Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kapil Komireddi - For Over Six Decades Pakistan Has Been At War With Itself

Pakistan was created, in the words of its founder MA Jinnah, to preserve “what is most precious in Islam.” But how do you determine what is best in any faith? For more than six decades, Pakistan has been at war with itself to answer this question. The principal casualties throughout this time have been Pakistan’s intended beneficiaries: Muslims. It is to guard their “purity” in a land inhabited by a predominantly non-Muslim population that Pakistan was hacked apart from India. 

Pakistan’s squalid condition today is a cause for grief; but, as a direct consequence of the conscious choices made by the people who still exude pride in calling themselves “Pakistani,” it is at least understandable, in the pedestrian way that self-made tragedies often are.

But what of Pakistan’s other victims, particularly its religious minorities, who have been made to endure the inexhaustible rage of the country’s permanently self-pitying Sunni majority? More than 80 Christians were slaughtered in a bomb attack just last week in Peshawar, a city that’s only a two-hour drive from Pakistan’s capital. The news of this atrocity in one part of the country was accompanied by a very Pakistani spectacle of law-enforcement in another. 

When Islamic clerics in Punjab murmured that a handful of Ahmadi shrines had approximated the design of Muslim mosques – minarets, verses from the Quran – high-ranking police officials rapidly descended on the crime scenes and personally supervised the destruction of the offending structures. Islam is an untiringly welcoming religion. But for some in Pakistan, the self-appointed modern guardian of the faith, even to seek to enter its fold is to invite the penal charge of heresy. In a way, the police officers were doing the congregants a tremendous favour by demolishing their mosques. Leaving them untouched would have brought in the mobs. 

As a Pakistani newspaper reported:
[A] rally led by former Azad Jammu and Kashmir minister of religious affairs Sahibzada Hamid Raza stopped at Kabutranwali Ibadatgah and demanded that the minarets, covered by cement, be razed. They warned that they would do so themselves if they had to. The police complied.”

Bigotry against Ahmadis is enshrined in law: they are legally barred from calling themselves Muslim. To obtain a Pakistani passport, applicants must not only affirm their faith in Islam: they must denounce Ahmadis as heretics from the faith. This is one of the ways in which Pakistan has decided to protect “what is most precious in Islam”. 

Another is to exclude non-Muslims from full membership of the Pakistani state. On a visit to Pakistan some years ago, I met a brilliant young Christian student. She had recently returned from a debating trip where she’d performed exceedingly well. She had big ideas. And yet, for all her talents, it was impossible to escape the feeling that she had been crippled by her origins: as a non-Muslim, her ambitions were limited by the law. People everywhere are defeated in the pursuit of their dreams, but people like her in a place like Pakistan must learn to dream small because they are, by virtue of their faith, constitutionally prohibited from occupying the state’s high offices.

Such discrimination, codified in law and administered by the state, makes it difficult to take much comfort in the posturing of Pakistan’s liberals. They are performers who come out and do their act whenever minorities are massacred. But they have nothing more to offer than shrill sentimentality, a meaningless clamour to restore the “vision” of the founding father that’s actually the cause of these carnages. They see no irony in denouncing the murders of minorities while exalting a national idea that has little room for minorities. Even Pakistan’s flag – the highest emblem of its nationalism – confines religious minorities to tiny white strips: this is their place, on the margins. 

This explains why, since its creation in 1947, the numbers of Pakistan’s religious minorities have declined. But to Pakistan’s patriotic liberals, the oppression of religious minorities is always a deviation from the founding ideal. They are like those mournful communists for whom, as Patrick McGuinness puts it in The Last Hundred Days, “the failures of the ideal were due to the misapplication of the ideal, all the barbarity of the system was extraneous to the system and accidental to it.”

Perhaps it is possible that Pakistan may reform itself, that it may unlearn its foundational myth as the defender of the Muslim destiny and embrace pluralism. But that looks unlikely.
So it is that in today’s Pakistan men who have masterminded the murder of countless Christians may never be caught, but a Christian woman awaits execution for blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed even though no compelling evidence of her offense exists.

Pakistan is now beyond moral rehabilitation. But India, if it can find the will to be true to its founding ideals, could still save these endangered minorities as Pakistani nationalism comes into full bloom.

When the subcontinent was amputated in 1947, Pakistan saw itself as the authentic home of India’s Muslims. This vision, rejected by many Indian Muslims, persists in Pakistan and is the basis of its savage claim on Indian territory in Muslim-majority Kashmir. India, on the other hand, refused to respond to the provocation of Pakistan by becoming a Hindu state. Istead, it granted equal citizenship to all its inhabitants under a secular constitution. The Indian project is today bruised by the rise of leaders who wish to transform it into a “Hindu Pakistan”. 

But one way to redeem it would be to abandon the interminable sport of settling territorial “disputes” in favour of population transfers. Pakistan was created for lovers of homogeneity and believers in purity – for all those who feel they can flourish only in the midst of Others Like Us. They have done well in Pakistan. Now India should open its borders to Pakistan’s rejects – those millions of impure minorities and Muslim secularists for whom another, final migration might be the only route to a secure and confident future. Bleached of diversity, Pakistan will attain its national goal: an exclusive homeland for intolerant Muslims. Bolstered by fresh minorities, India will be saved from becoming its Hindu variant.
The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)

Ian Martin: Fracketeering - how capitalism is power-hosing the last drops of value out of us all

Once you’ve mined the earth and milked the service industries, what is there left to frack? Us, that’s what – with everything from admin charges and estate agent fees to blockbuster premiums and ‘cakeage’

Fracking. Could there be a more perfect model for how we’re getting rinsed by this current conspiracy of government and commerce? In a world turned upside down, “conservative” now means the absolute opposite of “leaving things as they are”. Conservative means changing everything. It means dismantling things and selling off the bits. It means drilling into our lives and extracting the marrow.

Conservatism and conservation are now about as far apart as it’s possible to get. Friends of Conservation are the ones protecting the countryside. The ones who stand around self-consciously in terrible fancy dress, holding passive-aggressive placards in praise of the noble, selfless badger. Or basically any mammal that looks good in a waistcoat.

Friends of Conservatism, on the other hand, are the ones who roll up on heavy machinery like a pissed Ukrainian militia. The ones who drill deep beneath that area of local countryside whose only “use” so far has been as a picnic site. And who then pump into the ground powerful jets of high-pressure hydrogunk, splintering rock as easily as a walnut. And who, having sucked up a sky’s worth of valuable gas through a massive crack pipe, then pack up and lumber off to fracture and steal someone else’s underground treasure.

Welcome to capitalism’s late late show. If you can power-hose the last drop of value out of something, you now have an amoral imperative to do it. Fracking is the chief inspiration for today’s entrepreneurs, those “heroic wealth creators” so admired by Andy Pandery Burnham and half the Labour party. Everything is up for grabs now. The age of the racketeer is over. It’s all about fracketeering now.

Here is a recent example. A gang of London estate agents has invented something called a “client progression fee”. Yeah, ha ha, the cheeky peaky blinders are leeching an extra grand and a half out of buyers just for accepting their offer on a property. Imagine that. Charging people for agreeing to sell them something. Arbitrarily monetising something that customers are obliged to do anyway.

It’s almost as if the property industry is a pirate economy serviced by unscrupulous thieving bastards drenched in melancholy duty-free fragrances. Let’s face it, estate agents have pretty much perfected the art of taking the piss with a straight face. One former estate agent told me the other day he was always instructed to make admin fees “whatever you think you can get away with … go high, then drop as a favour”. Classic surcharge frackery.

I had decided that of all the agents – sports, double, biological – estate agents were definitely the worst. Then I asked people on Twitter how they had been fracked over lately and they reminded me about letting agents. And about how every single person I’ve ever known who has had any dealings with a letting agent has had to recalibrate their view of the human race as a result. Has anyone ever got their exorbitant deposit back in full without an exhausting argument pointing out that three years of normal wear and tear can’t be classed as catastrophic damage? I’ve been hearing about people being charged a £90-per-person “reference fee” when moving between two properties run by the same agent, “so that’s £180 to ask themselves how we were as tenants”. Or being charged £50 for printing six pages of a rental contract. “I asked them to email it so I could print it. They said no.”

The world of fracketeering is infinitely flexible and contradictory. Buy tickets online and you could be charged an admin fee for an attachment that requires you to print them at home. The original online booking fee – you’ve come this far in the buying process, hand over an extra 12 quid now or write off the previous 20 minutes of your life – has mutated into exotic versions of itself.

The confirmation fee. The convenience fee. Someone who bought tickets for a tennis event at the O2 sent me this pithy tweet: “4 tickets. 4 Facility Fees + 4 Service Charge + 1 Standard Mail £2.75 = 15% of overall £!”. Definitely a grand slam.

It’s amazing to think of a world that existed before the admin charge. It almost makes you nostalgic for a simpler and more innocent time, when racketeers would work out what it was we wanted and then supply it at an inflated price. You remember racketeers. Snappy dressers, little moustaches, connections to organised crime. Some of them did very well and went on to become successful publishers or peers of the realm. Quite a few old-school racketeers went into the “hospitality and leisure” business, where these days fracking is in full effect.

Restaurants charging “cakeage” fees of up to £9 a person if diners want to bring their own birthday cake. A “blockbuster” surcharge on cinema tickets for popular films. The “tray charge” on a room service dinner that already costs as much as the room. And a particular favourite of mine – any hotel that charges for internet access, as if WiFi were some fancy extra like a massage chair, or clown therapy. “Congratulations, you may now surf the world wide web,” says the drop-down box from 1996. It might as well add: “We would ask that you keep your visit to the internet as brief as possible as reception may require the telephone line for incoming calls.”

The problem for fracking capitalism is finding new territory. It is an immutable law of economics that the rich have to keep getting richer, otherwise the whole system collapses and then what happens? Nobody knows, but the rich drop hints from time to time that if their margins are eroded we might all find ourselves in some Riddley Walker dystopia where humans have to hunt food again and keep wild dogs at bay and it’s raining all the time and people tell wistful stories about the old days when there were ships in the sky and pictures on the wind, so to stop this happening keep making us richer.

But once you’ve mined the earth and milked the service industries, what is there left to frack? Us, that’s what. Heard of Kwasi Kwarteng? He’s a rising star in the Tory party. Always a danger signal, this. To qualify as a rising star in this context you have to make Judge Dredd look like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Kwarteng’s suggestion, which has gone down very well with literally everyone I hate, is that a young person who hasn’t got a job and therefore hasn’t paid any national insurance contributions should get their unemployment benefit in the form of a repayable loan. Even if someone was out of work for the entire seven years between 18 and 25, he says, “the total sum repayable would be £20,475 – considerably less than the tuition fees loan repayable by many of his or her peers”. The clincher, there. You might be unemployed, but think yourself lucky you’re not going to university.

Redefining citizens as frackable units is precisely where all this current terrifying unpleasantness with the NHS is leading. Once you apply the laws of fracketeering to the NHS it’s a short step from monetising cataract operations to privatising them. Procedures that are highly profitable for shareholders, however, may be out of reach for the poor. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement. You owe us for restoring your eyesight, but you can’t seriously expect to seeand get a full state pension …

Nearly everyone had an NHS dentist once. God, it’s been years since you were in with a shout for one. What did they look like, can anyone remember? I’ve got this image of a Victorian gentleman, top hat and cape. Nowadays the poor just put up with bad teeth. It’s the same with physio. GPs round my way now simply advise you to book privately to avoid a months-long waiting list, but even a short course of sessions costs over a ton. It might as well be a grand if you’re on a tight family budget.

I’ve been getting free prescriptions for years. Of course I’m incredibly grateful. The meds are keeping me going. Indeed, they’ve kept me going for longer than was originally anticipated. I’ve paid in all my life; now I’m being looked after. It was always taken for granted, this arrangement. NHS. Free for all, paid for by everyone, from each according to their means to each according to their needs, let’s have a knees-up, God bless us all, boom bang-a-wap diddly bosh. But I can’t be the only one on regular meds thinking, “how much would they cost me without an NHS?” and Googling the market price.

I don’t want to sound overdramatic but fracketeers are faceless evil wizards and algorithms are their flying monkeys, dispatched from the anonymous castles of corporate service providers. You can’t tell me the people frackers aren’t looking at the meds people are on, too. And wondering how quickly the UK can be shunted into an American reality, where “unpaid medical bills” is now the number one cause of bankruptcy.

We are already living in a capitalist sci-fi horror story, where masters of the universe are trading stuff that doesn’t even exist yet. Future grain harvests in Canada, milk yields in Wisconsin, next year’s batch of Japanese whisky. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has a wide variety of “weather derivatives” available for trade if you’re interested including “temperature ranges, snowfall amounts and frost”. If fracketeers can think it, they can monetise it. There are no moral boundaries. The only limit to fracketeering is imagination.

For all I know, there’s a cabal of trillionaires sitting in a Jacobean library somewhere discussing how they might trade futures in trading futures. Or trying to fix the odds on farmed stem cells, or fat-burning nebulisers. Whatever’s round the corner, though, you can be sure humanity will be the harvest. People are the basic material of an economic world. Of course the frackers will drill into us.

Aspects of our physical existence will be divided as spoils. One day there will be a giant respiratory multinational that will own all new lungs. Babies will be born with their pulmonary systems on a lifetime leasehold. When they grow up they’ll face severe penalties for breathing polluted air. The manufacturers of cigarettes and vaping devices aren’t going to like that much, so maybe it’s Big Tobacco that sees where the future’s going and cleverly snaps up all the lungs in advance.

Sex, sunshine, sleep, singing. The best things in life are currently free. We’d better make the most of them, because in a frackable future they’ll all be metered and chargeable. Libido International or whoever would be alerted to any sexual activity via, I don’t know, some sort of monitored hormonal “thinkernet” and would shut it down after 60 seconds unless you authorised a debit or had a prepaid sex account.

Maybe people will be fitted with retinal paywalls to allow in sunshine, which will be owned by a solar consortium based somewhere tax-efficient and warm. Sleep would be traded on the international sleep exchange – imagine the premium new parents would pay for an hour of ultra-deep oblivion. And all human singing would be automatically Shazammed to a central licensing bureau for billing, the days of “out of copyright” having long gone. Everything out of copyright will be automatically the copyright of Singinc, who own “trad” and “anon” now, too. And your vocal cords.

In the future it will probably be best to stay celibate, in the dark, awake for as long as possible and quiet. So let’s live a little now, before we’re all fracked.

Paul Krugman - Most of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false

It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency—above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union that, for example, ensures that when a housing bubble in Florida bursts, Washington automatically protects seniors against any threat to their medical care or their bank deposits.

Leaving a currency union is, however, a much harder and more frightening decision than never entering in the first place, and until now even the Continent’s most troubled economies have repeatedly stepped back from the brink. Again and again, governments have submitted to creditors’ demands for harsh austerity, while the European Central Bank has managed to contain market panic.

But the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. 

Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls—limits on the movement of funds out of the country. It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start paying pensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the troika—the institutions representing creditor interests—for yet more austerity.

Greece should vote no, and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro. To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most—not all, but most—of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25%, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. 

This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.

So have I just made the case for Grexit—Greek exit from the euro? Not necessarily. The problem with Grexit has always been the risk of financial chaos, of a banking system disrupted by panicked withdrawals and of business hobbled both by banking troubles and by uncertainty over the legal status of debts. That’s why successive Greek governments have acceded to austerity demands, and why even Syriza, the ruling leftist coalition, was willing to accept the austerity that has already been imposed. All it asked for was, in effect, a standstill on further austerity.

But the troika was having none of it. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but the essential point now is that Greece has been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer that is effectively indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years.

This is, and presumably was intended to be, an offer Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, can’t accept, because it would destroy his political reason for being. The purpose must therefore be to drive him from office, which will probably happen if Greek voters fear confrontation with the troika enough to vote yes next week.

But they shouldn’t, for three reasons. First, we now know that ever-harsher austerity is a dead end: After five years Greece is in worse shape than ever. Second, much and perhaps most of the feared chaos from Grexit has already happened. With banks closed and capital controls imposed, there’s not that much more damage to be done.

Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretence of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power—the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.

So it’s time to put an end to this unthinkability. Otherwise Greece will face endless austerity, and a depression with no hint of an end. 
Paul Krugman is a New York Times columnist.

IMF: austerity measures would still leave Greece with unsustainable debt

Cuba becomes first nation to eliminate mother-to-child HIV

Cuba's success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success

Cuba has become the first country to eliminate the transmission of HIV and syphilis from mother to child, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan said it was one of the "greatest public health achievements possible". "This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation," Ms Chan said.

The success is due to universal health coverage, improved access to tests and increased attention to maternal care, which health authorities defined as less than 50 cases of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis or HIV per 100,000 live births. A small number of cases are allowed to persist, despite the certification, because antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of HIV is not 100 per cent effective.

WHO and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) define the milestone as "a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem". According to a statement from the WHO, health authorities have been working in Cuba since 2010 to "ensure early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both pregnant women and their partners, treatment for women who test positive and their babies, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding".

PAHO director Carissa Etienne said universal access and health coverage were feasible and key to success for Cuba. "Cuba's achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis," she said.

Each year, 1.4 million women living with HIV around the world become pregnant. If left untreated, they have a 15 to 45 percent chance of passing the virus on to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. But the risk of transmission is just over one per cent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children.

The number of children born annually with HIV was 400,000 in 2009. By 2013, the number had decreased to 240,000. But health authorities said intense effort was needed to meet the global target of less than 40,000 new child infections per year by 2015.

United Nations AIDS agency executive director Michel Sidibe said the milestone showed ending the AIDS epidemic was possible. "We expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children," he said.

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil: Sarah Williams // Stunning New Footage Of Earth

Image result for iss timelapse photos

The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

                                                                                Sarah Williams

(from Best Loved Poems of the American People; Hazel Felleman, ed; 1936

(The last line was used as an epitaph for an Astronomer-couple buried at Alleghany Observatory)

incredible footage from the ISS speeding through Earth’s orbit. The video makes the largest cities in the world appear to be blotches of light surrounded by the deep blue of the sea. We also get to see natural phenomenon like the Aurora Borealis and thunderstorms from above

The Troll Slayer - A Cambridge classicist takes on her sexist detractors - BY REBECCA MEAD

Through her television appearances, she has become an avatar for middle-aged and older women, who appreciate her unwillingness to fend off the visible advancement of age. Beard does not wear makeup and she doesn’t color her abundant gray hair. She dresses casually, with minor eccentricities: purple-rimmed spectacles, gold sneakers. She looks comfortable both in her skin and in her shoes—much more preoccupied with what she is saying than with how she looks as she is saying it… Beard, in her unapologetic braininess, is a role model for women of all ages who want an intellectually satisfying life. 

In February, Mary Beard, a classics professor at the University of Cambridge, gave a lecture at the British Museum titled “Oh Do Shut Up Dear!” With amiable indignation, she explored the many ways that men have silenced outspoken women since the days of the ancients. Her speech, which was filmed by the BBC, was learned but accessible—a tone that she has regularly displayed on British television, as the host of popular documentaries about Pompeii and Rome. She began her talk with the Odyssey, and what she referred to as the first recorded instance of a man telling a woman that “her voice is not to be heard in public”: Telemachus informing his mother, Penelope, that “speech will be the business of men” and sending her upstairs to her weaving. Beard progressed to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Tereus rapes Philomela and then cuts out her tongue so that she cannot denounce him. 

Beard alighted on Queen Elizabeth and Sojourner Truth before arriving at Jacqui Oatley, a BBC soccer commentator repeatedly mocked by men who were convinced that a woman couldn’t possibly understand the sport. A columnist for The Spectator, Beard noted, currently runs an annual competition to name the “most stupid woman” to appear on the current-affairs show “Question Time.”

Finally, Beard arrived at the contemporary chorus of Twitter trolls and online commenters. “The more I’ve looked at the details of the threats and the insults that women are on the receiving end of, the more some of them seem to fit into the old patterns of prejudice and assumption that I have been talking about,” she said. “It doesn’t much matter what line of argument you take as a woman. If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it—it’s the fact that you are saying it.” Such online interjections—“ ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain”—often contain threats of violence, a “predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder, and so forth.” She mildly reported one tweet that had been directed at her: “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it.”

Beard belongs to a generation that came of age during the feminist movement of the late sixties and early seventies, but as a scholar she does not specialize in writing about women, or about gender in the classical period. Her doctoral thesis was a study of Roman religion based on the letters of Cicero. Her later books have included social histories of the Parthenon and the Colosseum.

In common with other scholars of her generation, Beard often brings a proletarian focus to the world of the ancients, one that incorporates the experience of ordinary people. In “The Roman Triumph” (2007), Beard considers not just the symbolic power of the empire’s lavish victory celebrations but also their more prosaic elements: “What, for example, of those who flogged refreshments to the crowds, who put up the seating or cleared up the mess at the end of the day? What of the spectators who found the sun too hot or the rain too wet, who could hardly see the wonderful extravaganza that others applauded, or who found themselves mixed up in the outbreaks of violence that could be prompted by the spectacle?” In “The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found” (2008), she points out that the ancient city lacked zoning regulations, which meant that a blacksmith’s noisy shop could lie on the other side of the wall from a wealthy family’s frescoed dining room. Her deductive observation from the presence of tartar on the teeth of skeletons—that Pompeii was a city of bad breath—is a typical Beardian turn... read more:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Over 40 dead in 2 years: The mysterious deaths in Madhya Pradesh's Vyapam scam have a sinister edge // Is Shivraj Chouhan's govt in Madhya Pradesh getting away with murder?

The Vyapam scam or the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) Scam is known as India’s most notorious scam for one main reason – 40 people associated with the scam have died since the story broke in 2013. The deaths include both accused and witnesses and have largely been under mysterious circumstances. As two more accused died within 24 hours of each other on Sunday, the death toll has risen to over 40. Meanwhile MP Home Minister Babulal Gaur refused a CBI probe into Vyapam scam deaths. He added that there was no conspiracy, and that the deaths were natural. They may have died because of their own misdeeds, he told CNN IBN.

While investigations are underway, here is all you need to know about the Vyapam Scam and its mysterious deaths.

What is the Vyapam Scam?
The scam was all about the manipulation in the selection process for government colleges and jobs conducted by the Madhya Pradesh professional examination board (MPPEB) or Madhya Pradesh Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal (Vyapam). It involved the impersonation of candidates, rampant copying, blank answer sheets and fake marks.

What did the investigation reveal?
Earlier this year, a report by the high court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) probing the MPPEB (Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board) scam revealed that another 32 people, all aged between 25 and 30, have died under suspicious circumstances since the probe began in 2012, according to a report by the Times of India. Initial reports suggested that about eight accused had died in strange circumstances by May 2915. However, a report by the high court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) probing the scam revealed that another 32 people, all aged between 25 and 30, have died under suspicious circumstances since the probe began in 2012, continues the report.

Which are the most mysterious deaths?

1. Shailesh Yadav – He was the son of MP Governor Ram Naresh Yadav and was one of the accused in the Vyapam scam. He was found dead at his residence, the Governor’s bungalow in Lucknow in March 2015. According to an Indian Express report, the 50-year old’s family members claimed that he was was diabetic and died of brain haemorrhage. They did not share the exact time of his death, maintaining that they came to know about it around 6 am when he did not get up. However, a Times of India report mentions that he died due to poisoning. But the post-mortem report says that cause of death could not be ascertained.

2. Vijay Singh – Another accused, Singh was found dead under mysterious circumstances at a lodge in Chhattisgarh's Kanker district in April 2015. He was a resident of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh and posted as pharmacist at Shajapur District Jail. Singh had been under suspension after the Special Task Force (STF) arrested him in three cases related the MPPEB scam. but was later cleared in one case. He had been released on bail in February this year. Singh's brother had demanded a probe into the mysterious death. "Vijay Singh's body was found at a local lodge in Kanker on 28 April. No poisonous substance was found inside the room," his brother Abhay Singh, a government school teacher, had told PTI.

3. Namrata Damor – Damor was a student of MGM Medical college, Indore, was found near railway tracks at Kayta village in Ujjain on 7 January, 2012, a week after she was reported mysteriously missing from the college hostel, according to a Times of India report. She was in the list of suspects who cleared PMT-2010 using unfair means.

4. Dr DK Sakalley – He was the dean of Netaji Subhashchandra Bose Medical College of Jabalpur and died in July 2014, succumbing to burns during a 30-day medical leave to avoid pressure from students who were sacked for their alleged role in MPPEB scam, says another report by The Times of India.

5. Ramendra Singh Bhadoria – The 30-year old was found hanging at his home in Gwalior a few days after an FIR was registered in January 2015. His family members claimed he was being mentally tortured by those involved in the MPPEB scam to keep quiet. His mother also committed suicide by consuming acid a week later, as per a Times of India report.

6. Narendra Singh Tomar – This death was what brought the Vyapam scam back in the limelight in June 2015 after another accused in the high-profile MPPEB scam died under mysterious circumstances in an Indore jail. The 29-year-old veterinarian complained of chest pain at night and was rushed to Maharaja Yashwant Rao Hospital where he was declared brought dead.

7. Dr Rajendra Arya – The 40-year old died within 24 hours of Tomar’s death at Birla Hospital in Gwalior. He had been on bail for one year, had gone to Kota and was returning when his condition turned critical.

Other scam accused declared dead in the SIT report among others as per The Times of India are –

8. Anshul Sanchan
9. Anuj Pandey
10. Vikram Singh
11. Arvind Shakya
12. Kuldeep Maravi
13. Anantram Tagore
14. Ashutosh Tiwari
15. Gyan Singh (Bhind)
16. Pramod Sharma (Bhind)
17. Vikas Pandey (Allahabad)
18. Vikas Thakur (Barwani)
19. Shyamveer Singh Yadav
20. Aditya Chaudhary
21. Deepak Jain (Shivpuri)
22. Gyan Singh (Gwalior)
23. Brijesh Rajput (Barwani)
24. Narendra Rajput (Jhansi)
25. Anand Singh Yadav (Fatehpur)
26. Anirudh Uikey (Mandla)
27. Lalit Kumar Pashupatinath Jaiswal
28. Ragvendra Singh (Singrauli)
29. Anand Singh (Barwani)
30. Manish Kumar Samadia (Jhansi)
31. Dinesh Jatav
32. Gyan Singh (Sagar)

Not much is known about the deaths of the other accused except that most of them happened Chambal area covering Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

  • Most deaths have occurred in either police custody or while the accused were out on bail.
  • While the STF has told the court that the number of unnatural deaths was 23 (excluding the two of Sunday) the state Home minister, Babulal Gaur claimed on Monday that most deaths were 'natural'.
  • The head of the SIT had put the deaths since the scam broke at 40. The scam is perhaps of the highest magnitude in the state in terms of arrests made, deaths recorded and money involved - various estimates put the figure at over Rs 2,000 crore.
  • The Prime Minister who rode to power on a promise of corruption-free governance has opted to keep quiet on the issue as some RSS functionaries have also been named in the case.
  • Estimates vary on the progress the STF has made to uncover the scam so far. While former advocate general of the state Vivek Tankha quotes some to suggest it is 20 percent of the scam, digital forensic expert Prashant Pandey claims only five percent of irregularities have been exposed so far.
  • Pandey, a whistleblower in this case, has been given security on the directives of Delhi High Court after he expressed fear for his life from the "high and mighty" in state government and police. Pandey, hails from Indore but has been living in Delhi with his family.
  • Strangely, the STF has not announced any inquiry into the 25 unnatural deaths so far. The High Court that is monitoring the investigations has upbraided the STF for delaying the investigations.
  • The Vyapam scam involves selection of candidates for and various state services like police, excise, revenue and teachers, between 2007 and 2013 to an estimated 140,000 posts. It also involves thousands of illegal admissions in graduate and post-graduate medical and dental colleges.


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

MK Venu: Lalit Modi is a Small Symptom of the Continuing Malaise of Crony Capitalism

At the Modi-Obama reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan, about two dozen industrialists had been invited  and were seen standing in a queue to greet the US President. About 6 to 8 of those present collectively owe close to Rs. 3.5 lakh crore to banks, mostly PSU banks

There can be no doubt that the NDA government’s image has been badly dented by the new scandal involving Lalit Modi – a man facing serious money laundering charges in India – for whom external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj personally short-circuited the system so that he could procure travel papers on “humanitarian grounds”.

The government’s defensive attitude was visible on Monday as the opposition mounted a serious attack on the BJP, prompting the Enforcement Directorate to issue fresh notices late evening against Lalit Modi. Perhaps this was the government’s way of signalling that its favour to the controversial former IPL cricket commissioner  was limited to helping him travel from London to Portugal to see his ailing wife, and that it did not extend to diluting the serious money laundering charges against him.

However, this alone may not work as pressure will now mount on the government to bring to trial Lalit Modi and many other businesses against whom serious charges are pending. The ED, such as it is, seems to get clear signals from time to time on how to proceed against well known businessmen who formally face money laundering charges.  The pace of investigation varies according to how close these businessmen are to the political establishment.

One just has to look at some of the pending money laundering cases at the ED and the CBI to understand how the nexus between the political class and big business operates. This happens across the board, whether it is a BJP or Congress-led government. For instance, there are serious charges of over-invoicing of imports against the Adani Group, running into thousands of crores, which may lie dormant at the Enforcement Directorate for some years as Gautam Adani is seen as very close to the establishment.

Of course, the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers can easily claim later that they have done no favour to the Adanis as the case will not have been dropped. But then the Adani Group will also not be proceeded against with much vigour either.In this manner, many cases are kept in suspended animation. The Lalit Modi case is no different. 

However, one exception to this has been the manner in which a serious money laundering case against Baba Ramdev, who runs a Rs.1000-crore plus business empire, was dropped recently for “want of evidence”. Ramdev was ‘gifted’ an island in Scotland, nothing less, by some NRIs. The Enforcement Directorate had registered a case as prima facie it appeared to be a money laundering exercise. Again, as is its wont, after keeping the case going for some years the agency has closed the case.

The CBI, ED and other investigative arms of the government are looking at money laundering charges pertaining to the 2G scam, Coalgate etc but it is safe to assume that these will remain in limbo for a long time to come. It is surprising that the BJP, which rode to power by campaigning around the 2G scam, has not done anything to speed up the money laundering cases so apparent in many of the complaints filed by the CBI which are under trial. It seems most of these cases will die a natural death, as has been the experience in the past.

The Lalit Modi episode has also badly dented the Prime Minister’s claims that there is no crony capitalism-driven corruption at the top level of the NDA. This claim was so tenuous that it was only a manner of time before it got exposed. The continuing cronyism was bound to emerge because the systemic, long-term nexus between the political elites and big business will not go away anytime soon, as has been demonstrated by the Lalit Modi case. Will an ordinary citizen ever get access to the kind of bespoke, special treatment that Lalit Modi received?

Actually, when Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley claim there has been no crony capitalist-driven scam in the NDA government at the top level, they make a very narrow interpretation of cronyism. What they mean is that there is no personal quid pro quo between them individually and the businesses for whom they make policies.

However, this narrow definition of crony capitalism does not capture its real essence. The real essence of cronyism flows from how deeply the link between business and politics is embedded in the larger system, and no individual politician has the power to alter this.

The Indian banking system, for instance, is today saddled with about Rs. 5 lakh crore of what may be described as bad and vulnerable loans. A substantial portion of this is lying in the balance sheets of a dozen family-owned business houses in the country who are politically well-connected and have used their clout to set up businesses ranging from roads, power, telecom and construction largely on borrowed funds from public sector banks. These businesses are regarded as too big to fail and therefore get endless support from banks.

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan took a dig at such business houses sometime ago, saying they thrive in good times as well as bad times through what he described as “risk free capitalism”. The real issue is whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the power or will to jettison this system. This is the real test of whether the government can remove cronyism. It is not about personal corruption, which is a very narrow way of looking at the phenomenon. Unfortunately, this system has not been touched because the same family-owned industrialists who have run up massive ‘restructured’ debt – the euphemism used by bankers to describe the extended repayment period they enjoy – with public sector banks, continue to enjoy the respect of the state apparatus. 

One telling example will illustrate this point. 
At the Modi-Obama reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan, about two dozen industrialists had been invited  and were seen standing in a queue to greet the US President. About 6 to 8 of those present collectively owe close to Rs. 3.5 lakh crore to banks, mostly PSU banks. The banking industry in India has about Rs. 5 lakh crore as total capital and nearly 70% of it is exposed to just a half a dozen industrial houses. Technically, if these business houses were to go bust, 70% of India’s banking capital will get wiped out. In short, they are too big to fail. So they have no worries really, as the system sustains them.

This is the real cronyism that plagues India. No less an establishment figure than the RBI Governor has already drawn the attention of the government to it. Do Narendra Modi or Arun Jaitley have the will to alter this arrangement? Lalit Modi is just a small symptom of a much bigger malaise.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

EMERGENCY Archive // Jos. Peter D 'Souza: When the Supreme Court struck down Habeas Corpus

PUCL Bulletin, June 2001 - A.D.M. Jabalpur vs Shukla

When the Supreme Court struck down Habeas Corpus
April 28th, 1976 is a day never to be forgotten by any of us Indians who love the pledges of Justice and Liberty which we gave to ourselves in the Preamble of our Constitution. It was on this day when four of the five senior most Judges of the Supreme Court (including the Hon'ble Chief Justice) struck the first mortal blow to these cherished dreams enshrined in our Constitution. On this day during the Emergency the Supreme Court sank to its lowest when it decided the infamous Habeas Corpus Case with the following conclusion:

"In view of the Presidential Order dated 27th June 1975 no person has any locus to move any writ petition under Art. 226 before a High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the legality of an order of detention on the ground that the order is not under or in compliance with the Act or is illegal or is vitiated by mala fides factual or legal or is based on extraneous considerations."

The Presidential Order referred to was the one issued during Emergency declaring that the right of any person to move any Court for any enforcement of the rights conferred by Articles 14, 21 and 22 of the Constitution and all proceedings pending in any Court for the enforcement of the above mentioned rights shall remain suspended for the period during which the Proclamation of Emergency are in force. 

On 28th April, 2001, we complete twenty-five years of this horrific day when four of the five senior most Judges of the Supreme Court of the world's largest democracy could unabashedly declare that under those circumstances no one could seek the assistance of any court in India to try and save his liberty, life or limb threatened to be taken away by the State. A day, which produced a judgment so shameful that even Hitler would have blushed, had he the opportunity to peruse it!

The question was simple: Despite the Presidential proclamation, can the High Court entertain a writ of habeas corpus filed by a person challenging his detention? All High Courts that had answered the question, had done so in the affirmative and had kept their doors open to those unfortunate who dared risk the wrath of some petty governmental official. Against the unanimous decision of the High Courts, four of the five senior most Hon'ble Justices of the Supreme Court thought it fit to rule otherwise. They were the then Chief Justice A.N. Ray, along with Justices M.H. Beg, Y.V. Chandrachud and P.N. Bhagwati. The Supreme Court had effectively ordered the High Courts to slam shut their doors and windows. The lone dissenting voice was that of Justice H.R. Khanna of whom the New York Times remarked: 'surely a statue would be erected to him in an Indian city'. 

Justice Khanna, conscious of his aloneness, ended his judgment with a quote:
"As observed by Chief Justice Huges, Judges are not there simply to decide cases, but to decide them as they think they should be decided, and while it may be regrettable that they cannot always agree, it is better that their independence should be maintained and recognized than that unanimity should be secured through its sacrifice. A dissent in a Court of last resort, to use his words, is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possible correct the error into which the dissenting Judge believes the court to have been betrayed."

Justice Khanna paid the price for his dissent. He was next in line to become Chief Justice of India. He resigned when his junior, Justice M.H. Beg, superseded him. That was justice Indira Gandhi style. 

It all started with the election of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, which had been held to be invalid by the Allahabad High Court. Wanting to cling to the chair at any cost, she chose to declare emergency as on 25th June 1975 - the pretext being 'internal threat' to India (read INDIRA). Censorship muzzled the Press, which could not publish the numerous arrests of vast sections of people. Any person who was considered to be a political threat, or who could politically voice his opposition was detained without trial under Preventive Detention laws one of which was the dreaded MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act). The opposition was silenced. The common man terrorized.

Many who had been arrested challenged their detention by filing writs of habeas corpus under Article 226 in various High Courts. In most High Courts, the State Governments had raised the issue as to whether such writs were maintainable on the ground that in light of the Presidential Order the right to file such writ was taken away. The High Courts of Allahabad, Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Delhi, Karnataka, Madras, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan had all rejected the Government's argument and held that despite the suspension of fundamental rights, a person detained could demonstrate that their detention was not in compliance with the law (under which he or she was detained), or that the State action was mala fide, or that there was a mistake of identity. Having received a drubbing nine to nil, the Government (read Indira Gandhi) decided to appeal against these decisions to the Supreme Court. It was thus that the Constitutional bench of five Judges came to be constituted to hear and decide the most crucial case in Indian legal history referred to in all law reports as A.D.M. Jabalpur vs. Shukla. 

Niren De, the then Attorney General began the arguments on 14th December 1975. He focused on the aspect of 'liberty' as found in Art.21 of the Constitution. His central contention was that since the right to move any Court had been suspended, the detenue had no locus standi and their writ petitions would necessarily have to be dismissed. It was on the next day that Justice Khanna was to ask the first uncomfortable question. "Life is also mentioned in Article 21 and would Government argument extend to it also?". There was no escape. Without batting an eyelid Niren De answered, 'Even if life was taken away illegally, courts are helpless'. [Remember the Nazi holocaust]. The case was argued for over two months. Judgment was reserved. It was only when an application was moved for the pronouncement of the judgment that it was read in open Court on that dark and ignominious 28th April 1976.And so was delivered the biggest blow to the Supreme Court, by the Supreme Court. 

This one case is a glaring example of how the four wise Judges of the Supreme Court tried to outdo themselves in being more loyal to the throne than the king himself. The final order goes way beyond what was demanded of them by the plea of the Union of India. All the individual judgments of Ray (C.J.), Beg, Chandrachud & Bhagwati (JJ) record in extensio the submissions of the Attorney-General on behalf of the government wherein he made the claim that the detenue had no right to approach the Court to challenge his detention. 

They also record the concession of the Attorney-General to the effect that despite this general ban the Courts may grant relief if the detention order is on the face of it bad, as for example, if it is passed by a person not authorized to pass it, or if it is passed for a purpose outside those mentioned in Section 3(1) of the MISA or if it does not bear signature at all. The Attorney General had thus handed over to the Supreme Court the same key with which all High Courts had earlier used to keep ajar their doors for the detenues to squeeze through and enter. The Supreme Court, instead, preferred to throw away this key to their own self-respect. The majority judgment, literally taken, and as understood thereafter by all High Courts, clearly directed that detenues were to be stopped at the doors if not in the corridors of the halls of Justice. 

Another shocking aspect of A. D. M. Jabalpur is that it establishes beyond doubt our Judges do really live in ivory towers totally oblivious of the ground realities. In speaking of the Emergency and the condition of those detained Justice Beg has this to say: "We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the State authorities upon the welfare of detenues who are well housed, well fed and well treated, is almost maternal." Justice Chandrachud went further in his eulogy when he ended his Judgment stating: "Counsel after counsel expressed the fear that during the emergency, the executive may whip and strip and starve the detenue and if this be our judgment, even shoot him down. Such misdeeds have not tarnished the record of Free India and I have a diamond-bright, diamond-hard hope that such things will never come to pass." 

Chief Justice Ray had the audacity to chide counsel for the detenues who brought to mind the nazi gas chambers. He voiced his belief that people who have faith in themselves and in their country will not paint pictures of diabolic distortion and mendacious malignment of the governance of the country. 

We will never know if any of these men ate their words when a year later on 24th May, 1977 The Times Of India reported: "The Calicut Regional Engineering student Mr. P. Rajan, 'died while in unlawful police custody at Kakayam Police Camp on 2 March 1976, as a result of continuous police torture with iron and wooden rollers'. This was admitted in the returns filed in the form of affidavits by respondents, including the former Chief Minister, Mr. K. Karunakaran before the Div. Bench of the Kerala High Court." 

A special mention must be made of Justice Bhagwati the man who had a knack with words and who knew how to use them to play to the gallery. Though Justice Khanna had held high the torch of freedom, it was Justice Bhagwati who spoke grandiosely about liberty. It was Mark Anthony updated for the occasion telling us how much he loved liberty, but, how much more he loved the law. Let us read his own words: "I have always leaned in favour of upholding personal liberty, for, I believe, it is one of the most cherished values of mankind, without it life would not be worth living. It is one of the pillars of free democratic society. Men have readily laid down their lives at its altar, in order to secure it, protect it and preserve it. But I do not think it would be right for me to allow my love of personal liberty to cloud my vision or to persuade me to place on the relevant provision of the Constitution a construction which its language cannot reasonably bear." 

Yes, his intense love for the Constitution could not permit him to read into it things which were not there. Yet, all this he did, and much more a little later in the case of Indira Gandhi's daughter in law, Maneka Gandhi, when the Janata Government had impounded her passport. When it came to the then famous daughter-in-law's case, Justice Bhagwati read the Constitution like a visionary and prophet finding within its pages and between the lines the famous principle that laws have to be 'right, just and fair, and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive'. He also brought in the theory that the soul of natural justice was fair play in action. 

Last year on 25th June we brought back to mind the proclamation of Emergency being the start of the darkest period in Indian democracy. If this were so then we should never forget that during this dark period, the 28th April, 1976, was its blackest day. It is all the more important to remember this day since we the people of India have grown accustomed to being ruled by preventive detention laws where thousands are being jailed without trial. Over and above this, Government after Government is attempting to bring in laws which put to shame both MISA and TADA combined. The Judiciary has failed us once. If we, the people of India, forget this, we will be condemning ourselves sooner or later to history repeating itself. So let us always remember A.D.M. Jabalpur.

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