Bride Spurns Veil, Redefines Nuptials


By Holly Hughes, WeNews guest author

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In the anthology, “Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love And Marriage,” co-editors Audrey Bilger and Michele Kort offer an array of intimate insights. In this excerpt, performer Holly Hughes finds it’s easier to get married on Facebook.

(WOMENSENEWS)–We’ve talked about doing it. Getting married. Or whatever you want to call it. More than once during the past 16 years we’ve said, “Let’s do it.” But we quickly get tripped up by a tangle of competing desires, deeply rooted fears. We can’t get past what to wear. That’s always the first question that comes up, before what kind of ceremony we’ll have, where we’ll do it, who will be there. Before we think what the whole thing means there’s the question of what to wear. Which does not take the form of a question; it takes the form of a statement by Esther: “I’m not wearing a suit.”

She says she’s butch, she’s not a man, an announcement that feels well rehearsed, like she’s said it a thousand times before, and perhaps she has, but not to me. She is drawing a bright line dividing the category butch from that of man, and I am wondering, who in the hell is this person? What happened to the person I met 16 years ago, the one whose every gesture seemed designed to blur the roles of man and woman, to write her own story called butch on top of, around, over, and beyond the old myths? Why is she going back and redrawing the lines in black ink? Where is the person who ended the first date by telling me, “I have a truck. Next time, maybe you’d like a ride”?

She’d dress up a little, but basically she wants to be comfortable. I think that part of the point is being a bit uncomfortable. Making a public commitment after all this time isn’t as risky as it might have been earlier on, but it’s still a leap of some sort. It shouldn’t look like every other day of your life. It shouldn’t look like it happened on the way to the Agway; you shouldn’t wear brown corduroy. I don’t know what I will wear, but you can bet two things: It won’t be white and it won’t go with brown corduroy.

I joke that we could have separate but adjacent weddings. I guess it’s a joke.

I marry Esther quickly, secretly, when she isn’t looking. When she is sitting in her office, in her comfortable clothes. Facebook makes it easy: There are only two choices that come close to fitting: “married” or “it’s complicated.” I flirt with the latter when I create my account. But then I decide it isn’t, not really. It’s not that complicated. Not today.

People notice. My Facebook friends chime in with “When did you get married?” With jokes edged with a bitter shine: You can’t get married. But it’s a public space, Facebook; we have had a public ceremony of sorts. In other places and times that was enough. You didn’t need to have more of a ceremony; all that was required was that some man said: “I’m married.” I’m that man.

I don’t tell her. She finds out later. Shouldn’t we have talked about this? I used her name. I’m Borat, tossing a bag over Pamela Anderson with a muttered “Consent not necessary.”

But I say we have talked about it; we agreed. We just haven’t done anything about it. I didn’t feel like I was making a claim, I was stating a fact. Married happened to us, like the rain, overnight; we woke up and there were puddles everywhere. I’m just reporting on what happened. But I don’t look at her when I say this. Marrying someone when they are not looking is not the same as deciding to take the garbage out even though it’s her turn.

I do not say, “I’m married to you whether you know it or not.” But I do say, “You can decide what you want to say on Facebook. You don’t have to say you’re married. It’s complicated.”

Bumpy road ahead for India’s nuclear programme


Kalyan Ray, New Delhi, April 7, 2012, DHNS:

Post Kudankulam, Indian nuclear establishment promises to take the people along and give more emphasis to local area development before embarking on any new nuclear project in the future. At least eight sites have already been identified for setting up green field nuclear power plants and more states have come forward with proposals to set up nuclear power plants in their states.

The anti-nuclear protests are now likely to shift to Jaitapur in coastal Maharashtra that has already witnessed a sea of protests against land acquisition. The activists added fuel to the fire by claiming that six 1650 MW French EPR reactors to be installed at Jaitapur would destroy the livelihood of fishermen and ruin the biodiversity.

As protests intensified, Maharashtra government took several administrative steps, including framing a new rehabilitation package to calm down frayed nerves and brokered at least a temporary truce. But the agitators, in all likelihood, will return to Jaitapur – described as an ideal site for nuclear power plants by the Department of atomic energy (DAE) – once the actual construction work starts.

In Jaitapur, land acquisition is through and a few ancillary constructions completed in the last one and a half years. The wait now is for finalisation of the techno-commercial agreement between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and French major Areva, after which the DAE would seek Union Cabinet’s approval for building the first two units by 2020. The delay in Jaitapur project was due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster after which India insisted on a French official review of the EPR designs. India received the review in January 2012 and subsequently NPCIL and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board analysed it. With the EPR review in its pocket, the DAE hopes to close the French deal in 2012.

The large 700 MW units to be constructed by NPCIL in existing sites would not pose any problem as the land is already available with DAE, which is constructing two 700 MW units each in Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Rawatbhata (Rajasthan). The Rs 11,459 crore third and fourth units at Kakrapar are scheduled to be ready by 2015-16, whereas Rs 12,320 crore seventh and eighth units at Rawatbhata would be completed by 2016-17.

“We will set up two more 700 MW units in Kaiga for which forest clearance is required. This is being obtained,” DAE secretary and Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee told Deccan Herald. Narora in Uttar Pradesh will also house two new 700 MW nuclear reactors.

Bigger challenge

But it is the green field sites that will throw up greater challenge to DAE and NPCIL. The new sites for large scale indigenous reactors are Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan, Bhimpur and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh and Gorakhpur in Haryana. In addition, the government approved four sites – Haripur in West Bengal, Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh and ChhayaMithi Virdi in Gujarat – for foreign suppliers from Russia, France and USA to set up 30 nuclear power plants with a total installed capacity of 33,900 MW. As the road map has become ambitious, the nuclear establishment is bracing up for the battle.

The opposition is usually on two grounds – land acquisition and anti-nuclear sentiment that received a fillip worldwide after Fukushima. The DAE plans a detailed neighbourhood development programme as a counter tactic. “We will take the local people along. The focus is more on secondary job creation and improving the quality of life through neighbourhood development. We will support setting up of schools and hospital in the vicinity of a nuclear plant and their running,” Banerjee said.

Added emphasis on extensive communication is the most critical lesson learnt post Fukushima and Kudankulam. The communication, said former AEC chairman and principal scientific advisor to the Union Cabinet R Chidambaram, had to be comprehensive and concise. “Public is not an empty container to be filled up by information. They have their own preoccupation,” Chidambaram said, adding that partial scientific literacy (often propagated by anti nuclear activists) was more dangerous than scientific illiteracy.

Road blocks

A new battle front seems to be opening up in Haryana where the department is in the process of acquiring 1,504 acres of land from Haryana government to set up nuclear power plants. “Most of the formalities have been completed to acquire the land for public purpose. However, the actual awarding of the land to NPCIL is yet to be completed,” said T R Arora, an executive engineer in charge of the land acquisition process in Haryana. The nuclear plant is being opposed by Lok Sabha Member Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal. In West Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government too is totally opposed to nuclear plants coming up at Haripur.

The road ahead certainly looks bumpy for the nuclear establishment.

Posco verdict: Finally, environmental justice in India



by Janaki Lenin,Firt Post Apr 8, 2012

So what if it was the largest-ever FDI in India? The law finally caught up with it on 30 March 2012, when the National Green Tribunal suspended POSCO’s environmental clearance and ordered a fresh review. We can celebrate the outcome in this day and cynical age: It is still possible, though not easy, to get environmental justice in this country.

Since June 2005, when the agreement between the Government of Orissa and the South Korean Pohang Steel Company, aka POSCO, was signed, there have been behind-the-scenes manipulations, lax implementation of law, and suppression of information. All the main players – the state Government of Orissa, Government of India, and POSCO – colluded.

P Chidambaram, then Minister of Finance, and Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, are known to have breathed down the neck of A Raja, then Minister of Environment and Forests, to fast track necessary clearances for POSCO. In fact, on 15 May 2007, his second last day as Minister, Raja granted environmental approval to the POSCO port. A month later, approval for the steel and power plants came through. That’s how close it was.

Supporters of Communist Party of India (CPI) hold placards during a protest in New Delhi June 24, 2011. Reuters
Repeated complaints of non-implementation of the Forests Rights Act led to a Review Committee being set up in July 2010. Who does the Ministry choose to chair this Committee? The former Secretary under whose watch clearances were granted in the first place. As the chair, Meena Gupta was to review her own decision. She was both judge and defendant. Did the Ministry really expect her to be critical of her own work?

However, the other three members of the committee were so appalled by the numerous violations, that they drastically differed in opinion from Gupta and submitted their own report. The report said both the Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committees which granted environmental clearances were filled with yes-men and biased in favour of the Korean company. The majority members of the Review Committee called for nothing less than cancellation of clearances granted to POSCO.

Jairam Ramesh, then Minister of Environment and Forests, ignored the Review Committee members’ report and ignominiously issued the final order in January 2011. Perhaps to neutralize the outrage, he piled on 60 conditions contingent on the clearance. But since the Ministry has no way, much less intent, of checking if the company complies, the stipulations are toothless. The approval was for all practical purposes a carte blanche.

Is all this complaining about a mega project just the romantic, anti-development moans of social misfits out of touch with reality? What is wrong with the POSCO enterprise?

The steel plant requires more than 12,000,000 litres of fresh-water per hour. So, the state offered Jobra barrage on the Mahanadi, 86 km away. But this also happens to be the main drinking water source for Cuttack city and Jagatsinghpur District. When there was a public outcry, the state suggested POSCO siphon water from Hansua Nallah, an irrigation channel. Farmers of the area have banded together and formed a group to protest the use of this water, and they are supported by several political parties. So, at the moment, the plant has no assured source of water.

Seaports on the east coast of India cause devastating erosion on one side of the port and a massive pile up of sand on the other. The POSCO port is to be located on the mouth of an estuary, one of the most dynamic and fragile coastal ecosystems. In order to create a channel for ships to enter the port, POSCO intends to dump sand on the mouth of the Jatadharmohan creek and demolish a sand spit about 500 m away. Sand dunes, which protect the coast from storm surges, will have to be leveled to build the port. Each one of these drastic engineering activities is prohibited as the area enjoys the highest protection under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification. Did the regulators even see the port’s engineering plans before clearing it for construction? Is the Coastal Notification just window dressing that no one really needs to pay any attention to?

The POSCO port will be just a few km away from Gahirmatha and Devi nesting beaches, one of the largest nesting grounds of olive ridley sea turtles in the world. Would the turtles’ migratory paths intersect shipping routes? Would lights illuminating the port cause nesting turtles to abandon the site, or the defenseless hatchlings to be disoriented and head en masse inland to their deaths at the POSCO site? Other wild creatures such as horseshoe crabs and three species of dolphins use the area as breeding and foraging grounds. Would turbidity, caused by constant dredging to maintain the shipping channel, support any life along the coast? How will this affect the livelihoods of lakhs of coastal people in the area? How will a solid clunker of a port obstructing flow of currents and sediments alter the coast? What would be the likely impact on the mangroves of Bhitarkanika National Park, India’s last safe population of saltwater crocodiles and a site recognized by the international RAMSAR treaty? No one has a clue.

POSCO doesn’t just threaten our natural heritage and local livelihoods. It threatens a key infrastructural asset too. In 2005, T.R. Baalu, the then Minister of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways said in the Lok Sabha that privately owned POSCO port may cause severe erosion to public-sector Paradip port. He asked the Orissa Government to undertake a detailed study of erosion impact before allowing the POSCO port to be built. Besides, dredged material from POSCO could silt the channel at Paradip during some months of the year. On the basis of zero studies, the Orissa government insists all will be fine. We may have numerous institutes and experts, but the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the PMO appear to place greater trust in the state’s guarantee. Despite the many threats to local wildlife and the livelihood of lakhs of people in the area, POSCO is adamant it wants its own port even though Paradip Port is only 10 to 12 km away. And our magnanimous government pampers the company.

Although the total capacity of the steel plant is 12 MTPA (metric tons per annum), the company sought clearance only for 4 MTPA. But, it wants land for a 12 MTPA capacity plant. Not only did POSCO split up the whole undertaking into separate components, it lowered the capacity of its plant to maximize its chances of getting clearance.

This entire edifice will be constructed at great ecological and human cost on the premise that there are accessible raw materials somewhere. There are none. Even while the State and Centre are hustling the enterprise forward, POSCO has no iron ore for its steel plant or to export through its port back to the mother country, and no coal mine to fuel its power plant.

The State government recommended giving the Khandadhar iron ore mine to POSCO, but there are 290 other claimants. One of them went to court which set aside the state government’s recommendation, and now POSCO has appealed to the Supreme Court. What if it loses the case again? There is no information on which coal mine will be assigned to POSCO. The state’s largesse in doling out millions of tons of ore at dirt cheap prices is another story of loot and plunder.

This huge scheme got away with its clearances on the basis of a hastily conducted Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The plant and port would be connected by railway, roads, and pipelines, which have all been left out of the EIA’s ambit. The assessment did not include the yet-to-be-identified water source, nor examine the impact of this mega-development on human lives, much less wildlife. It also didn’t consider the source of raw materials for this project. If all these impacts aren’t considered, what exactly is an EIA for? Is it just a meaningless ritual?

And then there’s the forest clearance. Unlike the Expert Appraisal Committees, the Forest Advisory Committee headed by the Director General of Forests refused to issue the clearance needed to divert forest land. Before the diversion can take place, the rights of people resident in the area have to be settled under the Forest Rights Act. The state has absolutely refused to do this, even going to the extent of denying that anybody lived on the land earmarked for development. In fact, compared to the generous offer of 4000 acres of land to POSCO, the state is denying its own people any rights at all. Yet, Ramesh over-ruled the Forest Committee’s considered opinion and issued an executive fiat.

In a parallel development, in late March 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General accused the Orissa government of misusing the Land Acquisition Act in favour of industrial houses such as POSCO.

Seven years after the agreement was signed and more than ten months after POSCO got all the necessary paperwork cleared with the aid of its powerful friends, if the enterprise exists only on paper, it’s because of local people’s opposition. When every single state mechanism and law that protected their rights has been undermined, people have peacefully braved daily harassment and violence being dealt to them by privately-hired goons and state police.

On his recent visit to South Korea, the Prime Minister assured President Lee Myung-bak that POSCO’s plans will be approved. Considering the close watch he’s been keeping on the paperwork, the environmental and forest rights problems could not have escaped his attention. And yet, how was he confident that the scheme will be approved?

Clearly, this entire undertaking needs to be evaluated comprehensively and that’s what the National Green Tribunal has ordered. In the face of the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s callous disregard of laws and ignoring the critique of the Review and Forest Advisory Committees it set up, the Tribunal’s verdict comes as welcome succour.

 

Indian tribe’s Avatar-like battle against mining firm reaches supreme court


Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi

Dongri Kondh Dance from Kalahandi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday April 8,  The Guardian
Dongria Kondh people pledge to carry on fight to prevent Vedanta Resources from mining bauxite in Niyamgiri hills

The leaders of thousands of forest-dwelling tribesmen who have fought for years to preserve their ancestral lands from exploitation by an international mining corporation have promised to continue their struggle whatever the decision in a key hearing before India’s supreme court on Monday.

Dubbed the “real-life Avatar” after the Hollywood blockbuster, the battle of the Dongria Kondh people to stop the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources from mining bauxite from a hillside they consider sacred has attracted international support. Celebrities backing the campaign include James Cameron, the director of Avatar, Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author, as well as the British actors Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin.

On Monday the court will decide on an appeal by Vedanta against a ministerial decision in 2010 that stopped work at the site in the Niyamgiri hills of India’s eastern Orissa state.

Lingaraj Azad, a leader of the Save Niyamgiri Committee, said the Dongria Kondh’s campaign was “not just that of an isolated tribe for its customary rights over its traditional lands and habitats, but that of the entire world over protecting our natural heritage”.

An alliance of local tribes has now formed to defend the Dongria Khondh. Kumity Majhi, a leader of the Majhi Kondh adivasi (indigenous people), said local communities would stop the mining “whether or not the supreme court favour us”.

“We, the Majhi Kondh adivasis, will help our Dongria Kondh brothers in protecting the mountains,” he said.

India’s rapid economic growth has generated huge demand for raw materials. Weak law enforcement has allowed massive environmental damage from mining and other extractive industries, according to campaigners.

Vedanta, which wants the bauxite for an alumina refinery it has built near the hills, requires clearance under the country’s forest and environmental laws. But though it had obtained provisional permission, it failed to satisfy laws protecting the forests and granting rights to local tribal groups.

A government report accused the firm of violations of forest conservation, tribal rights and environmental protection laws in Orissa, a charge subsequently repeated by a panel of forestry experts.

Jairam Ramesh, the then environment minister, decided that Vedanta would not be allowed to mine the bauxite because “laws [were] being violated”.

At the time, a spokesman denied the company had failed to obtain the consent of the tribal groups. “Our effort is to bring the poor tribal people into the mainstream,” Vedanta Aluminium‘s chief operating officer, Mukesh Kumar, said shortly before the 2010 decision.

Since then the company has made efforts to win over local and international opinion. This weekend Vedanta, contacted through their London-based public relations firm, declined to comment.

Many Indian businessmen say economic growth must be prioritised even at the expense of the environment or the country’s most marginalised communities. They argue these are the inevitable costs of development.

Ramesh was considered the first environment minister to take on major corporate interests after decades where legal constraints on business were routinely ignored. But his stance caused a rift within the government and he was moved to a different ministry.

Chandra Bhushan, of the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, said the outcome of the court case would either be “very encouraging for business or very encouraging for civil society”.

“There are so many reasons not to mine there [in the Niyamgiri hills], the court could only overturn it on procedural grounds. Otherwise it will send a signal of total political paralysis,” he told the Guardian.

The supreme court may decide to send the case to the newly constituted national green tribunal, a body of legal and technical experts, to consider once more.

Last week the tribunal suspended the environmental permits for the massive Posco iron and steel refinery, also in Orissa. The project would see an £8bn investment from a South Korean firm, and would significantly enhance India’s industrial capacity as well as generating hundreds of jobs. The tribunal decided however that studies on its environmental impact had been based on a smaller venture and were thus invalid.

Elsewhere in India, power plants, dams, factories, roads and other infrastructure projects are stalled pending environmental clearance. There are frequent reports of clashes over land throughout the country. In February, Survival International, a UK-based campaign group, said it received reports of arrests and beatings apparently aimed at stopping a major religious festival in the Niyamgiri hills where Vedanta’s bauxite mine is planned.

Faking Happiness- Vedanta- The Avataar of India

Unravelling Religious Supremacism


By Robert Nolly

The diversity of religions, each claiming to represent the Ultimate Truth, never ceases to amaze me. But, I have to say, this diversity also confuses me—often, to the point of terrific distress. Surely, if there is one Ultimate Truth (or what believers in a personal deity call God), ‘true’ religion can only be one. Supposing that indeed is the case, there are two logical possibilities with regard to the question of ‘true’ religion: Firstly, that of all the many religions that exist in the world, one alone is absolutely true, and the rest are completely, or at least partially, false. Or, secondly, that none of the religions are true in the ultimate sense, all of them being limited in some way or the other.

In this article, I wish to explore the claims of religions that are premised on the notion of a god and that claim to represent the ‘only true’ way to this god. Such religions are adhered to by hundreds of millions of followers, and, taken together, might account for the majority of humankind. Typically, such religions are based on the notion that human beings were created by God, and that they come into this world just once, after which, upon death or on the ‘Day of Judgment’, they will be transported to everlasting bliss in heaven or dispatched to eternal torment in hell—it all depends on whether or not they truly believed in and followed the ‘one true’ religion while on earth.

Religious traditions that are framed on these lines are intrinsically supremacist and intolerant. They instill in their followers the belief that their faith alone is correct and in accordance with the divine will, and that those who do not accept their religion will be doomed to painful torment in hell, which will last forever. This leads to an irrepressible urge to convert ‘unbelievers’ to their fold through missionary activism or else to combat them, through persuasion or force, if necessary. A great deal of bloodshed throughout human history since these religions came into being is a direct result of this supremacism that these religious traditions encourage. It is difficult, if not impossible, for many adherents of these religions to accept people of other faiths as equals and to genuinely love them as they are, for they are trained to view them as ‘followers of falsehood’, ‘disbelievers’, ‘infidels’, ‘enemies of God’, ‘people of lesser worth’, ‘impure’, ‘evil’, and so on.

But it isn’t just the frightful consequences of such supremacism that these religions almost inevitably promote that worries me. What is equally troubling is the terrifying concept of God that they operate with, which has nothing in common with the notion of a just and loving omnipotent being that God is often made out to be—including, and ironically, by many of these ‘believers’ themselves.

I’ve often asked believers in these religions how, if at all, they reconcile their notion of a just, loving, omnipotent deity with their fervent belief that those who do not follow their supposed ‘one true’ religion would inevitably be thrown into hell by such a god. I have yet to receive any satisfactory reply to this paradox—and I guess I never will.

It doesn’t require much theological expertise to understand what this insoluble dilemma is all about. Suppose a religion named X is considered by its adherents to be the only true religion. Faithful followers of religion X alone, its followers believe, qualify to go to heaven, while all others will be consigned to everlasting doom in hell. No matter how good and kind a person who follows a religion other than religion X may be, it is believed that she will merit everlasting punishment in hell simply because she did not accept and believe in religion X while on earth. God, so it is argued, will never accept such a person, no matter how loving and kind or how devoted he or she was to his or her own understanding of the divine simply because it did not correspond exactly with the teachings of religion X.

The utter injustice of this belief is obvious. Believers in religion X will argue that God is the creator of all of humankind and that He decides in which family a person will be born. Now, this obviously means that if I am born into a family that does not follow religion X, it is because God willed it to be so. It was no fault of my own that I was born into such a ‘disbelieving’ family, the decision being entirely God’s. This basic argument, which believers in religion X will have no problem with, poses major questions for the concept of a truly loving and just God.

The vast majority of people follow the religion they were born into. From an early age onwards, they are reared into believing it to be true by their parents, and many of them faithfully follow it, honestly thinking that in this way they can win the favour of God. Surely, then, you will agree, they can hardly be ‘blamed’ for adhering to the religion of their birth. To think that God will punish them—to the extent of torturing them in hell forever—simply because they followed a religion other than X makes this God out to be an unjust tyrant, who punishes innocent people for His own ‘fault’. After all, it was God’s ‘fault’ for making such people be born into a family that followed a religion other than X, because of which they grew up to believe that their parent’s religion, and not religion X, was the true one! What this absurd belief means is that God first makes the ‘mistake’ of making someone be born and, therefore, reared into a ‘wrong’ religion and into fervently believing it and then compels that innocent person to suffer for eternity for this ‘mistake’ which God made! This is what the supremacist claim of religion X really boils down to. Does this not mean that such a God, at least as religion X imagines him to be, is utterly unjust, cruel, brutal and unloving?

There is another aspect of this God, as adherents of religion X imagine him, that goes completely against the claim that he is just and fair. If He is truly fair, he should have given an equal chance to everyone to believe in and have access to religion X, the supposed one true religion. But He does nothing of the sort at all. Instead, he forces the whole of humankind into a grossly unfair race that is heavily loaded, from their very birth itself, against all who are born into families that do not follow religion X. He causes—for which adherents of religion X have no satisfactory explanation—some people to be born into families that adhere to religion X and many others to be born into families that don’t accept religion X or may not have even heard of it at all! Given that, as noted above, almost all people are socialized into believing that the religion of their parents is true, the former have an infinitely better chance of being ‘saved’ and transported into heaven than the latter—not because they are better or more ‘pious’ human beings but simply because of their birth into families that follow the supposedly ‘only true’ religion. In contrast, the latter have an infinitely remoter chance of entering heaven and, conversely, a much greater chance of going to hell, only because God willed them to be born into a family that follows a ‘wrong’ religion. Is this at all just or fair? Does this not make God, as religion X conceives Him, to be utterly unfair, whimsical, cruel, arbitrary and partial?

The claims that adherents of religion X make about their religion being the only true one also fail to square with their claims of believing in a God who is omnipotent while also being fair and just, loving and kind. If He is truly omnipotent, surely, if he were also fair and just, loving and kind, He could have given every human being the same chance or possibility of accessing X, the supposedly ‘only true’ religion. This could only happen if all human beings were born into families that follow religion X, and an omnipotent God could easily have done that. In such a case, everyone would enjoy an equal and fair chance to be ‘tested’ by God for their sincerity, devotion, love, kindness and faith. They would have all started from the same starting point and only then the test would be said to be fair. But God does nothing of the sort. Instead, He causes only some people to be born into families that follow religion X and most others into ‘disbelieving’ ones. In this way, He makes it infinitely easier for the former, for no reason at all, to believe in the supposedly ‘one true’ religion than the latter, who have, for no ‘fault’ of their own, a very remote chance of believing in this religion. What this suggests is that God, at least as followers of X make him out to be, is either not omnipotent or that He is unfair and unjust. Either way, it casts great doubts about the notion of God as being omnipotent as well as fair and just that religion X claims to be premised on.

Let me clarify this important point with the help of an analogy. Suppose you and I are classmates at school and we are asked by our headmistress to run in a race. The intention of the race is, of course, to discern who is a faster runner, and the winner gets a fabulous trophy. If the headmistress is fair, she should have both you and I starting the race from the same line. Only then can she be said to be fair, just and impartial, and only then can we be tested to find out who of us is the faster runner. But, instead of doing that, suppose she makes you stand almost near the finishing line and me a long mile behind and then asks us to begin running. It doesn’t need much intelligence to know that she is being absolutely unfair and unreasonably partial to you and grossly unjust to me, because, inevitably, you will land up at the finishing line much before I will. And that would be not because you are a better runner than I am but simply because the headmistress has unduly favoured you. If you were to said to have won the race and I were told that I had miserably failed in my performance, you will agree that this would be absolutely unfair on her part. Such a race would certainly be no fair test of our respective running abilities. In such a case, if you win the trophy I would be amply justified in claiming that the race was rigged at the very outset itself and that the head-mistress was absolutely unjust.

Apply the same logic to the arguments of adherents of religion X. They claim that God has sent us into the world in order to test how faithfully we adhere to the supposedly ‘one true religion’. In the face of the fact that God causes only some people to be born into families that adhere to religion X and many others to be born into other families, it is obvious that the former have a much greater chance of believing in and following religion X than the latter simply because of the families into which they were born, which was decided by God. They have a much better chance of winning the ‘test’ of believing in the ‘one true religion’ not because they are better or more sincere and righteous people than the rest of humankind but simply because they were born into families that adhere to religion X. In such a case, those who are born into the ‘wrong’ religion can justifiably complain that the ‘test’ that they were made to appear for by God had been rigged and heavily loaded against from the very beginning, from birth itself, and if they have failed the ‘test’ it is God’s fault and not their own. Surely, they would argue, if God were truly just, he should have made everyone start the test of faith from the same line, causing them all to be born in families that follow the one supposedly true religion. They can justifiably complain that causing them to be born into the ‘wrong’ religion and others to be born into the supposedly one true religion, He is behaving just like the unfair headmistress described in the analogy above. They would not be wrong in contending that such a God is not the fair and just being that adherents of religion X claim him to be.

What does all this mean, then, for the notion of Ultimate Truth? At the very least, it indicates clearly that the idea of an omnipotent, loving and just God simply cannot gel with the belief of adherents of religion X that He consigns people into everlasting Hell simply because they do not follow the supposed ‘one true’ religion. Were God to do so, he would definitely be neither loving nor just. And that is a god I don’t think any sensible person can ever be tempted to accept.

The notion of God as consigning all non-adherents of the supposed ‘one true religion’ to punishment in hell simply because they do not believe in its doctrines indicates, as far as I am concerned, that the claims of adherents of this theory are both immoral as well as illogical. Supposing that God, in the form in which the divine is commonly imagined, does indeed exist, I would imagine that such claims about Him would be tantamount to nothing less than casting aspersions on Him, attributing to him a character wholly opposed to the notion of him as a loving and kind force or being. And that adequately convinces me that the supremacist claims of adherents of religious traditions such as X are wholly suspect and man-made and that their belief is fundamentally opposed to what the Ultimate Reality, or God, if you like, truly must be.

Immediate Release-Demonstrators against Slum Evictions arrested in Kolkata


Sanhati, April 8, 2012

Many demonstrators, including Sanhati activists, arrested during protest meeting

Message received from activists: Around 80 people including many women and children have been arrested while the meeting was continuing peacefully. Sanhati members Samik, Parag, Abhijnan and Partho have been arrested along with many other activists. Peoples spirits are high. The movement will go on.

Earlier : a day long sit-in demonstration to protest against Nonadanga slum demolition and forcible eviction, started at Ruby junction around 10am.

For the last one week, the evicted people are staying in an open field under the scorching sun and the blinding rain, facing police repression, but have refused to move away.

*********

7 April 2012

Letter to CM from residents of Nonadanga
Translated by Riten Mitra

Dear Sir,

We are a total of about 150 households and Nonadanga grounds has been our home for quite some time. Some of us have been here for the last two years, some six. There is another colony consisting of about 100 families, with an estimated mean population of about seven to eight hundred. We had all come to stay here from different parts of West Bengal. For the last 34 years, we have been victims of severe deprivation, working as cheap labor and trying hard to make ends meet in times of scarcity. Now we are to be ousted again. Where shall we go from here?

It is your government that replaced the old one for one, Tapasi Mallik. Then how could you drive away seven to eight hundred families at one go ? If we were just one or two households, like in the past, the shock would have been less. Are we to understand that the land which was deemed useless by the government, for the last 50 to 60 years, is now suddenly required ?

We are a group of helpless poor who have reached the limits of desperation. We appeal to you for the last time with the hope that you can come here and see our daily living conditions for yourself. If Didi could rush to the scene for one Tapashi Mallik, then she could surely hear the voices of 800 poor people and come here to see us. We look forward to seeing her. We hope that she comes and sees us.

Yours respectfully,

Nonadanga Majdur Palli
Thana-Tiljala
South 24 Parganas

Report of brutal lathicharge on protest by evicted slum-dwellers
by Partho Sarathi Ray

5 April 2012

Video : Clash at Ruby More

On 4th April, the Kolkata police conducted a brutal lathicharge on a peaceful protest rally of slum dwellers who have been evicted over the past one week from their hutments in Nonadanga in south Kolkata. Nonadanga is the area where slum dwellers evicted from various canal banks of Kolkata are being resettled over the past five years under the BSUP (Basic Services to Urban Poor) scheme of JNNURM. The resettlement projects have been run by KMDA (Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority) and KEIP (Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project) who own the land in the area, although no basic services or amenities for the families sent to this area, such as schools or health services were provided. Nonadanga also became a place where many other families, escaping the ravages of hurricane Aila, or failed crops and indebtedness in their villages, came and settled. They had to pay Rs 5000 to Rs 10000 to the local CPI(M) or Trinamool Congress bosses, in order to be allowed to build hutments on the vacant land lying around. It is these people who are being evicted now, their shanties demolished and burnt down by KMDA and the police, as they are being labeled as “encroachers”. The real reason behind this is that the land in Nonadanga, very close to a major intersection on the E M Bypass, is a prime target of real estate developers, and these “encroachers” have to be removed in order to make this land available for “beautification”.

Last week the KMDA, went on a demolition drive, in spite of an appeal by the slum dwellers to the urban development minister Firhad Hakeem. The latter openly stated that all “illegal” settlers would be evicted. Around 200 shanties were bulldozed, and all belongings of these families were destroyed. Since then, around 150 families are staying out in the open, in the scorching sun, and their only means of sustenance is a public kitchen being run by some Leftist youth and political organizations which have come forward in solidarity with the slum dwellers. Yesterday, the evicted people had tried to take out a rally towards the E M Bypass road, but the police first prevented them from reaching the road, and then lathicharged. The rally, consisting of many women and children, was broken up in this brutal manner and many people have been injured. Women were beaten up mercilessly by male police. A pregnant woman named Rita Patra was injured and has been hospitalized. A 3 year old child Joy Paswan has had his head fractured by a police lathi. Many activists who were in the march were also beaten up in a targeted manner. However, the slum dwellers have not shifted from their demand of proper rehabilitation and compensation and would be marching to the office of the urban development minister today.

The government of “maa, mati, manush” of Mamata Banerjee has shown its true colours, evicting the “manush” from the “mati” and beating up the “maa”, all in order to hand over the commons land of Kolkata to the corporate land sharks in the best traditions set up by the previous CPI(M)-led government.

Unsuccessful rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their children in India


Manual scavengers and their children from various states express their feelings regarding rehabilitation Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan organized a one day “National Public Hearing on Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers and their Children in India” at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi on 28th March 2012 with the especial emphasis of rehabilitation and scholarship schemes like Scheme for Self Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), Pre-Matric Scholarships to the Children of those Engaged in ‘Unclean’ Occupations, etc with the following objectives:
1. To present an overall scenario of the rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their children in the nation.
2. To provide a public platform to the women who left this practice and also to those who are still involved in the practice to voice their concerns and problems related to rehabilitation they are facing.
3. To bring forth the cases of the corruption in rehabilitation, exploitation and abuse of those who are involved or left manual scavenging and share with government and non government bodies.
4. To increase the political will to address the issues and to associate and sensitize other sections of the society and involve them rehabilitation and to build a common and larger consensus and movement for liberation and rehabilitation of liberated manual scavengers.
Corruption was done on large scale in the rehabilitation scheme, which is Rs. 735.6 crores rehabilitation scheme implemented by Government of India. About 76% people got benefits;those are not in eligible criteria. This fact came out in the public hearing of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan (National Campaign for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging) at New Delhi on
28th March 2012. Liberated manual scavenger women, engaged manual scavengers and representatives of community and social organizations from 10 states participated in this public hearing. 32 women and children from the manual scavenger community shared their cases related to manual scavenging practice, rehabilitation, education, atrocities, untouchability and
discrimination in this public hearing.

An 8 years old girl from Mandsore district told that untouchability is very prevalent during the Mid Day Meal in her school. Children of dalit community received breads from some distance.They can’t touch the basket of breads. Scholarships of children of liberated manual scavenging families also stopped by the government.

A 14 years boy Ravi from Tikamgrah and a girl Pinki from Neemachch district said that our scholarships stopped by schools because our parents stopped the manual scavenging work. Both of them dropped out from the school due to poverty
and their scholarship were stopped. Mrs. Husnabai from Jhalabad district of Rajasthan also told the same story. Her granddaughter was getting scholarship but after they left manual scavenging work by her parents her scholarship stopped by school. Major thing come out that untouchability and various type of discrimination is going in the schools with the children of dalit community and stopped their scholarships by schools. This is very clear that violation has been done of human rights has been done of these children due to this inhuman practice.
Government of India prohibited manual scavenging practice in 1993 through the act.
Government of India implemented a scheme “Self Employment Scheme for rehabilitation of
manual scavengers” SRMS in the 2007 but people of dalit community don’t have any benefits
from the rehabilitation scheme.

Read the full report below

Brief Report on National Public Hearing on Rehabilitation Manual Scavengers and their Children

600 prisoners died of poor medicare in 6 years


Nagaraju Koppula
Express News Service

HYDERABAD: As many as 642 inmates of seven central prisons in the state died in the past six years. The reason : AP Prisons Department’s medical wing is inadequately equipped with staff and medicines

Of the 642 deaths, 20 were suicides, two were killed by opponents and 620 others died of various health problems including mental illness in the hospitals in the past six years

On an average, mortality rate of inmates in the state prisons is 120 per annum, according to the records of the AP Prisons Department (APPD).Timely medical facilities should be provided to the prisoners. A number of prisoners die due to natural causes for want of timely medical attention.Another problem is the mental trauma and related illnesses that hound prison inmates. Life at central prisons is breaking the psychological health of many prisoners, going by the number of inmates regularly being brought for treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Erragadda here. Every week, 20 to 25 inmates from Cherlapally and Chenchalguda prisons were brought to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and about 35 to 40 inmates to Gandhi and Osmania general hospitals in the state capital. Some of them have conditions so advanced that they have to be hospitalised for three to five weeks, records at the IMH reveal.But even with a long history of mental illness afflicting inmates, none of the prisons in the state have filled the post of a psychiatrist

There are seven central prisons in the state – Cherlapally, Chanchalguda, Warangal, Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Kadapa and Kurnool and two prisons for women at Chanchalguda and Rajahmundry. The total strength of these prisons is about 7,000.The reasons for physical and mental illnesses among prisoners are many, according to a doctor at Cherlapally jail.

An inmate gets cut off from his social life outside and the loss of regular interaction with family and friends is likely to push him or her into a deep depression. “One who is physically weak and mentally vulnerable is also likely to develop psychological problems in the prison as they face trouble from fellow inmates who have been staying there for long, the doctor says.The guilt over the offence committed and the inability to adapt to the new life within the prison is an additional factor. Also, genetic proneness to illnesses, which is not a serious threat outside, can take the form of a bigger problem under incarceration

B Raja Mahesh, deputy superintendent of Cherlapally central prison said, “In every prison, there is a special cell for the mentally ill inmates.

There are a minimum of 15 such inmates in every prison. As prisons do not have psychiatrists, the inmates are taken to the IMH, Gandhi or Osmania hospitals for treatment,’’ he said. It is also said that half of the inmates, who have served a life imprisonment, will have psychological problems after their release.

Narendra Modi tops negative votes in global poll


Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, Indi...

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, India, speaks during the welcome lunch at the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2008 in New Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

TNN | Apr 8, 2012

AHMEDABAD: Chinks in his e-armour have left Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi worried. Despite a large, loyal army of supporters in the cyber space, Modi, in a last minute upset, lost an internet poll conducted by a leading global magazine to choose 100 most influential people across the world.

Modi lost out to Anonymous, which is a group of hackers and Eric Martin, a champion of anti-piracy law.

But what shocked Modi’s supporters the most was the fact that chief minister got more negative votes (2,66,684) than positive (2,56,792) – in fact Modi topped the list in negative votes.

Till about 24 hours to go for the poll to close on Saturday, Modi had almost double the number of positive votes, over negatives. However, he seems to have got ambushed by those who want to reinforce his anti-Muslim image.

The net-savvy chief minister, who Congress leaders call an internet manipulator, was outsmarted by a gang of activists, who mobilized votes to prevent Modi from topping the list. The defeat comes at a time when the chief minister is trying hard to wash the stains of post-Godhra riots.

Modi supporters believe the results will wash away the impact created by a series of articles carried in the Western media.

The only consolation for Modi remains that he tops the list of six Indians, including his bete noire and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who were nominated for the 100-strong list. Other Indians were Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Vidya Balan and Anna Hazare.

The final results will be announced on April 17

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