#India- Food Security Bill– What’s all the ruckus about?


imagesFood Grains Rotting

It has become a ritual of sorts to create an uproar in the parliament over any “contentious” legislation. Even if we were to believe that the parliament is meant to serve the “functioning democracy” they say is in place in India, we should expect a semblance of effort to carry out the duties of discussing and debating important legislation like the Food Security Bill, which will cover up to 75% of rural and 50% of urban population. To any serious observer of Indian politics, it must have become quite clear by now that the parties like Congress and BJP are quite united in their efforts to bring in laws that help the corporations and launch an onslaught on the rights of the common wo/man. Whether it is the coal scam or the 2G scam or the Commonwealth Games scam, all the parties engage in a full pitched drama, by throwing chairs, mouthing slogans and creating the most amazing scenes that you could possibly imagine inside the premises of an institution that is meant to be the legislative supremo.

 

The reason why they do this is pretty simple – each of these parties are corrupt to the core and none of them have any interest in carrying out serious discussions on bills and legislation like the Right to Food, Right to Information, the BRAI act, Right to Education Act etc. Both the Congress and the BJP have given the corporates every reason to cheer, thanks to their romance with neo liberal policies. The latest Food Security Bill has actually reduced the entitlement of grains from 7Kg to 5Kg per capita per month. This has naturally enraged many activists and informed observers alike. Not only that, collective efforts like the Right to Food Campaign and human rights organizations like PUCL (People’s Union of Civil Liberties) have pointed out legitimately that huge quantities of food grains are rotting in the FCI (Food Corporation of India) godowns instead of being distributed among the huge number of poor and hungry.

The Right to Food Campaign and more so the different left parties’ brigade are of course much more comprehensive in their demands for a universal and holistic approach towards providing food security. They have carefully defined food security so as to include infrastructural prerequisites associated with food security. For example, livelihood security and equitable access to resources like land, water, minerals and forests and adequate measures for proper health, education and social equality are inherent to ensuring food security. Instead, as this article from First Post suggests, the pro neo liberals are busy lambasting the proposed law because it will cost the government so many crores, adding to fiscal deficit, triggering inflation and what not. Yet, they seem to have no problems when huge amounts of corporate taxes are left unpaid. P. Sainth’s work on corporate revenue foregone is a good reference in this context.

Only recently, the CobraPost sting operation revealed (or rather reaffirmed) how the number of people who earn over a crore (or 10 million) bucks a year is certainly more, as many such crorepatis don’t bother clearing the tax dues. The private banks help these high net worth individuals  by protecting their accounts having huge amounts of unaccounted for wealth. Be it gold or insurance products, the banks help the corporations and rich individuals get away with robbing the government. Why are these neo liberals quiet about this corporate plunder? Or perhaps, they will invent innovative justifications for this as well.

Here are short rebuttals to some of the most prominent objections raised about the Food Security Bill:

1. There may be a shortage of food grains in some states due to over-procuring by government for its PDS (Public Distribution System). – Before we provide a rebuttal to this particular objection, let us look at two other but related “issues” being raised  – that the bill wrongly emphasizes on food grains, when in fact ‘more and more’ Indians are shifting to more “protein based” diets, and secondly, that it would take too much resources to transfer from the high cereal surplus states like West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa to the deficit ones. Now assuming these people consider it necessary to ensure that everyone in the country gets properly fed (a bit hard to assume though!), it is obvious that if there are states where there is shortage of cereals, some mechanism must be there to either make the states more self sufficient or get them transported from other states. It is a well known fact that FCI godowns are overflowing with grain which rot and get wasted. But people like Sharad Pawar don’t want these to be distributed. Reason? It will cause an upward shift in supply, thereby lowering prices! The irony is that it is actually a critique of neo liberal or capitalist economy itself – which Marxists call the “anarchy” of economy, which allows room for such disorderliness.

Indian Paddy Farmer

2. They are also opposed to the fact that lot of resources will be required to procure grains from the farmers at minimum support price [MSP] and then distribute at subsidized rates through PDS. Moreover, they point out such a large scale distribution mechanism would require bigger infrastructural spending like storage and supply (transport). In this context, it must be remembered, just how abysmal the state of nutrition and health is in the country. The irony is that neo liberals have pointed this out in their own documents.

Despite buoyant economic growth in recent years, around one-third of India’s population, i.e 400 million people, still lives below the poverty line (in 2010) as per World Bank’s definition of USD 1.25/day. Using the multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI1) of UNDP, India ranks at 75 among 109 countries in 2011, much worse than the other BRIC countries2-indicating extent of deprivation in terms of living standards, health, and education. According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) conducted in 2005-06, 20 per cent of Indian children under five years old were wasted (acutely malnourished) and 48 per cent were stunted (chronically malnourished). The HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) Survey conducted by Nandi Foundation3 conducted across 112 rural districts of India in 2011 showed that 42 percent of children under five are underweight and 59 percent are stunted. All these estimates point to the existence of food insecurity at the micro-level in terms of either lack of economic access to food or lack of absorption of food for a healthy life.

3. They also are worried that if the government takes up the responsibility of providing food to the poor, then it will be eating into the profitable business set up by major corporations in the agricultural sector, including storage and supply chains. Clearly, the priority here is blatant – ensuring that everyone gets to eat as opposed to handsome profits for corporates.

4. That in times of drought there may be a shortage of grains due to such massive procurement – What sort of logic is this? Do they mean that people should go hungry just so that they don’t have to go hungry at a later date? How incredibly silly! Besides, if they are so concerned about people going hungry, why don’t they instead ask for better storage facilities or more public expenditures in agricultural sector, including irrigation, so that productivity increases and there is no fear of drought? Besides, where is their concern when speculators and MNCs in the agro business are directly responsible for causing food inflation?

5. That farmers being incentivized to buy grains, would stop growing other crops like vegetables, thereby playing havoc with the supply side of the same, shooting up prices. – The neo-liberals of all have to shoulder the blame for threatening bio-diversity, by advocating untested and potentially harmful technology like genetically modified crops (GMO) [the case of Bt Cotton being well known]. Such imbalances occur in the first place because of favoritism of policies towards rich capitalists instead of providing cushion to the farmers who genuinely need it.

 

Rights rap on West Bengal Government #FOE #FOS


– Strongest charge against Ambikesh was an ‘afterthought’MONALISA CHAUDHURI, Telegraph

 

The state human rights commission has refused to accept the Mamata Banerjee government’s justification for the arrest of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, citing depositions by top police officers to surmise that the strongest charge against him was an “afterthought”.

“The commission is constrained to put it on record that it finds it difficult to accept the reasons given in the letter of the additional chief secretary for non-acceptance of the commission’s recommendations,” it said in a communiqué to the state government on Tuesday.

The rights commission cited two reasons for not accepting the state’s argument that there was no violation of human rights in the arrest of Mahapatra, who had been first charged with outraging the modesty of a woman for circulating an Internet joke on Mamata Banerjee.

“Senior police officers, including the city police commissioner, had deposed before the commission that Mahapatra was arrested after being charged with a cognisable offence under Section 509 of the IPC. The fact that he was not arrested under Section 66A(b) of the Information Technology Act proves that this stringent section was included as an afterthought,” an official of the commission said.

“It appears that his arrest came first and then the charges were slapped to put him behind bars without considering whether the alleged offence merited these charges,” he added.

Justice Ashok Ganguly, the chairman of the rights commission, said circulating an Internet joke was in no way an offence that called for penal charges of the kind slapped on the chemistry professor. “It was an innocuous mail, based on characters from a movie for children (Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella). How could the police slap such stringent charges for circulating a mail like that?” he said.

Legal experts said invoking Section 509 (intending to insult the modesty of a woman by words and gestures) was “inappropriate” in Mahapatra’s case because the presumed victim never filed a complaint against him.

“According to the rule book, only a complaint in writing from the victim — in this case the chief minister — about outrage of modesty would have made him liable to be charged under Section 509. Circulation of an Internet joke with apparently nothing in it that can be construed as outraging someone’s modesty is, in common knowledge, out of the purview of Section 509,” a veteran lawyer said.

Sections 509 and 500 (defamation) were ultimately omitted from the police chargesheet against Mahapatra. The only charge retained against the professor was under Section 66A(b) of the Information Technology Act (electronic circulation of objectionable content).

The rights commission not only declined to accept the premise under which Mahapatra had been arrested, it also picked holes in the state’s contention that the professor and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta were “rescued from an agitated mob”.

Police officers during their deposition admitted that the arrestees had been wrongfully restrained before being rescued and taken to the police station. Then why was no action taken against the people who had wrongfully restrained the duo? Instead, the victims were treated as accused and charges were drawn up against them,” the commission official said.

Mahapatra said he would write to the Prime Minister’s Office again about the state’s attempt to justify the harassment he had to endure. “The government has made a mockery of its assurance of ‘immediate redressive action’ to the PMO. I will let Prime Minister Manmohan Singh know about it.”

Responding to Mahapatra’s previous letter, the PMO had prodded the Bengal government last December to “take necessary action” in the case. The state rejected all the recommendations of the rights commission last week.

The rights body had recommended departmental action against two police officers — Milan Kanti Das and Sanjay Biswas — for allegedly harassing Mahapatra and slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 each.

Mahapatra has pinned his hopes on Calcutta High Court, where a PIL filed by lawyer and former mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya is scheduled for hearing in June.

The chemistry professor will not be moving court individually because he doesn’t want to be away from the classroom for long. “Over the past year, I could not attend many classes because of court hearings. I don’t want to miss classes anymore. Otherwise, my students will suffer,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SUBHANKAR CHOWDHUR

 

 

Chhattisgarh – Letter to NHRC on the denial of rights to political prisoners at Raipur Central Jail


Sanhati

May 8, 2013

by Prashant Rahi

This is to bring to your notice the unrepentant high-handedness of the authorities of the Raipur Central Jail in Chhattisgarh as regards thedenial of fundamental and human rights to two of their under-trialinmates whom I visited there last week, both senior, well-educated citizens of the country.

It was on April 26, 2013 that I visited these two under-trials with due permission from the Jail Superintendent. One of them is called Purnendu Mukherji, a resident of Kolkata (aged 70 years), and the other, Varanasi Subrahmaniam, a resident of Andhra Pradesh (aged 57 years). Both have spent about 3 years in various jails of the country ever since they were shown arrested in Bihar. To the best of my knowledge, they have been framed up in cases related to a violent incident reported some time ago from the Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh, which may have been an outcome of the ongoing civil war in that state between the Maoist-led forces on the one hand and the paramiltary and police forces on the other. These two political prisoners, whom I visited, appear to have been falsely implicated in the case/s related to this incident simply because they were among the alleged Maoist leaders already incarcerated in some other part of the country, and hence vulnerable to be charged by the Chhattisgarh police, hard-pressed as they were to affix the blame for the untoward incident on one civilian suspect or the other. While Purnendu Mukherji’s trial proceedings arew ell underway at the Rajnandgaon District and Sessions Court, Varanasi Subrahmaniam (who was recently transferred early this year to Raipur Central Jail from District Jail, Warangal, AP) has not yet been served any charge-sheet in this matter. The two are charged under various sections of the IPC, such as waging war against the state and sedition as well as the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2008.

As per the security provisions for such so-called high-profile prisoners, my meeting with the two was arranged in the office of the Additional Jail Superintendent, to which neither did my prisoner friends nor I have any objection. However, the mere seriousness of the charges against these prisoners – itself a very common occurrence for the hundreds and thousands of tribals and activists thrown behind bars in that state – cannot be allowed to be made a ground for the denial of their fundamental and human rights. My objections on this count are as follows:

* The jail official, in whose office my two prisoner friends and I were seated during my visit, remained ensconced within earshot of our conversation, and was listening throughout. This violated the stipulated norms for prison visits by family members and friends and legal advisers.

* Other prisoners who worked in the Jail office were also well within earshot.

* In addition, an official in plain clothes, who did not work in the jail, but was very obviously an informer or intelligence official of the very police, who had fabricated the case against my two prisoner friends, seated himself on a chair right next to me, even closer to us than the jail officials and the other prisoners.

Personally, I found such eavesdropping a serious infringement upon my own civil right to converse freely with my friends and ask about their well-being and about the details of the cases foisted upon them. I did raise objections there and then, stressing that agents of the very same state that had foisted the case could not be allowed to overhear our conversation, and that there should be a sufficient distance of a few metres between us and any official or any other person for that matter, such that we could be seen and observed clearly for security reasons, but our conversation could not be heard. Such pleas, however, went unheeded within the premises of the prison with the officials not even batting an eyelid. This may also be perceived as an outright denial to my friends of their right to a free and fair trial. If officials of the state can be allowed to overhear every aspect of the preparations and mutual discussions of the defence side, then how can the accused expect to convey in confidence their defence points and arguments to their visiting lawyers or to friends like me who would coordinate between them and their defence lawyers? This is especially so in the case of these two prisoners who are total strangers to Raipur and Rajnandgaon, and badly need help from friends like me to co-ordinate their legal defence. The few relatives who visit them live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and hence cannot pay regular visits to the jail and court.

The jail officials allowed us only 20 minutes, with all the interruptions and interventions owing to the unwarranted eavesdropping by the jail and police officials and other prisoners.

Among the instances of denial of basic human rights to these two prisoner friends of mine, which were brought to my notice during those 20 minutes, the following are liable to be considered as serious violations:

1. The jail officials refused to let them read a copy of the Jail Manual. It seemed as if the officials did not want to inform the prisoners of the officially laid out rules and regulations along with their own rights and obligations. Not providing copies of the Jail Manual was a common ploy adopted by the authorities to remain unquestioned while putting up a high-handed and arbitrary behaviour. My prisoner friends told me in front of the jail official present that they had been asking for the Jail Manual for several months, yet the official maintained his stoic refusal to comply with their request.

2. In most Jail Manuals, prisoners are said to possess the right to write and receive letters. In this jail, however, I was told by my prisoner friends (with the Jail official silently listening on) that letters sent to them by family members were not delivered. Varanasi Subrahmaniam said that he had once asked for a message to be wired through telegram to his lawyer in Andhra Pradesh, but no such facility was granted. Similarly, speed post facility even at one’s own cost was denied even if the matter concerned some urgent, legal issue. The same prisoner friend of mine further complained that a letter, which he wanted to send to seek some pertinent information under the RTI, 2005, could not be sent due to this high-handed attitude of the officials.

3. An elder brother of Varanasi Subrahmaniam, who visits him once in a month or two, had during his last visit subscribed to the reputed newspaper, The Hindu on the latter’s behalf. However, the jail authorities had neither co-operated nor allowed him to procure copies of this newspaper. Even such innocuous reading material was flatly denied.

4. The usual jail newspaper when circulated into the barracks of these two prisoners would often be found to be heavily censored. Even such news items that did not pose any threat to the maintenance of order in the jail and did not directly impact its security would be invariably cut up. Especially with prisoners, who have been detained for political reasons or those who have certain political inclinations and beliefs, denial of the right to read all that he or she may wish to read from registered newspapers, magazines and books openly available in the market would amount to outright denial of his or her right to information and knowledge.

5. Even serious books that could be food for thought for anyone who may be concerned with the betterment of our society are not allowed as reading material for these two prisoners.

6. Varanasi Subrahmaniam is further not allowed to read in his mother tongue, Telugu.

7. Writing materials such as blank papers and other permissible stationery items are also not provided in the course of normal routine.

8. Apart from the above instances of the denial of fundamental and human rights that seemed part and parcel of the normal manner of administration at this prison, the septuagenarian among the two, Purnendu Mukherji told me that he was suffering from a number of ailments, some of which are quite serious and needed urgent investigation and treatment at an appropriate advanced referral centre outside the state of Chhattisgarh. The ailments he is currently suffering from include chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease, arthritis, hernia, spinal problems and gastric trouble. A special diet, as may be permissible, was also required for him.

At the end of my visit, I tried to appeal to the Additional Jail Superintendent, who was overseeing my visit, in the hope that my prisoner friends would be accorded human treatment, especially as no crime was yet proven to have been perpetrated by them. However, I soon realized that my appeal fell on deaf ears, and I was left with no option but let this apex watchdog of the state of human rights in our country, as also the world at large,know what transpires within the underbelly of our criminal justice system, namely jails like the one at Raipur.

I urge you to please help restore the rights of the two prisoners whom I visited on April 26.I am forwardinga copy of this letter for the sake of information to the Jail Superintendent, Raipur Central Jail, and to some concerned civil liberties and democratic rights activists in the country.

 

Do not oppose bail of 63 Naxalites, Buch panel to Chhattisgarh


May 8, TNN
BHOPAL: Committee set for reviewing the cases ofundertrials languishing in Chhattisgarh jails, has so far recommended the state government that it should not oppose the bail plea of 63Naxalities who have been in jail for more than two years.

However, the committee is not aware whether any of these 63 naxalities were released or not. The committee headed by former chief secretary of state Nirmala Buch was constituted as a part of deal between Naxalities and state government against the release of abducted Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon, in May 2012.

The first meeting of the committee was held on May 3 last year, the day when the abducted collector was released by Naxalities, the committee’s sixth meeting was held at Bhopal on Monday.

“It is a standing committee and its purpose is to review the cases of undertrials who are in the jails for 2 years or more. So far we have reviewed 235 such cases and have recommended that government should not oppose the bail pleas of 110 such undertrials. Out of these, 110 a total of 63 were naxalities,” chairperson of the committee Nirmala Buch told TOI.

“176 cases were reviewed till the fifth meeting of the committee, out of which we recommended the government for not opposing the bail pleas of 71 after the review”, she said. “11 out of the 71 got bails, 10 were acquitted, 32 bail applications were not opposed by government but were rejected by courts,” she said.

“The rest 14 undertrials didn’t apply for bail in court,” Buch said.

Now, after the sixth meeting where we have reviewed 59 cases, we are recommending the government for not opposing the bail pleas of 39 such under trials which includes 21 naxalities, she added.

In all there are around 990 undertrials in Chhattisgarh jails who have been in captivity for two years or more years. We will review the next 100 cases in the meeting which is scheduled in July this year, Buch said.

 

 

Anti-Vedanta body to march near Niyamgiri


The march next week will inform villagers about the gram sabha to be conducted as directed by court
Ruchira Singh , livemint
First Published: Wed, May 08 2013.
The gram sabha (village council) will play a crucial role in deciding whether Vedanta Resources Plc can mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills and grow its aluminium business in India. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
The gram sabha (village council) will play a crucial role in deciding whether Vedanta Resources Plc can mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills and grow its aluminium business in India. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Mumbai: An anti-Vedanta body will undertake a padyayatra, or journey by foot, in the Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Orissa next week to inform villagers about the gram sabha to be conducted as directed by the Supreme Court.
The gram sabha (village council) will play a crucial role in deciding whether Vedanta Resources Plc can mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills and grow its aluminium business in India.
“Our padyayatra will inform people about the democratic process to be followed, how to make your voice heard and against muscle power and money power,” Lingaraj Azad, organizer of the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti said speaking over the phone from Kandel village in Kalahandi.
The padyayatra will take place between 14 May and 21 May, Azad said.
The Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti is an anti-Vedanta body, but Azad did not say if he will be campaigning against the proposed mining in the Niyamgiri hills.
On 18 April, the Supreme Court said gram sabhas will give a report on the contentious mining proposal in three months, following which, in two months, the ministry of environment and forest affairs will decide finally if Vedanta’s project can go ahead.
The Supreme Court’s order said the gram sabha must be carried out independently without the influence of the project proponents.
A Vedanta spokesperson declined comment.
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First Published: Wed, May 08 2013. 05 57 PM

Press Release- Understanding Communal Mobilisation –Lessons from the Zakia Jafri Protest Petition


Press Release

May 7, 2013

The filing of the Zakia Jafri Protest Petition before the Magistrate on 15 April 2013 is a significant landmark in the sustained battle for the Rule of Law, Constitutional Governance and against communal forces and their vicious mobilisation within organs of the state and through unholy alliances with non-state actors. The petition, filed after a sustained battle to get a fair and transparent investigation against a chief minister, cabinet colleagues, senior administrators, policemen and front men and women of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal will now make a strong case for charge sheeting of 59 accused.

Apart from the individual accused involved in this case, against whom a strong case for criminal culpability and administrative connivance and failure has been made out, the wider issues raised are critical to understand. Communal mobilisation precedes violence. It’s transformation into brute attacks against targeted sections of the population remain fundamental threats to the lasting security of all Indians, communal harmony and the secularisation of the Indian polity.

We believe therefore the wider issues raised through the Zakia Jafri Protest Petition are debated widely to ensure a greater understanding of such mobilisation and to build a resistance to the same in future. Only then can we collectively demand a transparent and accountable system of governance from our representatives and the parties that they represent. The entire text of the Protest Petition can be accessed at

http://www.cjponline.org/zakia/protpetition/Protest%20Petition%20PART%20I.pdf

http://www.cjponline.org/zakia/protpetition/Protest%20Petition%20PART%20II.pdf

Important Issues Raised in the Petition

  • Aggressive Mobilisation of Communal Forces and Response of State Agencies & Government Monitoring and Check on Hate Speech, Hate Writing, Pamphleteering
  • State and Government Response to a Tragedy like Godhra on 27 February 2002
  • Contemporaneous Records that Reveal Government Callousness or Indifference
  • Transparency in Summoning assistance from the Military /Paramilitary forces
  • Comparative Analysis of Districts & Commission records worst affected (15) and those that held their own (SPs/DMs refused to bow down to political masters)
  • Role of Whistleblowers in Pinning down Accountability
  • Role of Survivors/Activists/ Legal and Civil Rights Groups
  • Role of the Political Class
  • Role of Media

Build Up of Violence prior to 27.2.2002

The state intelligence records available to the state government and administration reveal that there was a systematic build up of aggressive communal mobilisation, hate speech etc even prior to February 27, 2003.These details are available in textual and tabular form in the Protest Petition. These provide significant pointers to the workings and operations of the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) that is sending out warnings and the police administration, home ministry (headed by the chief minister) that is systematically ignoring them. This aspect needs to be understood by us to ensure that such warnings are heeded in future. Reference: Pages 193-202 of the Protest Petition & Paras 457 – 469 at Pages 204-209 of the Protest Petition.

Monitoring & Check on Hate Speech, Hate Writing and Pamphleteering

Responsible sections of the Gujarat administration, senior IPS officers who were on the field manning districts and controlling attempts to provoke violence there as also senior police officer like then ADGP (Intelligence) RB Sreekumar had strongly recommended action under Sections 153 a, 153 b of the PC against certain newspapers and publications that had consciously published provocative and incendiary material not based on facts. Action against pamphlets circulated by the VHP was also advised. However the government and its home department has, to date not taken any action that was recommended.

In fact the Amicus Curiae in the case Advocate Raju Ramachandran has himself recommended prosecution against the chief minister for violation of the law on hate speech. The Protest Petition deals at length on the deleterious impact of hate speech and hate writing and the inaction of the state government. The chief minister had in fact sent congratulatory letters to those Gujarati newspapers that had indulged in such incendiary writing and excluded from praise at least three publications (Prabhat and Gujarat Today) that had been responsible in reportage (Editor’s Guild Report).. Reference at Paras 126-153at Pages 72-85 of the Protest Petition & Para 234 at Page 116 of the Protest Petition

No Appeal for Calm, No Visit to Relief Camps, Discriminatory Behaviour

Quite apart from the infamous meeting on the night of February 27, 2002 about which facts have to be tested – through examination and cross-examination of witnesses during trial — the administration’s lackluster response to protection of lives and maintenance of peace following the Godhra tragedy is itself a testimony to a conspiracy in evidence.  There were no appeals for Restraint, Peace and Calm; No Preventive Arrests were made on February 27, 2002 despite the fact that violence had already broken out and the SIB was warning of widespread communal mobilisation; no issuing of Prohibitory Orders and declaration of Curfew except in Godhra town; worst, the government support to the bandh proved to be a cynical mechanism by which the streets were allowed to be taken over by rabid bands of the RSS-VHP and Bajrang Dal. The SIT has not thoroughly probed the deployment of army and paramilitary and not even examined independent witnesses like the Major in charge of Army Operations and KPS Gill sent in by the Centre.

Indicting Documentary Evidence Ignored

Evidence from Police Control Room (PCR) records submitted by then Commissioner of Police (2002), PC Pande to the SIT after 15.3.2011 reveal cynical and cold-blooded mobilization of RSS workers and VHP men at the Sola Civil hospital from 4 a.m. onwards on 28.2.2002 in aggressive anticipation for the arrival of the dead bodies. Repeated PCR messages, that the home department under Narendra Modi (A-1, who held the home portfolio) and PC Pande (A-21) were trying to conceal, show that both in Ahmedabad and in several locations all over Gujarat crowds were mobilized to aggressively parade bodies with bloodthirsty sloganeering, inciting mobs to attack innocent Muslims. The then joint police commissioner, Ahmedabad, Shivanand Jha, also an accused in the complaint (A-38), was jurisdictionally in charge of Sola Civil Hospital in Zone 1. As the messages extracted in the Protest Petition atPara 559 at Pages 244-247 of the Protest Petition show, repeated PCR messages desperately ask for bandobast; they speak of the staff and doctors of the hospital being under threat; of a 5,000-6,000 strong mob accompanying the bodies and finally one message also says that “riots have broken out.”

Yet the entire Home department under the chief minister and senior bureaucrats and policemen who had been neutralised including Chakravarti (A-25) and PC Pande (A-29) in collaboration with the SIT have strived hard to conceal this evidence. While such aggressive funeral processions were allowed in Ahmedabad, an equally explosive situation prevailed simultaneously in Khedbrahma, Vadodara, Modasa, Dahod, Anand etc. The PCR records, also reveal that while the Ahmedabad police under PC Pande and the home department under Modi and then MOS, home Gordhan Zadaphiya (A-5) had enough forces to escort a VHP leader known for his inciteful slogans, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, from the airport to the Sola Civil hospital to accompany the processionists, shouting filthy hate speeches and murderous slogans. But they did not have enough forces to send to Naroda Patiya where 96 persons were massacred in broad daylight, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. over several hours (according to the charge-sheet though actual figures may be higher). Similarly the daylight massacre of 69 persons at Gulberg society the same day was permitted by a callous administration (PC Pande did not step out of his office barely 1-2 kms away from Naroda and Gulberg; besides he was in close touch with the chief minister’s office (CMO) between 12 noon and 3.40 p.m. that coincided with the height of the violence. Modi allowing and openly supporting the bandh and neutralising his administration, decided to give the RSS, VHP, BD mobs a free run of the Gujarat streets to massacre innocents.

Warnings Ignored (from SIB and PCR messages)

From as early as 12:30 pm on the 27th February: An SIB officer through fax no 525 communicated to the headquarters that there were reports that some dead bodies would be brought to Kalupur Hospital station in Ahmedabad city. “So communal violence will occur in the city of Ahmedabad; so take preventive action.” Another SIB message numbered as Out/184/02 again warned about communal incidents if bodies were brought to Ahmedabad. “Communal violence will occur in the city. So take preventive action.”  The same message said that karsevaks had given explosive interviews to a TV station at Godhra and had threatened to unleash violence against the Muslims.

At 1:51 hours and again at 1:59 hours (early morning ) on the February 28, 2002, there were panic messages by wireless police vans positioned at Sola Hospital demanding immediate protection from Special Reserve Police platoons and the presence of DCP Zone 1.Message at 2:44 hours on 28.2.2002: the motor cavalcade has reached Sola Civil Hospital. Page No. 5790 of Annexure IV, File XIV reveals that at 04:00 am a mob comprising of 3,000 swayamsevaks, that is the members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had already gathered at the Civil Sola Hospital. At 7.14 a.m. the PCR van again informs the Police Control Room that a large mob had assembled at the hospital. (Page 5796 of Annexure IV, File XIV of the documents). Again, another message three minutes later at 7:17 a.m. (Page 5797 of Annexure IV, File XIV of the documents) says that a mob of 500 people was holding up the traffic. Ten bodies were taken to Ramol, an area near Naroda and a massive funeral rally of over 5,000-6,000 mourners took the bodies to Hatkeshwar crematorium in the afternoon. At 11:55 am a PCR message is sent out saying that the Hindu mob had become violent and had set a vehicle on fire and was indulging in arson on the highway. Message at 11.55 a.m. on 28.2.2002 (Page No. 6162 Annexure IV File XV) saying that “Sayyed Saheb, the Protocol Officer had informed Sola-1 that riots have started at Sola civil hospital at the High Court where the dead bodies were brought.”Again, there is another message with no indication of time (Page No..6172 of 28.2.2002) that states that the officers and employees of the hospital had been surrounded by a 500 strong mob and they could not come out”. The message also made a demand for more security for the civil hospital at Sola. Annexure IV File XIV- Message No. 5907 and 5925 at 11:58 a.m. on 28.2.2002 shows that when 10 dead bodies were taken from Ramol Jantanagar to the Hatkeshwar cremation ground, a crowd of 5,000-6,000 persons accompanied this procession. On the morning of 28.2.2002, a SIB message (on page 258 of Annexure III File XIX, message No. Com/538/28/2/02) says that a funeral procession was allowed to take place at Khedbrahma, a town in Sabarkantha district. The message adds that soon after the funeral procession 2 Muslims on their way to Khedbrahma were stabbed and the situation had become very tense.

Firebrigade Neutralised

Throughout February 28, 2002 while fires were set all over Ahmedabad city, PCR records show that repeated calls from different areas to the Fire Brigade drew went answered. PCR records show that repeated distress calls to the Fire Brigade from different parts of Ahmedabad went unanswered. Reference – Para 827 at Pages 369-372 of the Protest Petition. This is further evidence of the deliberate neutralisation of the administration.

Comparative Violence

The Protest Petition also makes a systematic study of those districts where violence did not break out largely because of the men and women at the helm who refused to abet the wider conspiracy. For an effective understanding of whether the widespread and brutal and systemic violence in 14 of Gujarat’s 29 districts and commissionerates was on account of a pre-planned and systematic neutralistion of the preventive and protective Constitutional mechanisms, the SIT ought to have undertaken just such an exercise. Instead it willfully concealed from the Supreme Court of India the wealth of documentary evidence collected through the SIB (January 2010) and the PCR records of Ahmedabad city (post March 15 2011). Similar PCR data of other parts of Gujarat was deliberately not collected by the SIT.

The role of whistleblower policemen and administrators through the investigations and the past eleven and a half years has been significant. The affidavits and phone call CDs submitted by then SP Bhavnagar and DCP Crime Rahul Sharma have been critical. Today he is being consistently targeted with one chrage sheet and six notices being served on him. Former DGP RB Sreekumar who’s first four affidavits before the Nanavati- Shah Commission provided a thorough documentation of the functionings of the government at the time was also similarly victimised. Lastly Sanjiv Bhatt has also been targeted. Interestingly the evidence of all three whistleblowers has been given little credence by the SIT except when they in small measure support one or the other of SIT’s claims.

The Citizens for Justice and Peace has assisted complainant Zakia Ahsan Jafri in this legal battle. Both Mrs Jafri and her family and the CJP, especially its secretary and band of lawyers continue to carry on this legal battle at great personal risk. On May 1, 2013 the Magistrate that had heard the SIT arguments for six days since April 24, 2013, was transferred. By May 15, 2013, when the next Magistrate takes over, the day to day hearings in this matter are likely to resume.

We hope that this case that has a great significance for the control and containment of state sponsored communal violence is allowed to continue without interruption and delay.

Ram Rahman                                                   Teesta Setalvad

 

#India – Sub Inspector – an eye witness to the brutal assault on dalits


SI of Kesara police station Mr Venkat was an eye witness to the brutal assault on dalits. – Human Rights Forum

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To

The District Collector and Magistrate

Ranga Reddy district, Hyderabad

Dear Madam

Sub: Attack on dalits (Madigas) of Rampally Dayara JNNURM Colony- assistance to victims of attack-regarding.

You are aware that more than 10 dalits of JNNURM Colony of Rampally Dayara in Keesara mandal of Ranga Reddy district were injured in an attack on them by persons belonging to non-dalit castes of Ramapally Dayara village on May 1 and 2, 2013.

In the JNNURM Colony, Ms. Balamma of Rampally Dayara runs a belt shop which is located very close to the houses of the dalits. Inebriated customers have been creating nuisance for the past one year to which the family of Mr. Indrala Kalyan,a dalit resident of the colony belonging to the Madiga caste, have been objecting. The dalits had even a lodged a complaint in the matter at the local Kesara police station exactly a year ago on 4 May 2012. The owners of the shops have the support of Mr. Kandadi Anji Reddy and Mr Kandadi Srinivas Reddy of Rampally Dayara, the main accused in the attack of last week. While Mr. Angi Reddy is the mandal president of TDP, Mr Srinivas Reddy is the former upa-sarpanch.

Most people living in the JNNURM Colony were earlier residents of various parts of the city, having shifted as benificiaries of the JNNURM scheme. None of them are economically secure and get by on daily wage labour. Over the past three years, the dalits have been at the receiving end of dominant treatment by the OCs and BCs of Rampally Dayara.

On May 1, Mr. Kalyan had an argument with Mr. Gunda Yadesh, an OC person who runs a kirana store in the colony. The same day, Ms Balamma, the owner of the belt shop came to Mr. Kalyan’s house along with some youth and threatened and injured his mother Ms Eswaramma. Mr. Kalyan’s brother, Mr. Sridhar, who is employed at Nizamabad, came down the next day and went to the police station to lodge a complaint against Mr. Yadesh and Ms Balamma. The latter also filed a counter case against Mr. Kalyan. Meanwhile, Mr. Anji Reddy and Mr Srinivas Reddy brought pressure on the police for a compromise and held discussions with Mr. Sridhar in the premises of the police station. They sought dropping of the case against Mr Yadesh and Ms Balamma but the dalits refused.

While this was going on, around 20 persons belonging to Rampally Dayara went to the JNNURM colony and attacked Mr. Anthony, Jyothi, (Kalyan’s wife) and Eswaramma. Mr Anthony suffered serious injuries to the head. The assailants abused the dalits invoking their Madiga caste in the filthiest of words. Terrified dalit women ran from their homes and hid in the burial ground nearby. One of the dalits immediately called Mr. Sridhar who was in the police station at the time. He in turn informed the same to the police. Two constables and later the SI of police Mr Venkat rushed to the colony but this did not deter a second attack by a group of over a 100 who arrived on motorcyles armed with sticks and iron rods. They were  led by Mr. Anji Reddy and Mr Srinivas Reddy. This time they injured over 8 persons including Mr. Kalyan and Mr. Sridhar and several women. They also threatened the dalit women with rape. In the second attack which took place around 10 pm, the SI of Kesara police station Mr Venkat was an eye witness to the brutal assault on dalits. We have to say that the police’s willingness to facilitate a compromise between the attackers and dalits in the initial stage emboldened the former to go for all out attack on the dalits.

Following this brutal assault, the police initially filed the FIR only under the section 307 of the IPC. However, on the evening of May 5 they invoked sections of the SC and SC (POA) Act 1989 which are clearly attracted.

The injured dalits are being treated at the Vijaya Hospital in Naagaram. The condition of Mr. Anthony, who sustained a fairly deep laceration on the head is cause for concern. Mr. Sridhar who sustained multiple fractures on his right hand requires surgery and is still waiting for clearance of Arogyasri. All the six dalits in hospital are unable to meet medical and other expenses and as such this is impacting their thorough treatment negatively. Till date, except the MRO no government official has even visited the victims.

We urge you to intervene immediately and extend all possible help to the dalit victims and their families. Kindly make arrangements for their comprehensive treatment. We also request you appoint a district level officer immediately to supervise the process of extending financial, medical and legal aid to the victims of the attack.

Do issue orders to extern from the district for two years those persons who led the attack on dalits of the JNNURM Colony. This is exssential because, given their social, political and economic clout, their presence in the area will certainly influence the prosecution process to the detriment of the dalits. We also urge you to recommend to the government and Election Commission to ban these persons from contesting elections in future.

Lastly, it must be pointed out that inspite of frequent and repeated instances of attacks on dalits and various ‘forms of untouchability’ being practised in Ranga Reddy district, the respective villages have not been notified duly as ‘atrocity-prone’.

K. Murali                                                                       V.S. Krishna

Member, State Committee                                  General Secretary

Human Rights Forum                                          Human Rights Fourm

 

 

Sexual Assaults in Military Raise Alarm in Washington #Vaw


VAW

NYT, may 7, 2013

WASHINGTON — The problem of sexual assault in the military leapt to the forefront in Washington on Tuesday as the Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010, and an angry President Obama and Congress demanded action.

The study, based on a confidential survey sent to 108,000 active-duty service members, was released two days after the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.

At a White House news conference, Mr. Obama expressed exasperation with the Pentagon’s attempts to bring sexual assault under control.

“The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” Mr. Obama said in answer to a question about the survey. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

The president said he had ordered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to step up our game exponentially” to prevent sex crimes and said he wanted military victims of sexual assault to know that “I’ve got their backs.”

In a separate report made public on Tuesday, the military recorded 3,374 sexual assault reports last year, up from 3,192 in 2011, suggesting that many victims continue not to report the crimes for fear of retribution or a lack of justice under the department’s system for prosecution.

The numbers come as the Pentagon prepares to integrate women formally into what had been all-male domains of combat, making the effective monitoring, policing and prosecuting of sexual misconduct all the more pressing.

Pentagon officials said nearly 26,000 active-duty men and women had responded to the sexual assault survey. Of those, 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men said they had experienced sexual assault in the past year, which the survey defined as everything from rape to “unwanted sexual touching” of genitalia, breasts, buttocks or inner thighs.

From those percentages, the Pentagon extrapolated that 12,100 of the 203,000 women on active duty and 13,900 of the 1.2 million men on active duty had experienced some form of sexual assault. In 2010, a similar Pentagon survey found that 4.4 percent of active-duty women and fewer than 0.9 percent of active-duty men had experienced sexual assault.

Pentagon officials could not explain the jump in assaults of women, although they believed that more victims, both men and women, were making the choice to come forward. In the general population, about 0.2 percent of American women over age 12 were victims of sexual assault in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In response to the report, Mr. Hagel said at a news conference on Tuesday that the Pentagon was instituting a new plan that orders the service chiefs to incorporate sexual assault programs into their commands.

“What’s going on is just not acceptable,” Mr. Hagel said. “We will get control of this.”

The report quickly caught fire on Capitol Hill, where women on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed outrage at two Air Force officers who suggested that they were making progress in ending the problem in their branch.

“If the man in charge for the Air Force in preventing sexual assaults is being alleged to have committed a sexual assault this weekend,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, “obviously there’s a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is, and how corrosive and damaging it is to good order and discipline.”

Ms. Gillibrand, who nearly shouted as she addressed Michael B. Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, said that the continued pattern of sexual assault was “undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world.”

She and some other members of the committee are seeking to have all sex offenders in the military discharged from service, and she would like to replace the current system of adjudicating sexual assault by taking it outside the chain of command. She is particularly focused on decisions, including one made recently by an Air Force senior officer, to reverse guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases with little explanation.

 

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is also on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is holding up the nomination of that Air Force officer, Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command. Ms. McCaskill said she wanted additional information about General Helms’s decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case last year.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told the committee at the same hearing on Tuesday that he was “appalled” by the conduct and the arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force officer accused of sexual battery on Sunday. The police say that Colonel Krusinski was drunk when he approached the woman in the parking lot and that the victim was ultimately able to fend him off and call 911.

Mr. Hagel called Mr. Donley on Monday evening to express his “outrage and disgust” over the matter, a Pentagon statement said.

Ms. McCaskill was particularly critical of Colonel Krusinski as well as the Air Force for placing him in charge of sexual assault prevention. “It is hard for me to believe that somebody could be accused of that behavior with a complete stranger and not have anything in his file,” she said.

While Mr. Hagel and others in the military seem open to changes to the system that allows cases to be overturned, they remained chilly to the idea of taking military justice out of the chain of command.

“It is my strong belief that the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure,” Mr. Hagel said, which is almost certain to meet with objections as the issue continues to come under the scrutiny of the Armed Services Committee.

Under Mr. Hagel’s plan, the military would seek to quickly study and come up with ways to hold commanders more accountable for sexual assault. The chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the commandant of the Marines have until Nov. 1 to report their findings. Mr. Hagel also directed the services to visually inspect department workplaces, including the service academies, for potentially offensive or degrading materials, by July 1.

 

When development triggers caste violence


The educational and economic development of Dalits is seen by the backward castes as a challenge to the social order, as recent incidents in Tamil Nadu show

On the evening of November 7, 2012, a crowd numbering over 1000 people burst into three Dalit settlements in Dharmapuri, north-western Tamil Nadu, and laid them waste. Over a period of several hours, they looted, smashed and burned. Trees had been felled on all approach routes to prevent police and fire-tenders from reaching the scene and those officers who were present decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Over 260 houses were razed to the ground, valuables worth millions of rupees stolen, and goods from televisions to motorbikes smashed and set on fire.

Status competition

The immediate motive for this sustained attack was said to be an inter-caste marriage between a Dalit man and a backward caste woman. Tamil Nadu, however, has a long history of anti-caste activism which encouraged cross-caste marriages. Even today, couples marrying across caste are entitled to various state benefits. This region, furthermore, has a history of communist inspired mobilisation that saw the poor of all castes uniting against landlords and industrialists. In the past 20 years, however, caste identities have been increasingly politicised and polarised by politicians seeking to make political capital out of community identities. It is caste politics and status competition that underpin such violence rather than domestic politics; a point emphasised in May 2013 when violence erupted once more around a Vanniyar (Most Backward Caste) caste conference.

Those at the forefront of the current upsurge in violence are those called the ‘backward’ or the ‘most backward’ castes. These are formal categorisations that entitle groups to affirmative action in recognition of the fact that they have historically lacked the privileges of education and social status. These castes are located just above Dalits in the caste hierarchy but tend to own land. These castes have increasingly mobilised politically to demand special provisions for their group.

In so doing they have reinforced the boundaries of caste and mobilised against perceived threats and injustices. One recurrent assertion of such groups is that Dalits receive favourable treatment from the state and misuse anti-caste legislation to get back at higher castes. Attempts by Dalits to assert themselves in the late 1990s, thus, were met by violent repression from backward castes anxious to defend their status and dominance.

The tragedy of the situation is that there have been systematic efforts to reduce caste tensions in this millennium. Thol. Thirumavalavan, Member of Parliament, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK-Liberation Panther Party) — the largest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu — came to prominence for his fiery rhetoric that promised to hit back against caste aggression and spoke of a counter-violence of the oppressed. Since gaining office, however, he joined hands with Dr. S. Ramadoss — leader of the Most Backward Caste Vanniyar party, Pattali Makkal Katchi — and campaigned on Tamil issues in the interests of social harmony. Indeed, as Gowthama Sannah — Dalit intellectual and VCK leader — put it in 2012:

“Back then when we spoke of hitting back, Mukkulathors and Vanniyars were vehemently and violently anti-Dalit. After Dalits started to counter-attack, their predatory instincts diminished. Now they do not engage in major riots, they do not tend to set light to cheris [Dalit settlements], they do not tend to muster people to attack Dalits. Though small-scale violence persists in many places, the will to engage in major clashes has declined. Then why should we stick to the same ‘hit back’ slogan and strategy? You can only say that when there is a need. Now, when they are being quiet — after the war, peace is the only way.”

Barely a month after this statement, caste ‘wars’ erupted again. Following on from the arson in Dharmapuri there have been similar incidents elsewhere. One question that has been raised is whether this violence can be understood as a form of untouchability or whether it reflects the more recent politicisation of identity. Certainly Dalits have been hitting back across India, but to equate this to the eradication of hierarchy would be premature. Dalits — or Scheduled Castes as they are known in official documents — are still disproportionately represented amongst the poor and landless and still struggle to realise the promises of the Constitution.

While activists are fond of insisting that nothing changes, caste is clearly changing across India and Dalits are developing economically and educationally just as others are. Indeed, it is arguably because of this development that the current conflicts arise. Quietly and gradually, Dalits are escaping forms of dependence and, in so doing, are posing a challenge to the caste order that those just above them in the caste hierarchy find hard to stomach. In Dharmapuri in 2012 and Marakkanam in 2013, mobs deliberately targeted the economic assets of their victims. One factor fuelling their animosity is that Dalits no longer act as submissive agricultural labourers in the fields of the dominant castes. This resentment feeds into a sense of insecurity that is captured in backward caste slogans that say: “first our jobs and now our women.” Women’s bodies, here, serve as the embodied markers of caste purity and so it is when Dalit men marry Vanniyar women that issues arise. The voices and choices of the women concerned are lost in the claims and counter-claims of male politicians.

For all Sannah’s talk of peace, the violence in Dharmapuri was not completely unexpected. Earlier in the year, a Vanniyar Member of the Legislative Assembly had threatened violence against any non-Vanniyar who dared to marry a Vanniyar girl. Though this hate speech was made on an open stage, no action was taken against him for inciting violence. Such speeches are extremely popular within the party because they counter-pose valorous sons-of-the-soil against uppity Dalits who ought to know their place. This construction of an exclusive identity helps create internal solidarity that may help the party in elections, but commentators are increasingly questioning the social costs of such a strategy. Finally, in May 2013, senior members of the PMK were arrested and charged with inciting violence; a move which prompted widespread disruption across the State and party members smashed and burned vehicles, blocked roads and took to the streets.

Vociferous forms

It is tempting to dismiss this violence as indicating the continuing significance of age-old caste identities and relations. To do so, however, ignores the fact that the caste system is clearly changing and the structures underpinning it are starting to shift. Old certainties are being eroded and caste identities are assuming new — often more vociferous — forms. Aspects of caste and untouchability, however, continue to be embedded in the make-up of Indian society. Much as institutions in the U.K. had to confront issues of institutionalised racism, those in India need to recognise and address institutionalised casteism throughout society.

The road towards a casteless and egalitarian society will be long and tortuous, and the divisions between Dalits and ‘caste Hindus’ will prove hardest of all to bridge. Standing by while politicians spew casteist venom renders the authorities partly culpable for caste polarisation and any ensuing violence. If the belated arrest of politicians responsible for ‘hate-speech’ signals a new and more proactive approach to caste politics, then perhaps some good may arise from the ashes of Dalit homes in Dharmapuri.

(Hugo Gorringe is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh. Email:Hgorring@staffmail.ed.ac.uk)

 

 

Fearless, tribals will fight for their rights


  Kerala

ATTAPPADY, May 7, 2013

 

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their
grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat
Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

“Endengilum kittiyo, saare? (did you get anything, sir?)” 18-year-old Suresh K. asked section forest officer Lavakumar E.R.

The teenager’s grandmother, Nenji, stifles a laugh, proud at Suresh’s open challenge to the Forest Department team whicht had just come out of a clearing in the forest at Thazhe Budhiyoor, a Kurumba hamlet nestled in the Nilgiris range.

Mr. Lavakumar’s team of three is heading back after a routine patrol.

The Forest official takes this correspondent aside and says: “Do you know there are fewer men than women in these hamlets… Why? The men die young of drinking. In every house, there is illicit hooch buried under the ground, but how can we go inside with all the laws protecting them. Of course, there is no ganja cultivation now,” Mr. Lavakumar said.

Suresh overhears him and throws a second challenge at the officer: “Sir, earlier our fathers were scared of you people. They would run inside when they see men in khaki. Today, that’s not case… we know that we have done no wrong; we don’t have to be afraid.”

Mr. Lavakumar, whose face crinkles into a smile, walks away.

Suresh is the new face of the Kurumbas… the next generation. Like his elder brother, Murugan P., he talks repeatedly about the confidence education has given him; the right to question authority. He is doing his first year of travel and tourism course at the KPSMM Vocational Higher Secondary School at Varode in Ottapalam. “I am the only tribal youth from Attappady in my school. There is no hostel facility there. So I went to the Palakkad District Collector’s office and asked him to help me. Now I get monthly stipend of Rs. 1,500 towards room rent. The going is tough, but I have to finish the course,” he said.

But, for Murugan, it has been tough from the very beginning.

“I was seven years old. I wanted to go to school. My ooru people did not take me seriously. I would rebel when they made fun of my wish to go to school. One day, my cousin Manickyan decided to take me to the Kookampalayam LP School. I still remember it was the school assembly, and I didn’t know where to stand. The hostel for tribal boys was near Thavalam. It was like a cattle shed. Every week, one or two children would run away home to their ooru,” the 23-year-old said.

Today, he is a daily-wage teacher at the Government Tribal Welfare LP School. He earns Rs.8,000. He is doing a distance course from the University of Calicut in M.A. Sociology and wants to appear for the University Grants Commission examination.

“I come home to Edavani ooru every weekend, not as a runaway from the Kookampalayam school hostel when I was a child, but as a teacher who wants to give something back to my ooru,” he said. The brothers have even been able to influence their mother, Mari, who enrolled as an anganwadi helper.

The ooru, one of the most remote hamlets in Attappady, has two of its children doing graduate courses in Physics and Economics.

There are 30 government educational institutions in Attappady, of which 18 are lower primary schools, 4 upper primary schools, 7 high schools, 4 Plus Two schools and 2 vocational higher secondary schools. There are 16 hostels for Scheduled Tribe children.

But Murugan’s cousin, Manickyan K, a Malayalam teacher at the Kottathara Government UP School, says tribal children study till class 10, after which they discontinue. “We call this phenomenonkozhinju pokku (withering away). Finance is a problem, hostel accommodation in Attappady is also an issue.

Panali M, who contested the Pudur panchayat elections last year and lost by 16 votes, says the Scheduled Tribes Promoters do not talk about the children’s problems at the ooru council. Most of them are “yes men”, he says. They are supposed to take care of the ooru’s children, visit them at the hospital or at the hostel. They don’t.

 

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