West Bengal evicts ecological refugees occupying prime real estate in Kolkata


Author(s): Sayantan Bera, Down To Earth, April 11, 2012

Seven hundred rendered homeless; activists demanding homes for them branded Maoists
image
Mahadev Mandal came with his family to Kolkata after the Aila super-cyclone hit Sundarbans in 2009. He works as a rickshaw-puller and is one among the 200 families in the squatter colony

Nearly 200 squatter families living in Nonadanga in east Kolkata for the past few years are in the process of being evicted by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). On March 30, the slum was bulldozed amid heavy police presence and some hutments were set on fire. The recurrent thunderstorms over the past few days has meant sleepless and soiled nights for nearly 700 people who have been rendered homeless. They work as house helps, rickshaw pullers and construction labourers. Many of the families came to Kolkata in search of work, after the Aila super-cyclone ravaged Sundarbans in 2009, Down To Earth found on its visit to the site. Several families were former squatters who were evicted earlier from the Tolly Canal, for expansion of the Metro Railway and from a cement factory site in south Kolkata.

tsunami
Evicted families have refused to move without rehabilitation

While the government claims the squatters settled only two months back and are not eligible for either compensation or rehabilitation, the families have started a resistance movement backed by civil rights groups. On April 4, as the families took out a protest march they were caned by the police, injuring among others a pregnant woman and children. Nearly 70 people were arrested and released later, except for seven who the police accused of having Maoist links and “possibly stockpiling arms” at the eviction site. They include prominent civil rights activists, Partha Sarathi Roy of Sanhati and Debolina Chakrabarti of Matangini Mahila Samiti, who were part of the Singur and Nandigram movements that led to the toppling of the 34-year-old left rule in the state. After winning a landmark victory last November, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had declared her plans to transform Kolkata into London. This does not augur well for slum colonies. According to a 2003 UN Habitat report, one-third of Kolkata lives in more than 5,500 registered and unregistered slums.

Read more  here

Immediate Release-Rationalist under threat of arrest for exposing the “miracle” #FOE


‘FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION UNDER ATTACK’

Sanal Edamaruku, well known rationalist,  under    threat  of arrest for exposing the  “miracle”

On 10th March, Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Rationalist International,   flew to Mumbai. The TV channel  , TV-9  had    invited him to investigate a “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to Irla in Vile Parle to inspect the crucifix standing there in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. This crucifix had become the centre of attraction for an ever growing crowd of believers coming from far and wide. The news of the miracle spread like wild fire. For some days, there were little droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. Hundreds of people came every day to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels.

Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, appeared to be  displeased.  See the
investigation in detail on YouTube.hours later, in a live program on TV-9, Sanal explained his findings and accused the
concerned  Catholic Church officials  of miracle mongering, as they were beating the big drum for the drippling Jesus statue with
aggressive PR measures and by distributing photographs certifying the “miracle”

A heated debate began, in which the five church people, among them Fr. Augustine Palett, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni
church, and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) demanded that Sanal apologize. But Sanal refused  and argued against them. [The whole TV program is recorded. You can watch an abridged version of it on
YouTube.]

When  they saw Sanal  refused to bow to their demands, they  threatened to file a blasphemy case against him. And they did. On  (10th April,2012, Sanal received a  phone call from a Police official  of Juhu Police Station in Mumbai directing him to come to the said police station to face the charges and get arrested. He also said that FIRs have also been filed in Andheri  and some other police stations u/s 295 of Indian Penal Code on the allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.

Mumbai police  has announced that they were out to arrest him.   It is apprehended  that  he  can be arrested any moment.
The filing of FIRs by Mumbai police and threatening to arrest a well known rationalist who has been exposing miracles and superstitious beliefs  for more than  three decades is a serious attack on the freedom of expression.

Clause (h) of Article 51-A of  Constitution of India states that :‘It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.’In exposing the said miracle, Sanal was performing  his fundamental duty enshrined in our constitution.It is distressing that the Mumbai police has chosen to harass and victimize him for doing his fundamental  duty.

‘Sanal Edamaruku Defence Committee’ appeals to all progressive individuals and  organizations  to protest and oppose the reprehensible steps of the Maharashtra police in filing FIRs against Sanal and stand behind him in solidarity for the cause of  scientific thinking and freedom of expression.

N.D.Pancholi     11 April, 2012
Convenor,                                     Sanal Edamaruku Defence Committee, “www.rationalistinternational.net.”

Police stop rally against Operation Green Hunt


KHAMMAM, April 11, 2012 ,  The Hindu Activists protest against Operation Green Hunt

BIG TROUBLE:The anti-Operation Green Hunt rally being stopped by police in Charla in Khammam district on Tuesday.- PHOTO: G.N. RAO

BIG TROUBLE:The anti-Operation Green Hunt rally being stopped by police in Charla in Khammam district on Tuesday.- PHOTO: G.N. RAO

Tension gripped Charla on Tuesday when the police stopped a rally taken out by activists of the Committee against Operation Green Hunt in the mandal headquarters town.

Earlier, the police refused permission to the committee’s proposed public meeting and clamped prohibitory orders in the mandal headquarters.

Though the meeting could not be held, activists embarked on a rally from the bus stand to the mandal revenue office in Charla denouncing the Operation Green Hunt.

Police stopped the activists near the bus station and detained some of them. A delegation submitted a memorandum to revenue officials registering its protest against Operation Green Hunt.

APCLC State general secretary and the committee’s convenor Ch. Chandrasekhar, APCLC State vice-president B. Tirumal Rao, Kula Nirmulana Samiti State general secretary D. Prabhakar, and Virasam State committee member Rukmini were among those present.

Earlier, scores of Adivasis from far-flung areas, including neighbouring Chhattisgarh, were prevented by the police from entering the mandal headquarters.

Many of them camped under the trees and in mango orchards on the outskirts of Charla after being denied entry into the town. A large number of police personnel were deployed to enforce prohibitory orders.

Meanwhile, the committee members denounced the restrictions imposed by the police on the movement of Adivasis in the scheduled areas.

Mr. Chandrasekhar alleged that the police action amounted to suppression of the voice of Adivasis and those championing their cause.

Too Young to Wed


Stephanie Sinclair, for the Pulitzer Center

Every year, throughout the world, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste.

Over an eight-year period, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has investigated the phenomenon of child marriage in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia. Her multimedia presentation, produced in association with National Geographic, synthesizes this body of work into a call to action.

In a related post Stephanie Sinclair shares the difficult experiences child brides face. She discusses the need for their voices to be heard and the challenges she faced as a journalist who witnessed their struggles and abuse.

Stephanie Sinclair’s images are featured in a story on child marriage in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.

How to help: National Geographic has compiled a list of organizations that encourage families to delay marriage and give girls an opportunity to reach their full potential.

A Sufi message from a Pakistani President


Saeed Naqvi, April 9,2012, The Hindu

Asif Ali Zardari must be applauded for choosing to visit the shrine of Chishti at Ajmer at a time of rising extremism in India and Pakistan.

That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Pakistan at a suitable time is important news, of course. But, put it down to my personal bias if you like, the loftier symbolism of the visit lies elsewhere. The appearance of such a large Pakistani delegation at the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s shrine in Ajmer will strike a chord with an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are more comfortable with the soft, humane message of the Sufis compared with the vengefulness that Hafiz Saeed represents.

Disconcertingly, his ratings in Pakistan have shot up in an atmosphere of high voltage anti-Americanism. In this atmosphere, an American bounty even on the head of the devil would give him championship in the popularity stakes. That is why Mr. Zardari’s Ajmer mission deserves applause.

Contrary to popular perception, the rapid spread of Islam across the length and breadth of India was primarily the handiwork of Sufis. At a time when Rahul Gandhi and his cohorts are wondering how to win friends and influence people, the Sufis offer an excellent model. For the model to gain traction, the first requirement is a message which can be simply put across. The message the Sufis sought to communicate offended nobody: oneness of Being (Wahdat ul Wajood), equality of men, Love as a universal value.
Egalitarian

Rungs of the stratified Hindu order found the egalitarianism of Sufi Khanqahs, ashrams, hospices, compelling. The first-time visitors to the hospice were overwhelmed by the hospitality. The cuisine was custom made for universal consumption. It was not just vegetarian but care was taken to avoid garlic and onion too which some Hindu sects abstain from.

If there was one dogma the Sufis lived by, it was their total aversion to Kings and Sultans or those who sat at the top of the feudal heap. Since they would not visit the Sultans as a matter of principle, there were instances of the rulers who, overawed by the saint’s boundless popularity, expressed a desire to visit them at their hospices.

“If the King enters from the front gate, I shall leave by the backdoor” Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia once famously said. They lived by the Biblical dictum: it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So, the poor and the intellectually precocious flocked to them.

It was not just their charming temperament, demeanour and belief which attracted the people to them. It was part of their spiritual training to harmonise totally with the cultural environment of whichever place they had made their home. They accepted and adopted the local culture.

Their contribution therefore to folk, popular and classical art forms was immense. For instance, Hazrat Amir Khusro, principal disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, invented the sitar, tabla, ragas. And, by experimental fusion of Hindvi and Persian, he virtually laid the foundation of what later came to be recognised as Urdu. For popular participation, there were always the Qawwalis, with trance inducing rhythms deftly employed between spiritual and romantic lyrics.

It was in pursuance of the trend set by the Sufis that every great Urdu poet proceeded to strengthen sub-continental syncretism. Hasrat Mohani always followed up his “haj” by a visit to Barsana for a “darshan” of Radha, because it was a belief he fancied that God had sent prophets to every country and the one he sent to India was Lord Krishna! It can only happen in the subcontinent: Maulana Hasrat Mohani was a member of the Communist Party and a member of the Constituent Assembly. He refused to sign the Constitution because it was “anti-people”. He is an icon in modern Urdu ghazal. The famous ghazal sung by Mallika Pukhraj, “bezubaani zubaan na ho jai” (hark! Silence begins to have voice) is the Maulana’s composition.

Quite naturally, the rapid expansion of this spectacular, colourful Islam, far removed from the arid rigidity of Najd in Saudi Arabia, invited a puritanical reaction.

There were one or two schools of Sufism, like the one to which Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi belonged and which deviated towards puritanism divorced from the colours of India. He was principally opposed to Moghul Emperor Akbar’s effort at forging Din-e-elahi or a common religion of God. Later, Shah Waliullah opposed the syncretic excess which leaned too much on the arts, music and dance as a path towards spirituality.

Darul Uloom at Deoband became the centre for puritanical reform within Islam. The effort to bring the faithful back to the straight and narrow continues. Unfortunately, politicians in search of vote banks find Deoband and one or two Imams of mosques, the only Muslim middlemen they know.

These institutions have been plodding away for decades. However, it was the war on terror painting Muslims as terrorists which generated anger in the community, enabling Deoband to marginally augment its reservoir.

By and large, Islam in Afghanistan, Kashmir, North West Frontier Province, other parts of Pakistan and India has, for years, been cloaked in colours of Sufism. But it was the manufacture of Wahabism in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union which was at the bottom of recent Islamic upheavals, of which 9/11and its aftermath are landmarks.
Islamic extremism

Basically, a strand of Islamic extremism has been in Pakistan’s DNA since the country’s inception but it was only a strand. The Munir Commission in 1953 investigated what is true Islam and came to no conclusion. But a backlash from the Afghan war reached its crescendo with the fall of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. Extremism has remained on a plateau since, helped by U.S. policies and the military establishment in equal measure.

Hafiz Saeed is currently the most high profile representative of this extremism which is linked to Wahabism first manufactured in Afghanistan in 1980. In India, Deoband is a harmless reform school. But in Pakistan, Deobandi/Salafi alliance is embarked on a vicious Jehad for the soul of the nation.

It is for this reason that Mr. Zardari’s pilgrimage to Ajmer has symbolic value for Pakistan and beyond.

(The writer is a senior journalist, television commentator and interviewer.)

Death penalty: the Indian authorities’ incredible myopia


N. Jayaram, 10 April 2012 , opendemocracy.net

How much longer will the Indian state cling to the machinery of death, both of the judicial and extra-judicial variety?

A country that has had several experiences with stoked fires that see it engulfed in conflagrations might be expected to have learned to forestall, or at the very least to rouse itself at the first spark of trouble. Not India.

The case of a Sikh militant sentenced to hang for the 1995 assassination of Punjab state chief minister Beant Singh shows the country’s leaders have failed to learn from history.

A judge in the city of Chandigarh confirmed in mid-March the death sentence on Balwant Singh Rajoana, setting March 31 as the date for his hanging. Immediately and predictably, almost the whole of Punjab state and the Sikh diaspora in far corners of the globe got mobilized to oppose the sentence. Internet-based networks have proliferated, with myriad pages each drawing tens of thousands of adherents.

Few among those posting on these pages oppose the death penalty in principle. Most have been using the occasion to harp on about long-held and serious grievances against the Indian state. They recall Operation Blue Star, the Indian army assault to flush out Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984 that left hundreds dead. Later that year, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, members of her Congress party carried out a pogrom against Sikhs, killing at least 3,000 men, women and children. Not only the Sikhs, who make up just two per cent of India’s population, but much of the rest of the country was appalled by the events. These memories are being stirred up by militants exhorting Sikhs in Punjab and worldwide to mobilise against the Indian state.

The Punjab government of the main Sikh political Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, has fallen in line with popular sentiment against the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal made a special statement in the state’s legislative assembly. “The jail superintendent is duty-bound to satisfy himself that no appeal for relief by any co-accused in such [a] case was under consideration of any court… The Superintendent of the Central Jail, Patiala, is of the view that … this case had many legal and constitutional shortcomings, loopholes and flaws, which made the execution of the court orders impossible within the ambit of law,” Badal is quoted as having said. It has taken a jail official to hold forth on the constitutionality of a death penalty case in the world’s largest democracy teeming with politicians and judges!

Rajoana has refused to appeal against his death sentence and India’s Supreme Court has rejected petitions filed by a lawyer and a human rights organisation seeking its intervention. Two Supreme Court judges said that only the convict can file an appeal. A strange stand for a court to take in a death penalty case! Even in China, which regularly gets the stick for being the world’s champion executioner, all death penalty cases have to be heard by the Supreme People’s Court since 2007 and recent amendments seek to ensure that when a defendant does not appoint a lawyer, the courts or the prosecutors do so.

India had 110 reported death sentences in 2011 and up to 500 people are believed to be on death row in the country. Death sentences are mandatory for many crimes in India even though jurists worldwide acknowledge that such mandatory penalty is plainly unjust. Coincidentally, even as the Rajoana’s life hung in the balance, South African jurist Christof Heyns, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was in India on a mission and pointed out that whereas the Indian Supreme Court had advised in 1980 that the death penalty should be used in the “rarest of rare” instances, “the list of crimes for which this sentence may be imposed is still much wider than the one provided for under international law.” ().

Moreover, as Amnesty International has pointed out, India is among a few countries where the scope of the death penalty has actually been expanded. This makes a mockery of the “rarest of rare” precept set out in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab. Instead of defining and restricting – if not actually codifying or quantifying – the use of the death penalty, the Indian Supreme Court has left a gaping hole through which lower court judges seeking cheap publicity can swing their cynical gavels and claim that the case they are handling is one of the ‘rarest of rare’ variety.

Keeping people for long periods on death row amounts to psychological torture but India blithely holds hundreds, to whose ranks Rajoana returns, now that India’s Home (Interior) Ministry has decided to consider the petitions filed by a Sikh religious organisation to spare his life. It remains to be seen whether the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes up its mind or passes on the case to a successor government.

The Akali Dal’s electoral ally, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has failed to commit itself openly in the Rajoana case. The BJP, the leading opposition party in the national parliament, tends to be virulently pro-death penalty when it comes to some Muslim convicts it deems ‘terrorists’. But this time, it has preferred pussyfooting round the issue, one or two of its leaders going so far as to vaguely suggest that clemency appeals were part of the process of law taking its course.

Clearly the Hindu nationalist understanding of how the law has to operate varies according to the religion of the person accused. It defends to the hilt Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat state who is widely blamed for the deaths of at least 2,000 Muslims in a pogrom in 2002 but opportunistically joins in the chorus for bringing to book Congress party leaders implicated in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984.

Such parochial approaches are to be seen among other groups too. In August 2011, after three Tamil men convicted for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi won a stay of execution from the Madras High Court, the legislature in Tamil Nadu state, of which Madras (renamed Chennai) is the capital, passed a unanimous resolution calling for the commutation of the death sentences on the three men. But Tamil politicians stay silent in the case of death penalties pronounced on people elsewhere in India. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of Jammu and Kashmir state wondered aloud what the reaction would be should the legislature in his state pass a resolution similar to the one in Tamil Nadu, demanding commutation of the death penalty imposed on Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on the parliament in New Delhi.

The Sikh leaders calling for Rajoana’s life to be spared will likewise keep their counsels to themselves when someone elsewhere in India is condemned to death. Meanwhile, the Indian state keeps drifting, without making up its mind on the nearly 500 people on death row. The last time anyone was hanged was in 2004 in West Bengal state after a hysterical campaign partly led by the wife of the state’s Marxist chief minister against a man convicted of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old.

All the while, of course, democratic India continues to get rid of a lot of insurgent groups using a method popular with security forces in totalitarian regimes – extrajudicial killings, euphemistically referred to by Indian officials and the media as “encounters”.

In fact, chief minister Beant Singh, whose killing led to the death penalty being imposed on Rajoana, was accused of having unleashed state terror during his term of office in Punjab (1992-1995), giving the police a green light to carry out extra-judicial killings against Sikh militants. A number of fake “encounters” were later reported to have resulted in the deaths of innocent people labelled “separatists”.

The dithering over Rajoana’s case is once again stoking the separatist fire. How much longer will the Indian state cling to the machinery of death, both of the judicial and extra-judicial variety?

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes Walker Jay’s blog (http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/).

” Mining “greatest Threat to Tribals says Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo


HYDERABAD: Terming mining as the “greatest threat” faced by the tribal community in last two decades, Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo has asked the youths selected under an ambitious programme to create awareness among the forest dwellers about their constitutional rights over the land.

“Today the greatest threat that has come to the tribals and people living in forest areas is actually the threat of mining,” the Minister told the youths selected under the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows (PMRDF) programme.

Addressing the youths assigned to bring convergence of development and welfare initiatives and schemes by the central and state governments in the Naxal-hit districts of the country here, Deo, who is also the Minister for Panchayati Raj, noted that there are laws like Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act under which only a Scheduled Tribe members can buy or take land on lease in tribal dominated areas.

Noting that even rights of the non-tribals who own only two cents of land in the tribal areas for generations is notified, he wondered, “How then are we able to give mining leases to corporates and companies which are neither either owned by the Scheduled Tribes or controlled by the Scheduled Tribes.”

Pointing out the loopholes in the laws through which the mining companies have managed to take the land on lease in mineral-rich forest areas, Deo told the 156 youths selected for the fellowship that “there are rights which we will have to make the local people aware of.”

The Fellows will have a duration of 2 to 3 years to work with the administration of 78 Left-wing extremism affected districts in nine states including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

The Minister said though the Parliament passed Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act was passed in 1996, only Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have implemented it.

The Act extended the provisions of Panchayats to the tribal areas of seven other states including Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan. (ET) 8 Apr, 2012,

PUDR – Condemns Attack on Nonadanga slum dwellers by West Bengal Police in Kolkata


Statement from PUDR – Condemn Attack on Nonadanga slum dwellers by West Bengal Police in Kolkata

10.04.2012

PUDR strongly condemns the violent demolition of the Nonadanga slums on March 30th in Kolkata, and the subsequent police brutality on peaceful anti-eviction protests followed by the vindictive arrest of activists.

Nonadanga is the area where the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) has been resettling slum dwellers evicted from various parts of Kolkata over the past five years under the BSUP (Basic Services to Urban Poor) scheme of the JNNURM. The resettlement projects have been run by KMDA and the Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project (KEIP) jointly. Preliminary reports indicate that slum residents also include refugees from Singur and Nandigram, as well as people displaced by Cyclone Aila. So, by no stretch of logic are these slum-dwellers ‘encroachers’ as claimed by the state government. In fact, the land in Nonadanga is very close to a prime city location and the present drive to clear the space by the Trinamool government is the first step towards its plans of handing over this land to real estate companies for ‘beautification and development’.

The brutality of the State police force in dealing with peaceful demonstrations, openly captured by television crews, needs to be strongly condemned. Such as the lathi-charge on the protest rally by slum residents on April 4, that left many injured, including a pregnant woman, Rekha Patra, and a 3 year old child, Joy Paswan. On April 8, a peaceful sit-in demonstration by the residents and activists was broken up by the police despite them having prior permission from the authorities. The police have resorted to mass intimidation of slum dwellers and other protesters along with arrests of activists opposing the demolition. 7 activists of whom 2 are women have been charged under sections 353 (assault on public servant), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to public servant), 141 (unlawful assembly), 143 (punishment), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (common objective of disruption) of the IPC and are in police custody till the 12th of April.

PUDR notes with concern that this demolition, attacks and arrests come in a continuum of a worsening democratic rights situation in West Bengal. Another alarming phenomenon is the bringing out of the ‘Maoist’ bogey to define all democratic movements as if that gives the state unmitigated rights to disregard the law and crush people’s movements and aspirations with armed might.

Condemning the blanket ban announced by the State Government on all protests on this issue throughout the state, PUDR demands:

* That the eviction drive be stopped,
* The immediate and unconditional release of all arrested activists and the withdrawal of false charges against them,
* That the demolished slum be rebuilt with proper facilities in the same spot
* That the guilty Police officials be punished, and
* That the Government stop attacking the fundamental right of people to voice their protest against injustices.

Signed
Preeti Chauhan & Paramjeet Singh, Secretaries PUDR