Power, violence and Dalit women

V. Geetha, Book Review, The Hindu

  • DALIT WOMEN SPEAK OUT — Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India: Aloysius Irudayam S.J., Jayshree P. Mangubhai, Joel G. Lee; Zubaan, 128 B, I Floor, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049. Rs. 695.
    DALIT WOMEN SPEAK OUT — Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India: Aloysius Irudayam S.J., Jayshree P. Mangubhai, Joel G. Lee; Zubaan, 128 B, I Floor, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049. Rs. 695.
  • WOMEN OF HONOUR — Gender and Agency among Dalit Women in the Central Himalayas: Karin M. Polit; Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., 1/24, Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 750.
    WOMEN OF HONOUR — Gender and Agency among Dalit Women in the Central Himalayas: Karin M. Polit; Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., 1/24, Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 750.

Men from subaltern communities must confront the violence that tears apart some of their homes and families

The two books under review are quite dissimilar in what they set out to do. Dalit Women Speak Out comprises a detailed review of a set of related studies carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh on the violence endured by Dalit women. It revisits the notion of ‘atrocity’ both in terms of specific events, as well as the ingrained violence that attends Dalit lives, especially Dalit women’s lives on a daily basis. Women of Honour by Karin M Polit is an ethnographic investigation of Himalayan Garwahli communities that are labelled Dalit (intriguingly, some of the communities she studies turn out to be artisanal castes, including carpenters and blacksmiths).

Mix of concepts

Polit works with a mix of concepts, drawn from classic anthropological studies on kinship and community, and from Pierre Bourdieu‘s theoretical universe on the one hand and from the rather obscure yet compelling discourses that have emerged around Judith Butler‘s work on gender on the other. These are used to foreground and analyse rather familiar realities: poverty, embattled conjugality domestic discontent, anxiety over questions of honour and child-bearing

Thus, Women of Honour considers the many ways in which women come to perform their gendered roles, as they labour, marry, have children and raise them. Polit works with the notion of performativity or the manner in which we make gender happen, and makes it evident that gender is not so much a given category, but a shifting one that gets ‘fixed’ in our doing, which includes negotiating, contesting as well as conforming to norms that are set out for us. Thus women, we realise, are neither completely oppressed nor are they consistently defiant — rather they occupy a middle zone of living and acting, taking their cues from what their life situations allow them, and pushing limits and boundaries where they see fit.

What is lost though in this account is the intentionality of power, whether wielded by men over women or older women over younger women and by families over individuals. Also lost is an understanding of social and economic power: the societies Polit studies are not shown in relation to other societies or to larger realities and when these are hinted at, such as the changes wrought by education or migration, they are not granted their conceptual due.

Polit’s study references other studies of women’s lives in north India, and in her arguments she moves easily from large generalisations gleaned from these studies to particular descriptions that pertain to her own. Consequently she does not always mark the differences that structure Dalit women’s lives — this is, to say the least, confusing. One wonders too if this is because she does not draw upon the wealth of concepts generated by scholars working on Dalit lives and histories. For the lives she narrates are, in the ultimate analysis, not very different from the lives of other poor communities, except where she invokes Dalit cultural worlds, deities, sacrifices and beliefs.

The strength of her book lies in her accounts of marriage practices amongst the so-called lower castes, the absence of hypergamy, the importance of bride price and its eventual substitution by dowry. She shows how these practices and their changed form determine women’s status. Yet here again, her study would have been richer had she placed it in the context of feminist scholarship — one thinks of Prem Chowdhry’s fantastic work on changing gender relations in Haryana, for instance, and how she works with notions of caste, gender, labour and economic change.

In a sense, Dalit Women Speak does all that Polit’s book does not wish to do. It not only indexes in painful and sad detail the kinds of violence endured by Dalit women, both outside and in their homes, but accounts for them. Working with police and crime records, interviews with hurt women, available statistics on violence and caste, and the literature generated by human rights groups on this subject, the book maps the links between caste status, landed power and state authority on the one hand and Dalit poverty, female labour and sexual violence on the other.

A distinctive feature of this book is its focus on domestic violence, from female foeticide to wife beating, from child sexual abuse to sexual hurt within the Dalit family. At the same time, it offers a reading of Dalit masculinity in terms of its forced complicity with the patriarchal caste order — just as upper caste women are complicit in and earn their rewards from assenting to the persistence of caste differences and hierarchy, so do Dalit men, choicelessly without social authority and power reproduce the violence that they endure in their own homes.

Taxonomy of violence

A remarkable feature of this study is its attempt to evolve a taxonomy of violence — verbal, physical, sexual and so on. The attempt gets mired in its own efforts because the violence that Dalit women face is never this or that, mandated by either poverty or caste, or their age or location: it is on account of being considered non-human, of being seen as workers without value, whose very being is refused validity. It is personhood that is at stake here, and the manner in which Dalit women work to preserve a sense of the self in the midst of all works against such an effort is moving and humbling.

While the nature of atrocities directed against Dalit women, the circumstances that shape them and the historical and cultural logic that legitimise them have all been sufficiently well documented in several studies, this one does more: it combines argument, analysis as well as a wealth of empirical information. Its intent is to persuade and establish the justice claims of the cause it espouses, and to argue for ways and means to produce a more humane and just social order. In this sense, it has a normative edge, and functions as a veritable catechism in the cause of the most oppressed among Dalits.

Having said this, I would like to point to three concerns that are not sufficiently addressed in this book: working with data from different states allows the authors to point to the enduring and pervasive nature of violence against Dalit women but it is equally important to mark differences between regions, given their varied histories, the nature of governance in each of them and the many and diverse traditions of struggle and resistance.

For unless one contextualises and historicises violence, it remains too much of a self-referential phenomena — to be sure we are told of resistance, and Dalit women’s own words testify to this, but this is still at the level of individual courage and we need to understand what makes for change, resistance in a collective sense and equally what remains intransigent to change. Likewise, it would have helped to know if all Dalit castes are oppressed in exactly the same way, or if helps to be numerically large, decisive in electoral politics and so on, since many of these reasons could impact on strategy when it comes to collective action.

Lastly, the violence that Dalit women endure in their families: it is as pervasive as that which greets them in the outside world. In this sense, it does not seem enough to mark Dalit male behaviour as being complicit in an ‘imposed’ patriarchy. Patriarchy works with notions of power and authority that are masculinised to the point of being available as a general resource to all who wish to wield them — and the complicity of Dalit men cannot only be seen as ‘imposed’. Just as upper caste women must be made responsible for their casteism, irrespective of their embattled gender status, so must men from subaltern communities confront the violence that tears some of their homes and families apart.

We have seen Dalit intellectuals fulminate rightly against an unmarked and global feminism, and now it seems important that they examine their own complicity with the violent politics of caste patriarchy and masculinity.

WOMEN OF HONOUR — Gender and Agency among Dalit Women in the Central Himalayas: Karin M. Polit; Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., 1/24, Asaf Ali Road, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 750.

DALIT WOMEN SPEAK OUT — Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India: Aloysius Irudayam S.J., Jayshree P. Mangubhai, Joel G. Lee; Zubaan, 128 B, I Floor, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049. Rs. 695.

Vedanta Aluminium to acquire L&T’s bauxite mines in Orissa for $330M

Monday, June 11, 2012

English: Vedanta Nagar Lanjigarh

English: Vedanta Nagar Lanjigarh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BY  Team Vcc
This follows a deal struck in February wherein VAL entered into a tripartite agreement with L&T and Raykal Aluminium Company Private Ltd.

LSE-listed Vedanta Resources’ group firm Vedanta Aluminium (VAL) has struck a deal to acquire Raykal Aluminium Company Private Ltd (Raykal) from diversified conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (L&T) for Rs 1,811 crore ($330 million) over a period of time in a milestone-based acquisition, the company has disclosed.

In the first leg of the deal, it has acquired 24.5 per cent of Raykal for Rs 200.7 crore ($36 million).

This follows a deal struck in February wherein VAL entered into a tripartite agreement with L&T and Raykal. L&T holds certain prospecting licenses for bauxite mines located at Sijmali and Kurumali of Rayagad and Kalahandi districts of Orissa. By this agreement the entire bauxite excavated from above mines will be available for the use of Raykal and/or Vedanta Aluminium.

Bauxite is a key raw material used for alumina production. The mines would feed the alumina plant of VAL in the state.

Incorporated in 2001, VAL is a producer of metallurgical grade alumina and other aluminium products, which cater to a wide spectrum of industries.

The firm operates 1 mtpa greenfield alumina refinery and an associated 75 MW captive power plant at Lanjigarh in the state of Orissa. It is increasing the capacity of the Lanjigarh refinery to 5 mtpa.

It has also invested in a 0.5 mtpa aluminum smelter and 1,215 MW captive power plant at Jharsuguda, Orissa. As per its website, it is also constructing 1.1 mtpa aluminium smelter expansion project at Jharsuguda.

Jharsuguda is also the site of 2,400 MW independent power plant being set up by group company Sterlite Energy Ltd.

For Vedanta Resources group, this deal comes as yet another big ticket acquisition in the country. The metal & mining firm which has diversified into oil business among other areas has struck multi-billion dollar deal for Cairn India and has also expanded in the mining field by snapping Sesa Goa few years ago.

Fake Drug Plague or Pharmaceutical Industry Attack on Generics?

by Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog
June 13th, 2012

Are Africa and South East Asia just suffering from a deluge of fake medicines that is causing disease resistance to rise? Or are they also suffering from a deluge of poorly informed media articles, encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry that wants to make war on generic drugs?

A recent article published in the latest issue of the Lancet Infectious Diseases magazine examines a new study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health noting that a third of malaria drug samples examined from the two regions were found to be fake or substandard.

The magazine says that it is “simplified and neutral” to “use falsified as a synonym for counterfeit, devoid of considerations of intellectual property” and urges the use of tough measures to combat these fake drugs.

Similar articles on “fake” drugs appear regularly in the medical publications like the British Medical Journal as well as major business publications like the Financial Times, which suggest that the black market for fake drugs generated $75 billion in revenues in 2010.

Pfizer, a New York company, is particularly active in the campaign against “fake drugs.” There is good reason for Pfizer to be concerned: Viagra, Pfizer’s brand of sildenafil citrate, is one of the most popularly faked drugs. James Love, the executive director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington NGO, notes that “It is quite clear that theoverwhelming majority of counterfeit busts involve Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs.”

The data on drug busts is not that surprising given the fact Viagra is an expensive drug in high demand from people who are willing to buy it under the counter or online.

However, such “lifestyle” drugs – as they are often called – are quite different from cancer drugs which are not faked quite as often. Indeed the problem is far more complex: there is a wide range of so-called “fake” drugs such as spurious drugs, counterfeit drugs, falsely labeled drugs (wrong dates, missing ingredients etc.) and poor quality drugs which the Lancet proposes to lump together.

And by introducing the term “devoid of considerations of intellectual property” the Lancet is also including the trade in generic drugs.

It is these generic drugs that pharmaceutical industry lobbyists like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both major lobbyists in the U.S., want the media to attack, says Love.

Here’s where the problem arises: “For political reasons, PhRMA and the Chamber plays up the counterfeit angle quite a bit, to justify a very broad intellectual property right enforcement agenda, by mixing together the counterfeit, falsified, substandard or fake drug categories,” he writes.

Love says that the Lancet suggestion to use “simplified and neutral” language could well lead to problems for buyers in poor countries. He notes that “corporate intellectual property right holders … are lobbying governments for stronger IPR enforcement measures. These lobby groups present dangerous drugs as the core motivating factor for legislation that has little to do with solving the bulk of the substandard and dangerous drug problem, and they also seek to introduce measures the undermine the trade in high quality legitimate generic products.

“One risk is that the various anti-counterfeit drug initiatives will be used to further undermine legal parallel trade in branded drugs. Another is that surveillance of trade in unpatented and unbranded chemicals will be used to further expand monopoly power,” Love adds.

Let’s unpack that a bit. What’s the legal parallel trade in branded drugs? Well, drug manufacturers themselves often sell their drugs cheaper in countries with big public health systems or just because the population is too poor to pay for Western prices. These drugs are sometimes sold back legally to buyers in other countries. Technically this trade could be shut down. (See “Murky Medicines” for an interesting article on how the U.K. buys medicines abroad legally at cheaper prices)

What about unpatented and unbranded chemicals? Are they a good idea? Well, it turns out that even the major drug makers use unpatented and unbranded chemicals all the time. Drugs typically contain one or more active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). If these APIs are patented, the patent holder can make a lot of money. But a lot of drugs are made from cheap (and perfectly good) unpatented APIs that even the big companies buy to make their branded drugs.

When countries like Thailand or India allow generic manufacturers to make drugs (either because the license has expired or to deal with an urgent healthcare crisis), these manufacturers turn to the very same API producers. Where it gets complicated is that the API producers are in a tough spot because if they supply the generic manufacturers, the big boys have been known to cut them off. (Bristol-Myers Squibb used this strategy in Thailand to cut off production of the AIDS drug ddI)

Basically what Love is saying is that if we use a hammer to address the issue of drugs, all the problems of generic, spurious, counterfeit, falsified and poor quality drugs look like different kinds of nails, when in fact some of them may not even be nails at all. “If authors systematically see the problem in ways consistent with drug company lobbyists, they are not seeing the whole picture,” he concludes.

Stamp out spurious drugs by all means, check to make sure that expired drugs are not re-labeled, and test batches to make sure that low quality drugs are not slipped into the market, but be careful of stopping the sale of perfectly good generic drugs that can save lives at a dramatically cheaper price by making them illegal.

Who ordered Vimeo to be blocked? Not DoT, says RTI reply #censorship

Deutsch: Logo des Videoportals Vimeo

Published: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012, 11:18 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

The ire of hacktivist group Anonymous that was directed at the government over blocking of sites like vimeo.com and Pirate Bay may not have been justified – the ban on these sites, in fact, was not ordered by the Department of Telecommunications.

In response to a RTI query made by the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), the department replied, “As per available information no blocking instruction to block websites like Pirate-bay and Vimeo etc. has been issued by the Department of Telecommunications to Internet Service Providers (sic).”
The revelation by the department assumes significance since most of the anger of groups like Anonymous had been directed against it, particularly over these two sites.

On June 9, countrywide protests were organised by Anonymous. Dressed in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, about 100 people staged a demonstration at the city’s Azad Maidan in protest against the Union government’s internet policies. The Indian wing of the group was created in the backdrop of the recent outrage over the IT Act Intermediaries Rules and blocking of sites.

SFLC itself does not want to hazard a guess on who ordered the blocks, but falls back on reports to conjecture that these might have been carried out by ISPs to comply with interim injunctions styled as John Doe orders issued by the Chennai High Court in response to a suit filed by producers of the Tamil film ‘3’, arguably better known for its chartbuster ‘Kolaveri’.

SFLC counsel Prasanth Sugathan said it did not matter so much who had handed out the orders. “It is the issues raised that are important. One should not lose sight of core issues (that of internet freedom),” he said. SFLC, among other things, works towards protecting digital freedoms.

Vimeo.com, Pirate Bay and a other sites continue to be blocked across many ISPs for over a month now. According to SFLC, the error message shown on trying to access the blocked sites on the Airtel network was, “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Tellecommunciations

Read more here

Verdict on Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay: A pattern of judicial connivance to arbitrariness of the state in dealing with dissent



The singer was singing

And they question him

Why do you sing?

He answers them as they seize him

Because I sing

And they have searched him:

In his breast only his heart

In his heart only his people

In his voice only his sorrow

In his sorrow only his prison

And they have searched his prison

To find only themselves in chains

Mahmoud Darwish


The Verdict on Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay: A set pattern of judicial connivance to blatant arbitrariness of the state in dealing with political dissent

If a police officer can take exception to the possession of a book on Shaheed Bhagat Singh as part of the several books shown in the seizure list of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay, questioning the motive of the two to read on the life of the great martyr, well that sums up the growing climate of an undeclared emergency being enforced with impunity on any form of political dissent that fundamentally articulate the interests of the vast sections of the masses of the people.

In 2010, when Seema and Vishwa Vijay were arrested from Khuldabad, Allahabad, several PUCL members had opposed their arrest pointing out that they had been framed as they were working extensively against land mafias and anti-people policies of the government. Though the arrests were made by the special task force, the case was later handed over to the anti-terrorism squad of UP so as to primarily deal it as an act of ‘terrorism’ a much abused word by the powers that be. For more than two and a half years the case is being tried in the Court of the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrates in Allahabad. It is not an accident that the judge who had heard the entire proceedings of the case was transferred just before the verdict was supposed to be given. So while sentencing Seema and Vishwa Vijay for life on charges of criminal conspiracy, waging war and under several provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) the Additional District Judge Sunil Kumar Singh, further slapped a fine of about Rs 70,000 on the couple.

As the Organising Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh and editor of the magazine Dastak Seema had consistently reported and gave voice to the growing dissent of the people against the anti-people policies of the government in the form of Ganga Expressway which brought forth the nexus of the politicians, bureaucrats and the land mafia. As we may recall the Ganga Expressway can result in the displacement of thousands of peasantry. It was her initiative to expose the increasing arbitrary arrests, torture and incarceration of Muslim youth in Azamgarh. The magazine Dastak became a vehicle for expressing the voice of the voiceless. And this is precisely what the government would want us to believe as ‘waging war against the state’! And this is why the police officer would find fault with both of them, for ‘waging war’ with the state, for reading Bhagat Singh at a time when the country is growing and growing, but the condition of the people are going from bad to worse!

At a time when the governments at the state and the centre have been spending heavily on the way people perceive the changes that occur before them as part of the strategy of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ to generate a consensus towards a policy of displacement, destruction, destitution and death in the name of development, it becomes inevitable that voices like that of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay are silenced. Already the state has sensed that there is a mounting public opinion and discontentment among the vast sections of the democratic and freedom people of the country against the continuing incarceration of Seema and Vishwa Vijay. Little wonder that the perception managers have already started planting ‘horror’ stories of ‘mass unrest’ being hatched out under the garb of protesting against the unjust verdict of the sessions court. This is further evidence to show how the state is not leaving any stone unturned towards criminalising any form of dissent against the denial of fundamental rights to the people to express their views without fear or favour.

The verdict against Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is against the grain of fundamental rights of the people of the subcontinent as it goes a long way in criminally profiling any political dissent or opinion or even spreading that as ‘waging war’ against the state. The state would tell us how we should think and express ourselves. We can be only part of the state in ‘managing’ the perception of the people. We cannot say a word against the growth stories that abound the press—electronic as well as print. As capital is development and development is capital—the presence or absence of it, capital is ready to satiate the perception of development too. You can only consume that perception; you just cannot go against it. Any perception or thinking that goes against the predatory, violent necessities of capital couched in the discourse of development has been termed ‘waging war’, ‘criminal conspiracy’ against the state! The need to stand up against the verdict of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is a necessity for the struggle for our fundamental rights, our freedoms, our right to think critically and choose the life that we deem fit in the interests and well being of vast sections of the masses of people. The state and the government of Uttar Pradesh should release Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay Unconditionally!

In Solidarity,

SAR Geelani

Working President

Amit Bhattacharyya

Secretary General

Rona Wilson

Secretary, Public Relations

Laws must be sensitive to victims of sexual assault who have disabilities

Ananya Dutta, the Hindu

KOLKATA : A minor girl, suffering hearing and speech impairment, was allegedly raped by a medical professional at the Bankura Medical Hospital in February this year. However, when the victim was asked to identify her assailant in a test identification parade, she was not briefed properly, her disability acting as a barrier in communication. As a result she failed to identify him.

“My daughter was not told what she had to do. And when the time came, she could not point him out,” the mother of the victim told The Hindu here on Monday on the sidelines of a convention on Social Security of Women with Disabilities organised by the Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani.

“When it comes to a case of a sexual assault against a disabled woman, the measures taken need to be different from those for ordinary victims. The laws and its enforcement need to take their disability into account,” said Kuhu Das, director of the Association of Women with Disabilities. “No single legislation can ever completely solve a social problem….The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill that lies pending before Parliament has dealt with the problems of women with disabilities separately. But it is important to realise that other laws that become relevant in women’s rights cases must also be amended,” Malini Bhattacharya, former chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women, said.

Citing an example, Ms. Bhattacharya said that Sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code that deal with rape and punishment for rape must be amended. If a woman with disability is the victim of rape, then the sentence for the culprit must be tougher. Similarly, the clauses pertaining to evidence must also be made more suitable to the disabled, she said. Jeeja Ghosh, who suffers from cerebral palsy and was recently forced off an aircraft because the pilot was not comfortable having her on the flight despite the fact that she is capable of flying alone and has done so repeatedly, spoke about the reasons that people with disabilities experience abuse differently.

The KOODANKULAM EXPOSÉ- and the Right to Know

Solidarity to Koodankulam

This week’s front-page lead story tells us everything we need to know about the premium value of Right to Information in any democracy. Indian advocacy groups making use of new Right to Information laws have unearthed an evaluation report which exposes startling information that has implications not just for South India and Sri Lanka, but almost the entirety of the Indian Ocean — particularly the Bay of Bengal.
For those who have not read the story, the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is poised to deposit dangerous quantities of nuclear wastes in the Indian Ocean, which is a potential calamity facing our people, and possibly a calamity facing the people of India as well.
The story speaks for itself — and what action the Government of Sri Lanka will take in this regard remains to be seen. This is in short order, a disaster waiting to happen.
Indian environmental scientists themselves are saying so, as could be gathered from our front-page story and the other feature story in perspective on page 5.
How all these dangers were exposed is another issue in its entirety. No Indian could have got close to ferreting out the truth on the calamitous dangers of the nuclear plants in Tamil Nadu had they not had the benefit of Right to Information laws.
So, the Koodankulam example is one in which it could be said without hyperbole that Right to Information legislation possibly meant the difference between life and death.
No doubt the Indian authorities would heavily contest the assertions of the environmental lobbyists, but it clearly is a tall order to contradict the Site Evaluation Report (SER) which states unequivocally that a good part of the Indian Ocean is bound to become a dumping site for nuclear wastes once the T’ Nadu plants are commissioned.
How the entire issue would play out in India, and with reference to Indo-Sri Lankan relations would be interesting, and would be moot, but the success of the Indian lobbyists in making use of Right to Information legislation leaves us Sri Lankans envying our Indian neighbours, trying as we have been to get similar legislation passed in our parliament.
The government stymied the UNP’s efforts to ram through such laws, but this was at that time on condition that the government would come up with its own draft. It was argued as many observers of events at that time would recall that the UNP Bill was in fact redundant as the government had plans for a Right to Information Bill, and was close to making the whole thing a fait accompli.
But no Bill on the Right to Information has materialized, and despite the fact that noises are being made about Private Members’ motions etc., that might gift the people this vital legislation at last — everybody including lobbyists, journalists and private citizens have waited in vain.
There could be larger calamities than the Koodankulam plants that are waiting to happen, particularly at a time when concerns of ‘development’ seem to take precedence over all rational considerations.
Please also read about the flouting of environmental legislation to install an entire village in the Nilagala/Gal Oya forests, elsewhere in this newspaper. How many more such depredations are being kept under a lid, simply because we do not have the right to know?

From 24, to 48

Any time is not the time to amend the Criminal Procedure Code to extend the period a suspect could be detained for prior to being produced before the officers of the law, but certainly this seems to be the worst time in which to do it due to the justifiable or not so justifiable finger-pointing at the state apparatus in various quarters, for impunity and other legally untenable circumstances.
The public is being told that certain procedural issues have prompted the extension of the period of detention of a suspect from 24 to 48 hours. It is supremely ironic that what is in fact an undermining of the fundamental tenets of justice masquerades as something being done in the furtherance of justice itself. That is because those in government advocating the legislation never tire of telling us that the law is being changed to make it easier to deal with the culprits.
But the step being taken is so fundamentally flawed that it is in fact a case of interfering with what is universally considered sacrosanct. There is universally an accepted judicial tenet that suspects shall not be kept in custody beyond what is absolutely necessary to facilitate producing such persons before the officers of the law. A clear perusal of the law as it is applied in jurisdictions as diverse as Bangladesh, India the United Kingdom or Australia, and a majority of others in civilized democracies indicates that there is a consensus that 24 hours is the maximum period a suspect could be held in custody without being taken before a magistrate or an equivalent legal authority.
This has not become a basic expectation from the law, without substantial reason. This is the presumption of innocence at work, and the fundamental premise that no person who has not been pronounced guilty in a court of law could be kept against his will without justifiable reason, in custody. There are also several other ramifications with regard to this law — a great many of which deal with the possibility of police abuse of persons under detention. The reader could find out more elsewhere in these pages, but what can be said unequivocally here is that making 24 hours 48 is a big step in the wrong direction.

Read orginal article here

7 States in USA that Ban Atheists From Holding Public Office

There are seven States  in USA with laws on the books barring atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Surprised or no?


Follow professional ethics, doctors urged #SJ #Aamir Khan

Aarti Dhar, The Hindu, June 13

Aamir Khan’s “Satyamev Jayate” has drawn sharp criticism from Indian Medical Association

Taking forward the debate on commercialisation of health, initiated by actor Aamir Khan in his television show “Satyamev Jayate” that drew sharp criticism from the Indian Medical Association (IMA), health activists have said distortions in medical practices, induced by unregulated commercialisation, have become systemic problems.

In an open letter to the IMA, which has sought an apology from Mr. Khan for “maligning” the entire profession because of a few errant doctors, the Medico Friend Circle (MFC) and the Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES) have sought self-regulation by medical professionals and active involvement of citizens in the process, than bureaucratic regulation, to ensure rational care and patients’ rights.

‘Uphold dignity of medical profession’

They said: “We very much appreciate that you want to uphold the dignity of the medical profession. However, we feel that denying or minimising the importance of the issues raised by the show and demanding an apology fromAamir Khan is definitely not the most appropriate way of upholding the dignity of doctors. Instead, the IMA should seriously try to reverse the process of health system reforms for eliminating the distortions in medical practice. This would be immensely beneficial to patients and would also raise the dignity of the medical profession manifold. Instead of ‘silencing the messenger,’ we need to listen to the main message of the show and take steps to address problems which are very real.”

The letter raised questions on cut practice and commissions, irrationality in investigations and surgical practices, influence of the pharmaceutical industry on doctors, and inflation of patient bills as a consequence to all these practices.

“This has resulted in massive problems related to both cost and quality of medicare for people. Besides the evidence from various studies on Caesarean section rates, injection practices, prevalence of hysterectomies and sex selective abortions are admitted to by most practicing doctors, and are not limited to a few isolated individuals,” the letter said.

“As good physicians, if we go beyond addressing the ‘symptoms’ and make a ‘comprehensive diagnosis,’ it will be obvious that all these disturbing features are due to a system of unregulated commercialisation of medical care, which has emerged over the last few decades.

Large number of discontented individuals, doctors as well as ordinary citizens, need to come together and start changing this system through a large scale social process,” the MFC and FMES said.

*An open letter to office bearers of IMA*


The National office bearers,

Indian Medical Association

Dear IMA office bearers,

We are writing this letter in context of the apology recently demanded by
IMA from Aamir Khan, regarding the episode on 27 May 2012 of his show
‘Satyamev Jayate’ (SJ) dealing with certain practices of the medical
profession. We write to you as members of Medico Friend Circle (MFC,
http://www.mfcindia.org) and Forum for Medical Ethics Society (FMES). MFC is a
nation-wide 39 year old platform of pro–people doctors and health
professionals, scientists and social activists, involved in improving
health care, especially for the deprived sections of people. FMES is an
association of doctors and health professionals which has been actively
campaigning for reform in the healthcare system and medical education, and
has been publishing the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics since 1995.

We very much appreciate that you want to uphold the dignity of the medical
profession. However we feel that denying or minimising the importance of
the issues raised by this show and demanding an apology from Aamir Khan is
definitely not the most appropriate way of upholding the dignity of
doctors. Instead, IMA should seriously try to reverse the current
widespread unregulated commercialisation of health care in India, and
should contribute to the process of health system reforms for eliminating
the distortions in medical practice. This would be immensely beneficial to
patients and would also raise the dignity of the medical profession
manifold. Instead of ‘silencing the messenger’, we need to listen to the
main message of this show and take steps to address problems which are very

We would not go into the details of the content and form of this show. We
would rather point out that the critical issues raised regarding cut
practice and commissions, irrationality in investigations and surgical
practices, distorting influence of pharma industry on prescribing by
doctors, and inflation of patient bills consequent to all of these, are
extremely widespread. This has resulted in massive problems related to both
cost and quality of medical care for the people. There is no point in
dismissing these issues as just being related to a few ‘black sheep’ in the
profession. Besides the evidence from various studies on cesarean section
rates, injection practices, prevalence of hysterectomies and sex selective
abortions etc., most practicing doctors admit in private that malpractices
are a pervasive trend, not limited to a few isolated individuals. In
fact *distortions
in medical practice induced by unregulated commercialisation have become
systemic problems*.

Given this reality, let us move beyond the ‘few rotten eggs’ type of
defensive arguments focussed on individuals, and look at the systemic
problems which include-

· Astronomically high ‘donations’ charged by mushrooming capitation fee
medical colleges are a major influence which is pushing crass
commercialisation of medical practice, besides placing medical education
beyond the reach of many deserving poor and middle class students.

· Widespread cut practice, intense competition and defensive medicine
are causing dissatisfaction among many doctors, not only their patients.

· Pressures are imposed on doctors by hospitals, inducing them to advise
more than necessary investigations, procedures, intensive care admissions,
hospital stays.

· There are continuous tensions between doctors and patients over
payment issues, and even occasional outbreaks of violence against

These are serious problems going beyond just a few individuals, which are a
product of the increasingly commercialised, market oriented nature of
medical care in India today.

As good physicians, if we go beyond just addressing the ‘symptoms’ and make
a ‘comprehensive diagnosis’, it will be obvious that *all these disturbing
features are due to a system of unregulated commercialisation of medical
care*, which has emerged over the last few decades. Instead of being
foremost healers and protectors of their patient’s health, doctors are
increasingly forced to become hard-nosed businessmen, often in order to
repay large scale loans, to ensure their practice, and to remain ‘in the
system’ despite the fact that many would not have liked to depart from
their principles. In this situation, the increasing numbers of ‘black
sheep’ (and much larger numbers of ‘grey sheep’) are the inevitable
products of this system. Of course there is a role for individual
responsibility, but such an entrenched system cannot be changed just by
giving moral science lectures to individual doctors, by asking them to
follow rational principles in isolation. Instead of this, large numbers of
discontented individuals, *doctors as well as ordinary citizens, need to
come together and start changing this system through a large scale social

Of course, commercialisation and linked distortions are seen in all
professions. But doctors’ organizations are best placed to reform the
medical profession and health care sector, thereby contributing to wider
social reform. In fact IMA’s stated objectives include “improvement of
Public Health and Medical Education in India”. Hence we would suggest that
instead of rubbishing the SJ episode and ignoring its main message, IMA
should treat this as a ‘wake-up call’ for the medical profession as well as
for wider society, and we should all start a process at two levels. We need
to initiate *social regulation of medical practice* (which would include
elements of self-regulation by the profession and active involvement of
citizens, not just bureaucratic regulation) to ensure rational care and
patients rights. Further linked to this, we need to move from a
market-centred model of health care, towards a *socialised system of
universal health care*.

This letter will not go into details of how such social regulation of
medical practice and further, a system for universal health care (UHC)
might be developed in India, which could ensure decent and secure
livelihood for all doctors (though not super-profits for any!) and access
to good quality, free health care for all residents of the country. IMA
office bearers would be aware of UHC systems which are successfully working
in a wide diversity of contexts: developed countries like Canada, Australia
and Scandinavian countries, as well as developing countries like Brazil and
Thailand. Of course we will need to evolve a UHC model that is appropriate
to Indian conditions which will require broad based debate and inputs from
all stakeholders, especially from the medical profession. This process
has already been initiated by the High Level Expert Group on Universal
Health Coverage (HLEG-UHC) appointed by the Planning Commission, which has
published a detailed report which would be taken into account while
developing the upcoming 12th Five year plan. We may differ of the details
and specifics of the model, but we need to accept that Universal Health
Care is now emerging on the national agenda, and we should all start
engaging with this process.

Such a UHC system would eliminate widespread commercialisation, cut-throat
competition and insecurity among the majority of doctors, while ensuring
them a decent income and basic security. The price of not moving towards
such a system is colossal, not only for patients from all classes of
society, but also for the vast majority of doctors who would like to
practice their profession nobly and rationally, but are being sucked into a
money-centred system which trumps humane principles and rational practices.
The potential rewards of such an alternative health care system would be
similarly enormous for our entire country of 1.2 billion people, including
our doctors who could once again become respected and honored
professionals, instead of presently being often viewed by people with
suspicion and even resentment.

In short, the time has come to do some genuine introspection and
alternative thinking, and to address the widespread problems instead of
denying them. On the lines of the call for ‘Physician, heal thyself!’, the
time has come to say – ‘Physicians, heal thy system!’

Yours Sincerely,

Executive committee, Medico Friend Circle

Managing committee, Forum for Medical Ethics Society


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June 2012
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