Shabnam Hashmi detained and released in Gujarat, Citizens demand intervention


GODHRA: Shabnam Hashmi, the founder of NGO Anhad and five other activists were detained by Gujarat police today when they tried to enter Godhra, where Chief Minister Narendra Modi is camping for his 23rd Sadbhavana fast.

Hashmi’s NGO had organised a programme ‘In Search Of Justice’, parallel to Modi’s show in Godhra, the ground zero of Gujarat riots of 2002. Hashmi had organised the programme to protest Sadbhavana fast.

Even as Modi’s sat on the day-long fast, Hashmi’s vehicle was intercepted on Ahmedabad-Godhra highway about eight kilometres from Godhra. The six activists were then taken to Kheda police station.

Hashmi was supposed to address a gathering in Mohammedi Colony in Saatpool area on Friday morning. Her supporters had expected that the cops would detain her. But they had gathered near the spot of the programme. A large presence of policemen in Mohammedi Colony on Friday morning ensured that the protestors were detained.

Speaking to newzfirst Shabnam Hashmi said that more than fifty activists were detained and taken to different districts.

She said that this convention mobilized lot of people in Godhra and its surrounding fearing this Modi didnot wanted it to happen as large chunk of minority would attend this convention

This is the question of democracy not to allow any form of dissent, she added

Concerned citizens have lodged a protest against and condemned the arrest of Shabnam Hashmi, and other Anhad Activists by Gujarat Police. In a Press Release issued by concerned citizens, the incident has been called a ‘yet another fascistic act of Mr Narandra Modi.’

They have further condemned the blatant use of Gujarat police force to spread fear and gather crowd for Modi’s programme and demanded that Home Minister, P Chidambaram should immediately intervene and ensure that democracy is restored in Gujarat.

Organisers wash hands off Amitava Ghosh, Hari Kunzru, others


 This was after Amitava Ghosh, Hari Kunzru, others read out passages from The Satanic Verses.

This press release is being issued on behalf of the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has come to their attention that certain delegates acted in a manner during their sessions today which were without the prior knowledge or consent of the organizers. Any views expressed or actions taken by these delegates are in no manner endorsed by the Jaipur Literature Festival. Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the Festival or attributable to its organizers or anyone acting on their behalf. The Festival organizers are fully committed to ensuring compliance of all prevailing laws and will continue to offer their fullest cooperation to prevent any legal violation of any kind. Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken. Our endeavor has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective.

Manipur and its search for elusive justice


 

Manipuris want impunity to end.Not only has it shattered any existing faith in the justice system, many feel it has emboldened the security forces to commit further abuses.

Manipuris will soon stand in line to vote for a new state government. As with voters elsewhere, during the campaign they will be promised jobs, development and new infrastructure. The one promise on which successive governments have failed to deliver, however, is one of bringing justice to the people of the state.

Manipur has remained under the stranglehold of abusive armed groups and inept politicians. In each election, the armed groups — and there are many, with a range of political demands, though they are mostly extortion gangs — have called for a boycott of the polls. Those who participate, candidates and voters alike, risk violent attacks.

Things are so bad that earlier this month, all newspapers in Manipur published a blank editorial, in response to threats from armed groups that insist that the newspapers publish their statements. Newspapers face a double whammy: some militants have also demanded that they not publish statements of rival groups.
In the hope that an elected government will finally do its job, that of providing security and upholding fundamental rights, Manipuris have ignored the threats and turned out to vote. Yet, the government has failed to ensure even the most basic rights of life and liberty. Armed groups aside, Manipuris remain at risk of arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings by the government’s own security forces.
The state government and local administration have also failed to address grievances that feed public discontent and support for militant groups. All of these problems are made worse, though, by Manipur’s climate of impunity. The Central government, while claiming to be committed to protecting human rights, has largely ignored serious violations by its security forces, at best attributing abuses to a few “bad apples”. But even in cases involving “bad apples”, the government rarely investigates, let alone prosecutes those responsible. Manipuris want impunity to end. Not only has it shattered any existing faith in the justice system, many feel it has emboldened the security forces to commit further abuses. Impunity, fostered both by a lack of political will and by laws shielding the abusers, has led to an atmosphere in which security forces are effectively above the law.
The lack of accountability has become deeply rooted because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the 1958 emergency law under which the armed forces are deployed in internal conflicts and enjoy broad powers to arrest, search and shoot to kill. The law is widely despised among the population because it provides soldiers who commit atrocities effective immunity from prosecution.
When the Central government isn’t ignoring Manipur, it tries to sweep Manipur’s problems under the carpet. In December, the police in Delhi went so far as to refuse permission for a solidarity protest to support a decade-long hunger fast by Irom Sharmila, who has demanded the repeal of the AFSPA ever since soldiers gunned down 10 civilians in Manipur on November 2, 2000. She is nasally force-fed in judicial custody.
The AFSPA has led to abuses and serious hardships in other parts of the country. In Jammu and Kashmir, the repeal of the law has become a crucial election issue. Chief minister Omar Abdullah has spoken out against it.
But in Manipur, where the law has been in force much longer, political leaders have found neither voice nor wisdom. Irom Sharmila may have become known for her courage and her peaceful endeavour in India and beyond, but in Manipur’s capital, Imphal, the government has ignored her appeal. Instead, Manipuris remain hostage to an Army that claims it cannot operate without the powers and immunity provided by the AFSPA.
Hardly anyone in Manipur disputes that armed groups pose a serious security risk. Last year, two militant groups successfully imposed a three-month economic blockade on the surface supply of goods, crippling the economy and pushing prices out of control. Manipuris want law enforcement, but without human rights abuses or a blank cheque for the security services. The Army’s several decades of deployment in Manipur have not only resulted in widespread abuses but polarised the situation. The Army is damaging its reputation in India and abroad by insisting on protecting perpetrators of human rights abuses.
In 2004, following widespread anger over the custodial killing of a suspect, Manorama Devi, by the Assam Rifles, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Imphal with a promise to review the AFSPA. The review committee — and several other experts since then — recommended repeal of the law. The Army opposes repeal. Now halfway through his second term, Dr Singh has been unable to prevail over his divided Cabinet to deliver on the promise.
Manipur erupts into national news only when the rage brings Manipuris out onto the streets. The Central government takes notice when the Assembly building is burnt down, elderly women strip and invite the Army to rape them as they have raped others, prices become ridiculously high due to weeks of blockade or when mothers and schoolchildren engage in weeks of demonstrations. It should not take such drama for the government to wake up to the problems in this corner of the Northeast.

Meenakshi Ganguly=The writer is the South Asia director at Human Rights Watch

The Curious Case of Whose Data is it Anyway?


Tactical Technology Collective and the Centre for Internet & Society invite you to the second round of discussions of the Exposing Data Series at the CIS office in Bangalore on 24 January 2012. Siddharth Hande and Hapee de Groot will be speaking on this occasion.

Like countless others, this title is a convenient adaptation of a 1972 play by Brian Clark, Whose Life is it Anyway?, a meditation on ‘euthanasia’ and the extent to which governments or the law can determine the private life of an individual. In a similar sense we use the title to help frame the second set of conversations in the Exposing Data Series, to zero in on the idea of data and who has the right to decide what happens with it. Philosophically, and also at the level of code, computing and the law, the ownership of data can be a somewhat odd and a contentious thing to grapple with. The only other understandings of ‘ownership’ we really have are those of property and identity and these get imputed onto the intangibility of data. And, in some senses now, many aspects of one’s identity exist as data.

There are a range of experiences of data ownership that we talk about and experience daily. On the one hand you can hoard hard disks with favourite content to retrieve memories and experiences. On the other end of things, you can aggregate your experiences and memories with that of thousands of others, that then gets treated almost like a private hard disk belonging to some mysterious X. Who is this Mysterious X? Is there a Y? Or an XY? What is the trajectory of data in its movement from the individual to a larger, shadowy infrastructure that harvests it? What happens to our idea of data in its reconfiguration from intangible code to an idea of politics and rights? To introduce another provocation, do our existing ideas of data ownership objectify individuals? What does this objectification imply for the notion of personal privacy? For example, does the fetishization of ‘things’ called data obfuscate the idea of personal privacy?

One of the ways in which we may consider looking at open data initiatives for transparency and accountability is to assess it as discourse, and in relation to what happens when communities aggregate data. Open Government Data usually involves a top-down approach in terms of how it is aggregated, collated, shared, whilst community based approaches are more particular, contextual and local. What do these different approaches give us when we bring them to the same table?

The second event in the Exposing Data Series will focus on data ownership, looking into open government data and community-based data aggregation, to explore the various levels of data collection, the movement of data and its exchange, its representation, and dissemination in different contexts.

Speakers
Siddharth Hande, Transparent Chennai
Hapee de Groot, Hivos, Netherlands

This event is free and open to everyone. However, we would appreciate a confirmation of attendance ahead of time so as to ensure that your space is reserved. To confirm your attendance please write to: yelena.gyulkhandanyan@gmail.com

Date: Jan 24, 2012
Time: 04:00 p.m to 06:00 p.m.
Venue: Centre for Internet and Society, #194, 2nd C Cross, Domlur 2nd Stage, Bangalore – 560071

The Regulation of Surrogacy in India


Questions and Concerns: SAMA– a resource group for women and health.

As the clamor dies down, of news reports celebrating the ‘miracle of science’ that made the arrival of Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao’s baby boy possible, it would serve to look more closely at commercial surrogacy in India. Estimated to be a multi-million dollar industry, Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs, through which surrogacies are conducted) are a recent and fast-growing addition to India’s medical market and medical tourism sector. Their unregulated proliferation over the last few years has raised serious issues of safety, ethical practice, costs, and rights. While the proposed Draft Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill & Rules-2010 is a long-awaited step towards regulation, several clauses, especially concerning commercial surrogacy, leave much to be desired.

The 2010 Draft stipulates that payment to the surrogate is to be made in five installments, with the majority, i.e. 75 %, to be made as the fifth and final installment, following the delivery of the child. In the 2008 draft, payment was divided into three installments, with 75% of the payment to be made in the first installment itself. This not only shows a clear priority accorded to the intended parents, but also betrays that the worth of the surrogate’s labour, pregnancy, related emotional and physical risks etc are considered reducible to and meaningless without a tangible reproductive ‘output’, the baby. The revision, therefore, is highly imbalanced, exploitative and unfavourable to the surrogate.

According to the Bill, only gestational surrogacy, i.e. through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Embryo Transfer (ET), will be permitted, and genetic surrogacy, i.e. through Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI) will not. By ruling out genetic surrogacy, the bill seeks to foreclose the possibility of any contesting claims over the baby by the surrogate mother, thus preserving the contract. Yet, genetic surrogacy through IUI where possible remains a less commercial and less invasive option, and avoids the excessive use of IVF for obtaining donor eggs.

The present Draft has also increased the number of permitted successful live births for a surrogate from three (in the previous Draft) to five; this is inclusive of the surrogate’s own children. This provision inadequately addresses an aspect critical to the surrogate’s health: the number of permitted cycles she can undergo. Since the number of live births is not equivalent to the number of ART cycles, as the success rates of the procedure are low, to effectively ensure that the surrogate’s health is not exploited, the maximum number of ART cycles she can undergo must also be specified.

The draft also mentions that the maximum number of embryo transfers per couple that a surrogate can undergo is three. But the maximum number of couples this is applicable to is not circumscribed. Once again, given the low success rates of ARTs, all embryos transfers, like cycles, may not result in successful births. Thus, a surrogate may go through many cycles and embryo transfers for many couples before achieving the acceptable limit of five successful live births; this will adversely impact her health. Hence, this provision makes only a superficial attempt at regulation, with enough scope for misuse and exploitation.

Many serious health risks (procedural and drug-related, for both the woman and the child) need to be acknowledged and mentioned in the consent form. The consent form should also mention, where relevant, that long-term effects of drugs and procedures in ARTs are under-researched.

The Bill mentions that the commissioning parent(s) shall ensure that the surrogate mother and the child she delivers are ‘appropriately’ insured; while this is indeed necessary, more elaboration is required on the nature and extent of insurance that will be provided, particularly with regard to post-delivery follow-up and care, failing which the commissioning parent(s) and the overseeing clinic should be held legally responsible.

The draft Bill states that ARTs will be available to all single persons, married couples and unmarried couples. However, couple is defined as two persons ‘having a sexual relationship that is legal in India’. In addition, the bill defines both married and unmarried couple, as being in a marriage or relationship respectively that is legal in the country of which they are citizens. As such, it is not clear how these three definitions will be read together, and if ARTs will be available for gay couples, particularly Indian gay couples. This needs to be clarified and ascertained from a rights perspective, without any discrimination, since homosexuality has been decriminalized (but not legalized) in India.

The Bill mandates the appointment of a local guardian in case of surrogacy arrangements where the intended couple is staying outside India. This local guardian will be legally obliged to take delivery of the child born of the surrogacy arrangement if the intended couple does not do so. It appears that the local guardian may hand over such a child to an adoption agency, or bring him/her up. This is a significant responsibility, and as such the role of the local guardian needs to be clearly demarcated and overseen to prevent abuse.

In lieu of the recent and controversial cases (Baby Manji, Dan Goldberg, etc) of international surrogacy that have resulted in legal battles for citizenship status for the child/ren, the Bill has made provisions to address this issue. Now, the draft ART Bill 2010 mandates that any foreign couple accessing surrogacy in India must produce a certificate from their country declaring that it permits surrogacy, and will recognize the child/ren born out of surrogacy as its legal citizen/s. This is a welcome move. Nonetheless, many issues remain to be addressed; for instance, stem cell research that uses ‘spare’ IVF embryos raises ethical concerns such as, obtaining informed consent from users. It can be concluded that engagement with policy to regulate the ART industry has been a case of some steps forward and some steps back; yet, the need to engage remains.

For a full critique of the Bill please write to sama.womenshealth@gmail.com

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