From food security to food justice


Cultivatring Food Justice

Ananya Mukherjee

A quarter of a million women in Kerala are showing us how to earn livelihoods with dignity.

If the malnourished in India formed a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest — almost the size of Indonesia. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 237.7 million Indians are currently undernourished (up from 224.6 million in 2008). And it is far worse if we use the minimal calorie intake norms accepted officially in India. By those counts (2200 rural/2100 urban), the number of Indians who cannot afford the daily minimum could equal the entire population of Europe.

Yet, the Indian elite shrieks at the prospect of formalising a universal right to food. Notwithstanding the collective moral deficit this reveals, it also shows that the millions of Indians whose food rights are so flagrantly violated are completely voiceless in the policy space. India’s problem is not only to secure food, but to secure food justice.

What can food justice practically mean? First, to prevent situations where grains rot while people die — a very basic principle of distributive justice. But it has to mean a lot more: people must have the right to produce food with dignity, have control over the parameters of production, get just value for their labour and their produce. Mainstream notions of food security ignore this dimension.

Food justice must entail both production and distribution. Its fundamental premise must be that governments have a non-negotiable obligation to address food insecurity. They must also address the structural factors that engender that insecurity. Most governments, however, appear neither willing nor able to deliver food justice. It needs therefore the devolution of power and resources to the local level, where millions of protagonists, with their knowledge of local needs and situations, can create a just food economy.

Collective struggle

This is not quite as utopian as it may sound. Something on these lines has been unfolding in Kerala — a collective struggle of close to a quarter million women who are farming nearly 10 million acres of land. The experiment, “Sangha Krishi,” or group farming, is part of Kerala’s anti-poverty programme “Kudumbashree.” Initiated in 2007, it was seen as a means to enhance local food production. Kerala’s women embraced this vision enthusiastically. As many as 44, 225 collectives of women farmers have sprung up across the State. These collectives lease fallow land, rejuvenate it, farm it and then either sell the produce or use it for consumption, depending on the needs of members. On an average, Kudumbashree farmers earn Rs.15,000-25,000 per year (sometimes higher, depending on the crops and the number of yields annually).

Kudumbashree is a network of 4 million women, mostly below the poverty line. It is not a mere ‘project’ or a ‘programme’ but a social space where marginalised women can collectively pursue their needs and aspirations. The primary unit of Kudumbashree is the neighbourhood group (NHG). Each NHG consists of 10-20 women; for an overwhelming majority, the NHG is their first ever space outside the home. NHGs are federated into an Area Development Society (ADS) and these are in turn federated into Community Development Societies (CDSs) at the panchayat level. Today, there are 213,000 NHGs all over Kerala. Kudumbashree office-bearers are elected, a crucial process for its members. “We are poor. We don’t have money or connections to get elected — only our service,” is a common refrain. These elections bring women into politics. And they bring with them a different set of values that can change politics.

The NHG is very different from a self-help group (SHG) in that it is structurally linked to the State (through the institutions of local self-government). This ensures that local development reflects the needs and aspirations of communities, who are not reduced to mere “executors” of government programmes. What is sought is a synergy between democratisation and poverty reduction; with Kudumbashree, this occurs through the mobilisation of poor women’s leadership and solidarity. “Sangha Krishi” or group farming is just one example of how this works. It is transforming the socio-political space that women inhabit — who in turn transform that space in vital ways.

This experiment is having three major consequences. First, there is a palpable shift in the role of women in Kerala’s agriculture. This was earlier limited to daily wage work in plantations — at wages much lower than those earned by men. Thousands of Kudumbashree women — hitherto underpaid agricultural labourers — have abandoned wage work to become independent producers. Many others combine wage work with farming. With independent production comes control over one’s time and labour, over crops and production methods and, most significantly, over the produce. Since the farmers are primarily poor women, they often decide to use a part of their produce to meet their own needs, rather than selling it. Every group takes this decision democratically, depending on levels of food insecurity of their members. In Idukki, where the terrain prevents easy market access and food insecurity is higher, farmers take more of their produce home — as opposed to Thiruvananthapuram where market access is better and returns are higher.

Sangha Krishi

Second, “Sangha Krishi” has enabled women to salvage their dignity and livelihoods amidst immense adversity. Take the story of Subaida in Malappuram. Once widowed and once deserted, with three young children, she found no means of survival other than cleaning dead bodies. Hardly adequate as a livelihood, it also brought her unbearable social ostracism. Now Subaida is a proud member of a farming collective and wants to enter politics. In the nine districts this writer visited, there was a visible, passionate commitment to social inclusion amongst Kudumbashree farmers.

Our survey of 100 collectives across 14 districts found that 15 per cent of the farmers were Dalits and Adivasis and 32 per cent came from the minority communities.

Third, “Sangha Krishi” is producing important consequences for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Kerala. Because of Kerala’s high wages for men, the MGNREGS in Kerala has become predominantly a space for women (93 per cent of the employment generated has gone to women where the national average is 50). From the beginning, synergies were sought between the MGNREGS, the People’s Plan and Kudumbashree. Kudumbashree farmers strongly feel this has transformed MGNREGS work.

“We have created life … and food, which gives life, not just 100 days of manual labour,” said a Perambra farmer. In Perambra, Kudumbashree women, working with the panchayat, have rejuvenated 140 acres that lay fallow for 26 years. It now grows rice, vegetables and tapioca. Farmers also receive two special incentives — an ‘area incentive’ for developing land and a ‘production incentive’ for achieving certain levels of productivity. These amounted to over Rs.200 million in 2009-10. They were combined with subsidised loans from banks and the State, and seeds, input and equipment from Krishi Bhavan and the panchayats.

Challenges

However, serious challenges remain. Kudumbashree farmers are predominantly landless women working on leased land; there is no certainty of tenure. Lack of ownership also restricts access to credit, since they cannot offer formal guarantees on the land they farm. Whenever possible, Kudumbashree collectives have started buying land to overcome this uncertainty. But an alternative institutional solution is clearly needed. It is also difficult for women to access resources and technical know-how — the relevant institutions (such as crop committees) are oriented towards male farmers. There is also no mechanism of risk insurance.

Is this a sustainable, replicable model of food security? It is certainly one worth serious analysis. First, this concerted effort to encourage agriculture is occurring when farmers elsewhere are forced to exit farming — in large numbers. It re-connects food security to livelihoods, as any serious food policy must. But more importantly, the value of Sangha Krishi lies in that it has become the manifestation of a deep-rooted consciousness about food justice amongst Kerala’s women. Kannyama, the president of Idamalakudy, Kerala’s first tribal panchayat, says she wants to make her community entirely self-sufficient in food. She wants Sangha Krishi produce to feed every school and anganwadi in her panchayat — to ensure that children get local, chemical-free food. Elsewhere, Kudumbashree farmers plan to protest the commercialisation of land. Even in the tough terrain of Idukki’s Vathikudy panchayat, women were taking a census of fallow land in the area that they could cultivate. Some 100,000 women practise organic farming and more wish to. Kudumbashree farmers speak passionately about preventing ecological devastation through alternative farming methods.

In the world of Sangha Krishi, food is a reflection of social relations. And only new social relations of food, not political manoeuvres, can combat the twin violence of hunger and injustice.

(Ananya Mukherjee is Professor and Chair of Political Science at York University, Toronto. Her latest work is a co-edited volume in collaboration with UNRISD, Geneva (Business Regulation and Non-state actors: Whose Standards? Whose Development? Routledge Studies in Development Economics, 2012.)

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam


Feb 1, 2012-Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt about 11 recent deaths due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care in Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a privately owned tea garden, in the district of Cachar in North-East Indian state ofAssam. The conditions of at least 5 others are so bad that it would be hard for them to survive a month without urgent medical and nutritional intervention. Arbitrary and exploitative actions of both the estate management and government drove about three thousand labourers and their families on the verge of starvation. The management abruptly closed the garden on 8 October, 2011 without paying wages due for 9 weeks, dues from provident fund and other benefits and alternative livelihood. The government public distribution system (PDS) and health care facilities are conspicuous by their absence. It is feared that without urgent and substantial intervention reports of deaths will keep coming.

BHRPC learnt about the deaths from the reports published on 16 January, 2012 in the local newspaper about a gathering of the tea labourers in front of the district administrative headquarters at Silchar. The labourers gathered to know the outcome of the tripartite meeting among district administration, Barak Cha Shromik Union (a tea plantation labourers union known to be affiliated with ruling political party) and estate management about the situation of tea garden and labourers. Speaking to the news reporters the labourers informed that 9 persons had already been died due to starvation and malnutrition till 15 January.

To verify the claims of the labourers and gather more information about the situation BHRPC formed a fact-finding team comprising of Dr. Prasenjit Biswas, Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, Mr. Sadique Mohammed Laskar, Mr. Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Mr. Raju Barbhuiya and Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das. The team visited the tea garden area on 27 January and talked with the victims, their family members, neighbours and leaders of the labourers. This report is the outcome of that exercise.

It is learnt that Rameshwar Kurmi (45), Subhasini Paul (80), Shachindra Ree (32), Shyamacharan Bauri (55), Nagendra Bauri (55), Sonamani Pandey (40), Bharati Kal (45), Susham Tanti (35) Ratna Goala (50) and Atul Bauri lost their lives due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care. All were labourers or ex-labourers of the tea garden or their dependents.

Mr. Ramashish Dushad (80) of Didarkhush Grant is suffering from swelling on his legs and is now completely impaired, his body does not even permit him to get up from the bed. He is an ex-labourer. According to him, he did not receive his dues from provident fund, gratuity and arrears. He has none to take care of him, and he has no such ability to engage someone as caretaker, moreover the management and the government are indifferent about him. He is waiting for his last moment.

Mr. Prakash Ghatowar (80) and his daughter-in-law Moni Ghatowar (32) of Didarkhush Grant are also suffering from swelling on their legs. They also narrated the same story of government apathy and injustices of the management. They are deprived of livelihood, remunerations and proper medical treatment. Prakash is half fed with his family of one daughter-in-law, three daughters and grandchildren. He lost his physical strength and in no position to exert himself in any kind of manual works. His grand children Pinki Ghatowar (17), Kamalabati Ghatowar (15) and Rinki Ghatowar (12) are compelled to collect firewood from the far off jungles and sell them in the far off markets ignoring their studies. Prakash and Moni are suffering from acute mal-nutrition and may die if no early intervention is made.

Belbati Bauri (75), wife of late Debendra Bauri, is also waiting for her last moment. She is week, pale and in need of medical care. Although her son Sricharan Bauri was a permanent labourer in the estate, he was not getting any ration, medicine or remuneration for last six months. Ironically they were regarded as being above poverty line (APL) family, and therefore, are not eligible for government schemes meant for the poor. According to them, other facilities provided by the PDS did not reach to them properly. Other members of the family including a college girl Moni Bauri engaged themselves in hazardous works like collecting firewood and selling them for food and medicine for themselves and the sick members. The family has six members.

Putul Bauri (50) is also suffering from swelling of his legs. His health does not allow him to work, so he resorted to beggary. Wiping his tears again and again he tried to express his sufferings and his anger against the estate management and the labour unions. According to him, the situation of the labourers of the tea garden did not become so bad in a day. It took decades. The labour unions did not raise their voice against the unjust and exploitative policies of the management; for example, wages lower than the all Assam average, non-payment of wages, non-payment of other benefits, gratuity and making the labourers to work overtime without remuneration. Condition of his health is very bad.

Bablu Bauri (25) and his mother Surabala Bauri (55) had been living under-fed for months. Bablu’ father Atul Bauri (60), died recently due to malnutrition and lack of medicine. Bablu was a casual worker in the estate though he worked regularly. They are now confined within the house as it is not permitted by ritualistic rules of their community to go outside the house after death of a family member. They can not go outside in search of livelihood.

Plantation labourers Bashistha Dushad (42), Anjana Dushad (42), Gulab Dushad (50), and some other grassroots leaders like Shyamlal Tanti (45), Budhan Goala (45), Mahendra Majhi (36), Jaharlal Goala, Kamal Ghosh, Nirmal Goala, Luchan Kumar Ghosh and Bachun Satnami narrated the story of their sufferings and expressed their grievances against the indifference of the administration in spite of several representations from them. They stated that for years the estate management was exploiting them in various ways. Some of the labourers were employed as permanent labourers and are paid wages as low as rupees 50/- per day at the time of the closure and the rest were engaged as casual workers and paid even lower wages at rupees 41/- even though they worked for years. It is also alleged that the estate management did not provide any residential quarters for housing the labourers and their families. The management has engaged hired hooligans to suppress the voice of the exploited whenever they tried to protest, the labourers said.

They also claimed that while the neighbouring estates were providing facilities in spite of all drawbacks, this estate was exploiting them. The wages of the labourers remained pending for long under various pretext, they were told that the estate was suffering loss and would recover very soon but that soon did never come. The management tried to push them to such a situation that the workers would be compelled to search for alternative livelihood and would forget their dues. The workers demanded their dues and stopped working. The estate closed down on 8 October, 2012. Since then the management escaped and engaged their agent named Fulan Ahmed, a local resident as assistant manager to suppress the protest. Finding no other way the workers approached the administration several times. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar district assured them that he would find a way out. However, the labourers are not in a position to trust any assurance from the government or the management.

The labourers and their families living in the garden area further stated that they were also deprived from the benefits of various welfare schemes launched by the central government and state government. For example, there are only about 7 Anganwadi centres in the whole estate where more than three thousand people are living. The centres are run under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to provide nutrition and health care for the children, adolescents and gestating and lactating mothers. The Supreme Court of India in People’sUnionfor Civil Liberties and others vs. Union of India and others (Writ Petition (C ) No. 196 Of 2001) directed the governments to establish such a centre in every settlement that has at least 40 children under six but no Anganwadi.

Even these few centres are not properly functioning, according to the local inhabitants. They said that workers and helpers of Anganwadi centres come only once or twice in a month. But they also cautioned not to go by the records maintained in the office of the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) since they maintain false records to show proper utilisation of the money which they siphon off to other channels.

There are also a few houses granted under the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) in the garden area. However, the people claimed that most of such houses are grated to the labourers who are connected with management and the labour union affiliated with ruling party of the state. The poorer are completely deprived from the IAY.

There is, of course, a house proclaiming through its signboard to be a health centre run under National Rural Health Mission of the government ofIndia. But the local people informed that it is not functioning properly. According to them, it is run by an unqualified practitioner. Moreover, the medicines are not made available.

There was also a canal reportedly dug under a scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA), an Act of parliament that provides for 100 days of work for one person from every household and in case of non-availability of work it guarantees unemployment allowance for the same number of days. Due to corruption the provisions of the Act are not implemented properly, particularly in remote areas. The people of the area stated that it is the only work done under MGNREGA in the garden area and it provided only few workdays for only some labourers.

They also stated that the canal is the only source of water. It gives them water for all types of use. People bath in it as well as wash their utensils, cloths and use the same water for drinking and cooking foods.

It is also learnt that the district authority sanctioned Rs 15 lakh per year for primary health care, but there is no sign of its utilization. There is an ambulance, but the driver demands rupees 400 as fare from each patient, which is not affordable to them.

The meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Cachar resolved that the estate would be opened on January 23, 2012; but nothing happened like that. Again on January 25, 2012 another meeting held in the conference hall of the Deputy Commissioner. ADC Mr. Debashish Chakrabarti, ADC Mr. S. K. Das, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mr. K. Singson, the MLA and the Scretary of Barak Cha Shramik Union Mr. Dinesh Prasad Goala, Assistant Manager of the Tea Estate Mr. Fulan Ahmed and others took part in the meeting. This meeting decided that a committee will be formed under the chairmanship of the SDO (civil) of Lakhipur Sub Division to manage the estate. The workers are still anxious about their future.

BHRPC finds that the anti labour policy of the management and the political interference has led to this situation; every estate is more or less affected by this. The management exploits the illiterate workers with the acquiescence of the authorities, the government facilities does not reach to the beneficiaries, there is no facility provided for the senior citizens and the healthcare facilities are only for namesake. Malnutrition, illiteracy and uncertainty are the common ingredients of the lives of the tea labourers.

For more photos and report

Facebook Censorship – Abortion Rights


On Decemeber 30, 2011 , Facebook removed the profile picture of Rebecca Gomperts, which was text with information about how women can do abortions safely by themselves. Dr Gomperts is a well-known abortion rights activist and the Director of Women on Waves. Women on Waves is a charitable organization focused on women’s health and human rights.

Its mission is to protect maternal health by preventing unsafe abortions. Women on Waves sails a ship to countries where abortion is illegal. On board the ship the medical staff provides sexual education and healthcare services.

With the ship, early medical abortions (up to 6 1/2 weeks of pregnancy) can be provided safely, professionally and legally. Applicability of national penal legislation, and thus also of abortion law, extends only to territorial waters; outside that 12-mile radius it is thus Dutch law that applies on board a ship under the Dutch flag, which means that all our activities are legal.

Women on Waves’ efforts serve to draw much-needed public attention to the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and unsafe, illegal abortion. To date, the ship has sailed to Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Women on Waves also supported the launch of safe abortion hotlines in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (for more information see http://www.womenonwaves.org)

In 2005 it founded Women on Web, a telemedicine abortion service that provides medical abortions to women in countries where there is no access to safe abortion (www.womenonweb.org)

By removing the profile picture, Facebook is in gross violation of Article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human rights. Facebook has a social responsibility to guarantee human rights. Dr. Gomperts reposted the screenshot of the Facebook censorship message with the picture. She called upon all Facebook users that support abortion rights to repost the message on their page.

The picture is  actually a sticker  designed to provide information on how women can safely induce an abortion using a medicine called Misoprostol. The text is based on information and research from the World Health Organisation. So it is really quite safe.

The English-language text says that to induce a safe abortion women should buy 12 Misoprostol tablets at a pharmacy. They are advised to say the drugs are intended for ‘their granny who has arthritis.’ When the tablets are taken a few hours apart they will induce labour accompanied by abdominal cramps and vaginal bleeding eventually leading to a miscarriage after about 10 hours. Diarrhoea is the most common side-effect. In case of a high fever and severe pain women are advised to see a doctor, who should be told the patient suffered a miscarriage.

Legally unassailable


Women on Waves says the removal of the photograph is in violation of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which specifically mentions ‘the right to … seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media’ – and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, media and privacy lawyer Quinten Kroes says this not entirely true:

“Women on Waves refers to very basic human rights, such as the freedom of expression. These fundamental rights are primarily intended as protection from government interference, which is not what this is about. Facebook has not removed the profile photograph as a result of pressure from any government, but on its own initiative. From that perspective, Facebook could argue its own freedom of expression was at stake here. Facebook cannot be made to spread ideas the company does not support.”

Mr Kroes says Facebook’s legal right to remove the text is based on its’ extensive and legally unassailable terms of use: “They will undoubtedly include articles granting Facebook the right to remove specific texts because the texts violate certain norms or prompted complaints from other users.”

Dr. Gomperts reposted the screenshot of the facebook censorship message with the picture and called upon other facebook users to repost the image, which was done by hundreds of facebook users. However this picture was removed again and Gomperts was blocked from using her facebook account for 2 days. After receiving inquiries by journalist, facebook send an email to apologize and acknowledged that the picture did not violate any facebook users regulations.

Then Facebook apologised and restored the profile pic


The P.R. flap is reminiscent of what happened when Apple launched Siri late last year. Customers complained that they couldn’t search for abortion clinics using the software, which was widely reported in the media and blogs. Apple attributed the bug to a kink in the software, not any sort of corporate-wide abortion bias.

Do you think Facebook handled this situation appropriately?

To Ask or Not To Ask: A Few Thoughts On The Garhwa Landmine Blast


The police vehicle after the blast

By Ranjana Padhi

31 January, 2012
Countercurrents.org

State repression is intensifying on all movements that stand opposed to corporate land grab and capitalist aggression, especially in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. It is debatable amongst us whether the armed struggle of the Maoists is making the state more belligerent on all other resistance movements, albeit with other strategies. In Odisha, home to many mass movements against coercive land grab and mining projects of corporate giants, there have been movements with a range of ideological orientation from sarvodaya and socialist to Marxist along with a growing Maoist presence in recent years. But the relentless assault on the Adivasis, dalits, fisherfolk and OBCs by the forces of capital and state has only strengthened the opposition to state repression. In common platforms and joint actions in different places, we assume solidarity as we stand opposed to the corporate plunder in all these states. But if a landmine blast is made to happen on the same day when another established party or mass organization is holding a mass protest on some issue, and a woman and three others are abducted, then surely something is amiss. Let us briefly recap the events in Garhwa district of Jharkhand.

On January 21, Sushma Mehta, elected Zila Parishad Chairperson from the CPI(ML) and Akhtar Ansari, a state committee member of the party were abducted by CPI (Maoist) along with Mehboob the driver of the car and Sunesh Ram, the security guard. Sunesh Ram continues to be held hostage by the Maoists. They were on their way to the protest of the villagers of Bargad in Bhandaria block in Garhwa district. The villagers were sitting in a road block and demanding that the site of the proposed primary health centre be decided by villagers rather than at the behest of contractors. The CPI (Maoist) triggers a landmine blast that takes the lives of 13 policemen who were accompanying the BDO on his way to the protest site. Not surprisingly the Jharkhand police come down heavily on the CPI (ML) activists with the allegation that the roadblock and the protest were designed to lure the policemen. Several of those arrested during the protest were beaten and tortured in interrogations to establish links with the Maoists. Again, on 24 January, a vicious lathi charge takes place on a peaceful protest during a Garhwa bandh called by CPI(ML) against the state violence, where several people were beaten up. Some were hospitalized with fractured limbs. The Maoists who owned up the landmine blast, released three of the hostages on January 24.

The wife and mother of Sunesh Ram, who is still held hostage, attempted self-immolation outside the thana in Garhwa on January 28. In a TOI report (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-29/ranchi/30675728_1_landmine-blast-rebels-bodyguard) we hear of the deep shock and trauma of their being held hostage for three days. Most recently, the police are implicating Sushma as part of the plot, and trying to get the guard’s family to do dharna at Sushma’s house demanding that she be booked for the conspiracy to perpetrate the blast and the abduction. Some of the arrested people were sent to jail but two of those arrested on January 21st, Budlal Kerketta and Mahfuz Ansari, were missing from custody. In the latest news today, they had been taken to Chhattisgarh and tortured severely, but are now with their family. While police say Ramdas Minz and Fida Husain are in jail, their families are not being allowed to meet them. So their presence in jail is not verified. The families have filed a case in court saying these two are missing and their whereabouts be revealed. According to Kavita Krishnan, a CC member of the CPI (ML), “the ‘lathicharge’ during the bandh on 24 Jan was no ordinary one, but a particularly vengeful and brutal assault. The DSP himself stamped with boots on Kalicharan Mehta, and similar brutal assaults resulted in severe injury and broken arm of 70-year-old Kishore Kumar, a broken leg for another comrade, and severe injuries for Comrade Rahina, another elected woman representative of Danda panchayat.” This repression has certainly been scaled up in reaction to the landmine blast and the death of the policemen.

Some crucial questions that come to the mind pertain to the timing of the landmine blast when the BDO accompanied by policemen is on his way to a protest organized by the CPI – ML members. Was the abduction of Sushma Mehta and three others a spontaneous act or preplanned? Or was it only to terrorize the state or CPI-ML or both? Can we simply leave it to be intra-party disputes since the territorial rights fought over by different streams of revolutionary groups are not new? Even as I attempted discussing these questions with friends and fellow travellers on email, an extremely warped and poor substitute for passionate discussions in each other’s physical presence (to which the state cannot not be privy to compared to today’s online surveillance), I began to see how the parameters of the debate have been drastically pruned by the nature of events around us. Questioning the squad actions and military assertions of the Maoists is simplistically reduced to peace mongering. Or, the next common response is to be told how much worse and more systemic state violence can be. In our continuous struggle against the state we now have to sit and hold our breath as there is someone calling the shots too. This is not the right time to ask these questions. We can only continue to send endless appeals to the state.

Surely, we cannot run the risk of condoning something simply because we are pitted against the mightier enemy, which is the state. Or that to breathe any question now is to ruin the balance of the forces arraigned against each other. For the state, the label of `maoist’ is a sufficient and often legitimate ground to torture or kill somebody; and for the Maoists, it is `police informer’. To question it is a blasphemy because they only know the truth, none else. What about other autonomous voices? There have been centuries of domination where coercion and violence were systemically used to subjugate different oppressed sections and continue to do so. Struggles of workers, women, lesbians and gays and dalits have made us all so clear that the state is a mighty force to reckon with but not the sole culprit. Till date, we struggle to broaden the canvas of issues though ideological assertion and logical persuasion. We can only seek to complicate our questions as the time demands; we have no choice there. But not to push these new parameters of the debate can be most counterproductive. Let us actually let a hundred flowers blossom.

Ranjana Padhi is an independent researcher and feminist activist. She is based in Pune and works professionally as a technical editor and langauge trainer. ranjanapadhi@yahoo.co.uk

North South Dialogue IV (Conference On Inclusion of Disabled)- Goa 19-23 Feb


There are over 100 million disabled Indians who have no access to services. Despite legislation only 2% disabled have so far been covered. The North South Dialogue (NSD) was conceptualized by Dr. Mithu Alur and ADAPT – Able Disable All People Together (formerly SSI – Spastic Society of India) to explore models of reaching out to these people, strive for inclusive education and use the dialogue to build partnerships between Indian and global organization, learning from one another, exchanging ideas and supporting one another in the journey for inclusion.

In the past 11 years of its existence and 3 previous versions (2001, 2003 and 2005), NSD has done these and much more. It has seen global speakers from countries like UK, Canada, USA, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet etc. Representatives of organizations as diverse as the governments of various countries, to those of World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, CIDA, civil society orgs, individual activists have participated and exchanged experiences from diverse cultures, contexts, resources and policies.

Overall the conference has not only been successful in generating innovative ideas for the disabled and their inclusion, but in also pushing forward disabled friendly policy and consciousness in the Indian sub-continent. The concrete steps have helped impact the lives of millions of disabled in a positive manner.

A fountainhead of ideas, it has become a must attend event for government officials at state and central level, NGO’s, activists and those providing services to the disabled, family members who want to do more, practitioners, academicians etc. not just from India and the Indian subcontinent, but also from the rest of the world who want to understand the Indian condition and share experiences from their own culture.

The 4th conference entitled ‘Implementing Tools of Change for Inclusion’ will be held in Goa between 19th and 23rd February. With 200 participants and speakers, it is expected to be a veritable mix of learning and inspiration, networking and interaction with participation from countries like UK, Germany, USA, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Tibet and of course, India.

Those interested in participating and knowing more about the conference, its purpose, costs etc. can contact: Mrs. Diane Saldanha, Conference Co-ordinator, ADAPT, K C Marg, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (West), Mumbai – 400050. India. You can email nsd4.adapt@gmail.com or call +91-22-26443666/88 or fax: +91-22-26436848.

 

Drug trials : Madhya Pradesh chief secretary fails to report to NHRC


 Feb1, 2012, Asish Gaur TOI

INDORE : The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)’s order to the Madhya Pradesh chief secretary to report to it the details of the controversial human drug trials in Indore, has run into a procedural wall.

Taking suo motu cognisance of a TOI report on drug trials conducted on 233 patients of the government-run mental hospital attached to the Mahatma Gandhi Medical College in Indore, the NHRC had asked the chief secretary to furnish the details by last Tuesday. But the latter has not obliged, maintaining that the laws allow the concerned doctors to keep all details of the trials confidential.

Forty two of these patients were given Dapoxetine, a drug to cure premature ejaculation. However, an earlier report of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) had said they were not mentally ill, but were seeking psychiatric help for premature ejaculation.

Among other points. the NHRC had also specifically asked the MP chief secretary to report if the doctors had followed Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, while conducting the trials on the basis of approval obtained from independent ethics committees attached to private hospitals _ bypassing the medical college’s own institutional ethics committee.

The chief secretary, Avni Vaishya, told TOI that he was not in a position to submit the report.”The doctors have kept the trial documents under wraps. The details are confidential according to the laws for the conduct of clinical trials. Only central regulatory bodies such as the DCGI or MCI can investigate the matter,” he said.

The NHRC, however, has decided to press the issue. NHRC spokesperson Jaimini Kumar Srivastava said the commission will write to the chief secretary again. “We have not received any communication from the chief secretary as of now. The time allowed to submit report has lapsed. We are going to write again asking to submit the report at the earliest.”

2-FEB-2012

NEW DELHI : Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Wednesday asked an explanation from the Madhya Pradesh government on the malpractices surrounding the recent clinical trials conducted in Indore.

“Irregularities were found in the clinical trials conducted there and the state government needs to explain what action has been taken against the doctors involved,” he said.

The drug controller general of India (DCGI) had recently issued a stern show cause notice to five doctors of Indore’s Mahatma Gandhi Medical College for not following good clinical trials (GCT) norms, while conducting clinical trials on 241 patients visiting the College’s psychiatry ward.

Notices had also been sent to three companies – Cadilla, Mcure and Intas – to explain the deficiencies at the earliest.

The DCGI has threatened blacklisting of the doctors from all other trials they are involved in if they fail to reply at the earliest. Two hundred and forty one patients in Indore were subjected to clinical trials to check the efficacy of various drugs, including 42 for Dapoxetine, a drug used to cure premature ejaculation.

An independent team of investigators sent by the DCGI submitted its report to the health ministry recently.

The report has cleared the investigators of carrying out the trial on “mentally ill” patients. The investigating team however took serious cognizance to the fact that investigators did not posses with them the original informed consent forms.

The forms were taken away by the sponsors of the trial, “which is a serious offence”.

A ministry official said, “Most of the patients were suffering from erectile dysfunctions and were being treated by psychiatrists from that medical college. That is why they were visiting the psychiatric ward and not because they were suffering from any mental illness.”

“However, show cause notices have been served on the doctors for the serious administrative lapses and deviation from GCT guidelines while carrying out the trial,” the official added.

Radioactive water leak at Japan nuclear plant: report


Feb 2, 2012

TOKYO: Some 8.5 tons of radioactive water leaked from a reactor at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant but it had not flowed outside the reactor building.

Tokyo Electric Power Co said the leak occurred in the No 4 reactor after a pipe connected to the reactor dropped off, Kyodo News agency reported today, quoting the plant‘s operator.

The leak was discovered last night and was stopped shortly afterwards.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was crippled by meltdowns and explosions caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March last year.

Radiation was scattered over a large area and made its way into the oceans, air and food chain in the weeks and months after the disaster.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in a large area around the plant and swathes of this zone remain badly polluted, with the clean-up proceeding slowly amid warnings that some towns could be uninhabitable for three decades.

India’s Rural Angels: Village Midwives


Traditional midwives if supported with modern training can make a significant difference to maternal health in India.

By Soma Mukhopadhyay

It was a dark night on 31 December 2011 when our youth were celebrating their New Year’s eve with light and music. Meanwhile, an expectant mother Bina Gyan in Jamespur, a remote village of the Sundarban in West Bengal was eagerly awaiting her delivery. There was no doctor, no nurse, nor any hospital nearby. Bina was suffering from labour pains, with the village midwife and elderly women of her house for company.

A Royal Bengal tiger had wandered into the village from the adjacent jungle just a couple of days ago, and the whole village was gripped with fear.In this situation, who would take the risk of carrying her to the primary health centre across the river by a narrow boat?

Read more here

Kashmir Women lead suicidal tendencies


Casualties of war: Kashmiri women suffer most from mental health issues

Feb 1, 2012-Srinagar, Khurram Rasool

With the state of conflict still fresh in the backdrop of their minds and increase in the cases of domestic violence, females in Kashmir are reportedly said to be more prone to suicides than ever before.

A study conducted by a prominent sociologist at the University of Kashmir, Dr. B A Dabla reveals that in Kashmir while the female suicide rates are increasing immensely, it is men who have more suicidal tendencies in the rest of India.

“Contrary to Kashmir, in the rest of the country, men are found to be more suicidal especially in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (UP) where maximum number of farmer suicides has taken place”, Dr. Dabla told The Kashmir Monitor.

As per Dr. Dabla, the conflict situation has given rise to such social tendencies among females which directly or indirectly leads them to suicide. “As compared to the other societies elsewhere in India, female suicide cases have seen an alarming rise here in the valley. The main reason could be that females being more physically weak towards handling stress, fail to resolve the problem”, added Dr Dabla.

Interestingly, Dr. Dabla reveals that literate and educated people being very sensitive are more prone to committing suicides. Twenty eight year old Shazia Majeed who put an end to her life on November 9 last year by hanging herself from a ceiling fan was educated and employed at the Islamic University of Science and Technology as a librarian. This illustrates Dabla’s statement.

Shazia’s family still believes their daughter’s death to be a pure case of domestic violence. Experts claim that Domestic violence and family disputes play a vital role in making the females take the extreme step.

Moreover, two age groups among females between 17-35 and 35-50 are said to have more suicidal tendencies than others. Feroz Ahmed Malla, a counsellor at an NGO that works for mental healthcare, Kashmir Lifeline said, “Owing to the day today stress and personal life crisis, more youngsters are seen committing suicides and females have surely outnumbered the males”.

As per reports, the two premier hospitals of the valley Sher-i- Kashmir institute of medical sciences (SKIMS) and Shri maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital registered 1029 cases of attempt to suicide in the previous year.

Source- http://www.kashmirdispatch.com/

Ethical hacker tells how to beat censorship


 

Ankit Farida author of the book 'How to unlock everything on the internet" released the book ,in Hyderabad on Tuesday. - Photo G. Krishnaswamy.

 

Ask Mr Ankit Fadia, the 26-year-old ethical hacker, to sign his book for you, he would scribble ‘Happy Hacking’ before signing it. For him, hacking is ethical and a tool to settle scores if someone restricts your freedom. He feels that it is like arming the disarmed.

If Government or any private or public agency tries to restrict Internet access, Mr Ankit says, “you need not lose heart. You need not keep mum and suffer silently.” It is an antidote for censorship, which he feels, not fair.

“You can always press ‘undo’ button in such cases and enjoy surfing whatever way you and get connected with the world,” Mr Ankit, who wrote his book when he was 14, said.

He is part of E-Secure, a security consultancy firm that hacks into companies’ networks (after it is engaged for the job) to highlight the chinks in the armour. The firm has advised 50 companies so far.

In Hyderabad on Tuesday to promote his latest book How to unblock everything on the Internet, there is nothing on the Internet that can be blocked. The book, his 15th one till date, contains information on how to unblock the blocked sites.

Censorship

Referring to recent moves by the Government to force social networking sites to pre-screen the content before it gets published, he said cyber laws would do to tackle unlawful activities.

“Putting restrictions on sensitive information is okay. I am against all other restrictions. You can always pull up the wrong guy and put him to task,” he said.

Ethical hacking could be a good career option.

“There are good guys and bad boys out there. Knowledge is like a knife, it all depends on how you use it,” he said.

 

Source- Hindu Businessline , Jan 31, 2012

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