Gujarat – PUCL Report on Rajkot on SELF IMMOLATION INCIDENT


 

(Observations and findings of PUCL investigation team)

 

On 5th April, 2013, a team of Peoples’ union for Civil Liberties (PUCL – Gujarat) went to Rajkot for Fact Finding of the incident of Self immolation by five persons of a Nepali family in Rajkot. The incident took place at Municipal Corporation premises, in the presence of number of securities, officers and visitors of Rajkot municipal corporation. The whole episode was over within a span of less than 10 minutes as private visuals and RMC Close circuit TV footages shows.

 

On the third day of the incidence, the  PUCL team met varied sections of people including the family members of the deceased people, Municipal Commissioner and Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Rajkot Municipal corporation, Security personnels, Eye witnesses of the incident, journalists, residents of Chhotunagar society, Rajkot Police Commissioner, eminent citizens, etc. and questioned them on the basis of the information obtained from the media reports and other public sources

 

BACKGROUND

 

On 3rd April 2013, seven members of a family in Rajkot attempted self immolation in Rajkot Municipal Corporation. Out of these, three members, Sh. Bharatbhai Mansingh Vishwakarma(Age 40), Sh. Girishbhai Mansingh Vishwakarma( Age 25) and  Sh. Ashaben Bharatbhai Vishwakarma(Age 35) died almost by the time they were taken to the hospital. Sh. Basmatiben Mansinghbhai Vishwakarma(Age 60) and Sh. Rekhaben Mahendrabhai Vishwakarma(Age 30) struggled but died on 6th April in the Burns ward of Civil Hospital, Rajkot. While Sh. Gauriben Girishbhai Vishwakarma and Sh. Shantaben were saved.

 

Sh. Mansingbhai Vishwakarma, the father of  victims Bharatbhai and Girishbhai, used to stay with his family in the common plot of Chhotunagar Society, Nr. Amrapali Cinema, Rajkot, earlier than 1980. The Chhotunagar society had given this place to stay as he was providing security to the society. He built a hutment in the premises with the permission of society members, the electricity  and water connection was provided by the society, both the connections were in the name of society office bearers of that time. Mansinghbhai used to serve as the security of the society, he died three years back. While Sh. Basmatiben and other lady members of the family used to do household chores in the houses of the society members till the incidence took place.

 

Three years back, Sh. Mansinghbhai died of heart attack. After his death, the remaining members of the family were allegedly pressurized by the society members to vacate the place. That resulted in bitterness in the relationship between the family and present office bearers of the society.

 

Meanwhile, some part of  old house of the family was broken and in its place, they started construction of new wall to support to old structure. Some of office bearers of the society and municipal councilors Mr. Rajbhai Zala and Mr. Mirani represented to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation to stop the construction of new wall. Rajkot Municipal Corporation gave notice to the family and with immediate  effect the water connection by RMC and electricity connection by Society were withdrawn since August 2012. Against the notice of  RMC the family moved to  Civil Court. As remaining members of family said that, they were being harassed  by many calls at very odd time like late night, at the time of lunch and dinner by RMC town planning staff, other RMC staff members and some unknown persons. Many a times they used to visit the place and male members of family using RMC vehicles and staff to threatened the family with abusive words. These were happening frequently while the case was going on in the court.

 

The Civil Court dismissed the plea of Nepali family on 23rd of March, and they were allegedly not only pressurized but also threatened in person and also by telephone by various people to vacant the land.  The family claims that these persons include society members, the staff of Municipal Corporation and Town Planning, Police Personnel as well as the local Corporators. The harassment level went to such an extent that the family came to the Municipal Corporation premises to complain against the harassment by the RMC staff , the municipal commissioner Mr. Bhadu was out of office,  the deputy commissioner Mr. Kotwal refused to hear them with insulting words. They felt that they have lost all hopes to get justice, then they self immolated themselves in front of the Municipal Commissioner office.

 

With this background, the team members of P.U.C.L.-Sh. Balendrabhai Vaghela, Sh. Kamleshbhai Bhavsar, Sh. Bhavik Raja and Sh. Rimmi Vaghela, interrogated some people and could get the following information:

 

 

Madhura (Daughter of Sh.Bharatbhai Nepali who died by Self immolation)

 

According to Madhura, her grandfather Sh. Mansinghbhai Nepali was serving as security of the Chhotunagar Society since approximately last 50 years. Three years back, he died by heart attack. From that time onwards, society residents have started their harassment. Among those who were harassing, she could name Lalitbhai, resident of ‘Ashirwad ‘, Rajyaguru, Dushyantbhai, etc.

She further said that they were harassed to vacate the place. No written notice has been served, but they were threatened time and again. They had water and electricity supply. Those connections were also cut since last six months. She said that some people used to call her father on his mobile even at midnight and threaten.

On asking she said that among those who called her father were Jhala and Mirani.  Her father and uncle’s mobiles are still missing after their death. They are two sisters and five brothers. She is eldest and studying in the 12th std. other brothers and sisters are also studying. Her grandmother Basmatiben, Age 55 and Aunt Rekhaben, Age 28 are still serious and admitted to Burns Ward of Rajkot Civil Hospital. (Both of them died while the report was being prepared). Congress has given them Rs.1 lakh each. They have many times registered complaint in Gandhigram, Amrapali, and other police stations. Once she herself has gone. But no action has been taken. Initially they exerted normal pressure. But the society people then started doing lot of pressure on us. My Uncle returned home just one month back and now he is dead. No tax bills but light bill used to come.

Elderly people used to send us out before they discuss within themselves. She says even if I die, I seek justice. I don’t need money, I need my parents and family members back.

 

Joshnaben Bhatti (volunteer of Nari suraksha, a women organisation)

 

According to Sh. Joshnaben’s claim, the 11 volunteers of their organisation are continuously standing with the victim family and helping them. she said that pressure on Doctors, Hospital staff, Police,  Family members,  volunteers of Naari Suraksha Samiti etc. was being exerted by higher authorities for signing. The volunteers are threatened to leave the place. The Police personnel are saying that if you don’t sign then we will declare the dead bodies unidentified. The third brother Mahendrabhai was missing yesterday evening.

When he returned, he said he was threatened on one hand and offered 20 lakh rupees on the other hand.

 

 

Gauriben (Wife of Girishbhai Vishwakarma)

 

I demand that we want justice. She said that last night before the incident somebody called on Bharatbhai’s mobile. The society residents always used to threaten them. That bookseller used to say, “Want to fight?” Even the Municipal Corporation Staff used to come and threaten in very abusive language like “Go away. Land is not your father’s.” Girishbhai used to do job and then left job. No notice used to come. One one car used to come. We had been complaining to Police many a times. They took complain, used to assure help but did not take any action. When our water and light connections were cut, that time also we along with Nepali Samaj people went to police. But they did not take action. Mahendrabhai, the youngest son is not having any job.  She said that they are staying at that place even before the society was constructed. She emphatically said that what has been published in newspaper as dying declaration is not truth. They doubt that they were not in the situation to talk so many things. They would have never said that police has not harassed them. Because even police was also harassing them time and again.

It came in the newspaper that all were frustrated by the harassment to such an extent, but that is not true. There is some game within it.  It was to such an extent that her mother in law Basmatiben and her husband Girishbhai had developed high blood pressure. No body came to save. It is shocking. She also claimed  that it is not self immolation. Somebody else has put them on fire. When she tried to save them, she was held and resisted. And somebody said that you don’t worry, we will save them. I could not see the face of my husband, could not even give a sip of water. Even I had kerosene and petrol. Kerosene alone cannot catch this much fire. Somebody might have put petrol in it. Corporation staff did not come for help and rather they closed the door.

 

 

 

 

Meenaben (Family relative from Bombay)

 

She supported Sh. Gauriben’s claim that it is not self immolation but they are being killed. She said that C.C.T.V. camera were kept off to conceal the facts. We want justice for the remaining people of family. If necessary, you please take representation even up to Delhi. One can do immolation, how all can do that. Rather if one has done immolation others will go to save.

 

Ajay Bhadu (Municipal Commissioner, Rajkot Municipal Corporation)

 

Sh. Ajay Bhadu said that on the day of incident he was not present in the office but was reported about the incident on his return. As he was not present, the family went to meet Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Mr Kotwal. Talking about the detail of the case he said that municipal corporation has regulating authority over private construction. Accoding to General Development and Control Rules, all society have to keep atleast 10% of their total area as common plot. Regarding common plot or any encroachment over it, it is society’s deal. Municipal Corporation can only give notice in the case of any construction over the common plot. And so in spite of repeated complaints by the residents of the society, Minicipal Corporation took the stand that it is internal matter of the society and Municipal Corporation cannot interfere. The residents of the society also represented to the Collector Office and other authorities from where the directions to act came. But yet the stand of Municipal Corporation did not change. He said that there is a provision for the Municipal Corporation in such cases only if the residents of the society hand over the common plot to Municipal Corporation.

He claimed that the Municipal Corporation came into the picture only when the Nepali family started construction in that plot. The residents of the society gave written complain one year back and so on the bases of that Municipal Corporation gave a primary notice to the Nepali family in May-2012 to which the family replied. Again in August-2012, final notice was given which was to be mandatorily replied within one week. Against this notice the family went to civil court. Meanwhile in spite of continued complains of the residents, Municipal Corporation took the stand to wait for the civil court judgment. The civil court dismissed the application on 22nd March.2013. Yet Municipal Corporation decided to wait for getting the written judgment in their hands. Ironically they got this written judgment in the evening of 3rd April.

He accepted that the local Corporators accompanied with the residents of the society once or twice during their representation to the Municipal Corporation. Now that civil court had dismissed the appeal, it might have created frustration for the family. Further, the residents of the society gave it in media. Due to condition created, the family might have felt depressed and have taken the recourse to such extreme step. When we questioned him that as builders get chance to regularize their illegal construction by paying impact fee cannot this be applicable to this poor family? He replied that technically it could have been applicable if their construction would have been done before March-2011. We asked him that the family had water connection as well as electricity connection, are they not sufficient to prove their legal possession. He replied that water connection was taken in the name of society and not in the personal name of the family. Further even if the family gets tax bill on their name yet that does not prove their possession. He said that the 5 lakh rupees each as compensation to the family is being announced by the Municipal Corporation on humanitarian ground. He also assured that as long as the family is in the stage of distress, the Status Quo will be maintained.

He said that the family entered the Municipal corporation premises from the back side-from unofficial door. So our security personnel could not notice them.

 

Mr M.M. Kotwal (deputy Municipal Commissioner, Rajkot Municipal Corporation)

 

Mr M.M. Kotwal claimed that on the day of incident no one had come to make representation before him from Chhotunagar society. At the time of incident he was in the meeting in his own office with Tax Officers Sh. Kagathara. Sh. Rupareliya Sh. Prajapati and Account Officer Sh Nandani. On hearing some noise he came out of his to find out what is happening but one of his staff member closed the common glass door for his security. Peeping through the glass he could see nothing else but lot of smoke. He opened the door to inquire further but as lot of smoke started entering the office he was compelled to close the door. He returned to his office and called 108 ambulance as well as fire brigade. The other officer of Municipal Corporation sitting with him during our visit informed us that 108 ambulance always remained ready in our own premises and fire brigade is just adjacent to their office.

We further inquired with the security personnel,  the visitors of the Municipal Corporation Office as well as Sh. Naranbhai Madhubhai who tried to save the victims on the day of incident with the help of his own shirt. While the security personnel claimed that the victims brought cans of Kerosene. Naranbhai claimed that they brought fuel in the pouch. All of them could not say clearly whether the fuel  used was Kerosene or Petrol or any other object.

 

 

 

 

Sh. Ranchhodbhai Dobariya (Resident of Chhotunagar Society)

 

According to Sh. Ranchhodbhai Dobariya’s claim he was the first person to construct house even before the society was set up. Few years after some rooms were there outside the peripheri of society  where Sh. Masingbhai were taken shelter. He used to remain very sick and so residents of society decided to give him shelter in the common plot of the society and in this manner ten years after he came to the society Sh. Mansingbhai started staying in a small hutment with his family approximately in the year of 1990. He used to work as security of the society. We used to help his family by providing grains, oils etc. Society has decided to give him a fix amount of salary. We had very intimate relationship with the family. And the family was very dissent and there was no nuisance. Only the youngest of the son Mahendrabhai was liquar addict and used to drink liquar with his circle sometimes. But otherwise no other nuisance was created by them. When a skim was announced for housing on Sadhu Vaswani Road, the society members helped all three sons of Mansinghbhai to get a house each by draw system. There had been no pressure or threate from society members on the family. But only when they started new construction, all the problems occurred. but still then no one used to enter their premises only the people whose name they have given used to take photographs of the progress of the new construction. But that too from outside the premises. If they have not demolished their old structure and started construction of newer one, there were no controversy at all. And yet society has never said them to vacat the place. They have only objected the new construction. Ranchhodbhai strongly feels that they have taken such extreme step only dye to somebody’s instigation otherwise no other such factors were present.

 

 

Nizamuddinbhai Ansari(Resident of Adjacent Society of Chhotunagar, his house is just opposite to the desputed land)

 

Nizamuddinbhai claims that he started saying in the society since 1983 that is about 32 years back. At that time Mansinghbhai was already staying with his family and doing security of the Chhotunagar Society. He did not know much detail of the despute but he feels that they would have taken such extreme steps because of harassment only.

We could not contact Sh. Ghanshyambhai Pandya, executive member of the committee of the society.

 

Mansukhbhai Joshi (Educanionist, First appointed Mayor of Rajkot Municipal Corporation and eminent citizen)

 

Mansukhbhai said the citizens of Rajkot are very much disturbed by the incident. As the Municipal Corporation is not paying any heed to a common people’s cause, the people are very much frustrated. This incident is the highest expression of such frustration. He also repented that the people are becoming so selfish that while making housing skims, they do not make any provisions for their service class like security, scavengers, domestic workers, etc. He also felt  regretted that in such condition we are not being able to do anything actively to check such incidents. But he assured that we will provide as much financial help as possible to the remaining family members and try to ensure that the education of all the children do not suffer.

 

 

H.P.Singh (Police Commissioner, Rajkot)

 

Sh.H.P.Singh said that the investigation is going on. We are trying to gather the evidence. Media and other people give stress on arrest but our focus is on gathering the evidances. He accepted that in the past written complains were done in different police station from both the sides and necessary actions were taken by the police. He said that even if the lost mobile of Sh. Bharatbhai and Sh. Baratbhai, we will opting call details from the company.

 

SOME MISSING LINKS

 

  • In the conversation with most of the people, we felt that all of them did not believe it to be natural incident. They felt that somebody might have instigated them to do so. The family has not given any such ultimatum to any concerned people family member, relatives or authorities of taking such step.
  • The people in large number were present. Police personnel and media persons were also present. The full shots have been taken of the entire incident. The timing of the incident is near about 12.00 noon, the busiest hour in any of the offices. It doesn’t seem natural that no one came to save them.
  • According to Gauriben’s claim, when she tried to go instinctively to rescue her husband, she was stopped and someone assured her that we will save them, you don’t worry. But no attempts of saving can be seen from the footage of the media coverage. Then who and why would have assured her so?
  • The disputed land was the common plot. It is road touch. The land of the society is said to be worth crores of rupees. Is there any role of land mafias in the whole episode to grab the land?
  • According to the family, they have done police complaints repeated number of times, even sometimes in written. The police assured them to take action. But no actions have been taken to check the threat. Why? Was there any pressure on Police?
  • Family members strongly feel that it is not self immolation. According to them, “ a big Game” has been played with them in this incident. What is the root of such belief? What can that probable “Game” be?
  • The fire extinguisher was very near to the place of incident. Even ladies toilet was nearby, where one of the lady went after being immolated. Why no one tried to use the fire extinguisher or water from the bathroom.
  • Even the offices of Standing Committee Chairman, Opposition leader, etc. were nearby the incident. What was the status of those offices? What actions were taken by them?
  • When some people are self immolating, how can Deputy Municipal Commissioner close the door of his office from inside?
  • No one is yet clear whether it was kerosene or Petrol that was used?
  • How so many people(7 in number) with inflammable thing like Kerosene could enter the premises where the security companies are so large in number that even Municipal Commissioner doesn’t know the number?
  • The fire brigade is just adjacent to the premises. Yet it took long time to reach. And reached only to find that owing to lower level pillars at the entrance of the Municipal Corporation office, it is not possible for their vehicle to enter.
  • The video footage shows that even when ambulance arrived, the staff of ambulance is not taking the victims in stretchers. They are waiting for them to use all their energy to reach the ambulance. The staff is waiting down. And they take them to the stretcher only after they collapse. Is this the emergency service?!
  • Up till now, the names of two local Municipal Corporators have come-Sh. Kamleshbhai Mirani and Sh. Rajbha Jhala in the dying declaration of the victims. Police has neither arrested them, nor even interrogated them. What can be the reason?
  • Today(11 April, 2013), C.C.T.V. footage of the Municipal Corporation office revealed the suspicious presence of the B.J.P. Councillor Sh. Narendrabhai Solanki during the time of the incident. It was also found from the mobile call details of Sh. Bharatbhai Vishwakarma that on the previous night, i.e. on 2ndApril and even on the day of the incident i.e. on 3rd April, before the incident, number of phone calls have been done by Sh. Narendrabhai and from the office of Standing Committee Chairman. Why did police not make any arrest and only interrogated even after such substantial evidence?
  • If so many conversations happened before the incident, why the victims did not mention them in their dying declarations?
  • Were dying declarations of the other two victims who died on 6th April taken or not?
  • The members of the ruling BJP were so sure of the innocence of their Corporators, that they took out procession in their support. Then why is it that the Chief Minister did not make any statement in the incident? Why the Chief Minister, Speaker or even the Governor not even said a word of condolence to the victim family?

 

These are the questions that are yet to be answered. It is very difficult to conclude in such situation. May be follow up interrogation, if possible, might help us to conclude. In any manner, our conclusion lies in the answer of the above mentioned questions.

Looking to the Seriousness of the problem, we demand a high power committee headed by retired high court judge should be formed to investigate whole episode thouroughly to find out some missing links as mentioned above.

 

Balendra Vaghela                                             Kamlesh Bhavsar                                Saurashtra – Kuttchh Lokhit                           Advocate (Ahmedabad)

     Sangharsh Samiti (Rajkot)   

 

    

     Bhavik Raja                                            Rimmi Vaghela

     Democratic Student Organization            All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan

     Ahmedabad                                             Ahmedabad

 

 

MEMBERS OF PUCL INVESTIGATION TEAM

 

————————————————————————————————————Report Released by

Gautam Thaker – General Secretary – PUCL (Gujarat) M.09825382556

 

PUCL- JP Memorial Lecture – New Social Movements, New Perspectives


New Social Movements, New Perspectives

Nivedita Menon

Her side of the storyNivedita MenonPhoto: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.

photo courtesy- : SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.

JP Memorial Lecture March 23, 2013

 

We stand at an electrifying and exciting moment of history, when new forces are coming into view through a range of movements, shaking the foundations of political power. They do not seek to ‘capture’ political power but rather, to make it accountable and answerable to ‘the people’. The massive upsurges against corruption and against the Delhi gang-rape, whose reverberations were heard in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Nepal, tie up with a global moment which has been marked by similar unrest in different parts of the world – the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the youth movement in Bangladesh against the Islamic right-wing and for a return to the secular ideals of the 1971 liberation struggle.

But there are dots that connect these current rounds of movements to a longer history of non-party activism in India, which I want to trace in my presentation, before returning to the present and the difficult questions we face about democracy today.

In the long history of people’s movements in India, we have seen them take different forms. I’m referring of course, to non-party movements, among the first of which is the JP movement itself, whose ultimate demise, as is widely accepted now, can be traced to its takeover by political parties.

Today I will try to map the forms that people’s movements have taken since the 1980s, and it should be clear that the focus will be on what we perceive as ‘new’ movements. Thus, I will not refer to the long struggles against the Indian state in Kashmir and the North East because a discussion of those requires another lecture altogether that will question the very legitimacy of the claim of India to be a Nation.

A new kind of social and political action emerged in the 1980s, that we might call citizens’ initiatives. These non-funded and non-party forums came into being out of a sense of the inefficacy of mainstream political parties and their lack of concern regarding vital issues of democracy, freedom and civil rights. ‘Citizens’ initiatives’ have been more involved in a watchdog kind of activity and are not generally characterized by mass support. While some are small, self-sufficient groups of long standing, others are broad coalitions formed around specific issues, that bring together parties and trade unions of the far left, Gandhian, Dalit and feminist groups, some of which may be funded NGOs, as well as non-affiliated individuals. The distinguishing feature of such coalitions is that all the constituents are subject to the ‘common minimum programme’ set collectively by the forum, and separate party/organizational agenda are not meant to influence the activity of the forum. The tension that this sets up between differing imperatives is usually also the reason for the short-lived nature of such forums, which tend to dissipate after a period of intense and often very effective interventions.

Among the first citizens’ initiatives that came into existence were around civil liberties and democratic rights. Acquiring particular salience in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency, a number of such organizations came into being throughout the country. For instance, the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights (PUCLDR) set up during the Emergency later split into the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), with a more leftist perspective on ‘rights’ including economic rights, while the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) decided to focus on ‘civil liberties’ more narrowly. There was a string of such formations in the country. In many states like Andhra Pradesh (the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee – APCLC) and West Bengal (Association for the Protection of Democratic Right – APDR), the main initiative for the formation of such civil liberties and democratic rights organizations came from activists linked to the far Left groups. We distinguish such forums from what are called ‘human rights organizations’, many of which are funded organizations that work in tandem with internationally evolving agendas. The latter we would place under the rubric of  ‘NGOs’.

Such groups have continued to play an active role in the years since, painstakingly documenting and exposing cases of civil liberties and democratic rights violations. In recent years they have also been actively campaigning against capital punishment. While the initial impulse for their formation was the violation by the state of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, they have over the last two and a half decades expanded their activities to address violations of freedoms by non-state actors in the context of caste, gender and sectarian/ communal violence. Some of them have also taken up questions of the worst cases of exploitation of labour, which effectively nullify rights and liberties sanctioned by the Constitution to all citizens.

A recent significant battle fought by one such citizens’ group – Committee for Fair Trial for SAR Geelani – demonstrates how effective such interventions can be. Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, a lecturer of Arabic in a Delhi college, was one of the ‘prime accused’ in the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001. Following as it did on ‘9/11’, the incident got inserted into the stridently nationalist discourse that drew nourishment from both the Hindu-right dominated NDA government and the rhetoric of George Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’. A group of teachers and students of Delhi University kept up a consistent struggle to ensure a fair trial for SAR Geelani in the bleak days of 2002, when one of the worst state-sponsored carnages of post-Independence Indian history was in progress in Gujarat, and Geelani was not only sentenced to death by a POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act) court but also subjected to a blatant media trial pronouncing him guilty even before the court verdict. Eventually a national level Committee was formed, drawing in respected academics like Rajni Kothari and writer Arundhati Roy, while lawyers like Nandita Haksar and others undertook to fight the case on Geelani’s behalf. Their patient and unrelenting work was successful in exposing what turned out to be a blatant frame-up. Geelani was acquitted and released. The Geelani case revealed the extent to which democracy can be subverted by the discourse on ‘national security’. However, it also demonstrated that spaces for democratic intervention are not entirely closed off.

Of course, this was only a partial victory and the December 13th attack on parliament has a darker story behind it which we cannot go into now, the latest episode of which was the unjust execution of Afzal Guru for a crime the Supreme Court conceded he did not commit.

Another set of citizens’ initiatives that came since 1984 and the massacre of Sikhs were several anti-communal groups in different parts of the country. One of the earliest of these was a forum called the Nagarik Ekta Manch, formed in 1984 itself. This was an initiative where people from different backgrounds and vocations came together to work in the relief camps – collecting and distributing relief materials, helping people file claims and so on. At about the same time, another group, the Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan (SVA) was formed in Delhi, focusing primarily on public campaigns, attempting simultaneously to find a different language in which to conduct such campaigns. A wide debate was sparked in secular circles by one of the slogans evolved by the SVA to counter the Hindu right-wing campaign on Ramjanmabhoomi, discussed in Chapter 2. This slogan, in a radical departure from secular strategy, appealed to the religious Hindu – kan-kan mein vyaape hain Ram/Mat bhadkao danga leke unka naam (Ram is in every atom/let not His name be used to incite violence).

These could be said to have been precursors to a series of new initiatives in different towns and cities of India that came into being in the 1990s, especially in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the communal violence that followed. Perhaps the most significant part of the citizens’ actions of the 1990s was that they took up the struggle that was all but abandoned by political parties – whether ruling or opposition, Right or Left. Through this period groups have worked throughout India, engaging in a range of activities – street demonstrations and sit-ins to engage the public in debate and discussion, designing and implementing educational programmes, monitoring the media, pursuing cases in court, providing legal and other assistance to the victims of communal violence and making every effort to see that the guilty officials and political leaders would not escape punishment. Again, in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage of 2002, during the long months of continued violence, innumerable individuals and newly formed groups from all over India went to Gujarat, helping in running relief camps, coordinating collections and distribution of relief materials, running schools for children of the victims – and of course, providing the legal support to fight the cases. These efforts might well comprise one of the most glorious chapters of citizens’ interventions in post-independence India.

Urbanism could be said to be one of the fledgling movements in contemporary India. Prior to the 1990s issues of the urban poor, (pavement dwellers, hawkers and vendors, rickshaw pullers) were raised by Left political parties, individuals and groups in Mumbai and Kolkata, largely as questions of poverty and the ‘state’s responsibility’ to the poor. The old Nehruvian state was also much more responsive to this call of responsibility. It was in the 1990s, with India’s rapid global integration, that urban space really began to emerge as an arena of struggle. Alongside the contests over space arose newer concerns regarding urban congestion, pollution and consequent concerns about health. The state’s response – prodded by a section of environmentalists and the judiciary – was to revive the old modernist fantasy of the ordered and zoned city. It was around these issues that struggles started seriously erupting in the late 1990s.

In Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore, citizens’ initiatives brought together questions of environment and workers’ rights and linked them up with the larger question of urban planning. Some groups conducted mass campaigns through their constituent political groupings, but the most significant impact they had was in making urban planning a matter of public debate, drawing architects and planners with alternative visions into the debate. The question of a public transport system, road planning and such other questions came into the ambit of the debate for the first time. In some cities alternative data was generated on the availability and consumption of water, electricity and other amenities in settlements of the labouring poor as well as the affluent.

Today as Arvind Kejriwal begins his civil disobedience campaign on the inflated costs of water and electricity, we can see the historical links to earlier forms of activism.

Since the late 1980s, non-party movements and citizens’ initiatives have grown and functioned in a complicated relationship with NGOs. The apprehension of being driven by funder agendas, becoming depoliticized and being co-opted by funding has kept most movements and citizens’ initiatives consciously ‘non-funded’. At the same time many NGOs often provide movements with vital support in terms of infrastructure, campaigns and educational materials. Thus, while the peoples’ movements fight their battles in faraway rural or forest areas, with little access to the media, it is these NGOs that set up and house the various metropolitan ‘support groups’ whose task it is to approach friendly and influential people in the media, bureaucracy and academia to advocate the cause of the movement concerned. Such NGOs have often also provided critical research inputs on technical details, environmental impact and other information required to conduct a credible campaign. A striking example of such a symbiosis is the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

These citizens’ initiatives were rarely mass movements, but in the first decades on the 21st century we have begun to see mass movements of this new, coalitional kind, arising around the issue of land acquisition. Such movements have brought into crisis the hitherto unquestioned assumption that industrialization and economic development of a particular kind are natural stages in human history. This assumption is shared across the political spectrum from Right to Left and so these movements come into sharp contradiction with an Old Left framework that has still not understood the deep ecological crisis our planet  faces and the need to rethink entirely the idea of endless growth which is in fact impossible.

Increasingly, movements against land acquisition are coming together with the movement against nuclear energy, from Jaitapur to Kudankulam. In these mass movements we see the new form of coming together of political energies. That is, around a single issue, a range of forces come together, from religious forces like the Jamat in Singur and Nandigram and the Church in Kudankulam, to the familiar spectrum of individuals and groups – Gandhians, Dalit groups, NGOs, left groups and sometimes left parties and so on. The anti-nuclear energy movements of course, go back to the era of citizens’ initiatives when groups like Anumukti, Network to Oust Nuclear Energy (NONE) and Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (COSNUP) were set up. Such citizens’ initiatives were undertaken to highlight issues such as the dangers of radiation to communities located in uranium mining sites, the undemocratic and opaque nature of functioning of India’s nuclear establishment, and as always, the injustice of displacing populations from their homes and occupations in order to set up nuclear energy plants. More importantly, these groups developed a critique of nuclear energy as such, asserting, along with a growing chorus of voices globally, that it was ‘neither clean nor safe nor cheap.’ While this work did not have a mass movement dimension until now, we see the coming together of these older initiatives with the mass movements in Kudankulam and Jaitapur.

Again, the Old Left is completely out of tune with these new developments, as in its imaginative horizon, nuclear energy is central to a strong nation state. For example, the proposal to build a giant nuclear power station in Haripur in West Bengal is a central government project, but is fully supported by the Left Front. The ecological and social consequences of building a nuclear plant in the densely populated Gangetic delta region are fearsome to contemplate, and the CPI (M)’s enthusiastic support for it is deeply troubling.

Coming now to the women’s movement, it has functioned more or less in the form of citizens’ initiatives of the kind I have described, with occasional mass mobilization by political parties. In the 1980s, the “autonomous women’s movement” emerged from the patriarchy and control of left-wing political parties. The first national-level autonomous women’s conferences were thus attended by non-funded, non-party, self-defined feminist groups. Over the 1990s, very few of these survived as non-funded organizations, and the seventh conference in 2006, held in Kolkata, referred to above, was almost entirely attended by funded NGOs. It is also important to note that many “non” governmental organizations receive funding from the government for specific projects. Thus, the only groups that were finally excluded were non-funded left wing and radical women’s organizations, which seemed to many feminists to be a strange paradox. Increasingly however, in the last few years, coalitions around issues such as sexual violence and the rights of LGBT people, include political parties of the Left. Feminists also perceive the close link between movements around livelihood and ecological sustainability, and the women’s movement – Nalini Nayak, who works with fisher- people’s movements on these issues, terms ecological movements the “resource base of our feminism”.

And so we arrive at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a decade in which we see two kinds of new political action. One – unprecedented urban mass movements in the city of Delhi and in other cities and towns, around two issues – corruption and sexual violence.

Two – social media driven mobilizations by young upper class women around the issue of women’s rights to public space.

Both these kinds of mobilizations, quite opposite in character to each other, have proved difficult for older Left and women’s movement perspectives to come to terms with, for they follow none of the older patterns of mobilizing, there is no comprehensive programme of action, only one narrow slogan, and the mass character necessarily means there can be no broader agreement around large political issues.

Let me start with the second phenomenon I mentioned.

Two campaigns have caught media attention. One, the Pink Chaddi campaign. In 2009, men of a hitherto little known Hindu right-wing organization called Sri Ram Sene, physically attacked young women in pubs in the city of Mangalore. These attacks, supposedly an attempt to protect Indian culture from defilement by western values, were met with protests and solidarity campaigns all over the country, but the most imaginative one came to be called the Pink Chaddi campaign. A cheeky Facebook group was launched by Delhi journalist Nisha Susan, with the name of ‘Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women’, which called upon women to send pink chaddis (underwear) to the leader of the Ram Sene, Pramod Muthalik, as a gift on Valentine’s Day, in a non-violent gesture of ridicule and protest.  Over 2000 chaddis were in fact delivered to the Ram Sene office, and the organization was a butt of ridicule all over the world. It is striking that the campaign used the word ‘chaddi’ rather than ‘panty’, simultaneously desexualizing the piece of clothing, ungendering it (chaddi refers to underwear in general, not just to women’s panties), and playing on the pejorative slang for Hindu right-wingers, after the uniform of their parent organization, the RSS, whose members wear khaki shorts. At one level an undoubtedly successful campaign, it faced criticism from conservative opinion for obvious reasons, and also from the left of the political spectrum.

The latter chastised the campaign for elitism (‘after all, only westernized women in cities go to pubs’) and for diverting attention to such a trivial issue when for most women in India, their very survival is at stake. Is going to pubs what feminism is about, was the question such critics raised. Of course not. And nor did the ‘Consortium’ claim it was anything as large as ‘feminism’ itself. It was a specific campaign in response to a specific attack, and as Nisha Susan put it, ‘for many of those who signed up, neither Valentine’s Day nor pub-going meant anything. What we agreed on is the need to end violence in the name of somebody’s idea of Indian culture’ (2009). The campaign brazenly owned up to the identities the Hindu right-wing attributed to women in pubs – ‘loose and forward’ – and made them badges of pride. And it clearly touched a chord across the country, for most people understood it as defiance towards the Hindu right’s moral policing in general, not merely about women’s right to drink in pubs.

The other instance was the organizing of Slut Walks in Delhi and Bhopal. Slut Walks, both in European and American cities as well as in some Indian ones, must be understood as a critique of the victim blaming culture that surrounds rape. The original Slut Walk was a reaction to a Canadian police officer’s remark that if women dress ‘like sluts’, they must expect to be raped. However, the overwhelmingly positive responses world-wide to Slut Walks, reveal that blaming the victim is not an attitude restricted to the West.

In India, within the feminist camp, there were misgivings expressed that the English word ‘slut’ has no resonance at all here. In response, the organizers of the march added a Hindi phrase explaining the name, so that it became Slut Walk arthaat Besharmi Morcha, drawing on the Hindi word besharam meaning ‘without shame’ or shameless, often used for women who refuse to live by patriarchal rules. What was interesting about Slut Walks in India (held in Bhopal and Delhi in July 2011), was that they were not organized by the established women’s movement organizations and well-known feminist faces, but by much younger women new to political organizing, who were expressing, however, an old and powerful feminist demand – the right to safety in public spaces.

If this was elite mobilization, what is the problem for the Left with mass mobilizations? It appears that the non-party Left has a deep rooted fear of the masses, which it can only see as communal and casteist, and politically regressive. Throughout the Anna Hazare phase of the India Against Corruption movement, we saw from this section, which forms our community, strident demands for absolute  purity of the radical position (for example, what do these people have to say about Kashmir?). We saw a sort of aggressive self-marginalization and self-exile to a high ground where all credentials were closely scrutinized, and we saw the absolute incomprehension of and contempt of people who are our friends, for  ’the people’ when actually confronted by them.

Interestingly, political parties of the Left, especially CP(ML), were supportive of the movement and active in various ways, this sharp criticism came from individuals of the non-Party left.

What I saw was a carnivalesque celebration of the pure ideals of democracy – of the idea that ‘we the people’ are sovereign, that politicians are the servants of the people, that laws must originate in the needs and demands of the people.

What my community saw though, was a mindless mob of communal and casteist – and even “fascist” middle classes.

For twelve days, a city in which protest had been consigned to a museumized space, Jantar Mantar, was reclaimed for protest by a crashing tide of humanity so huge, so peaceful and non-violent, that it simply took back the city. No violence. No untoward incidents and no hysteria (except on television channels). How is this fascism? Are all large gatherings of the masses fascist?

Since many of the critics swear by some form of ‘Marxism-Leninism’, let me quote from Lenin who said in 1916 of the 1905 revolution:

“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is…The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices…; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the [back] of tsarism and paving the way for democracy.”

Another kind of critic speaks not in the name of revolution, but of democracy; a democracy disciplined through representative institutions with The People entering the stage every five years. The People are a continuous source of anxiety, casteist and communal as all of them are. Little wonder then that this set of Leftist and Left-liberals remained silent when the government denied permission for the protest and arrested Hazare on August 16; some even denying that there had been a violation of civil liberties.

Law-making needs to be demystified – “it’s a very complex process”, the experts on TV kept saying. But what the movement did was it made it legitimate to say that we have a right to the information that will enable us to arrive at a conclusion. I heard a young law student stumblingly explain before a TV camera in English, which was clearly not his first language: ”They say the Parliament is sovereign. No. They should read the Constitution. The people are sovereign.”

And I loved the way people said to the camera – Main Kapil Sibal se kehna chahta hoon, main Manmohanji ko batana chahti hoon – directly, they addressed the “leaders”, the politicians, as if they have a right to. This is neither anti political nor anti political classes – it is the exact opposite. It is the insistence precisely that “we the people” are political, we demand accountability from those whom we send to Parliament.

It is by now established that there was substantial Muslim and Dalit participation despite their leaders’ disapproval. The other misrepresentation being continually purveyed is that the supporters of this movement are the middle classes. If the lakhs of people who participated in the protests over twelve days in Delhi alone, are all ‘middle class’, then India must be Shining after all! Anybody who moved around where protests were happening could have seen that the large majority of participants were lower middle class to working class people. In Delhi local protests happened everywhere, far away from TV cameras – in middle class housing societies, working class ‘unauthorized’ colonies, around local mosques in poor localities, small temples.

We also know from newspaper reports that there was growing participation of workers throughout – railway workers affiliated to AITUC; 1800 temporary-for-years Delhi Transport Corporation workers who were sacked for going to Ramlila Maidan; dabbawalas in Mumbai who have not struck work for 140 years;   sections of auto drivers; Maruti workers from Manesar in Haryana.

The other argument against an anti-corruption law is that ‘corruption provides a little shade to the poor’.  As a skeptics about the law and the state, I have often written about the freedoms made possible by going under the radar of the state. But how to understand the poor and working class who throng the movement?  Perhaps ‘corruption’ is precisely not to be in the shade, to be forced into engaging with the force of Law, but outside the protection of the law. Perhaps the ‘corrupt’ people protesting corruption would like to live a life in which they wouldn’t have to be corrupt just to survive every day? We need to recognize that the term ‘corruption’ as it plays out in the movement, condenses within it a range of discontents – an accumulating anger over repeated betrayals of democratic expectations over years, but especially over the last decade. The immediate trigger of the movement was the series of instances of looting of the public exchequer that came to light recently – the Commonwealth Games, the 2G Spectrum scam, the Niira Radia tapes that exposed how ministers were being fixed to benefit particular business houses, and so on. But corruption is also an everyday matter for the poor – the thelawala paying hafta to the beat constable;  the labourer whose muster rolls are faked, the agricultural worker whose NREGA payment is swallowed up; every poor undertrial in jail on trumped up charges (was it surprising then, that the undertrials in Tihar fasted in solidarity with Anna?); the farmer whose land is seized to be passed on to corporates, an issue mentioned by Anna Hazare in his speech at Ramlila Maidan (kisanon ki zameen zabardasti chheeni ja rahi hai); the aspirant to own an auto rickshaw costing 1 lakh, who ends up paying more than a car costs, and drowns in debt.

A young working class boy we know, falsely implicated in a theft case by the police for over four years, rang up at the height of the agitation to tell us jubilantly that the beat constable had told him that the cases were being closed – “Anna hazare ke chakkar mein pulis saare case khatam kar rahi hai” (All this Anna Hazare stuff is going on, so the police are closing all the cases.) We don’t know what made him think this had anything to do with Anna Hazare. But this is the Anna moment. This is what the Subaltern Studies historians drew our attention to, the multiple meanings Gandhi had for different sections of people, the ‘rumours of Gandhi’ that galvanized a variety of protests that directly addressed local issues.

But also, maybe the police were scared for an instant?

To all those who woke up to the India Against Corruption movement in April 2011 – a gentle reminder that this is the crystallization of a long process that began in the villages, initiated by the campaign around the Right to Information. The RTI Act (2005), instrumental in exposing corruption in a range of spaces from NREGA to municipal schools, was the culmination of one phase of the movement; the establishment of an Ombudsman or Lokpal was always planned as the next stage. Corruption is tied fundamentally to the RTI Act that exposes it, so effectively that several RTI activists have been murdered.

Now of course, Arvind Kejriwal has decided to go the way of a political party, but what we see of the AAP so far, it is clearly not a conventional party with a top-down leadership, and it appears to be genuinely seeking a new way of being a party, with actual mass participation in decision making, which might change the ground rules for all parties.

The experience of the mobilizations around IAC were behind the massive protests around the Delhi gang-rape. This time, the voices of critique were muted, although a prominent critic was Arundhati Roy, who immediately termed the protests upper class. But again, this was not the case. The protests were sparked off by the rape of a girl on a bus at 9.30 at night. She could have been anybody – she was not in a car, or even an auto. Nobody knew her caste – later it turned out she is from a very poor family and from the Kurmi caste, which is by no means an upper caste – but the point is nobody actually knew who she was – she was Everywoman.

And again, exactly like the IAC movement, there were right-wing voices as well as left-wing and feminist voices against sexual violence. These feminist thoughts were being articulated by not only people calling themselves feminists but ordinary middle class people who may not consider themselves to be very political at all. There were thousands of submissions to the Justice Verma committee and many of these have been made by ordinary people, resident’s Welfare Associations and so on, asking for changes in the broader patriarchal context of society – things like women’s safety and police sensitivity.

There has been a ground level shift among people reflecting decades of feminist intervention at different levels, but there is a real disconnect between the people and politicians. Feminist understandings have caught on in the ordinary public but this is not matched by the understanding of state agencies. Not only was a feminist position NOT articulated by anyone in a position of power or any political organization in a consistent way, most politicians from Left to Right came out with the most misogynist and regressive statements about women and about sexual violence.

And again, people did not have to be mobilized by any organized left wing, right wing or feminist groups. The transformation that has taken place in the last 4-5 years is that people feel like they own the city and can come out in protest on the streets – and I think this can be tracked back to India Against Corruption.

Any mass movement brings together disparate and sometimes  starkly contradictory tendencies.  Don’t we know that from the Indian struggle for independence? Was the Indian bourgeoisie absent from it? Or the religious right of all sorts? Or casteist and Brahminical forces? If absolute purity and a point-to-point matching of our full political agenda is required for us to support a movement, then feminists would be permanently stuck restively in the waiting room of history, for I can assure you that every mass demonstration you see anywhere ever, is packed with patriarchal men and patriarchalized women! Nor does any movement except the women’s movement ever raise patriarchy as an issue. But what is it that we take into account when we do support a movement? One – does the movement express a goal or demand that we support? Two – Does the movement as such explicitly take positions that are anti-women or anti-anything-we-stand-for? (The answers of course, should be yes and no respectively).

The  huge movement in Goa that succeeded in scrapping the SEZ Bill was composed of precisely such a broad formation – from the Church to the Hindu Right, to all of the others  of my community as described above. They came together, they went their separate ways once their campaign succeeded. Nandigram saw a similar formation. Many non-party non-funded citizens’ forums have too. The Narmada Bachao Andolan is another broad alliance coalescing on a single issue. For that matter, at Tahrir Square there were Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood), and people and groups who stand for full-scale capitalism apart from secularists and feminists and workers and trade unions. Now it’s a struggle of secularists against the Muslim right-wing in Egypt, but that is a historically contingent, not necessary or inevitable development.

It is the logic of the development of a mass movement in all its messiness that we should seek to understand, rather than look for that pure, 22-carat revolution where everything will proceed according to the programme laid down by the Left elite. From this perspective, nothing less than our maximum agenda is acceptable – from SEZs to farmers’ suicides, from AFSPA in the Northeast to the murder of democracy in Kashmir. If you will not accept even one of these points, you’re out – we will have nothing to do with you. It is not “they” who say ‘if you are not with us you are against us’, this arrogant divisive slogan has always been ours, on the Left.

Those issues listed above are our issues too, but what if a mass movement does not raise them? What if it articulates itself around a more generalized and widespread concern? Any student of mass movements anywhere in the world knows that mass movements of this scale only arise around issues where the largest sections of the people feel affected by it. They can never arise around sectional issues – however big the sections concerned may be. And the question really is of the potentiality of the movement rather than what it is, at any given point.  It will only be inclusive to the extent that it is able to draw in the largest number.

We will of course have to part ways at some point to fight our separate battles, but we can come together for a specific limited goal.

We stand at the beginning of a new kind of politics that has all kinds of forces within it, but one of these is certainly the potential to radically transform and rejuvenate democracy. We should be prepared to ride that potential, not undermine it.

 

This lecture is based on material from my earlier published work, some of it singly authored, some jointly written with Aditya Nigam, in continuing conversation with whom these ideas have developed.

 

Out of Thumb print – #mustread #joke #aadhaar #uid


Business Standard / New Delhi Dec 07, 2012, 00:25 IST

India is a young country and it appears that the Unique Identification Authority of IndiaUIDAI) is keen to record this fact. Itsbiometric machines have been reconfigured to scan fingerprints up to 60 per cent coarseness — a feature that didn’t exist in the earlier machines. As a result, many elderly people, who tend to have relatively faint finger marks that get fainter in the cold weather, cannot enroll in the system. Now, this is clearly a chronic problem. Officials manning the scanners told a colleague to send a mail to the UID help desk. Each of these mails would then be used as part of a campaign to get UIDAI to do something about it, the officials said.

 

FIND OUT HOW FINGER PRINTS CAN BE FAKED

 

 

Is protesting at a public meeting curbing #FOE #FOS ?


Dec 8, 2012–A big hue and cry has been been rasied among activists after the walkout  from the Sixth Justice VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture because Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani was chosen to deliver it on November 23, 2012.
When the lecture was announced many of us were stunned at the fact that how could PUCL be associated with an event wherein Nandan Nilekani  has been given a platform to speak.  All human righst activists involved in say no to uid campaign, wrote individually to PUCL to cancel the event and PUCL  came up with the following a public statement which said
We had issued a statement where we made explicit that our opposition to UDIAI has not changed nor our continuing to oppose the UID project. We had also spoken to and followed by writing to the organisers informing our stand on UIDAI, that selection of a person like Mr. Nilekani is  contradictory to the very ideals that Justice Tarkunde’s  work and persona reflected, and therefore the demand for calling off the lecture as also that we did not want to be associated with the event. The organisers had also accepted our request and agreed not to associate PUCL with the event .
 As event was not cancelled, but PUCL had disassociated , the civil liberteis activists at the public meeting on Nov 23rd 2012 ,decided to walk out to show their protest the Read the report here
There after, there has been many email exchanges which are reproduced below
Clarification by PUCL
Dear friends,
I have been forwarded a news item “Why civil liberties activists walked out from Nandan Nilekani ‘s lecture” in which it is stated that those who walked out included “N.D.Pancholi, President, People’s Union For civil liberties (PUCL) Delhi” amongst others. It is entirely incorrect. I did not walk out in protest from the multipurpose hall where the lecture was being held. I had come out from the hall when I heard some noises outside and had some discussion with the protestors. I am one of the members of the Tarkunde Memorial Foundation. It is also not correct, as stated in the report, that “organisers rushed and tried to take back the papers”. It is also incorrect that the organisers termed the silent and peacerful distribution of the Statement as “trouble”. If some participants in the audience felt disturbed while the said activists were distributing statement, and made some remarks, organisers have nothing to do with it. Please make necessary corrections in your report and publish my clarification..
Thanking you,
N.D.Pancholi
Usha Ramanathan who was at the meeting and walked out responded

It is indeed true that Mr Pancholi did not walk out. He came out with the organisers who also anxiously came out of the hall because of the walk out.

As for the rest, it is indeed true that the orgainsers did take back the papers that had been quietly passed around. May be Mr Pancholi did not see it happening, but others amongst us did, and Mr Riain Karanjawala, who is among the organisers, did not deny it when he was confronted, by Vrinda Grover, with this illiberal act. It is also true that it was a member of the organisers’ team that termed what had happened as `trouble’. This too was hotly contested on the steps of the multipurpose hall where the meeeting was being held. And, as Vrinda pointed out, if what had happened could be termed trouble — viz., handing out papers that would set out the dangers of a project that was being promoted on the platform that had been provided to the one marketing the project; and the walk out that was intended to indicate that this is not a compliant citizenry which has no civil liberties consciousness –the that was what Justice Tarkunde had been doing all his life!

May be Mr Pancholi objects to the young props of the organisers who acted as if we posed a threat to the meeting as being thought of as part of the `organisers’. There is, however, no question that they were acting on behalf of the organisers. There is also no question that Mr Riain Karanjawala came out to take over from his young team. Mr Pancholi was there. Mr Pancholi may also recall that he said to us to give him the papers that we said was being confiscated in the room, and that he would ensure that they were distributed; and Mr Karanjawala silenced him with unwonted vigour. It is also a fact that Mr Karanjawala made disgruntled murmurs that he had never wanted PUCL as part of the Tarkunde lecture but that Justcie Sachar had prevailed on him, and, his tone made unmistakable, he, Mr Karanjawala regretted the error.

Mr Pancholi was part of the meeting that decided to invite Mr Nandan Nilekani. We know that Mr Pancholi is a member of the PUCL, and that he has been opposed to the UID project. However, it seems he may not have been fully cognisant of Mr Nilekani’s connection with the UID project. So, he ended up being a part of the inviting team. That he walked out of the hall of course does not mean that he was part of our walk out. He was walking out to see what was happening; and something certainly was, outside the hall, on the steps. And that included words exchanged about `trouble’, about PUCL, about taking back papers that had been circulated, about free expression, and about Justice Tarkunde not belonging to any particular set of people, not his family, not PUCL, but the wider community of people who have held him in high esteem through these years of his work and beyond.

The again on Dec 3rd 2012, Mr Pancholi responded
This is with reference to the comments made by Usha on my clarification which I sent in reply to a news item “Why civil liberties activists walked out from Nandan Nilekani’s lecture” published on a website ‘Kractivist’.
When I said to Vrinda to hand me over the pamphlets so that I could ensure that the same were properly distributed, she replied that she had no pamphlets as the same were distributed and were in turn snatched away from the participants by some youngmen. I told her that the civil liberties activists should have informed the organisers or me beforehand of their intentions of distributing the pamphlets. Had they disclosed such intention, some way could have been found out without disturbing the lecture. It is her misconception to say that Mr. Karanjwala silenced me.
Earlier Shri Sandeep Singh (of Citizens Forum For Civil Liberties) had come alongwith some activists at the auditorium almost one hour before the start of the lecture and on my enquiry he had assured me that to his knowledge there was no plan of making any protest or disturbing the lecture.
During the midst of the lecture when the audience is attentive to the speaker, if some activists, suddenly and without informing the organizers, start distributing the pamphlets, the same certainly cannot be called peaceful and silent distribution. It disturbs the speaker as well as the listeners. I stick to my statement made in my clarification that organizers of the lecture are not involved as alleged for taking back the said pamphlets or making any remark ‘trouble’ as alleged.
I am doubtful of UID project but I am not averse to listening opposite point of view. Listening other point s of views helps me in making my perceptions clearer, and enables me to correct myself if I am in error.
The moment Tarkunde Memorial Foundation announced the lecture, the demands were being made from a section of the civil liberties activists that lecture should be ‘called off’. This demand was continued to be made even after PUCL declared its non-association with the event. Statements made by Usha and PUCL also emphasized this demand. I am at a loss to understand as to how civil liberties activists can ask any other organization to call off the lecture simply because they do not agree with the views of the speaker! Is there any place in the ‘civil liberties consciousness’ for tolerance and to listen to opposite point of view peacefully?
The finaly reply by Usha Ramanathan and Vrinda Grover, both who were at the meeting, received today is below
There is little point that i can see in going round and round our memories of 23rd November. I think what had to be said has been said.
Except — Mr Pancholi now considers those who had a problem with Mr Nilekani being given a civil liberties platform undemocratic! That seems somewhat naive and ingenuous.
Since November 2009, we have been trying to get Mr Nilekani to answer some basic questions, and we have met with surliness as a response, each time. On 28 September, 2010, a statement issued by 17 eminent citizens raised questions that remain unanswered till today. (I am attaching the statement with this mail; this is the `pamphlet’ to which Mr Pancholi alludes.) Among the signatories are Kannabiran and Kavita and Aruna Roy, all members of PUCL. Kannabiran had also been advocating civil disobedience, if that was the only way to stop this project. The UID project, and its implications for civil liberties, was presented at the PUCL National Convention last year (2011), as was the problem with the sullen silence that had been the consistent response to our questions. Read the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Bill that was to give stautory status to the UIDAI, and it is peppered with evidence of recalcitrance on the part of Mr Nilekani and his team to answer questions. There has been overt hostility towards those raising the questions.
Mr Nilekani has had more than his share of talks and lectures where he has marketed the project. He has been heard — many times — and it is a consequence of this that we are now aware that the project projection is full of half-truths and lies.
We have no desire to storm around preventing Mr Nilekani from speaking; in fact, some of us have gone to hear him speak many times, seeking information, and clarity. That we have been disappointed each time is another matter; and that, needless to say, is an extreme understatement.
Our objection was to providing Mr Nilekani a civil liberties platform. After all, when someone is to be invited to speak at the Justice Tarkunde Memorial Lecture, the least we are entitled to expect is that the speaker should not be heading, and marketing, a project that poses a threat to civil liberties! I would have thought that we need to make sure that the platform is not used for promoting anti-civil liberties policies and action! If those inviting him had not studied the project, or had not heard him, or were not aware that he had anything to do with the project, it was, doubtless, irresponsibility on their part to have invited him in ignorance of his policy and his politics.
What made it worse was that this was a `lecture’. If it had been a debate, Mr Nilekani could have been asked to answer all those questions he has been sidestepping and refusing to answer through these three years. Of course, it can safely be hypothesised that Mr Nilekani may then have turned down the invitation, for he has not shown a penchant to being challenged.
This is a project that is not governed by law; and, literally, lawless. It is a project that was marketed as `voluntary’ and has now become mandatory, immediately for the poor to be extended over time to everyone. It is intended to converge data, facilitating tagging, tracking, profiling,and placing people under surveillance. It is a project that demands that that state and corporations be allowed to use biometrics as markers of identity; so, fingerprints and iris scans are to be the norm, and we are to be rendered choiceless in this use of the bosy as a marker. The individual is to be transparent to the state and to the corporation. Biometrics was used in the defence industry, but it was through its expansion into civilian spaces that its profit-through-proliferation is sought to be achieved. The companies involved in the project, including such ones as L1 Identity Solutions and Accenture have relationships with Homeland Security and the CIA. All this, and more, is known. Mr Nilekani’s task is to make this universal and ubiquitous. And he is to be given a civil liberties platform to sell the project, and those who object are undemocratic? These are strange times indeed.
The right to free expression does not require anyone to take permission to exercise the right. Isn’t that the civil liberties perspective? This was a silent and peacable passing around of a statement that would help people understand what the issues are. It is the snatching back of the papers that constitute an act of disruption, surely!!
Thanks for providing the space to have this exchange. With this, i rest my case. It is plain that what time there is needs to be dedicated to spreading understanding about the UID project. Clearly, what has been done has not been quite enough.
warm regards
 Usha ramanathan and Vrinda Grover
Cover photo
BELOW IS THE STATEMENT BY EMINENT PEOPLE ON WHY WE OPPOSE UID

STATEMENT

(issued by17 eminent persons (list appended) at a press conference held in Delhi on 28 September, 2010)

The project that proposes to give every resident  a `unique identity number’ is a  matter of great concern for those working on issues of food security, NREGA, migration, technology, decentralisation, constitutionalism, civil liberties and human rights. The process of setting up the Authority has resulted in very little, if any, discussion about this project and its effects and fallout. The documents on the UIDAI website, and a recent draft law (the National Identification Authority Bill, which is also on the website) do not provide answers to the many questions that are being raised in the public domain. This project is intended to collect demographic data about all residents in the country. It is said that it will impact on the PDS and NREGA programmes, and plug leakages and save the government large sums of money. It would, however, seem that even basic procedures have not been followed before launching on such a massive project.

Before it goes any further, we consider it imperative that the following be done:

  • Do a feasibility study: There are claims made in relation to the project, about what it can do for PDS and NREGA, for instance, which does not reflect any understanding of the situation of the situation on the ground.  The project documents do not say what other effects the project may have,  including its potential to be intrusive and violative of privacy, who may handle the data (there will be multiple persons involved in entering, maintaining and using the data), who may be able to have access to the data and similar other questions.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis: It is reported that the UIDAI estimates the project will costs  Rs 45,000 crores to the exchequer in the next 4 years. This does not seem to include the costs that will be incurred by Registrars, Enrollers, internal systems costs that the PDs system will have to budget if it is to be able to use the UID, the estimated cost to the end user and to the number holder.
  • In a system such as this, a mere statement that the UIDAI will deal with the security of the data is obviously insufficient. How does the UIDAI propose to deal with data theft?  If this security cannot be reasonably guaranteed, the wisdom of holding such data in a central registry may need to be reviewed.
  • The involvement of firms such as Ernst & Young and Accenture raise further questions about who will have access to the data, and what that means to the people of India.
  • Constitutionality of this project, including in the matter of privacy, the relationship between the state and the people, security and other fundamental rights.

Questions have been raised which have not been addressed so far, including those about –

  • Undemocratic process: UIDAI was set-up via a GoI notification as an attached office of the Planning Commission without any discussion or debate in the Parliament or civil society. In the year and a half of its inception, the Authority has signed MoUs with virtually all states and UTs, LIC, Petroleum Ministry and many banks. In July, the Authority circulated the draft NIA Bill (to achieve statutory status); the window for public feedback was two weeks. Despite widespread feedback and calls for making all feedback public, the Authority has not made feedback available. Further in direct contravention to the process of public feedback, the NIA Bill was listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha 2010 monsoon session
  • Privacy (It is only now that the DoPT is said to be working on a draft of a privacy law, but nothing is out for discussion even yet)
  • Surveillance: where this technology, and the existence of the UID number, and its working, could result in increasing the potential for surveillance
  • Profiling
  • Tracking
  • Convergence, by which those with access to state power, as well as companies, could collate information about each individual with the help of the UID number.

National IDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and the newly-elected British government. The reasons have predominantly been:  costs and privacy. If it is too expensive for the US with a population of 308 million, and the UK with 61 million people, and Australia with 21 million people, it is being asked why India thinks it can prioritise its spending in this direction. In the UK, the Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying’ by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant’ of the people, and not their `master’. Is there a lesson in it for us? In the late nineties, the Supreme Court of Philippines struck down the President’s Executive Order A.O 308 which instituted a biometric based national ID system calling it unconstitutional on two grounds – the overreach of the executive over the legislative powers of the congress and invasion of privacy. The same is applicable in India – UIDAI has been constituted on the basis of a GoI notification and there is a fundamental risk to civil liberties with the convergence of UID, NATGRID etc.

The UIDAI is still at the stage of conducting pilot studies. The biometric pilot study has reportedly already thrown up problems especially among the poor whose fingerprints are not stable, and whose iris scans suffer from malnourishment related cataract and among whom the incidence of corneal scars is often found. The project is clearly still in its inception. The project should be halted before it goes any further and the prelude to the project be attended to, the public informed and consulted, and the wisdom of the project determined. The Draft Bill too needs to be publicly debated. This is a project that could change the status of the people in this country, with effects on our security and constitutional rights, and a consideration of all aspects of the project should be undertaken with this in mind.

We, therefore, ask that:

  • The project be halted
  • A feasibility study be done covering all aspects of this issue
  • Experts be tasked with studying its constitutionality
  • The law on privacy be urgently worked on (this will affect matters way beyond the UID project)
  • A cost : benefit analysis be done
  • A public, informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.

This Statement was issued to the Press on 28th September, 2010 in New Delhi

List of signatories to the Statement on the UID

Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India    satgamaya@dataone.in

Prof Romila Thapar, Historian    romila.thapar@gmail.com

K.G.Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer       kg.kannabiran@gmail.com

Kavita Srivastava, PUCL and Right to Food Campaign      <kavisriv@gmail.com>

Aruna Roy, MKKS, Rajasthan     <arunaroy@gmail.com>

Nikhil Dey, MKKS, Rajasthan     <nikhildey@gmail.com>

S.R.Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India

Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant     <deepjoshi97@gmail.com>

Upendra Baxi, Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi   BaxiUpendra@aol.com

Uma Chakravarthi, Historian     <umafam@gmail.com>

Shohini Ghosh, Teacher and Film Maker   <shohini.ghosh@gmail.com>

Amar Kanwar, Film Maker    <amarkanwar@gmail.com>

Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan     <skandolan@gmail.com>

Trilochan Sastry, IIMB, and Association for Democratic Reforms    trilochans@iimb.ernet.in

Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar, ex- IIMA, and Association for Democratic Reforms     <jchhokar@gmail.com

Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD      <shabnamhashmi@gmail.com>

Justice A.P.Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi     ajitprakashshah@gmail.com

ATTN -Call 09266802178 to demand repeal of Sedition Law


Support the campaign of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) to repeal the draconian SEDITION LAW created by the British to stifle India’s freedom movement.

Today, the law is used in democratic India by the government to suppress criticism and crush dissent in violation of our Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, including the Right to Dissent.

We need your support to spread the campaign, so please urge everyone you know to call 09266802178 and pledge their support in demanding the repeal of this anti-democratic law.

 

Immediate Release – MONOGRAPH on UID @Nov28 #Delhi


200 px

200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are most cordially invited to a meeting sponsored by ‘Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties’, ‘Grahak Shakti’, ‘The Fifth estate Trust’ and ‘Youth Against Corruption’ to release a Monograph on UID , on Nov 28th , at 2 PM at Indian Women’s Press Corps premises – 5, Windsor Place, Ashoka Road, New Delhi 110001.

We believe that the people of this country should know the truth about UID, masquerading under the brand name, “Aadhaar”. The deceit in promoting UID as a pro-poor initiative needs to be exposed.

The Monograph brings out startling revelations about UIDAI and its foreign contractors, which are hitherto hidden from, and hence unknown to, the people of India. Its purpose is to shine a torch into the dark secrets of the UID scheme, reveal facts so far hidden from the people, seek an investigation and call for an immediate halt to this nefarious scheme.

The issues raised in the Monograph are backed by solid documentary evidence. The evidence is made available in the Monograph. They are sufficient to warrant a further probe.

We hope that this would open the eyes of all nationalists, among elected representatives, government functionaries, media, politicians, political parties, civil activists and most importantly, all people who love their country.

Gopal Krishna, Somasekhar, V.K, Mathew Thomas and Sunil Bansal

RSVP: +919818089660; +9194498366360; +919880000401

#India- Bill to create bank for DNA profiling of accused coming #Privacy


Access to data only for victim’s or suspect’s relatives
21 October 2012 , By Aarti Dhar, The Hindu

A Bill to create a DNA data centre to profile people accused of serious crimes and unknown deceased is in the works. The proposal was originally mooted in 2007 but was dropped to factor in ethical, moral and legal issues on the sensitive matter.

Crafted by the Department of Biotechnology, it allows Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) profiling for cases of culpable homicide, murder, death by negligence, miscarriage, dowry deaths, causing death of new born child, sexual assault, unnatural offences, outraging the modesty of a woman, co-habitation with a woman by deceit, adultery, enticing a married woman with criminal intent, among others.

Protecting privacy

Addressing issues related to protecting privacy of individuals, the draft Bill envisages that access to the information in the National DNA Data Bank will be restricted to those related to the victim or suspect; any individual undergoing a sentence of imprisonment or death sentence can apply to the court which convicted him, for an order of DNA testing of specific evidence under specific conditions.

The Human DNA Profiling Bill seeks to establish a DNA Profiling Board that will lay down the standards for laboratories, collection of human body substances and custody trail from collection to reporting. It also has a provision for setting up a National DNA Data Bank.

The DNA analysis of body substances that makes it possible to determine whether the source of origin of one body substance is identical to that of another, and to establish the biological relationship, if any, between two individuals.

The “forensic material” from which the DNA sample can be lifted is biological material from the body and represents intimate body samples. They include blood, semen, or any other tissue fluid.

DNA Profiling Board

As envisaged in the Bill, the DNA Profiling Board at the national level, with similar structures at the State level, will be headed by a renowned molecular biologist with the other members being from police, legal, biological and related fields.

It will deliberate and advise on all ethical and human rights issues emanating out of DNA profiling in consonance with the United Nations vis-à-vis the rights and privacy of citizens, civil liberties and issues having ethical and other social implications.

The Board will make recommendations on the use and dissemination of DNA information, ensure the accuracy, security and confidentiality of DNA and guidelines destruction of obsolete, expunged or inaccurate information.

Jail, fine for data misuse

It will also will lay down standards and procedures for establishment and functioning of DNA laboratories and Data Banks and prepare guidelines for storage of biological substances and their destruction. Any misuse of DNA data will attract imprisonment up to three years and monetary fine.

The working draft of the Bill has been sent to the Centre for Internet and Society for analysis and comments. The Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties has already opposed the proposed legislation and sought pre-emptive intervention to stop “dangerous” erosion of privacy by DNA profiling of citizens.

In a representation submitted to the National Human Rights Commission, the Forum has said DNA profiling is “undesirable, particularly as forensic DNA developments are intertwined with significant changes in legislation and contentious issues of privacy, civil liberty and social justice.”

The Forum has sought “immediate intervention to safeguard citizens’ privacy and their civil liberties, which face an unprecedented onslaught from the provisions of the DNA Profiling Bill and other related surveillance measures being bulldozed by unregulated and ungovernable technology.”

 

 

 

Seema Azad Yearns For Freedom


Human rights activist Seema Azad and her husband are in jail on dubious charges. On 8th February 2010, Seema Azad and her husband were arrested by the Allahabad Special Task Force, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for their alleged links with Maoist organizations. The only evidence provided was a book carried by Seema Azad containing information on Maoist politics. From then, they have been detained in custody, and have been refused bail.

Seema Azad is a grassroots journalist and civil liberty activist. She has relentlessly raised her voice against local scams and injustices, denouncing the working condition of mining workers, exposing the practices of the local mafia and its nexus with the police force. She created a bi-monthly magazine — Dastak — as a platform to publicize all the wrongs around her. It is clear to human rights activists that Seema Azad and her husband have been jailed for political reasons. Campaigns have been launched to support her and to put an end to her unfair detention.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), of which she is an active member, has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission to plead for her release and to expose the iniquity of her treatment. Till date, Seema Azad has seen no improvement in her situation. Ajeet Bahadur hopes that his video will mobilize people all over the country to support Seema Azad, and other activists, jailed because of their fight for political and social justice.

Uttar Pradesh: Court Says No Proof to Detain Seema Azad

The Uttar Pradesh Police received a setback on Saturday when they failed to submit any evidence in court against Seema Azad, the state secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberty (PUCL) and her husband Vishwavijay Azad.

The Special Task Force had arrested Seema and Vishwavijay on February 8 in Allahabad. They were booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their alleged links with a banned Maoist organisation.

Judicial Magistrate Vikas Kumar rejected the application of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) seeking a week’s remand for Seema and Vishwavijay. Dismissing the application, the judged observed that the police have not come up with any concrete evidence against them. “There was no need to accept the request for police remand of the accused and the police did not mention any concrete ground for the remand,” the court observed.

Lalji Kaithwas, Seema’s advocate, argued that the ATS did not even record the statement of the accused before seeking their remand. “The police cannot seek remand without recording the statement of the accused. Remand is taken only after the police are convinced during the recording of statement that they can get evidence or make recovery in support of their claim against the accused,” he added.

Citing a Supreme Court judgment, the judge observed: “How could the ATS know that they could get some more information without recording the statement of the accused? The permission for police remand for mere interrogation of the accused cannot be granted as the police can interrogate the accused even in jail. When there is no claim of any recovery by the police, there is no need for granting police remand.”

On Monday, a local court will hear Seema and her husband’s bail application. On February 8, the STF had arrested three alleged Naxalites from Allahabad and Gorakhpur. While Seema and Vishwavijay were arrested from Allahabad, Asha alias Heerman Munda was arrested from Gorkhapur.

(Indian Express, 22nd February, 201o)