The Dirty Picture or how not to be a Porngate hypocrite

First Post, Feb 9, 2012

by M. Svairini

Confession: I have sex. I watch porn on the Internet and on film. I write erotic stories, I’ve stripped for audiences, and, so far, I’ve acted in one film that could be considered “blue.” I talk about the sex I have and the sex I want to have and the sex I think is hot.

This makes me a lawbreaker in some places, but not a hypocrite. And if you don’t want to be a sexual hypocrite either (listen up, Karnataka state legislators), if you don’t want to keep on colluding with a nation of hypocrites, read on.

Warning: It will be an uphill battle.

All over India, at this very moment, thousands of boys and men and even some women are huddled over mobile phones and laptops, or sitting in internet cafes or at their office computers, watching porn.

In the urban epicenters, crores of rupees are trading hands in order to shoot, edit, market, and distribute “blue” films. Businessmen watch pay-per-view porn delivered by satellite from their five-star hotel beds. In each of India’s 5,500 cities and towns, men know which vendors keep an under-the-counter stash of illicit DVDs.

And in the Karnataka legislature, three men watching porn on a mobile phone were forced to resign. There are reports that 40 more lawmakers may have passed around the dirty picture.

In their defense, the men have claimed they weren’t watching porn; they were watching a rape. That, apparently, is supposed to be better.

Today in India, hypocrisy is the only moral constant. The shamed politicians belong to a right wing that has vociferously asserted anti-sex “family values” in India in recent years. But the opposition, which in its outrage about “defiling the Temple of Democracy” has called for criminal charges to be filed against the phone-wankers, suffers no shortage of its own sex scandals. Everyone is appalled and shocked by sex and porn; no one has ever, you know, apparently enjoyed it.

Blame, if you want, Queen Victoria. It was her men who wrote our first obscenity laws. Back on their cold little island, the British now embrace most of what they once criminalised in the colonies. Pornographers, like everyone else in the UK, possess a right to free speech that covers everything except the most “extreme” sex acts.

But here in the former Jewel in the Crown, Victorian hypocrisy lives on. Brown sahibs carry on their former masters’ work, criminalising sexuality and shaming its many expressions. They sit in government offices or organise street protests or come on television to deliver longwinded speeches about morals.

And these moral guardians, too, watch porn.

Somehow, Indians have forsworn their older heritage of sexual choice. Somehow, we have decided that freedom of speech does not extend to the freedom to go beyond titillation. Authors routinely sign contracts guaranteeing that they have not written anything obscene or profane. People who want to make work about sexuality do so underground, in secret, by paying bribes, or by going overseas.

At the same time, sex and the consumption of sexual content is widespread. As Delhi-born sexpot Anjali — well known to fans of Bangkok porn — says, “I think I am and was way better than those hypocritical girls who look homely and docile but live secret lives of sin.”

Countries where sexual hypocrisy runs deep, love sex scandals. In India our sexual hypocrisy runs especially deep. So India’s response is even more heated. The reported mobs of impromptu protesters in Karnataka are not composed, surely, of cold-blooded young men who have never looked at or been titillated by pornography. At least some of the journalists frothing over the story are surely aficionados themselves. They aren’t morally outraged; they are excited. A scandal gives everyone an excuse to talk and think and write about sex, while keeping absolutely quiet about their own desires.

In the pre-intermission climax of the Bollywood film “The Dirty Picture,” based loosely on the life of the late actress Silk Smitha, Silk delivers a powerful speech to a film industry audience.

“You call me ghatia, sexy, dirty. … But it’s you who make sex films, sell them, watch them, distribute them so others can watch, even give awards for them.” (Here she brandishes her golden statuette award before the audience.) “Don’t worry. I’m going now. But I won’t leave you alone. I will go on making your dirty pictures, and I will go on showing people your dirty secret.”

Personally, I’m not interested in being or having a dirty secret. I like having a dirty, filthy, fulfilling real life.

I know there is confusion out there. You see it in #porngate and every other time a sex scandal rises to the surface: mass confusion and debate about what, exactly, the problem is. Is it that they were doing the naughty thing, or that they were caught? Or was it where they were doing it and on whose time? Was it sex that someone enjoyed, or was it rape? Which is worse? Who was turned on, and when did they know it?

In all this confusion, no one seems to understand the right way to handle sexuality and its stories. The problem is, if you talk one way and act the other, you will always be confused.

When it comes to sexuality, there is only one rule to living to a non-hypocritical life. Repeat after me: It is ok to have and enjoy sex. Really.

By sex, I don’t mean “only within marriage,” “only in the missionary position,” “only if you are a heterosexual man,” etcetera. I mean that all expressions of sexuality between consenting adults are 100% acceptable and healthy.

The key word above is “consenting.” By consent, I don’t mean “she dressed like she wanted it,” or “he didn’t actually say no before I put it in him,” or “she needed medicine for her kid so she said yes to the money.” I mean that you are 100% sure that the other person is 100% passionately excited about being there, doing that, with you.

And that includes pornography. Generally speaking, you can tell when you’re watching whether the people want to be there or not. If you have any doubt, you can look for films and clips with the names of porn stars who have clearly taken charge of their own business. You can tell because they give interviews, and they talk about their work without a sense of shame.

Besides Anjali, women like Priya Rai, Poonam Pandey, and Sunny Leone are making a name — and loads of cash — for themselves. And for fans of vintage shake-and-wiggle, there’s always Silk Smitha. As her Vidya Balan filmi avatar says:

“You feel you can’t watch my films with your family. But watching my films in secret, you’re inspired to make bigger families!”

Those are my kind of family values.

M Svairini writes naughty stories online and can be followed slavishly at .

A Guide to Anchoring and Reporting on News Channels

Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, Pakistan (CFRM-Pakistan) would like to share a basic checklist of what you, as media consumers, believe as the do’s and dont’s that news anchors and reporters are supposed to be familiar with, and that rest of the media consumers should also be aware of.

Good anchors/reporters:

  • Present news that is grounded in facts.
  • Make clear distinctions in their reporting and/or coverage between news and opinion.
  • Present opinion in their reporting and/or coverage that is grounded in various viewpoints based on at least two ‘experts.’
  • Stay neutral while moderating or presenting, even on issues they ardently believe in or oppose.
  • Are dispassionate in their reporting and use of language irrespective of the issue they are covering.
  • Always show respect to their subjects and guests.
  • Stay clear of stereotyping and judgement calls in their reporting and coverage.
  • Are mindful of the impact their coverage will have on their subjects and/or guests.
  • Take precautions to ensure that their report will not lead to any harm to their subjects and/or those associated with their subjects.

Bad anchors/reporters:

  • Present opinion that is passed off as fact or news.
  • Do not make clear distinctions in their reporting and/or coverage between news and opinion.
  • Present opinion in their reporting and/or coverage that is grounded in singular viewpoints, and/or based on one ‘expert.’
  • Take sides with guests or present their own viewpoint while they are moderating or presenting.
  • Allow their emotions to show in their use of language and physical expressions.
  • Disrespect their subjects/guests or certain groups in their reporting/coverage.
  • Use language and expressions that stereotypes certain groups.
  • Preach their own version of morality or ‘right and wrong’ in their presentation or reporting.
  • Are irresponsible in their coverage and are not mindful of the impact coverage will have their subjects and guests.
  • Do not take necessary precautions to ensure that their report/coverage will not lead to harm to their subjects and/or those associated with their subjects.

CFRM-Pakistan are activists, academics, lawyers, journalists and citizens from all walks of life—essentially media consumers—serving as an independent platform to voice public concerns about media freedom and responsibility in Pakistan.


In case of any query, please feel free to contact us at: 

Documentary on Kashmir secretly screened at Presidency

Ananya Dutta, 9th FEb 2012, The  Hindu

In a dark anteroom of the Presidency University canteen here, a handful of students huddled around a screen on Wednesday watching Jashn-e-Azadi, Sanjay Kak‘s 2007 documentary on Kashmir that was not allowed to be screened at the Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce in Pune earlier this week.

While the walls of the canteen are littered with graffiti — political and otherwise — not a single poster was put up to promote this event, which had not been sanctioned by the authorities of the University.

While college authorities at Pune had bowed down to pressure from the right-wing student organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and cancelled the screening of the film, University authorities here had no idea that it had been screened.

“I know nothing about this. We will have to inquire into this and only then can I comment about it,” said Malabika Sarkar, Vice-chancellor of Presidency University, adding that a few students had approached her requesting permission, but had been told to keep the screening on hold for a week.

“Holding the screening back only seems to be delay tactics. With our examinations scheduled later this month the crowds on campus are already thinning. A week later fewer students would have attended,” said one of the organisers.

“Other than the cancellation in Pune, only one screening in Mumbai was interrupted [in July 2007]. The police were approached by protestors and the screening was interrupted,” Mr. Kak told The Hindu over telephone from Delhi.

Surreptitiously screened and discreetly promoted, the crowd had come to know about the screening through word-of-mouth or from an events page on Facebook. Seated on rickety benches and the floor once the audience began to swell they heard the stories of old men, bereaved women, children, poets and politicians from the Valley.

“You have gathered here today because you want to flag a protest, because you want to send out a signal that students at Presidency College [University] will not surrender their right to be informed about the world, to hear and speak about issues that are central to our times. That’s a fundamental right, and we cannot — and will not — surrender that. For making that gesture, and putting your foot down: Zindabad!” Mr. Kak said in a message emailed to the organi

APPEAL- Andhra widow seeks euthanasia for paralysed son

Uma Sudhir

Hyderabad : Poverty, desperation and lack of response by the government have forced a widow from Andhra Pradesh to seek euthanasia for her mentally disabled son. K Lakshmamma, the mother of an engineering student who was paralysed and became mentally unstable after a serious accident 15 years ago, has sought the permission of a local court in Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh to put an end to her son’s life. The petition has been admitted and the next hearing will be on March 3.
Her son C Janardhan, an engineering student, was offered a job in Australia in 1997. He was hit by a truck while he was on his way to Bangalore to get a visa.

The accident caused brain damage in addition to paralyses and loss of speech. He was in coma for three months after the accident.

The 64-year-old widow reportedly told the court that her earnings from working on a farm, coupled with her monthly widow’s pension, are not enough to cover her sons medical expenses.

“I don’t know who will take care of him after my death. I can’t see him suffer any longer. If my son gets mercy killing, I can die in peace,” she said in the petition. Her husband died eight years ago.

Struggling to make ends meet on her meager income, K Lakshmamma sold her land and home to foot the medical bills. She has been single-handedly taking care of her son for the past 15 years.

She says her failing health is the reason she was forced to approach the courts, seeking either help or euthanasia for her son.

“If they can get him some medical help, we would be grateful. He cannot fend for himself and I won’t be around forever. So I asked if the government can help us. If they do, we will live. Otherwise I will put him to sleep and kill myself. What else can we do?,’ says the distressed mother.

Lakshmamma says despite her repeated appeals for help, no response has been forthcoming from the government.

Pleading that her son should get the right to live life with dignity or death if that cannot be granted, this mother has admitted a petition in the court. The judge has said the mother cannot be allowed to put her son to death. She has also issued notices to the authorities for medical and financial help.

The court has admitted her petition for hearing and it will come up next on March 3.

Should you want to donate to this family, you can send a cheque in the name of:
K Lakshmamma or K Janardhan (Joint account holders)
A/C No 037010011024577
Andhra Bank
Burma Street, 14-26-1, CTM Road
Madanapalli, Chittoor district
Andhra Pradesh
Pin Code: 517325
For online transfers, please follow:
Branch code: 000370
IFSC Code: ANDB0000370
MICR Code: 517011202

Click here to see the Video

iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think

Apple Inc.
New research goes beyond the New York Times to show just how disturbing labor conditions at Foxconn, the “Chinese hell factory,” really are.
February 7, 2012 |

Behind the sleek face of the iPad is an ugly backstory that has revealed once more the horrors of globalization. The buzz about Apple’s sordid business practices is courtesy of the New York Times series on the “iEconomy. In some ways it’s well reported but adds little new to what critics of the Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, have been saying for years. The series’ biggest impact may be discomfiting Apple fanatics who as they read the articles realize that the iPad they are holding is assembled from child labor, toxic shop floors, involuntary overtime, suicidal working conditions, and preventable accidents that kill and maim workers.

It turns out the story is much worse. Researchers with the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) say that legions of vocational and university students, some as young as 16, are forced to take months’-long “internships” in Foxconn’s mainland China factories assembling Apple products. The details of the internship program paint a far more disturbing picture than the Times does of how Foxconn, “the Chinese hell factory,” treats its workers, relying on public humiliation, military discipline, forced labor and physical abuse as management tools to hold down costs and extract maximum profits for Apple.

To supply enough employees for Foxconn, the 60th largest corporation globally, government officials are serving as lead recruiters at the cost of pushing teenage students into harsh work environments. The scale is astonishing with the Henan provincial government having announced in both 2010 and 2011 that it would send 100,000 vocational and university students to work at Foxconn, according to SACOM.

Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, told AlterNet that “Foxconn is conspiring with government officials and universities in China to run what may be the world’s single largest internship program – and one of the most exploitative. Students at vocational schools – including those whose studies have nothing to do with consumer electronics – are literally forced to move far from home to work for Foxconn, threatened that otherwise they won’t be allowed to graduate. Assembling our iPhones and Kindles for meager wages, they work under the same conditions, or worse, as other workers in the Foxconn sweatshops.”

The state involvement shows Foxconn and Apple depend on tax breaks, repression of labor, subsidies and Chinese government aid, including housing, infrastructure, transportation and recruitment, to fatten their corporate treasuries. As the students function as seasonal employees to meet increased demand for new product rollouts, Apple is directly dependent on forced labor.

The real story of the Apple-Foxconn behemoth, then, is far from being John Galt incarnate. Their global dominance is forged in the crucible of China’s state-managed authoritarian capitalism. Since the 1980s China has starved rural areas to accelerate the industrialization of coastal cities like Shenzhen, where Foxconn first set up shop in 1988. Scholars who study China’s economy and labor market link rural underdevelopment to the creation of a massive migrant work force that serves as the foundation of the country’s industrialization. Deprived of many rights, migrants are recruited to work in Foxconn’s city-sized complexes by government employees with false promises of good-paying jobs that will help them escape rural poverty. A large percentage of migrant workers are student interns as they are recruited from poor rural regions like Henan and sent to work in coastal metropolises like Shenzhen.

Read more here

‘Areva reactor meets advanced safety requirements’

English: Internationally recognized symbol. De...

Image via Wikipedia

NEW DELHI, February 9, 2012

R. Ramachandran

There will be no additional cost to the EPR 1650 MWe Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR), a Generation III+ nuclear reactor developed by Areva of France, in complying with the additional safety requirements recommended by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) in its Complementary Safety Assessment (CSA) report submitted in January. This was stated by Dr. Bernard Bigot, Chairman of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), at a press briefing on Wednesday.

The proposed NPP at Jaitapur in Maharashtra will be based on the EPR 1650 MWe nuclear reactor systems. The NPP at Jaitapur will be essentially the same as the EPR being built at Flamanville 3 in France. An application for authorisation of a similar reactor at Penly in France is pending.

These additional safety requirements recommended by ASN were based on the new ‘European Stress Tests’ on French nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the post-Fukushima context. These tests had been recommended by the European Council in March 2011. According to the European Nuclear Safety Regulatory Group (ENSREG), ‘stress test’ is a “targeted reassessment of the safety margins of NPPs in the light of events which occurred at Fukushima: extreme natural events challenging the plant safety functions and leading to a severe accident.”

The briefing by Dr. Bigot was following his presentation of the CSA to the Indian authorities and his interaction with officials of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in New Delhi, including Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

This CSA report of ASN will be studied by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) before the final contract with Areva is inked by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), the operator of the NPP.

“The EPR design is well suited to cope with the extra safety requirements and even in the worst case [scenario] the reactor will be safe,” Dr. Bigot said.

“For the Flamanville 3 EPR reactor,” says the CSA report, “ASN considers that the safety objectives and the strengthened design of this type of reactor already offer improved protection against severe accidents. Its design in particular takes account of and incorporates measures to deal with the possibility of accidents with a core melt and combinations of hazards. Furthermore, all the systems necessary for the management of accident situations, even severe, are designed to remain operational for an earthquake or a flood as defined in the baseline safety requirements.”

While submitting its report, ASN proposed a ‘hard-core’ of material and organisational measures for each facility, specifications and procedures, which have to be met by June 30. The ‘hard-core’ will comprise:

— crisis management premises and equipment;

— means of communication and alert;

— technical and environmental monitoring instrumentation;

— operational dosimetry resources for workers;

— strengthened equipment including an electricity generating set and water supply for emergency cooling down of each reactor.

These measures, according to an ASN statement of January 3, “will ensure ultimate protection of the facilities with three objectives:

— prevent a severe accident or limit its progression;

— limit large scale releases in the event of an accident which it was not possible to control;

— enable the licensee to perform its emergency management duties.”

“The design of the EPR reactor,” says the CSA report, “which already offers improved protection against severe accidents, should make it easier to create its ‘hard-core’.” According to the report, the French utility company Électricité de France (EDF) will be identifying the existing or additional systems to be included in the ‘hard-core,’ in particular to control the pressure in the containment in the event of a severe accident.

Towards this, ASN has recommended the creation and deployment of the ‘Nuclear Rapid Response Force (FARN)’, as proposed by EDF, by the end of 2012. FARN will comprise specialist crews and equipment able to take over from the personnel on a site affected by an accident and deploy additional emergency response resources in less than 24 hours, with operations beginning on the site within 12 hours. Dr. Bigot noted that Fukushima was not prepared in this respect and suffered from a lack of trained personnel on site. Finding appropriate workforce for FARN may itself pose a problem, he observed.

Climate change and social justice towards an Ecosocialist perspective

Global Warming & Climate ChangeAsit Das

After the Kyoto protocol and the IPCC report, climate change has emerged as a serious issue facing mankind. Climate change and the issues of social justice should be seen in the context of the urgency of the global ecological crisis.

Some writers think that the origins of today’s global ecological crises are to be found in the unusual response in Europe’s ruling states, to the great crisis in the 14th century 1290 -1450. There are indeed striking parallels between the world system today, and the situation prevailing in a broadly feudal Europe. At the dawn of the 14th century, the agriculture regime, once capable of remarkable productivity, experienced stagnation. A large population shifted to cities; western trading networks connected far-flung economic centers. Resource extraction like copper and silver, faced new technical challenges, fettering profitability. After some six centuries of sustained expansion, by the 14th country, it had become clear that feudal Europe had reached the limits of its development, for reasons related to its environment, its configuration of social power, and the relations between them.

What followed was either immediately or eventually the rise of capitalism. Regardless of one’s specific interpretation, it is clear that the centuries after 1450 marked an era of fundamental environmental transformation. It was to be commodity-centered and exclusive, it was also an unstable and uneven, dynamic combination of seigniorial capitalist and peasant economics.

This ecological regime of early capitalism was beset with contradiction. In the middle of the 18th century, England shifted from its position as a leading grain exporter to major grain importer. Yield in England’s agriculture stagnated. Inside the country, landlords compensated by agitating for enclosures, which accelerated beyond anything known in previous centuries. Outside the country, Ireland’s subordination was intensified with an eye on agricultural exports. This was the era of crisis for capitalism’s first ecological regime. For all the talk of early capitalism as mercantile, it was also extraordinarily productivist and dynamic, in ways that went far beyond buying cheap and selling dear. Early capitalism had created a vast agro-ecological system of unprecedented geographical breadth, stretching from the eastern Baltic to Portugal, from southern Norway to Brazil and the Caribbean. It had delivered an expansion of the agro-extractive surplus for centuries. It had been, in other words, an expression of capitalist advancement following Adam Smith and occasionally, combining market, class and ecological transformations in a new crystallization of ecological power and process.

By the middle of the 18th century, however, this world ecological regime had become a victim of its own success. Agricultural yields, not just in England but also across Europe, extended even into the Andes and Spain. It was a contributor to the world crisis. It was a world ecological crisis, i.e., not a crisis of the earth in an idealist sense, but a crisis of early modern capitalism’s organization of the world nature of capitalism and not just a world economy, but also a world ecology. For even many on the left have long regarded capitalism as something that acts upon nature treating it as a commodity. This world ecological crisis can be characterized as capitalism’s first developmental environmental crisis, quite distinct from the epochal ecological crisis that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism. It was a crisis resolved through two major successive waves of global conquest – the creation of North America, and increasingly India as a vast supplier of food and resources; and then, by the later 19th century, the great colonial invasion and occupation of Southeast Asia, Africa and China.

The Industrial Revolution retains its hold on the popular imagination as the historical and geographical locus of today’s environmental crisis. It was a view that co-existed with the profound faith in technological progress. It can be viewed that the industrial revolution as the resolution of an earlier moment of modern ecological crisis and a more expansive, more intensive reconstruction of global nature. The industrial revolution offered not merely a technical fix to the developmental crisis that marked capitalisms ecological regimes, but within this revolution, was inscribed a vast geographical fix, which at that time was as limiting as it had once been liberating. Such a perspective of world ecological crisis offers a more historical name and a more hopeful way of looking for a pro-people approach for thinking and acting about the problems of ecological crisis in the modern world. While the technological marvels of the past two centuries are routinely celebrated, it had become clear in the 1860s that all advances in resource efficiency promised more aggregate resource consumption. This is how the modern world market functions, towards profligacy and not conservation. The technological marvels have rested on geographical expansion neither more nor less than they did in the formative centuries of capitalist development. The pressure to enclose vast new areas of the planet and to penetrate even deeper into the niches of social and ecological life has continued unabated. Now we are witnessing the imperial process of new enclosures, with a partnership with the ruling elites, and the corporate sector of the Third World countries. All this has been reinforced in the same manner by a radical plunge into the depths of the earth to extract oil, coal, water and different types of strategic resources. It is an ecological regime that has reached, or will soon reach, its limits. Whatever the geological veracity of the peak oil argument, it is clear that the American led ecological regime that promised, and for half a century delivered cheap oil, is now done for – this is a bigger issue than present limits of oil reserves.

It is from this standpoint that an accounting of earlier crises may help us to discern the contours of the present global ecological crisis. At the outset, it seems capitalism’s preference for externalizing its crisis through colonial expansions, plunder and conquest of new territories for resources and markets, has reached its definite and destructive geographical limits. As long as fresh land existed beyond the reach of capital, the system’s socio-ecological contradictions could be managed. With the possibilities for external colonization foreclosed by the 20th century, capital has been compelled to pursue strategies of internal colonization, among which we might include the explosive growth of genetically modified plants and animals since 1970. Drilling even deeper and to even more distant locales for oil, water and minerals; converting human bodies, especially those of women, people of color, workers and farmers into toxic waste dumps for a wide range of carcinogenic and other lethal substantives.

There has been lots of critical analysis of different dimensions of contemporary environmental degradation, of government policies, and the role of multinational international agreements. What is needed is sufficient care given to the task of situating these factors systemically and historically.

There is a certain urgency to the present ecological crisis. Now it has been proved that the world economy has been driven to the limits, and in some cases beyond a whole range of ecological thresholds. The global ecological crisis is not impending, it is already here. To understand the structural logic of this crisis, we have to have a historical perspective on globalization and distinguishing the new from the old, in the present juncture and trying to situate the contemporary dynamics of the world historically. Our response to the fate of human civilization depends on how we deal with this age of ecological catastrophes. By locating today’s ecological transformations within long run and large-scale patterns of recurrence and evolution in the modern world, we may unravel the distinctiveness of the impending ecological catastrophe. This means that we have to situate ecological relations internal to the political economy of capitalism and not merely placing concepts of ecological transformation and governance, alongside those of political categories of political economy from the standpoint of the historically existing dialectic of nature and society. Once ecological relations of production are put into the mix, one of the chief things that come into view is the production of socio-ecological regimes, both regional and on world scale. These initially liberate the accumulation of capital, only to generate self-limiting contradictions that culminate in renewed ecological bottlenecks to continued accumulation each time the cycle starts anew; historically, this has been more expansive and intensifies relations between capital labour and external nature. The task before us is to identify the different forms and kinds of the unfolding ecological crises.

The Writing on the Wall

Ecology: The Moment of Truth

Explaining the magnitude of the crisis and the urgency to deal with it, John Bellamy Foster in his note “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” says: “It is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century.” Nearly fifteen years ago he observed (John Bellamy Foster, “This Vulnerable Planet”, 1994): “We have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline.
Today, with a quarter-century still remaining in this projected time line, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrerevocable “tipping point” with respect to climate change, within a mere decade.

Other crises such as species extinction (percentage of bird, mammal and fish species “vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction” are “now measured in double digits”).

The rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty; desertification; deforestation; air pollution; water shortages/pollution; soil degradation; the imminent peaking of world oil production (creating new geopolitical tensions); and a chronic world food crisis – all point to the fact that the planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and civilization has arrived.”

To be sure, it is unlikely that the effects of ecological degradation in our time, though enormous, will prove apocalyptic for human civilization within a single generation, even under conditions of capitalist business as usual. Normal human life spans, there is no doubt that considerable time is still left before the full effect of the current human degrading the planet comes into play. Yet, the period remaining in which we can avert future environmental catastrophe, before it is essentially out of our hands, is much shorter. Indeed, the growing sense of urgency of environmentalists has to do with the prospect of various tipping points being reached as critical ecological thresholds are crossed, leading to the possibility of a drastic contraction of life on earth. (See “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, Monthly Review, July-August 2008).

Capitalist and Socialist Response to the Present Ecological Crisis

Under capitalist conditions, the environment is more and more transformed into a contested object of human greed. The exploitation of natural resources, and their degradation by a growing variety of pollutants, results in man made scarcity, leading to conflicts over access to them. Access to nature is uneven and unequal, and the societal relation of man to nature therefore is conflict-prone. The ecological footprints of people in different countries and regions of the world are of very different sizes, reflecting severe inequalities of incomes and wealth. Ecological injustices, therefore, can only usefully be discussed if social class contradictions and production of inequality in the courses of capital accumulation are taken into account. The environment includes the energy system, climate, biodiversity, soils, water, wood, deserts, ice sheets, etc., the different spheres of planet earth and their historical evolution. The complexity of nature and the positive and negative feedback mechanisms between the different dimensions of the environment in space and time are only partly known. Therefore, an environmental policy has to be made in the shadow of a high degree of uncertainty. This is why one of the basic principles of environmental policy is that of precaution. The effects of human activities, particularly economic activities on natural processes and the feedback mechanisms within the totality of the social political and economic systems, constitute the so-called societal relation of man to nature. Only a holistic attempt to integrate environmental aspects into discourses of political economy, political science, sociology culture studies, etc., can make possible a coherent understanding of environmental problems and yield adequate political response to the challenges of the ongoing ecological crisis.

Green Capitalism and Capitalist Response to the Ecological Crisis

Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve the ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological solutions, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of nature habitats. In contrast, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations.

The Capitalist Response to Global Ecological Crisis

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends. Capitalist ideology characteristically views only the components of this crisis, thereby obscuring its systemic nature. The build up of greenhouse gases and the consequent spectres of climatic tipping points have been widely, if reluctantly, acknowledged within the US ruling class, although for the most part without any matching sense of urgency. Little attention is paid to this in official mainstream campaign discourses. Different dimensions of the crisis are viewed either as a local problem, or more alarmingly, as opportunities for future profit. One can see these in the spread of toxins, the depletion of vital goods – notably fresh water, and biodiversity; the increasingly intrusive and reckless manipulation of basic natural processes as in genetic engineering, cloud seeding, changing the course of rivers, etc.

An adequate response to the crisis will ultimately involve addressing all these dimensions. We are still only in the earliest stages of necessary awareness. This means that we must first convincingly address the arguments of those who would downplay the depth of the transformation that long-term species-survival will require. One part of this task responding to those who deny human agency in climate crisis is a matter of pitting straightforward scientific reasoning against assertions made principally by representatives of corporate capital. Another challenge comes to social ecology from those who put forward the view that the only feasible green agenda is a capitalist one.

Green Capitalism

Among the many possible illustrations of “Green Capitalism”, a small news item in the financial section of the March 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times, provides a useful lead. Captioned “Gore gets rich”, it reports that former US Vice-President Al Gore, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his cautionary filmed lecture about global warming, invested 35 million dollars with Capricorn Investment Group, a firm that puts clients’ assets into hedge funds and invests in makers of environmentally friendly products. The article also notes that Gore has flourished from his business ties with Apple and Google, and that he was recently made a partner at Keiner Perkins Caufield, the top tier Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm. A visit to the Capricorn Group’s website leads to stories about the various projects in which its funds have been invested, one of which is Mendel Biotechnology, which is working with BP and Monsanto supported by a 125 million dollar grant from the US Department of Energy, to find a way to propagate Miscanthus – a potentially more efficient fuel-producing plant than corn, for quick planting and maximum yield.

This is quintessential capitalism; its only green attribute is the notion of crop-derived fuel as offering a clean and green form of energy. The following core aspects of the ecological crisis, however, remain unaddressed – if not aggravated, in this scenario:
Although bio fuels may produce less greenhouse gas than petroleum, their aggregate impact in terms of air and water pollution, soil degradation and food prices may be more severe.

No recognition is given to the need to reduce the total amount of energy consumption of paved surfaces.

Large-scale use of cropland as a fuel source impinges on food crops without reducing pressure on the world water supply.

Agri-business practices, whatever the product, have their negative impact on bio diversity.

Monsanto is implicated in the coercive imposition of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Silicon Valley is at the cutting edge of capitalist hyper-development that has accelerated innovation and obsolescence, a generation of vast quantities of toxic trash.

The US Government continues to provide subsidies to corporations rather than supporting efforts directly to address long-term human needs.

The more familiar image of green capitalism is the one of small grassroot enterprises offering local services, solar housing, organic food markets, etc. It is true and promising that as ecological awareness spreads, the space for such activities will grow. We should also acknowledge that the related exploration of alternative living arrangements might contribute in a positive way to the longer-term conversion that is required. More generally it is certainly the case that any effective conservation measures, including steps towards renewable energy that can be taken in the short run, should be welcome, no matter who takes those steps. However, it is important not to see in such steps any repudiation by capital of its ecologically and socially devastating core commitments to expansion, accumulation and profit.

To remind ourselves of this core commitment is not to claim that capital ignores the environmental crisis, it is simply to account for the particular way it responds to it. This includes direct corporate initiatives and measures taken by capitalist governments. At least in the US, however, the former thrust predominates. The accepted self designation of these approaches, ‘corporate environmentalism’ defined as environmentally friendly actions not required by the law and thereby signifying explicitly that the corporations themselves are setting the agenda. The most tangible expression of corporate environmentalism is a substantial across-the-board jump through the 1980s in the numbers of management personnel assigned to deal with environmental issues.

On the basis of both theory and performance, and viewing the corporate sector as a whole, we can say that this new emphasis has made itself felt in two ways. On the one hand, corporations have been alert to opportunities for making environmentally positive adjustments, where these coincide with the standard business criteria of efficiency and cost reduction. On the other hand, more importantly, corporations have acted directly on the political stage, with an exceptionally free hand in the US. Both by lobbying and direct penetration of policy making bodies, they have moulded regulatory practices, censored scientific reports and shaped a defiant official posture in the global arena exemplified by US withdrawal from the Kyoto accords. In addition, they have undertaken vast public relation campaigns (Green Washing) to portray their practices as environmentally progressive. From outside, as well as within the US, they have attempted with considerable success to define in their own interest, the internationally accepted parameters of sustainable development – initially through the continuing activity of the World Trade Organization, as well as corporate partnerships with United Nations Development Agencies.

None of these efforts embodies the slightest change in basic capitalist practice. On the contrary, they reflect a determination to shore up such a practice at all costs. The reality of green capitalism is that capital pays attention to green issues; this is not at all the same as having green priorities. Insofar as capital makes green oriented adjustments beyond those that are either profit-friendly or advisable for PR purposes or protection against liability, it is because those adjustments have been imposed, or as in the case of wind turbines in Germany, stimulated and subsidized by public authority. Such authority, even though exerted within the overall capitalist framework, reflects primarily the political strength of non or anti-capitalist forces like environmentalist organizations, trade unions, community groups, grassroot coalitions, etc., although these may be supported in part by certain sectors of capital, such as alternative energy and insurance industries.

As this whole current of opinion becomes stronger, advocates of green capitalism pick up on the popular call for renewable energy, but accompany it with a vision of undiminished proliferation of industrial products. In so doing, they overlook the complexity of the environmental crisis which has not only to do with the burning of fossil fuels, but also with assaults on the earth’s resource base as a whole, including for example, the paving over the green space, the raw material and energy costs of producing solar collectors and wind turbines, the encroachment on natural habitats not only by buildings and pavements, but also by dams, wind turbines, etc; the toxins associated with high-tech commodities and the increasingly critical problems of waste disposal; in short, the routine spin-offs from capital’s unqualified prioritization of economic growth.

Proponents of green capitalism respond to this by saying that economic growth, far from being the problem, is what holds the solutions. Environmentalism in this view is a purely negative response to ecological crisis giving rise to unpopular practices like regulation and prohibition. Hence, the singular “green capitalist” caricature of environmentalists. All of them direct our attention to stopping the bad, not creating the good. The “good” from this perspective, is a scenario of jobs, material abundance, and energy independence, understood however, within a characteristically capitalist competitive framework. While the need to cut greenhouse gases is recognized, the challenge is posed in narrowly technological terms. Attempts to resist consumerism are belittled, on the assumption that innovations, along with massive public investment, will solve any problem of scarcity; the vision is emphatically centered on the visited states, with China invoked to signify that the growth is unstoppable. The very existence of an environmental nexus is called into question, on the grounds that the category “environment” can only be conceived either as excluding humans or as being synonymous with everything – at either of which extreme it is seen to make sense. The biological understanding of the environment as a matrix with inter-penetrating parts is not entertained. Ultimately, green capitalism is a contradiction in terms.

One pole is referring to a complexly evolving equilibrium encompassing the growth of one of its particular components. Ironically, the core capitalist response to ecological crisis is a further deepening of the logic of commodification. Capitalist practice has come to pose not just as a material threat to ecological recovery, but also as an ideological threat to socialist theory and by extension to the prospects for developing a long-term popular movement with an inspiring alternative vision.

Socialist Response to Global Ecological Crisis: Towards Ecosocialism

Human beings depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic” interaction between humans and the earth, which influences both the natural and social history. Increasingly the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. No area of the world’s ocean is unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff, and over-fishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services that it provides. The millennium ecosystem assessment documents show that over two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems are over-exploited and polluted. Environmental problems are increasingly interrelated. Experts have been warning that we are dangerously close to pushing the planet past its tipping point, setting off cascading environmental problems that will radically alter the conditions of nature.

Although the ecological crisis has captured public attention, the dominant economic forces are attempting to seize the moment by assuring us that capital, technology and the market can be employed so as to ward off any threats without a major transformation of society. For example, numerous technological solutions are proposed to remedy global climate change, including agro-fuels, nuclear energy, and new coal plants that will capture and sequester carbon underground. The ecological crisis is thus presented as a technical problem that can be fixed within the current system, through better ingenuity, technological innovation and the magic of the market. In this view, the economy will be increasingly dematerialized, reducing demands placed on nature. The market will ensure that new avenues of capital accumulation are created in the very process of dealing with environmental challenges.

Yet this line of thought ignores the root causes of the ecological crisis. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently anti-ecological, since it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on ever-larger scales. Technical fixes to socio-ecological problems typically have unintended consequences and fail to address the root of the problems – the political economic order. Rather than acknowledging metabolic rifts, natural limits, and ecological contradictions, capital seeks to play a shell game with the environmental problems. It generates, moving them around rather than addressing the root causes.

One obvious way capital shifts around ecological problems is through simple geographical displacement. Once resources are depleted in one region, capitalists search far and wide to seize control of resources in other parts of the world, whether by military force or markets.

One of the drives of colonialism was clearly the demand for more natural resources in rapidly industrializing European nations. However, expanding the area under the control of global capitalism is only one of the ways in which capitalists shift ecological problems around. There is a qualitative dimension as well, whereby one environmental crisis is solved (typically only in the short term) by changing the type of production process and generating a different crisis, such as how the shift from the use of wood to plastic in the manufacturing of many consumer goods replaced the problems associated with wood extraction by those associated with plastic production and disposal. Thus, one problem is transformed into another – a shift in the type of rift.

The pursuit of profit is the immediate pulse of capitalism, as it reproduces itself on an ever-larger scale. A capitalist economic system cannot function under conditions that require accounting for the reproduction of nature, which may include time scales of a hundred years or more, not to mention maintenance.

This is where the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. The social order of capital is characterized by rifts and shifts, as it freely appropriates nature and attempts to overcome, even if only whatever natural and social barriers it confronts. It only makes shifts or proposes technological fixes to address the pressing concern, without addressing the fundamental crisis, the force driving the ecological crisis – that is – capitalism itself. As Istevan Meszaros has said, “In the absence of miraculous solutions, Capitals’ arbitrarily self-asserting attitude to the objective determinations of causality and time in the end, inevitably brings a bitter harvest, at the expense of humanity and Nature itself”. (See Istevan Meszaros, “Beyond Capital”, Monthly Review Press, New York).

The global reach of capital is creating a planetary ecological crisis. A fundamental structural crisis cannot be remedied within the operations of the system. Capitalism is incapable of regulating its social metabolism with nature in an environmentally sustainable manner. Its very operations violate the laws of restitution and metabolic restoration. The constant drive to renew the capital accumulation process intensifies its destructive social metabolism imposing the needs of capital on nature, regardless of the consequences to natural systems. Capitalism continues to play out the same failed strategy.

The solution to each environmental problem further generates new environmental problems – one crisis follows another, in an endless succession of failure, stemming from the internal contradictions of the system. If we are to solve our environmental crisis, we need to go to the root of the problem – i.e., the social relation of capital itself, given that this social metabolic order undermines the vital conditions of existence. Resolving the ecological crisis thus requires in the end a complete break with the logic of capital and the social metabolic order it creates.

It is here that the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. A socialist social order, that is a society of associated producers, can serve as the basis for potentially bringing social metabolism in line with the natural metabolism, in order to sustain the inalienable conditions for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generation. Given that human society must always interact with nature, concerns regarding the social metabolism are constant, regardless of the society. But a mode of production in which associated producers can regulate their exchange with nature in accordance with natural limits and know, while retaining the regenerative properties of natural processes and cycles, is fundamental to an environmentally sustainable social order.

The above clearly shows that to solve the world ecological crisis we should struggle for the creation of a socialist social order.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is a struggle for sustainable human development on which societies in the periphery of the capitalist world system have been leading the way.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice, the question of ecology magnifies the importance of finding a way out of this global ecological mess. Human relation with nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for an egalitarian and sustainable human development.

The real prospects for the solutions of global ecological crisis can be seen in the struggles to revolutionise social relations in the strife for a just and sustainable society, and are now emerging in the periphery of the world capitalism system, that is the third world societies. They are somehow mirrored in movement for ecological and social revolution in the advanced capitalist world. It is only through fundamental change at the centre of the system, from which the pressure on the planet principally emanates, that there is any genuine possibility of avoiding ultimate ecological destruction. For ecopessimists, this may seem to be an impossible goal. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there is now an ecology as well as political economy of revolutionary change known as ecosocialism. The emergence in our times – the struggles for sustainable human development in various people’s struggle in the global periphery could mark the beginning of a revolt against both world alienation and human self-estrangement. Such revolts, if consistent, could have only one objective – i.e., the creation of a society of associated producers rationally regulating their metabolic relation to nature, and doing so not only in accordance with their own needs, but also in accordance with those of future generations and life as a whole. Today the task of transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one.

The Idea of Ecosocialism

Richard Smith wrote in “The Engine of Eco Collapse”, published in the Ecosocialist journal ‘Capitalism, Nature and Socialism’, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2005:

“If capitalism can’t be reformed to subordinate profit to human survival what alternative is there but some sort of nationally and globally planned economy? Problems like climate change require the “Visible hand” of direct planning. Our capitalist corporate leaders can’t help themselves, have no choice but to systematically make wrong, irrational and ultimately – given the technology they command – globally suicidal decisions about the economy and the environment so then, what other choice do we have than to consider a true ecosocialist alternative?” (Richard Smith)

The concept of ecosocialism has been advanced by socialist thinkers like Andre Gorz, James Conner, Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster et al.

Ecosocialsm is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative to capitalism’s destructive process. It advances an economic policy founded on the non-monetary and extra economic criteria of social needs and ecological equilibrium. Grounded on the basic arguments of ecological movement and Marxist critique of political economy, this dialectical synthesis attempted by a broad spectrum of authors from Andre Gorz to Elma Aluater, James O’Connor, Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster. It is at the same time a critique of market ecology which does not challenge the capitalist system, and of “productivist socialism” which ignores the issue of natural limits.

According to O’Connor, the aim of ecological socialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality and the predominance of use value over exchange value. (See James O’Connor, ‘Natural Causes, Essays in Ecological Marxism’, The Guilford Press, York, 1998). The above aims require: (a) collective ownership of the mean of production by, and (b) democratic planning, which makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and (c) new technological structure of the productive forces. In other words, a revolutionary social and economic transformation.

For ecosocialists, the problem with the main currents of political ecology represented by most Green parties is that they do not seem to take into account the intrinsic contradiction between the capitalist dynamics of the unlimited expansion of capital and accumulation of profits, and the preservation of the environment. This leads to a critique of productivism, which is often relevant but does not lead beyond an ecologically – reformed ‘market economy’. The result has been that many Green parties have become the ecological alibi of centre left social – liberal governments. (For detailed critique of existing green politics, see Joel Kovel – ‘Enemy of Nature’.)

A critique of the productivist ideology of progress and of the idea of a socialist exploitation of nature, appeared already in the writings of some dissident Marxists of the 1930s, such as Walter Benjamin. But it is mainly during the last few decades, that “ecosocialism” has developed as a challenge to the thesis of the neutrality of productive forces which had continued to predominate in the main tendencies of the left during the twentieth century.

Many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, i.e., through a democratic planning of the economy which takes into the account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium. This may mean, for certain branches of production, to discontinue them – for instance nuclear plants, certain methods of mass/industrial fishing (which are responsible for the near extermination of several species in the seas), the destructive logging of tropical forests, etc.

The list is long. It first of all requires a revolution in the energy system, with the replacement of present sources (essentially fossils) that are responsible for the pollution and poisoning of the environment by renewable sources of energy: water, wind and sun. The issue of energy is decisive because fossil energy (oil and coal) is responsible for much of the planet’s pollution, as well as for the disastrous climate change. Nuclear energy is a false alternative, not only because of the danger of new Chernobyls, but also because nobody knows what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waste toxic for hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of years, and the gigantic masses of contaminated obsolete planets. Solar energy, which has never aroused much interest in capitalist societies (for not being profitable or competitive), must become the object of intense research and development – a key role in the building of an alternative energy system.

All this must be accomplished under the necessary condition of full and equitable employment. This condition is essential, not only to meet the requirement of social justice, but in order to assure working class support for the structural transformation of the productive forces. This process is impossible without public control over the mean of production and planning, that is public decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve common good.

The whole society should be able to choose democratically which productive lines are to be privileged and what percentage of resources are to be invested in education, health and agriculture. The prices of goods themselves would not be left to the law of supply and demand, but determined as far as possible according to social political and ecological criteria. Initially this might only involve taxes on certain products, and subsidized prices for others, but ideally, as the transition to socialism moves forward, more and more products and services would be distributed free of charge, according to the needs and will of the citizens.

The passage from capitalist destructive progress to socialism is a historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and mentalities. Politics is central to this transformative process. It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support by the vast majority of the population of an ecosocialist programme. The development of Socialist Consciousness and ecological awareness is a process, where the decisive factor is people’s own collective experiences of struggle, moving from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of society.

This transition would lead to not only a new mode of production and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative mode of life, a new ecosocialist civilization, beyond the reigns of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond unlimited production of commodities that are useless and harmful to the environment.

This requires a qualitative transformation of the development paradigm itself. This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, in a large scale, of useless and harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example. A great part of the goods produced in capitalism with their inbuilt obsolescence have no other usefulness; is not excessive consumption acquisition of pseudo novelties imposed by fashion through advertisement and mass culture? A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as the basic requirement of a democratic egalitarian society – water, food, clothing, housing, including basic services like health, education transport and culture.

Only through an ecosocialist politics we can avoid the impending ecocatastrophe, thus saving the planet and human beings.


Research Fellow


Blood Stains in Jindal Steel- Part 2

This is Part II of “Blood Stains in Jindal Steel“. Samadrustitv team visited Angul District Hospital and interviewed victims of Jindal assault. Both the videos have been done by Tarun Mishra with video support from Madan who belongs to the affected village.

Medha Patkar Refuses Basava Award

English: Medha Patkar in Sasthamkotta

Image via Wikipedia

Lokshakti Abhiyan Begins its 4th Phase with Lokmanch in Mumbai

*New Delhi, February 8* : “It would have been an honour to receive this [Basava] award in the name of revolutionary saint poet, philosopher Shri Basaveshwara of 12th century who promoted social change, reform and communal harmony. *However, collective opinion of movements I am associated with suggests that Karnataka Government has not been able to deal with the mining scam and other scandals. *The Lokayukta controversy is not yet over and there are disagreements with people’s movements on certain policies related to farmers, workers, unorganised sector workers, slum dwellers and government’s attempt at privatisation and corporatisation of scarce natural

resources – land, water, forests and minerals. *I, therefore, would like to state with humility my inability to accept the award which you may be free to give to any other deserving activist.” Medha Patkar said at a public meeting in Belgaum, Karnataka yesterday. *

Department of Kannada and Culture, Government had announced bestowing the Basava Puraskar 2010 to Medha Patkar by a government notification dated December 3, 2011. *Award contains a citation and Rs. 10 Lakh for contribution towards social change and promotion of the principles which Saint Basaveshwara championed. *

Medha Patkar is leading Lokshakti Abhiyan which started its fourth phase campaign on February 6**th** from Mumbai.* The Abhiyan is being joined by farmers, activists, academics from different states and will travel through Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. *The Lokshakti Abhiyan has already been to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. * Other members of the Abhiyan in this phase include Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti

S R, Roshanlal Agarwal, Nageh Tripathy, Vedvati, Raj Singh, Naseevar Babu, Kamlesh, Seela Manswanee, Madhuri Shivkar, Gee Ammena, Ashu and others.

On February 6th Feb a Lokmanch was organised in Mumbai where candidates & party spokespersons of different parties came to a common dais to address the people on several of their issues. Thousands of people gathered to listen to the candidates and engaged in a dialogue with 15 of the candidates who came on different issues concerning the working class people of Mumbai living in bastis.

Most of the candidates who came belonged to political parties or an alliance or People’s fronts but Congress, NCP as well as BJP and Shiv Sena kept away from this due to a fear of people exposing their fraud or scam whether in the State Government or the Municipal Corporation of Greater

Mumbai(MCGM). *However, RPI, BSP were represented by several spokespersons or a few candidates at the Lokmanch. Only one Congress candidate turned up. The larger number was that of independent candidates, many of who belonged

to newly formed People’s front, Mumbai.

Many of the candidates came with no special preparation for the Lokmanch. None of them had even read Nagar Raj Kanoon or Rajiv Awas Yojana, however, listening to the strong presentations by the people themselves, the candidates had to respond to the various issues raised and also commit to support the people on their issues. There was not a single disagreement on any issue.

Mr. Sonawane of RPI had to face the queries on RPI, SS, BJP Alliance. Mr Sonwane responded that RPI did not agree with Hindutva as agenda, but the alliance was purely “political”.

*The issues of people’s right to housing, water, sanitation, education and health were raised in the Lokmanch. Slum eviction and Slum Rehabilitation was opposed by the basti people one after another. The candidates who spoke on the same pledged their support to the people on the issue of right to housing. It was agreed that whether a slum settlement was declared or not declared, classified as legal or illegal, it is the right to housing that was being blatantly denied by the Government. Whether it is the demolition of slums by Shivalik Ventures, Lavasa, Hiranandini or Adarsh Builders, it was highlighted that it was the unholy and corrupt nexus between the builders and the government that was illegal .This results in the denial of a fundamental right to life granted by the Constitution of India.

The basti people were urged to exercise their right to vote carefully,choosing only the candidates who they thought would represent and take forward their issues.* The people demanded from all the candidates that they should take the position on following critical issues:

Nagar Raj Kanoon with rights to the bastis(urban communities should be fully implemented & no projects to be taken up on land of the basti/ward without their consents.

Panchayati Raj should be appropriately amended on the basis of 74thConstitutional amendments.

Not builder prone SRA but RAY (Rajiv Awas Yojana) with self reliant housing should be promoted and be implemented with immediate effect.

Pension, provident fund and other social security measures should be granted to the 93% insecured workers.

There should be fisheries rights to the fish workers.

There should be no cut-off date for providing development benefits to urban poor, housing, water & sanitation.

Candidates of Alliance People’s front & Political parties on Lokmanch ultimately concluded to give their perspectives in writing regarding issues raised by people. Area to area wise Lokmanch will be organized neither with political benefits to the parties nor with organization. People also took the pledge to not to take/distribute liquor or money for vote.

On 7th February 2012, the Lokshakti Abhiyan team reached Kolhapur where Medha Patkar, Roshanlal Agarwal, Nageh Tripathy, Vedvati, Raj Singh and Naseevar Babu spoke about the various aspects of the corruption issue and the scope of an involved movement around it.

Medha Patkar* took the example of the Ambani brothers, Tatas, Mittals and Birlas – all large business families who reap profits at the expense of the rest of the population. She showed the audience a book titled “*Don’t Rely on Reliance*” to make her point against large scale corporate looting due to privatisation in almost all the sectors. It is because the government works against the people of its own country and helps these business tycoons and private companies make profits, that our country is in such a terrible condition. If adivasis and other forest dwellers, fisher people,

urban poor, dalits and farmers were to come together on the struggle against corruption, as it is an issue that affects all sections of society, directly or indirectly, it will make our side stronger and help us achieve our aim of making one more step towards a pro people government. The lack

of accountability on the part of the so called representative of the people holding office in the government service needs to end and it is our responsibility to keep an eye on the workings of these officials to ensure a corrupt free government. *She further highlighted that it is Lok Shakti

[people’s power] that is of supreme importance not Neta Shakti [leader’s power]. *

*Roshanlal Agarwal put forward a novel idea that there should not be a Below Poverty Line mark but an “ **Ameeri Rekha**”, to heavily tax the rich of the country so that it can be used for social redistribution.* *Vedvati*, an icon of courage at the age of 76 years who is a part of Bhoomi Bachao Andolan in Kanjhawala in New Delhi has been fighting for the past 4 years to assert her right to land against repeated attempts to grab it by the State government of Delhi. Vedvati, with her never dying optimism said that it is not the people who are weak but the politicians who come begging for votes during each election who are weak.

The Abhiyan later held public meetings in Neepani and Belgaum. The National Alliance of People’s Movements hopes that with the Lokshakti Abhiyan, the fight against corruption and all the related issues will travel to all the areas that it visits and beyond and that we can work towards a more people friendly government that ensures at a very minimum the fundamental rights of every citizen guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

On February 8th and 9th Lokshakti Abhiyan is touring different parts of Goa and holding meetings with activists and civil society members on the issues of mining, SEZs, fish workers rights and others. Lokshakti Abhiyan will be in Pune on 10th February, Aurangabad on 11th and Nagpur on 12th and 13th.

*National Alliance of People’s Movements *

*For more details call Seela Manswanee : 9212587159 or Madhuresh Kumar

9818905316 or write to*

The Murder of Sister Valsa: the Complete Story

By Krishna Pokharel And Paul Beckett

[The Wall Street Journal last week serialized an investigation into the death of Sister Valsa John Malamel. It is a tale of greed, lust, friendship, betrayal, faith, and brutality set against the conflict between two major forces shaping India’s future: Industrialization and the preservation of traditional ways of life. This account is based on dozens of interviews, witness statements, court documents, and police files. One chapter of the story ran each day last week on India Real Time and Today, we are publishing the story in full. ]

The Wall Street Journal

Where is Sister Valsa?” they demanded. “Where is Sister Valsa?”

In the dark of night on Nov. 15, the mob surrounded the tiled-roof compound. They carried bows and arrows, spades, axes, iron rods.

“I don’t have that information,” replied a woman who lived in the house, according to a statement she later gave to a local court.

You’re lying, she was told.

In one corner of a tiny windowless room off an inner courtyard, Valsa John Malamel, a Christian nun, hid under a blanket punching numbers into her cellphone.

“Some men have surrounded my house and I am suspecting something foul,” she whispered to a journalist friend who lived several hours’ drive away.

“Escape at any cost,” he says he told her. The call was logged at 10:30 p.m.

She called a friend who lived in the same village.“I have been surrounded on all sides,” she told him, according to his own court statement. Then the line went dead.

Chapter One

The landscape of the Rajmahal Hills in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand unfolds in a scruffy mix of deep-red soil, patchworks of small fields of brown grass, clusters of banana, ficus and palm trees, stands of bamboo, and ponds of murky brown water. It is the heartland of the Santhal and Paharia, two of India’s indigenous tribes.

There are small signs of modern life here. Tribe members carry cellphones. A satellite dish sits on the occasional roof. But ancient, pastoral ways persist. The men hunt rabbit with bows and arrows.

Pachwara sits in the center of the tribal region. The village of about 3,000 stretches for miles. The houses are small compounds surrounded by rickety wooden fences, laundry scattered across the slats. Roofs of red tile or thatch stretch almost to the ground. The walls, once white or light blue, are spattered with clay. Pigs and piglets, goats and kids, chickens and chicks, cows and calves roam and rummage in the mud and leaves. Children, trousers and shoes optional, play on the pathways.

On Nov. 7, Surajmuni Hembrom — a 22-year-old woman with thick eyebrows and a gold stud in her nose – says she set out on foot with her aunt from Pachwara. They headed for a weekly market to buy groceries. After shopping, they took in a bull fight, a favorite pastime of the tribes. Then they started for home, she says.

At a crossroads, they encountered Adwin Murmu, a 24-year-old college student, and three of his friends, she says. They started teasing Surajmuni and urged her to join them.

“Why would I, since I don’t know you?” she says she responded.

One of the men caught her by the hand and pulled her onto a motorbike between him and Mr. Murmu, she says. Her aunt tried to intervene but was pushed away. Surajmuni Hembrom says the men drove her to an abandoned house and left her alone with Mr. Murmu. He pushed her inside, she says, and locked the door.

Then, she contends, “he raped me all night.” (Surajmuni Hembrom gave her consent to be named in this article.)

Surajmuni’s father, an oil and rice dealer in Pachwara, says he and his wife searched that night for their daughter. After a hint from a family friend that she had been seen with Adwin Murmu from the neighboring village of Alubera, the couple walked for two hours before dawn to confront Adwin Murmu’s parents.

Adwin’s father says he told them his son had not brought Surajmuni to the house. He says his son was “tricked into” spending the night with her by his friends. A lawyer for Adwin Murmu says his client didn’t commit rape. Police say the friends are on the run; they couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mayur Patel Kanaiyalal, superintendent of police for Pakur district, which includes the villages of Pachwara and Alubera, says he believes the incident took place but whether it was “with or without consent is still to be investigated.”

Later that day, Surajmuni Hembrom was reunited with her parents. They turned to the person that villagers had sought guidance from for years: Sister Valsa John Malamel.

With a broad jaw and hair pulled back behind her head, Sister Valsa was 53 years old and a member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, a Belgium-based order of nuns. Surajmuni Hembrom, 31 years her junior, was saving $4 a week in the hopes of opening a tailoring business in the village. Despite their differences, the two were especially close.

Surajmuni spent her free time at the compound where Sister Valsa stayed, cooking for her, washing her clothes, and frequently spending the night. If Sister Valsa found something funny in the newspaper, she read it aloud. They laughed about a family in Mizoram state, in India’s northeast, that had 170 members and ate 50 chickens and 50 kilograms of potatoes for one meal.

Sister Valsa’s advice was for Surajmuni Hembrom’s family first to meet with the tribal chiefs, says Surajmuni’s father.

But he says the tribal chiefs said Sister Valsa would decide what to do next. She advised the family to file a complaint at the local police station seven kilometers away.

On Nov. 9, the family and three other villagers went to the police. The officer in charge was Chandrika Paswan. He was standing in for the station chief, who was absent that day. Mr. Paswan refused to accept the family’s complaint. He says in an interview he wasn’t authorized to do so in the absence of his boss. “I told them to settle the matter within their community,” he said.

The villagers returned home. Later that day, Adwin Murmu and his parents showed up at the Hembroms’ house with five villagers and two sons of the local tribal chiefs, both families confirm.

“We are ready to bring Surajmuni to our home as Adwin’s bride,” Adwin’s father says he told the family.

“You want our daughter to marry a criminal?” Surajmuni’s father responded.

On the morning of Nov. 15, Surajmuni Hembrom and her parents returned to the local police station with 13 villagers. The station chief, Banarsi Prasad, also refused to accept their petition, the villagers say.

Instead, they say, he introduced them to a broker who asked the family to accept 50,000 rupees (about $1,000) to settle the matter. The family refused.

The broker confirms the meeting but says he didn’t offer any money. He says he was trying to end the dispute between the families at the request of the police.

Mr. Prasad, the station chief, denies being at the police station that day, saying he was away for police training. He also denies asking a broker to intervene. He claims that, over the phone, he ordered that Surajmuni’s complaint be accepted.

However, his subordinate, Mr. Paswan, says both his boss and the broker were present and that Mr. Prasad, the chief, dealt directly with Surajmuni and the broker.

Dejected, the villagers returned to Sister Valsa’s house to talk about what to do next. They left around 4 p.m. A few hours later, the mob gathered.


Chapter Two

Valsa John Malamel was born in 1958, the seventh child of affluent Christian parents in the southern Indian state of Kerala. She attended a local church regularly as a child.

She studied economics at university in Kochi, a major Keralan port city, and taught at a local school. She was inspired by the work of two nuns from a nearby convent run by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, say family members.

Her father, a metals-company employee who later became a politician, died of a heart attack in 1982. Sister Valsa took it especially hard.

The next year, after graduating, she signed up for the Roman Catholic order of nuns, which was founded in Belgium in 1803 to serve “the poor and the abandoned,” its website says. Out of almost 2,000 nuns, about 400 are Indian. The order runs 55 convents in India, 24 of them in the state of Jharkhand. They are overseen by a provincial office in Ranchi, the state capital.

Sister Valsa first worked in Jharkhand, which was then part of Bihar state, in the late 1980s. A decade later, she was living and teaching at a convent and school in the Jharkhand town of Amrapara. In her spare time she roamed the fields and streams around the village of Pachwara, according to her sisters in the order and family members.

On her rambles, she became friendly with local tribe members – and increasingly sympathetic to the poverty she witnessed there.

In 1998, Sister Valsa moved out of the Amrapara convent and into Pachwara for good. Here she stayed, having apparently found a place where she could accomplish her mission in life: Helping and educating the poor.

She moved into a room in the home of Binej Hembrom. He is the traditional head – or parganaith — of 32 tribal villages including Pachwara. (Many of the villagers share Hembrom as a surname.)

The family already had abandoned the Santhal tribe’s traditional religion to become Protestant Christians. But Binej Hembrom, now 80 years old and almost deaf, continues to fulfill his role as tribal chief during ceremonies and rituals. Those include invoking a deity called “Sing Bonga” in a grove of native “sal” trees.

Sister Valsa “was doing good for the village,” Binej Hembrom said one recent day as he huddled in a blanket in front of the fire in his courtyard.

Sister Valsa did not proselytize, villagers say: there are only a handful of Christians in Pachwara. But she lived as the villagers lived and learned their tribal language, Santhali. She also encouraged them to change their ways.

At the time, adults in the village drank hooch made from the dry husk of the native mahua tree, says Sonea Deheri, a friend of Sister Valsa. Drunk men fought each other for women.

Mr. Deheri says Sister Valsa persuaded him, his wife, and others to stop drinking alcohol. “She would say to us, ‘Follow your culture but live well.’”

Around 2000, Sister Valsa helped the villagers construct their own school, a thatched hut that sits in an open field. She taught there for six years. Today, it is attended by about 170 children.

“We used to live like wild animals,” says Surajmuni Hembrom, who says she was 12 years old when she met Sister Valsa. “But after Sister’s arrival, we learned about living a good life.”

As Sister Valsa visited villagers to persuade them to send their children to the new school, she caught wind of a government survey being conducted of Pachwara and eight other villages for coal reserves, says Shaji Joseph, editor in chief of The Public Agenda, a Hindi-language bi-weekly published from Ranchi.

In an interview he conducted in 2002, Mr. Joseph says Sister Valsa talked about a company that was planning to mine in the area – and of the destitution she felt had been wrought on tribal life by mining projects in other parts of the state.

Jharkhand gained its statehood in 2000 to give greater representation to tribes who have lived there for thousands of years. The state’s name means “forest tract” and more than 30 tribal groups, including the Santhal and Paharia, make up about 28% of the state’s total population of 33 million.

During colonial days, the tribes in Jharkhand mounted several unsuccessful rebellions against the British, who extended their authority to the region in 1765. The British constructed a vast network of railway lines to ship minerals to Kolkata, the original capital of British India, and onward to England to fuel the nation’s booming industrialization.

Jharkhand today is one of the poorest states in India despite being rich in coal and minerals like uranium and iron ore. Pachwara and eight other nearby villages have combined coal reserves of 562 million tons, according to the coal ministry in New Delhi. All of the surrounding Rajmahal Hills area has reserves totaling 14.1 billion tons.

It wasn’t long before the government of the new state sought to extract that coal. It leased out 1,152 hectares of agricultural and forest land to PANEM Coal Mines Ltd. a joint venture between the government-run Punjab State Electricity Board and the privately-run Eastern Minerals & Trading Agency of Kolkata.

The company came to the Pachwara area in 2002. It planned to supply coal to thermal power plants in the state of Punjab, about 1,500 kilometers west, said Bishwanath Dutta, PANEM’s director, in an interview.

The villagers mounted a dogged resistance. Sister Valsa played a central role as an organizer. Their organization was called the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan or Rajmahal Hills Protection Movement.

Her work in rallying the opposition was a turning point in her relationship with the village. It initially strengthened her bond with villagers – and theirs with her – but it also set the course for future friction.

Villagers chased away company officials when they visited the area. They barricaded the roads with gates of bamboo. They stopped police and government officials from entering the village. They kept vigil with bows and arrows.

In 2003, as the standoff intensified, the villagers filed a petition before the High Court of Jharkhand. They claimed they had special rights under a 1949 law which prevents the transfer and sale of tribal land to those from outside the community. They also claimed the government’s action was against their customary right of self-rule, according to court documents.

Two years later, the court ruled against the claims. It said the 1949 law doesn’t stop the government from using its “right of eminent domain” — the power to acquire any private property for public purpose with compensation to the owner.

Sister Valsa and other activists appealed to the Supreme Court of India. Meanwhile, the company started negotiations for a settlement. It already had won over one village near Pachwara by offering higher compensation than the government. It started mining there in late 2005, says Mr. Dutta, PANEM’s director.

The other villages saw little option but to negotiate: They figured the Supreme Court would uphold the Jharkhand court ruling and that support would wane as company funds were distributed, villagers say.

Sister Valsa acted as an intermediary. The two sides reached an agreement in November 2006.

The company promised to provide displaced villagers with alternative shelter and regular income in proportion to the land they lost. It promised a share of mining profits as well as schools, a hospital and a job to a member of each family. And, as the company moved through the area and tapped out coal seams, there were provisions to return the land — restored to cultivable condition — to the original inhabitants before a new mine could open.

In return, the villagers withdrew their court appeal and the Supreme Court made a copy of the agreement part of its records. The central government has since proposed a law that would require mining companies to give equity and royalties to those affected by mines.

Binej Hembrom, the parganaith, signed the agreement on behalf of nine villages. He also headed a committee to oversee the agreement’s implementation. The other members included Sister Valsa and the tribal chiefs of all nine area villages.

The company began distributing a total of 7 million rupees (about $140,000) yearly to displaced families. Sister Valsa supervised the distribution of the money, according to the company and villagers. Most families in the area earn less than $150 a month, villagers say.

Mining money in the last few years has enriched many villagers. Some new amenities have been built. But the company’s arrival – and the protest movement it sparked – was to take a toll on many other aspects of life in Pachwara.


Chapter Three

As Sister Valsa John Malamel became more involved in the anti-mining protest movement around the village of Pachwara in Jharkhand, her relationship frayed with her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

In the early years that she lived in Pachwara, she used to visit the order’s nearby convent in Amrapara every weekend. But her visits ceased in 2006. “She found she didn’t have the time,” says Sister Lilly Pallipurath, who heads the order’s council that oversees the Jharkhand convents from Ranchi, the state capital.

The council summoned Sister Valsa to discuss her absence. It suggested placing her elsewhere. She refused.

Sister Valsa’s church attendance also lagged, though she told her sisters she celebrated the Eucharist when a local priest visited. The sisters worried that she was neglecting her nun’s rituals.

“We always said we approve of her work but about her religious life we were not very happy,” says Sister Lilly, 50 years old.

Sister Valsa would respond: “What is important for me is the life of the people.”

Was Sister Valsa losing her faith?

“If you look at rituals and other things, one would say she had no faith,” says Sister Lilly. “But rituals and timely prayers are not really faith. That she diminished in her faith, I cannot say that. She always felt close to Jesus.”

Sister Valsa also believed her work was closer to the order’s original mission of serving the poor than the life her sisters led inside their convents. And she wasn’t shy about saying so.

“ ‘I am living the life our founder lived,’ she would say,” says Sister Lilly. “She felt she was living it much more than the other sisters. I said, ‘You can’t say that.’ That was not appreciated.”

In Pachwara, too, resentment was building toward Sister Valsa.

Promodini Hembrom is the 42-year-old niece of Binej Hembrom, the tribal chief, and the daughter of his brother, Cornelious. She says that as Sister Valsa’s role as an activist increased, her father and uncle worked at her “beck and call, out of their goodness and ignorance.”

“We used to tell our fathers, ‘You are the head of the villages, how can an outsider make you run like her dogs here and there?’” Promodini Hembrom says. “But they wouldn’t listen. She had made everybody in the village dumb.”

Cornelious Hembrom, 73 years old, says he and his brother supported and helped Sister Valsa because they believed she was “working for the good of the village.”

After the village reached an agreement in 2006 with PANEM, the local mining company, Pachwara was undisturbed by the company’s activities. But PANEM opened two mines in the area, one in Kathaldih, about seven kilometers from Pachwara.

The mine’s entrance is a craggy and desolate terrain of black and gray shiny sludge. Dump trucks and coal trucks roar along the access road. A narrower road leads up a few hundred yards past machinery, workers’ housing, and piles of trash to the company’s offices. Of the almost 600 people employed at Kathaldih, about 400 are local tribal members, a company official says.

The mining takes places in a vast canyon. Its walls are layered like a Himalayan mountainside but they are devoid of green. In the canyon floor, solitary dots of yellow and orange — a mammoth excavating machine, backhoes and trucks — plow through the freshly-blasted earth to extract, load and remove the coal.

The road from the mine to the railway station in the nearby city of Pakur is in constant use. Dozens of trucks move slowly in giant convoys. Traffic jams are frequent as they meet convoys returning to the pit.

As the trucks trundle by, local men play out a gruesome ritual of desperate poverty. They line the roadside, waiting for their moment. When it comes, they climb the walls of the passing truck and throw out what coal they can grab from the high pile in the truck bed. The drivers make no effort to stop them. Back on the roadside, the scavengers scrape up the fallen coal with a long fork, pack it into tall sacks, mount the sacks on bicycles, and push them to market to sell as fuel in tea stalls or homes.

In the early hours of the morning, local women line the roads to scrape bare-handed for what the men leave behind, their blackened fingers probing the deep coal dust for a nugget. Everything, even the garbage, is plastered with soot.

Since 2005, more than 150 villagers have died after being hit by coal trucks, according to the villagers and police officials. Bishwanath Dutta, director of PANEM, says the transportation of coal is handled by contractors from Pachwara and elsewhere in Jharkhand and the company doesn’t have direct knowledge of these incidents.

The mine also has attracted the attention of local Maoist rebels. They are known as Naxalites after the village of Naxalbari in the neighboring state of West Bengal, where their insurrection started in 1967. The rebels seek the overthrow of the Indian state and have won support among some tribal villagers in Jharkhand and across central India where government services are decrepit or don’t exist. The rebels intimidate villages they view as unsympathetic to their cause. And they target police stations and corporate offices.

In 2009, two senior PANEM officials were shot dead while they were on a morning walk. The murders are under investigation. Police suspect the rebels. On Jan. 10, a group of about 20 Maoists attacked the Kathaldih mine, firing indiscriminately. They killed a security guard, police say.

Villagers in Pachwara and surrounding hamlets have earned unprecedented sums through road construction contracts and other benefits offered by the mining company.

But by early last year, Sister Valsa was growing frustrated. She believed PANEM was dragging its feet on key provisions of the 2006 agreement between the company and nine villages that she helped negotiate, according to villagers and her friends.

In a May meeting of the committee that oversees the pact, she demanded that the company build a hospital that, in 2006, it had promised to complete by the end of 2007, says James Murmu, a PANEM official, who was present. He says the company took her demand seriously and has acquired land where the hospital will soon be constructed.

Sister Valsa also was coming into increasing conflict with Pycil Hembrom, the 40-year-old son of Binej, the tribal chief, according to Sister Valsa’s friend, Sonea Deheri, and police documents filed later.

Pycil Hembrom was responsible for distributing company funds to villagers, a process Sister Valsa supervised. But by early 2011, he had begun challenging Sister Valsa’s supervisory role, Mr. Deheri says, and sought to usurp her.

He says Pycil Hembrom wanted to have “complete control” of the process of negotiating with the company, distributing company funds for compensation and welfare programs, dispensing contracts and supervising the implementation of the 2006 agreement. The contracts and compensation were set to increase dramatically when mining began in Pachwara.

Pycil Hembrom was not available for comment. His son, Prem Hembrom, says his father negotiated with the company only when Sister Valsa was away from the village. He added that his father didn’t “want anything for himself from the company.”

The differences between Sister Valsa and Pycil Hembrom caused a broader rift between the villagers. And it left Sister Valsa in a difficult position: Since she had arrived in Pachwara, she had been staying at the home of Pycil Hembrom’s family, where he also lived.

The atmosphere in their shared house soured. Father Tom Kavalakatt, a local priest, says Sister Valsa recounted to him an incident in June when Pycil Hembrom and his elder brother, Anand, were drinking at the house. Anand Hembrom verbally abused Sister Valsa, Father Tom says she told him.

She confided in her friend Mr. Deheri, too. In a statement later filed with a local court, he said Sister Valsa told him in June: “Pycil has started using abusive words against me and is hurting me emotionally.”

In late June, Sister Valsa moved out of the house to a pair of small rooms in a nearby home.

Anand Hembrom denies that he or his brother abused Sister Valsa. He says Sister Valsa “went out of the house peacefully.” But her relations with the village’s most powerful family would never be repaired.


Chapter Four

In July, Sister Valsa John Malamel of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary left the state of Jharkhand for Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala. She went to visit her elder brother, who was suffering from cancer. On Aug.1, he died.

That evening, Sister Valsa phoned her old friend Sister Sudha Varghese, a nun from a different order who runs a girls hostel in Patna, the capital of the state of Bihar.

“She was really down emotionally and physically,” Sister Sudha says of Sister Valsa. Sister Sudha asked her to visit. Sister Valsa accepted and arrived in Patna Aug. 26. She stayed for the next two months.

Sister Valsa spent her days meeting the girls in the hostel and reading books and newspapers. She was weak from chronic malaria and was recovering from typhoid, Sister Sudha says.

Sister Valsa lamented the state of affairs in Pachwara, the village in Jharkhand where she lived. In 2006, she had negotiated a deal with the local mining company, PANEM, that gave benefits to villagers displaced by mining and awarded contracts to local firms. But Sister Valsa had growing doubts about the company’s motives, she told Sister Sudha and other friends.

“She said she was getting in the company’s way and the company was trying to split the group that she had successfully built over the years into two,” says Sister Sudha. Bishwanath Dutta, director of PANEM, denies the allegation.

In the evenings, Sister Valsa talked with her friends in Pachwara by phone. The news was not good.

Sister Valsa had been the villagers’ interlocutor with PANEM since the 2006 agreement was signed. But Pycil Hembrom, son of the tribal chief known as the parganaith, and his supporters wanted to decide for themselves how compensation was distributed, who was awarded contracts, how mining in the area would proceed and how company funds for village development were spent, according to Sister Valsa’s friend Sonea Deheri, police documents and others in Pachwara.

“Didi” – elder sister, in Hindi – “the villagers are speaking against you so you have to be cautious,” Mr. Deheri says he told Sister Valsa in one call. He told her that he had heard threats made against her life.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he says she responded. “I haven’t robbed any money. I am doing service. As long as people want me there, I will be there.”

Before she left Patna, Sister Valsa said to Sister Sudha: “Anything can happen to me.”

Sister Valsa returned to Pachwara Nov. 7. She was met with a hostile reception. Several villagers say Pycil Hembrom organized a blockade that night that stopped trucks from transporting coal from PANEM’s mine in nearby Kathaldih. Their aim: To pressure PANEM into intervening and asking Sister Valsa to leave the village for good.

Mr. Dutta, director of PANEM, says he talked over the phone to Pycil Hembrom the next morning. “It happened while we were drunk and we will open the road immediately,” Pycil Hembrom said, according to Mr. Dutta.

Sajal Kumar Ghosh, a lawyer for Pycil Hembrom, confirms Pycil’s involvement in the blockade but says he doesn’t know about his client’s conversation with Mr. Dutta.

Pycil Hembrom’s cousin, Promodini Hembrom, says Pycil and other family members wanted Sister Valsa to stay away because they didn’t want her interfering in villagers’ dealings with PANEM.

The same night as the blockade, Surajmuni Hembrom, Sister Valsa’s closest friend in the village, says she was raped by Adwin Murmu, a young man from the neighboring village of Alubera.

“He tortured and raped me throughout the night,” she later told police. At 4 a.m. the next morning, Adwin Murmu pulled her out of the house where the alleged incident took place and said, “Run away quickly,” she says. A lawyer for Adwin Murmu denies that his client committed rape. (Surajmuni Hembrom is a distant relative of Pycil Hembrom and Promodini Hembrom. All the Hembrom families in the village trace a common ancestry.)

Sister Valsa recommended Surajmuni Hembrom and her family file a complaint with the police. Over the next week, they were rebuffed twice at the local police station, according to Surajmuni Hembrom, her parents and villagers who accompanied them.

On the afternoon of Nov. 15, Sister Valsa and other friends met at Sister Valsa’s place.

It is a small, tiled-roof compound she shared with a family. Inside the compound’s bamboo gate, an outer courtyard leads to a small passageway where pigeons nest in broken cooking pots tied to the ceiling. The passageway leads to an inner courtyard. Off that courtyard are the living quarters.

The friends talked about what Surajmuni Hembrom should do next to ensure that her rape complaint was registered. Then they dispersed around 4 p.m.

Two hours later, Sister Valsa called her journalist friend Shaji Joseph, chief editor of The Public Agenda, for advice, Mr. Joseph says. He says he suggested that Sister Valsa ask Surajmuni’s family to go to the deputy commissioner – the head administrator — of Pakur district, the area that includes Pachwara.

Later that evening, Sunil Kumar Singh, the deputy commissioner, says he got a call from an acquaintance of Sister Valsa who told him about the police refusal to register the rape complaint.

“I told the caller to bring the girl to my office the next day at 12:30,” Mr. Singh said in an interview.

At 8 p.m., Sister Valsa called her friend Mr. Deheri to ask him to prepare to leave for Mr. Singh’s office the next morning with Surajmuni Hembrom and about a dozen villagers, Mr. Deheri says. He says he called around to alert the group then went to sleep.

Back at the compound, Sister Valsa and Surajmuni Hembrom ate dinner together and had a bedside chat.

“She comforted me, saying ‘If we tread on the path of truth, God will be on our side,’” Surajmuni Hembrom says. They turned in for the night in two different rooms at around 10 p.m., she says. It would be the last time the two friends saw each other.

Not long after, Sonaram Hembrom, whose family lived in the house, returned from his shift as a dump-truck driver at the Kathaldih mine.

“All of a sudden there was a powerful push on the door,” he said in a statement filed later in a local court. About 40 men, armed with primitive weapons – rods, axes, spades – barged into the outer courtyard. They were lit by a partial moon.

Several men pushed further into the compound. Among them, according to the court statements of three witnesses, were Pycil Hembrom and Adwin Murmu, the man who allegedly raped Surajumi Hembrom.

“Where is Sister Valsa?” Adwin Murmu demanded, according to Sonaram Hembrom’s statement.

“I don’t know,” Sonaram Hembrom replied. “I just came back from duty.”

“If you don’t tell, we will kill you,” an unidentified voice threatened.

In her small, dark bedroom Sister Valsa cowered under a blanket. She made frantic calls on her cellphone. The compound was surrounded, she told two friends.

Then, witnesses testified, a voice in the compound shouted: “Found her.”

Then, shouts of “Cut her. Cut her.”

The attackers slashed at Sister Valsa in the doorway separating her two rooms. They cut her from above her left ear to her mouth and on her throat. Then they abandoned her bleeding body in the doorway.

As they fled, they blew whistles, burst firecrackers and shouted “Inqalaab Jindabad” — “Long Live the Revolution.” Near Sister Valsa’s body were scattered a few hand-painted posters, witnesses said.

Soon after, her friend Mr. Deheri rushed in with other villagers. “When we reached, we saw Sister Valsa was dead,” he later testified.

A lawyer for Pycil Hembrom, Adwin Murmu, and five other men allegedly involved says his clients played no part in Sister Valsa’s death.

Word about the murder spread quickly. About 90 minutes later, Gautam Kumar Samanta, a survey officer with PANEM, appeared at the house with Pycil Hembrom and several other villagers.

In an interview, Mr. Samanta says he went with Pycil Hembrom because “he is closely associated with the company and is the son of the parganaith, who is the last word for any matter in the tribal area.”

They stayed at the compound only 10 to 15 seconds, Mr. Samanta says. But before he left, he collected the posters strewn near Sister Valsa’s body.

Each poster was 1.5 x 1.5 feet in size, hand-painted with red ink, he says. They said in Hindi: “Stop looting the people. Punjab’s PANEM go back. Sister Valsa is deceiving the people. Communist Party of India (Maoist).” The party is the official name of the Naxalite rebel movement that has targeted the company in the past.

Mr. Samanta says he took the posters to prevent “terror among the villagers.”

He says he also called the police. They refused to come, saying they had orders not to enter the area at night because of the threat of a Naxalite attack. The next morning, Mr. Samanta says, he gave the police the four posters he had taken from the site of Sister Valsa’s murder.


Chapter Five

The investigation into the murder of Sister Valsa John Malamel in her rooms in the village of Pachwara is still underway.

Arun Oraon, the inspector general of police for the state of Jharkhand, is overseeing the probe. He says police have a theory that there were three different motives that brought together the mob that killed her on the night of Nov. 15.

Adwin Murmu allegedly raped Sister Valsa’s friend, Surajmuni Hembrom, the previous week. He may have known that Surajmuni and her family – at Sister Valsa’s urging – were scheduled to visit the area’s most senior bureaucrat on Nov. 16 after police twice refused to accept her rape complaint, Mr. Oraon says in an interview.

Pycil Hembrom, the son of the tribal chief, and others were fed up with what they viewed as Sister Valsa’s interference in their ability to negotiate directly with the local mining company, PANEM, Mr. Oraon says.

PANEM, which operates two mines in the Pachwara area, hands out contracts and benefits to local villagers. Sister Valsa oversaw the payments but Pycil Hembrom wanted to be PANEM’s point person in Pachwara, according to villagers and the police.

Six of the seven suspects, including Pycil Hembrom, hold contracts from the company, ranging from housing and road construction to the transportation of coal from the nearby Kathaldih mine, according to Gautam Kumar Samanta, a senior PANEM official, and the suspects’ lawyer.

“Pycil and others thought they will make maximum money in the absence of Sister Valsa’s supervision and monitoring,” Mr. Oraon says.

Police also believe there were perhaps two dozen Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, in the mob when Sister Valsa was killed.

The rebels may have wanted to create “fear psychosis” among the villagers so that they joined the rebel movement, Mr. Oraon says. He notes that in the wake of Sister Valsa’s murder, many villagers abandoned their houses and hid in the forests after police began investigating.

“That’s the rebels’ strategy: To get villagers to support them by creating an environment of distrust and fear of government authorities,” he says.

On Nov.17, two days after Sister Valsa’s murder, police finally accepted Surajmuni Hembrom’s rape complaint against Adwin Murmu.

On Nov.18, Jharkhand police suspended Banarsi Prasad, the local police chief, for dereliction of duty. Disciplinary action has been launched against him. Mr. Oraon says that, as the head of station, it was Mr. Prasad’s duty to ensure that Surajmuni Hembrom’s rape complaint was registered the first time she tried to make it. Mr. Prasad declined comment on his suspension and the disciplinary action.

On Nov.19 and 20, police arrested Pycil Hembrom, Adwin Murmu, and five others from the villages of Pachwara and nearby Alubera in connection with their alleged involvement in Sister Valsa’s murder.

On Nov. 21, police filed a petition with a local court asking that the suspects be remanded in judicial custody. In the petition, the police say the suspects had confessed to “having killed Sister Valsa due to money disputes and other disputes in the past.”

The suspects were taken into custody. Five remain in jail, two have been released on bail. They have not been formally charged; police must file charges by Feb. 15.

Sajal Kumar Ghosh, the lawyer representing all of them, says the police have not been able to establish any “intention behind the murder.”

Mr. Ghosh says his clients were tortured by police to make false confessions. He also notes that confessions before the police aren’t permissible in Indian court cases. He says all of his clients are innocent. He also says that Adwin Murmu denies he raped Surajmuni Hembrom.

Promodini Hembrom, Pycil Hembrom’s cousin, says she visited him in jail. Her brother is also one of the accused. She says the men also told her they were “excessively tortured by policemen to make false confessions.”

She says the seven accused were friends who “liked to eat, drink and party but they are not the ones who would kill anybody.”

Mr. Oraon denies police coerced the suspects into falsely confessing.

On Nov. 21, a local Maoist commander, Ramesh Soren, denied in phone calls to reporters that the rebels were involved in the murder, according to Manohar Lal, a local reporter for The Pioneer newspaper, who received a call.

Mr. Oraon, the police official, says Mr. Soren is a new member of the Maoists and that the rebels who were at the Pachwara compound were directed from a higher level of the organization. Police say they are hunting for the suspects.

G.S. Rath, the director general of Jharkhand police, says police also are looking into whether PANEM, the mining company, played a role in Sister Valsa’s murder.

Bishwanath Dutta, PANEM’s director, denies any company participation. “The allegations by the people that the company had connived to kill Sister Valsa are totally absurd,” he said.

As of mid-January, Sister Valsa’s rooms in the small compound where she lived in Pachwara were largely untouched although the site of her murder has been cleaned of blood.

A large metal trunk and a red plastic table occupy the first room, a 10-feet-by-10-feet square. On one wall, a plank suspended from the ceiling by rope holds crumpled copies of a newspaper from Nov. 14, the day before she was killed. Another shelf on another wall holds small pots of coconut hair oil, calamine lotion and Ponds cold cream.

The second room is near pitch black. A candle illuminates a charpoy — a low wooden bed with stretched cloth strips for a mattress – as well as a small gas stove with two burners, jars of herbs and powdered spices, and a large box of Nestle creamer.

Sister Valsa was buried in a public Christian cemetery in the town of Dumka, two hours’ drive from Pachwara. About 700 villagers, nuns and priests attended the funeral, including 30 nuns from her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

In a prayer at the funeral service, the congregation said: “We believe that she has returned to the Heavenly Father after completing her mission here on Earth.”

A simple wooden cross is stuck in a large pile of reddish-brown soil that covers Sister Valsa’s coffin. Nowhere does the grave bear her name.

Back in Pachwara, Surajmuni Hembrom’s father says he is looking for “a suitable man who agrees to marry with Surajmuni after knowing all that has happened to her.”

But he says he doubts whether any man will come forward. “We are ready to keep her with us all our life,” he says.

Surajmuni Hembrom says she has been hiding out of fear at relatives’ houses. “Had Sister Valsa been here, I would have been fearless” she says. She still wants to train as a tailor. But as twilight descended on the village one January day, she tended to a small herd of cows with a switch. She wore a plaid shawl against the winter chill.

“Whenever she used to be with me and be free, we had lots of fun,” she says of Sister Valsa.

Then Surajmuni Hembrom, and the cows, wandered away.



Kractivism-Gonaimate Videos

Protest to Arrest

Faking Democracy- Free Irom Sharmila Now

Faking Democracy- Repression Anti- Nuke activists


Kamayaninumerouno – Youtube Channel


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,224 other subscribers

Top Rated

Blog Stats

  • 1,869,412 hits


February 2012
%d bloggers like this: