Soni Sori’s “Crime” in the Land of the Robber Barons

Member of Odisha state legislature Jhina Hikaka (2nd R), accompanied by his wife Kaushalya Majhi (3rd R), walks towards Balipeta village in Koraput district after being released by Maoist rebels on 26 April 2012. (Photo: AFP – STR)

By: Amrit Wilson

Published Sunday, April 29, 2012

Describing Maoists as the “most formidable threat” to the country’s security, India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has recently been emphasizing the need for more “men, weapons, and vehicles” to fight terrorism and establish a new National Counter-Terrorism Center. While the chief ministers of some regional state governments (particularly those ruled by opposition parties) have opposed Chidambaram, there can be no doubt that like him, they too feel that more must be spent on repression. Simply, they want to keep the control of “security” in their states in their own hands.

But why, with billions of rupees already being spent on counter-terrorism activities, is more now needed? Is the government really facing a “formidable threat?” And what is it like to be at the receiving end of the government’s security forces? Soni Sori’s experiences provide some answers to these questions.

Sori, an Adivasi (indigenous) school teacher from a small town in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, is in prison charged with aiding Maoists.

Her story highlights not only the horrific human rights abuses at the hands of Indian security forces but, in a variety of ways, illuminates the collective experience of the majority of the population of Chhattisgarh, and indeed of a wide swathe of central India. Until recently, this region of deep forests and beautiful mountains, which includes not only Chhattisgarh but also the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh had been ignored by India’s engines of “development.” Similarly to colonial times, still today there are few schools or hospitals and malnutrition levels in these states are some of the highest in the world.

However, in the last decade and a half the riches under the ground, particularly coal, iron, and aluminum, have drawn the attention of global capital and the region is now buzzing with mining companies, security forces to clear the way for them, and international NGOs. Multinationals such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, South Korea’s POSCO, the Indian-owned Essar, and many more are all there seeking their share of the spoils.

These companies are taking over fertile agricultural land and sacred sites and uprooting whole villages. They are displacing thousands of indigenous people – robbing them of their homes, destroying their livelihoods and culture, and reducing them to refugees in their own country. With little concern for India’s environmental laws, many of these companies are also destroying the land itself, not only for now but for generations to come, as they rip off the topsoil and pollute rivers and streams for miles with toxic effluents and poisonous mud.


If in the colonial era guns accompanied foreign appropriation, today independent India’s neoliberal state has gathered the full force of its repressive machinery and military power to ensure that global capital can plunder the country. On roads built specially for the purpose the paramilitary, police commandos and recently the army have invaded the region targeting all resistance – be this in the form of people’s movements, guerrilla groups, or even individual dissenters such as human rights activists and journalists. 

India’s central belt is also the scene of what has been described as a veritable zoo of paramilitary forces: “Black Cats” (Indian Special Response Unit specializing in counter-terrorism) who provide VIP security, “Cobras” (Command Battalion for Resolute Action), Grey Hounds, Scorpions, and others. In addition, there is the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Border Security Force (BSF) well-known for their brutality in Kashmir and India’s north eastern states. As if this were not enough, there have also been armed vigilante groups – among them the notorious “Salwa Judum” which was set up with initial funding from steel companies Tata and Essar. Supposedly, it has now disbanded in response to popular protests.

The multinationals also have their own private armies. Female members of Tata’s militia were photographed attacking and disrobing indigenous women protesters in Odisha. There are also the untrained Special Police Officers, notorious for their cruelty and arbitrary violence.

Meanwhile, like the missionaries of the last century, international NGOs are active, often seeming to divert the energies of those who oppose the mining companies and attempting to literally buy up many of the activists who resist the corporates with offers of jobs, perks, and free Tata Sumo four-wheel drives.

The multinationals, the Indian government, and international NGOs work in cosy collaboration, supported by agencies like Britain’s Department of International Development for whom both Odisha and Chhattisgarh are “focus states.” The aluminium company Vedanta is an example. It has been engaged in an epic battle with the indigenous Dongria Kondh communities in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha over the destruction of thousands of acres of fertile agricultural land in a region which has seen famines every year since 2007. Drinking water sources have been contaminated by its dumping of fly ash and toxic red mud into river streams, and thousands of indigenous people have been displaced.


Vedanta has the support of various arms of the British government which helped float it on the London Stock Exchange. It also has an interesting relationship with the international NGO Action Aidwhich on the one hand, appears to oppose it vociferously, and on the other has praised it for its “good work” in the Niyamgiri area and has received funds from the company’s subsidiary Sterlite. 

Vedanta has been consistently confronted by the indigenous communities. Armed with little more than their anger, courage, and strength of spirit, the Dongria Kondh people have fought back over the last seven years with massive blockades and protests. Their powerful people’s movement has won some victories, most notably in August 2010, when the Indian government, under enormous pressure, prevented Vedanta from mining bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills.

While people’s movements are taking on the mining giants, Maoist guerrillas are also active in this region. Though some villagers have been drawn to them, many are alienated by their acts of indiscriminate violence – attacking and derailing trains carrying ordinary, not particularly well-off, citizens, for example, or sporadically killing not only police and paramilitary officers but also Adivasi villagers and taking hostages to try to negotiate freedom for Maoist prisoners. Their approach to the multinational companies is contradictory, while they have attacked an Essar pipeline, for example, they have also been exposed (by WikiLeaks) for taking protection money from the same company. While both Essar and Maoists spokespersons have denied this, some local people say the news is merely a confirmation of what they had long suspected.

Whatever the truth is, it is clear that the presence of Maoists has allowed for protesters to be killed and their bodies dumped in the forest, eventually to be identified as “Maoists” who have been killed in “armed encounters.” The Maoist presence is also a pretext for the military occupation of the whole region.

Behind the propaganda about the state’s war against Maoists, and obscured by it at times, lies the reality of India’s central belt where the robber barons of global capital dictate the terms.

On a day-to-day level no one knows who may turn up on their doorstep or accost them in the market place, a police officer ordering them to become an informer, a Maoist recruiter, or a Special Police Officer who may kill them to make up their quota of dead Maoists. Yet this scene has been set by those apparently benign men in suits who run the corporations.

For Soni Sori and her family, the terrifying shadow of this war has deepened since the summer of 2009 when her 25-year-old nephew Lingaram turned down recruitment by the Maoists. Soon afterwards he was arrested, tortured, and pressurized to become a Special Police Officer. He was released after his family filed a Habeas Corpus petition and he then fled to Delhi. In July 2010, her husband was imprisoned as an alleged Maoist. In April 2011, 300 homes were razed to rubble in a three-day police operation. Lingaram, who had been speaking out about these atrocities and had by this time finished a short course in journalism, returned to Chhattisgarh to film and write about the lives of the people. Police harassment of the family intensified.


Then on 14 June 2011 armed Maoists attacked Sori’s 70-year-old father’s house, shot him in the leg, and ransacked his home. On September 9, Lingaram and Sori were both charged with couriering money from Essar to the Maoists and Lingaram was arrested. 

At this point, managing to somehow leave her three young children at different relatives’ houses, Sori fled to Delhi to seek legal help. While there, she spoke out about the human rights abuses in the state. Within days she was arrested and remanded to the custody of the Chhattisgarh Police who were directed to “ensure her safety.” How they did this has now been exposed by human rights activists and confirmed by the doctors who examined her following an order issued by India’s Supreme Court.

Under the direct orders of the Chhattisgarh Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, she had been verbally abused, stripped naked, given electric shocks, beaten, and sexually assaulted with stones and batons. The medical examination revealed annular tears to her spine and stones lodged inside her vagina and rectum.

Such is the Kafkaesque nature of India’s system of justice, that on India’s Republic Day, the Prime Minister bestowed one of India’s top police medals on Garg – for gallantry.

Sori is still being held in jail in Chhattisgarh and is being denied access to medical care while she continues to fight for her survival.

As she begins her seventh month in prison, those campaigning for Sori have published her letters from prison on the Internet. In them she exposes the details of what has happened to her in custody and writes, “I am willing to die but I did not commit any crime.” As civil liberties groups and women’s organizations remind us, she criticized the human rights abuses of the state and this can be considered a “crime” in the “world’s largest democracy.”

Amrit Wilson is a writer, feminist activist and political commentator.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.

Immediate Release- Koondankulam hunger strike and demands

May 2, 2012
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) has embarked upon the fourth round of indefinite hunger strike from May 1, 2012 at Idinthakarai with the following demands:
[1] The ongoing work at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) must be halted and the following steps must be taken immediately.
[2] As the Central Information Commission (CIC) has instructed the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), the Safety Analysis Report and the Site Evaluation Report must be released to the public immediately. And the full and final post-Fukushima safety audit report must also be released to the press and the public.
[3] A new and comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report must be commissioned as the one that the DAE has released after 23 years of struggle is incomplete, erroneous and outdated. The Tamil and Malayalam translations of the new EIA must be shared with the local people and the Press in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
[4] The opinions and preferences of the project-affected people must be heard by a competent authority in an open, transparent and democratic manner to understand the fears and concerns of the people.
[5] An independent national committee must be constituted to study the issues of geology, hydrology, oceanography and seismology involved in the Koodankulam nuclear power plant.
[6] Disaster management training and evacuation exercises must be conducted in the 30-km radius of the Koodankulam plants and beyond  in the wake of the recent earthquake all over Tamil Nadu and India.
[7] A Tamil Nadu State Assembly Resolution must be passed that the Pechipparai dam water from Kanyakumari District and the Tamirabharani river water from Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi Districts will not be taken for the KKNPP reactors.
[8] A copy of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on liability secretly signed between the governments of India and Russia must be made available to the project-affected public.
[9] Complete and truthful information must be given to the local people and the citizens of India about nuclear waste that would be produced at the Koodankulam plants and its management.
[10] All the false cases against the members of the struggle committee and the common people must be withdrawn immediately and unconditionally. Our friends who are still languishing in prison, Muhilan and Sathishkumar, must be released immediately.
[11] The local people’s right to protest peacefully and nonviolently against the KKNPP and other related issues must be respected and honored. And no more false cases and other intimidatory exercises should be used against the struggling people.
The indefinite hunger strike will be broadened and strengthened on May 4 with the participation of hundreds of women from the neighboring villages. We remain open to dialogue with the government officials and would entertain such efforts. But we demand a written agreement with a definite action plan and clear timeline. We request you to do the needful in support of our cause.
The Struggle Committee,
People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)

Karzai’s backing of strict Islamic code (that allows men to beat their wives)

  It is a giant step back for women’s rights in Afghanistan

  • Activists worried women’s rights being used as bargaining chip in negotiations with the Taliban
  • New code promotes segregation of the sexes


Reversal: Afghan president Hamid Karzai has backed a strict code of conduct for women in the countryReversal: Afghan president Hamid Karzai has backed a strict code of conduct for women in the country

Activists have accused the Afghan president of reversing improvements in women’s rights after he endorsed a strict ‘code of conduct’ issued by clerics.

Hamid Karzai yesterday backed a document issued by the Ullema Council which promotes segregation of the sexes and allows husbands to beat wives in certain circumstances.

The move is seen as part of his attempts to reach out to the Taliban in the lead up to the planned withdrawal of Nato troops from the Afghanistan in 2014.

But activists are furious that gains made in women’s rights since the 2001 invasion and ensuing occupation are being used as a bargaining chip with Islamic extremists.

Prior to the 2001 U.S. invasion, girls were banned from going to school and women forced to wear burkas to conceal them from head to toe.

Women were also banned from venturing from their homes being escorted by a male relative.

Similarly, the new ‘code of conduct’ says women should not travel without a male companion and they should not mingle with men in places like schools, markets or offices.

Wife-beating is only prohibited if there is no ‘Shariah-compliant reason’, it said.



Mr Karzai insisted the document was in keeping with Islam and did not restrict women.

‘It is the Shariah law of all Muslims and all Afghans,’ he added.

Unveiled: Young Afghan women in traditional clothing participate in a teachers graduation ceremony in March last yearUnveiled: Young Afghan women in traditional clothing participate in a teachers graduation ceremony in March last year

Women’s activists say the Afghan president’s endorsement of the code seems to imply that laws aimed at protecting women’s rights may be sacrificed for peace negotiations.

Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: ‘It sends a really frightening message that women can expect to get sold out in this process.’

Rights: A woman with an ink-stained finger holds her ID card as she waits to vote in presidential elections at a Kabul polling station in 2009Rights: A woman with an ink-stained finger holds her ID card as she waits to vote in presidential elections at a Kabul polling station in 2009

Shukria Barikzai, a parliamentarian from the capital Kabul, who has been active in women’s issues, said she was worried that Mr Karzai and the clerics’ council appeared to be ignoring their country’s own laws.

‘When it comes to civil rights in Afghanistan, Karzai should respect the constitution,’ Ms Barikzai said. The Afghan constitution provides equal rights for men and women.

The exception for certain types of beatings also appears to contradict Afghan law that prohibits spousal abuse.

The guidelines also promote rules on divorce that give women few rights, a U-turn from pledges by Mr Karzai to reform Afghan family law to make divorces more equitable, Ms Barr said.

‘This represents a significant change in his message on women’s rights,’ she said.

Afghan women’s rights activist Fatana Ishaq Gailani, founder of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, said she feels like women’s rights are being used as part of a political game.

‘We want the correct Islam, not the Islam of politics,’ Ms Gailani said.

She said she supported negotiations with the Taliban, but that Afghanistan’s women should not be sacrificed for that end.

Restrictions: Afghan women pictured in 2001 wearing the burka. Activists worry advances in women's rights could be bargained away by the governmentRestrictions: Afghan women pictured in 2001 wearing the burka. Activists worry advances in women’s rights could be bargained away by the government

Hadi Marifat of the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organisation, which surveyed 5,000 Afghan women for a recent report on the state of women’s rights in Afghanistan, said the statements show Mr Karzai is shifting toward the strictest interpretations of Shariah law.

‘In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, the guiding principle of president Karzai regarding women’s rights has been attracting funding from the international community on one hand, balanced against the need to get the support of the Ullema Council and other traditionalists on the other,’ Ms Marifat said.

‘The concerning thing is that now this balance is shifting toward the conservative element, and that was obvious in his statement.’


Dilli dur ast

India‘s obsession with a “strong centre” has led to the alienation of its provinces, and to the emergence of a “cancerous” class that feeds off the center’s riches. Garga Chatterjee takes a hard look at the origins and subsequent development of this Delhi-based India,in Friday Times, Pakistan’s First Independent Weekly Paper

Dilli dur ast 0 46 

The 1946 Indian elections showed that though the Indian National Congress was the largest force in the British-governed territories in the Indian subcontinent, there were others with considerable support, including the All India Muslim League, Communist Party of India and Scheduled Caste Federation, who won nearly 40% of the seats. The Congress sweep in Madras was largely due to the election boycott by Dravidar Kazhagam, a continuation of the Justice Party current. This was similar to the 1937 elections – a Congressite dominance in most provinces, but its marginality in populous provinces like Punjab and Bengal. The All Indian Muslim League (AIML) in the 1937 election had received a serious drubbing virtually everywhere it contested. Though compromised by the factor that these elections, 1937 or 1946, were far from representative in the absence of universal adult franchise (a point often forgotten when discussing the events of 1946-47), one thing is clear – significant sectors were not with the INC, for whatever reason.

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Some wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions

A section of the Congress leadership always harboured ‘strong-centre’ ideas, though their inspirations were varied. It ranged from the necessity of a strong policy-driving centre congruent with ideas of command economy in vogue, the need of a tutelary centre that would provide the right lessons of modern citizenship so that a ‘sack of potatoes’ become ‘Frenchmen’, to the outright fantastic one that wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions. Given the Congress’s clear marginality in more than one province at that point, the future of India was envisaged as a liberal union of provinces, where the centre would administer a few things and the provinces would have pre-eminence in most matters.

Centralizing hawks of the INC were kept in check, albeit briefly, by political realities and power equations. It was against this backdrop that the Cabinet Mission proposed its plan of a future self-governing Indian Union.

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The exit of the League due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the Indian political scenario

The ‘centre’ would be in charge of defence, communications and foreign affairs; everything else fell within the ambit of provincial rights. The centre would be the meeting ground of the provinces, not the imperial powerhouse from where the provinces would be governed. The latter was the British model of colonial domination – such systems do facilitate smooth extraction of resources from far-flung areas. They are hardly models of welfare where democratic aspirations of the people for self-governance have the priority. In the political class, there was briefly a sense of resignation (not necessarily agreement) to the basic thrust of the Cabinet Mission Plan as a way to contain the diverse aspirations that India constituted. The destruction of this thrust is a serious issue that goes largely undebated in post-partition India.

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Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce

In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission Plan was proposed, the India that was conceived in it had provinces with powers that would put today’s Kashmir’s moth-eaten ‘special status’ to shame. Senior Congressites like Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabh-bhai Patel and numerous other mandarins of the party publicly and privately were more than prepared to give this dispensation a shot. The problematic idea of a sectarian grouping notwithstanding, the plan was overtaken by a breakdown of agreements between the Congress and Muslim League. The intense ground-level hostility in ‘mixed’ provinces in 1946 no doubt seriously undercut the chances of a grand federal Indian union, in the immediate context of prevailing circumstances. Whether the League’s motive on a sectarian grouping of people was holy or cynical, anti-people or liberating, is a question I will not visit here. But what is true is that the exit of the League due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the Indian political scenario. Till then, the field was a contested one. Now, one opposing side had left. Virtually unchallenged in the legislature, the Congress centralizers started scoring goal after goal in the unguarded field. These goals for the Indian centre turned out to be disastrous same-side goals as far as a democratic federal union of India was concerned.

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Post-partition India was hardly any less heterogenous. Provincial autonomy with a federal non-imperious centre still made democratic sense. But without serious political opposition, the centralizing proponents of the Congress, smelling blood, took the strong-centre idea to the extreme. The lists that divide power between the union centre and the states in India are a stark testimony to this process by which states were reduced to dignified municipal corporations. They would thereafter be found forever standing with begging bowls, making depositions and cases in front of central government bureaucrats and ministers. The idea of a strong centre appealed to the elites of that generation: it provided an excuse for them to ‘shape the masses’ into what was the elite’s definition of an ‘Indian’, a presentable citizen of a new nation state.

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Opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
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The Delhi-based political class uses various excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow on themselves better life

The erosion of provincial rights in the post-partition Indian Union has seen a concomitant development of an army of carrion-feeders who have mastered the art of carrying the spoils from the length and breadth of the land to pad their Delhi nests. They are no different from Hindustan’s emperors and their hangers-on, who beautified capitals by squeezing the country. The earlier forms of ferocious extraction, of explicit carriage of loot to Delhi, are now replaced by the fine art of legislative injustice. The process has been honed to near perfection over the decades, now designed and lubricated to work smoothly without making a sound. Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce. It is peppered with infrastructure that India’s provinces have toiled hard to pay for. It is lavished with highly funded universities, art and cultural centres, museums that are designed to sap talent from India’s provinces and handicap the development of autonomous trajectories of excellence beyond Delhi.

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An impoverished rural family
An impoverished rural family
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The Delhi skylineThe Delhi skyline
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Of late, there is the perverse politics of infrastructure development. Who could oppose a cow as holy as infrastructure? In essence what infrastructure development in Delhi has become is the following – a method by which revenues extracted from India’s provinces are lavished in and around Delhi by making good roads, snazzy flyovers, water supply infrastructure, urban beautification projects, new institutes and universities, big budget rapid transport systems like the metro and numerous other things that India’s impoverished wastelands as well as other towns and cities can only dream of. This is the new ‘expansion’ of Delhi in which Delhi’s political class has major stakes. Essentially this is cash transfer of a very sophisticated kind. Delhi’s richer classes acquire nearly uninhabited land or rural farmland. The ‘centre’ chips in by ensuring the areas get ‘developed’ from scratch. This ensures that these areas become quickly habitable or investable by Delhi’s perfumed classes, thus pushing up real estate prices, making the rich of Delhi richer. This is backed up by real infrastructure that is backed up by real cold cash from India’s central government. The other real thing is the pauperization of India’s provinces, of the great cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Bhopal, which have been systematically decimated by this distributive injustice – more insidious, though equally corrosive. Delhi’s bevy of highly funded institutions, lavish research funds, impeccable infrastructure, creation of a semblance of high culture by governmental khairati, has made Delhi the centre of aspiration for the brightest in India’s provinces – an internal brain drain. Delhi poaches on the intellectual capitals of Kolkata and Chennai by the way it knows best, the baniya method.

Some ‘states’ in India are entities that vaguely existed before the modern idea of India was conceived, and will probably outlive the idea too

The largesse that Delhi gets touches other sectors too. The large concentration of central government jobs in and around Delhi ensures that those who live there or are from those areas are more likely to get them, especially the jobs in the lower rung. This artificial support to a certain geographical area with ties to the national capital goes against all principles of natural justice, let alone those of a federal union based on equality. The Delhi-based political class uses various excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow on Delhi’s residents, and in effect themselves and their families, better infrastructure, inflated asset values, a better life, so to say – underwritten, as always, by India’s parochial and provincial masses. And the rest – the provinces, West Bengal, (East) Punjab – continue to pay for partition by paying for Delhi.

Even the media is a part of this process. A summary look at newspapers in Kolkata and Delhi will show that Delhi-based newspapers have page after page of central government advertisements – while the population of the two cities are not too different. The media is an integral part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also comprising of policy wonks, security apparatchiks, immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, bureaucrats, professors, defence folks, hangers-on, civil society wallahs, suppliers, contractors, importers, lobbyists and all the thread that connects them. This network of self-servers is curiously termed simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its people. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi. This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. Their diversity is still a robust one, not a browbeaten domesticated version fit for the India International Centre’s consumption.

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The preference for things Delhi-based or things ‘Indian’ and not ‘provincial’ has resulted not only in cash transfer of epic proportions, but has surreptitiously helped to develop the ideology that the roots of success in India go through Delhi, by denying one’s own rooted identities, clinging onto some rung of a ladder to Delhi, moving away from one’s origins. In short, this distributive injustice serves to disincentivize aspirations that don’t hold ‘Indianism’ as the ideology, Delhi as the location. In the era of long indoctrination, Delhi has been built up as an imperial zoo, where provincial rustics have to come to gawk, to be awed, and expunge ourselves of our ‘parochial-ness’.

States, provinces, nations – none are designed to contain the aspirational trajectories of the plural multitudes in the Indian Union. Increasing democratization, transfer of the locus of power away from the centre, is a way of deepening democracy. There have been very few attempts to do this. The Sarkaria Commission of 1983 was a positive step in this direction with clear recommendations of making a more inclusive, federal and democratic union of India by transferring certain rights from the central list to the state list. Predictably, the commission’s report remains unimplemented. All too cynically, the centre has often tried to bypass the provinces by speaking over the heads of the state governments through its army of central bureaucrats and law enforcers posted as imperial minders in every district. This friction between the different levels, between the local bodies and the state governments, assures the centre’s stability. It has also withheld real grassroots empowerment by denying local bodies any power to veto top-down decisions and proposals that affect their own futures. The blatant disregard of these institutions when ‘higher authorities’ push a project through in the face of massive opposition to loss of livelihood, destruction of homestead and displacement shows what lofty catch-words peddled by the higher level of administration like ‘local empowerment’ or ‘deepening democratic institutions’ really mean, when push comes to shove.

Some ‘states’ in India are entities that vaguely existed before the modern idea of India was conceived, and will probably outlive the idea too. They are repositories of plural cultures that the myopic Delhi-based circus called Dilli-haat cannot even fathom, much less domesticate, package and consume. The union of India exists, but it is and never was an inevitable union. To take that myth seriously, for that matter to take foundational myths of any nation-state seriously, is a dangerous error – realities are glossed over by textbook-manufactured pride. The past of the constituents of the Indian Union were partially intertwined and largely not. To change this balance decisively, so that a Delhi-prescribed and Delhi-centric path to the future becomes a pan-Indian obsession, is the dream of a million or two and a nightmare for a billion.

Appeal from a daughter in Bangladesh – ‘ Give justice to my mother Saira “

Sami  Ahmed says

Twenty  years ago the Bangladesh government broke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when they allowed the child marriage of my mother, Saira Ahmed, to a British paedophile. The purpose of this petition is to generate enough support that the Bangladesh government will recognize that they have broken several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and press charges against the family my mother was married into. All facts stated here are verified in the feature film that is in development based on these events.

Me and my mum want to say thank you to all that sign our petition because in doing so you make us feel like we do have a family here, and that we are not alone. Your signature means you are now family members. I want to keep you all updated monthly about the progress of this campaign, so kindly do provide an email address and continue to share this petition with others.

The act of child marriage is not rare: from 2000-2008, 64% of women aged 20-24 in Bangladesh were married before they were 18 years old.

We have all the legal documents and court papers to prove Saira’s husband was a paedophile here.

1:Saira during her child marriage. 2 & 3: Saira now


Sami Ahmed

Nuclear waste ‘may be blighting 1,000 UK sites’

MoD under fire after report finds number of contaminated sites is far higher than previously estimated

Sandside beach sign warning of radioactive particles.

A sign warns of radioactive particles at Sandside beach, Caithness in Scotland. Photograph: Alamy

Hundreds of sites across England and Wales could be contaminated with radioactive waste from old military bases and factories, according to a new government report.

Up to 1,000 sites could be polluted, though the best guess is that between 150 and 250 are, says a report on contaminated land by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), released last month, but previously unreported.

This is far higher than previous official estimates, with evidence from theMinistry of Defence (MoD) last December suggesting that there were just 15 sites in the UK contaminated with radium from old planes and other equipment.

The MoD has come under fire from former prime minister Gordon Brown for trying to evade responsibility for cleaning up the contamination it has caused. His constituency in Fife, north of Edinburgh, includes one of the most notorious examples of radioactive pollution at Dalgety Bay.

In the past year, the MoD has realised that there are others areas of radioactive contamination across the country that may need to be cleaned up, Brown said. “They’ve started to use their lawyers to get out of what is, in the first place, I think, a moral responsibility and in the second place, will become a legal responsibility.”

The MoD has begun a year-long investigation of the contamination at Dalgety Bay to try and avoid it becoming the first place in the UK to be legally designated as radioactive contaminated land. More than 2,500 radioactive hotspots have been found on the foreshore in the past 22 years, one-third of them since last September.

Brown has also criticised the failure to act on a 1958 Cabinet report uncovered by BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts, to be broadcast at 12.30pm on Wednesday. The previously secret report by a group of radiation experts urged ministers to control the disposal of the radium painted on dials of military planes to make them visible in the dark.

“There may be undesirably high levels of radiation near these dumps,” warned the Cabinet report. “Records of burials and of burial sites should be kept and handed on to future users of the land.”

But this was not done at Dalgety Bay, Brown said. “The truth is that, at that point, someone did know that there was a potential problem. Someone should have then passed it to the Ministry of Defence, and urged them to take the appropriate action.”

Former environment minister Michael Meacher MP said he ordered officials to identify and produce clean-up plans for all the contaminated sites in 1997. “I am astonished and deeply concerned that that does not appear to have happened,” he told the BBC.

One example of a radioactively contaminated site has been outed by Fred Dawson, a radiation scientist who worked for the MoD for 31 years, before he left as head of the radiation protection policy team in 2009. It is an area of walled and wooded land in an urban area by the former naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent.

Some 300 cubic metres of radioactive waste was buried there between 1968 and 1986, Dawson said. But the MoD has underestimated the potential hazard because it missed one of the wastes likely to be present, carbon-14, he argued.

Dawson said: “The non-availability of a risk assessment or safety case for the burials at Chatham is a serious failing of corporate memory and does little to engender public confidence in the MoD’s ability to manage the safety of legacy issues over the medium and long term.”

The MoD, however, has defended its actions, insisting that other parties could have been involved in spreading the contamination at Dalgety Bay. It has been “entirely open” about contamination at other sites, MoD sources said.

The defence minister, Andrew Robathan, said: “Where MoD is found to be a party responsible, namely, the appropriate person, in whole or part for contaminated land under the statutory regime, then we will work with the regulator and other responsible and interested parties such as landowners, to meet our portion of the liability and carry out voluntary remediation where appropriate.”

Barack Obama’s picture used to get a mobile connection in India

By  May 02, 2012 11:13AM UTC

How well are the telecom companies knowing their customers? A little too well really. A twenty one year old in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has used the picture of Barack Obama to get an Airtel connection.

There could be two things that might have happened. The man didn’t have his passport size photo on-hand and used Mr. Obama’s picture or the people who were collecting the documents have never seen Obama’s picture. Either way it’s one funny Know your customer (KYC) story to tell.

KYC is a rigor which the Indian government is trying to establish with the diligence required to open a bank account or secure a mobile connection. Take a look at the picture below from Times Of India :

To prevent such ‘ludicrous’ irregularities, Andhra police have made some suggestions. One such suggestion is this :

The AP police have also recommended introduction of biometric system to capture the identity of the customer. It has also been suggested that the customer who wants to become a subscriber of a network provider should be physically present before the fixed centre. (TOI)

We got that covered too. The biometric system we all so wanted which already has collected biometrics for 200 million people has just issued a Aadhar card for a vegetableAn equally amusing story where a person has used a series of vegetables and greens to secure an Aadhar card (India’s most ambitious project).

In most parts of India, on your way out, the chances of you getting a new mobile phone connection are much higher than you finding a packet of milk. Telcos are under tremendous pressure to rack up numbers of subscribers. Hyper-competition might be the immediate reason which should get a lot of attention but rather it’s the pre-paid nature of the business.

Close to 90% of all the mobile subscriptions in India are pre-paid. Which means telcos don’t really wait for the customers to pay the bills. The bills are already paid. This takes out the incentive to really know the customer. You pay, you talk. You don’t pay, then you don’t talk. All the telco loses is a lousy chip called a SIM card.

Coming back to the Obama picture, the stand-up comedians and late night shows will have a field day. Republicans can’t really use this though.

Karnataka Khap panchayat ostracises 16-year-old pregnant Dalit girl


Bannisorige village elders upset that she had an affair with a lower caste boy, thus “offending the family and the village”

Imran Khan 

 May 2, 20120–A khap panchayat in Karnataka has ostracised a 16-year-old Dalit girl for getting pregnant by her lover. Jaya (name changed to protect identity), who works as a labourer, was slapped with a fine of Rs 10,000 by the Bannisorige village panchayat in Chamrajanagar district before banishing her. The village elders were particularly furious with Jaya for falling in love with Kumar who belongs to a caste considered lower than hers.

The incident came to light when Jaya was found begging at the Kollegal government hospital, near her village, by a local journalist. Now, seven months into her pregnancy Jaya had spent almost a month staying in the hospital compound, since she was banished from her village by the panchayat. When the matter was highlighted by the local media, the hospital authorities swung into action and admitted her as an in-patient; after nearly ignoring her for a month.

Jaya got into an intimate relationship with Kumar, who hails from the neighbouring village of Agrahara, after he promised to marry her. However, her family, who got wind of her relationship after she conceived, was furious when they realised that the boy hailed from a different caste.

The matter was reported to the village elders who held her “guilty” of “offending the family and the village” by having an affair with a boy from a lower caste. The panchayat declared her guilty and slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 and sent her out of the village.

Left to fend for herself, Jaya went to the government hospital in nearby Kollegal taluk for treatment. When the hospital authorities failed to take notice of her, Jaya started living at the corridors of the hospital and was forced to beg for food and money from the visitors at the hospital.

When contacted, the local police authorities said that despite being aware of the situation there was little they could do since no complaint had been registered. Chairperson of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights Nina P Nayak told Tehelka that the commission will investigate the matter and take further action.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.

Anti- Nuke Activists and Koodankulam protesters resume indefinite hunger strike


Protest leader Udayakumar says that they are still ‘committed’ to continue their non-violent protests against the nuke plant

Jeemon Jacob

Anti-nuke protesters have started their fourth indefinite hunger strike at Idinthakarai Lourde Matha Church grounds on Tuesday afternoon. Twenty five villagers representing four villages have gone on an indefinite hunger strike. From 4 May onwards, women will also join the protests. According to Dr SP Udayakumar, convener, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), the people of the affected villages decided to relaunch their agitation against the commissioning of the nuclear plant in Koodankulam.

“Though we have announced that we will relaunch agitation from May, in the morning we decided to delay the agitation for two days honouring the requests of the district administration. But our people were not ready to delay the agitation. They wanted to resume hunger strike at the earliest and we are not going to stop it till the closure of the Koodankulam Nuclear plant,” Udayakumar said.

Twelve representatives from the affected villages around Koodankulam met District Collector R Selvaraj and other senior police officials and held discussions to sort out the Koodankulam stalemate. “When we met the district administration and handed over our demands, they asked us to delay the agitation for two days. We have conveyed their request to the village council members who are backing anti-nuke protests,” said Father Arimavalavan, a priest who led the village representatives.

“But people were not ready to honour the requests of the district administration,” the priest said. PMANE has demanded that the government constitutes an independent and transparent national committee to conduct a study on hydrology, geology, oceanography and seismology of the region and share the report with the local people. Anti-nuke protesters wanted the management to conduct disaster management and evacuation exercises around 30 km radius of KKNPP adhering to the international standards.

“We have listed our demands and now it’s the duty of government to react. We also want the government to share a copy of the secret inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia in 2008 on nuclear liability,” said Udayakumar.

According to him, the fourth phase of the protests will be on a peaceful mode. “Since the beginning, we have been conducting our protests on a non-violent platform. We are committed to continuing our protests on the same line,” said Udayakumar.

Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka

On the situation in Nonadanga – Pamphlet by Uchched Pratirodh Committee


May 1, 2012

We Demand Proper Rehabilitation That is Fit for Human Survival for Slum Dwellers of Nonadanga as well as of Majdur Palli, Shramik Colony, Subhaspalli, Lakepalli, Bhai-Bhai Colony, Bastuhara Colony.

We demand immediate release of the 11 arrested along with all other activists.

The slum dwellers of Nonadanga, evicted on 30th of March, have rebuilt their shanties. After the rallies, demonstrations, mass-protests and the 12 day long hunger strike movement, right when the slum dwellers under the guidance of eviction-resistance committee (Uchchhed Protirodh Committee) have built the shades over their head, the government came down again with its brutality on the slum dwellers on the 28th of April. Eleven people were arrested including 5 women on fabricated charges. Till date two of the previously arrested supporters of the movement has not been released by the state.

This movement of Nonadanga has brought to the forefront the demands related to the condition of schools, hospitals, and drinking water along with the general developmental needs of the entire Nonadanga region. Nonadanga’s movement has brought to the forefront the demands – of the slumdwellers, hawkers and small shop owners – for the right to livelihood and right to shelter of those evicted from the fringes of Kolkata. Nonadanga’s movement has challenged the much-touted plan of converting Kolkata to London; it has put a big question mark on the pro-poor image of the government of “Ma-Mati-Manush”.

The state government, the ruling party and some servile media is spreading false propaganda

From the very beginning, the government has tried to create divisions among the slum dwellers. Creating a split between the dwellers of the two evicted slums of 30th March (viz. Majdur Palli and Shramik Colony), and those of Lakepalli, Bhai-bhai Colony and other nearby slums is the government’s agenda. Deliberate and false propaganda is being spread that the dwellers of the two evicted slums had obtained rehabilitation flats from the government and after selling that off, they are suddenly squatting by building shanties in the open field, in lure of new flats. It is also being said that these people are actually backed by land mafias, NGOs and Maoists. Coming from outside, these people are the ones who are trying to disturb the peace in Nonadanga. On the other hand the chief minister is saying that they have not and will not evict anybody.

Is that really how it is? Or are there other things veiled behind?

What is the state’s plan with Nonadanga?

Ever since the Mamata Banerjee government has come to power, among other things they have started to utilize (!) vacant land in around the city of Kolkata. Under the direction of the urban development minister, KMDA has already started to sell off vacant lands in the city following the public-private partnership (PPP) model. According to the KMDA website, there is about 80 acres of land (along with some water bodies) in their possession which they would like to lease out to private initiatives for 99 years. Multistoried residential complex, shopping malls, multiplex movie halls for the privileged, entertainment centers and water parks will be built on these lands.

The entire field, on one corner of which is Majdur Palli and Shramik Colony, is only 19 acres. We ask – where is then these 80 acres of vacant land in Nonadanga? By the mention of the nearby water bodies, it is clear that by vacant land, the slums are being indicated. That is, not only Majdur Palli and Shramik Colony, little by little, Lakepalli, Bhai-bhai Colony, Subhaspalli, Bastuhara Colony, basically all slums of Nonadanga will eventually be evicted. Only then 80 acres of land can be handed over to the land sharks. They will make profits in crores by constructing residences, entertainment centers, shopping malls, and water parks for the privileged. And hence, those who are saying that rehabilitation flats would be built on this land for the poor are simply lying. There’s no mention of flats for the poor in the KMDA website.

Apparently everyone here owns a flat!

And that is why the government and the profiteers absolutely need this land. That is why eviction has been started from Majdur Palli, Shramik Colony. Others are given the false promise of “rehabilitation”. Once they can crush Majdur Palli and Shramik Colony without providing any rehabilitation, then the rest of the slums can be evicted following the same path. That is why their strategy is to create division amongst us, to weaken us and eventually to evict all of us one by one. And then, will follow, driving out those who do not have proper documentation for their flats. We are challenging you, do not get confused by their false propaganda. If even one such slum dweller can be found in Majdur Palli and Shramik Colony who has sold off their rehabilitation flat of Nonadanga and has constructed shanties in the field in lure of a new flat, the Eviction Resistance Committee (Uchchhed Protirodh Committee) will get rid of their shanty. But why is it their fault, if in the rehabilitation flat, there are four or more adult members and due to lack of space they are forced to live in the shanties in the open fields? If you have any question with regard to this, then come to us and tell us where are we wrong? We have kept the door for discussion and consultation open for all.

Again the outsiders!

It is an irony that when Mamata Banerjee was fighting in the Singur-Nandigram movement, the then CPIM government labeled her as an “outsider”. Today Mamata Banerjee, her party and her servile followers are labeling those who are supporting this movement and who are not slum dwellers themselves as “outsiders”. This is a tragic joke in the recent history of anti-eviction movement in West Bengal. Government of the one time leader of ant-eviction movement is evicting or will evict a large part of the slum dwellers of Kolkata. Is this then the road map for Kolkata to become London?

Life in the flats – rehabilitation or exile!

The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the struggle in the everyday life of the residents of the rehabilitation flats, of the small time business owners in the markets, of the crisis in the lives of the many other residents of Nonadanga. It is true, they have received a small flat of 160 sq.ft., but is that enough for one family? The conditions of basic civic services are beyond reprehensible. We do not have clean water, there is an acute crisis of water in general. There’s no government initiated school, college, health-center or hospital here. The small area that is there as a playground for the kids will be taken over to build the park for the elite. Maybe for more profit, the government will demolish even these flats and will direct the evictees of Khalpar, Narkelbagan, and Govindapur rail colony to move further away. Or they will be enclosed within the net of the big plans of development. We the poor are out of place in this prim and proper city of the elite. Today we are entrapped in this tinned construction; tomorrow the entire Nonadanga will face the same condition.

This is the struggle of all residents of Nonadanga, we must win this struggle

Friends, we are forced to enter this unequal war against the State government, their pampered profiteers, against the false propaganda by the police and some media, only for our survival’s sake. For the sake of a roof over our head. But however unequal this war is, however much they try to beat us, we have been winning. That is why they have come back to beat us again. They are making failed attempts to get some of the government favoured fake intellectuals riled against us. Any kind of resistance is being labeled as “Maoist” to gather legal sanctity to repress it.

Even after all that, they have not been able to suppress this movement. They have arrested 11 of us including 5 women under unethical and false pretexts. And still they could not kill our movement. We continue our movement in demand of proper rehabilitation of all dwellers of Nonadanga, in demand of unconditional release of all agitators. Today this struggle is not only for the Majdoor Palli and Shramik Colony of Nonadanga; today this struggle is for all slum dwellers, for the right to shelter. We plead to you, as a slum dweller, as a resident of this area, join us in this struggle. Be on our side as a defendant of the basic rights. We need all your love, help and support. Let Nonadanga be the new name for our struggle. Let there be hope for the defendants.

With thanks,

Eviction Resistance Committee (Uchched Pratirodh Committee)

[Translated by Atreyi]

Click here to read Bengali Pamphlet

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