Private sector censors- If business decides what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ speech what will happen ?


Private sector censors
If business decides what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ speech, it can lead to multiple interpretations and arbitrary decisions

Here, There, Everywhere | Salil Tripathi, Livemint.com

 In Milan Kundera’s 1967 Czech novel, Žert (The Joke), Ludvik Jahn sends a postcard to an intense classmate who takes herself too seriously. In the card, he makes sarcastic comments against the Communist Party. Unsurprisingly, others don’t see the joke. He gets expelled from the party, conscripted and has to work in mines.

While The Joke was a work of fiction, in the real Soviet era as punishment for such actions, many people lost jobs, sometimes their homes; some went to jail, often betrayed by those they trusted. In Czechoslovakia (as the country was then known), the state ran the postal service and those who read the postcard were party members. In India, the private sector provides Internet access and others don’t have the legal right to see what’s being transmitted, unless they are intended recipients, or if the material is broadcast publicly. The state now wants the private sector to police and censor the Internet.

 

 

 

Under the draconian Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, any intermediary (a search engine, a website, a domain name registry, a service provider, or a cyber café) must take down the “offending” material from its website within 36 hours. The intermediary need not inform the person who posted the material, nor would the creator get the right to respond. As Apar Gupta points out on the Indian Lawand Technology Blog, in one recent case, based on these rules, an injunction has been granted. 

These rules go significantly beyond the existing restraints on speech. The Constitution limits speech and sections of the criminal code impose further restrictions. To that, add the IT rules’ vaguely defined terms of what can’t be said—content which is “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever, harms minors in any way, or infringes any patent, trademark, copyright, or other proprietary right”. Who decides that? The intermediaries.

These rules make the private sector act like the state. Nobody elected business to play such a role; it does not have the expertise, capacity, legal training, or authority to act as the state. Censorship is bad; whether in state or private hands. If business decides what’s “good” and “bad” speech, it can lead to multiple interpretations and arbitrary decisions, without recourse to appeal. In a country where those who feel offended have often threatened violence, businesses will understandably take the cautious approach and not allow anyone to say anything that’s remotely controversial, even if it is an opinion about a film.

Decisions will be made on opaque criteria. Apple and Amazon have arbitrarily stopped some products from being sold on their electronic stores, citing “community standards”. Amazon stopped providing server space to WikiLeaks, even though no government had asked it to do so. Credit card companies stopped processing donations going to WikiLeaks, without any legal order. Even Google, which has admirably stood up to China’s bullying, has had to take down content when governments have required that it does so through proper legal channels. India’s record is poor: of the 358 complaints India lodged with Google, 255 were about content that was controversial or political, but not illegal.

To demonstrate the reach of the rules, the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore sent random notices to seven companies, asking them to take down content. Of them, six complied beyond what they were called upon to do—instead of the three pages that the centre asked for, one company blocked an entire website. A few legally worded letters were enough to get compliance from companies. The centre’s executive director, Sunil Abraham, told me recently: “Companies which have no interest in free speech are now taking these decisions. They have the power to do so and they are using it without any sense of responsibility.”

Aseem Trivedi knows this well. The cartoonist who ran a website called  cartoonistsagainstcorruption.com , found that his site had disappeared after a complaint from an individual that the cartoons violated laws. Since then he has been campaigning for freedom on the Internet. Everyone’s freedom is at stake—whether you want to see cartoons of Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Ramdev, Kisan Hazare, Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Sachin Tendulkar, Poonam Pandey and even Mamata Banerjee. And yet look at what happened to Ambikesh Mahapatra, the professor who sent a cartoon mocking Banerjee to some friends via the Internet. He was arrested and later roughed up. These rules chill speech.

Last year, Kapil Sibal, minister for information technology, asked companies to screen content manually and censor the Web. The demand was audacious. It showed lack of understanding of how the Internet works and revealed fundamental ignorance of the state’s role: it has to protect the rights of the one who wishes to express and not the one who claims offence.

In Parliament, P. Rajeev, member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), wants to annul those rules. Everyone should support him.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at salil@livemint.com

Female circumcision anger aired in India #FGM


By Rupam Jain Nair | AFP – Tue, Apr 24, 2012  AFP
  • A Muslim woman from the Bohra community ise seen outside a mosque in Mumbai. Over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have signed an online petition calling for an end to the practice of female circumcision in the communityA Muslim woman from the Bohra community …
  • Ashgar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, poses for a photograph at his office in Mumbai. Ashgar has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women in the community, in which female circumcision is commonAshgar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim …

Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as theDawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

“We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern,” Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, told AFP in New Delhi.

She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.

The Bohra brand of Islam is followed by 1.2 million people worldwide and is a sect of Shia Islam that originated in Yemen.

While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

The community’s insistence on “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent.

“If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?” Bano says.

For generations, few women in the tightly-knit community have spoken out in opposition, fearing that to air their grievances would be seen as an act of revolt frowned upon by their elders.

But an online campaign is now encouraging them to join hands to bury the custom.

The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform Change.org in November last year.

She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to theWorld Health Organisation.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.

Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.

When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin’s spokesman, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.

“I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument,” he said.

But over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have since signed the online petition.

Many describe the pain they experienced after the procedure and urge their leader to impose a ban.

“The main motive behind Khatna is that women should never enjoy sexual intercourse. We are supposed to be like dolls for men,” 34-year-old Tabassum Murtaza, who lives in the western city of Surat, told AFP by telephone.

The World Health Organisation has campaigned against the practice, saying it exposes millions of girls to dangers ranging from infections, hemorrhaging, complicated child-birth, or hepatitis from unsterilised tools.

In the Middle East, it is still practised in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

“It is an atrocity committed under the cloak of religion,” says Murtaza, who along with her husband was asked to leave their family home when they refused to get their daughter circumcised.

“My mother-in-law said there was no room for religious disobedience and we should move out if we cannot respect the custom,” she explained. “It is better to live on the street than humiliate your daughter’s body.”

Asghar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, has known the dangers of fighting for reform.

He has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women, and has been attacked by hardliners inside a mosque in Egypt and had his house trashed by opponents.

While both France and the United States have laws enabling the prosecution of immigrants who perform female circumcisions, the practice remains legal in India and Engineer expects this to remain the case.

“Female circumcision is clearly a violation of human rights, the Indian government refuses to recognise it as a crime because the practice has full-fledged religious backing,” he said.

“No government has the courage to touch a religious issue in India even if the practice is a crime against humanity.”

He says many fathers are simply unaware of the damage they are doing by following the custom.

“I prevented my wife from getting our daughters circumcised but in many cases even fathers are not aware of the pain their daughters experience,” he says.

Naxals are the govt in a village India just discovered


automatic rifles, satellite phones and Swedish Carl Gustav rocket launchers made their very first foray into the dense Abujhmad jungle, straddling the two states of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.  Abujhmad, or ‘unknown hill’ — 6,000 sq km of thick forest — has not been surveyed since the British.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/22_04_12-metro1_mumbai.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of the operation, security forces had zoomed in on a map of the area with the help of Google Earth, on to a couple of structures they identified as a ‘naxal camp’. A plan was prepared to go in and take out the naxalites. The mission had a second aim — the stronghold had to be psychologically breached, since it is as much home to the naxals as it is a zone ‘liberated’ of all government control.

Primed for a fierce fight, weapons ready, the troops marched 70 km to the ‘naxal camp’.

What they found instead was a village with 15 to 20 thatched huts. The cluster of buildings the forces saw for the first time on Google Earth were homes of Muria tribals, now startled at the sight of armed men in uniform.

“Nobody knew there was a village called Bodiguda,” S Elango, CRPF DIG (operations) exclaimed, of a village that had been discovered for the first time since Independence.

The nameless, faceless tribals — who have never seen or heard of electricity or water taps, schools or dispensaries, men or machines — have grown up believing the naxals are the government. The rebels bring them rice and medicines and take care of their daily needs. They’ve never seen transport or ration through PDS; what they are familiar with is the Red army.

The closest to civilisation is a larger village — or town — called Behramgarh, 29 km away, which also has a police station but the tribals of Bodiguda
seldom venture there.

The grand strategy — to control the naxal spread — is to clear, hold and develop. Last month’s security operation that took weeks of planning ended with a one-hour exchange of fire in the jungles. Two injured jawans, no naxal arrests, and yes, the discovery of Bodiguda.

Early this week, home minister P Chidambaram, speaking of the Red threat to chief ministers, said they did not have the upper hand because “there are not enough men, weapons and vehicles, not enough roads, and not enough… civil administration.” He could well have added another line — and some states don’t know of villages where our own live.

Postscript: nobody knows how many Bodigudas lie nestled in the unknown hill.

Why Does Middle- East Hate Women ? Mona Eltahway and Leila Ahmed


The real war on women is in the Middle East.

BY MONA ELTAHAWY | MAY/JUNE 2012,  Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer”  — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

SO WHY DO THEY HATE US? Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests“; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Leila Ahmed: Responds

Alifa Rifaat, whose writing frames Mona Eltahawy’s essay, was a wonderful and deeply subtle writer — one of Egypt’s finest writers of the last century.  Her stories are typically brief, powerful meditations on themes of human desires and failures, and people’s anguished loneliness in the midst, supposedly, of intimacy — between husband and wife, mother and daughter, even mistress and maid. Publishing her work mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, Rifaat was probably the first Egyptian woman author to write fairly directly about women’s sexuality. She penned, among other things, a story in which a woman whose husband figures only marginally in the story experiences ecstatic sexual fulfillment with a jinn who comes to her in the form of a woman.

Rifaat was herself forbidden to write by her husband, a policeman, for a good many years. She was thus intimately familiar with male chauvinism, as her stories, written mostly from the perspective of a female character, make clear. But she was also capable of writing very empathetically of men’s travails, loneliness, and failed hopes.

Disconcertingly, Eltahawy strangely misreads (in my view) the Rifaat story with which she begins her essay. After enduring “unmoved,” as Eltahawy correctly says, her husband’s sexual exertions, the story’s central character then eagerly rises to wash herself and perform ritual prayers. Eltahawy reads these actions as indicating Rifaat’s “brilliant” portrayal of “sublimation through religion.”

Rifaat, when I met her in Cairo in the early 1990s, wore the hijab, the Muslim head scarf. And she explicitly spoke to me –in the course of a long, rambling conversation in which she also talked of the tremendous importance to her of sexuality — of how much joy she found in prayer, and of how she (like the character in her story) almost lived for those moments of prayer.

Given this memory, and in light too of the sheer imaginative depth of Rifaat’s fictional explorations of human consciousness, I find it entirely unimaginable that Rifaat in fact shared, as Eltahawy assumes she does, Eltahawy’s own sweepingly dismissive views of prayer and religion.

These were just some of the concerns I had as I read just Eltahawy’s opening lines. And I found almost every paragraph of Eltahawy’s essay similarly troubling as, again and again, broad brushstrokes and sweeping generalizations erased subtle nuances and garbled and swept aside important differences.

It is certainly Eltahawy’s right and indeed even her obligation, as a feminist and a noted journalist with rare and impressive access to American media, to grapple with understanding and narrating the story of women in the Middle East and what she perceives to be the “war” on women in the ways that make most sense to her. And certainly I have no quarrel whatsoever with the will and desire she gives voice to — of wanting to improve the condition of women in the Middle East and bring to an end the wars and other injustices to which they are subjected.

There are, of course, many ways of pursuing feminist goals. Just the other day, I heard a talk given at the Radcliffe Institute by Nadje al-Ali, a professor at the University of London, on the devastating costs for women and children — in terms of the sheer numbers of lives lost, and the destruction, mutilation, dismemberment, and displacements suffered — of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For Eltahawy, who makes no mention in her essay of those wars (or of the deadly struggles in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, or Yemen), the “real” war on women in the Middle East, as she declares in her title, and the one that she most urgently wishes to bring to our attention, is the war being conducted by Islamic patriarchy and misogyny. Ali, on the other hand, who, like Eltahawy, is a staunchly secular feminist, is passionately concerned above all about placing the social costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the very forefront of our consciousness here in the United States.

Feminists of whatever religion or religious background have always fiercely debated the key sources of women’s oppression. Is it patriarchy, religion, racism, imperialism, or class oppression, or some very lethal and toxic mix of all of these? Feminists have also thus differed on the solutions, as well as exactly whom we must fight first to liberate women. Eltahawy is evidently fiercely committed to the belief that it is religion above all — and actually specifically and apparently exclusively Islam — that constitutes the dangerously deadly heart of women’s oppression in the Middle East. And it is of course absolutely her right to believe this.

But again, feminism can take many and even quite unexpected forms. As the early days of the Arab uprisings unfolded on our television screens, many of us saw for ourselves the tens of thousands of women who were out in the streets in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, taking a stand alongside men for human rights and human dignity. A fair proportion of these women wore hijab — a sign, usually, of a religious commitment to Islam. Presumably, these women would not share Eltahawy’s fiercely contemptuous understanding of Islam as the source of all their troubles and problems. Some of these women in hijab proved to be important actors in the Arab uprisings. The young Egyptian activist Asma Mahfouz, for example, posted a video of herself on Facebook delivering an eloquent, impassioned speech calling on people to join her in Tahrir Square to take their stand alongside her for human rights and dignity. Her video went viral and is credited with having played a key role in initiating the movement to occupy Tahrir Square. Similarly Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her committed activism in the uprising, is a tremendously courageous, articulate, and outspoken woman. It would be wonderful to hear what such women think of what is happening in their countries and what they think and hope for in relation to women’s rights.

And so let me close by, first of all, thanking Foreign Policy for inviting me to participate in this roundtable response to Eltahawy, and secondly by urging them to also reach out to women such as Mahfouz and Karman to invite them to share their views with us.

Leila Ahmed is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. She is the author of A Quiet Revolution: the Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America, an adapted excerpt of which ran in Foreign Policy.

Here is a debate between her and leila ahmed about the nature of patriarchy in the muslim world.

Cops arrive to probe kidnap, beat up villagers #chattisgarh


MAJHIPARA, SUKMA: The trail of horrors continues at Majhipara village, about 450 km from Chhattisgarh‘s capital, Raipur. On Monday, a team of CRPF and district policemen came to the village to investigate the abduction of the district collector and beat up several villagers, including women.

The police arrived when Ganga Kuram (25), a farmer, had just sat down to a frugal meal of rice. “They dragged me out of the house and hit me with a lathi,” he said.

Ganga and other men of the village fled their homes after Maoists abducted Sukma district collector Alex Paul Menon and killed two of his security guards.

After hiding in the forest, Ganga returned home on Monday hoping the worst was over. But he was wrong. “We are caught between them (Maoists) and the police,” said another old man who refused to give his name.

Like Ganga, he too listened to Menon. But, they remained tightlipped about what happened on Saturday. “We heard gunshots and ran away, I didn’t see anything else,” said Ganga.

Other villagers echoed him. “Yes, some men came with guns. They killed two guards. But, how will I know who they are or where they came from?” said a middle-aged villager. Fearing retaliation, they even refused to say which way the Maoists walked away with Menon.

Asked, Sukma SP Abhishek Shandilya said, “Yes, a police team went to the village to probe Saturday’s incident. I have not heard about police beating villagers. Nobody has complained to us.” But the villagers volunteered every detail about being beaten up by the police on Monday.

There were rumours that a Maoist cadre was killed during Saturday’s attack. “Later, it turned out to be untrue,” said the old man. The police team had come to cross-check the rumour.

Kuram Deva’s left arm was swollen after he and his neighbour, Kuram Irma, were beaten by cops. Markam Singhe was serving her husband, Kuram Khosa, the morning meal when the police team entered the village.

“They asked villagers to gather in one corner of the village. My husband had just eaten a morsel when the policemen dragged him out of our house. I ran after them asking where they were taking him. One cop struck him with a lathi and another pointed a gun at me,” said Singhe

Kindling music, playing a revolution


NEW DELHI, April 23, 2012

Vijetha S. N, The Hindu

Artistes from Pakistan’s Laal Band performing at Press Club of India in New<br /><br /><br />
Delhi on Sunday evening. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.” /></div>
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<div>Artistes from <a class=Pakistan’s Laal Band performing at Press Club of India in New Delhi on Sunday evening. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar.

Laal Band speaks the language of Marx and Faiz Ahmed Faiz

A song dedicated to Lenin, Lal Salaams, the revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmed Faraz and quotes from Karl Marx — all intrinsic features of the Pakistan-based rock band Laal Band — were the highlights of a performance at the Press Club of India here on Sunday.

“I feel upbeat. So all the songs are going to be fun and fast, nothing slow,” promised the band’s lead singer and guitarist Taimur Rahman, an hour before the show was to begin.

During the performance, Taimur encouraged the audience to sing along, occasionally stopping to quote Marx or a bit of poetry.

“We have a song Jhoot Ka Uncha Sar with visuals that depict women who dress like the military – everyone refused to air that video because they felt it went against the Pakistani army and another song of ours which was against the Taliban. Well I still get hate mails for that one,” added Taimur Rahman when asked about the revolutionary nature of his band which has surprisingly done very well commercially.

The band has been in India for sometime, already having toured Mumbai and Pune along, and has given three recent performances in the Capital. “The response was amazing, equal or even better than in Pakistan. We got standing ovations in almost all our concerts here,” Rahman said, adding: “Delhi is just like Lahore. So much so that I feel more culturally and aesthetically connected to Delhi than other cities in Pakistan like Peshawar and Karachi.”

The band members said their philosophy was firmly based on socialist values and Leftist ideals and also sought to popularise the works of revolutionary poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmed Faraz. “It is an honour for us to put their poems to our music,” he added.

Taimur is also a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and has been leading the band for several years now. The band used to play at small gatherings, but all that changed in 2007 when lawyers in Pakistan started a movement against military dictator General Pervez Musharraf‘s unconstitutional sacking of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The band’s philosophy and revolutionary songs calling on the country’s young to fight against injustice and oppression had a widespread appeal, which propelled it into instant popularity.

Machismo is the Problem, Not the Solution #Vaw #Rape #NCR #Delhipolice


 

A number of campaigns against sexual harassment endorse the stereotypes they set out to debunk

By Kavita Krishnan


Misguided Posters for Delhi Police’s various campaigns against sexual harassment

THE STING OPERATION by TEHELKA brought to light several medieval myths that our ‘protectors’ nurture about women and rape. Embarrassed Delhi-NCR police officers have promised ‘sensitisation’ as a corrective to such attitudes. The trouble is: what kind of attitudes will be promoted under ‘sensitisation’? The Delhi Police ad campaigns suggest that even when they think they’re being ‘sensitive’ to sexual violence, they are promoting rather dangerous patriarchal notions of mardangi(machismo). A recent campaign against sexual violence has actor-director Farhan Akhtar, saying, “Make Delhi safer for women. Are you man enough to join me?”

Such misplaced notions of manliness are evident in many women’s safety campaigns. Another ad Delhi Police has been using for several years has a photograph of a woman being harassed by a group of men at a bus stop with some men and women simply looking on. This poster proclaims, “There are no men in this picture… or this would not happen” and urges “real men” to “save her from shame and hurt”. It suggests that 1) sexual harassers are not “real men” (asli mard), 2) women facing harassment feel “shame” and 3) only “real men” can protect them. Can such ideas of machismo reduce violence against women? Or are they the root of the problem?

Interesting answers emerge as one widens the lens. Campaigns centred on sexual harassment rarely feature women who express their anger and protest sexual harassment in public places. Perhaps if a woman is shown angry, it’d be difficult to sustain the notion that she is experiencing ‘shame’. Shame, in this case, conveys vulnerability and need for protection, reinforcing the need for a male protector. Publicly displayed anger or violent self-defence by women, on the other hand, is deeply unnerving.

The idea of an ‘asli mard’ too, calls for an intellectual inquiry. When men commit ‘honour’ crimes to put an end to their sister’s or daughter’s relationships, aren’t they being ‘real men’, fulfilling their duty of being a ‘protector’? Isn’t the ‘protector’ also expected to enforce ‘discipline’? When men harass women who challenge patriarchal norms (by dressing ‘like a slut’, visiting pubs and drinking, etc), don’t ‘real men’ see it as their job to teach them a lesson? Sexual violence too has a ‘disciplinary’ function — reminding women not to cross the ‘lakshman rekha’ of patriarchal laws.

It isn’t just the cops who believe a woman can invite a heinous crime such as rape. A noted columnist in the Sunday magazine of a leading English daily believes that women ought to be responsible for the way they dress. She writes: “Let’s say you decide that it is your right as a law-abiding citizen to leave your front door unlocked when you go out. Is this likely to attract the attention of your friendly neighbourhood burglar? Probably… If you dress to attract attention, then you must be reconciled to the fact that you can’t control what kind of attention you will attract.” The problem is that the list of behaviours that will attract rape is endless. If you have a boyfriend or a male friend and they rape you, would you say you left your door unlocked?

The same columnist suggests that women would “cry foul” if men were to “expose flesh” in public. But men can, in fact do, bare their chests in public, display ‘six-pack abs’, get drunk in public, have sexual relationships with women, and move at all times without being accused of ‘inviting’ rape! Their behaviour is never, ever compared to “leaving your front door unlocked”. Why does women’s behaviour carry a risk that an identical behaviour by men does not?

We don’t need patriarchal male protectors, nor do we need sermons on how ‘responsible’ feminine behaviour can offer protection from sexual violence. We need to reconcile with the fact that sexual violence is not caused by sexual attraction. It is an assertion of patriarchal dominance over women.

Kavita Krishnan is National secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association.kavitakrish73@gmail.com

New twist to Manipuri Student’s murder in Bangalore #IPL #Justice


Monika Khangembam

 

IMPHAL,  Free Press April 24: A new twist in the Loitam Richard killing case popped up today, with the father of the first year engineering student claiming that Richard’s dead body was shifted to the Hospital mortuary at 1:30am of April 18 which conflicts with (L) Richard’s hostel warden’s report to the police.

In his FIR, the hostel warden had said that he was informed that Richard was bleeding from his nose at 1:30pm of April 18, after which he called the college doctor who confirmed his death.

Richard Loitam of Uripok Yambem Leikai, an Architecture Engineering first year student of the Acharya NRV School of Architecture, Bangalore was reportedly beaten to death on April 18 night in his hostel.

Speaking at a press conference at his Uripok Yambem Leikai residence today Dr L Rajesh outlined his findings in his recent trip to Bangalore and to the institute.

Dr Rajesh urged the state government to give adequate pressure to the Karnataka government for solving the case and to book the culprits.

While negating the various news reports regarding the cause of his son’s death Loitam Rajesh said, his son is an avid sports lover while adding that there is no way he could have changed the TV channel while everyone was watching an IPL match.

Quite contrary to the warden’s FIR which said, “As per his (Richard) room-mates I (warden) came to know that Richard met with an accident on April 16, 2012, he got his treatment in Sapthagiri Hospital on April 16”, Rajesh claimed that his son had met with an accident along with a friend while driving a Pleasure moped and had recieved minor injuries on April 15. He along with his friend had received first aid from Sapthagiri Hospital on April 15, he added.

He further said his wife had received a call on April 16 morning from his son, telling her that he had lost his mobile and that he would like to buy a mobile.

His wife sent the money the same day. Richard didn’t call them the next day on April 17. Anxious since he had just lost his mobile, he contacted a family friend Nazim whose nephew also studied in the same college as Richard late in the evening at around 9 pm.

The nephew told Rajesh that he was not in the hostel, but informed that Richard was in the hostel as he was having an intern paper the next day. Thinking that he might be busy with his preparation, they felt satisfied, however the next day at around 3:30pm on April 18, the college doctor called the family up and informed about Richard’s death, he said.

The family immediately flew into Bangalore.

On reaching the college, the college authorities claimed ‘accident’ as the possible cause of death. However, when they enquired of some students about the death it was found that one Syed Afjal Ali had beaten Richard on April 17. They also found bloodstains on the door knob of Richard’s hostel room and windowsill, which points to a quarrel, he further told media persons.

They found Richard’s body in a decomposed state at the morgue raising new questions on the time of his death, he stated.

The students further told the family members that, Syed had assaulted Richard while he was playfully quarrelling with one of his seniors.

Further alleging lapses on the part of the college authorities for Richard’s death, the aggrieved father said his family was not informed by the college authorities but by the college doctor which is absurd.

He further expressed his surprise over the Karnataka police filing a simple FIR and stuck up in procedural matters like 174 CrPC.

He however said that he had full faith in the Karnataka administration and police and believe that the state will conduct the investigation properly.

Neighbours demand thorough investigation
Local meira paibis and club members of Uripok Yambem Leikai came out today in strong protest against the alleged killing of Loitam Richard.

Demanding proper investigation of the death, the protestors held a sit in protest at the locality, holding placards that read ‘Don’t kill Richard Loitam twice’, ‘Investigate properly the killing of Richard Loitam’, ‘Who killed Richard Loitam’, ‘We demand fair investigation from Bangalore Police’, ‘Protect Manipuri students outside Manipur’ and ‘Give death penalty to the killer’ etc.

Speaking to media persons one of the protestors urged the Karnataka police to start investigations on the case at the earliest and further expressed hope that the Karnataka police will conduct the investigation in an unbiased and transparent manner.

The protestors further demanded action against the college, as laxity on their part had resulted in the death, said the protestors.

Meanwhile, the protestors further said that the government should take up action to safeguard all the people from the state who are staying outside the state.

Vedanta-Mining Company’s PR Campaign Backfires in India #FakingHappiness



By Chandrahas Choudhury Apr 25, 2012, Bloomberg

 

On a recent visit to Bhubaneswar, the capital of the large eastern state of Odisha, I found the airport plastered with advertisements and slogans expressing the nurturing, socially conscious side — caring for the poor, growth with inclusive values, creating happiness — of the many steel and aluminum companies that have major operations in one of India‘s poorest but most mineral-rich and business-friendly states.

The most prominent voice in this cluster belonged to Vedanta, a London Stock Exchange-listed “globally diversified natural resources group with wide-ranging interests in aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, silver, iron ore, oil and gas and power,” headed by Anil Agarwal, one of India’s richest and most controversial businessmen. Vedanta’s main interest in Odisha is represented by its subsidiary company Vedanta Aluminium, which has over the last decade set up, in the face of concerted opposition from tribal groups, an alumina refinery in the district of Lanjigarh, the most bauxite-rich area of a state that has over half of India’s reserves of that mineral. A Vedanta ad at the airport declared that “Education is the backbone of a rising community,” and announced, somewhat improbably, that the company was providing “quality education to all local children across [the districts of] Lanjigarh and Jharsuguda.”

This month, Vedanta also put up on YouTube the last installment of a massive advertising and public-relations campaign it launched at the beginning of the year called “Creating Happiness.” The hub of the campaign was a 90-second ad film widely played on Indian television this year, telling the story of a girl named Binno in a village in the state of Rajasthan. Made by one of India’s most celebrated ad filmmakers, Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy & Mather India, the film supplies touching scenes from the lives of Binno — who attends a school supported by Vedanta — and her brothers. It is accompanied by commentary from a somewhat patronizing male voice asking if the girl’s parents had access to the same opportunities, and demonstrating by this comparison that the company was “creating happiness.”

Alongside the Binno film, the company also announced that it was sponsoring a Creating Happiness Film Competition that would invite “film students across the country to visit any of the 550 villages where we have a presence, and find their own Binno.” In a piece called “Vedanta touches souls with ‘Creating Happiness’,” the news platform Exchange4media reported:

In an effort to make people aware of the social side of their existence, Vedanta Group [...] has unveiled its first ever national corporate campaign under the platform of ‘Creating Happiness’, sharing with people the stories of hope, change, success and a better future. Vedanta Chairman Anil Agarwal’s vision of contributing to building sustainable communities and integrating sustainability as a core part of the business is at the heart of this campaign. [....]

Talking to exchange4media about the campaign, Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman, O&M, said, “Beyond business, Vedanta is doing extensive work for sustainable development. We wanted it to be as realistic as possible unlike an ad, and thus we have shown real people with real stories. Binno, the main face of the campaign, is so amazingly charming. Her true story, with that charm, emotion, sentiment and happiness, will inspire many.” [...]

Adding to the idea of inspiring others, Pandey said, “You get inspired when you see that there is so much being done. It inspires and moves me. I feel that I may start small, but I can make a difference. Large brands are not made in the head, but heart, that is why when you take the softer side and touch people, people remember you.”

Fair enough, but there were some inconvenient facts that Pandey omitted to mention, as did most of the media channels that ran the advertisements. The missing facts point to a yawning gulf between the kind of information supplied by advertising, and the kind of information generated by investigative journalism, regulatory bodies, or even states. Were one to place these facts alongside the company’s campaign, it would appear that Vedanta is less the leader in sustainable development and social responsibility in India’s universe of corporations, and more the black sheep of that world. It stands accused of habitually forging ahead with its mining and quarrying operations before the requisite permissions have been granted, and of dividing and destroying local economies and fragile ecosystems, such as those in the hills of Niyamgiri in Lanjigarh, Odisha, with its economic might and ability to influence state policy.

To cite only a small number of such inconvenient truths that muddy the company’s narrative: In August 2010, India’s then-minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, canceled Vedanta Alumina’s clearances to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha. At that time, the Times of India reported:

Mining giant Vedanta consistently violated several laws in bauxite mining at Niyamgiri, encroached upon government land, got clearances on the basis of false information and illegally built its aluminium refinery at Lanjigarh, Orissa. As the company engaged in these violations, the Orissa government colluded with it and the Centre turned a blind eye. These are some of the findings of the four-member N C Saxena committee, which on Monday recommended that the company not be allowed to mine in the hills that are the abode of the Dongaria Kondh and Kutia Kondh tribes in Orissa.

The no-holds-barred indictment of the state and private sector in the $1.7 billion project brings out the short shrift given to concerns about tribal rights and environmental protection. It is significant also because it underlines the changed sensibilities of the government towards the issues against the backdrop of Left-wing extremism and why Naxalites are finding it easy to influence alienated tribal belts.

And in July 2010, Peter Popham reported from Vedanta’s annual general meeting in London:

Nyamgiri is regarded as a god by the Dongria Kondh tribe that lives on it, so for them and their supporters, tearing the peak of the mountain apart for bauxite would be sacrilege. In their effort to spike this argument, this year the company rolled out the top manager at the company’s nearby bauxite refinery, Mukesh Kumar, who claimed that the tribe no longer worship the mountain and welcome the mine’s arrival. Music to shareholders’ ears – but was it true?

This was the point seized on by Samarendra Das, an Indian research scholar and activist from Orissa, who rose from his seat to ask Mr Kumar a simple question: by what name do the Dongria Kondh refer to Nyamgiri, their holy mountain? The silence was deafening – until filled by the boos and catcalls of the activist-shareholders at the meeting, which from that point onwards went down hill. [...]

Dr. Felix Padel, the anthropologist who happens to be Darwin’s great-grandson [...] was among the shareholder-activists witnessing Vedanta’s discomfiture this week. Padel has lived among the tribals of Orissa for years, and in his new book, Out of this Earth, co-authored with Samarendra Das and launched in London last night, the techniques by which mining giants set about breaking the resistance of tribal people who happen to be in their way through fraud, forcible occupation, corruption and intimidation, are documented in painstaking detail.

From these testimonies it seems clear that one doesn’t have to be a left-wing revolutionary (opponents of Odisha’s huge mining projects are routinely tarred as “Maoists” by the government) or a crusader against big business to have serious doubts about Vedanta’s approach to law, ethics, transparency and due process. Indeed, it isn’t clear that at a time when the world, and especially developing economies, need vast quantities of aluminum and steel, it is realistic to insist (as Samarendra Das does in an essay and the prominent Indian writer Arundhati Roy does in her recent book on left-wing extremism, governments and mining in India, “Walking With The Comrades”) that states and societies can agree to “leave the bauxite in the mountain” for good.

Even so, it’s one thing to accept that mining is a necessary reality. It’s quite another to accept the reality of Vedanta’s collusion with the government of Odisha to try and pay off tribals to vacate mineral-rich land to generate vast profits. Those profits are only derived from the development of one of India’s poorest states. The company then uses the thin gruel of its own corporate social responsibility measures to generate the material for PR campaigns such as the one that swamped India’s television screens in January. As Padmaja Shaw wrote last month in the media-analysis website The Hoot, in a piece called “Creating Happiness?” democracy is reduced to a farce when capital-rich entities are allowed to control the message on a matter of wide-ranging importance merely because they have the cash to control the medium:

Very little debate has been allowed in the mainstream media on why the mining enterprise is suddenly the private property of corporations to exploit and profit from national wealth while brutalising the very people in whose name this is supposed to be happening.

Corporate entities further compound the absence of debate on this reality by buying the best of advertising talent to promote an idyllic image of themselves as messiahs of liberation and transformation for the tribal people, specially using images of children. [...] The advertising industry in India boasts of some of the world’s best creative minds. It is not an industry that we can accuse of being unaware of the reality in India. When advertising of dubious nature shows up on the media, it is, therefore, roundly condemned. [...]

It is somewhat disheartening to see people such as Piyush Pandey, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, and renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal associate themselves as jury with a film festival, Creating Happiness, that Vedanta has launched.

The outrage generated by the ad campaign meant that Benegal and the actress Gul Panag pulled out of the Vedanta jury, leaving Pandey as the sole judge. After the student films had been made, Aman Sethi and Priscilla Jebaraj reported in the Hindu:

Vedanta’s “Creating Happiness” campaign, according to company spokesperson Senjam Raj Sekhar, is part of an “initiative to tell our side of the story”; yet the hostile reception on blogs and social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter highlights the risks of exposing a tightly controlled corporate message to the anarchy of the internet. [...] Activists have even started a viral “Faking Happiness” campaign in an attempt to highlight Vedanta’s alleged malpractices. [...]

“We told them do not make a corporate film,” Mr. Sekhar said, “find the story of either an individual or a family or the entire village or the community whose lives have changed…so it’s not about the programme but about individuals.”

The films themselves are student productions showcasing a variety of CSR initiatives such as hospitals, football academies, company run schools, rural entrepreneurs and anganvadis. Yet, none of the films explore themes such as ecological damage or the impact of mining on forest communities. The sole film to address the issue of rehabilitating project-affected individuals describes Vedanta as a “path-breaking leader of social upwardness [sic]” that has rescued “the lives of tribals from the darkness of backwardness.”

Meanwhile, far from the worlds of advertising, PR and industry — all part of India’s booming post-liberalization New Economy, but also responsible for currents and narratives that have made the burgeoning middle class unsympathetic or oblivious to the problems of those beneath them, different from them, or dissenting from them — the tribals of Niyamgiri are still agitating to keep their sacred mountains unmolested.
(Chandrahas Choudhury, a novelist, is the New Delhi correspondent for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the author of this blog post: Chandrahas Choudhury at Chandrahas.choudhury@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this post: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net