Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Singur Land Deal ‘Illegal’, says Supreme Court in Blow to Tata, Former Left Government // Singur verdict: 'Historic blunder' inflicts fatal wounds on a moribund Left Front

 In a major setback to Tata Motors, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of land in Singur made by the then CPM-led government in 2006. The land was acquired a decade ago by the state government for the Tata Group to build its Nano car manufacturing factory. However, a little over a year later, after numerous protests by farmers and locals, the project was shifted to Gujarat, leaving the company and state government locked in a tussle over who should possess the land.

The Supreme Court, however, has put an end to the 10-year-ordeal. On Wednesday, it declared that the initial land acquisition was “illegal and void” and failed to meet “requirements under the Land Acquisition Act 1894”.

In doing so, the Supreme Court has not only set aside a previous judgement of the Calcutta high court, which upheld the land acquisition, but has also pointed out that the West Bengal government in 2006 “committed fraud of power in land allotment” by acquiring land for a private company and passing it off as a public good.

In remarks to the media, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a landmark victory. “I had dreamt of this SC verdict for so long, for the people of SIngur. Now I can die in peace. I would expect everyone to celebrate this as Singur Utsav, it’s like a n invocation of the celebration to Durja Puja, ” Banerkee said. According to the Supreme Court judgement, the land acquired will now have to be returned to the farmers and landowners within the next 12 weeks.

Singur verdict: 'Historic blunder' inflicts fatal wounds on a moribund Left Front
In the annals of Indian politics, the term 'historic blunder' is associated with Jyoti Basu, the CPM patriarch who accused Indian Marxists of committing the sin by not letting him become the Prime Minister by heading a coalition government in 1996.

But the term should equally apply to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's decision to invite the Tatas for opening up a car manufacturing unit in Singur back in September 2006. It marked an inflection point in India's history and caused a cataclysmic chain of events that culminated in the once formidable Left Front being eventually reduced to a rump in the state, battling now to remain relevant.

Epochal in every sense, the Singur legal verdict announced by the Supreme Court on Wednesday — asking the state to return to the farmers the nearly 1000 acres of land and striking down the then Left Front government's acquisition as bad in law, intent and execution — is still little more than a reinforcement of the political verdict that was delivered in 2011 and fortified five years later in 2016....

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Nasa: Earth is warming at a pace 'unprecedented in 1,000 years'

The planet is warming at a pace not experienced within the past 1,000 years, at least, making it “very unlikely” that the world will stay within a crucial temperature limit agreed by nations just last year, according to Nasa’s top climate scientist.

This year has already seen scorching heat around the world, with the average global temperature 
peaking at 1.38C above levels experienced in the 19th century, perilously close to the 1.5C limit agreed in the landmark Paris climate accord. July was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880, with each month since October 2015 setting a new high mark for heat.

But Nasa said that records of temperature that go back far further, taken via analysis of ice cores and sediments, suggest that the warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium... Read more:

Book review: Govind Pansare Had Some Lessons For the Left, If They Would Only Pay Attention

Govind PansareWords Matter: Writings against Silence
Reviewed by Monobina Gupta

Govind Pansare was not among the nationally well known faces of the Communist Party of India (CPI), even though it was his political home for over six decades. Tragically, it was Pansare’s assassination in February 2015 that catapulted the CPI leader to the centre of national discourse. Prior to his murder, not many beyond Maharashtra, where he was based all his life, knew about the richness of his innovative work, his scholarship, and his organic links with the people he spent most of his time with.

Reading Pansare’s writings in the recently published book Words Matter: Writings against Silence, I wondered why his work did not get the attention it deserves during his life time, even within his own party. These diverse writings – he authored 21 books – clearly distinguish Pansare from run-of-the-mill communist leaders, many of whom despite their ordinariness, have become well known faces representing the party. His relative marginalisation seems to be a consequence of the larger unquestioned practices that have become normal fare in communist parties today.

Pansare, along with M.M. Kalburgi and Narendra Dhabolkar, whose murders captured national headlines, were all rationalists. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that religion is one arena where his distinctive mode of intellectual inquiry is on full display. In his work, the communist leader reckoned with questions like: how can communist parties – which believe in and practise atheism – reach out to vast numbers of deeply religious people? What kind of popular cultural idioms do they need to evolve that move beyond a ‘class only’ approach? These are questions that have a direct bearing on contemporary politics in India where aggressive forms of religious fundamentalism have rendered Left-Liberals quite helpless in the political sphere.

While Pansare reflected at length on the complexities of religious and political mobilisation for Left forces in the country, Left parties as a whole shunned deeper intellectual exercises to understand the politics of religion. Instead, the Left parties clung to unchanging formulations year after year, decade after decade. Consider for instance the deadening language of the section on communalism in the CPI-M’s organisation report presented at the party’s Kolkata plenum in December 2015. Para 1.187 of the document states: “Utilising the intellectuals with us and our contacts with democratic intellectuals and prominent personalities, we should set up joint platforms against communalism. We should use the intellectual resources and the research centres that we have to produce political and ideological material for the campaign against communalism.”

These words are typical of the Left’s general tendency to reduce its fight against communalism to a string of (failed) electoral strategies. The latest example of this comes from the politically bankrupt and disastrous Left-Congress alliance in the recent elections in Bengal. The language deployed by the Left to wean people away from communalism has been no different from that used by so-called secular parties like the Congress or Samajwadi Party. However, while the latter of these parties has successfully leveraged caste arithmetic in its favour, Left parties have, for too long, been slow to react on that front as well.

In his writings on religion, Pansare seems to ask more interesting questions and spell out potentially more fruitful strategies. For example, he writes: “On the one hand, we should not hesitate to explain religion in a straightforward language. We should note the historical role played by religion, and at the same time explain how the established system has used the miserable and helpless in their place.” He goes on to explain how communist parties should deconstruct religion and how it has been used by vested interest groups to acquire power and wealth. “We should not spare any effort in showing how religion has been used by the rulers to further their vested interests and explain this to the exploiters. But we should be sympathetic to those who have fallen victim to religious bigotry.”

Delving deeper into the question of communist parties’ engagement with people who are religious, Pansare cites Lenin’s response to the question of whether believers can be admitted into the party. Lenin was of the opinion that millions of workers, peasants and the poor would stand to be excluded from membership if the party shut its doors on believers. He maintained that his “party is not a debating society between believers and non-believers.” It is this deep attention to local conditions, to the intricate histories of caste and religion that appear to set Pansare apart from the most prominent faces of the Left movement today.

In contrast to what is often the Left’s dismissive attitude of religion, Pansare emphasises that “revolutionaries” need to intellectually engage with religion: “All the revolutionaries in the world have had to think about religion. They did so by putting in front of them two sections of society. One section is that of oppressors using religion to exploit. The other is that of the exploited and the poor who have taken shelter under religion with false hope.”

However, Pansare also argued that to liberate the masses from the clutches of religion, one has to analyse it in specific social contexts. The views revolutionaries have of religion, he writes, “must be based on the social conditions of the time. It may be convenient for those who wish to interpret the world to go on repeating the same views irrespective of time and space. Such a position does not help those who wish to ‘change the world.’”

In observing that “religion thus occupies a singular space as far as the scope, depth and continuity of its impact on society is concerned”, Pansare seems to suggest that mere sloganeering will not effectively challenge the increasing politicisation of religion, or wean people away from such a process. The pull of religion is perhaps stronger than most identities. It is not enough to understand religious mobilisation either in purely electoral terms or simply as a subset of questions related to class. The matter is far more complex.

Pansare therefore asks: “What are the reasons for it? No system in society survives without reason. It does not become universal unnecessarily. It does not create hegemony for no reason. There is something in religion that fulfils a social need.” In the chapter introducing him, author and translator Uday Narkar writes that Pansare “was perhaps the only Left leader in Maharashtra who was struggling to engage with the people’s imagination.” At a time when the masses at large seem disillusioned with dogmatic party line and staid politics, getting back in touch with “the people’s imagination” – even if to critically interrogate it – could be well worth the effort.

What Left parties need right now is to revive a culture of intellectual debate – one in which grassroots leaders like Pansare (there surely are many more such invisible and restless party intellectuals away from the glare of publicity) can make a worthy contribution.  It is equally necessary for communist parties to make space for dissident opinions on critical subjects like religion and caste rather than penalise them, for the debate to lead to a genuinely different conversation.

see also
"Those who are obsessed by language finally come to the conviction that there is nothing but interpretation" Stanley Rosen in Hermeneutics as Politics (1987)

Ganesh Devy - Marching in Memory of M.M. Kalburgi

The brutal murder of the Kannada scholar M.M. Kalburgi in August last year had resulted in a sharp reaction from Indian intellectuals, literary scholars and artists. Earlier, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Pune and Govind Pansare in Kolhapur in Maharashtra. Reacting to these attacks on intellectuals, several artists and writers had returned their awards to the awarding bodies as a way of protest.

Though in none of the three cases have the respective state governments been able to get to the bottom of these attacks, there has been some progress in the Dabholkar murder case. Despite appeals from individuals and concerned bodies from all parts of the country and even outside, the investigation in Kalburgi’s murder has made negligible progress.

In order to protest the government’s indifferent attitude to such an important case and to remember Kalburgi, a silent walk is being staged in Dharwad on August 30, the day that marks a year since the tragic killing. Over 90 organisations from Karnataka and a similarly large number of orgaisations from outside have come together to hold the walk and a public meeting following the march.

The organisations that have converged on this issue include cultural bodies, student organisations, literary associations, professional unions, women’s organisations and various colleges and publishing houses. Important literary figures participating in the march range from octogenarian poet Channavir Kanavi to the teenage award-winning writer Muddu Theerthally. Writers from several states, ranging from Punjab to Kerala, have come together in Dharwad on the morning of the 30th. Similarly, the spouses of the three victims of intolerance are also present at the silent walk.

Local organisers of the event have received messages from several important thinkers and social activists from across the country. Among the speakers at the open meeting following the silent walk are writer and editor, Antara Dev Sen, media persons Kumar Ketkar and Siddharth Varadarajan, novelist Rajan Khan, poet Sanjeev Khandekar and film artist Anjum Rajbali.

Nearly 1,000 literary persons from Karnataka arrived in Dharwad on the August 30 to participate in the protest and eminent scholars like Rahmant Tarikere, Rajendra Chenni, Narahari Balasubramanyam, Chandrashekhar Patil (Champa), B. Suresh, K.S. Bhagwan, Muzaffar Asadi, Sarju Katkar, T.R. Chandrashekhar, G. Rajashekhar and many others will address the meeting to be held at the Town Hall located on the R. L. S. Campus. A compilation of essays about Kalburgi is being released on the occasion.

A similar protest was organised in Maharashtra on August 20 in Dabholkar’s memory. The growing restlessness and unease among intellectuals about the government’s indifference to the attacks on intellectuals is likely to be expressed during the public meeting. Given the scale of the protest, all eyes remain focused on Dharwad on August 30.

Ganesh Devy, writer and activist, is founder director of the Bhasha Research Centre and has chaired the People’s Linguistic Survey of India. This article was originally published in Indian Cultural Forum. Read the original article here.

More than half of south Asia's groundwater too contaminated to use – study

Sixty per cent of the groundwater in a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh is not drinkable or usable for irrigation, researchers have said.
The biggest threat to groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin, named after the Indus and Ganges rivers, is not depletion but contamination, they reported in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“The two main concerns are salinity and arsenic,” the authors of the study wrote. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”, they said. The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall.

Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year amid growing concerns about depletion. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was in fact stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer.
It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

Groundwater can become salty through natural and manmade causes, including inefficient farmland irrigation and poor drainage. Arsenic, too, is naturally present, but levels are exacerbated by use of fertilisers and mining. Arsenic poisoning of drinking water is a major problem in the region.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Nicholas Dawes - Home is Away - India in 3 years and 3 centuries

Around me in the newsroom, in the 9pm television brawl, and on social media, I can hear hurt, insistent, voices reaching back to the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, or the accession of 1947, and out across the border to Pakistan and the breeding grounds of extremist terror, searching for a narrative to redeem the violence of the state. Answering them is Kashmiri rage shaded with despair, and the small, vigorous, chorus of Indian opinion counseling a political solution... 

The same conversations play out wherever the crisis at the geographical margins of the country, or among its marginalised, confronts the democratic centre with contradictions that cannot be sustained: over caste, over sexuality, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or a broken penal code... 

I won’t be plucking any swimmers from these currents, but it is in their tug toward justice, and in the terror of the breach, that India feels the most like home.

My first political argument with my paternal grandfather was about India. It was 1983, and I was 11 years old. It has taken me more than 30 years to trace the roots of that half-forgotten conversation in a gloomy living room, where an impossibly intricate walnut table from Kashmir stood in one corner, and faded photographs of men in uniform hung on the wall. I loved that table, I used to run my fingers over the tiny, perfectly regular flowers that stood in relief on its dark surface, and the leaves that flared from its borders. “It took a year to carve”, my grandmother would say, at once completely believable and beyond comprehension.

Some foreigners come to India to find themselves, seeking a stage set for the drama of their self-discovery. I didn’t. I also didn’t come to tap a “vast market”, to arbitrage costs, or to report India’s story for a global audience. Instead I came to do the work I love, at an important Indian media company focussed on making better sense of a hugely complex and dynamic news environment for Indian audiences. My own biography, I insisted to myself, would not feature. In fact I would avoid talking, or even thinking too much, about it, and I made no real effort to seek darshan of my family history.

But I grew up under the shadow of empire, and live in an age of fraught globalism, both born in the India trade, and if there is one cliche about this place that survives living here, it’s that you can’t escape your past, even as you rush headlong into the future. As I prepare to leave India this week, I no longer want to. In 1983 South Africa’s struggle against apartheid was finding new, and newly powerful forms. The United Democratic Front, which led unprecedented domestic resistance, was born. The state, meanwhile, took violent repression to new levels with PW Botha’s securocrats firmly in control of the country.

It must have been in the spring of that year that my father took me to see Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi at the Golden Acre Mall in central Cape Town. I remember the newness of the multiplex, smaller screens, velour seats, a lavish concession stand, and the slightly heightened atmosphere of a special trip into town. But mostly I remember a few flashes of imagery: Ben Kingsley’s young lawyer, slightly too handsome for the part, on the platform at Pietermaritzburg station, passes being set on fire in Johannesburg, General Reginald Dyer’s troops jogging through the alley to Jallianwala Bagh, and the well filling up with bodies as their guns stuttered.

In Cape Town, in 1983, this was clearly a film about South Africa just as much as it was about India, even to an 11-year-old. It was thrilling to watch. And so when next I saw my grandfather - my grandfather who had a picture of himself as a kurta-pyjama clad teenager in Peshawar hanging above his desk, who practised yoga daily, and who loathed South Africa’s ruling Nationalist Party so much he had modified a fishing-rod to turn down the volume on his Sony Trinitron when cabinet ministers spoke - I asked, “Have you seen Gandhi?”

“I don’t watch horror movies”, he curtly replied. The tone of the discussion deteriorated from there until he ended it with half-an-anecdote: “When my uncle, your two-greats uncle, drowned rescuing an Indian man, 10 000 coolies went to his funeral”.

I now realise that he probably used coolie in the Indian sense, labourer, rather than in its racist South African sense, as a slur for people of Indian descent, but it was a moment of both clarity and extreme discomfort, not just because I loved and admired my grandfather, but because I began to understand how English-speaking South Africans like me, just as much as the Afrikaners we had been taught casually to blame for Apartheid, were heirs to a globalised system of racism.

The strand of my ancestry I know most about is a long line of soldiers in India. They were ducking Tipu Sultan’s rockets in the 18th Century, patrolling the Arabian Gulf with the Bombay Royal Marine in the 19th, and enforcing the fragile peace around the Khyber pass in the early 20th. I was taught to identify with them, but until that argument in 1983, it had never really occurred to me what their history meant for my own place in the world. And for some reason, I had never heard the story of my “two-greats” uncle, and I didn’t until decades later, when my father began to dig into the archives.

In June 1909 Nicholas Bernard Dawes was appointed by the Maharaja of Mysore to officiate as Chief Engineer and Secretary to the princely state until a suitable Indian candidate could be found to take over on a permanent basis. He had perhaps established his claim through the work he had done as Deputy Chief Engineer, writing what we would now call a business case for a major new dam on the Cauvery. Revenue earned from selling power to Coimbatore and Madras, as well as the Kolar gold fields, he argued, would eventually fund the construction of a huge irrigation network. “The state will then be the owner of a property free of all charges except Rs 8 lakhs for maintenance and bringing in a revenue of Rs. 60 lakhs per annum and this on an original borrowed capital of Rs 175 lakhs”… 
read more:

The Climate Institute - Coffee quality and cost to be impacted by climate change, but there are things we can do

Climate change is already putting production and cost pressures on the supply of coffee in significant parts of the world’s ‘bean belt’ of coffee producing countries. Increasing temperatures and extreme weather events will cut the area suitable for production by up to 50 per cent, erode coffee quality and increase coffee prices for consumers, according to The Climate Institute’s A Brewing Storm: The climate change risks to coffee report, released today.

“Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world every day, with nearly half of Australians drinking coffee regularly,” said CEO of The Climate Institute, John Connor. “Yet coffee is just one of a multitude of things increasingly subject to negative climate impacts, and its negative flow-on effects.”

“Our A Brewing Storm report, commissioned by Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand, researched available information on climate risks to coffee, and should give a jolt to Australian coffee consumers and provide more reason for urgent climate action.”

World coffee production has more than trebled since the 1960s to supply the $US19 billion trade that continues to deliver a 5 per cent increase in consumption annually. Yet, between 80 and 90 per cent of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers are smallholders who are among those most exposed to climate change. They generally live and work in the ‘bean belt’ which comprises around 70 mostly developing countries, including Guatemala, Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Climate change threatens their world.

“Without strong climate action, the areas suitable for growing coffee could halve in a few decades, pushing production upslope, away from the equator and into conflict with other land uses, such as nature conservation and forestry. By 2080 wild coffee, an important genetic resource for farmers, could be extinct.” Heightened temperatures and rainfall have already increased the incidence of disease and pests affecting yields and quality. In already hot countries, more warming will also increase burdens on the physical and mental health of producers, labourers and communities - with clear productivity consequences.

“Companies such as Starbucks and Lavazza, as well as the International Coffee Organisation, have already publicly acknowledged the severity of climate risks,” Connor said.  “Consumers are likely to face supply shortages, impacts on flavor and aromas, and rising prices.” Recognising the impact of climate change, Fairtrade is working with commercial partners and coffee farmers on climate focused projects. These projects seek to prevent more greenhouse gases from being produced and provide technical and financial support for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

“There are things we coffee drinkers can do to assist,” said Connor. “The first step is to learn about these issues and the steps being taken by Fairtrade and others; the second is to take real action by choosing to buy only the brands that are carbon or climate neutral, provide a fair return to farmers and their communities while helping to build their capacity to adapt to climate change; third is to demand climate action from the coffee companies and our governments to ensure all products, business models and economies are carbon or climate neutral.” John Connor said The Climate Institute’s recently released National Agenda for Climate Action provided a blueprint for Australian businesses, communities and governments to get to carbon neutral and to go even further.

See the A Brewing Storm project page to read and download the report,-but-there-are-things-we-can-do.html

The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age

Experts say humanity’s impact on Earth now so profound that the Holocene must give way to epoch defined by nuclear bomb tests, plastic pollution and domesticated chicken

Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.

The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.

The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.

“The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009.
“If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”

Prof Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and WGA secretary, said: “Being able to pinpoint an interval of time is saying something about how we have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet. The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together.”.. read more:

"My God, Duterte, stop doing this" - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs - By Euan McKirdy,

Manila, the Philippines (CNN) Lifeless bodies lying on the streets of the Philippines are a visceral sign of new President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. So far more than 1,900 people have died. Of those more than 700 have been killed in police operations since Duterte took office in late June, according to police statistics. Many of the unsolved deaths are attributed to vigilantes.

Duterte's tough talk on the country's drug and crime problems won him the election and, 60 days on from his inauguration, he remains extremely popular. "Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars -- or below the ground, if they so wish," he said in his July 25 State of the Nation speech

A Senate inquiry is underway into the police and the extrajudicial killings. Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa told the committee there was no shoot to kill order, but people are happy with what the police are doing, despite mistakes by officers. "We are only human...We admit we make mistakes, we are not perfect," he said. Dela Rosa said that about 300 of his officers were suspected of involvement in the drug trade and would be relieved of their duties and tried in court.

But for all the plaudits, including a 91% approval rating President Duterte received for cracking down on drug dealers and addicts, there are families heartbroken, jails swamped, rehab centers overwhelmed. CNN spent a week in Manila and met six people living and working close to the bloodstained sidewalks.

Constanze Letsch - Turkey's crackdown on its media goes into overdrive. 'The coup was prevented, but the junta came to power.'

Turkey has intensified its crackdown on the media since last month’s attempted coup, with rights groups decrying a wave of decrees that have turned the country into the world leader in locking up journalists. During Turkey’s current three-month state of emergency the government has the authority to rule by decree and has ordered the closure of 102 media outlets, including 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels, three news agencies, 23 radio stations, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses.

Arrest warrants have been issued for more than 100 journalists, and, according to the independent journalism platform P24, 48 have been arrested since the investigation into the alleged coup plotters began. A total of 2,308 media workers and journalists, some employed by outlets with alleged ties to exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt, have lost their jobs. Hundreds of government-issued press accreditations have been cancelled, and an unknown number of journalists had their passports revoked, thus banning them from all foreign travel. The Turkish governments insists these measures are justified for security reasons and says journalists currently in jail are being investigated or prosecuted for possible criminal activities. 

Rights groups disagree. “One of the biggest problems in Turkey was the close relationship between the judiciary and the government, which was detrimental to press freedom,” said Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders. “But the government can now bypass the courts altogether, leading to an even more arbitrary situation. Turkey now again leads the ranks of the worst countries for press freedom.” Trust in the country’s judicial system, already in tatters before the coup attempt, has plummeted to a new low.

Review essay: Wider Worlds - Manjushree Thapa’s illuminating view of a changing Nepal

All of Us in Our Own Lives 
by Manjushree Thapa

Reviewed by ROSS ADKIN

IT WAS NOT UNTIL the second decade of the twentieth century that Tri Chandra College, in Kathmandu, became the first institution in Nepal to offer degrees in English. This was arranged through an affiliation with the University of Patna, but Nepal’s rulers—the Ranas, hereditary prime ministers who exercised power in the name of an ostensibly sovereign Hindu monarch—made sure that students took their exams in Kathmandu, and did not allow them to travel to Patna. The arrangement was in keeping with a long-standing policy of restrictions on higher education, partly aimed to insulate young Nepalis from the nationalist and political ferment then sweeping Indian campuses.

The Ranas were overthrown in 1951, inaugurating a brief experiment with democracy that ended with Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah, the king of Nepal, imposing royal rule in 1960. Mahendra took on a nation-building project to unite his diverse state under a prescribed set of symbols that reflected the history and culture of the upper castes. The Nepali language, enshrined as the national tongue in 1958, became one of the main pillars of this project. Nepali-language literature from the preceding century or so congealed into a canon, comprising works such as Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s epic poem Muna Madan and BP Koirala’s realist fiction, which still accounts for a large chunk of the country’s literary curriculum.

Nepal’s first English-language newspaper, the state-run Rising Nepal, appeared in 1965. KP Malla, the early doyen of English writing in Nepal, wrote a few years later that the paper was launched into a “resenting world” for a “virtually microscopic” English-speaking audience. By then, after Nepal ended its earlier isolationism and officially allowed foreigners to visit the country in the 1950s, the hippies had arrived. The writers among them set about creating the image of an idyllic spiritual kingdom—such as in Han Suyin’s novel The Mountain Is Young and Peter Matthiessen’s non-fiction account The Snow Leopard—that defined English-language writing on Nepal, and so much of the Western view of the place.

It took a while for literary writers from Nepal to start wielding the imported tongue themselves—though in the Nepali language, of course, literary production kept growing steadily throughout. 
Arresting God in Kathmandu, a short-story collection from the US-based author Samrat Upadhyay, released in 2001, was the first English-language book by a Nepali to receive widespread attention abroad—and prompted gripes in Nepal about émigrés ingratiating themselves with Western audiences by exoticising their home country. Since then, there has been a steady trickle of both fiction and non-fiction books in English from Nepali writers, which, with the publication of a range of fresh titles in the last few years, has swelled to a stream.

One of those new works is All of Us in Our Own Lives, the latest novel by Manjushree Thapa, who has done more than any other writer to raise the prominence of English-language writing from Nepal. She is, without doubt, the best-known Nepali writer in the language today. All of Us, released by Aleph Book Company in May, is her third novel, and part of a body of work that also includes four books of non-fiction, a collection of short stories and a collection of translations of contemporary Nepali poetry and prose.

Thapa’s fiction is firmly grounded in social issues—caste and class, patriarchy, access to and the abuse of power—which she approaches with a journalistic eye for societal structures, and great empathy for the weak and the poor. This shines through in All of Us too, as Thapa’s four main characters negotiate alliances, dependencies and jealousies that propel them to a point where they all meet. It is a varied foursome. Ava, born in Nepal but adopted and raised in Canada, moves to Nepal in the throes of an early mid-life crisis. Indira, an ambitious development worker in Kathmandu, feels stifled by tradition and an unhappy marriage. In the Gulf, Gyanu, a migrant worker, dreams of a future somewhere with his lover, who is from the Philippines. Back in Nepal, Sapana, Gyanu’s sister, joins a women’s group from her village on a tour to the other end of the country, where she yearns to step across the border into India, “Just so we can tell everyone at home that weíve been abroad.”

But in one thing all four are united: they are Nepalis negotiating much wider worlds—geographically, ideologically, socially, and in many other ways—than those they would have faced had they been born just a generation earlier. The same could be said of Thapa, who was born in Kathmandu, raised between Nepal and North America, and in her adult life continues to split her time between the two. In this, the writer and her characters are emblematic of Nepal itself, as the long isolated country confronts the modern world. Since Thapa’s first book appeared, in the early 1990s, Nepal has witnessed immense tumult: another experiment with democracy snuffed out, a civil war, the fall of the monarchy and a return to democracy again, a new constitution, and through it all a flood of young people emigrating to escape chronic poverty, joblessness and misgovernment. Thapaís writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, has tried to make sense of all of this. It is a vital window onto the dreams and struggles of Nepalís new generations.

THAPA’S EARLY UPBRINGING in Kathmandu was one of “convent school propriety, birthday parties, music and art lessons,” she wrote in Mustang Bhot in Fragments, her first book. Her father is a former diplomat and royalist politician, and Thapa moved with her family to the United States, where she attended high school and then college, studying photography at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. She returned to Nepal at the end of the 1980s, in the final years of the royal regime... Read more:

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS

Oh what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive
Sir Walter Scott

The Supreme Court recently took up a PIL challenging a statement made by Rahul Gandhi alleging that the RSS killed Mahatma Gandhi. (Rahul Gandhi was then reported to have amended his statement, and the RSS demanded an apology. A comment sent to me by a friend indicates that Rahul Gandhi did not amend his statement although the media tried to present it as such. It appears that he had said "RSS people" killed Gandhi and he stuck to that statement throughout. It seems the SC assumed that he had held the RSS collectively responsible. They asked him to apologise. When the Court record showed the original statement to be different, the SC backtracked. By then the media had taken off with its sensationalism).

With due respect, I think the Court erred in admitting this PIL. Was it a cognisable offence for Mr Modi in 2014 to have held the Congress responsible for the partition of India? Historical debates are not matters for courts to decide. Nor is the so-called Sangh Parivar facing a criminal trial. The trial is taking place in the minds of the people of India - and the world. We will never have forensic evidence of such crimes. Hitler never left a paper trail for the Holocaust but is there any doubt as to his responsibility for it? These matters must be left to public debate. Some may prefer to make sweeping accusations; but thoughtful persons need to reflect on the likelihood of these accusations. We can weigh the circumstantial evidence, and come to our own conclusions, but historical debates cannot be adjudicated in court. 

Let us begin with the latest interventions to the debate on what the SC calls 'collective denunciation'. The BJP has asked whether the Congress Vice President would accept the allegation that the grand old party was involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “If Rahul Gandhi’s logic is taken to a logical conclusion, then can we say that the Congress is responsible for the massacre of Sikhs in this country? In 1984, we are aware that Congress leaders were involved in massacre of Sikhs. But if we say that the Congress was responsible and it was a part of the Congress’ conspiracy, will Rahul Gandhi accept this?” said BJP leader Sudesh Verma. (See: RSS distributed sweets...Congress)

(Perhaps the spokesman didn't realise that his comparision of the hooligans of 1984 with Godse and his co-conspirators is an admission that the latter were indeed part of the 'Sangh Parivar'. It's also a thinly disguised gesture of complicity.) It is typical of Indian ideologues to reduce all serious matters to a partisan dimension. All of us are not camp-followers of a party. The short answer to this question is yes, the Congress was indeed responsible for the 1984 carnage. Not only by virtue of the principle of command responsibility, but by virtue of the involvement of top leaders, and acts of omission and dereliction of duty. If there is any room for doubt as regards the question of 'conspiracy' or deliberate policy, this can and should be debated; and there are many pieces of evidence that indicate that the national political leadership allowed the carnage to take place.

Is it a secret that the BJP itself has harped on about Congress responsibility ever since 1984?

Howsoever we understand the creeping criminalisation of the Indian political system, would it not be sheer idiocy to assume that that the decisions that result in massacres and assassinations are recorded in forensic evidence prior to their being carried out? Is it not a well-known fact that whereas lesser functionaries may get caught (and they often do their work with the assurance of being protected) - the criminals at higher levels are rarely even indicted, let alone punished? And is it not true that in the aftermath both of the violence in 1984 and 2002, (not to mention a host of other incidents) the criminal justice system was grievously compromised in matters of the registration of FIRs, the recording of evidence and the decision to prosecute persons holding executive authority in the state?

On the matter of the PIL, here are some of the Supreme Courts' reported observations: “To say Godse killed Gandhi is one thing but to say RSS killed Gandhi is different…you have gone way ahead in making the statement…you cannot make collective denunciation,” said the bench… (it) said freedom of speech is not crippled by upholding the validity of the criminal defamation law, but it had to be ensured that there is not anarchy. “We have upheld the defamation law. The purpose of the law is to obey law so that there is harmony rather than anarchy…your freedom is not crippled or cut. Everyday a writer, a politician will say something and you must have great magnitude to swallow. The purpose of the law is not to turn people into litigants. Purpose of law is that people obey law. Peace and harmony should prevail rather than chaos,” the bench said.

The bench also asked (RG's lawyer) Raval to show how Rahul’s statement served any public good and how it was not a matter of trial since his act was immune under the law on criminal defamation. “History is the greatest enemy of privacy. Over the years, attempts have been made to enter the lives of historically eminent personalities to give a new dimension…criticism of government is one thing and criticism of a historical figure is another thing. Your statement has to meet the test of public good,” said the bench.

Some of these observations are unexceptionable. But are these standards symmetrically applied? Collective denunciation is exemplified by epithets such as 'Babar ki aulaad' and references to Muslims as 'haraamzade'. Defamation is also involved in the frequently aired allegation that Nehru was responsible for the death of S.P. Mukherjee. During the 2014 electoral campaign, Narendra Modi attacked the Congress for 'the sin of partitioning India'. Was this not collective denunciation? 

The RSS is now taking umbrage at being accused of Gandhi's assassination. Why so?
कुमार प्रशांत - तो राष्ट्रीय स्वंयसेवक संघ ने एक बार फिर गांधी से दो-दो हाथ करने का मन बनाया है 

Is our memory so short that we have forgotten how its votaries were speaking just 2 years ago? In 2014, many members of the Hindutva family (some in the BJP/ RSS) in sheer joy at the BJP's electoral victory let the cat out of the bag by deifying Godse. In fact its Kerala mouthpiece carried an article wishing that Godse had killed Nehru. Here are some of their statements:

Read more about the deification of Godse here The Abolition of truth सत्य की हत्या

And when it comes to objectionable utterances, are there not innumerable statements by persons associated with the "parivar' (and others) that do not 'meet the test of public good'? A recent article cites some historians on this matter, their view being that the RSS did not kill Gandhi but created an ideology against him. The certitude with which they make this claim is in my view, unhistorical. The article also cites the RSS efforts to cleanse itself of this long-standing accusation. The 'Sangh Parivar' has never been sure of what public stance to take on Mahatma Gandhi. Amongst their own flock, they are vitriolic, but in deference to the global admiration of the man, they want to 'claim' him - if even as a symbol for the Swachh Bharat campaign. 

As for their attitude towards historical truth, here are details regarding the Parivars attempt to censor Gandhi's collected works under the the first NDA government (1998): Brazen attempt to 'revise' Gandhi's Collected Works. Hundreds of deletions and changes were noticed by scholars and Gandhians in India and around the world, who viewed them as an insult to scholarship, and demanded an end to attempts to play with historical documents. Read the history of the controversy. Tridip Suhrud, director of Sabarmati Ashram, wrote a detailed analysis of this shameless behaviour in EPW in November 2004. It was only after the defeat of the NDA that the fraudulently 'revised' edition was withdrawn, in 2005.

Historians are not judges in a court of law. Nor is the so-called Sangh Parivar on trial, save in the minds of the people of India - and the world, for that matter, because Gandhi remains a popular figure the world over. (A BBC poll in 2000 put Gandhi at the most popular man in the millenium - not once but twice, and that too before Leonardo da Vinci and Jesus Christ). Its a battle of the spirit that is unfolding. The courts are not the proper place for these issues. They should be left to public debate, as should the historical assessment of say, the partition of Palestine; Irish republicanism, the Stalinist era; or the policies of Mao Zedong.

Criminal deeds are not planned nor minuted in formal meetings - the very idea of committing a crime entails (most of the time) a desire to get away with it. Since the RSS is not under trial, and we have no way of either punishing the organisation (if it were to be found guilty) nor compensating it for the bad press they have received (if it was not), we are left with historical judgement, that is all. Such judgements can serve only the purpose of sharpening public awareness. People are free to debate, criticise and reject them. It all depends on memory, available evidence and methods of reasoning.

It will never be settled in court.

As for the evidence available, here is an extract from a CID 'source' report dated 27 Dec 1947 of a secret meeting of RSS members in Delhi on December 8, 1947, addressed by 'Guruji' Golwalkar. Golwalkar is quoted by him as saying: "The Sangh will not rest until it had finished Pakistan. If anyone stood in our way we will have to finish him too, whether it was Nehru government or any other government. The Sangh could not be won over. They should carry on their work. Referring to Muslims he said that no power on earth could keep them in Hindusthan. They shall have to quit this country. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to keep the Muslims in India so that the Congress (may) profit by their votes at the time of election. But, by that time, no a single muslim will be left in India. If they were made to stay here, the responsibility would be Government’s, and the Hindu community would not be responsible. Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course also.

Bharat Bhushan - RSS chief Golwalkar threatened to kill Gandhi - 1947 CID report)
Delhi Police Archive on RSS activity in October-December 1947

Six weeks after this sinister meeting, there took place the January 20 Gandhi murder attempt. And ten days after that, Gandhi was dead.

The RSS is fond of citing Patel in contraposition to Nehru. Now whereas in his February 27, 1948 letter to Nehru (vol 6 of Selected Correspondence, edited by Durga Das) Patel exonerated the RSS, he also held that "it was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through" (p 56). If Patel was correct in his assessment of the RSS, will they concede that he was correct in his belief in the guilt of their hero V D Savarkar? Or do they wish to have their cake and eat it too? (Incidentally, Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur's opinion, expressed in the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, was this: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group"). In the same letter, reflecting on the problem of identifying RSS members, Patel wrote "in the case of secret organisation like the RSS which has no records of membership, no registers etc., securing of authentic information whether a person is an active member or not is a very difficult task.." (p 57)

The fluctuating positions of the Sangh on the Mahatma appear to be tactical. The impression left by their utterances is always (to me at any rate), that of persons who cannot distinguish cunning and cleverness from truthfulness and wisdom. They never seem to understand that Akhand Hindustan and Hindu Rashtra are incompatible ideals, that the achievement of the one automatically rules out the attainment of the other. Gandhi knew this instinctively. Speaking about those who combined communal hatred with slogans of Akhand Hindustan, he remarked: There is nothing in common between me and those who want me to oppose Pakistan except that we are both opposed to the division of the country. There is a fundamental difference between their opposition and mine. How can love and enmity go together? 

Of course we cannot prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the RSS ordered the murder. Neither can anyone prove with certainty that it did not. And that's the plain truth. We will never have forensic evidence of these crimes, we simply have to weigh the circumstantial evidence. The fact that Godse had left the RSS is not evidence (and Gopal Godse had other things to say on this); because organisational formalities mean nothing to ideologically committed cadre - aside from 'plausible deniability'. Could it not also be the case that their perverted sense of patriotism and as loyal sanghis they did their best to save the leaders? I repeat, the courts are not the proper place for these issues. The first step towards historical and political reconciliation is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing. That goes for all shades of the political spectrum. The word-play taking place today is nothing but a labyrinth of deceit.

I am reminded of an insight of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers: "Truth - the word has an incomparable magic. It seems to promise what really matters to us. The violation of truth poisons everything gained by the violation." The longer Indians choose to play with the truth about the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, the longer will communal hatred continue to poison the political system.

For more facts and opinions on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, see:
The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: Inquiry Commission Report (1969)
The Abolition of truth

Book review: In the name of the father
RSS tradition
 of manufacturing facts to suit their ideology

सत्य की हत्या

Friday, 26 August 2016

Rahul Pandita: Kandhamal is still a ticking time bomb

On the night of 7 June this year, suspected Christian fanatics broke into a small Hindu temple in Daringbadi in Odisha’s Kandhamal district. The 'Ma Bana Durga' temple, which the locals say was at least 50 years old, was just a shrine under a tree till two months earlier when a proper brick-and-mortar structure was created around it. 

On 22 June, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised a public meeting at the site of the broken shrine. A priest performed the puja, as people from the neighbouring villages began to pour into the site. They examined the damage, particularly standing for long in front of a portrait of the Goddess Durga, painted on the wall of the temple, now broken into pieces. “There is no doubt that the Christian missionaries did this,” said Minaketan Sahu, who had come to the site from a neighbouring area. “They are the ones who killed Swamiji, and now they have done this,” he pointed at the rubble.
This was the second time the shrine/temple had suffered damage; earlier also, in 2007, when clashes erupted between two main ethnic groups of Kandhamal – the Panos (a Scheduled Caste community, a majority of them converted to Christianity) and the Kandha tribals (most of them converted to Hinduism), the shrine was vandalised…

As Saraswati retired to his room that August evening eight years ago, at 7.45 pm, Simachal Patra, one of the ten constables deployed by the Odisha Police for Saraswati’s security, heard the sound of footsteps outside their tent in front of the ashram. The two other constables present in the tent at that time had eaten their dinner, and Patra was about to eat. One constable had ventured out after borrowing Patra’s cellphone, to speak to his family. None of the policemen carried any firearms.
As Patra stuck his head out, he saw two men standing outside. One of them was carrying a gun, and it was pointed at Patra. When he looked to the side, Patra saw a group of armed men entering the ashram.

Around 20 masked men, wearing black uniforms, kicked the gate open and headed straight towards Saraswati’s quarters, opening fire. As he heard the gunshots, Saraswati locked himself in the bathroom adjacent to his room and started shouting in Odia: “Save me, save me!” The gunmen broke into his room and killed two of his associates: Ma Bhaktimayi and Kishore Babu. Then they tore through the bathroom door and fired at Saraswati.

Another associate of Saraswati, Baba Amritananda, was shot dead in the adjacent room. One of the guardians of a girl student who happened to be in the guest room, Puranjan Gaunta, was killed as well. Outside, the gun was still pointed at Patra’s head. Then he saw a group of men running towards the main road shouting in Odia, “It is done, it is done!” At this moment the man holding Patra hostage threw a letter towards him, asking him to give it to reporters. And then he also ran into the street. A local reporter who reached Jalespata soon afterwards says he can never forget what he witnessed inside Saraswati’s quarters. “There was blood all over and it smelled; it was as if I had entered an abattoir,” he recalled.

The killers had pumped several bullets into Saraswati’s body. They had also cut his Achilles tendons and his wrists. A devotee who reached there and saw Saraswati’s body was so overwhelmed with anger that he hurled a brick at the then Kandhamal police chief, Nikhil Kanoria.

The police was quick to blame the Maoists for the brutal murder. As Saraswati’s body was taken for cremation from Jalespata to Chakapad, a distance of 150 kilometres, emotions ran high. Immediately afterwards, riots broke out in which at least 39 Christians lost their lives while their houses and churches suffered large-scale damage. In October 2013, seven people -  all of them Christians - and a Maoist leader, Pulari Rama Rao,were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in Saraswati’s killing. Two other Maoist leaders - both in jail now - Dunna Keshav Rao alias Azad and Sabyasachi Panda are also accused in the case….

The tribes of Kandhamal: In Odisha, the Kandha is the most prominent tribe, the biggest in terms of numbers as well. In present-day Kandhamal district, the scheduled tribes constitute 53.6 percent of the population. There are 44 tribes in Kandhamal, 10 of them represented by only one person each. The Kandhas are the biggest community and by far outnumber the rest of the tribes. They speak the Kui language that does not have a script.

The Kandhas are nature-worshippers and believe in a sacred place they call 'Penu Basa'; the earth is worshipped as a goddess and is called 'Darni Penu'. In the course of time, a majority of the Kandhas adopted Hinduism as most of its practices diffused well with tribal culture. In the old times, the Kandhas are known to have practiced human sacrifice or 'meriah' to appease their gods. The ritual was first discovered by the British in 1835. They tried to stop it by convincing the community elders to substitute it with buffalo (kedu) sacrifice. But after it prevailed, the British under the then assistant collector, Major-General John Campbell, had to use force, which did not go well with the Kandhas. So they revolted against the British administration. From 1836 till 1853, the British are said to have rescued over 1,800 children before the Kandhas could sacrifice them as meriahs.

According to a research paper by AM Pradhan in the Odisha Review, the Baptist Mission Society established its first church in 1920 at Kumbharikupa. The missionaries opened schools in which the mode of instruction was the Kui language, and church officials were given their titles in Kui as well. The Bible was translated in Kui and, according to Pradhan, the Roman Catholic Church published a Kui book Kristo Dharma Kata, which describes the ritual procedures in the Church.

While many Kandha tribals converted to Christianity, the community that the Church could attract the most was the Panos. The scheduled castes constitute 15.8 percent of the population in Kandhamal. There are 93 SC communities in Kandhamal — eight of them represented by only one person each, while 26 have less than a hundred members. 

Panos is the largest SC community; according to anthropological studies, they are a community of weavers who migrated from the Vizagapatam (Visakhapatnam) area of the erstwhile Ganjam Hill Tracts Agency (then part of Madras Presidency in British India). They could speak in Odia and quickly adopted the Kui language as well. At first, they worked as labourers and weavers for the Kandhas. But, soon, they became indispensable to Kandhas as a bridge between them and outsiders. 

The Kandhas were unable to communicate with traders or government officials since they knew no other language. The Panos acted as interpreters for them and began to conduct business transactions on their behalf. In his 1909 book, Caste and Tribes of Southern India, Edgar Thurston, the then superintendent of Madras Museum, writes: “They (Panos) live on the ignorance and superstition of the Khonds (Kandhas) as brokers, pedlars (peddlers), sycophants and cheats. In those parts where there are no Odias, they possess much influence, and are always consulted by the Khonds in questions of boundary dispute.”

But in spite of enjoying this influence, the Panos were treated as an inferior caste by the Kandhas. The anthropologist, Barbara M Boal, who worked extensively in the area, writes: “The Konds (Kandhas) for their part being self-limited to the only honourable occupations of agriculture, hunting, and war, have always found them (Panos) quite indispensable for the proper carrying out of Kond ritual and in the provision of certain necessities of life. They also deal as tradesmen and at the time of death in the village they fulfill specific functions which are taboo to the Kond.”

In Kandhamal, in those times, there used to be a saying: “Kandha raja, Panos mantri” (Kandha is the king, while the Panos is his minister). With the advent of Christian missionaries, a large number of Panos got converted to Christianity. It meant a lot to them when they could be in a Church and sit next to a ‘converted’ Kandha. Association with the mission also meant access to education and facilities including medical ones.

The ethno-religious cauldron: By 1969, however, Saraswati had arrived as an alternative. He could not match the Church's funding, but a mix of welfare and Hinduism proved to be a big lure. The missionaries looked down upon various cultural practices and rituals and urged people to discontinue these; but Hinduism offered no such resistance, except to beef consumption.

The Church was worried, and to counter Saraswati, it began the practice of outcasting Christian converts who showed a renewed interest in Hinduism. They would be barred from taking part in community events such as ‘Prabhubhoji’ (the holy feast). With the arrival of Pentecostals, the war intensified and turned aggressive. It was a turf war in a true sense, between Christian missionaries and Saraswati. The bait was welfare – food, education, and healthcare; in other words a better life – that should have been provided for by the State. But in the absence of the State, Kandhamal became a breeding ground for ethno-religious hatred.

The Odisha Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (By Scheduled Tribes) Regulation 2 had came into force in 1956, to control and check the transfer of immovable property (read land) by Scheduled Tribes. But land that belonged to the Kandhas and other tribes continued to pass into the hands of non-tribals.

According to the Odisha government, a large number of cases of illegal land alienation by “trickery and unfair means” are pending against the Panos. Till 31 October, 2015, 22,798 cases of land grabbing were detected in Kandhamal, according to Odisha government figures.

It is not only the Panos who indulged in this land grab. Other communities, including the 'caste' Hindus did it as well. But there were other factors that deepened the fault lines between the Kandhas and the Panos. The Kandhas felt that the Panos were asserting themselves more due to their association with the Church. Also, constitutionally, the Panos being a scheduled caste have reservation advantages. But once they converted to Christianity, the Panos no longer enjoyed reservation. The Kandhas allege that the Panos hide their Christian identity and continue with their scheduled caste (Hindu) identity to reap benefits from both sides.

Also, many cases have been reported where the Panos get fake caste certificates to pass off as scheduled tribes in order to grab government jobs meant for the STs. According to government figures, there are 1,48,895 Christians in Kandhamal. But the Kandhas say the number will be more since many Christians are still pretending to be Hindus (both Panos and Kandhas).
Since 1970, the Kandhas have been protesting against possession of their land by non-tribals. These protests turned violent from 1985 onwards, including riots in 1987...

Kandhamal district is born: In 1994, the district was bifurcated. Though it had been called Phulbani since 1986, the Kandhas now felt that their ethnic identity did not come across fully with this name and that it should be changed to Kandhamal. The same year, conflict broke out between the Kandhas and the Panos after one of the Panos boys entered a temple. In the ensuing violence, 20,000 people from the Panos community had to leave their villages and take shelter in towns near police camps.

Succumbing to pressure, the name of the district was changed to Kandhamal on 13 October, 1994, and, according to the Odisha government, a special drive was launched in which 5,000 cases of illegal possession of the Kandha land by the SCs were resolved. The tension continued through the early 2000s. Disturbances were reported in the summer of 2002 in at least two panchayats of the Daringbadi block.

In 2007, two things happened. The Panos demanded ST status, arguing that they spoke the Kui language as well and hence their caste name be changed from Panos to Kui (since from 2002, the government had begun to use ‘Kui’ as a synonym for ‘Kandha’). This would have ensured that the Panos who convert to Christianity also benefited from the ST reservation (if a tribal converts to Christianity, he does not lose his ST status). In response, the Kandhas called for a “Kandhamal Bandh” on 24 and 25 December to protest against the demand of the Panos….

Maoists fish in troubled waters: Senior police sources say that the Maoists had predicted a massive unrest after Saraswati’s killings. They had hoped that it would help them receive a surge of recruits from the affected Christian families. The prominent Maoist leader, Sabyasachi Panda, according to these sources, had managed to convince 3,000 people to join the Maoist ranks. But at the last moment, due to the timely intervention of the district administration, these would-be recruits ditched Panda. Finally, Panda fell out with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was arrested in 2014.

The Justice AS Naidu Commission, which probed the 2008 riots in the aftermath of Saraswati’s killings, submitted its report to the state government in December last year. It has reportedly examined Panda, and Dunna Keshav Rao and Pulari Rama Rao. But the findings of the Commission have not been made public.

In Odisha, however, no matter with whom one speaks — whether government officials, police officials, or journalists — everyone is convinced that the Maoists were just a part of what they call “a larger conspiracy”. Some speak in hushed tones about the involvement of certain Christian leaders who had issued open threats to Saraswati just days before his murder. “You see, even Dunna Keshav Rao is a Christian,” said a senior police official, “I have no doubt that the Maoists were acting at somebody’s behest.”

Most people you speak to in Kandhamal and in Bhubaneswar have already made up their minds about who that ‘somebody’ is. In Kandhamal, meanwhile, the tribal leader, Lambodar Kanhar warns about how the situation in the district is turning explosive. “First of all, I am not a Hindu. We are tribals and the Panos are appropriating our land,” he says. Kanhar alleges that even their women are facing harassment at the hands of the Panos community. “The Kandhas are not willing to be mute spectators,” he says. “Next time there are riots, there will be mayhem.”

Eight Janmashtamis after (this year it is on 25 August) Laxmananand Saraswati’s chilling murder on that festive night of 23 August, 2008 – and the subsequent riots — the ethno-religious fault lines in the district are sharper than ever... Read the full article:  

see also