Thursday, 28 February 2019

Simon Tisdall - The art of no deal: how Trump and Kim misread each other

Trump’s inability to lay a diplomatic glove on Kim in the Hanoi rematch also means North Korea’s dictator has again emerged unscathed over his regime’s appalling human rights abuses. When it suits him, Trump is quick to use human rights as a stick to beat governments in Iran or Venezuela. In his 2018 State of the Union address, before he got chummy with Kim, Trump declared: “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”

Trump was right, or at least his speechwriter was. Kim presides over a gulag of forced labour camps of appalling inhumanity. North Koreans are subject to arbitrary arrest, torture and indefinite incarceration without trial. The regime’s corrupt and incompetent economic management has caused mass starvation. Yet in Hanoi, his confected fury forgotten, Trump made no mention of these ongoing abuses, nor did he try to do anything to curb them. 

When asked about an American student, Otto Warmbier, who was mistreated in a North Korean prison and later died, he absolved Kim of responsibility. Kim, he said, “felt badly” but “didn’t know about it”. It was another Khashoggi moment – and similarly stomach-turning. Trumps’s rightwing nationalistic instincts; his coddling of dictators; his cultivated ignorance of complex, sensitive international problems; and his image-driven refusal to look beyond the next news cycle, have become fixed features of his foreign policy approach.

It is this approach that has given us the appeasement of Vladimir Putin’s Russia at Europe’s expense, cut-and-run troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, a dangerously obsessive vendetta against Iran, an unconscionable betrayal of the Palestinians, and a chaotic attempt to impose regime change on Venezuela... read more

Shiv Visvanathan: Think like a civilisation

The biggest casualty of unquestioning enthusiasm for war is democracy and rational thought
This essay is a piece of dissent at a time when dissent may not be welcome. It is an attempt to look at what I call the Pulwama syndrome, after India’s bombing of terrorist camps in PakistanThere is an air of achievement and competence, a feeling that we have given a fitting reply to Pakistan. Newspapers have in unison supported the government, and citizens, from actors to cricketers, have been content in stating their loyalty, literally issuing certificates to the government. Yet watching all this, I feel a deep sense of unease, a feeling that India is celebrating a moment which needs to be located in a different context.

Peace needs courage: It reminded me of something that happened when I was in school. I had just come back from a war movie featuring Winston Churchill. I came back home excitedly and told my father about Churchill. He smiled sadly and said, “Churchill was a bully. He was not fit to touch Gandhi’s chappals.” He then added thoughtfully that “war creates a schoolboy loyalty, half boy scout, half mob”, which becomes epidemic. “Peace,” he said, “demands a courage few men have.” I still remember these lines, and I realised their relevance for the events this week.

One sees an instant unity which is almost miraculous. This sense of unity does not tolerate difference. People take loyalty literally and become paranoid. Crowds attack a long-standing bakery to remove the word ‘Karachi’ from its signage. War becomes an evangelical issue as each man desperately competes to prove his loyalty. Doubt and dissent become impossible, rationality is rare, and pluralism a remote possibility. There is a sense of solidarity with the ruling regime which is surreal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was encrusted with doubts a week before, appears like an untarnished hero. Even the cynicism around these attitudes is ignored. One watches with indifference as Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah virtually claims that security and war are part of his vote bank.

Thought becomes a casualty as people conflate terms such as Kashmiri, Pakistani and Muslim while threatening citizens peacefully pursuing their livelihood. One watches aghast as India turns war into a feud, indifferent to a wider conflagration. The whole country lives from event to event and TV becomes hysterical, not knowing the difference between war and cricket... read more:

'Abhinandan', 'Balakot', 'Pulwama': Bollywood Producers Fight To Register “Patriotic” Movie Titles
While most of India anxiously waits for news of war and prays for the safe return of captured Indian Air Force Pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, Bollywood is moving quickly to capitalise on this national tragedy.

A message and an appeal

Robert Fisk: Israel’s fingerprints are all over India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan

India was Israel’s largest arms client in 2017, paying £530m for Israeli air defence, radar systems and ammunition, including air-to-ground missiles – most of them tested during Israel’s military offensives against Palestinians and targets in Syria. Israel itself is trying to explain away its continued sales of tanks, weapons and boats to the Myanmar military dictatorship - while western nations impose sanctions on the government which has attempted to destroy its minority and largely Muslim 
Rohingya people. But Israel’s arms trade with India is legal, above-board and much advertised by both sides. The Israelis have filmed joint exercises between their own “special commando” units and those sent by India to be trained in the Negev desert, again with all the expertise supposedly learned by Israel in Gaza and other civilian-thronged battlefronts.

At least 16 Indian “Garud” commandos – part of a 45-strong Indian military delegation – were for a time based at the Nevatim and Palmachim air bases in Israel. In his first visit to India last year – preceded by a trip to Israel by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi Israeli prime minister... Brussels researcher Shairee Malhotra, whose work has appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has pointed out that India has the world’s third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan – upward of 180 million people. “The India-Israel relationship is also commonly being framed in terms of a natural convergence of ideas between their ruling BJP and Likud parties,” she wrote last year. Hindu nationalists had constructed “a narrative of Hindus as historically victims at the hands of Muslims”, an attractive idea to those Hindus who recall partition and the continuing “turbulent relationship” with Pakistan. In fact, as Malhotra pointed out in Haaretz, “Israel’s biggest fans in India appear to be the Internet Hindus who primarily love Israel for how it deals with Palestine and fights Muslims.” 

Malhotra has condemned Carleton University professor Vivek Dehejia for demanding a “tripartite” alliance between India, Israel and the US – since they have all suffered “from the scourge of Islamic terrorism”. In fact, by the end of 2016, only 23 men from India had left to fight for Isis in the Arab world although Belgium, with a population of only half a million Muslims, produced nearly 500 fighters. Malhotra’s argument is that the Indian-Israeli relationship should be pragmatic rather than ideological... read more:

Courttia Newland: ‘I had to submit to being exoticised by white women. If I didn’t, I was punished

Social media is a slippery ally, on occasion doing as much to hinder as help the cause of social justice, but it has been exemplary at charting the numerous cases of white women caught in “acts of oppression”. The Memphis property manager’s insistence that a black man shouldn’t wear socks in a swimming pool (she called the police when he refused to leave), for instance. Or the woman who rang 911 after seeing a group of black people barbecuing in a park in Oakland, California. Or the employees who called the police on black men “loitering” in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend. And the woman who threatened to report an eight-year-old black girl selling water in San Francisco – and even a black woman sheltering from the rain in New York.

..... So, I fully support any movement that seeks to address the rampant misogyny and patriarchy driving our society, which of course includes men of colour on too many occasions, I wonder if it’s possible to have a conversation about the role white women play in the continual oppression of black men; to speak about this in a historical context, tracing the direct line from enslavement and colonisation to the present day. To have an honest discussion about the fact that white women, who obviously face a cis, white patriarchal system of oppression, also use that patriarchal system to oppress those perceived as lower on the racial and social hierarchy? I believe we must.

Of course, I’m not writing to generalise a whole race and gender. Many white women do not use their privilege adversely. Many are allies, instrumental in standing beside us, even speaking on subjects such as this. They exist. We see them and acknowledge their presence. That much should be obvious, although I feel it must be stated here to avoid the very real chance of being misconstrued. Still, the fact remains that black men’s relationship with white women is fraught with complexity and rarely addressed, except, sometimes, as an examination into the lengths some men go to mine sexual otherness, or exoticism: black men’s appreciation sex clubs almost exclusively visited by white women, mock plantation orgies, “beach boy” holidays in Africa and the Caribbean.

These examinations are usually from a feminine perspective. What’s missing is any deep analysis of black male psychology. The mental displacement needed to attend those parties and become a “bull” for the night, or be paraded on the arm of a white woman in Hastings, Barbados. Is sex work less morally demeaning if a man is the sex worker and a woman the client? Why is this seen as less mentally destructive, or nuanced?.. read more:

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

In Middle East, Impunity for Human Rights Abuses reigned in 2018: Amnesty

Beirut (AFP) – “The crackdown on civil society actors and political opponents increased significantly in Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia,” the rights watchdog said in its annual regional report“Is it acceptable for activists to undergo arbitrary detention, torture, sexual harassment … and even enforced disappearances simply for expressing their opinions in a peaceful way,” Amnesty’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef told a press conference in Beirut on Tuesday. The annual report said “global indifference to human rights violations” had fuelled “atrocities and impunity” in the region in 2018.

It cited the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul On October 2, saying the “case has not been followed by concrete action to ensure those responsible for his murder are brought to justice”. It applauded “rare action” from countries like Denmark or Germany which suspended arms supplies to Riyadh, but noted that “key allies of the kingdom, including the USA, UK and France, have taken no such action”.

Amnesty also denounced Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen, saying the Saudi-led coalition battling rebels is “responsible for war crimes” and has contributed to a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the embattled country. And it condemned Israel’s crackdown on demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, which it says has killed “at least 195 Palestinians, including 41 children”. Iran also came under fire for its repression of mass demonstrations to protest deteriorating socio-economic conditions.

“Security forces violently dispersed the protests, beating unarmed protesters and using live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons against them, causing deaths and injuries,” it said.
The “intense crackdown on dissident voices” in a number of Arab countries is linked to the 2011 Arab uprisings, said Morayef. “Authoritarian governments today are trying to make very, very sure that there is no political space to ever allow such an uprising to occur again”, she said.

The Amnesty report also denounced “war crimes” committed in Syria, Libya and Yemen, which have been ravaged by deadly conflicts and humanitarian catastrophes. In the three countries, “military forces with air power carried out indiscriminate air strikes and direct attacks on civilian homes, hospitals and medical facilities, sometimes using internationally banned cluster munitions”..

JUAN COLE - New Archeological Evidence for the Kaaba, Sanctuary of Peace, in Early Islam

During the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, believers circumambulate the square ‘House of God’ called the Kaaba. It is said to have predated Islam, and to have been cleansed of idols by the Prophet Muhammad in January of 630, when the town of Mecca swung to his leadership by acclamation.
There is some new archeological evidence for the Kaaba in the form of Arabic rock inscriptions in Western Arabia, photographs of which have been published on Twitter. I should underline that this evidence was put up on Twitter by Abdallah Muslih Al-Thumali and Mohammed Almaghthawi, respectively. All I’m doing is reading my Twitter feed and am grateful to these intrepid rock climbers who are bringing us this new evidence. The inscriptions have also been published: Sa’d bin Rashid, al-Suwaydirah : al-taraf qadiman, atharuha wa-nuqushuha al-Islamiyah, Riyadh, 2009. Belief in sacred sites like the Kaaba was widespread in that part of the world from ancient times.

In the Hejaz and Transjordan, a sacred site was called in Arabic a ḥaram. In the Nabataean culture of roughly 300 BC through the Christianization of the 300s AD (after Constantine’s conversion of 312), such a sacred place or temple was called mḥrmt’ (mahramat?– we don’t have their vowels) in their sometimes Arabized Aramaic. Thus we have the inscription: d’ mhrmt dy bnh cnmw which means “This is the consecrated place which PN built” (M. O’Connor, “The Arabic Loanwords in Nabatean Aramaic,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Jul., 1986), pp. 213-229, this phrase on p. 223). ḥrm also meant sacred in the sense of inviolable. So tomb raiders were warned by Nabataean inscriptions that a grave and its inscriptions are sacrosanct (ḥrm) and not to be disturbed.

There was a Roman Greek witness to Arab sacred spaces from the 500s AD. I have written,
‘A Roman ambassador to the Arabs, Nonnosos, observed a few decades before Muhammad’s birth that they “have a sacred meeting-place consecrated to one of the gods, where they assemble twice a year. One of these meetings lasts a whole month….[T]he other lasts two months.” He added, “During these meetings complete peace prevails, not only amongst themselves, but also with all the natives; even the animals are at peace both with themselves and human beings.”’ I discuss this issue in my new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires(2018)

The Qur’an (Stories 28:57) says that people in Mecca have been provided with a “safe sanctuary” or “secure consecrated place” (ḥaraman āminan), which has been taken to refer to the Kaaba. As Nonnosos said, such places were “secure” because feuding and fighting were forbidden in their precincts. In my recent book, I argue that Muhammad, as a member of the Banu Hashim clan, was part of the kinship group charged with servicing pilgrims to the Kaaba and making sure violence did not touch it. They would thus mediate feuds and make peace. That was the background out of which Muhammad came.  The Qur’an also on numerous occasions uses for it the phrase al-masjid al-harām (e.g. 5:2), probably meaning “the sacred temple.” The Qur’an uses “masjid” for any place of worship, including synagogues and churches, which confused later commentators, since it is the origin of the word “mosque” and came to mean a Muslim place of worship. ..

The Survival of the Richest: The Real Wall. By NOMI PRINS

In January, as the billionaire summit in Davos was about to be held, Oxfam summed our world
'Billionaire fortunes increased by 12% last year-or $2.5 billion a day-while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11%... the number of billionaires has nearly doubled since the financial crisis, yet wealthy individuals and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades, thanks to the new tax law championed by Trump.'
Like a gilded coating that makes the dullest things glitter, today’s thin veneer of political populism covers a grotesque underbelly of growing inequality that’s hiding in plain sight. And this phenomenon of ever more concentrated wealth and power has both Newtonian and Darwinian components to it. In terms of Newton’s first law of motion: those in power will remain in power unless acted upon by an external force. Those who are wealthy will only gain in wealth as long as nothing deflects them from their present course. As for Darwin, in the world of financial evolution, those with wealth or power will do what’s in their best interest to protect that wealth, even if it’s in no one else’s interest at all.

In George Orwell’s iconic 1945 novel, Animal Farm, the pigs who gain control in a rebellion against a human farmer eventually impose a dictatorship on the other animals on the basis of a single 
commandment: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In terms of the American republic, the modern equivalent would be: “All citizens are equal, but the wealthy are so much more equal than anyone else (and plan to remain that way).” Certainly, inequality is the economic great wall between those with power and those without it. As the animals of Orwell’s farm grew ever less equal, so in the present moment in a country that still claims equal opportunity for its citizens, one in which three Americans now have as much wealth as the bottom half of society (160 million people), you could certainly say that we live in an increasingly Orwellian society. 

Or perhaps an increasingly Twainian one.  After all, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner wrote a classic 1873 novel that put an unforgettable label on their moment and could do the same for ours. The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today depicted the greed and political corruption of post-Civil War America. Its title caught the spirit of what proved to be a long moment when the uber-rich came to dominate Washington and the rest of America... read more:

Israeli Bulldozers uproot 300 Palestinian-Owned Trees near Jenin

JENIN (Ma’an) — Israeli bulldozers razed dozens of dunams and uprooted hundreds of Palestinian-owned trees, on Monday afternoon, on lands belonging to residents from the Bartaa village, southwest of the northern occupied West Bank district of Jenin. According to local sources, Israeli forces along with bulldozers stormed the area and began to raze about 28 dunams (6.9 acres) of land. In addition, bulldozers uprooted 300 almond and olive trees. Sources added that the razed land belonged to Jamal Sharif Amarneh.

According to Palestinians and rights groups, Israel’s main goal, both in its policies in Area C, in which more than 60% of Palestinian land is under full Israeli control, and Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, is to depopulate the land of its Palestinian residents and to replace them with Jewish Israeli communities, in order to manipulate population demographics in all of historic Palestine.

The movement of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian land, and further displacing the local Palestinian population has been a “stable” Israeli policy since the takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, B’Tselem said, underscoring that all “Israeli legislative, legal, planning, funding, and defense bodies” have played an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands.

B’Tselem also argued that under the guise of a “temporary military occupation,” Israel has been “using the land as its own: robbing land, exploiting the area’s natural resources for its own benefit and establishing permanent settlements,” estimating that Israel had dispossessed Palestinians from some 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory over the years.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Kim Sengupta: Zarif's fall isn’t just dangerous for Iran – it will bolster America’s flawed view of the Middle East

The offer of resignation from Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, is of great importance to Iran and the outside world. His departure will significantly weaken the reformist government of Hassan Rouhani, strengthen the country’s hardliners and help the Trump administration’s quest for regime change in Tehran.

The grave concern about what is unfolding was shown by 150 out of 290 members of the Iranian parliament signing a petition urging Zarif to stay within hours of him announcing, via Instagram, he was leaving, and other MPs saying they too will be putting their names on it.
The Tehran Stock Exchange index fell 1.1 per per cent in 24 hours, and the country’s business people and bankers’ association expressed anxiety about the reaction of foreign investors – whose numbers are already dwindling after the reimposition of American trade sanctions – to the news.
Zarif was the key architect on the Iranian side of the agreement with international states over its nuclear programme – an agreement which took years to negotiate and one which five of the signatories (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China), as well as the UN, stressed was working and making the world a safer place.

'Disgraceful, Unedifying': Ex-Army Men Call Out Modi's War Memorial Speech

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hailed by many for taking the initiative to make a war memorial for Indian soldiers slain in wars post-Independence. However, his markedly political speech, targetting the Congress, has irked many including former service personnel. 

While inaugurating the National War Memorial in New Delhi, the prime minister lashed out at the Congress saying, “From Bofors to AgustaWestland chopper deal, all the investigations are pointing to one family and it says a lot. Now these people are making all efforts to make sure that the Rafale aircraft doesn’t arrive in the country.”

Several former members of the Indian armed forces criticised Modi’s speech, calling it inappropriate for the occasion.  Col Pavan Nair VSM (Retd) not only found the speech inappropriate, but said that it should have been the President inaugurating the memorial. 

Speaking to Huffpost India, Col Nair said, “I have heard the part when he mentioned the family and dynasty. [It is] Most inappropriate on a solemn occasion like this. But for me it was highly inappropriate that the prime minister and not the President, who is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, inaugurated the memorial. [It is] Against protocol and military ethos.” Other veterans took to Twitter asking the prime minister whether he considered the event an election rally. .. 
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Monday, 25 February 2019

Vatican treasurer found guilty of child sexual assault

Cardinal George Pell, once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a trial in Melbourne. A jury delivered the unanimous verdict on 11 December in Melbourne’s county court, but the result was subject to a suppression order and could not be reported until now. A previous trial on the same five charges, which began in August, resulted in a hung jury, leading to a retrial.

Pell, who is on leave from his role in Rome as Vatican treasurer, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.
He is due to be sentenced next week but may be taken into custody at a plea hearing on Wednesday, having been out on bail since the verdict and recovering from knee surgery. Pope Francis, who has previously praised Pell for his honesty and response to child sexual abuse, has yet to publicly react, but just two days after the unreported verdict in December the Vatican announced that Pell and two other cardinals had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.

Pell’s conviction and likely imprisonment will cause shockwaves through a global Catholic congregation and is a blow to Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse. It comes just days after an unprecedented summit of cardinals and senior bishops in the presence of the pope at the Vatican, intended to signal a turning point on the issue that has gravely damaged the church and imperilled Francis’s papacy... read more:

Kerala Nuns Speak Out About Decades-Long History Of Rape, Abuse By Priests

Hartosh Singh Bal: After Terror, Polarizing Politics in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party seem to be exploiting the deaths of paramilitary soldiers in a terrorist attack for political gains ahead of national elections.

On Feb. 14, a 19-year-old drove a vehicle filled with explosives into a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces in Indian-administered Kashmir and killed 49 soldiers. Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Army of Muhammad, a Pakistan-based terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. Over the past five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has governed India and been part of the local government in Kashmir as well, thus controlling India’s policy approaches to the disputed, conflict-torn region.

Mr. Modi embraced a militaristic approach and shunned a political process involving dialogue with the separatists in Kashmir. Consequently, the number of civilian and security personnel killed in the region have increased, and a growing number of young Kashmiris, like Adil Dar, the 19-year-old suicide bomber, joined militant groups. These are inconvenient facts for Mr. Modi, who has continually attacked India’s opposition parties for being soft on terror and compromising national security. As the deaths of the soldiers come three months before a general election, an honest evaluation of Mr. Modi’s failed policy should have led to him to being held accountable.

Such questions, naturally, receded into the background in the immediate aftermath of the Kashmir bombing, in a national outpouring of grief. Before those pertinent questions would return to the national conversation, Mr. Modi spun the bad news to his advantage by turning the grief into an emotive and prolonged commemoration of the deaths of the soldiers.

Average intelligence on Earth has come down by 10 points, says Mr. Mathrubootham

'My children have you thought about life in your retirement age?’

Respected Sir/Madam,
What to say, only that we are living in 100% kalikaalam these days. All the buffoons are becoming president and prime minister and starting political party and all. Meanwhile all the intelligent fellows and useful members of society are dying. By the time I am gone from the world, our society will be like climax of superhit 1986 Priyadarshan Malayalam film Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu in which entire cast of hero and heroine and villain and side-hero and side-villain and Kerala Police and all are fighting each other inside a marriage hall looking for gold treasure.

Non-stop comedy. Mrs. Mathrubootham and I went for first day first show and laughed and laughed like diesel generator. Next day I went to sleep with garlic in my armpit in order to get mild fever, then took three days sick leave, and we saw film six times.

Sir/ Madam, whenever you get chance in your office please assemble all your youth employees in conference room. And then ask them, “My children have you thought about life in your retirement age?” All these fellows will say all kinds of nonsense like: “Sir, retirement life will be full enjoyment, we will sit at home and use mobile phone app to order drone, and pay with digital wallet, and then drone will come with robot, and robot will use artificial intelligence and make mini tiffin lunch and I will just relax with cappuccino and do Facebook with my cousin on Mercury.”

Abinash Dash Choudhury - Confusion over Aadhaar afflicts Jharkhand tribal groups; 43% go hungry due to procedural obstacles

The bright sun shining over the vast idyllic fields of Jharkhand’s Latehar district is only a mirage. The shadow of hunger sparkles even brighter here. In Sewdhara, a hamlet nestled deep within the forests, 50-year-old Sonmati Kunwar is sitting under a neem tree to weave soop — a bamboo basket used for winnowing. A widow with no land of her own to cultivate, she is dependent on minor forest produce and casual labour to subsist. Every morning, she leaves her children and walks into the forests surrounding the village to collect bamboo; dries it for over a fortnight in the sparing winter sun, and shreds it into pieces to make it possible to weave.

"If I work for very long, and without rest, I will complete two baskets in a day," she explains, her eyes still set on the soop. For the next few days she will clean the fully woven baskets and dry them. Later, she will carry her produce to the local market in the block headquarter, about two hours away from the village, on foot to earn what will be her only cash income, about 150 rupees a day.
Sonmati lives with her children, one of whom is physically challenged. They reside in a one-room house. The doorway leads straight to the dwelling area. The house, made of mud and tiles, is large enough to hold a a cot and a mat. Their possessions — a few pair of clothes and some utensils. Sonmati said there is no toilet in their house and they have to go out to the open fields.

Without a stable source of income and any safeguards or opportunities for employment, Sonmati often cannot afford her basic needs of food. "There's nothing to save. We live in a hand-to-mouth condition. We stay hungry when I cannot go to work," she said. With her ailing health, it gets difficult for her to work regularly, she added. To add to her woes, the looming food insecurity and extreme penury forces her to live in a precarity that can be fatal... read more:

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Samar Halarnkar - My wife faces a union minister, his 97 lawyers. It takes special courage to do that

My wife Priya [Ramani] is amongst the 14 women journalists who have named union minister MJ Akbar for a range of inappropriate workplace behaviour. I have known of her close shave with predation ever since I have known her, about 20 years. Even though, Akbar did not, in her words – which he now gratefully quotes –“do” anything, there were others who apparently suffered worse and whose experiences are now public. No one ever spoke up against powerful men because the misuse of power and authority was considered normal. There were no redressal mechanisms within media companies, no one took such complaints seriously, and the only ones who stood to lose from going up against powerful men were the women.

When women younger than her started to share traumas and experiences far worse than hers, and references grew in the media world to “the elephant in the room”, a man more powerful than others like him, my wife decided she could no longer stay quiet. She has always had a strong sense of right and wrong, black and white, and she has never lacked courage. It is one reason I married her.

Yet, it took a special kind of courage to name a powerful minister and former editor. We live a quiet, unobtrusive life far from India’s centre of power, and while she did not regard her action as taking on a minister, she was somewhat aware that anyone who set the ball rolling might become a target. That is what happened. Our quiet life has been torn asunder. Her phone rings incessantly. So does mine. Most are reporters seeking comment or television appearances – which she has always refused – some are other women who were the subject of Akbar’s attention. Those who cannot reach her try to call me. I used to answer unknown numbers; from today I will not. Akbar has filed a case of criminal defamation against my wife. She has, whether she likes it or not, become a lightning rod...
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Genevieve Fox - The myth of the gendered brain

Rippon has analysed the data on sex differences in the brain. She admits that she, like many others, initially sought out these differences. But she couldn’t find any beyond the negligible, and other research was also starting to question the very existence of such differences. For example, once any differences in brain size were accounted for, “well-known” sex differences in key structures disappeared. Which is when the penny dropped: perhaps it was time to abandon the age-old search for the differences between brains from men and brains from women. Are there any significant differences based on sex alone? 

The answer, she says, is no. To suggest otherwise is 'neurofoolishness'

 “The idea of the male brain and the female brain suggests that each is a characteristically homogenous thing and that whoever has got a male brain, say, will have the same kind of aptitudes, preferences and personalities as everyone else with that ‘type’ of brain. We now know that is not the case. We are at the point where we need to say, ‘Forget the male and female brain; it’s a distraction, it’s inaccurate.’ It’s possibly harmful, too, because it’s used as a hook to say, well, there’s no point girls doing science because they haven’t got a science brain, or boys shouldn’t be emotional or should want to lead.”.. read more:

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Spike Lee implores US to regain its humanity during Oscars speech

The film-maker gave a heartfelt and political speech after winning the best screenplay Academy Award for BlacKkKlansman

“Before the world tonight, I give praise to my ancestors who built our country, along with the genocide of our native people,” Lee said. “When we regain our humanity it will be a powerful moment … The 2020 election is around the corner – let’s all mobilise and be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate.”

“For 400 years, our ancestors were stolen from Africa and brought to Virginia and enslaved. They worked the land from ‘can’t see’ in the morning to ‘can’t see’ at night. My grandmother – who lived 100 years young, a college graduate even though her mother was a slave – my grandmother, who saved 50 years’ of Social Security checks to put me through college. She called me Spiky-poo …” Lee said that his grandmother had put him through film school... read more:

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A message and an appeal

'I am German, and still waiting for the Germans to come back; they have gone to ground somewhere' 
Victor Klemperer (1881-1960)

This is a message for my students, old and recent; for comrades in the struggle against communalism; and fellow citizens. The message is simple (there is also an appeal below): it is a crime against humanity to attack, intimidate and vilify entire groups of people, whether defined by religious, regional or any other identity, for the crimes or wrong-doings (real or imaginary) of a few.

The ascription of collective guilt; and/or the inter-generational transfer of guilt to entire communities, is a poisonous doctrine associated with anti-semitism, Nazism, and communal killings akin to what took place in 1984, 2002, etc. When you punish people not for what they have done, but for what they are, it is an act of pure evil. Qualitatively it is evocative of genocide and death-camps. It is a crying shame that senior religious personages of our deeply religious country can't be bothered to notice and condemn evil when it stalks the land. Shame on our god-forsaken godmen and on this government

The partition massacres that began with the Calcutta Killing of 1946; and numerous mass crimes including the genocidal actions of the Pakistan Army in East Bengal in 1971 are examples of these habits of thought at work in South Asia. Mass murder was let loose in Delhi in 1984; mass transfers of population continued until 1989-91 with the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes in the Valley; in 2002, with the ghetto-fication of Gujarat's Muslims; in 2007, with attacks on Christians in Kandhamal (Odisha); and in 2014, with the mass exodus of Muslim villagers from their homes around Muzzafarnagar in 2014. The long list of mass crimes in independent India shows that for all our pride at our civilisation and ‘democratic governance’, our political and ethical culture retains a strong element of barbarism. 

This brutal and cretinous communal ideology is also directed at undermining the rule of law, giving free rein to controlled mobs, and abolishing the distinction between legal and extra-legal violence. 
I have written at length about these matters, so will not repeat myself - here are some writings:

The details of the Pulwama terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy are widely known. What I wish to underline is that the physical and verbal attacks on Kashmiri students and traders in Uttarakhand and elsewhere exemplified the barbaric habits of collective guilt and collective punishment. These practices are examples of Nazism at work. There has also been a calibrated plan to use social media to stoke up communal hysteria; so much so that the CRPF, (to their credit) was forced to issue  rebuttals of fake news: Our Men Didn’t Die So Someone Could Spread Communal Hatred: CRPF

The People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism has called upon the government to ensure the safety of Kashmiri citizens (does the government not consider Kashmiris to be Indian citizens?
Thousands of students who left Kashmir in order to study, placing their faith in the Indian state have been hounded out and terrorised. What will they say when they go home? That no one wants them here, they are not safe? Who has the right to talk of Indian unity when this is how we treat children who come to study? Why did the Prime Minister take a week to condemn the attacks on innocents? Was he unaware of what was happening?)

PADS has also appealed to members of civil society to protect Kashmiris.
The bereaved families of the CRPF officers and men who lost their lives in the line of duty deserve our fullest support and sympathy. However my focus here is on confronting the efforts at instigating mob violence against innocent people. To this end I would like to add a personal suggestion to all my students, regardless of their political and religious beliefs: try and contact those Kashmiris who were forced to leave their places of study or trade; befriend them, find out what they have lost; and make efforts to compensate them for their losses. For example, if students have lost textbooks and  study materials, we should try and replace these. We should also ask the educational authorities to withdraw the heinous decision to refuse admission to Kashmiri students; and if they are afraid to return to Dehra Dun, we should make efforts to obtain admission for them elsewhere. 

There are many ways of expressing friendship and solidarity, but whatever these may be, it is our duty as human beings to show these traumatised students that no matter what the communal hooligans may have done, we do not share such poisonous prejudices and will do what we can to uphold human values. We are not helpless spectators in a bloody drama directed by ruthless people. This is our country - its time we took it back.

see also

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) condemns mob violence against Kashmiri students and traders

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) condemns mob violence against Kashmiri students and traders after Pulwama attack
Press Release

Kashmiri students, traders and workmen have suffered violent attacks in different parts of the country after a suicide bomber of jihadi terrorist oraganisation JeM killed more than forty CRPF jawans in Pulwama in Kashmir valley. Students in Dehradun, Ambala, Jaipur and Yavatmal were physically threatened and forced to leave. Two institutions in Dehradun have given a written undertaking to the student union led by ABVP that they will not admit Kashmiri students from the next session. 

According to one report at least 10 Kashmiri students have been booked and 24 rusticated and suspended from colleges for what officials have termed as ‘anti-national’ social media messages. Traders in Bihar and West Bengal were attacked and their shops destroyed. Kashmiri workmen in a sugar mill in Muzaffarnagar were asked to leave. In Jammu city also Kashmiri state government employees were attacked in their residences and their properties ransacked. One governor of a state has publicly endorsed social boycott of Kashmiri people.

According to reports mobs targeting Kashmiris were led by RSS affiliated organisations like Bajrang Dal, VHP and ABVP. Educational institutes have acted against Kashmiri students without any enquiry and giving students an opportunity to defend themselves. Well known journalists who raised questions on Modi government’s Kashmir policy have received threats. A worryingfact is that no political party, except Kashmir based NC and PDP, and Akali Dal of Punjab has come out against attacks on Kashmiris.

It is commonly argued that these attacks are a‘natural’ expression of the hurt and rage felt by some patriotic Indians after Pulwama bombing on Indian defense forces. Indeed random mob attacks and even lynching are not uncommon in India. They show how easy it is to violate the civic rights of citizens in the country. The so called ‘nationalist’ attacks on Kashmiris area deep-rooted conspiracy to alter and control the political character of Indian society.Modi government and activists of Sanghparivar have systematically attacked selected groups whom they label ‘anti-national’ - Kashmiris now so-called urban Naxals; students from JNU, Dalit groups and indeed, religious minorities all over the country. 

All these activities are designed to create a frenzied atmosphere so that the Indian public comes to accept the violation of democratic norms as a natural state of affairs. We need to realise what is at stake. The BJP and Modi government are bent upon using the anger of ordinary Indians when Indian soldiers are attacked for narrow political gain in the coming elections. Modi is being shown as the only strong leader who can defend the nation. 

Indians need to realize the falsehood of this propaganda. The BJP and Modi in reality neither have political wisdom, nor are they interested in solving burning issues of national defense like Kashmir. They want to only milk it for immediate political advantage against their opponents. Only now, after more than a week of violence, and after Supreme Court’s directions to states that Kashmiri students be protected, Modi has condemned violence against them. This is woefully inadequate. If the PM were sincere about protecting Kashmiri citizens, as is his constitutional duty, then this statement should have come right when these attacks started.

The Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) demands that:
1. Criminal proceedings be instated against Bajrang Dal/VHP/ABVP leaders who led mobs against Kashmiri students and traders,
2. All students suspended and rusticated from educational institutions be taken back immediately, and
3. All Kashmiris living outside the valley be provided adequate security

We also call upon all democratic citizens and civil society organisations to reach out to any Kashmiri students and traders in their campuses and localities; show them solidarity and protect them against any attacks, verbal or physical. In particular the Police need to be reminded that all citizens are to be protected by law, regardless of their ethnic or religious identity.

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
February 23, 2019
Battini Rao, Convenor, PADS 
95339 75195,

see also

Naeem Akhtar: The aftermath of Pulwama marks the retreat of political engagement with Kashmir // Mukul Kesavan:The road to ruin

Naeem Akhtar: The aftermath of Pulwama marks the retreat of political engagement with Kashmir
Quite understandably, the Valentine’s Day atrocity in Pulwama, which caused the biggest ever loss of lives of security forces to violence in the three-decade-old strife in Kashmir, sent shockwaves across the world. The outrage and anger were unprecedented, given the fact that the fallen bravehearts came almost from every state. The very sight of body bags triggered calls for revenge.

While the country is trying to come to terms with the loss and is looking to the political and military leadership to come true on its pledge to root out terrorism, there has not been an adequate focus on its impact on ground zero — Kashmir. Nor has there been any attempt to look into the recent developments leading up to a tragedy of such a scale. A Kashmir perspective is absent in the current narrative, except for the attempts by political leaders and social media activists to try and save the harried students who became targets of revenge mobs in some places.

For a state that has gone through three decades of the worst violence and has actually never been stable post-Independence, how is February 14, 2019, different? A quarter-century back, 43 civilians were killed only a few miles away at Bijbehara on the same highway. But the killing of CRPF soldiers is different both for its context and fall out. The difference is reflected in many ways. First, Kashmiri youth are retaliating through methods that have been passed on to them, like a contagion moving through the air. From street demonstrations, funeral congregations, stone-throwing, teenagers with just a few days of experience with Kalashnikovs, mostly on social media, they have now been converted into dynamite. Pakistan is an essential part of this transformation, helping it along, but the problem remains exclusively ours. That they maintain assets in Kashmir is a fact of life that should need no proof. But does that affirmation help?.. read more:

Mukul Kesavan: The road to ruinThe idea of Kashmiri Muslims as colonial subjects, who can be disciplined by shotgun pellets, comes easily to the BJP

The horror of the jihadi ambush that killed dozens of CRPF soldiers and its aftermath, the attacks on Kashmiri students in India, is a clarifying moment. It demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Pakistan is run by a deep State that uses terror in the way a rogue dentist might use a drill: to deliberately and precisely hit a nerve and cause agony. Terror for Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex is a technology. For this vicious formation, the 22-year-old Kashmiri student who died blowing up the bus was a remote-controlled drone, worth nothing alive but a martyr the moment he died.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Vanuatu Has One Of The World’s Strictest Plastic Bans

Ocean plastic has become a scourge around the globe, floating in the remote seas off Hawaii and washing up in the ice fields of Antarctica. It wreaks havoc on marine life and is even polluting our food chain. The United Nations recently ”declared war″ on marine litter after finding that a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute. 

Vanuatu, which has a total population of over 275,000, is responsible for less than .1 percent of marine plastic debris, according to global waste statistics. Pacific island nations as a whole are estimated to contribute less than 1 percent of the world’s mismanaged plastic waste that feeds into the oceans. By unshackling itself from the ease and convenience of plastics, Vanuatu’s leaders hope to set a standard that the rest of the world - especially top plastic consumers like the United States - can follow. 

But American policymakers have had a much tougher time banning far less than Vanuatu. New York has been attempting a statewide ban on plastic bags for years, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said last month he’d push for it again in 2019. Only left-leaning California has been able to fully ban the products through legislation. Hawaii also has a de facto ban, after every county in the state passed its own law. A few American cities also have bans, or charge a nominal fee to buy them. For most of the country, however, the flimsy plastic totes are as easy to come by as ever. Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags every year, only a tiny percentage of which get recycled... read more:

Friday, 22 February 2019

‘Govt Cares for Neither Tribals Nor Forests’: Lawyer Ritwick Dutta // Millions of forest-dwelling indigenous people in India to be evicted

The Supreme Court, on 13 February, in Wildlife First & Others [Petitioner(s)] versus Ministry of Forest & Environment and Others, ordered over 16 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, to initiate the process of eviction of Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) from forestland. The petitioners had demanded that all those whose claims over traditional forestland are rejected under the Forest Rights Act (2006), should be evicted by state governments. A three-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee passed the order, giving states time till 27 July to evict Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs), and directed the states to submit a report on it. The Supreme Court order has drawn much flak from both environmentalists and tribal right activists.

Following are excerpts from an interview with environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta:
The Quint: The petitioners against the Forest Rights Act 2006 want to evict forest people whose claims to their land have been rejected, even as the ministry has admitted that many rejections need to be reviewed. Is there a loophole in the so-called ‘landmark’ FRA that allows for tribals to be evicted on some basis? On what basis can tribals’ claims to their land be rejected?

Ritwick Dutta: The Forest Rights Act 2006 recognizes the rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other traditional forest-dwellers. Now, there are two criteria that they have kept in mind – there is a cut off period for those who claim to be indigenous forest dwellers, to prove they have been on the site for three generations at least. One generation is 25 years. So the law doesn’t say that NO forest-dweller or ST shall be evicted; all it says is that it will recognize the rights of all STs and other traditional forest dwellers, by following due process of law, and the act says that no ST and other forest-dwelling community shall be evicted or their rights interfered with, till the process of determination of status of the tribals is completed. So the court is essentially saying, “what happens once this process has been completed?”

The Quint: While the SC has passed a detailed order giving eviction directions to the Chief Secretaries of 21 states, the Ministry has admitted that many of these rejections of tribals’ claims to their land need to be reviewed. In this scenario, can the SC go ahead and have tribals, whose claims have been rejected, evicted WITHOUT review?

Ritwick Dutta: The review process (of the status of tribals) has to be completed. Now suppose, a person makes a claim to land, and that claim is rejected, that will qualify as the first stage of rejection. That person has the right to then go appeal at the sub-divisional level committee, and then the district level committee. There are many layers of appeal provided in the law. In this case, the states can respond saying the entire process is still not over. And till the process is not over, action (of eviction) can’t be taken, because that is not in consonance with the law. At the same time, the FRA also does not take into consideration the rights to any NON-traditional forest dweller. It is thus, an issue of human rights vs tribal rights. This law will not protect those who are recent encroachers upon tribal land. Take the Delhi Ridge, for example. If, say, three communities suddenly decide to settle there and end up staying there for 10 years, it doesn’t mean they have a right to that land. What FRA clearly states is that the forest-dwellers will have to prove their status.

The Quint: Coming to the question of land approvals. Under the law, what is required of the tribals to prove their forest-dweller status and claim to land?

Ritwick Dutta: The FRA does not emphasize on written documentation. Say, there is an old / ancient tree in the village, or old temples, even oral statements are admissible under the FRA, taken as a basis to establish three generations of existence, and then the recognition of that process has to be done by the Gram Sabha, not by the government. There are places in which the process has not been followed, and especially in areas where there is an aim to do mining, build dams, they are not recognizing the rights in accordance with law. But in that situation, the forest-dwelling community can consider an appeal process. I’m working on cases on FRA in many places, from Himachal to Manipur, where the process (of review) has not been completed. And therefore, we have to go to the next stage to recognize that the first stage did not consider all the documents provided for tribal land claims. But the problem is, when will the entire process be fully completed? And one of the issues is that will it be a continuous process – of everybody coming in and occupying land, or is it something that will protect the rights of the indigenous people?

The Quint: Where does the buck stop?.. read more:

Millions of forest-dwelling indigenous people in India to be evicted

Achille Mbembe: Deglobalization

‘We see less and less of what is there for us to see and more and more of what we desperately want to see, even though what we want to see does not correspond to any original reality. Perhaps now more than ever, other people can stand before us as a concrete, tangible and physical presence and yet be no more than a spectral absence, an equally concrete, almost phenomenal void. This is what happens to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.’
Digital computation is engendering a new common world and new configurations of reality and power. But this ubiquitous, instantaneous world is confronted by the old world of bodies and distances. Technology is mobilized in order to create an omnipresent border that sequesters those with rights from those without them.

Every sphere of life has been penetrated by capital and subjected to quantification. In this context, borders have become nothing other than the violence underlying our world’s order, a war against mobility that is filling Europe with dead bodies and migrant camps. Can we dare to imagine the abolition of borders? The escalation is undeniable. No sphere of contemporary life has been left untouched by the spread of capital. Admittedly, its penetration is uneven. In many parts of the world, it operates primarily by proxy. Stupefied by poverty, destitution and deprivation, whole classes of people experience first-hand the dissociation between the world as actually lived, the material world of life at a specific place on the Earth’s surface, and the ubiquitous and blissful world of the screen – visible but utterly untouchable, uncontactable, unpossessable.
Nothing seems to escape capital’s control, whether affects, emotions and feelings, linguistic skills, or manifestations of desire, dreams or thought – all of life, in short. Capital extends its grasp deep into the underbelly of the world, leaving in its wake vast fields of debris and toxins, waste heaps of men ravaged by sores, abscesses and boils. Now that everything is a potential source of capitalization, capital has made a world of itself: a hallucinatory phenomenon of planetary dimensions that produces, on a grand scale, subjects who are simultaneously calculating, fictional and delirious.

Capital having been made flesh, everything is now a function of capital, even interiority. The processes driving this universal expansion are erratic. Everywhere they create randomness and uncertainty. Everywhere they institutionalize the risk inherent in the misfortunes of reality. Every-where they are subject to diversion and solicitation. No matter: capital has become our shared infrastructure, our nervous system, the transcendental maw that maps out our world and its psycho-physical limits.

Digital computation

Rajeev Khanna - The Reasons Why Gujarat Samachar Has Switched Sides

Youth who grew up on tales of the Gujarat Model are now unemployed and restless

AHMEDABAD: The right wing has a problem on hand in Gujarat, a state often referred to as the laboratory of Hindutva. The very narrative of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliate the Bharatiya Janata Party is now emerging as a counter-narrative, with sections of people here openly reminding the governing party what it used to claim and what it has delivered.

The most glaring example of this phenomenon is in the stand taken by the state’s leading daily Gujarat Samachar, and the response from what observers call the ‘Suvarn elite wedded to Sangh Parivar’s brand of nationalism and patriotism’, with the battle raging on social media and on the ground. On February 15, the day after the Pulwama attack that killed more than 40 paramilitary personnel in Kashmir, Gujarat Samachar carried a banner headline that read, 56 ni chhati ni kaayarta: aatankiyo befaam, 44 jawan shaheed (The cowardice of a 56-inch chest: terrorists get a free hand, 44 jawans martyred).

The paper added: Z plus security vachhe farta vadapradhan desh ni suraksha karta jawano maate laachaar (Prime Minister who moves around with Z-plus security helpless when it comes to protecting jawans). That very day, banners came up outside several localities saying Dogs and Gujarat Samachar Not Allowed, and many took to the social media to troll the paper and announce their decision to discontinue their subscription.