a week to reclaim an area.” But the report finds that the bond laid down by Ffos-y-fran’s operators, £15m, “falls well short of a worst case restoration cost which could be in excess of £50m”. The “restoration scheme”, this suggests, cannot fund its own restoration.

In some cases, villages and towns find themselves perched on the edge of sheer drops, overlooking running black sores sometimes hundreds of metres wide. At Margam, for example, the pit is some 2km across and, according to the latest estimate I’ve seen, the water gathering there is 88m deep. In East Ayrshire, in Scotland, 22 giant voids have been abandoned by their operators. Restoration work there would cost £161m, but just £28m has been set aside. As the local MP explained, “they are so large they cannot be effectively secured from trespass… unstable head walls and extremely deep water bodies with vertical drop-offs make for dangerous playgrounds.”

An independent report found that the collection of restoration bonds by East Ayrshire Council officials was “wholly deficient and defective”, while the failure to appoint independent assessors was “completely inexplicable”. While officials took their eye off the ball, East Ayrshire councillors took gifts and hospitality from the coal operators, including a trip to watch Celtic play Barcelona in Spain, premier league tickets, lavish meals, food hampers and nights in hotels. When the two companies running the pits went bust, the council was left in a gigantic hole. Nationwide, the unfunded liabilities counted so far amount to £469m. That’s likely to be just the beginning.

This is a price we pay for limited liability. Why should the people who own and run these companies be allowed to walk away with millions, while shrugging off the costs they leave behind? Limited liability is one of our social silences: a giant gift to corporations that we won’t even discuss.

And why are we digging coal anyway, when we cannot afford to burn it? Climate breakdown is the greatest unfunded liability of all, for which future generations will have to pay. Yet in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, the amount of coal for which companies in Britain have permission to dig rose from 12m tonnes to 24m. Eight new opencast pits were approved in that year, and only three rejected. In which parallel universe is this compatible with the commitment to limit climate change?

Last week, lost in the election turmoil, the Welsh Senedd did something remarkable. It voted,by 30 votes to zero, for a moratorium on opencast coal mining. With the Welsh ban on fracking, this could have meant that Wales was the first nation on earth to keep its fossil fuels in the ground. But the Welsh government refused to accept the decision, using the restoration argument. Past crimes are used to justify new ones.

Fire and forget: that’s the psychopathic business model we confront, and the forgetting is assisted by the press and political leaders. To them, the victims are non-people, the ruined landscapes non-places. All that counts is the money.

Farmers who commit suicide are ‘cowards’, ‘criminals': Haryana agriculture minister Dhankar

NB - Anyone whose pain and suffering results in bad press coverage for this ruthless 'parivar' is insulted and ridiculed. Perhaps soon they will start calling them 'anti-national', and 'traitors' too- DS

As the debate on farmer suicide gathers momentum, a minister in Haryana has made shocking remarks that could put the Narendra Modi-led ruling dispensation in a dilemma. Agriculture Minister OP Dhankar told reporters on Wednesday that the farmers who commit suicide are ‘cowards’ and ‘criminals’. Since ‘suicide is a crime as per Indian laws’, he said the state government could not support those who were committing suicide as they were criminals under the rule of law.

Dhankar added that ‘coward’ farmers, who were committing suicide, were running away from their responsibilities and leaving their families with liabilities. Dhankar, who previously headed the BJP’s Kisan cell, often used to condemn the earlier UPA administration for not doing enough for farmers, leading to them committing suicides.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday vowed to raise voice for farmers on every platform and said the government should take into account their concerns and not just extend monetary assistance.

Gandhi, who met farmers hit by unseasonal rains in Punjab and stayed here overnight after travelling by train to the NDA-ruled state, also took a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking whether the farmers are not contributing to ‘Make in India’ by providing food to the entire country.

Macrina Cooper-White - Scientists Genetically Modify Human Embryos For First Time. Are We Facing A New Era Of Eugenics?

Are scientists playing with fire? That's suddenly a big question for bioethicists, now that researchers in China have confirmed that they genetically modified human embryos for the first time ever. Rumors about the research first circulated in March, inciting a debate over its implications. Some argue that such "genome editing" holds the promise to eradicate hereditary diseases. But others fear that changing the human germ line (the genes in sperm cells and eggs) could give rise to a new era of eugenics and even pose dangerous risks to the health of future generations.

“No researcher has the moral warrant to flout the globally widespread policy agreement against altering the human germ line,” Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Center for Genetics and Society, said in a written statement. "Creating genetically modified human beings could easily lead to new forms of inequality, discrimination and societal conflict.”

A paper describing the findings was published online April 18 in the journal Protein & Cell, after it was rejected by Science and Nature over ethical concerns, Nature News reported.
Cut and paste. For the study, the researchers obtained 86 non-viable, early-stage embryos and injected them with a "gene-editing tool" called CRISPR/Cas9, an enzyme complex that binds to and snips specific sequences of DNA.

This technique has been used in previous studies to edit genes in the cells of animals and adult humans. Using it in embryos gives scientists the power to alter the genetic makeup of future generations. The team targeted a gene called HBB -- which is associated with the fatal blood disorder beta-thalassaemia -- and attempted to replace it with new genetic material.

A long way from designer babies. While the gene-editing tool successfully spliced DNA in 28 of the embryos, it only replaced the gene in a mere fraction of them -- and even introduced unwanted mutations into some. "Although it has attracted a lot of attention, the study simply underscores the point that the technology is not ready for clinical application," Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley and a CRISPR/Cas9 pioneer, told The Huffington Post in an email. "And that application of the technology needs to be on hold pending a broader societal discussion of the scientific and ethical issues surrounding such use."

The researchers behind the new study agreed the technique isn't ready to be used in a clinical setting. "We still think it’s too immature,” study co-author Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told Nature News. He and his colleagues called for further research. "Our work highlights the pressing need to further improve the fidelity and specificity of the CRISPR/Cas9 platform, a prerequisite for any clinical applications of CRSIPR/Cas9-mediated editing," the team wrote in their paper.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Kevin Powell - Why Baltimore Is Burning - Will there ever be an end to racism in the US of A? Who will police the police?

Freddie Gray, aged 25, was a Black man whose spine was severed 80 percent at his neck while in the custody of Baltimore police. RIP, brother

"The community is told to be nonviolent and peaceful, but no one ever tells the police they should also be nonviolent and peaceful...

"Any people with nothing to lose will destroy anything in their way. Like anything. Any people who feel as if their lives are not valued, like they are second-class citizens at best, will not be stopped until they've made their point. They, we, do not care if our communities have not rebounded from the last major American rebellions of the 1960s. We care that we have to live in squalor and misery and can be shot at any given moment by each other, or by the police, and no one seems to care. A rebellion, a riot, are pleas for help, for a plan, for a vision, for solutions, for action steps, for justice, for God, someone, anyone, to see our humanity, to do something...

"Yes, I love people, all people. But I also believe in justice, for all people. And I know that what has been happening in America these past few years not remotely close to any form of justice, or equality. Imagine, if you will, White folks being shot and murdered by the police like this, what the reactions would be?.."

Also read: A Primer on Police and White Privilege
I am from the ghetto. The first 13 years of my life I grew up in the worst slums of Jersey City, New Jersey, my hometown. If you came of age in one of America's poor inner cities like I did, then you know that we are good, decent people: in spite of no money, no resources, little to no services, run down schools, landpersons who only came around to collect rent, and madness and mayhem everywhere, amongst each other -- from abusive police officers, and from corrupt politicians and crooked preachers -- we still made a way out of no way. We worked hard, we partied hard, we laughed hard, we barbecued hard, we drank hard, we smoked hard, and we praised God, hard.

And we were segregated, hard, by a local power structure that did not want the ghetto to be seen nor heard from, and certainly not to bring its struggles out in plain sight for the world to see. Indeed, my entire world was the block I lived on and maybe five or six blocks north south east west. A long-distance trip was going to Downtown Jersey City on the first of each month so our mothers -- our Black and Latina mothers -- could cash their welfare checks, buy groceries with their food stamps and, if we were lucky, we got to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken or some other fast-food restaurant on that special day.

When I was about 15, I was badly beaten by a White police officer after me and a Puerto Rican kid had a typical boy fight on the bus. No guns, no knives -- just our fists. The Puerto Rican kid, who had White skin to my Black skin, was escorted off the bus gingerly. I was thrown off the bus. Outraged, I said some things to the cop as I sat handcuffed in the back seat of a police car. He proceeded to smash me in the face with the full weight of his fist. Bloodied, terrified, broken in that moment, I would never again view most police officers as we had been taught as children: "Officer Friendly" --

Being poor meant I only was able to go to college because of a full financial-aid package to Rutgers University. I did not get on a plane until I was 24-years-old because of that poverty, and also because I did not know that that was something I could do. These many years later, I have visited every single state in America, every city big and small, and every ghetto community you can name. They all look the same. Abandoned, burnt-out buildings. Countless churches, funeral parlors, barber shops, beauty salons, check-cashing places, furniture-rental stores, fried-chicken spots, and Chinese restaurants. Schools that look and feel more like prison holding cells for our youth than centers of learning. Playgrounds littered with broken glass, used condoms, and drug paraphernalia. Liquor stores here, there, everywhere. Corner stores that sell nothing but candy, cupcakes, potato chips, soda, every kind of beer you can name, loose cigarettes, rolling paper for marijuana, lottery tickets, and gum -- lots and lots of gum.

Then there are also the local organizations that claim to serve the people, Black and Latino people. Some mean well, and are doing their best with meager resources. Others only come around when it is time to raise money, to generate some votes for one political candidate or another, or if the police have tragically killed someone. Like Rekiya Boyd in Chicago. Like Miriam Carey in Washington, D.C. Like Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland. Like Yvette Smith in Texas. Like Aiyana Stanley Jones in Detroit. Like Eric Garner in New York City. Like Oscar Grant in Oakland. Like Walter Scott in South Carolina. Like Freddie Gray in Baltimore....

Yes, we have the first Black president in the White House but it feels like open season on Black folks in America once more. One hundred years ago this year, the Hollywood image machine was given a huge boost by a racist and evil film called "Birth of a Nation," a movie so calculating in the way it depicted Black people it set the tone, quite literally, for how we were portrayed and treated in every form of media for decades to come. One hundred years ago, it was common to see photos of African Americans, males especially, lynched, hung from trees, as the local good White folks visibly enjoyed their entertainment of playing hangman.

One hundred years later, "Birth of a Nation" has been replaced by a 24-hour-news media cycle still obsessed with race, racism, racial strife, racial violence, but no solutions and no action steps whatsoever, just pure sensationalism and entertainment. One hundred years later, the lynching photos have been replaced by cellphones capturing video of Walter Scott running away from a police officer, like a slow-footed character in a video game, only to be shot in the back -- pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!

Except all of this is mad real. Black people in America -- the self-proclaimed greatest democracy on earth -- are being shot here, there, everywhere, by the police, in broad daylight, with witnesses, sometimes on video. And with very few exceptions, nothing is happening to the cops who pulled the triggers. No indictments. No convictions. No prison time.

And every single time one of these scenarios occurs, we are handed the same movie script: Person of color is shot and killed by local police. Local police immediately try to explain what happened, while placing most of the blame, without full investigation, on the person shot. Police officer or officers who fired shots are placed on paid "administrative leave." Media finds any and everything they can to denigrate the character of the dead person, to somehow justify why she or he is dead. Marches, protests, rallies, speeches. Local police show up in military-styled "riot gear." Tensions escalate. 

Folks are arrested, people are agitated or provoked; all hell breaks loose. The attention has shifted from the police killing an innocent person to the violence of "thugs," "gangstas," "looters." The community is told to be nonviolent and peaceful, but no one ever tells the police they should also be nonviolent and peaceful. Whites in power and "respectable Black voices" call for calm, but these are the same folks who never talk about the horrific conditions in America's ghettoes that make any 'hood a time bomb just waiting for a match to ignite the fury born of oppression, marginalization, containment, and invisibility. These are the same people who've been spent little to no time with the poor. If you aren't from the ghetto, if you have not spent significant time in the ghetto, then you would not understand the ghetto....

No matter. Big-time civil rights organizations, big-time civil rights spokespersons, and big-time church leaders are brought in to re-direct, control, and contain the energy from the people at the bottom. Started from the bottom now we here.... But they really cannot, because the people have seen this movie a million times before. They know it is madness to be told to let justice take its course. 

They know it is madness to wait out a legal system that rarely if ever indicts and convicts these police officers who've shot and killed members of their community. They know it is madness to be told to stay cool, to be cool, when they have no healthy outlets for their trauma, their pain, their rage. They know it is madness to hear pundits and talking heads of every stripe on television and radio and via blogs analyze who they are, without actually knowing who they are. They know it is madness when middle-class or professional Black folks speak the language of the power structure and condemn the people in the streets instead of the system that created the conditions for why the people are in the streets. They know it is madness that so-called progressive, liberal, human-rights, or social-justice people of any race or culture have remained mightily silent as these police shootings have been going down coast to coast. And they know it is madness that most of these big-time leaders and big-time media only come around when there is a social explosion.

So they do explode, inside of themselves, and inside their communities. They would love to reach areas outside their 'hoods, but the local power structure blocks that from happening. So they destroy their own communities. I understand why. I am they and they are me. Any people with nothing to lose will destroy anything in their way. Like anything. Any people who feel as if their lives are not valued, like they are second-class citizens at best, will not be stopped until they've made their point. They, we, do not care if our communities have not rebounded from the last major American rebellions of the 1960s. We care that we have to live in squalor and misery and can be shot at any given moment by each other, or by the police, and no one seems to care. A rebellion, a riot, are pleas for help, for a plan, for a vision, for solutions, for action steps, for justice, for God, someone, anyone, to see our humanity, to do something.

Condemning them is condemning ourselves. Labeling the Baltimore situation a "riot" because it is mostly people of color is racist, given we do not call White folks behaving violently after major sporting events "rioters" or "thugs" or "gangstas," and Lord knows some White folks have destroyed much property in America, too. It ain't a democracy if White people can wild out and it is all good; but let people of color wild out and it becomes a state of emergency with the National Guard dropping in, armed and ready.

Black lives matter, all lives matter, equally. I believe that, I believe deeply in peace and love and nonviolence. I believe in my heart that we've got to be human and compassionate and civil toward one another, as sisters and brothers, as one human race, as one human family. I believe that our communities and police forces everywhere have to sit down and talk and listen as equals, not as enemies, to figure out a way toward life and love, not toward death and hate; a way toward a shared community where we all feel safe and welcomed and human.

Yes, I love people, all people. But I also believe in justice, for all people. And I know that what has been happening in America these past few years not remotely close to any form of justice, or equality. Imagine, if you will, White folks being shot and murdered by the police like this, what the reactions would be? Imagine if George Zimmerman had gone vigilante on a White youth with a hoodie in that gated Florida complex. Imagine White parents having to teach their children how to conduct themselves if ever confronted by the police. Imagine that Aiyana Stanley Jones was a little 7-year-old White girl instead of a little 7-year-old Black girl, shot by the police as she slept on a sofa with her grandmother, in a botched raid? It would be a national outrage.

Baltimore is burning because America is burning with racism, with hate, with violence. Baltimore is burning because far too many of us are on the sidelines doing nothing to affect change, or have become numb as the abnormal has become normal. Baltimore is burning because very few of us are committed to real leadership, to a real agenda with consistent and real political, economic, and cultural strategies for those American communities most under siege, most vulnerable. Policing them to death is not the solution. Putting them in prison is not the solution. And, clearly, ignoring them is not the solution.

Kevin Powell is a cofounder of BK Nation, a new national organization and blog website. He is also an activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books. His 12th book, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood, will be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in November 2015. You can email him,, or follow him on twitter, @kevin_powell