Wednesday, 31 October 2018

China's hidden camps What's happened to the vanished Uighurs of Xinjiang?

“They want to delete Uighur identity”

China is accused of locking up hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in its western region of Xinjiang. The government denies the claims, saying people willingly attend special “vocational schools” which combat “terrorism and religious extremism”. Now a BBC investigation has found important new evidence of the reality.

On 12 July 2015 a satellite swung over the rolling deserts and oasis cities of China's vast far west. One of the images it captured that day just shows a patch of empty, untouched, ashen-grey sand. It seems an unlikely place to start an investigation into one of the most pressing human rights concerns of our age. But less than three years later, on 22 April 2018, a satellite photo of that same piece of desert showed something new. A massive, highly secure compound had materialised. It is enclosed with a 2km-long exterior wall punctuated by 16 guard towers. The first reports that China was operating a system of internment camps for Muslims in Xinjiang began to emerge last year.

The satellite photograph was discovered by researchers looking for evidence of that system on the global mapping software, Google Earth. It places the site just outside the small town of Dabancheng, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital, Urumqi... read more and see photos:

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Carlotta Dotto - Last Hong Kong bookshop selling titles banned in China shuts

NB: Who says ideas aren't important? The all-powerful Chinese Communist Party is terrified of books. DS

The last bookshop in Hong Kong selling titles banned by the Communist Party on the mainland has closed, marking the last chapter of the city’s historic independent publishing scene. Human rights activists and publishers have raised grave concerns over the closure of the People’s Bookstore, a tiny shop in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district, known to be the last source of literary contraband in the city, in the latest example of China’s tightening pressure over the city. The Guardian spoke to locals familiar with the matter who believe bookseller Paul Tang closed the shop under pressure from the government. A frequent visitor of the shop, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the city “was once the place where mainland readers came looking for the truth. But today, you’re afraid to even mention these forbidden topics.”

Fears that Beijing has hardened its policy on freedom of speech were raised earlier this month when the Financial Times’ Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, had his visa effectively revoked and the pro-independence Hong Kong National party was banned. The closure follows the disappearance and detention of five city booksellers in 2015, who were linked to the Mighty Current publishing house that produced critical books about China’s leadership. Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy Movement, told the Guardian the closure “marks the definitive proof of Hong Kong’s lack of freedom”. Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chair of the NGO Hong Kong Watch, said: “Hong Kong used to be a window onto China, a sanctuary for books that tell the truth about the mainland. But freedom of expression and of the press have been significantly eroded in recent years, and the closure of bookshops selling banned books is a further example of this.”

The former British colony has preserved much of its autonomy since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, including its own laws on liberal publication rights. Several publishing houses and bookshops flourished selling works that a couple of miles away were forbidden, attracting buyers from all over the mainland. Tang discovered the niche market in 2004 and the boom came right after. “It was a crazy time,” said the bookseller, who attracted mainland customers with a portrait of Mao at the entrance of his shop. “Publishers printed a title after the other, and we were selling a hundred books a day,” he said. High on the best-seller list of forbidden books were taboo topics such as politics, religion, and sex. From the private life of President Mao to the history of the cultural revolution, mainland customers could leaf through books supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement or essays on the struggles within the Communist party, as well as bluer topics such as oral sex bibles and sadomasochism guides.

When the Chinese government increased its pressure, “the industry experienced a significant turndown and banned book are not published any more,” said Malinda Ye, Acquisition Editor at the Chinese University Press. “This is a very worrying situation,” said Agnes Chow Ting, social activist and member of the pro-democracy party Demosisto, who was recently banned from running for Hong Kong’s legislative council. “A lot of chained bookstores and book publishers in Hong Kong are controlled by liaison office of the Chinese government,” she said. The closure of the shop leaves Hong Kong with no outlet that challenges censorship. Albert Cheng, renowned Hong Kong political commentator, said the concern was that “the ‘one country, two systems’ principle will gradually fade, while Hong Kong will become simply another Chinese city.” The Chinese Liaison Office did not respond to a request for comment.

see also

Pakistan SC acquits Asia Bibi, orders immediate release

The Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death on blasphemy charges after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel had reserved its ruling on Asia Bibi's final legal appeal against execution (Asia Bibi v. The State, etc) on October 8. The appeal challenged the Lahore High Court’s October 2014 verdict upholding a trial court’s November 2010 decision sentencing Bibi to death for committing blasphemy in 2009.

"The judgement of the high court and that of the trial court is reversed," said the CJP in court, adding that she is to be set free if she is not wanted in any other case. "Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges," he added. The 56-page detailed judgement has been authored by CJP Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Khosa. "It is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial," noted the top judge in the order. "Presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time the prosecution on the evidence satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him. " 

Ben Chu: Brazil's failure to live up to its great economic promise has handed power to the far right

There are few things more depressing than the sight of financial traders perking up in response to the electoral success of racist, misogynist, homophobic, pro-torture authoritarians. Brazilian markets have been the latest to follow this dismal pattern. When it became clear earlier this month that Jair Bolsonaro was likely to win the presidential election in Brazil the stock market got a jolt and the currency went higher. Those indicators are expected to extend their gains today on confirmation of Bolsonaro’s final victory in Sunday’s runoff over Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party.

Yet surely we have learned over the past decade that markets are not infallible. Could traders’ response to Bolsonaro’s success not just be immoral, but actually misguided in its own narrow terms?
Bolsonaro promises control of public finances and inflation, a programme of mass privatisations, tax cuts for individuals and companies, and public pension reforms. The combination of authoritarianism and free market economics is reminiscent of Pinochet in Chile in the 1970s. Bolsonaro even has a Chicago University-trained economic guru, drawing comparisons with Pinochet’s Milton Friedman-schooled “Chicago boys”.

Brazil has unquestionably fallen into economic crisis in recent years. It is only now limping out of the worst recession in the country’s history. The unemployment rate is 12 per cent – double that of five years ago. The poverty rate has jumped from 20 per cent to 25 per cent over that time... read more:

The ‘Chicago Boys’ in Chile: Economic Freedom’s Awful Toll
It is curious that the man who wrote a book, Capitalism and Freedom, to drive home the argument that only classical economic liberalism can support political democracy can now so easily disentangle economics from politics when the economic theories he advocates coincide with an absolute restriction of every type of democratic freedom
Milton Friedman did not save Chile: Naomi Klein

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe.

It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.” “We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”

Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover. The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.

Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change. .. read more:

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Lt Col Eric Simeon's hundredth birthday - October 29, 2018

Today is my father's birth centenary, he was born in Allahabad, the second child of his parents, J.J.  Simeon and Florence Addy on October 29, 1918; just before the end of the First World War. He had two sisters, Sheila and Roma. He studied at St Joseph's school, where he made some of his oldest friends: Nariman Gazder and Manilal Dave. (He used to say that they were friends from the time their legs didn't touch the floor when they sat at the desks in their classrooms). Among his close friends from Government College Allahabad were N.B Menon, Asphandiar Moddie, Jagat S. Mehta and 'Rajju' Haksar. I mention them because I know their children will remember my father and loved him. One of his friends, Sultan Ali, went away to Pakistan in 1947.

Eric Joseph Simeon joined the Indian Army in the Intelligence Corps in Bombay in December 1943. It was at the Censor Station that he met my mother Georgina Pinto-Lobo, and her elder sister Leonildis, both of whom worked as translators at the Station. They were married in 1945. In 1946 he was stationed at Panagarh, Bengal and was one of three Indian officers present in Fort William during the 'Great' Calcutta Killing of August, 1946. (I shall always remember his descriptions of these horrific events, some of which I have put down in my novel). He was transferred to the Education Corps in 1945, and was House Master at the KGRIM Belgaum for one year; and then at RIMC Dehra Dun for two years. During the time in Dehra Dun, he and my mother were able to see my maternal uncle Ivo Lobo pass out from the IMA as Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.

In February 1950 he was transferred to the Corps of Signals; and did two years service in a regiment, part of it in Army ops on the border in 1951. (I was born in 1950). He also served in Ambala and at the School of Signals in Mhow. In 1955 he was deputed as Communications Officer in Army HQ in Delhi, where he worked under Gen Iyappa.  Among his close friends in the Army were 'Bir' Paintal; 'Sandy' Sundaram, Vir Vohra, Yashwant Desai, Vinayak Mehta, and many others. (My apologies to all the persons whose names I can't recollect right now). While in Delhi he and my mother were active members of the Army HQ Dramatic Society; one of their close friends and collaborators being the late Mrs Joy Michael, onetime Principal of St Thomas' School. My father was a keen 'theatre-walla' and produced plays at all the schools he was associated with. Two of his favourites were The Tea House of the August Moon by John Patrick and Journey's End, by R.C. Sherriff.

In June 1961 Lt Col Simeon was selected by Defence Minister Krishna Menon to start the first Sainik School, at Kunjpura, Karnal. Many of his students rose to high positions in the Armed Forces, one becoming Chief of Army Staff. My father always had the highest regard for Krishna Menon and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He retired from the Army in 1967, and then spent three years as Headmaster of La Martiniere School, Calcutta. He was appointed Headmaster of the Doon School in 1970, where he spent nine years. During their time in Dehra Dun  they became friends with Mrs Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and her daughter Mrs Nayantara Sahgal. Here is a link to a photo of my parents while they were at the Doon School, in the mid 1970's.

In 1979 he took over as Principal of Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay, from where he retired in 1986. Here's a beautiful tribute to him by a student of his who rose to be Head Girl.

Eric Simeon passed away in May 2007, having been looked after with care and tenderness by the Army's R & R hospital in Delhi. During those last weeks, a veritable army of his old students came to see him, and he recognised them and appreciated it; and even joked with them. One of them told me that he had given them so much, it was their duty and an honour to look after him now. Another said "your father has left his stamp upon the Indian Army".  He was a great and warm-hearted soul who remained intensely humble till the end of his days. Here's a  small tribute and photo of him in 1962. His funeral was attended by several senior officers as well as old students from the other schools, and close friends. I could add many things but for those who remember him, this should suffice for the time being.

Rest in peace dear father. I salute you on your birth centenary.

Bharat Bhushan - Prime Minister Modi's luck turns: Govt stares at institutional erosion

NB: An excellent analysis. My only caveat is that institutional erosion is the crux of the Hindutva ideologues plan for India - the Sangh Parivar dreams of rendering the Indian Constitution a nullity; destroying the distinction between legal and illegal violence; making their cadre safe from the repercussions of law; and establishing an ideological dictatorship. But social reality has a habit of disrupting the best laid plans; and whatever be the results of the 2019 elections, Mr Modi and his henchmen will go down in history as selfish, ruthless and unscrupulous men. DS

When the Narendra Modi government came to power, the prime minister with his boastful claim of a 56-inch chest seemed like a man-in-charge. He wanted his hold over the government to be total. Even his ministers were not allowed to appoint their personal staff without his clearance. Anyone who was associated with the previous government was kept out of key posts and trusted bureaucrats were shipped in – mostly from Gujarat. A man who began with an election campaign sobriquet of Chhote Sardar, after Sardar Patel, had surpassed his icon by being elected the Prime Minister whereas Patel had only been a deputy prime minister. Suddenly the Republic of Fear so carefully put together over the past four and half years of authoritarian governance, seems to be turning into a house of cards. And those manning it, it turns out, are no supermen but mere mortals with some serious frailties.

The dirty linen of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Finance Ministry and even the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is on public display. They are riven by at least half a dozen internecine conflicts. As a result, crucial agencies have been stripped of the veneer of professionalism, neutrality and accountability – qualities that engender faith among citizens in the institutions of the State. An impression has gained ground that these institutions are manned by people who are either corrupt or are amenable to manipulation by their political masters.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Great War Armistice Centenary - Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard. By Harriet Sherwood

They were the forgotten voices of the first world war: 1.5 million men, mostly illiterate villagers from northern India, fighting under the command of colonial masters who repaid their bravery and sacrifices with brutality and prejudice. More Indians fought with the British from 1914 to 1918 than the combined total of Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and South African troops. Some 34,000 Indian soldiers were killed on battlefields in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. But the part they played in the war has been largely whitewashed from history.

Now, just before the 11 November armistice centenary, the last testimonies of the British Empire’s first world war Indian servicemen – 1,000 pages of veteran interview transcripts – have been offered to the British Library. The first-hand accounts paint a picture of racial segregation and discrimination alongside extraordinary bravery and an awakening hunger for civil rights and independence.

Oral histories were taken from Indian veterans in the 1970s by a team led by DeWitt Ellinwood, an American historian and anthropologist. Transcripts of the recordings have been offered to the British Library by George Morton-Jack, a British historian who traced the material to Ellinwood’s house in upstate New York where it had been stored for decades. Many of the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who served under British command came from poor villages in colonial Punjab and other rural areas. 

Until now, the best known source on their service has been the letters home from a small proportion of Indian soldiers on the western front, translations of which are held in the British Library and are available online. The letters – mostly dictated to scribes by illiterate Indian soldiers – were composed in the knowledge that they would be read by censors. “They were careful about what they said. They knew dissent could be punished by the British as their colonial masters. So they habitually held back their true feelings,” said Morton-Jack, the author of The Indian Empire at War.

“But the interviews show they had a strong sense of the racial discrimination they suffered under the British, and their growing belief that they should have civil rights, they shouldn’t be subject to colonial domination, and they should live in their own free country. They describe how those feelings developed through the war,” he said... read more:

More posts on World War 1

Friday, 26 October 2018

Swati Chaturvedi - CBI Director Alok Verma's Interest in Rafale Tipped Scales Against Him

New Delhi: The government’s 2 am decision to oust director Alok Verma as the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation came hot on the heels of not just his request for sanction to arrest an official considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also his interest in the controversial Rafale deal. Last week, the CBI filed an FIR charging Rakesh Asthana – special director in the CBI and a Gujarat cadre police officer propelled to prominence in the agency by the PMO – with bribery and corruption. Since official sanction from the government is needed to arrest any officer above the rank of joint secretary, Verma had placed a request but permission was not granted.

The Wire has also learned that Verma – who was selected by a high-powered collegium including the Chief of Justice of India for a protected tenure “not less than two years” that ends in January 2019  – had been readying himself to initiate a preliminary enquiry (PE) in to the Modi government’s controversial decision to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft from Dassault Aviation, with a major part of the offset contracts going to an Anil Ambani-led company.

The decision to purchase 36 aircraft in a flyaway condition – in lieu of the originally cleared proposal of buying 18 flyaway fighter jets and manufacturing 108 in India – was taken personally by Modi and announced by him in Paris on April 10, 2015 allegedly without any of the necessary statutory clearances and is now the subject of a criminal complaint to the CBI filed by former BJP ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and also a PIL in the Supreme Court. The trio of Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan had submitted a voluminous complaint to the CBI.

Mitali Saran: Dear men, please understand that sexism is the unjust air we breathe

A striking feature of the last few weeks has been the number of well-meaning men who, before this current round of the #MeToo phenomenon, ‘had no idea’ that sexual harassment, abuse, and assault is so rampant. Their blissful ignorance is as enraging as the violations that women face all their lives, because it goes to the very heart of male privilege. That privilege is that they never needed to know, because they are unaffected by it. Those who know, severely underestimate its extent—most stories circulate among women because male privilege has fashioned a world in which being uninformed about these stories costs a man nothing, and telling these stories publicly costs women enormously. 

Men who know how widespread sexual harassment and abuse are, and who do nothing differently, are complicit in maintaining that privilege. Those men who perpetrate violations upon women, do so regardless of what they know, because male privilege ensures that they will pay no price for doing so - it may even earn them some brownie points from the toxic masculinity department. Well now you know, even from the tiny tip of the iceberg that is #MeToo. But only a few of you fully understand it.

Here’s what men do not understand, not by a long shot: They cannot, even the best of them, fully understand how deep and wide the horrors go, because patriarchy and sexism are the unjust air that they breathe. In this air, men can take breathing entirely for granted. In this same air, every single woman has asthma. Please go with this metaphor for a bit. The best of men worry about women suffering, and some dying, of asthma. They try to help women during an episode, try to help them fend it off, help fund their care; but they cannot fully empathise with chronic shortness of breath, the fear of another life-threatening attack, and the panic during that attack. 

Men cannot completely understand that women have to gear their entire lives around something as fundamental as making sure they can breathe—not going out when the air is particularly bad, losing workdays on account of sickness, needing air purifiers, paying higher medical costs, making sure they never run out of medication, getting paid less for being seen as weaker and less reliable.
Men cannot understand how viscerally women demand to be free of this disease, and to live their lives fully.

Now imagine that men have so far controlled the quality of air we breathe, and that they choose this kind even though there is other air they could breathe just as easily, air that would free women of asthma. Imagine that they’ve simply refused to change the air for… well, forever, even though women have been asking them to for…well, forever, but that these requests are either seen as whiny, or weak, or too militant, or too trivial to pay attention to. In this moment, in October 2018, many women are incandescent with anger at the injustice of it all, and are done with being patient. They want to breathe. They’ve decided to set fire to this toxic oxygen, and to make it as uncomfortable for men as it is for women. Maybe that will recruit men into the effort to switch to air that is breathable by everyone. In this firestorm some men will rightly burn, viz. MJ Akbar, who has already paid a price and whose legacy will be not his journalism, nor his political life, but the brazenness and arrogance with which he is facing a battalion of accusers. (We have come far enough that he has paid a price. That’s new, hurrah.)

Some men will burn, or at least be singed, whom we will not enjoy seeing burn—viz. Vinod Dua, who has squandered much goodwill by scoffing at the trivialness of #MeToo and calling it mudslinging. And yes, it is possible that some men will wrongly burn. It’s not ideal, and nobody likes the possibility. But it has taken this messy, surging fire to get men’s attention. Does that help understand #MeToo? Nobody wants to spend their time setting the air on fire. Women just want to get on with their lives without being hampered by male impunity and the cultural privileging of testosterone (even in language—‘grow a pair’, ‘man up’, ‘ballsy’, ‘don’t be a pussy’). Bringing the odd predatory man to justice is only a tiny bandaid over women’s wounds. What we need is fundamental change—institutional, educational, social, and cultural. 

Unless they enjoy being burned, men have to acknowledge their part in the problem, and proactively help to change it. Understand consent. Learn to read signals other than fire. To do this, begin by listening with humility to the entire range of things that make women uncomfortable. And to take it forward, stand up to the bro code, step up, and join your voice to women’s.

Book review - Who We Are And How We Got Here: David Reich

Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich
Reviewed by Shobhit Mahajan

Paleogenetics: A Leap Into Our Branches
In 2010, a team of paleo geneticists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo published an astonishing result- they had managed to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome and found that there had been interbreeding between the Neanderthals and the West Eurasian humans. In a sense, the field of paleo genetics had finally come of age. Paleo genetics or the science of using genetics to study ancient humans and other populations relied heavily on the enormous advances in the technology to extract and sequence genomes since the Human Genome project. David Reich, a member of this team went on to establish his own laboratory at Harvard. Reich’s new book is a popular exposition of the revolutionary potential of paleo genetics to understand humanity’s origins and “histories”.

The workhorse of paleo genetics is the DNA molecule. The DNA molecule is a helix shaped molecule which is the blueprint for life. It consists of arrangements of 4 bases denoted by the letters, A,T, G and C whose ordering determines the coding of amino acids and hence the production of different proteins in a cell. During replication, sometimes there is an error in the copying of the bases and a wrong base is added to the new DNA strand. These errors or mutations are what form the basis on which natural selection operates. Interestingly, the rate at which mutations accumulate in a genome is constant over generations which allow us to determine how long back two segments shared a common ancestor. What we have is a kind of biological stopwatch.

The DNA in a cell is actually of two kinds- the nuclear DNA or nDNA which is what we usually refer to as our genetic code and a second type of DNA found only in structures known as mitochondria which are outside the cell nucleus. The mitochondrial DNA or mDNA is much smaller than the nuclear DNA and therefore much simpler to sequence. More importantly, mDNA is only passed down from the mother and hence reflects a purely matrilineal heritage. With the coming of advanced gene sequencing machines, sequencing DNA from living populations can now be done rapidly and in a relatively straightforward manner. Doing the same from samples of ancient populations is on the other hand, extremely challenging. The DNA in ancient remains degrades with time, the sample gets contaminated by microbes and fungi and finally there is a chance of contamination from human handling. Nevertheless, with the pioneering efforts of Pääbo and others to overcome these challenges, there are now several laboratories, including that of David Reich which are carrying out this work.

The book under review offers an overview of how the study of ancient DNA has radically transformed our view of prehistory. Sometime around 2 million years ago, an archaic species of humans emerged in Africa which was not just the ancestor of us Homo sapiens, but also of at least two other archaic populations: Neanderthals and Denisovans. Around 700,000 years ago, the Neanderthals and modern humans separated while the Denisovans separated from the Neanderthals at a later date. The Denisovans primarily inhabited the eastern part of the Eurasian continental mass while the Neanderthals were concentrated in Western Eurasia. Modern humans migrated out of Africa around 50,000 years ago.

Reich traces the origins of modern humans including the peoples of modern Europe, the Indian sub-continent, East Asia as well as Native Americans. The determination of the lineages of these major population groups reads like a detective story where scientists follow clues from anthropology, archaeology and even linguistics to finally establish our origins with genetic evidence. Though the book is written in an easy to follow style and the technical aspects are explained lucidly, the various case studies can be a bit confusing. .. read more:

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Punjab Blasphemy Law Violates Constitution and is an Attack on Democratic Rights of Citizens

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism
Punjab Blasphemy Law Violates Constitution and is an Attack on Democratic Rights of Citizens
Press Release

Punjab assembly recently passed a bill for an addition to IPC clause 295 to give life imprisonment for any ‘injur:y, damage or sacrilege’ of four religious books, (Guru Granth Sahib, Koran, Bible and Geeta) ‘with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people’. This is the first time in independent India that a punishment usually given for willfully murdering another human being has been recommended for defilement of religious books. In an article in Times of India (6/9/2018), Punjab chief minister Capt Amrinder Singh of Congress has justified the bill and tried to explain its context. From 2015 to 2017 before the last assembly elections, the state had witnessed more than one hundred cases of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs who form the majority in the state, and its torn pages were found at many places. Two people were killed in police firing on people protesting against this sacrilege. According to him, these acts of sacrilege were a conspiracy to spread communal unrest and amounted to ‘national security threat that needs to be dealt with an iron hand’.

A similar bill was passed by the earlier Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government, asking for life imprisonment only for the defilement of Guru Granth Sahib. The bill was returned by the NDA central government with the argument that in singling out the holy book of Sikhs it went against the principle of secularism enshrined in the Indian constitution. Amrinder Singh government has now added the other three religious books, to make the bill ‘secular’. Many commentators, civil rights organisations and a group of retired bureaucrats have decried the bill. They have highlighted its anti-secular character, threat to freedom of expression, and potential for gross misuse by state authorities and fundamentalist forces. It needs to be noted that no major political party or organization of the state has come out against the bill. Only Dr Dharamveer Gandhi, the MP from Patiala, and non-parliamentary left groups in the state have given public statements against the bill. Some sections within Congress like MrChidambram have expressed their disagreement with the bill, but they are a small minority.

The bill and the political support it has received are a sign of longstanding misunderstandings of secularism and political and administrative malpractices in India. Given the scale and number of incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015-16, it is reasonable to assume that these were result of a conspiracy to agitate Sikhs for definite political ends. Further, it is also likely that this conspiracy enjoyed political patronage from certain sections of the political class of Punjab. The chief minister uses the image of ‘iron hand’ a number of times in his article to emphasise the necessity of a tough response. Yet the fact remains that for nearly three years Punjab police and the two successive governments have completely failed to bring perpetrators of this communal conspiracy to book. This is not an uncommon occurrence. 

The most abominable communal conspiracy of the post independent India was for the destruction of Babri mosque in 1991. However, no one has been punished for that heinous crime till date. Needless to say, failures of state authority to apprehend and punish perpetrators of communal conspiracies have only emboldened communal forces. No ‘tough’ law can cover up this dereliction of a primary duty by Indian state.

Punjab government believe that their law is secular since it prescribes equal punishment for sacrilege of books of all major religions. It is further argued that the motivation for the bill is not to protect any religious sentiment, which would be the case with religion based laws like Sharia laws in Pakistan, but to defeat plans of spreading communal strife. The latter it is claimed is a purely secular motivation without any sectarian interests. Both arguments are based upon a gross misunderstanding of secularism. Democratic states are expected to be secular so that every citizen enjoys equal right of religious freedom without any hindrance from the state or other citizens. Hence, by definition a secular state cannot encourage deliberate and mischievous sacrilege against any religion. 

However, itdoes not mean that it has to show ‘equal respect’ to all religious practices.If any religious practice is found to violate requirements of democracy, then a secular state can declare it illegal. This is what the Constitution of India did with untouchability. This means that religious sentiments do not a priori enjoy greater privilege or value than other public sentiments. There is no reason why the hurt to religious feelings should attract greater punishment than the hurt caused by misogynist or casteist abuses. In fact since the latter are invariably meant to humiliate and assert power over women and Dalits, these should attract greater punishment. Any just legal system determines the severity of the crime on the basis of its fundamental values, and gives punishment in accordance with the degree of crime. By declaring sacrilege to be in the class of most serious crimes, the bill demands that religious sentiments enjoy greater importance than constitutional values like freedom from oppression, and fundamental rights.

The second argument in favour of the bill confuses ‘hurt to religious feelings’ with communal strife. Believers of a religion can claim to be hurt by any number of statements or actions by others. In India the most commonly claimed causes of hurt to religious sentiments have been books, films, and scholarly research. The bill further adds to the quiver of hurt to religious sentiments by very mischievously adding ‘sacrilege’ to the list. The latter is a theological concept. Its practical implications are determined by religious doctrines, whose interpretations are the privilege of a religious establishment. Hence, the bill pushes Indian legal system very dangerously towards theocracy. All of the above do not have any connection with communal strife. The latter occurs when public peace is affected due to a clash, physical attack on citizens, or destruction of property. If a group of believers claiming to be hurt by a statement or action by someone else go on a rampage, then they are responsible for communal strife, and need to be punished. Passing on the guilt of communal strife to the supposed cause of the hurt cannot be sustained legally.

The bill shifts the constitutional balance between fundamental rights of freedom of expression and religion on the one side and the powers of the sate machinery and organized social bodies to restrain these rights on the other. In the current social context when rationalists like Dr Dabholkar, Dr Panasare, Prof Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh have been murdered for hurting Hindutva religious sentiments, M Farook of Coimbtore was hacked to death by Islamic fundamentalists for declaring himself to be an atheist, and lynch mobs are targeting minority citizens in the name of cow protection, it is necessary to reaffirm the primacy of rights to life, freedom of expression, and conscience. 

The bill goes in the opposite direction and willy-nilly strengthens the hand of fundamentalists.It needs to be noted that article 19(1) of the constitution does not permit any restraint on the freedom of speech on the basis of sacrilege. The right to freedom of religion includes the right to critically assess existing religious beliefs to fashion different beliefs. That is how any religious reform takes place. Many Sikhs in Punjab keep Guru Granth Sahib at home and pray to it. Anyone seeking personal vendetta may claim ‘injury (or) damage’ to the book kept at someone’s home. The bill appears to be designed for misuse. Internal reform, rationalist critique, scholarly investigations, and everyday religious practices, any of these can be declared crimes under the bill.

While the two successive governments of Punjab failed to nab conspirators of the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015-16, the people of Punjab gave a fitting reply to the conspiracy by not falling for it. Public peace was largely maintained and the state had a peaceful transition of government in subsequent elections. Instead of learning from the people, both the Congress and the SAD are taking Punjab along a dangerous path that will gladden only communal fundamentalists. Both parties are kowtowing to communal fundamentalist demands that are against constitutional secularism and freedoms of expression and religion.

People’s Alliance for Secularism and Democracy demands that the bill passed by the Punjab assembly be scrapped. If the Amrinder Singh Government persists with it, then the central government should prevent it from becoming the law of the land.

Released by People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
Battini Rao, Convenor PADS (95339 75195,

Laurie Penny - The Great Stink: It’s time for men to stop worrying about who they are, and start thinking about what they do

.... I have watched the collective inability to deal with the fact that “good” men might not always do good things fracture communities and friendships. I have been involved in restorative justice processes in activist circles. Restorative justice is meant to be a way of delivering some sort of restitution within communities without involving the legal system — and a lot of communities have legitimate reasons not to want the police poking around in their lives. That’s what it is meant to be in theory. In practice, what it has often turned out to mean is a lot of women doing a lot of emotional heavy lifting and being variously demonized for causing trouble while men promise to change and don’t.
Truth is best defence, says Priya Ramani after Akbar's statement

Some months ago, I was part of a large group of women, many of them victims and survivors, wondering what to do about a repeat rapist who many of us still cared for deeply. Because I am, as mentioned, a soft touch, I was one of the people on call to make sure he wasn’t in immediate danger of hurting himself after his transgressions were finally made known. Plans were drawn up for how he could make amends; programs for his healing were suggested; timetables were proposed for when and if the press or police should be called in. Almost nobody wanted the guy’s entire life ruined, but it was hard to know what justice would look like otherwise. The issue was only resolved when one of us who had been trying to stop this man from hurting any more of her friends for over a decade stayed up late, went on Twitter, and decided, you know what, fuck it: he’d had enough chances. She wasn’t waiting any more.

Everyone freaked out, including me. I was among the ones saying that we should give him more time, no, he really does want to change, he’s trying to understand what he did wrong, and if we go hard we’re going to lose him. I had forgiven him the demeaning, dehumanizing things he had done to me long ago, and I had forgotten that it was not my job to decide whether anyone else should do the same. I was terrified that this man, who I loved deeply and still do, would end his life. I was angry at Twitter Justice Girl for forcing the issue. I thought she had gone too far.

The real risk here is that we will let our very human compassion for men in pain be exploited to undermine a movement for sexual justice and liberation for everyone.

I was wrong. She did the right thing. We only found out how much of the right thing she’d done when all the other stories started coming out. The guy had spent 20 years hurting women on three separate continents and — I find it hard to write this, so give me a moment — he wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t going to stop until the women who loved him stopped giving him chances. He might have wanted to stop, but he didn’t have to, so he wasn’t going to.

So when I am asked if this movement is going too far, being too brutal, I don’t always know how to answer. I know that the climate is, for once, less than merciful to men. I know that men are scared. I also know that this could not have happened any other way. I don’t want to live in a world where men don’t change until you threaten to destroy everything they love. I wanted to believe that men would care enough about women to want to change of their own accord. It is precisely because I’m enough of a sucker to endlessly assume the best of men that I wanted to believe this.

The real risk here is that we will let our very human compassion for men in pain be exploited to undermine a movement for sexual justice and liberation for everyone. This would have been easier to avoid if we had not made it so very normal for men to be emotionally castrated, so very routine for them to expect women to shoulder all of the burden of emotional work in society. The problem is not simply that so many men are unable to cope with fear and distress — it’s also that society at large is unable to cope with male fear and distress, whereas women’s pain is normalized, made invisible, and accepted up to a certain degree as our lot in nature and creation.

* * *
Part of the reason you see women reacting with anger when men try to put their own feelings back into the discussion of consent and abuse is that many women — most women — have spent far too long being forced to behave as if men’s feelings were the only thing that mattered, and that hurting men’s feelings was the worst possible thing they could do. If you’ve been made to believe your whole life that it is your job to make men feel good, you might not be in the best place to hear a request to moderate your tone, and that’s okay.

You want to talk about men and their emotions? So do I, and I hope you’re up to it.

Empathy, however, is a non zero-sum game. We are not going to water down women’s liberation by thinking harder about how men feel about patriarchy and their place within it — particularly not right now, when men’s feelings are such a huge part of the picture of violence and silence and shame that is slowly coming into terrible public focus. In short: yes, men’s feelings matter. It does not have to be part of every feminist’s work to pay attention to them, but I consider it part of mine. I want to understand why men do what they do and how, given that it is not practically or economically possible to simply send half the species to a landfill, we can get them to behave better. Understanding and condoning are not synonymous. I am here to change the world, not to hold your hand.

But if we are to talk about men’s feelings, we have to really talk about them, and that might hurt. It involves poking at the soft and painful places beneath the carapace of masculine posturing. It involves talking about the full spectrum of emotion, including vulnerability, disappointment, loneliness, embarrassment, and fear — all of those unmanly feelings men and boys are bullied out of acknowledging. You want to talk about men and their emotions? So do I, and I hope you’re up to it... read more:

Nosheen Iqbal - Top linguist: ‘I’m leaving the UK because of the disaster of Brexit’

One of Britain’s most celebrated young linguists, a master of 15 languages and author of two books, is quitting the UK, blaming “a dangerous political atmosphere” following the Brexit vote and “the financial brutality” of living and working here. Alex Rawlings, 27, was reading languages at Oxford in 2012 when he won a competition to find the UK’s most multilingual student. Tweeting about his decision last week, he wrote: “Just booked a one way flight out the UK. Not an easy decision to leave family and friends behind, but there’s a bad atmosphere in the country and I need to get out.”

Speaking to the Observer this weekend, Rawlings, who now works as a language teacher and app developer, said he was stunned by the public apathy about Brexit. “This whole country is on the brink of the worst disaster since the second world war, and everyone is just sipping coffee, going about their daily business as if nothing is happening.” Rawlings, who is half Greek and retains a Greek passport, will move to Barcelona on 1 November to pursue “creative passion projects”.

He has travelled in more than 50 countries, and said: “One of the things I was always most proud of in the UK was that this is a place where anyone can belong, which is an amazing achievement. That is now being threatened by the populist rhetoric of politicians and the laziness of the media in not challenging it.” Fears of a post-Brexit brain drain on talent working in the UK were not, he felt, unfounded. “I don’t want to live an environment where I have to apologise for believing in European unity.” Rawlings, who speaks Russian, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian and Hebrew among many others, said: “I have huge faith in the people of the UK to sort this out eventually. It will take a generation… and in the long term, it will be good for the country to realise its own insignificance.”

The question of what it means to be British would, he said, remain fractured because “we have never done what Germany did and talk about the legacy of empire, about the terrible things this country has done in the world. That the majority of people in the UK think the British empire was a force for good is terrifying”. It was a summer in Athens with his family, aged eight, that changed Rawlings’s life and allowed him to realise that “if you just climb over the side of the English-speaking box and look out, the world’s a very different place out there. There is more that unites us than divides us but everything we take for granted about national identity is pure chance.”

Civil society protests illegal raid


Over the past week, we have been witness to raids by Enforcement Directorate of the Indian Finance Ministry on the offices of The Quint and Greenpeace India, two key civil society organisations of India, in Delhi and Bangalore respectively.  We were to learn later that The News Minute office also had ED officials dropping in, key journalists were questioned and copies of documents of taken.

In the case of Greenpeace, the raid was absolutely illegal, as the ED officials had no warrant to search the office. Yet, they illegally entered Greenpeace office in Bangalore, detained key officials, searched documents and took away copies of several documents, all without any authority vested by the due process of law.  

We consider this as not merely an attack on these organisations alone, but on civil society in general, media included. We note that those who are critical of the Government, as also those who are exposing and challenging human rights and environmental violations of certain Corporations, are being targeted. We also note that those who work with and for advancing the rights of vulnerable communities, especially Dalits, Adivasis, LGBT communities and women, are being systemically targeted as well, in such raids across India. Often, this has resulted in arrests of key activists and journalists. 

We wholesomely agree with Supreme Court Judge D. Y. Chandruchud who has held: "Dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy. Voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes.” The act of Enquiry and Dissent are  fundamental aspects of citizenship, and helps shape a vibrant and productive democracy.  Any individual or organisation exercising this Fundamental Right of Citizenship, which is also a Fundamental Duty of Citizenship, must not be harassed or terrorised by any form of abuse of power; be this in the Government, Corporation, Public Sector, Civil Society, Academia and Media.  We believe such encroachments of fundamental rights constitute an attack on the Constitutional promise of delivering a secure and fearless Citizenship for all, especially those who dissent.

In a Press Conference to be held at Press Club of Bangalore @Cubbon Park, between 11 - 11.30 am on 15th October 2018, Monday, we will explain our concerns, why this Solidarity Forum for Dissent has become necessary, and what actions will follow. We will also explain how we will advance this struggle to secure fundamental rights of one and all, particularly of those who dissent.

Addressing the Press Conference will be: Mathew Philips (SICHREM), Nandini (Greenpeace sponsor), Reshma (Swaraj Sanghatane), Akhila Vidyasandra (Advocate), Vijay Kumar Seetappa (Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali), K. P. Singh (Swaraj Abhiyan), Manohar (Human Rights Defenders Alert), Aakar Patel (Amnesty India), Lekha Adavi (Alternative Law Forum), Aruna Chandrashekar (Independent Journalist) and Leo F. Saldanha (Environment Support Group).

We cordially invite you to this Press Conference and look forward to your solidarity and support - with the cause for and of celebrating Dissent.

Yours sincerely,
Mallesh K. R.
Environment Support Group

On behalf of: Solidarity Forum for Dissent
Address for contact:
ESG, 1572, Ring Road, Banashankari II Stage, Bangalore 560070. 

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Anna Nemtsova - Russia’s Big Space Fail Exposes Putin Era’s Soviet Reflexes

Russian citizens learned the news about the accident from NASA and not from Roscosmos the state-corporation responsible for launches... Some of Russia’s most-read online publications, including and Moskovsky Komsomolets, pointed out that in the past, Soviet authorities kept the nation in the dark. “It  seems Roscosmos is solemnly following the Soviet tradition of keeping secrets about technological accidents and catastrophes for as long as it’s possible,” said. “The USSR neither published news about accidents of space ships, nor about the Chernobyl catastrophe.”

MOSCOW – Just 119 seconds after the Soyuz rocket and capsule lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday, there was a serious malfunction. It aborted the flight at the near-weightless edge of space, endangering the American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut aboard. And coincidentally, perhaps, it stalled an investigation into alleged sabotage at their destination, the International Space Station. The Soyuz vehicles are equipped for emergencies like this. The capsule immediately started dropping to earth in what NASA officials called a “ballistic reentry,” spinning like a bullet, the heat shield hitting temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, subjecting the men inside to about 7Gs, or seven times the pull of gravity.

Within minutes they were located and rescued. The American, Nick Hague, and the Russian, Alexey Ovchinin, survived in good shape. But the event was a huge embarrassment to Moscow on top of a lot of other bad news for President Vladmir Putin. Over nearly two decades, Kremlin officials have learned one lesson well: the boss hates embarrassing failures in front of important foreign eyes. But the hundredth anniversary of the aerospace company Energia will be remembered as a nightmare in the history of Russian space. And also as a symbol of the Kremlin’s failing management, over-blown self-confidence, and constant efforts to hide the truth from its citizens.

To mark the jubilee, important guests including NASA's administrator Jim Bridenstine and the head of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, arrived at Baikonur Cosmodrome.  Rogozin and Bridenstine had met in person for the first time earlier this week. The anniversary program included the Soyuz rocket launch, a discussion of potential cooperation on a lunar program and a friendly party. Preparing for the meeting, Rogozin announced on Twitter that he would show the American colleague his childhood album of Soviet and American airplanes.

Meanwhile, Roscosmos flashed pictures of the crew members about to take off for the International Space Station. American Nick Hague and Russian Alexey Ovchinin shook hands under the word “Союз,” Soyuz, the Russian name of the rocket and space capsule, which means “unity.” The anniversary, as we know, did not proceed as planned. The escape at the edge of space and the survival of the two men in good condition might have been interpreted as a backhanded compliment to Russia’s technology, or at least to its safety measures. read more: 

Khaled Ahmed - Follies Of Faith: Imran Khan’s cave-in on Ahmadi issue underlines a continuing injustice

In 2011, pamphlets were distributed in Faisalabad, Punjab, calling on Muslims to kill Ahmadis, displaying names and addresses of 50 prominent Ahmadis who were to be eliminated. The pamphlets were signed by the student wing of the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Federation, boldly listing their website and phone numbers. No one stopped the hate campaign: Finally, six Ahmadis were shot dead. This was nothing unusual. On average, 25 of them are killed by fanatics every year who think Pakistan has to be purged of Ahmadis.

Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan got into trouble with the religion he so openly espouses as the country’s leader. He set up an Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to resolve Pakistan’s economic crisis and appointed Atif R Mian of Princeton University Department of Economics, and Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy as a member. He had earlier announced in a public gathering of his party that he would bring in this brilliant America-based economist.

The reaction was immediate in Pakistan’s vast religious underground that coalesces easily with the trained jihadists who come in handy when you have to get rid of someone. Helplessly, PM Khan asked Dr Mian to leave the EAC, which he did, followed by two “protesters” who thought this act was primitive and unfair. The “liberal” lobby, much maligned and harassed in both India and Pakistan, castigated Khan for his retreat — in English — while the Urdu media thought it was normal to get rid of an Ahmadi.

Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in the Second Amendment of the Constitution by a “liberal” left-wing leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, commanding a majority in Parliament in 1974. The Penal Code later laid down that the Ahmadis couldn’t call themselves Muslim, or call a mosque a mosque, or be found observing common Islamic rituals in public. But the religious man on the street thought the Ahmadis were apostates, having abandoned Islam, and should be put to death. The hatred simmers near the surface and no Ahmadi is safe walking the streets of Pakistan.

An incident in 2016 highlighted Pakistan’s stunted ideology. An Ahmadi place of worship (don’t say mosque, please) was attacked in the sacred month of Rabiul Awwal, the month Holy Prophet Muhammad was born. The fact that then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif renamed the Institute of Physics at Islamabad University after Abdus Salam, the Ahmadi Nobel Laureate, had nothing to do with the holy month. The gesture was nevertheless an act of humanity and righting of a wrong that was done to Dr Salam because he was born a Muslim and was forced out of Islam. The Ahmadi Amendment is the biggest hurdle in the observance of human rights in Pakistan. In 2016, in Chakwal city in Punjab, a thousand-strong mob of Muslims attacked a place of worship -  which can’t be called a “mosque” - of the Ahmadis for reasons the Punjab government was not willing to make public… read more:

Friday, 12 October 2018

Saudi isolation grows over Khashoggi disappearance

Saudi Arabia has found itself further isolated over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after the business world turned its back on a high-profile investment conference in the kingdom and US officials claimed audio and video recordings had captured the moment the journalist was murdered in Istanbul. The Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held in Riyadh later this month, was rapidly turning into a fiasco on Friday after most media partners and several top business allies pulled out. More were expected to follow. All said they had been disturbed by the circumstances of Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Turkey and the lack of credible responses.

Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to explain what happened to Khashoggi after he entered the consulate building at 1.14pm on 2 October. Turkey has claimed the exiled journalist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was murdered by a hit squad sent from Riyadh. Authorities in 
Istanbul have hinted they hold undisclosed evidence that proves what took place.

On Friday, US officials revealed to Khashoggi’s employer, the Washington Post, that Turkish investigators had claimed audio and video tapes existed of conversations between the missing 59-year-old and his alleged killers. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” an official said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.” The references to recordings could suggest that Turkish intelligence officers had bugged the consulate or some of the accused killers... read more:

More posts on Saudi Arabia

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Inside the psychiatric hospitals and churches of China – in pictures

Lu Nan’s new book Trilogy brings together three projects – The Forgotten People, On the Road and Four Seasons. Spanning 1989 to 2004, the photographs document social care, faith and rural life in China and Tibet. Trilogy is available from Gost Books. All photographs: Lu Nan/Magnum Photos

Prof. G. D. Agarwal dies in efforts to save the Ganga

Prof. G. D. Agarwal, who has been on an indefinite fast since 22nd June demanding effective action to clean Ganga, has died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 86. 

Dr. Agarwal refused to take water two days ago, as none of the State Governments of the Gangetic basin, the Central Environment Ministry, the Water Resources Ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office did anything at all to respond to his Sathyagraha and take action to clean the Ganga and save her for posterity. Dr. Agarwal also demanded government must stop construction of hydroelectric projects along the river’s tributaries and enact the Ganga Protection Management Act to ensure the river has a chance to come back to life.
Prof. G. D. Agarwal

Dr. Agarwal has served as a faculty member of IIT Kanpur, guided the Central Pollution Control Board as Member Secretary in taking tough action against industrial and urban polluters, and ensure our rivers flow free and healthy. He inspired thousands by his ascetic life and dedication to environmental causes.

Dr. Agarwal has died due to the callousness of the Government not taking action to stop the river’s pollution. He has also died due to the unwillingness of the Judiciary to enforce multiple rulings about tackling the river’s pollution. From the high reaches of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, this mighty river is being intensely polluted and and its watershed extensively destroyed. Yet, no one has gone to jail.  But the one man who gave everything he could to save the river, has now been put to death.

We must force the Government to take immediate steps to stop destroying the Ganga, and all other rivers.  The Indian Government is seriously compromising the nation’s ecological, economic and health security by promoting reckless dam building, over extraction of water, deforestation, wanton industrial and urban pollution, sand mining, river linking, and promoting land-use changes destroying riverine watersheds. This must end.

Environment Support Group had the privilege of hosting Dr. Agarwal in August 2002 in delivering lectures in a workshop on “Judicial Enforcement of Environmental Law”, co-hosted by Karnataka Judicial Academy.  The two papers Dr. Agarwal presented the judiciary are attached

Environment Support Group
1572, Ring Road Banashankari II Stage
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559~61

India most dangerous country for women with sexual violence rife - global poll // Women in Hindi media suffer a toxic culture of harassment – but #MeToo is ‘unthinkable’ for them

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India is the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour, according to a poll of global experts released on Tuesday. War-torn Afghanistan and Syria ranked second and third in the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 experts on women’s issues, followed by Somalia and Saudi Arabia. The only Western nation in the top 10 was the United States, which ranked joint third when respondents were asked where women were most at risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex.

The poll was a repeat of a survey in 2011 that found experts saw Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia as the most dangerous countries for women. Experts said India moving to the top of poll showed not enough was being done to tackle the danger women faced, more than five years after the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi made violence against women a national priority. “India has shown utter disregard and disrespect for women ... rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and harassment, female infanticide has gone unabated,” said Manjunath Gangadhara, an official at the Karnataka state government. “The (world’s) fastest growing economy and leader in space and technology is shamed for violence committed against women.” Government data shows reported cases of crime against women rose by 83 percent between 2007 and 2016, when there were four cases of rape reported every hour.
The survey asked respondents which five of the 193 United Nations member states they thought were most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of healthcare, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. Respondents also ranked India the most dangerous country for women in terms of human trafficking, including sex slavery and domestic servitude, and for customary practices such as forced marriage, stoning and female infanticide. India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development declined to comment on the survey results.

Women in Hindi media suffer a toxic culture of harassment – but #MeToo is ‘unthinkable’ for them
“Men in the Hindi media are lecherous to their core,” said Manisha Pandey, an editor with News 18. “It is a male bastion where women are neither considered intelligent nor capable of handling anything creative. All the soft beats are usually assigned to women. It’s a cultural and societal problem of the Hindi belt which reflects in these newsrooms.”

Harry Cockburn - Massive reduction in meat consumption and changes to farming vital to guarantee future food supply

A massive reduction in the quantity of meat being consumed combined with huge changes to farming techniques are essential to guarantee our planet’s future ability to support humanity, a major new report has warned. The analysis, which examines future population projections across the planet and the impact of current farming techniques on the environment, warns rapid change is vital as global warming causes pronounced impacts on food production.

For every degree celsius of additional temperature rise, global wheat yields are estimated to drop 6 per cent, while global rice yields are estimated to fall 10 per cent, the authors said. The warning comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned the planet is currently “nowhere near on track” to keep the rise in temperatures below 1.5C. Under current climate commitments by world leaders, the Earth will be 3C warmer by the end of the century, the IPCC said.  But growing populations will mean farming 50 per cent more food to support almost 10 billion people in the next 30 years, according to the new report published in the journal Nature.

If no changes are made, the impacts of food production on the environment will rise by up to 90 per cent by 2050, the authors said, meaning the planet will no longer be a “safe operating space for humanity”. As a result they have called for the Earth’s population to adopt a plant-based “flexitarian” diet, in which meat is typically eaten less than once a week. “An important first step would be to align national food-based dietary guidelines with the present evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of diets,” the report states... read more:

From Newcastle and New Zealand to the Killing Fields of Cambodia

In 1978, three young men on a gap year strayed into Cambodian waters and were discovered by members of the Khmer Rouge. Holly Baxter retraced the steps of John Dawson Dewhirst, and his tragic companions, to uncover a haunting tale

Thirty minutes away by car is the most prominent of the sites known as the Killing Fields, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre. This is where the inmates at S-21 were transported to after their confessions had been written up, rewritten and perfected by the head of the prison, the ruthless Khmer Rouge operative and former maths teacher known as Comrade Duch. At Choeung Ek, visitors nowadays are met with rows and rows of human skulls dug out from the mass graves into which slaughtered people were thrown for crimes that included being able to speak French, wearing spectacles or loving a family member “too much”. The skulls, piled high, stare out from behind polished glass.

It was June 1978 when Hilary received her final letter from her brother John. “He used to write to me on his travels,” she tells me, 40 years later. “They were getting the boat ready and he was going on his final trip before coming home.” John Dawson Dewhirst was 26 years old, and had spent the year after graduating from his degree (a bachelor of education with English from Loughborough University, which he’d attended on a scholarship) travelling round southeast Asia. He’d always been adventurous, says Hilary, “and outdoorsy. He loved writing – poetry, fictional stuff – he had a very unusual, quirky style.”

He was known by friends to be sensitive, gentle and thoughtful. Much later, family members would find out that he was described by the person who ordered his murder as “a polite young man”.
John set out to Japan and worked briefly as a teacher, and then a contract employee – “a headline writer”, Hilary thinks – for The Japan Times between June 1977 and January 1978. Hilary knows that after John left Tokyo and The Japan Times, he travelled extensively. “South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia…” He made friends along the way, including two men called Stuart Glass, a Canadian, and Kerry Hamill, a New Zealander. They met in the Malaysian city of Kuala Terengganu, at the time a small harbour town with a tropical climate which faced onto the South China Sea, with a palm-lined beach and traditional stilt houses dotted across the river.

More posts on Cambodia

In the summer of 1978, six months after John had left Japan, the three decided to take a trip on Kerry’s yacht, the Foxy Lady, with John acting as a paid charter. They set off on a course towards Bangkok, three experienced sailors on a relatively short hop across the water. John, a keen photographer, took pictures of the deserted islands they passed on the way, splitting his time between navigating and cooking simple food below deck. Then they vanished without a trace.