‘Free Waqar’ online campaign- An example of Kracktivism


‘Free Waqar’ online campaign gains momentum

Amnesty International gives its stamp by recognising it as an instance of rampant police and state repression in Kashmir

 March 29 , Baba Umar 
New Delhi


Organisers of the global ‘Free Waqar’ online campaign launched from Kashmir to push for the release of a 22-year-old commerce student —Waqar Ahmad Moharkan—has won its first battle after Amnesty International (AI) termed the youth’s detention as “yet another depressing reminder of the lack of rule of law in Kashmir.” Waqar was reportedly captured by the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police on 4 October, 2011, after they raided his Lal Bazaar house in downtown Srinagar and slapped him with the notorious Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA) on charges that include participating in protests against government forces “for three years”.

In an email sent to TEHELKA, AI’s Govind Acharya (India Country Specialist) said the “widespread and abusive use” of administrative detention like the PSA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) “reinforces the deeply held perception in young people like Waqar that police and security forces are above the law”. “Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the J&K government to release all PSA detainees or to charge them with a criminal offence,” Acharya tells TEHELKA.

The campaigners of the first-of-its kind online movement have literary taken the internet by storm having covered all social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. Besides, a website freewaqar.org, created to draw more supporters, is fast becoming a rage among the youth in Kashmir and outside. On entering the site, a message reads, “Waqar Ahmad is in Indian jail since 176 days, 12 hours, 33 minutes and 20 seconds”—the duration of his imprisonment advances with every tick of the clock that’s live. And then details of Waqar’s passing from various jails after his arrest, petitions, bail order, and PSA document forms the body of the web page. The campaign reminds Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of his promises of granting ‘amnesty’ to 1200 youth arrested during and after the 2010 civil unrest.

A newspaper article published by the campaigners on the web page too shows Waqar’s name among 29 other youths who were to be released by the police on CM’s orders. Operated solely online, the campaign already on Facebook and Twitter (#FreeWaqar) is being pushed forward through petition sites such as ipetitions.com and change.org. ipetitions.com, however, decided to take the petition down citing “legal issues” as key reason.

“Within 24 hours of posting our petition we had nearly 500 signatures. The site, however, wanted to take down the petition giving us 48 hours of time to download the data,” one campaigner wishing anonymity tells TEHELKA.

petition meant for Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch (HRW) posted on change.org, however, has already crossed the 1000 signature mark. Posted by a Mumbai-based activist, the petition (reproduced from freewaqar.org) seeks AI and HRW’s intervention to “take up the case of Waqar’s wrongful, illegal and oppressive treatment at the hands of the Indian state.”

AI’s Acharya asserted such laws are “not in line with international human rights standards” and says that “We’ve repeatedly called on the J&K government to repeal the PSA and other similar administrative detention laws.”

Campaign organisers, who wish anonymity, tell TEHELKA that the campaign aims to educate people about “how Kashmir government can lie about releasing someone without actually doing it.”

Despite the courage, the campaigners fear police reprisals.

“Our efforts are not directed against anyone. We want the state to keep its word. Omar Abdullah had agreed to release him (Waqar), but instead they re-arrested him. The state chief minister had promised release of 1200 youth which he had called ‘mass amnesty’ in one of his statements. But students like Waqar are rotting in jails. Waqar was seized in Srinagar but has been detained 300 km away in Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail. By this they are punishing the parents as well.”

It’s for the first time that an online campaign has come up seeking release of an individual. In Kashmir, online protests became a norm during the 2008 civil unrest. Angry protesters, mostly young, who would march across the streets of Kashmir demanding Azadi from New Delhi, had taken the battle to the online world too. Thousands of amateur and raw videos flashing long marches, troops’ action and killings went viral forcing the government to pull down some of the videos from YouTube that it considered were “highly critical” in nature. The challenge was thrown once again during 2009 protests over the alleged rape and murder of two women in Shopian province. And then in 2010, the civil unrest leading to the killing of over 125 people, mostly youth, at the hands of government forces, re-ignited the virtual campaign in Kashmir.

In Waqar’s case, the online battle is being fought using all forms of art. For example, on goanimiate.com, an animation ‘Faking Democracy-Free Waqar Now’ posted by ‘Kracktivist’ has already drawn more than 270 views. The two-minute-long animationposted on 16 March simulates an interview of an NBA player who is a supporter of Free Waqar Campaign and explains to the interviewer the rationale behind supporting the online movement.

With such anger brewing, how are the police looking at the campaign?

“We always monitor such activities,” a top police official tells TEHELKA over phone. He claimed that Waqar, apart from pelting stones, might also have participated in updating the prominent Facebook Kashmiri Community page Aalaw (The Call)—known for its fiery pro-Kashmir and anti-government posts, which went through many unsuccessful attempts at being blocked before.

“The investigation is on. We’ve found Aalaw was run by a group of four youngsters of which Waqar might be a part. We’re not 100 per cent sure but we are waiting for further details,” he claims adding, “The new campaign could be a part of the same tirade against the state.”

Caught in the crossfire, with the online campaign on the one hand and police warnings on the other, Waqar’s parents feel any sort of “malice” will hurt their son directly or indirectly. “Our family isn’t a part of this campaign. We don’t even know who is doing it. Their intentions may be good but yes, any malice will affect my son. I only want my son free. But look at the irony… I dropped my son to the police station on the promise that he’ll be released after brief questioning. Six months have passed, he still remains in detention,” says Waqar’s father Khursheed Ahmad Moharkan.

The elder Moharkan says if Waqar was leading stone pelting for three years, then what about lakhs of youths who pelt stone on Kashmir streets even now? He also mocks the charges slapped against Waqar. “Now that he (Waqar) is jail, stone pelting still takes place in Kashmir. Who are these people? Does my son incite them from jail? The police theory falls flat here. I am begging before them (police). They (police) better stop projecting my son as Osama bin Laden.”

Waqar’s father is, in the meanwhile, looking forward to 9 April when the state government will file objections in the Srinagar high court against the petition he has filed seeking quashing of the PSA against Waqar. “Let’s see what they have to show against my son. Myane Tarfe Chu Khudah (I’ve God on my side),” he says before hanging up the phone.

Baba Umar is a Correspondent with Tehelka. 
babaumar@tehelka.com

Why have we banished our own brethren?


SHURA DARAPURI, in The Hindu

On the eve of the moving of the Draft Constitution in 1949, Dr. Ambedkar expressed his insurmountable fear over the existing inequalities in Indian society. He observed:

“On 26th Jan 1950 we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man and one vote, one value. In our social and economic life we shall by reason of our social and economic structure continue to deny the principle of one man, one value.”

Dr. Ambedkar was well aware of the discrimination faced by Dalits due to the institutionalised caste system. He said: “On the social plane, we have an India based on the principles of graded inequality, which means elevation of some and degradation of others. On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty.”

Dr. Ambedkar’s observations were true, made on the basis of some of his own painful experiences, when way back in 1918 in spite of attaining high educational qualifications he was not allowed to drink water from a pot ‘reserved’ for the high caste professorial staff at Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Dr. Ambedkar realised then that education had not succeeded in bringing out the desired attitudinal change in most of the “upper” caste people towards Dalits. “Upper caste” in village or city even with the highest degrees shared the same mindset when issues of Dalits emerged.

Only recently, on 15 February 2012, at Daulatpur village in Haryana’s Uklana region, a Dalit youth had to face the wrath of an upper caste when in a bid to quench his thirst he drank water from a pot located on his premises. Once his caste became known, his hand was chopped off with a sickle. Even though we are living in the 21 century and make claims of having the world’s largest democracy, there is little change in the attitude of the upper caste towards Dalits, literate or illiterate.

Surveys* show that 27.6% of Dalits are still prevented from entering police stations and 25.7% from entering ration shops. Thirty-three per cent of public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes, and 23.5% of Dalits still do not get letters delivered in their homes. Segregated seating arrangements for Dalits are found in 30.8% of self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6% of panchayat offices. In 14.4% of villages, Dalits are not permitted even to enter the panchayat building. In 12% of villages, they are denied access to polling booths or forced to form a separate line.

In 48.4% of villages, Dalits are still denied access to common water sources. In 35.8%, they are denied entry into village shops. They are supposed to wait at some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers keep the goods they bought on the ground, and accept their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, again in about one-third of the villages, Dalits are denied seating and are required to use separate cups. In as many as 73% of the villages, they are not permitted to enter non-Dalit homes, and in 70% of villages non-Dalits do not eat together with Dalits.

In more than 47% villages, bans operate on wedding processions on public (arrogated to upper caste) roads. In 10 to 20% of villages, Dalits are not allowed even to wear clean, bright or fashionable clothes or sunglasses. They are not allowed to ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear sandals on public roads, smoke or even stand without the head bowed.

Restrictions on temple entry average as high as 64%, ranging from 47% in Uttar Pradesh to 94% in Karnataka. In 48.9% of the surveyed villages, Dalits are barred from access to the cremation grounds.

In 25% of the villages, Dalits are paid lower wages than other workers. They are often subjected to much longer working hours, delayed wages, verbal and even physical abuse, not just in ‘feudal’ States like Bihar but also notably in Punjab. In 37% of the villages, Dalit workers are paid wages from a distance, to avoid physical contact.

In 35% of villages, Dalit producers are still barred from selling their produce in local markets. Instead, they are forced to sell it in the anonymity of distant urban markets where caste identities somewhat blur, imposing additional burdens of costs and time, and reducing their profit margin and competitiveness.

Just because they happen to be born in the “wrong community,” Dalit families are subjected to some of the extreme forms of humiliation and degradation generation after generation. They are treated as worse than animals. So much so, now most of them have internalised discrimination as their fate and they dare not raise voice against their tormentor for fear of punishment. For, they know even if they protest they have no hope of getting justice. That is because a majority of the positions in the government set-up are occupied by the “upper castes.”

And even if with great difficulty a lower caste person tries to make it to those positions, he is kept out through shrewd manipulations. Between 1950 and 2000, 47% of Chief Justices and 40% of judges were of Brahmin origin, according to a parliamentary committee report. In order to continue their monopoly over important positions, upper caste people have fought tooth and nail using all possible means to keep Dalits from even dreaming of aspiring for those positions.

To break the domination of upper castes, it became necessary to introduce affirmative action for and positive discrimination of Dalits, as part of the policy of the government. But implementing positive discrimination has not been an easy task and many seats reserved exclusively for Dalits still remain vacant, again because of the shrewd manipulations of the dominating castes.

In spite of traditions of high educational qualifications, many feign ignorance of the constitutional laws; rather they do not want to understand them because of their vested interests. In spite of glaring atrocities against Dalits, they are reluctant to share with them positions their families have been holding for ages. Complicity of the state makes situation worse, allowing crime against Dalits continue. Equality remains on paper.

Even today, given a chance many still do not hesitate to shift all the blame on the colonial regime for most of the ills existing in Indian society, especially for dividing the country. The British government even today is being accused of making a mockery of civilisation and its principles by its hypocritical actions. But now their place is taken over by our own country brethren, the only difference being ‘hypocritical action’ is directed against their own countrymen.

Some of the “upper castes,” it seems, are bent on leaving behind Britishers when it comes to the issues of oppression. Dalits are targeted most because the perpetrators are aware that they are not empowered. On July 11, 1997, sub-inspector M.Y. Kadam left General Dyer of Jallianwalabagh massacre behind, when he fired shots at his own countrymen and co-religionist Dalit protesters, above the waist, who had gathered in Ramabai colony in Mumbai in protest against desecration of Dr Ambedkar’s statue.

Moral and ethical issues and democratic values get subordinated in the face of corruption perpetuated by the oppressive caste system. There is not even the remotest desire to make democracy more functional. The caste system with graded inequality remains popular amongst those whose privileges are associated with it. For the same reason, the idea of egalitarian society fails to gain currency in their quarters. Lessons like, “United we stand and divided we fall” are hard to learn and even if by mistake they are learnt, they become hard to implement. Caste is meant to divide, not unite. A nation which lost its freedom on that account should be cautious, lest its divisions drive it to a state of subservience to an alien rule again. What ‘hidden pride’ lies in discriminating against and oppressing one’s own countrymen and co-religionists is hard to discern.

* (The details of the surveys have been sourced from the book, Untouchability in Rural India, authored by Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar published by SAGE Publications, New Delhi,2006).

(The writer is Head, Department of History, BBAU, Lucknow, Email ID is: shuradarapuri@ gmail.com)

 

 

Letter to PM on Koodankulam – from Atul Chokshi


March 27, 2012
Dear Shri Manmohan Singh:

I am writing to express my deep concern and sorrow at the recent developments in Kudankulam and Idhitikarai.  While there can be vigorous debate and disagreement on nuclear energy, as a country formed with democratic ideals India surely cannot allow repressive action against a group of non-violent people who oppose the nuclear plant at Koodankulam.The use of massive police force to intimidate villagers, and the reported blocking of water and food to the village is unacceptable.

Although new nuclear plants are perhaps safer than those constructed decades ago, it is impossible to rule out a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant, despite the considerable attention devoted to reducing risk in such complex and large-scale engineering designs.  This is tacitly acknowledged by all Governments that try to locate such plants in regions away from “large” population centers.

Furthermore, the understanding of potential risk and damage is implicit in the continuing push to limit liability by corporations and countries wishing to sell nuclear power plants.  It is important to note that the single nuclear accident in Fukushima is estimated to cost $250 billion, or more.  These large estimates of damage pale in comparison with the Rs. 1,500 crore ($300 million) limit of liability in India which the foreign providers find unacceptable, and whose objections the Govt is apparently trying to
accommodate.

As citizens, a group of villagers who are concerned about potential risks with nuclear power surely deserve at least the same, if not more, courtesy as foreign providers of nuclear power plants whose demands appear to be attended to with alacrity.

The concerned citizens near the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, and others near future planned plants, deserve your serious attention.Without meaningful discussion,  a significant number of citizens who are directly affected by such projects are feeling left out of the democratic process.  Note that several countries are now moving towards local consent-based approaches to nuclear power and related issues, and this seems appropriate also for India.

The large scale and dramatic increase in nuclear power over the next several decades envisioned by the Govt appears to have been planned without broad consultation and serious consideration of recent developments in other energy sources.  The Koodankulam imbroglio, together with the Fukushima disaster, provides an opportunity to pause and initiate a greater public debate on energy needs and possible means of satisfying these needs in as benign a manner as possible, so that citizens can participate meaningfully in the process, without feeling alienation caused by policies being rammed down on their lives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Atul Chokshi
Professor
Indian Institute of Science,

Bangalore

Afghanistan: Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’


Kabul – The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’ in Afghanistan,” is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era ofwomen’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

“Running away,” or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, but the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals. Zina is a crime under Afghan law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described abuses including forced and underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping, and murder threats. Virtually none of the cases had led even to an investigation of the abuse, let alone prosecution or punishment.

One woman, Parwana S. (not her real name), 19, told Human Rights Watch how she was convicted of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her: “I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.”

Human Rights Watch said that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them at every stage. Police arrest them solely on a complaint of a husband or relative. Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women makes violence against women a criminal offense. But the same police, prosecutors, and judges who work zealously to lock up women accused of “moral crimes” often ignore evidence of abuse against the accused women, Human Rights Watch said.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said. “Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

Abusive prosecution of “moral crimes” is important to far more than the approximately 400 women and girls in prison or pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said. Every time a woman or girl flees a forced marriage or domestic violence only to end up behind bars, it sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue.

The plight of women facing domestic violence is made still worse by archaic divorce laws that permit a man simply to declare himself divorced, while making it extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce, Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government made a commitment to reform these laws in 2007 under its National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, and a committee of experts drafted a new Family Law that would improve the rights of women. This new law, however, has been on hold with the government since 2010, with no sign of movement toward passage.

“It is long past time for Afghanistan to act on its promises to overhaul laws that make Afghan women second-class citizens,” Roth said. “Laws that force women to endure abuse by denying them the right to divorce are not only outdated but cruel.”

By maintaining discriminatory laws on the books, and by failing to address due process and fair trial violations in “moral crimes” cases, Afghanistan is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law. United Nations expert bodies and special rapporteurs have called for the repeal of Afghanistan’s “moral crimes” laws. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has called on Afghanistan to “abolish laws, including those related to zina, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Afghanistan to “[r]emove so-called moral offences as a crime and release children detained on this basis.”

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,” Roth said. “President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights.”

Appeal for Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser


Allow Woeser the freedom to express and to travel”

As individuals from Asia who have received the Prince Claus Award in past years, we deeply regret that Tsering Woeser, the Tibetan writer and historian, has been prevented from receiving the Prince Claus Award for 2011 in Beijing by the Chinese authorities. Not only was Woeser denied the opportunity to receive the award from the Dutch Ambassador to China, her movements within Beijing have been restricted.

The Prince Claus Award for 2011 was given to Woeser as a ‘cultural pioneer’ who uses poetry and social media to highlight the challenges faced by the Tibetan people. She was recognised for speaking on behalf of “those who are silenced and oppressed, for her compelling combination of literary quality and political reportage, for recording, articulating and supporting Tibetan culture.”

We, five past recipients of the Prince Claus Award from Asia, believe that Tsering Woeser represents the finest ideals of the human spirit, represented in her intellectual independence and courage to speak out in the face of danger. We support Woeser’s yearning for open society and respect her all the more for remaining located in Beijing, in an attempt to bring about change from within. Woeser’s deep humanity is revealed in her recent appeal against the self-immolations that are occurring in and around Tibet.

We demand that the Chinese authorities in Beijing allow Woeser to receive the Prince Claus Award in an open ceremony. We also ask that the restrictions on her blogs and her poetry be lifted, as also restrictions on her freedom of travel inside and outside the country.

Signed by Prince Claus laureates: Arif Hasan (Karachi, Pakistan), Ganesh Devy (Vadodara, India), Jyotindra Jain (New Delhi, India), Kanak Mani Dixit (Kathmandu, Nepal) and Mehrdad Oskouei (Tehran, Iran).

Issued in Kathmandu, 29 March 2012

Contact: Kanak Mani Dixit, +977-9851053209, dixitkanak@yahoo.com

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