The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape #WTFnews #VAW #Rape

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape

Yesterday, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Republican Senate nominee and member of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, said pregnancy from rape was “really rare” because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin quickly said that he “misspoke,” but he didn’t rescind his claims that women have magical sperm-defying ovaries — or that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to different “levels” of rape.

If you’re unfamiliar with the exciting concept that your uterus can pick and choose between various kinds of rape, don’t fret. We have just the guide for you.

Non-Pregnancy Rape

For decades, conservatives have claimed that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate” rape thanks to their wise, all-knowing uteri, psychic “juices” and Spidey Sense-like “secretions.” (Hmm, if legislators can applaud our vaginas for being so omniscient, how come they can’t let us control them?)

In 1988, Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Stephen Freind said the odds that a woman who is raped will get knocked up are “one in millions and millions and millions” because rape causes a woman to “secrete a certain secretion” that kills evil sperm. I don’t know about you guys, but my “secretions” are so judicious that they start flowing the second after an Ayn Rand-lover approaches me at a bar, before he can even utter the word “Objectivism.” I guess my vag is just highly evolved.

In 1995, North Carolina state Rep. Henry Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee that “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.” Plan B: If your secretions can’t kill evil sperm, you just “dry up” and brush yourself off after you’re done being raped, baby-free. No biggie!

Then, there’s this famous 1999 Christian Life Resources piece from John C. Willke, a physician who was once president of the National Right to Life Committee, in which he basically just makes shit up:

Finally, factor in what is is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.

Got it, ladies? If you’re normal, you’ll never emotionally recover from your rape because it’s the “greatest emotional trauma” you can ever experience. But at least you’ll be too fucked up to have a baby! If your body allows basic biology to happen inside of it, your rape wasn’t aggressive enough. Try, try again?

Bad Weather Rape

In 1990, Texas Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams told ranchers that victims should take rape in stride and try to enjoy it — like when you have picnic plans but then there’s a huge thunderstorm so you decide to see a movie instead and it turns out to be a pretty enjoyable afternoon after all! Yes, Williams literally compared rape to the foggy weather that was affecting his ongoing speech by saying, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

Williams isn’t the only conservative to claim rape is akin to unfortunate weather; in 1997, Bush appointee Federal Judge James Leon Holmes said in an article that “concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” Because of the juices! And the secretions! And SCIENCE.

Politico Rape

Last night, Politico‘s Dave Catanese tweeted that it was “impossible” to know what Akin really meant to say when he said “legitimate rape” doesn’t lead to pregnancy. “Just maybe,” Catanese surmised, Akin “didn’t really mean ‘legitimate.’ Perhaps he meant if ‘someone IS really raped’ or ‘a rape really occurs.'” Catanese then got all huffy when people accused him of being a rape apologist, tweeting, “The left is often 1st to shut down debate as “off limits” when it deems so. Aren’t these moments supposed to open up a larger debate?”

Catanese sure has a lot of questions! Here are some others: Why is it wrong to think that Akin meant to say “legitimate” when he literally said “legitimate”? Why should we spend a millisecond of our time analyzing Akin’s deep thoughts on the “science” behind the female body’s ability to “shut down” if she’s being raped? Why does Akin deserve the benefit of the doubt at all? Why is aPolitico reporter more concerned with all of the mythological crazy ladies out there claiming fake rape than with the fact that a state representative who sits on the House Science committee doesn’t understand how pregnancy works?

Forcible Rape and/or Assault Rape

Last year, Ye Grand Protector of All Womenfolk Rep. Akin joined forces with GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan to co-sponsor the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, which introduced the awesome new term “forcible rape” into our vernacular. Federal funds can only be used to pay for abortion in cases when a woman is raped; the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” sought to chip away at that exception by clarifying that only pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape” would qualify for federally funded abortions. The true meaning of “forcible rape” was never clearly defined, and the term was eventually removed from the bill.

Yesterday, the Romney-Ryan campaign said the men disagreed with Akin’s statement and that “a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” Funny, since Ryan was one of the original co-sponsors of the “forcible rape” bill and has said that abortion should be illegal in all cases except when the mother’s life is in danger.

Marriage Rape, aka “JK LOL Doesn’t Happen!” Rape

Earlier this year, Idaho Senator Chuck Winder made good use of his time on the Senate floor when he warned everyone about those wily, dangerous housewives who didn’t get the memo that putting a ring on it = no rapes forever and ever. “I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape,” he said.

Fear of the “Wife who cried rape” is nothing new; as a state legislator, Akin once only voted for an anti-marital-rape law after wondering whether it might be used “in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.”

“Rape” Rape

Remember when Whoopi Goldberg said Roman Polanksi didn’t, like, “rape-rape” a teenage girl? “I know it wasn’t rape-rape,” she said on The View. “It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like ‘You know what this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail I’m not staying, so that’s why he left.'” That “something else” that isn’t “rape rape” is a lot like….

Gray Rape

Young readers might think that “gray rape” has something to do with a certain popular BDSM bestseller, but it’s a term that’s officially been around since the ’90s. Most people think thatCosmopolitan invented the term “gray rape” in 2007, when Laura Session Stepp defined it as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.” But Katie Roiphe infamously claimed “There is a gray area in which one person’s rape may be another’s bad night” in her 1994 book The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism.

When the Cosmo article prompted a panel on the dangers of “grey rape,” Linda Fairstein, the former chief of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told the New York Times that the concept had been around long before Cosmo decided it was trendy. “Certainly, in the criminal justice system there’s no such thing as gray rape,” she said. “Gray rape is not a new term and not a new experience. For journalists, it may be, but for those of us who had worked in advocacy or law enforcement, this description of something being in a gray area has been around all the time. It’s always been my job in law enforcement to separate out the facts.”

Date Rape

“Date” rape is the opposite of “stranger” rape, which is everyone’s favorite kind of rape, because if the attacker is a crazy inhuman savage jumping out of the bushes and never to be seen again (unless shot to death by a nearby princely fellow carrying a gun specifically for cut-and-dry situations such as these), there’s no need to acknowledge rape culture or try and educate people about complicated issues of consent.

The term entered the national consciousness in 1985, when Ms. Magazine published a three-year federally-funded study by psychologist Mary P. Koss on date rape on college campuses. The study found that one in four college women were victims of rape or attempted rape, and that only one in four women had experienced sexual assault that met the legal definition of rape at the time. In the piece, Koss encouraged women to reconsider their past experiences and ask themselves if they had actually consented, even if the person in question was a friend.

When we attach “date” as a modifier to rape, the term becomes quainter and less violent; it implies the attacker and the victim were friendly, making the situation more convoluted. Which it very well may be. But “date rape” is much more common than “stranger rape.” According toRAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.

Why do we feel the need to get so specific when a rape is “date” rape if that’s the unfortunate norm?


RAINN defines rape as “forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.” To clarify: “Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.”

(And here’s some additional info for Scientist Akin: according to a 1996 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.” According to Planned Parenthood, more than five percent of all rapes result in pregnancy.)

Let’s stop differentiating between different types of rape as if they were different flavors at an ice cream shop. Politicians need to get over the pervasive fear that adopting a zero-tolerance attitude towards rape means that people will be able to disingenuously “cry rape” if they’re having a bad day. That’s not going to happen. You know what’s way more dangerous? Allowing legislators like Akin to make declarative statements that are unarguably false. If you don’t know how basic biology works, you shouldn’t be able to hold a government position that gives you real power over the bodies of millions of women.

Sure, it would be a hell of a lot easier if uteri were able to define rape for us. But they can’t, and it’s insane to pretend otherwise.

Oriiginal article here-

Aadhaar letters lost: Phase I was tough, says India Post- #UID #NandanNilekani

Geeta Gupta : New Delhi, Sat Aug 25 2012, 

With the Delhi government voicing concern over loss of Aadhaar letters during transit — Newsline reported many are being dumped in bulk at certain places — India Post, the designated carrier for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), has acknowledged that it struggled to deal with bulk orders during Phase I of the project owing to shortage of manpower and equipment.

The postal department, which was responsible for printing, dispatch and delivery of Aadhaar numbers, said the printing work has been outsourced and it will now only dispatch and deliver under Phase II.

Y P S Mohan, Chief General Manager (Business Development and Marketing Directorate), Department of Posts, told Newsline there were problems and shortage of resources “but Phase II will be a smooth sail”.

“We are very low on manpower and cities have expanded very fast. If a postman had a 3-km area under him, now the same has increased to 10-km or more.”

Mohan said the UIDAI had initially placed an order for printing 25 lakh letters in 2010. These were printed in Delhi and Kolkata.

“The UIDAI articles is a one-off project which will get over in another couple of years. But it was a very big challenge for us. Enrolment started on a large scale in 2011 and we had the task of printing, dispatch and delivery of 2.5 crore speed posts a month. We have handled a maximum of 11 lakh articles in a single day. But our capacity was less, we were ill-equipped to take up such mass printing, and the UIDAI understood that. It was then decided to outsource printing. From January 2012 onward, we have been able to clear our backlog,” Mohan said.

Given that the official time limit for delivery of speed post is seven days, Mohan said postmen have been asked to devote extra time. “Since the beat areas have expanded and there are too many letters to be delivered, post offices have been asked to ensure accuracy and take extra time if needed,” he said.

Meanwhile, UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani met Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Wednesday and proposed implementation of the Aadhaar-based “business correspondent (BC)” model in Delhi, so far implemented in rural areas to facilitate doorstep banking services to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Under this model, accredited agents provide doorstep banking services using a micro-ATM. People use their Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts and the portable ATMs work with biometric authentication as identification proof.

A senior government official said: “The Chief Minister has given a go ahead that all major social security schemes in Delhi, Delhi Annashree Yojna to begin with, be primarily based on Aadhaar.” Officials of the UIDAI said modalities of the model will be worked out to help the Delhi government in implementing schemes.

Sujata Chaturvedi, Deputy Director General of UIDAI’s Delhi zone, said: “The idea behind implementation of the BC model here is to enable the Delhi government in implementing various social security schemes more effectively. Modalities of working out this model in Delhi are still being worked out in consultation with other stakeholders. While the Delhi government will lead the schemes, UIDAI will provide support services with the use of Aadhaar, like direct cash transfers to beneficiaries.” 


My Nagaland #Mustread

by Vibi Yhokha

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes  is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story….Stories matter, many stories matter, stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity…..”

– Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, The Danger of a Single Story

People, especially mainland Indians, have only a single story of Nagaland. No, in fact they have different single stories. They associate the Nagas with headhunting, Hornbill festival, Rock music, fashion and yes, Conflict. Nagaland the land of myths, where life is one long festival but is also a place where life is one long, long war….



Read more here



Assam’s tragedy, #mustread


Harsh Mander

25 August,2012 
Almost an everyday sight. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
Almost an everyday sight. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

How partisan policies and a bitterly divided people keep the State in an endless cycle of violence.

The current tornado of targeted mass violence in Assam is only the latest in a series of several storms of violence which have convulsed the state over the last three decades. Each wave of blood-letting has further deepened fractures between various religious and ethnic groups. It is important to recall this troubled history if we are to find ways forward to lasting peace and calm for the diverse religious and ethnic communities which inhabit the fertile river valleys and low hills of this beautiful State.

The beginning

The foundations of ferocious ethnic and religious hostility in the state were laid in the anti-‘foreigners’ agitation which racked the state from 1979 to 1985. The demand of the agitators was for the State to detect and deport ‘foreigners’, or Bangladeshi immigrants. Migrations from Bangladesh occurred from the early 20th century, partly the result of conscious colonial state policy, mainly of peasants and landless workers, drawn to Assam by land hunger and unemployment.

The Tewary Commission appointed by the State government to enquire into the violence during the agitation reports of diverse groups attacking each other in every district in Assam except Cachar and North Cachar Hills. Baruah in his definitive account of the agitation recounts that violent attacks against Bengali Muslim settlers in Assam, regardless of their vintage, rose after 1979. The most gruesome communal violence in those years, and indeed since Independence anywhere in India, occurred in 14 villages of Nellie.

The Centre for Equity Studies studied this largely forgotten massacre and its aftermath. The author Surabhi Chopra recounts from official records: “On the morning of 18th February 1983, thousands of people surrounded the Nellie area and attacked Bengali Muslim residents… The attackers were armed with machetes and other weapons. They systematically set fire to people’s huts. As residents fled their burning homes, they were hacked to death. Roads to the Nellie area were blocked and the Muslim villages surrounded, so people could not go to Jagiroad police station while violence was unfolding. Unofficial estimates say that the massacre orphaned 371 children and left over 2000 people dead.”

One remarkable feature of this massacre is that not a single person responsible for the violence has been prosecuted or punished. The Assam Accord signed between the Indian government and the leaders of the movement in 1985 included a clause to review criminal offences, except heinous offences. But, as Surabhi Chopra notes: “In practice, what the accord was interpreted to mandate was a full amnesty to all persons charged with crimes, even of murder and rape, during the mass communal violence.” She notes further that “Only one, fairly junior police person faced disciplinary measures. Survivors received minimal compensation.”

This laid a dangerous precedent in Assam of State-sanctioned, officially brokered immunity for people charged with heinous hate mass crimes. This was further nurtured by a policy of enabling, even incentivising ethnic cleansing. The militant agitation of indigenous Bodo tribal people from 1987 was originally not targeted against the East Bengali Muslims: it saw them as allies in a fight against the dominant caste-Hindu Asamiya people. The situation changed drastically in 1993 when the government signed the Bodo Accord, which created an autonomous Bodoland within Assam, but laid down that only settlements with populations of more than 50 per cent Bodo people would be included in Bodoland. The die was thus cast by state policy itself for violent ethnic cleansing.

Former militants organised themselves to drive out the settlers. In 1993 itself, Bengali Muslims were killed and their homes looted and burnt. The terrified survivors fled into camps that were to be their homes for years. Attacks were then mounted against the Santhal descendants of tea garden workers in 1996, and at its peak, around three lakh people were displaced by the violence. In 1997, some returned, but were freshly evicted after new clashes in 1997. In 2000, the Muslims were forced to vacate the official camps, but again were subject to attacks. They set up their own camps by encroaching on government or private land, where they continue until today.

In no man’s land

After visits to these camps, I wrote in 2007 about these ‘nowhere people’ who had lived for a generation in relief camps in the Bodo heartland of Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon, and the State has done nothing to assist them to return to their homelands. I found them surviving on erratic supplies of rice rations for registered camp dwellers for 10 days a month, without child-care centres, health centres or schools, unable to return to their lands and homes, boycotted from seeking work, and attacked if they strayed back to indigenous habitations.

I noted then: “Assam has near-fatally imploded with the politics of competing persecutions, as oppressed groups arm and organise themselves to violently drive away other wretched and deprived people, in pursuit of dangerous, impossible (and unconstitutional) aspirations of ethnically cleansed homelands. Their plight is aggravated by bankrupt and opportunistic politics and State policy, and equivocal rationalisations by civilian observers. In battles between indigenous inhabitants and settlers, many of the region’s poorest people are living out their lives in fear, confined to camps, people who no one wants and who have nowhere to go.”

I added: “The Assam government indifferently says it can do nothing for the people in camps, who must return to their homes from where they were expelled. The displaced people plead that to return is to only live daily in the shadow of fear of the assured next attack, by a people determined to reclaim their ‘homeland’ from the settlers, spurred by the Bodo Accord which recklessly incentivised such ‘cleansing’.”

That next attack has occurred, this sombre monsoon of 2012, and four lakh more people are exiled to pitiless camps. The cauldron of ethnic and religious hatred continues to boil, spurred by a bitterly divided people, and State policies which assure official immunity to perpetrators of mass violence, and incentives for ethnic cleansing.

There seems no end yet to the tragedy of Assam.

Jairam Ramesh calls for freeze on fresh mining in worst Naxal-affected regions #Goodnews


Urmi Goswami, ET Bureau Aug 24, 2012, 
(Ramesh has pitched for a…)

NEW DELHI: Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has pitched for a moratorium on new mining projects in the worst Naxal-affected regions and particularly in areas recently recaptured from insurgents, saying it was essential to quell the Maoist problem wreaking havoc across much of India’s hinterland.

Tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo had earlier made this suggestion. In comments certain to draw the ire of industry, parts of which already view him as anti-development, Ramesh also said mining was part of the problem, and called it one of the key issues contributing to the Maoist stranglehold over mineral-rich forest areas

“There should be a 10-year moratorium on new mining in the worst Naxal-affected areas, particularly those areas which have recently been liberated from Maoist control and where we need to re-establish the presence of the state, improve governance and ensure that Maoists don’t regain the foothold,” he told ET in an interview.

Ramesh said that mining as it has been and is being undertaken was “neither ecologically sensitive nor socially inclusive”. He said it had aided Maoists gain control over large swathes of central India’s tribal belt, as he argued that it was essential to address issues arising from mining activities if the state is to consolidate and re-establish its presence in the Naxal-affected areas.

A moratorium on mining, Ramesh said, will buy the central and state governments time to first provide the basics in tribal areas and then help equip the local population to be able to participate in economic activities such as mining.

“What we need to do is build up the skill set of the local population, improve governance, and train the local people so that they are in a better position to participate in this economic activity,” he explained.

“If you have a free for all for mining in these areas, given that our track record in mining has been so disastrous, what you will have in the initial years will be that all the jobs (skilled and semi-skilled) go to outsiders and the menial jobs will be done by the locals.”

Such a situation would over time breed resentment among the locals and end up becoming a recruiting sergeant for the Naxal cause, he added. Limiting mining activity would also help cut off a key funding source for the Maoists, whom Ramesh described as being fuelled by “levy and not ideology”.

“The moment you expand mining activities you will find a proliferation of groups operating under the garb of Maoist ideology, but who are basically extortionists,” he said.

With his stance on mining, Ramesh is potentially placing himself once again in the firing line of detractors who blame him for a lot of the country’s present economic problems.

In his previous job as environment minister, Ramesh pushed a policy demarcating forests as ‘go and no-go’ areas for mining, a move that made him a lightning rod of criticism both within and outside the government.

Other ministers and some in industry circles have blamed him and his policy for raw material shortages and resultantly a sharp drop in economic growth rates.

Coming at a time India’s GDP growth rate – at just over 5% – is hovering at levels unseen in a nearly a decade, Ramesh’s latest intervention on the mining issue could, for some, buttress his anti-development and anti-growth image.

But the man remains unfazed. “What is more important – social peace or growth? What use is this growth if large parts of your own territories are not amenable to any form of governance by democratically elected institutions?” he asks.

An IIT-Mumbai, Carnegie Mellon and MIT alumnus, Ramesh, says that he is not anti-growth, but there is a need for balance. “This monotheism that we have practiced since 1991 that ‘nothing matters except GDP growth’ is very unwise.

Growth is essential. There is no doubt about that,. This is not an argument for going back to worshipping a 3.5% growth rate, but what it calls for is a certain balance. It calls for making strategic choices,” he said.

Although Ramesh in his stint as environment minister succeeded in giving the ministry, long viewed as a rubber stamp department, a big public profile, his move to rural development, albeit with a promotion to full cabinet rank, was viewed in some quarters as a punishment by the Prime Minister for hobbling the cause of industrialisation and economic growth.

Given the challenge posed by the Maoists, Ramesh is confident that the Prime Minister will take this proposal under consideration. “I don’t think the Prime Minister is insensitive to these issues.

I have had extensive talks with him. Every time I go to one of these Naxal-affected districts, I brief him and I have never found him not supportive of what I am trying to do,” he said.

To his detractors who argue that he does not see the larger picture, Ramesh tosses some ancient lines of wisdom from the Bhagwad Gita, especially the one in which Krishna tells Arjuna that “it is better to die doing one’s own duty than to die doing someone else’s duty”.

“My duty is not to promote mining industry, my duty is to ensure that the process of mining does not lead to undesirable social and ecological consequences. The job of the mining minister is to promote mining, he says, adding that ultimately whether a project takes off or not depends on the wish of the locals.

“Niyamgiri didn’t work out not just because of my decision, but because the local Dongaria Konds (tribals) didn’t want it,” he says, referring to Vedanta Resources’ stalled multi-billion dollar project to mine bauxite in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills.

Scented Handwash: BJP supporters struggle for Freedom of Speech #FOE

Vidyut, Aug 25,2012

I have lampooned our government often over censorship and it is a Congress Government [each word is one among dozens of links on this blog criticizing our government on regimenting free speech]. This is because it is the UPA government in power. The BJP aint smelling sweet on this though I made the mistake of ignoring them.

Today, the BJP supporters online are vocal in criticizing government censorship and being condescending with anyone not supporting the shining ideal – “absolute” freedom of speech, with Twitter flooded with criticism of the Congress for using censorship for political purposes. While this cannot be disputed – our government is indeed trying to regiment dissent into compliance in various ways – both online and offline, the high moral ground currently taken by the BJP, in my view is little more than a farce when the only time it is heard is when accounts affiliated with their interests are blocked. This, in my view is not a fight for right to freedom of speech and it is pressure to reverse blocks to protect their own interests.

The washing hands off any responsibility for the condition of our freedoms of speech in my view is rubbish. BJP has played a role in censoring Speech, which it conveniently ignores now, when it wishes free speech for its own.

The first major instance of internet censorship in India was when the website was blocked in 1999 during the Kargil War. Rediff had posted a workaround. The IT Act didn’t exist then, but here is how it was done anyway.

VSNL Acting Chairman and Managing Director Amitabh Kumar toldRediff ”Yes. We have blocked the site. But it is under instruction from higher authorities.” When asked about the legality of the order, Kumar said “We have done it under the authority given to us by the Indian Telegraph Act.”

The next year itself, the IT Act passed. I was living in Manali when the IT Act of 2000 was passed and a mighty puzzled dehati when all of a sudden all the cyber cafes started warning of watching pornographic or “obscene” content on their premises. It was the starting point of the government moralizing use of the internet. The 67th point in the Information Technology Act described offenses:

67. Publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form.

Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees and in the event of a second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and also with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees.

Their hounding of Tehelka for their Operation Westend expose is probably on par with the Wikileaks hounding by US – for exposing grave wrongs in defense forces too. Accusations of “ISI hand”, “fabricated videos”, etc – that BJP supporters jeer at today coming from Congress politicians have been a part of that persecution. Today their supporters are furious about blocks on Twitter profiles that still leave them with the ability to get their word out and have no impact on their journalism.


Read more here

Exoneration of the innocent through DNA testing # Mustread #Sundayreading

Innocent convicts


Exoneration of the innocent through DNA testing in the U.S. breaks the silence on the ills besetting the criminal justice system.

Brian Capaloff holdsa placard beside a cardboard cut-out picture of Linda Carty while standing on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in London on September 10, 2009. Capaloff used his one-hour slot on the plinth to highlight Linda Carty’s legal case. She is currently on death row in Texas. The fourth plinth project invites members of the public to stand and speak on Trafalgar Square’s empty plinth.

The first DNA exoneration in the United States took place in 1989. Since then, the Innocence Project, which is a network of an incredible band of people, including an extended network of lawyers, has been working to “exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing”. Since 1989, they record, 292 persons have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence; 17 cases involved inmates who had served time on death row and 15 were cases where people were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death. This, as is evident to anyone watching the criminal justice system, is an indication of a deeply flawed system that is creating an oxymoron: the innocent convict.

Exoneration is not acquittal. It is about wrongful conviction resulting in innocent persons spending long years in prison, sometimes with the spectre of the death sentence hanging over them.

Johnny Lindsey, 26 years in prison for “aggravated rape” until DNA proved his innocence. Earl Washington, 17 years in prison of which nine years were on death row, until DNA proved his innocence. Ronald Jones, 15 years before he walked out of death row to freedom, the DNA test having affirmed that his plea of innocence was genuine. James Gits, exonerated after 10 years in prison and 14 years on parole during which he was hounded by the legal restrictions and stigma that accompanies a convict of “aggravated sexual assault” wherever he goes. Victor Thomas, who spent 15 years, seven months and six days in prison before DNA testing proved that he was no rapist. The list is long, and growing.

The exonerees’ stories speak about how the innocent are found guilty. The Innocence Project identifies six main routes to undeserved guilt.

Mistaken identification

Eyewitness misidentification is a common feature of wrongful convictions. Amidst the growing body of literature on wrongful convictions is a 2010 publication titled Tested: How Twelve Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope. Christopher Scott is one of the twelve. A man was murdered in the presence of his wife, and Christopher and his friend were picked up and put away despite the total absence of physical evidence that could link them to the murder. The wife of the victim was escorted into the room where Christopher was and asked whether he was the shooter. This was in 1997. Twelve years later, Alonzo Hardly made a confession while in prison serving sentence in another case that it was he and another man who had committed the robbery and murder for which Christopher was serving sentence.

Steven Phillips was put in a line-up to be identified by more than 20 women who were brought in by police personnel to identify a serial rapist. Steven Phillips had green eyes, and many of the victims had spoken of a blue-eyed attacker; but after collective discussion with the police, the victims began identifying him. It was 24 years before he was released, after the Innocence Project had his DNA tested and it was conclusively proven that he was innocent.

Brandon L. Garrett dug into court transcripts to uncover what had led to the wrongful convictions in the first 250 cases of wrongfully convicted people who were exonerated by DNA testing. In his 2011 book Convicting The Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, he says, “The role of mistaken eyewitness identification in these wrongful convictions is now well-known. Eyewitnesses misidentified 76% of the exonerees (190 out of 250 cases)…. I obtained trial materials for 161 or 85% of the 190 exonerees (out of 250) who were misidentified by eyewitnesses. Two related problems recurred: suggestive identification procedures and unreliable identifications.” And “with judges taking a hands-off approach, most police departments have few procedures and little formal training on eyewitness identification, despite the importance of eyewitness identification in so many criminal cases”.

‘Flawed forensics’

Unvalidated and improper forensic science, as the Innocence Project experience reveals, leads to wrongful convictions. Forensic techniques often deployed in investigating crimes have not been the subject of rigorous scientific evaluations, and these include hair microscopy, fingerprint comparison, bite mark comparison, firearm tool mark analysis, and shoeprint comparison.

A 2009 report of the National Academy of Sciences on “Strengthening forensic science in the U.S.: The path forward” states that many of these methods are “supported by little rigorous systematic research to validate… basic premises and techniques. There are other techniques that have been improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony.” In some cases, the Innocence Project has found “forensic analysts have fabricated results or engaged in other misconduct”.

Garrett calls it “flawed forensics”, identified as recurring issues of reliability and validity. Then there are the problems that have been brought on by “analysts who concealed evidence, made errors in the lab, or failed to test evidence”.

Unveiling a shocking statistic, Garrett’s finding is that over half the exonerees, or 128 of them, had had invalid, unreliable, concealed or erroneous forensic analysis influencing the decision to convict in their cases.

Police and prosecutorial misconduct is known to be a route to wrongful conviction. Michelle Moore, a public defender for Dallas County, has been tasked with reviewing the cases of convicted persons seeking exoneration, a process that is a consequence of the DNA statutes that have begun to be enacted since the opening years of this century in many States in the U.S.

In a conversation that is reproduced in Tested (2010), she is asked: “What about this job has most challenged your belief in the justice system?” Her response: “I have trouble with the Brady violation. That’s where either the District Attorney or the police department did not disclose evidence which could have proved the defendant innocent. The prosecution should by law have handed it over to the defence in the trial. We’ve got a lot of that… it’s just disheartening to think someone didn’t hand over exculpatory evidence – it’s disheartening to think that there was a win-at-all-costs attitude.”

Michelle Moore was referring to Brady vs Maryland, a 1963 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Brady was charged with murder along with Boblit. Brady did not deny that he had been involved in the murder but claimed that the actual killing was the work of Boblit. This would have changed the nature of the offence and the extent of the punishment. Boblit had confessed that it was in fact he who had done the act of killing, but the prosecution withheld this evidence. The court ruled that withholding exculpatory evidence violated due process where the evidence could materially affect matters of guilt or punishment.

Yet “Brady violations” are par for the course. Richard Miles was 19 when he was picked up on charges of murder and attempted murder. He walked out of prison 15 years later after a prison advocacy group, Centurion Ministries, found a police memo that identified the actual offender by name. This information had been withheld from the defence. In the 250 cases of exonerees that Garrett investigated, “in at least 22 cases, it emerged the police had failed to disclose forensic analysis helpful to the defence. In still other cases, it later emerged that informants who had denied receiving any kind of deal had in fact obtained a deal. In still other cases, prosecutors or police had concealed evidence supporting the defendant’s alibi or third-party guilt.” The sorry image of the police and prosecutors as procurers of convictions, and not as enablers of a fair trial, runs through the evidence emerging from the exoneration experience.

Snitch system

The use of informants and jailhouse snitches to secure convictions has been in practice for so long that its origin eludes memory. It has been defended as a “necessary evil”, but its reliability now stands challenged. In 2004, the Northwestern University School of Law Centre on Wrongful Convictions released a report entitled “The snitch system: How snitch testimony sent Randy Steidl and other innocent Americans to death row”. According to it, from the 1970s when the death penalty was given constitutional endorsement by the Supreme Court and there had been 111 exonerations, 51 (45.9 per cent) involved the testimony of an informant or a snitch. For snitches, as Jim Petro, the former Attorney General of Ohio, writes in a co-authored book False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict The Innocent (2011), the incentives to testify have been consistent over decades: to reduce their sentence or speed up their release from prison. Actual killers snitch to incriminate others. And he quotes Robert Berke, who was a lawyer with the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice: “When you dangle rewards, furloughs, money, their own clothes, stereos, in front of people in overcrowded jails, then you have an unacceptable temptation to commit perjury.”

The accused has a right to a lawyer, but that is no guarantor of competence or commitment. The “systemic lack of funding for indigent defence in the United States,” Garrett observes, “leads to shoddy representation and miscarriages of justice.”

False confessions

False confessions pose a serious threat to the credibility of the criminal justice system. Why would an innocent person admit to a crime he did not commit? This is a fair question, and yet, the Innocence Project reports that about 27 per cent of the DNA exonerees confessed, made incriminating statements, or pleaded guilty. Duress, physical torture, fear of violence, exhaustion, incomprehension about their situation or about the law, and diminished capacity are now known to induce false confessions.

What is striking is the detail that is in these confessions. How did a person who was not involved in the crime know so much about it? Gísli Hannes Guðjónsson is a forensic psychologist in London. It was his expert testimony that formed the basis for reversing the convictions of the Guildford Four – Gerry Cohen, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson – who were said to have confessed to the Guildford pub bombings. Prof. Guðjónsson worked on the “Guðjónsson suggestibility scale”, which tests the susceptibility of individuals to suggestibility during interrogation. Interrogative suggestibility results in false statements that are made not in an attempt to deceive, but to comply with what the person interrogated perceives the investigator wants him to say. Guðjónsson is a co-generator, with James MacKeith, of the term “memory distrust syndrome”, in which a person may develop distrust in their memory of events and things, making them vulnerable to external sources to guide their memory. False memories get created, and innocent people may not merely confess to a crime but may provide details and specifics that they could not possibly have known. Garrett calls it “contaminated false confession”.

DNA exonerations have established that confessions are often not dependable. Recording confessions, and the process of interrogation that leads to the confession, may provide the means to validate, or question the credibility of, confessions. Guðjónsson was awarded a CBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2011, and the citation refers to his role in establishing the innocence of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six – an admission by the British government of fallibility that strains the credibility of the criminal justice system as now constituted. In another admission of fallibility, a Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up as an independent public body in March 1997 by the Criminal Appeal Act, 1995. The purpose is to “review possible miscarriages of justice in the criminal courts of England, Wales and Ireland”, and the vision is “to enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system, to give hope and bring justice to those wrongly convicted, to contribute to reform and improvements in the law”.

Alford plea

These errors and faults have made the innocent uncertain of the outcome of their trial, leading to a piquant situation in law. When the Memphis Three – Damien Echols sentenced to death, and Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr to long prison terms – were freed from custody in August 2011, after 18 years of incarceration and a sustained and public campaign, the key to their exit from the prison was the “Alford plea”. This plea comes from a 1970 decision of the Supreme Court, North Carolina vs Alford, where the court held that “an individual accused of a crime may voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even if he is unwilling or unable to admit his participation in the acts constituting the crime”. That is, a person may plead guilty and bargain for a lesser offence – even while maintaining that he is innocent. As prosecutor Scott Ellington reportedly explained, the Alford plea would protect the state from being sued by the Memphis Three. They would continue to be guilty on record, even as they, and the various campaigns that had over the years proclaimed a miscarriage of justice that had happened on the basis of a confession from Jessie, maintained that they were innocent. Such are the uneasy compromises to which law has been drawn.

Sometimes it is too late. Carlos DeLuna was executed by the state in December 1989. He protested until the very end that he was innocent and it was Carlos Hernandez that they wanted. In 2012, James Liebman from the Columbia Law School and his students released a 430-page report, “Los Tacayos Carlos: Anatomy of a wrongful execution”, establishing through investigation and beyond doubt that the State of Texas had executed one Carlos in place of another.

Exoneration through DNA testing has irreversibly altered perceptions about the criminal justice system. Yet, as Barry Sheck says in his recent blog, “Unfortunately, DNA testing is not a panacea for the inadequacies of the criminal justice system because only 5% of serious felony cases have any biological evidence where DNA testing could be used to solve the crime. The other 95% of prosecution turn on much less reliable evidence.” He cites the case of Troy Davies, where no DNA evidence was available but substantial evidence came to light subsequent to his trial indicating innocence. He was executed by the State of Georgia last year.

These are narratives of fallibility and innocence.

The Indian experience is replete with these problems – eyewitness misidentification, flawed forensics, police and prosecutorial pursuing of conviction and not justice, false witnesses, dearth of defence lawyers for the indigent, false confessions and miscarriages of justice. The breakdown of the criminal justice system is common knowledge, yet wrongful convictions have not detained us. Instead, it is a preoccupation with better conviction rates that drives policymaking, as the Malimath Committee report illustrates.

The American, and British, acknowledgment of the injustices that the system has wrought, including execution of the innocent, holds lessons that only deep cynicism and a profound disrespect for life and justice will allow us to ignore.

Usha Ramanathan is an independent researcher in law based in New Delhi.

Ek Tha Tiger: The other side of the coal scam


I’ve spent the past few days reading a couple of page-turners that I recommend strongly to every Indian who cares about her country: the CAG’s audit report on coal block allocations, and a new report released by Greenpeace, titled ‘How Coal-Mining is Trashing Tigerland’. Both are freely available online, at the CAG and the Greenpeace websites respectively. 
Till now, the media has focused primarily on the CAG report. But you have to read both together to get the full picture about the implications of coalgate.  
The CAG’s audit report makes three things amply clear: one, in the last seven years, the government of India has given a major push to coal-based power; two, a lot of private players have made a lot of money out of coal, and more through speculation than by actually producing coal; three, the office of our beloved incorruptible prime minister was right in the thick of coalgate, having chosen to avoid a transparent process of competitive bidding — opting instead to award coal blocks through a ‘screening committee’ — despite being advised by its own legal experts that a competitive bidding process would not contravene the existing mining laws. 
Yes, the corruption in the coal block allocation is mind-boggling. I mean, can someone even explain what Rs1,800,000,000,000 means – on a human, as opposed to a cosmic, scale?
But corruption is only half the coalgate story – the half that’s easier to tell, because it doesn’t challenge any of our assumptions.  
Coal mining is the biggest threat to the tiger
The more significant story, in my opinion, is the one which will affect every one of us far more directly than the notional loss of Rs1.8 lakh crore ($33 billion). It’s the story of what’s in store for you (I’m referring here specifically to those Indians who are not NRIs, don’t have a second home or loving relatives abroad where they can run away to, don’t have a Swiss account nobody knows about, and are not planning to emigrate to New Zealand or Canada in the foreseeable future) when all the 150-odd coal blocks allotted by the Union coal ministry between 2004 and 2009 are mined.  
The basis of the Greenpeace study is something you can try yourself: Take an India map. Referring to the CAG report, plot the locations of all the coal reserves and allocated coal blocks on this map. Then take another India map and plot on it the locations of all the tiger habitats and reserve forests in central India. Then superimpose one map on top of the other. You will discover a) that the bulk of India’s coal reserves fall in central India – covering the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and parts of Odisha and eastern Maharashtra; and b) that the coal fields in central India are contiguous with dense forests and intrude into the territory of India’s national animal, besides several other endangered species. 
What will ensue if we allow coal mining in these forests is the worst kind of environmental and human disaster we’ll ever know (short of a nuclear calamity; but Manmohan Singh, the architect of the Indo-US nuclear deal, has that covered, too, viz Jaitapur, Kudankulam et al). To summarise in brief, developing our coal reserves in central India will involve the following: extinction of the Royal Bengal Tiger from this region; the decimation of at least a million hectares of native forests in central India (the biodiversity and forest ecosystems that took millions of years to evolve, we will gobble up, termite-like, in 40 years flat, turning lush forests into gaping, polluted, barren wasteland); destruction of the livelihood source of half of India’s Scheduled Tribe population; destruction of watersheds of major rivers, including the Mahanadi, Narmada, Tapti, Godavari, Indravati, and Damodar; incalculable loss of India’s bio-diversity and natural beauty that i s a part of our national heritage (something which no agent of private capital masquerading as a public servant, least of all a Manmohan or a Montek, can understand the value of); and the shame and blow to national pride that the next generation of Indians will have to live with when they wake up to the monumental idiocy of their fathers in destroying so much for the greed of so few in so short a time, and that too for a dirty, climate-hostile, limited, non-renewable fuel that anyway cannot solve India’s energy problems.  
What if we tried to attach an economic value to a loss on a scale like this? The Dutch research institute CE Delft did exactly such a study of the externalised global costs of the impact on human/ environmental health and climate change caused by coal-mining and combustion, and arrived at a figure of $452 billion for 2007 alone. That’s more than a dozen times the magnitude of the estimated loss due to coalgate ($33 billion). And the figure is especially scary when you consider that India is not only the world’s third largest coal-producing nation, but also the fourth largest importer of coal.  
Why India can and should wean itself off coal
What’s really alarming is that, despite coal being in the news, nobody seems to be debating a simple question (where are you Arnab Goswami? The nation needs an answer to this one): Can’t India grow without increasing its reliance (pun unintended, believe me) on the dirtiest fossil fuel around?  
Today, more than 50% of India’s energy needs are met by coal. But it has been established that coal is one of the worst contributors to climate change – it contributes not only through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also through destruction of the forests when it is mined. [Forests trap atmospheric carbon in their biomass and are major carbon sinks. This is the basis of the UN’s REDD+ (Reduced Emissions of Deforestation and Degradation) programme which offers incentives to developing countries to preserve their forests – an incentive India is well-placed to tap, IF we keep away from coal and leave the forests alone.] 
Of course, the reality is that many of our policy wonks are climate sceptics who believe it’s OK to use up all our coal reserves before we look at alternatives to coal. As writer Peter Dolack asks in his blog, Systemic Disorder, “There is delusion, and then there is willful fantasy. At what point does the first pass into the second?” Well, if you too are a climate change sceptic, here are some hard facts: 
  • The 20 hottest years on a global basis have all occurred since 1987
  • 9 of the 10 hottest years in recorded history have occurred since 2001
  • June 2012 marked the 328th consecutive month that the global temperatures exceeded the 20th century average
  • For 2010 and 2011 combined, 27 countries recorded an all-time national high temperature while one recorded a national low
There is complete consensus among climatologists that anthropogenic climate change (global warming caused by human activity) is REAL. The debate is only about how much time we have before the rising temperatures go into a destructive feedback loop. The seeds of doubt are being peddled only by a bunch of think tanks funded by the oil and natural gas industry. Exxon Mobil reportedly spent $16 million just between 1998 and 2005 funding denier groups, according to a Monthly Review article in May 2012. And in India, we have our own bunch of industry-sponsored ‘experts’ who want to limit the debate on India’s energy future to two equally moronic, dangerous and completely irrational choices: nuclear energy (dirty but clean) and coal (dirty but cheap). 
The alternative to coal is renewable and doable
Renewable forms of energy accounted for half of all new electric capacity added globally in 2010, and delivered 20% of global power supply. They are cleaner, their costs of production are rapidly coming down, and India, specifically, is superbly placed to tap all three major renewables – solar, wind and biomass. 
Yet it is only rarely that we hear of the most rational option around which to secure our future energy needs: a diversified basket of renewable energy produced in a decentralised manner. Why? Because decentralised renewable energy (DRE) models based on solar, wind and bio-mass don’t give a tiny elite with a monopoly over power and money, an opportunity to make “windfall profits” (that’s the CAG’s term, by the way) in as short a time with as much ease and secrecy and as little transparency as centralised mega-power projects such as nuclear power (sorry, national security, so we won’t tell you anything) or coal (just get a ‘recommendation’ from the state government and you get a coal block absolutely FREE! What a scheme! If I were a businessman with political connections, I’d love it too!).  
Renewables, on the other hand, are decentralised by design. They can be community-owned and controlled instead of being state or corporate owned. They could be home solar panels, biogas plants fed from farmyard manure, or wind turbines in farmers’ fields. Damian Carrington has written in theGuardian about a small German hamlet called Feldheim whose inhabitants produce all the power they need locally, from some 43 turbines scattered across their fields – they don’t need the major utilities anymore (read: they are fine without coal or nuclear power). 
Incidentally, another rigorously researched Greenpeace report asserts that India can have 92% of its energy needs met from renewable sources by 2050. Germany increased the share of its electricity produced from renewable sources to 25% in 2012 from 6.3% in 2000, and has already made investments to make this 35% by 2020. We have far more MW (megawatt) of renewables at our disposal than Germany. So why can’t we? Who stands to benefit if India doesn’t pursue this option and goes for expensive nuclear energy and dirty coal power instead? 
The shenanigans of the coal lobby
But the frightening reality is that we are going all out for coal, even when it’s clear that it’s a fuel we neither need nor want but are merely addicted to for the present. And this addiction is partly by design. Why were so many coal blocks given away for free to private players, many of whom had no background in power generation or even manufacturing? Why were more coal blocks allotted than were needed to meet our production targets as per the 11th Plan? Why were private players allowed to set up so many coal-powered thermal power plants (71 in water-scarce Vidarbha alone, but that’s another story for another day) without any prior infrastructure or arrangement for coal supply?  
One answer: it’s an old ploy employed by India Inc. Once you’ve already set up a hundred coal-powered power plants, then you can always talk about ‘demand’ and ‘shortfall’ and pressure the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) into clearing more coal blocks. This was how the No Go zones – areas of dense forest cover, tiger corridors and bio-diversity hotspots – which the MoEF and the coal ministry had provisionally agreed on in 2010, were scuttled by the latter under pressure from the industry lobby.  
The establishment of No Go zones was a brilliant idea. In one stroke, it would have resolved the uncertainty over environmental clearance for every individual mining project, while at the same time securing India’s basic environmental objectives such as keeping tiger territories inviolate and protecting reserve forests. 
Does anyone remember the hue and cry that was raised when it was reported in 2005 that tigers had been wiped out of the Sariska reserve? Everybody, including, presumably, the tiger-loving, patriotic managements of corporate groups like the Adanis, the Tatas, Jindals, Bhushan, Reliance, Hindalco, Vedanta, and Arcelor Mittal must surely have been saddened by the dwindling numbers of India’s national animal. There are barely 1,700 of them left according to a 2010 estimate from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).  
Yet these corporates are at the forefront of coal mining projects that spell doom for not one, not two, but at least ten tiger reserves in central India. All the coal fields in this region are in close proximity to the tiger reserves. Not just the mining activity, but also the infrastructure that goes with mining – a road and rail network, at the minimum – will destroy tiger corridors (between two reserves) and fragment their forest habitat in such a way that the reserves will no longer be able to sustain a tiger population. 
But those who spend all their time thinking about how to make money tend to have a narrow kind of personality that simply has no mind-space for realities that cannot be processed through profit-loss filters. Some of these businessmen even cynically used the long blackouts on July 30-31 caused by multiple grid failure (which had nothing to do with a shortfall in coal supply) to lobby for environmental clearances for more coal blocks and coal mining projects. But the fact remains that the MoEF has given enough clearances to exceed our coal production targets right up to 2017.  
In any case, our coal reserves (the ones that are economically viable for mining) will run out in 40 years. As of today, India has already lost 70% of its forest cover. If we went ahead and extracted all the coal we can mine, we would have finished off much of the remaining forest cover too [please note: in carbon terms, there is no comparison between afforestation initiatives (‘forests’ planted by man) and the native forests with their richness in carbon-trapping bio-mass. Afforestation can never match the carbon density and biodiversity of a destroyed native forest]. 
De-allocate the ‘coalgate’ mining blocks
There are three solid reasons for de-allocating the 150-odd coal blocks sanctioned under coalgate and putting a permanent moratorium on any fresh allocations.  
First, the private players have already made their money. In fact, the CAG reports says that only one of the 57 blocks allotted to the private sector has been developed, which means that most of them have not spent money on developing the mines allotted to them, as they should have, as per Plan projections. In an insightful article on First Post titled, ‘Who wins, who loses from Coalgate? The markets know’, Arjun Parthasarathy, the editor of the appropriately named, explains how the beneficiaries of the coal allocations have raked it in – they cashed in on rising market valuations on the back of their acquisition of coal blocks and land. When their stock prices crashed post the CAG report, it was the shareholders who lost the most.  
Two, many of these mines are in No Go zones or zones which should be No Go if you consider the environmental implications rationally. If we decide to leave the forest alone, we can look at alternative renewable sources plus encash the forest cover under REDD+. 
Three, because the process of allocation was flawed, it’s only fair (to those who didn’t get any) that they are all cancelled. And once you cancel them, it’s a good opportunity to have a national debate on whether we shouldn’t put a lid on coal-mining in forest areas once and for all.  
From ownership to trusteeship
There seems to be a belief prevalent among our ruling classes that the state owns all of the country’s forests and natural resources. Hello – it does not. Not only do the forests not ‘belong’ to the state, it does not even ‘belong’ exclusively to all human beings taken together. Other living species, passport-bearing citizens of what a Greenpeace campaign describes as ‘Junglistan’, also have a claim on it. We humans are at best trustees, and as a representative only of humans, the state, too, is a trustee of the forests and rivers that fall within the man-imagined borders of the man-made entity that has no basis in the natural world – the nation state, and the parasite whose host it is, the corporation.  
We need to look at our forests and national resources through the prism of trusteeship and not ownership. The problem is: try telling that to the mandarins who run the show in the PMO and the commerce ministry.  
The twin ideas of capitalist industrialisation and endless economic growth were born at a time in history when human beings had no conception of ‘limits’ to natural resources. It was assumed that raw materials can be extracted wherever found, ad infinitum.  
Now the ability of technology to extract has far outstripped the ability of the planet to supply. And the large-scale destruction of the natural environment and phenomena like global warming are symptoms of this mismatch between the scale of technology and the scale of the planet. One sobering example of this mismatch is that humans have enough nuclear bombs to destroy the planet many times over, but no power to create another planet when this one is gone, eaten out from the inside by a particularly virulent strain of the human species that reports only to Capital and answers only to profit. 
The deadly coalition
So, if we look at the big picture, and not just at short-term fixes, the writing is pretty much on the wall: we have to choose between coal and our tigers/forests. If we choose coal, we can enjoy our dirty electricity in the short term but we and our children (and those of you in your twenties now) will most definitely get screwed by environmental disasters in the long-term, and screwed in ways that many of us don’t yet have the imagination to fully comprehend. 
So let the CAG and the Greenpeace report be a wake-up call. Read them both if you haven’t already. If there’s one message that leaps out from this exercise, it is this: India needs to decouple economic growth from fossil fuel, and most definitely from coal. And not only is this not difficult, it is also good business, and profitable in the long run. The only thing stopping us from taking this path is the all-powerful coalition of corporate giants and political dwarves. Corruption is just one name for this coalition and what it does. But it does not even begin to encapsulate the scale of damage that this coalition can unleash if left unchecked. 
G Sampath is an independent writer based in Delhi. He is reachable at

Futile #Deathpenalty- Usha Ramanathan #mustread

Futile penalty


Anti-terrorism laws create cultures of impunity, making it a route fraught with peril for the imposition of the extreme penalty of death.

Representatives of the Sikh community meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on February 6, 2011, at her residence in New Delhi seeking clemency for Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar (below).

When the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, was enacted in 1985, it was intended to be in force for two years as an extraordinary measure. During that period, terrorist activities were expected to be brought under control. That, of course, did not happen. So the life of this law was extended, time after time, until 1995, when it became a political embarrassment because of the excesses that were practised, especially by the police, under its shelter. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), enacted in 2002 following the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001, met an early death when the cynical abuse of the law against political adversaries became manifest.

TADA and POTA provided for the death sentence, and there are those who are still on death row for convictions under these laws. The death sentence in anti-terrorism laws, however, rests on an uneasy premise. If the death penalty in anti-terrorism laws is to have any meaning, it must deter others from committing similar crimes. Experience, however, shows something different. Over the years, it has proved difficult to define terrorism. The law makes it clear that it is a political offence – it is politics that makes the distinction between murder in ordinary law and murder when committed as part of a terrorist act. This has meant that those who face the penalty of death tend to acquire the sheen of martyrs. The conviction based on a confession, the refusal to appeal, and the bravado displayed by Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha, convicted for the assassination of General Arun Vaidya, are illustrative. Suicide bombers and the cyanide capsule are evidence that the penalty is unlikely to have a deterrent effect. It is an aspect of anti-terrorism laws that certain sections of the polity get identified as aggressors and as working against the state. It is no coincidence that those accused in the Godhra train burning case have been charged under POTA, while those accused of the carnage in the days that followed are being tried under regular criminal law.

Anti-terrorism laws have demonstrably exacerbated the sense of wrong and of alienation, against which communities that feel targeted have been speaking out. Protests in Punjab against the carrying out of the death sentence on Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar (Bitta bomb attack case) and Balwant Singh Rajoana (Beant Singh assassination case), or by sections of the Kashmiri people in relation to Afzal Guru (Parliament House attack case) or those in Tamil Nadu against the execution of the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi are expressions of communities, and their voices need to be heard and interpreted to understand what the death penalty for terrorist acts is actually achieving.

It also seems a futile penalty. The roll call of people convicted in terrorist offences consists largely of marginal players who would have little effect on the ending, or even the lessening, of terrorism. Nalini, Perarivalan, Murugan, Santhan (convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, they were tried under the anti-terrorism law too, but only convicted under the Penal Code), Afzal, Rajoana and Bhullar – none of them could have turned the tide against terrorism. So, too, Ajmal Kasab. Kasab’s was a horrific crime, no one would question that. Yet, other than as an act of retribution, what other purpose would Kasab’s execution serve? How will it change the nature of terror? It is also wise and necessary to pause and consider what it means when we make the state an instrument of retribution.

There is a problem that dogs all extraordinary laws: they dilute standards and norms that have been developed over time and through involved processes of thought and practice. Anti-terrorism laws are no exception.

Among the deviations TADA and POTA have made from regular criminal law is making confessions to a police officer admissible in evidence. Torture, coercion and deaths in custody are disturbingly common phenomena. In making confessions admissible, excesses by investigators begin to be tolerated as a political necessity, and investigations become peremptory. The Evidence Act recognised this when it made confessions to a police officer inadmissible as evidence.

Bhullar was accused, and tried, in connection with a remote-control bomb attack on a cavalcade, which left nine persons dead and 29 injured. He was sentenced to death by a TADA court. Three judges heard his appeal in the Supreme Court. It was a split verdict, with the majority upholding the conviction and sentence of death. The conviction was based on a confession that was supposedly made to the police officer investigating the case. This was later retracted, but the two judges concluded that the confession was voluntary and could be relied upon even without corroboration.

Justice M.B. Shah did not agree. His judgment reveals that there was no independent corroboration of the confession which Bhullar was claimed to have made. In the confessional statement, it was said that he had hired rooms at Sahibabad, Jaipur and Bangalore. No neighbours deposed, nor did the landlords; no incriminating articles were found. No one was produced to identify him in connection with any of the events mentioned in the retracted confessions, nor were records or documents produced that could corroborate the confession. The abdication of the role of the investigator is plain. Why did the law enforcement agencies not follow up on Bhullar’s alleged confession?

The July 9, 2011, edition of Open Magazine carried a report on a writ petition that Bhullar’s wife and the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee had filed in May 2011, which tells a tale of abduction and torture. Bhullar was a young teacher in an engineering college. His wife maintains that it was his persistent questioning of the authorities about the whereabouts of the 42 students who had gone missing that provoked the ire of the police. When S.S. Saini, described as a “notoriously brutal SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police]” was attacked with a remote control bomb, Bhullar was listed as an accused. When he was not found in a raid on his house, the police, it is claimed, “abducted his father and maternal uncle”, who were “tortured to death in police custody”. Bhullar’s engineer friend, Balwant Singh Multani, it is averred, was “abducted at the same time and detained in police custody by Saini… and tortured to death”. Bhullar’s father-in-law, too, is alleged to have been picked up, detained, tortured over one and a half months, leaving him “mentally disturbed and barely capable of walking”.

These are facts and circumstances that are verifiable. Yet, there is a deathly silence on these grave allegations. In the meantime, Bhullar’s clemency petition has been rejected by the President at the instance of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Why are the shortcomings of the investigations and the events and allegations in the writ petition and reports not stirring the Ministry to look within and assess how the anti-terrorism law has been used? The Supreme Court has asked the government how delays, changed political conditions, and the possibility that the prisoner has reformed in the intervening period had impacted the mercy plea, if indeed it had. Will it need the court to direct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the various times and events in this episode?

India has had over 25 years of experience with anti-terrorism laws, and we are yet to assimilate the lessons they teach. It is now indisputable that extraordinary laws encourage excesses.

Afzal Guru (left), S.A.R. Geelani (centre), and Shaukat Hussain, accused in the Parliament House attack case, being brought to the special court in New Delhi on December 18, 2002, when the verdict was decided.

The years of heightened military activity in Punjab, when TADA was enacted as a tool in the hands of the law-enforcing agencies, saw very few prosecutions and even fewer convictions. What it did see was a profusion of cases of custodial torture and death, illegal detention, encounters and disappearances. Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab documents hundreds of individuals – identified by name and accompanied by sketches of their personal and political backgrounds – who were the victims of “police abductions leading to illegal cremations”. Jaswant Singh Kalra, who, with Jaspal Singh Dhillon, released copies of the official document, which showed “that security agencies in Punjab had secretly cremated thousands of bodies after labelling them as ‘unidentified, unclaimed’ was himself ‘disappeared’ even as his case was in the High Court, having filed a petition asking for an investigation into the matter of illegal cremations. It was a period when there was a deepening of impunity.”

The Parliament House attack case, too, is situated in a maze of curious circumstances and unanswered questions. The five attackers who entered the precincts of Parliament House were slain and their identity and antecedents continue to be shrouded in silence. Afzal Guru’s alleged confession and his answers to the trial court’s questions say completely different things. Both are reproduced in Nirmalangshu Mukherji’s December 13: Terror over Democracy.

It is now on record that Assistant Commissioner of Police Rajbir Singh, an encounter specialist, made Afzal Guru “confess” before a phalanx of television cameras. It is also now known that the ACP reprimanded Afzal Guru for having said that S.A.R. Geelani, his co-accused and a university teacher, had no part in the crime to which he was confessing, and that he directed the media not to telecast that part of the statement. The tragedy is that the media complied – until 100 days after the attack – by which time the public mind had already condemned Afzal Guru and Geelani. The death penalty that Afzal Guru faces emerges from this maze. The problem is that anti-terrorism laws, like other extraordinary laws, create cultures of impunity, making it a route fraught with peril for the imposition of the extreme penalty of death.

Dalit woman assaulted, stripped by sons in Bihar #VAW

A middle-aged Dalit woman was assaulted and stripped before being paraded through the streets of her village by her sons and other relatives in Gaya district of Bihar.

Sonma Devi, who happens to be a ward member of Ladu panchayat under Mohanpur police station of the district, has been admitted to Anugrah Narayan Magadh Medical College Hospital in Gaya with injuries all over her body. An FIR has been lodged in this connection against nine persons of the village, including three of her sons, who had allegedly tortured her. The district SP has ordered probe into the incident by Sherghati DSP.

Sonma, who is a resident of Lalganj village, told police that she was beaten up with sticks and stripped by her tormentors who paraded her through the village on Wednesday. They also abused her and snipped her hair.

Sonma, who happens to be a widow, said that her sons and other relatives were trying to usurp her property. She said that none of her villagers came forward to rescue her while she was being humiliated and harassed by her sons and others. In her complaint, the poor woman named three of her sons – Dilip Paswan, Chhotu Paswan and Sandeep Paswan – along with six others – Ramji Paswan, Pintu Paswan, Gautam Paswan, Munni Kumari, Muniya devi and Kamla Devi – for their involvement in her assault and humiliation.

The matter came to light when the Women’s Helpline under the Social Welfare department of the state government received her complaint. It subsequently asked the women’s police station to lodge an FIR and take necessary action on the basis of Sonma’s statement.

Local police officials said that the matter was being investigated and stern action would be taken against those, including her sons, who had perpetrated atrocities on Sonma.

Villagers said that Sonma was a poor woman who was eking out her livelihood by preparing meal for school children under the mid-day meal project. They said that her sons had also cast aspersion on her character and driven her out of their house.

They said one of her sons who lived in Surat in Gujarat had come to the village recently. His relatives had complained to him about his mother’s character, saying they had ostracised her because of her behaviour. This angered her son who joined hands with his brothers and relatives ‘to teach her a lesson’.

Sonma, however, said that they had all ganged up to usurp her property and had levelled baseless allegations against her. She sought help and protection from the district administration.

Bihar has witnessed a slew of incidents of crime against women in recent times. At a meeting, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday had asked all the SPs and DIGs to quickly respond to all the crime cases, especially those against women, in their respective areas.

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