#India – Everest Conquerors ,Mountaineers quietly rescuing people in Uttarakhand #mustead


A group of ace climbers, which includes Mt Everest conquerors Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal, have quietly arrived in Uttarkashi from across India ” trekking up to villages where even the Army jawans haven’t reached, providing essential supplies to marooned villagers who have no food, water or power

June 30, 2013
MUMBAI
Dhiman Chattopadhyay, Mid Day

 

They have conquered the highest peaks in the world and maneuvered dangerous gorges, endured heavy snowfall and lack of oxygen. But all that pales in comparison to what they are doing now — helping thousands of stranded, starved and ill villagers of Uttarkashi with food and essential supplies in areas so remote that even the army jawans have failed to make their way to these places.


Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal and their group  managed to reach stranded villagers at Bidsari, Pilang, Jadau and some other places in Uttarakhand. Pics Courtesy/Anusha Subramanian and  Guneet Puri

A small group of ace climbers, led by two women who have conquered Mt Everest, arrived in Uttarkashi last week from all over India to help rescue operations in the flood-ravaged state. Till Saturday evening they had managed to climb up to six ‘unreachable’ villages around Maneri, where over 400 people are without home, food, water and medicine since June 16. On the way, they have also rescued, and guided dozens of dehydrated tourists, ordered to trek over 50 kilometres by jawans who were told to rescue women, children and the elderly first.

Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal
Mountaineers Bachendri Pal, Premlata Agarwal

The group has now sought help from the Tata Relief Trust and several other NGOs to airdrop life-saving materials such as food, medicines, candles, matchboxes, blankets and tents, to these villagers. They are being led by the legendary Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to conquer Mt Everest and Premlata Agarwal the first Indian woman to conquer the highest peaks of all seven continents. Others in the team include journalist and mountaineer Anusha Subramanian, and a team of climbers including Guneet Puri, Yashwant Panwar and Jay Panwar, who were all part of the Mt Thelu expedition.


People wait to be airlifted at Harsil on June 21. Pic Courtesy/Guneet Puri

Hanging on to life
“We have managed to reach stranded villagers at Didsari, Pilang, Jadau and a couple of other places. Most people here are without power, water or a roof over their head. The government has just airdropped packets of biscuits for them to eat. Many of them are suffering from diarrhoea since they are not used to such food. We are trying to help them with food, medicines and some form of shelter,” says Anusha Subramanian, a Mumbai-based journalist and a trained mountaineer who rushed to Uttarkashi after receiving a call from her friends. Subramanian who trained at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering reached Uttarkashi soon.


Many locals in the region are without food, water and their homes. Pic Courtesy/Anusha Subramanian

While Everest conquerer Bachendri Pal, who heads the Tata Adventure Foundation, arrived in Uttarkashi as part of the Tata Relief Trust (TRF) team to spearhead relief operations, she was joined by her friend Premlata Agarwal who holds the twin distinction of being the oldest Indian woman to climb Everest and the first Indian woman to scale the tallest peaks in all seven continents. Subramanian who has several high-altitude treks to her credit, also flew down from Mumbai while mountaineers Puri, Panwar and Tanwar arrived from snow-capped peaks in the upper Himalayas.

Dharali town
A mudslide that ravaged parts of Dharali town. Pic Courtesy/Guneet Puri

Trekking every day for relief operations
According to Subramanian who spoke to SUNDAY MiD Day whenever she and her team were in a zone with mobile connectivity, they have been trekking to different villages every day, taking small supplies of food and medication, as they await choppers from the TRF to arrive with tents, foodgrain, candles and other supplies.


(L-R) Premlata Agarwal, Bachendri Pal, Guneet Puri and Anusha Subramanian along with other members of the group.

“Uttarkashi seems like a ghost town, so different from what I have experienced in the past. The tragedy has many ramifications for locals, the most important being loss of livelihood. Yesterday, we, along with some employees of the NGO Sri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) and the TRF team, went to assess the situation in the upper reaches of Maneri. These villages have lost their homes and their land,” she said.

A rapid assessment by SBMA shows that Uttarkashi has 120 villages, which have been completely destroyed. There are no roads to connect them to mainland, no electricity and above all no ration to cook food. “This is the third monsoon disaster since 2010 in this region. After the first two disasters, the government identified 250 villages as dangerous but did not take action and relocate villagers,” said a member of the SBMA.

The ace mountaineers are now helping adopt six such villages of New Didsari, Didsari, Pilang, Jadaou, Bayana and Shyaba and provide relief to approximately 400 families. “Bachendri Pal is originally from Uttarakhand. She has personally surveyed some of these villages and along with all of us she is ensuring that relief reaches each and every villager,” says Subramanian.

Ground reality
The team recalled how they were shocked to see the condition at New Didsari, one of the villages they reached. “It has 55 families who have been displaced from their homes and lost everything they had. No medical aid has reached these villages yet. The villagers are sad, disappointed and angry. The bridge that connects their village with the world, has been washed away,” recalled Guneet Puri, who reached Uttarkashi on June 20 after a month in the upper Himalayas attempting to scale a 20,000 feet peak. The other villages, explains Pal, are even more remote. The only way to get to these villagers is through treacherous mountainous routes. Even a helicopter cannot land here and airdropping is the only option after all roads were destroyed. But these bravehearts are not giving up. They are staying put, till the villagers are back on their feet. At a time, when politicians are busy gaining political mileage from this human tragedy, heroes like these men and women are keeping the nation’s flag flying proudly.

‘We met people on the verge of death’
Guneet Puri is yet to come to terms with what has been the biggest mountaineering challenge of her life. The ace mountaineer and her teammates were on their way back from Mt Thelu when they encountered the disaster.
Her account:
We reached Harsil village on June 21. Over 4, 000 people were stranded there. They had all been forced to walk over 50 km since the Army was rescuing children, women and the disabled first. We met people on the verge of exhaustion or death. All of us were carrying between 23 to 30 kilos of equipment with us since we were returning from an expedition. But when we saw the plight of these tourists, we happily carried their luggage with us. In the end, we almost carried some of them, too. By the time we reached Gangani, all our toes has blisters. We could hardly walk. But things were about to get worse. From here to Uttarkashi, entire roads had vanished. We helped hundreds of tourists who had no energy to walk, let alone climb the huge boulders. We rushed a woman to the hospital in Maneri after she fainted. These are my people and we have to take care of them. We are doing what we can. But when I look at the magnitude of the disaster, our efforts seem to insignificant. Still, every drop counts.

 

#India – The Niyamgiri warrior against Vedanta – Sanjay Parikh #mustread


Aparna Kalra  |  New Delhi  June 15, 2013  BS

Though his case files are stacked across four rooms, Sanjay Parikh, the lawyer who thrust a spoke into India-focused miner Vedanta Resources‘ plans, has ensured each is marked neatly.

“This is the Kalahandi case… this is Basmati rice,” he says, as he hops excitedly from one room to another. These are famous cases – one in which the court, petitioned by Parikh, tracked delivery systems for 10 years to prevent starvation deaths; another through which India gave the US a stinging defeat on patents.

The lawyer behind these cases, however, is known only in select human rights and legal circles. It took this reporter three weeks of calls, doorstepping, and a reference from another lawyer to get an interview with Parikh. “Talk about my cases, but why a profile?” he asks at the eventual interview.

‘A balance is required’
The latest case that put the spotlight on Parikh is that of the Niyamgiri forest, where Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Aluminum Ltd, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources, tried to mine bauxite for its shut aluminum plant.

On April 18, Parikh’s arguments in favour of the forest dwellers or tribals seemed to have borne fruit. The court said before allowing mining, a village body, or a Gram Sabha, representing these people, should take their opinion. “Many of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are totally unaware of their rights. They also experience a lot of difficulties in obtaining effective access to justice because of their distinct culture and limited contact with mainstream society,” ruled a three-judge Supreme Court bench, asking Vedanta to await a consensus among the forest dwellers.

Odisha, where the Niyamgiri hills are located, represents Vedanta’s supply chain. India has the world’s fifth largest bauxite reserves of 593 million tonnes, the majority of that in Odisha, according to a Reuters report.

The Niyamgiri debate typifies the puzzle India is faced with – how to mine minerals without hurting indigenous rights and harming to the environment. So sharp has been this debate that it has strengthened the armed Naxal movement.

Back in Parikh’s study, in a single row are stacked the files of cases that bring in money. These relate to rent disputes and yes, crime and murder cases. However, it is clear the lawyer’s heart lies elsewhere. “Somewhere, a balance is required,” says Parikh, 54, talking about the cases he is paid for, as well as his other work. “Those who are coming to you and can pay, you must ask them to pay.”

Among Parikh’s high-impact cases is one where he assisted noted lawyer Indira Jaising in arguments that led to the Supreme Court implementing a ban on use of ultrasound technology to determine the sex of foetuses. A chunk of his cases were those in which he represented environmental activists. “Sanjay has committed himself totally to defending the public interest. He represented the first case the research foundation (Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology) fought to stop Monsanto’s illegal field trials of GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” says Vandana Shiva, an activist who has campaigned against patenting of seeds.

Dharma
Parikh says he was influenced into working on cases voluntarily and without payments during his training as a law intern. Born into an ordinary railway employee’s family from Rajasthan, he graduated in law from Agra University, before being selected to intern with former Supreme Court judge S Rangarajan in 1982. During the period of Emergency, Rangarajan had overturned the arrest of journalist Kuldip Nayyar. Parikh says he learnt moral courage from his mentor.

“I was quite clear there had to be a purpose to life,” says Parikh. “There is in the profession what you call dharma … (by which) the profession is a way of life.”

Parikh, whose two sons are also lawyers, admits it is not easy to comprehend the impact of a law his argument helped draft, or follow-through on its implementation. However, sometimes, one can take the next step, such as action against online advertisements on sex determination by pre-natal clinics based abroad, but targeting Indian parents.

Senior advocate
K K Venugopal, who argued for Vedanta, says of Parikh: “He has been doing a lot of pro bono work. I know that I have been seeing him appear in a number of environment cases… He was not the main opposing counsel. He was one of the main ones. I was opposed by the Union of India, so the solicitor general was appearing… Prashant Bhushan was there. Parikh was there, and played a fairly significant part.”

Parikh’s argument was one of the countervailing arguments in the case – Vedanta and the state of Odisha argued in favour of the mining project. The Indian government, represented by the solicitor general, opposed the project, as did Parikh.


Significant cases
Mandatory declaration of assets and criminal record by a candidate filing nomination as Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly (In 2003, challenging Union of India)

Petition in 1995, challenging dumping of toxic waste, including ship-breaking activities. SC did not ban the entry of toxic ships into Indian waters, but said prior informed consent was necessary. It set the ball rolling for monitoring toxic waste, including that in Bhopal (challenging Union of India and Gujarat maritime board, a ship-breaking company)

Petition in 1998 challenging field trials of genetically modified Bt cotton. Field trials were stayed a few years, but India planted more than 10 million hectares of genetically modified cotton in 2011 (challenging Union of India and Mahyco, which had an association with Monsanto, the world’s largest seeds company)

 

Babu Bokhariya, minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet, convicted for illegal mining


Edited by Shamik Ghosh | Updated: June 15, 2013 , NDTV

 Babu Bokhariya, minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet, convicted for illegal mining
AhmedabadBabu Bokhariya, a senior minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet in Gujarat, has been convicted for illegal mining. He has been taken into custody.

Mr Bokhariya, who is Gujarat’s water resource minister, along with three others, has been sentenced to three years of imprisonment by a sessions court.

The three others convicted in the case are former MP Bharat Odedara, Bhima Dula and Laxman Dula. They all were accused of illegal mining of limestone from the land where Saurashtra Chemicals Limited holds mining rights.

“ Narendra Modi’s claims are full of untruths”


SUJAY MEHDUDIA, The Hindu, June 12, 2013

Anand Sharma. File photo

The HinduAnand Sharma. File photo

The Gujarat Chief Minister was not a leader who would unite the Indian polity, but a divisive leader and a fountainhead of communalism, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma says.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is an arrogant man who has mastered the art of using untruths and half truths to his advantage and making sensational claims, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said on Tuesday. Mr. Modi was not a leader who would unite the Indian polity, but a divisive leader and a fountainhead of communalism, he told The Hindu here.

Mr. Sharma said the recent developments in the BJP were its internal problem. If anyone believed the Congress was worried, it was totally misplaced. “I think those who actually need to worry are the senior leaders within his party and the constituents of the NDA. He has been given a position by a divided party which is in disarray and rudderless.’’

Mr. Modi was a leader who beat his own trumpet. His sycophants too were busy beating drums, unmindful of the reality around them. “It is shocking that Mr. Modi could resort to such lies and mislead the people with claims that fall flat on their face when put to scrutiny. His claims on developments in Gujarat are full of untruths. What I am giving are official figures and not something manufactured as Mr. Modi does all the time.”

Gujarat was way behind Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh or even West Bengal in access to safe drinking water. Gujarat led the national average with a 25.66 per cent school drop out rate, well above States like West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tripura and Sikkim. In literacy, Gujarat was way behind States like Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Manipur. The percentage of people living below the poverty line stood at 31.8 per cent in Gujarat as compared to 29.9 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, 24.1 per cent in Haryana and 19.7 per cent in Kerala. Infant morality rate was 44 per cent in Gujarat compared to 30 per cent in Delhi, 13 per cent in Kerala, 28 per cent in Maharashtra, 14 per cent in Manipur and 24 per cent in Tamil Nadu. What kind of development model was this, he asked.

Mr. Sharma said he was astonished when Mr. Modi talked about the State attracting the highest foreign direct investment (FDI). He gave out highly inflated figures every time. The Reserve Bank of India statistics from March 2000 to March 2013 painted a very different picture.

From May 1999 to April 2004, when NDA was in power, the country attracted $25 billion in FDI. During May 2004 to April 2013 of UPA rule, the country attracted $265 billion. According to figures given by RBI regional offices for the period April 2000 to March 2013, Mumbai emerged on top with $63 billion. Delhi got $36 billion plus, Chennai $11.08 billion and Bangalore around $10 billion. Gujarat got $8.6 billion in 13 years, he said.

 

#India – There is a need to dismantle the UID Project, the NPR, the CMS, #Aadhaar


200 px

 

India’s IT Min of State Milind Deora’s Thinks The CMS (India’s PRISM) Is “A Good Tool”

 

 

 

 

 

By  on Jun 11th, 2013  |  medianama.com

 

 
 

Milind Deora, India’s Minister of State for IT thinks that the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which is essentially India’s version of PRISM, “is a good tool” which will “ensure and protect your privacy”. On a Google Hangout last week with him, I asked Deora about the IT Act, the IT Rules, India’s Identity project (Aadhaar), and the CMS and other systems the Indian government is setting up for tracking SMS, GPRS usage, Phone Calls, Location, and what users are accessing and downloading. Please note that this was held a day before the disclosures around PRISM.

 

For those unable to view the video, Deora said that no law is perfect, there are issues with implementation, they’re open to suggestions, but above all, Deora said – bizarrely – that the CMS is being set up to safeguard our privacy from mobile operators,and protects the national security of the country. He said that with processes set up, the officer in charge will not have access to information, politicians will not get access. He did not respond to the question on India’s privacy law.

Apart from that, Deora said I’m misinformed. The context of my questions:

1. India’s IT Act, it’s Section 66a and IT Rules are draconian, the government has promised to amend them (read this), but kept deferring making any changes, despite the issue being taken up by a committee (read this) and Parliament (read thisthis and these notes on a live discussion), and a public interest litigation (read this). They’ve issued an advisory on Section 66a (read this), a clarification on the IT Rules which wasn’t enough (read this) but the law and the rules remain draconian, and susceptible to misuse. The IT Ministry has the power to change the rules, but hasn’t done it so far. In fact, like Deora in the Q&A, it has defended its rules (read this). We’ve repeatedly pointed towards the need for transparency and specificity (read this) as a solution. Despite Deora giving assurances about there being rigor in finalizing the IT Act, it was passed without debate, a knee-jerk reaction in an atmosphere of fear (read this).

One common refrain from this government (and Deora in this Q&A) has been that they’ve used wordings from international laws to draft Indian laws – that is true but misleading because it’s easy to choose selectively to remove safeguards; laws need to be looked at in their totality, not just sentence by sentence.

2. India is setting up a Central Monitoring system (read this) for tracking what we say or text over the phone, write, post or browse over the Internet, getting direct access from telecom operators and ISPs. Last year, we had reported on a home ministry tender for the same (read this). In 2011, we found a Tender Document from the Delhi Police which had details of setting up the CMS (read this)

3. The Mumbai Police has set up a social media monitoring cell, which, strangely, has been tracking torrents (read this).

5. Aadhaar, India’s not quite flawless (read this) unique identity project, created circumventing Parliament as per a Parliamentary committee (read this) will eventually link all your databases together, across government services, and what is worse, the data will be given to private companies – National Information Utilities, with 51% private ownership – read this.

6. All of this is being done before India has passed a Privacy law (read this), and even if a Privacy law does come into place, how safe do you feel, and how likely do you think the government executives, to not circumvent the law, or create loopholes that they can use?

My contention is that there is a legal and technological framework for surveillance that is being created and deployed right now without proper approval of Parliament, and without Parliamentarians in India paying adequate attention to it. Having technological infrastructure is not enough – they can and will be circumvented.

Having legal safeguards is not enough – even if laws are put into place, the government will create loopholes because they want this power (look at the IT Rules and Aadhaar). You can really rely on the government or the police to abuse the power that they give themselves (read this). What prevents the government in power from harassing individuals who challenge them (including those from opposition parties) on the basis of National Security? Where does National Security end and Government Security begin, and what do we do about a trigger-happy CERT-IN blocking dissent without any transparency?

You decide – am I misinformed, or is Milind Deora misinformed or misleading?

The Only Solution

The only solution is what the UK did with its Identity project (read this): dismantle these projects, no matter how much money has been spent on them, because the risks to civil liberties is too great. There is a need to dismantle the UID Project, the National Population Register, the Central Monitoring System, change the IT Act and IT Rules, and create a privacy law. It is also bizarre for Deora to suggest that information which the government has access to through mobile networks and ISPs will not also be available these service providers.

So, Milind, I do not agree that this monitoring should be, as you said, “the exclusive domain of the government”, because I don’t trust the law enforcement agencies, this government and the governments to follow.

We’d be happy to publish a response to this post, if you wish to clarify further.

*

 

 

 

Google chief Larry Page calls Internet spying threat to freedoms #FOE #Censorship


AFP: SAN FRANCISCO, JUN 08 2013, 10:13 IST
Google Inc.jpg

Google chief Larry Page branded Internet spying a threat to freedom and called for governments to be more revealing about what they try to find out about people’s online activities. 

“We understand that the US and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety – including sometimes by using surveillance,” Page said in a blog post yesterday.

“But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.”

Page put his personal stamp on the California-based Internet giant’s denial that it opened any doors for US intelligence agencies to mine data from its servers.

Google and other technology firms on Thursday were adamant that they did not knowingly take part in a secret program called PRISM that gave the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI back doors into servers at major Internet companies.

“We have not joined any program that would give the US government or any other government direct access to our servers,” Page said.

“Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers,” he continued. “We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.”

The program was reportedly set up in 2007 and has grown “exponentially” to the point where it is now the most prolific contributor to President Barack Obama’s Daily Brief, the US leader’s top-secret daily intelligence briefing.

Some of the biggest firms in Silicon Valley were involved in the program, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple, PalTalk, AOL, Skype and YouTube, reports said.

However, Internet titans denied providing intelligence agencies with back doors to networks and held firm that they only cooperated with legal “front door” requests for information.

“This episode confirms what we have long believed – there needs to be a more transparent approach,” Page said.

Google routinely publishes transparency reports listing numbers of requests for user data by governments and how they were handled.

 

Lakshmipet Dalits wait for land distribution after one year


STAFF REPORTER

SRIKAKULAM, May 31, 2013

Officials not able to buy land due to skyrocketing prices in Vangara mandal

The State government could not resolve the land distribution issue even after one year in Lakshmipet village of Vangara mandal, Srikakulam where five Dalits were massacred during the clashes between BCs and SCs on June 12, 2012. Both the sections still wanted control over 160 acres of land under Madduvalasa reservoir though it was originally alienated to the government for the construction of the project.

It is useful for agriculture activity but cannot be officially distributed as it is likely to inundate during time of floods. The officials are not able to buy suitable land for the distribution with the skyrocketing of prices in and around Vangara mandal.

The government does not have its own lands for the distribution among the 80 Dalit families.

They feared that poor people among the backward section would also insist for sanction of lands if pattas are given to Dalit people.

Interestingly, the government had spent more than Rs.1 crore on various welfare activities but those did not satisfy Dalit families as they wanted permanent income source through agriculture activity.

According to sources, around Rs. 35.20 lakh worth cattle were distributed among the victim families. A total of Rs.5.31 lakh has been paid as compensation for not providing employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act. Drinking water schemes, community hall have been sanctioned.

A total of Rs.22.8 lakh has been sanctioned as compensation to the families of victims. “The government planned to construct houses and individual sanitary latrines also. But Dalits insist on land distribution. We are helpless since the decision over sanction of land should be taken at Secretariat-level,” said a senior official.

Mala Mahanadu State president Palteti Penta Rao expressed serious concern over the delay in sanctioning pattas to Lakshmipet Dalits even after one year.

“The real justice is done only through distribution of lands among the SC families. Then only, they can lead a respectable life,” said Mr.Pentarao.

Mala Mahanadu youth leader Majji Ganapati has expressed displeasure over the inordinate delay in establishment of special court in the village though the government claimed that the building was ready for the prosecution of accused persons in sensational Lakshmipet case.

 

Look who has Aadhaar Cards- Trees, Chairs and even Dogs #UID #WTFnews


Dogs, trees and chairs have Aadhaar cards

Sunitha Rao R, TNN May 31, 2013,
(Acknowledging slip-ups…)

 

BANGALORE: In hilarious slip-ups in the Aadhaar card enrolment process, some cards have ended up with pictures of an empty chair, a tree or a dog instead of the actual applicants.

Asked about the cases, where data collected from applicants were not reflected on the cards, Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) deputy director general Ashok Dalwai said no system was foolproof. “There have been some errors,” he said.

“We had even come across an empty chair printed as the applicant‘s photo on an Aadhaar card. This could have happened due to the operator’s mistake. We look for accuracy in the fingerprints and photograph. The operator might have copied a wrong photo, but it may have matched only because of a lack of clarity. To avoid such errors, we have in place another team to go through the printed Aadhaar cards, to check for manual duplication.”

Acknowledging slip-ups in the Aadhaar enrolment process, UIDAI deputy director general Ashok Dalwai told TOI there have been cases where an operator’s fingerprints had been registered instead of the applicant’s. “This could have happened while the operator was guiding the applicant on where and how to put his finger during data enrolment,” he said.

“We have four attempts in which the right data has to be fed into the system. In some cases, the operators have registered their own fingerprints by mistake,” he added.

In such cases, Aadhaar enrolment is rejected and the applicant informed about the rejection. Such applicants have to undergo fresh enrolment.

Dalwai said no one should apply more than once for an Aadhaar card unless he/she receives a rejection letter from the UIDAI. “Please don’t reapply for the card,” he said. “The applicant can reapply only in the case of rejection of the accuracy of data and only on getting a rejection letter. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time for us and the applicant.”

 

 

 

#India- Warning – UID will create a digital caste System #Aadhaar #Aadhar


Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

Interview with WikiLeaks activist, BS

Read more on:    UID | WikiLeaks | Jacob Appelbaum | Julian Assange | Digital caste system

Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks spokesperson

He prefers that the audio recorder is not switched on during the interview because “whenever there’s an audio recording, there’s a file to be subpoena-ed”. And, he’s stuck a band-aid over the camera of the laptop he’s been working on. All these precautions are not without reason – Jacob Appelbaum, computer security researcher, hacker, activist, and a spokesperson for WikiLeaks, who also co-authored Cypherphunks: Freedom and Future of the Internet with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, talks to Indulekha Aravind about the potential pitfalls of India’s ambitious UID project. Excerpts:

What is your view of India’s UID/Aadhaar programme?
UID will create a digital caste system because going by the way it is now being implemented, if you choose not to be part of the system, you will be the modern-day equivalent of an outcast. In theory, you are supposed to have the freedom to choose but in reality, the choice will only be whether to be left out and left behind.

What about the benefits it is supposed to offer, such as tackling corruption and protection against terrorism?
I don’t dispute that there will be benefits but I dispute whether UID will end corruption and whether one will be able to opt out of the system with dignity. Criminals will be able to subvert this system easily. In Germany, for example, a group of hackers were able to duplicate the fingerprint of Schauble (Germany’s finance minister, a proponent of collecting biometric data). And, it now costs less than a dollar to get a transferable fingerprint. About the question of containing terrorism, imagine a situation where a terrorist gets access to the central UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) database — he will be able to get all the details of every individual he wishes to target.

Considering that the programme has already been rolled out, what can the government now do to safeguard individual privacy?
First of all, there should be no centralised database. The information should be just on the cards. This can easily be done with smartcards. If you link all the information, that amounts to surveillance. There should also be legislation to prevent discrimination against people who have not registered with UIDAI.

What is your current involvement with WikiLeaks?
I like that to remain ambiguous (smiles). I’ve given talks on behalf of Julian (Assange) when he was unable to. After one particular talk I gave in 2010, my life changed. I was repeatedly harassed by US authorities.

What are the other projects you’re currently involved with?
I do computer security-related research, I work with human rights activists, and work with open software. I’m also involved with the Tor project, which aims at improving users’ privacy and security on the internet. If an Indian businessman goes to China, for example, and does not want his internet usage to be monitored, he can do that with Tor. (The Wall Street Journal termed Tor “an anonymous, and controversial, way to surf the Net”).

You have been dubbed a “hacktivist”…
I started working with open software and hacking before I was 15, after I realised I wanted to live in a world free from state surveillance. I’m a human being who does investigative journalism, research, and even works on international policy – I prefer not to be pigeon-holed.

 

Women Deliver unaware of charges against Kurien, is that Enough ? #Vaw #Rape


AARTI DHAR, The Hindu

P J Kurien. File photo
The HinduP J Kurien. File photo

“Had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted PJ Kurien to speak at the side event,” say the organisers of Women Deliver conference

With twitterati in India launching a tirade against Rajya Sabha P.J.Kurien’s presence at an international conference on women underway here, the organisers of Women Deliver on Wednesday said they were unaware of charges against him.

In a statement issued here, Women Deliver said it took the issues of violence against women and rape very seriously.

We were unaware that Indian Parliamentarian PJ Kurien is facing allegations of rape. While we cannot comment on the specific allegations, had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted PJ Kurian to speak at the side event. Addressing violence against women is central to our mission as an organization and one of the focus areas of this global conference,” the statement said.

Mr Kurien, who is facing serious charges of rape, is also chairperson of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, that had invited him to speak at the Global MPs Conference, held as a side event at Women Deliver conference.

As the word on Mr Kurien’s participation spread, social media overflowed with condemnations. Tweeted Vidyut: massive anger over women’s rights situation, sweet promises by Sonia/sarkar, half hearted committee/law passed, then Kurien at Women Deliver”

Women’s activists lost no time in writing to UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister demanding Mr Kurien’s removal as chairperson of Rajya sabha.

Mr Kurien’s case involves gang rape of a minor girl in Suryanelli in Kerala. While the victim has alleged that she was raped by 42 men over 40 days and one of them was Mr Kurien. In 2005, the Kerala High Court tried 35 men but Mr Kurien was not among them- and acquitted 34. This order was recently set aside by the Supreme Court following which there have been demands of Mr Kurien’s removal as chairperson of Rajya Sabha.