Remember Rituparno Ghosh ? # Sundayreading


Rituparno Ghosh, the cutting-edge, gender-bending filmmaker from Kolkata who died last week has been co-opted by the establishment. Comment by Garga Chatterjee,Friday Times 

The acclaimed and recently deceased Bengali film-director Rituparno Ghosh (31 August 1963 – 30 May 2013), though a couple of decades older, went to the same school as me, the very populous South Point High School of Kolkata. It was at one time the largest school in Asia. My secondary standard graduation class was nearly 800 strong. One thing our school did well – before it turned “Indian” (from “Bengali”) in the post -economic “liberalization” era of the 1990s – was that it did not try to inculcate “values” in its students. This restraint has stood many alumni of the school in good stead throughout their lives. For one thing, it made unlearning easy. Due to our lack of “values”, our reverence was shallow in the first place; later irreverence came easily, if one pursued it.

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Ghosh’s films won 12 National awards in India

Rituparno Ghosh came to represent some of the better aspects of our school. She lived in South Kolkata and made films mainly in our mother tongue. The fact that media outlets all over India give front-page space to the death of a filmmaker whose medium was not Hindi is worthy of our attention. There are few in the subcontinent whose demise will be met with such widespread mourning in our period, one in which Bollywood, Hindi and India have come to stand for national identity.

Rituparno Ghosh was one such lone ranger. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Or, to put it another way, in an increasingly mono-cultural nation-state, it is getting ever harder to find people like Ghosh. Her death also made it to the front page of newspapers in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. People in Pakistan may only be acquainted with Ghosh, if at all, through her Hindustani productions. I would invite the people of Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad and elsewhere to do what they do best: make sure the Youtube ban doesn’t stand between Rituparno and you.

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Death can silence a room filled with laughter

She started life as an ad-man and was tremendously successful at that. Then she ventured into film direction and, as they say, she never looked back. If your diet of films is limited to Bollywood, you wouldn’t know that Rituparno is considered one of the best film directors of the Indian subcontinent in the post-Satyajit Ray generation. Chitrangada, Kashmakash , Mumbai Cutting (segment “Urge”), Arekti Premer Golpo (‘Just Another Love Story’), Abohomaan , Shob Charitro Kalponik , Khela (as Rituparno Ghosh), The Last Lear, Antarmahal: Views of the Inner Chamber, Raincoat, Choker Bali: A Passion Play, Shubho Mahurat (An Auspicious Time), Titli (The First Monsoon Day), Utshob (The Festival). Bariwali (The Lady of the House), Oshukh (Malaise), Dahan ,Unishe April (as Rituparno Ghosh), Hirer Angti (The Diamond Ring)– the long list of films is a testament to the immense fecundity of this director. But it was just not about the number of films. Over the years, Ghosh’s films won 12 National awards in India and also awards at film festivals in Berlin, Locarno and Chicago.

Death can silence in a room filled with laughter. In this case, many Bengalis had been laughing to the blatantly hostile imitations of Rituparno peddled by one Mir Afsar Ali, a comedian and TV anchor of sorts. In that “comedy” show, some hapless young men were shown trying to keep a safe distance from the comedian’s mock-Rituparno. This dangerous portrayal of the queer as a predator who preys on the hapless was sanctioned in the name of mimicry.

Laughter is the best medicine for diseases we wish to keep undiagnosed. Honesty about the natures of human beings would be a good tribute to Rituparno.

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As we talk about posthumous tributes, I remember one of Rituparno’s earlier films, Dahon. It’s a story about the trials and tribulations of a woman who is molested on Kolkata’s streets. The real-life Bollywood-style twist-in-the-tale came when the Chief Minister of West Bengal “directed” the cheap drama of “owning” Rituparno’s death. Death encourages selective memory. This Chief Minister had, only a few months ago, termed a rape on Kolkata’s Park Street a “staged incident”. Another MP from her party said that it was not a case of rape, but a “deal” that had gone wrong. In Rituparno’s final journey, these are the people who scripted the show. (The government – irony of ironies – trying to project sensitivity…) No amount of fresh scented flowers can take the stench away from wreaths so rotten.

Sexual minorities in the Indian subcontinent know better than most how the police laathi feels inside their bodies. The brutalization of transgendered individuals is a frequent pastime for our boys in khaki. Some of these lions were lined up beside Rituparno’s corpse in Kolkata. Rituparno’s in-your-face “non-standard” sexual identity, the thing that made many squeamish about her, was removed from the stage-show of her death. (No wonder the police offered her a “gun salute”.) Many were impressed. The laathi has a spongy cuddly heart after all!

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The Chief Minister of West Bengal “directed” the drama of “owning” Rituparno’s death

Only the guilty are scared of nakedness. And to hide their guilt, they will wear anything, even the shroud of a corpse. This makes them a very peculiar kind of kafanchor – the kind that won’t even wait until the burial to steal the shroud in secrecy. Our sarkari kafanchors carry out their thefts of our identities in broad daylight, in the presence of flashing cameras. They look so somber. (And yes, to laugh at that somberness would also be a tribute to Rituparno Ghosh.)

Such public spectacles continue to animate the cesspool of vested interests that West Bengal has become in the last three decades. Some would argue it was always so. But earlier there would be some distance between the authorities and their critics, whereas now they’ll co-opt their critics, in death if not in life.

– See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20130614&page=16#sthash.W0hvGk9P.dpuf

 

#India – Mumbai is 2nd-most crime-prone city, despite drop in cases in 2012 #Vaw


142.3% Rise In Robberies In City, 63.5% Spike In State

V Narayan TNN

Mumbai has gained the dubious distinction of being the secondmost crime-prone city in India, if one goes by the number of cases registered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The data, recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau, shows that 30,508 cases were registered under the IPC in 2012, making Mumbai second only to Delhi, which had 47,982 cases.
In 2011, Mumbai actually saw more cases registered, 32,647. But the city had ranked third then behind Delhi and Kochi, which saw 47,212 and 34,658 cases, respectively.
The 6.5% drop in cases registered in Mumbai in 2012 can be mainly attributed to fewer cases filed for theft, burglary, dacoity, hurt, death by negligence, attempted murder, kidnap, abduction, cruelty by husband and relative, cheating, rioting and counterfeiting.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra continues to remain the second-most crime-prone state in the nation, even though it saw fewer cases registered in 2012. The figure dropped from 2.05 lakh in 2011 to 2.03 lakh. Madhya Pradesh, which has topped the chart since 2010, saw 2.2 lakh cases in 2012. Tamil Nadu was third with 2 lakh cases.
Several crimes saw a spike in Mumbai as well as Maharashtra, but none more so than robbery, which went up by a huge 142.3% in Mumbai and 63.5% in Maharashtra. There were 467 robberies in Mumbai in 2011, which went up to 1,131 the next year. In Maharashtra, the number rose from 4,249 to 6,949.
Other crimes that saw a rise in Mumbai included crimes against women (rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment), as reported by TOI on June 15, and also murder, culpable homicide, dowry deaths, breach of trust and arson. Maharashtra saw more crimes against women, dacoity, death by negligence, culpable homicide, attempted murder, cruelty by husband and relatives, cheating, breach of trust and riots.
Experts and police said higher awareness in Maharashtra leads to more crimes being reported and higher statistics. Deputy commissioner of police (Zone V) Dhananjay Kulkarni said a developed state sees more reporting of crime and better response by the police. Former IPS officer-turned-lawyer YP Singh said, “In Maharashtra, there is less refusal to register a crime. That is why even though Maharashtra may be a more peaceful state than Bihar or UP, or even West Bengal, it would have more cases.” Joint commissioner of police (crime) Himanshu Roy echoed such views.
Both Kulkarni and Singh also cited rapid urbanization and population density in cities as causes of crime. “For semi-urban and rural India, cities have gradually come to signify prosperity, a better quality of life, higher income, a modern lifestyle and facilities. In their quest for the seemingly ideal life, people are increasingly migrating to cities, leading to an imbalance in supply and demand and basic resources,” Kulkarni said.

 

In India – ‘Good girls don’t drink, flirt or party’ #Film #Vaw #moralpolicing


New Documentary Shows That Urban India Blames Women For Crimes Against Them

Mithila Phadke TNN

When filmmaker Padmalatha Ravi decided to make a documentary on society’s perceptions of women, she kept it straightforward. A motley crowd of people—from college students to domestic help—were asked what they thought a “good girl” and a “bad girl” were. “A good girl is supposed to be docile,” says a silverhaired lady. “She wears a dress which covers her wholly.” Two college-going boys giggle and say it’s the front-benchers who are tagged as good. On the other hand, “slut”, “goes to discos” and “flirts with boys” are the primary identifiers for a bad girl.
The 14-minute crowd-sourced venture, titled ‘Good Girls Don’t Dance’, is Bangalore-based Padmalatha’s response to the theme of most drawing-room discussions that follow reports of sexual abuse. Invariably, the argument returns to the same question: what was the girl doing outside at a late hour anyway? “After the Delhi incident, the issue of rape was being spoken about like never before,” she says. “I wanted to look at why women are blamed.” The film was completed earlier this year and has been uploaded online for free viewing.
Through the opinions of students, couples, seniors, and families, a troubling picture emerges. The ideal woman keeps herself covered up lest she “provokes” men, abstains from smoking, drinking and flirting. Not having an opinion of her own is also an asset, says a respondent.
The answers were a revelation, says Padmalatha, especially when people were asked who they would hold responsible in case of a rape. Only a handful said “rapist”. A majority blamed society and women. Aside from illustrating how deep stereotypes run, the documentary also disproves that progressive mindset is synonymous with education and financial wellbeing. “We asked a domestic worker if clothes play a role (in instigating rape), she was clear that a person is free to wear what he or she wants,” says Padmalatha. This was in stark contrast to numerous middle-class respondents who held a woman’s attire culpable, at least in part.
Mumbai-based filmmaker Paromita Vohra came across a similar mindset among the middleclass while filming the 2002-documentary ‘Unlimited Girls’. “Sometimes, women who had the chance to experience freedom were the ones least able to recognise that it came from a long legacy of people working for them,” says Vohra. The idea of freedom, as something to be protected, nurtured and recreated for the next generation was shrugged off, or made respondents uncomfortable. Both ‘Unlimited Girls’ and Padmalatha’s film look at how women navigate the urban jungle.
Another film that explores the same idea is ‘Mera Apna Sheher’, by Sameera Jain. Set in New Delhi, the documentary looks at how women are expected to negotiate public spaces. It had college lecturer Komita Dhanda being filmed by a hidden camera as she spends time at a park, a street corner and a paan shop. The camera records the reactions of men to her presence, ranging from confusion to lechery. “It’s something that happens around us every day,” says Jain. Only by choosing to record it does the indignity women face become a subject of debate.
However, the filmmakers have no illusion about their works offering quick solutions. “We are trying to start a conversation on a subject that people are hesitant to talk about,” says Padmalatha. After her film’s first screening in Bangalore, an elderly viewer argued for stringent punishment to keep men in line. A 16-year-old girl stepped in and asked him why there shouldn’t be a balanced approach to solve the problem. That a documentary can spark such debates is what the makers hope for, says Padmalatha.

SEX AND THE CITY: While a domestic worker (left) said people have the right to wear what they want to, students and couples who were interviewed felt that women needed to be covered up; Contemporary dancer Shabari (right) in a shot from the film

 

Why the US locks up prisoners for life


By Kate DaileyBBC News Magazine

Man behind bars
Life  prison are rare in the UK but common in the US. Why is this punishment so prevalent in the US?

Last week, an English court handed a whole-life sentence to Dale Cregan for murdering four people, including two policewomen.

That penalty means he will never be eligible for release, and it puts him in rare company, making him one of about 50 people in the UK serving such a sentence.

Had he been in the US, he would have been less of an anomaly.

In the US, at least 40,000 people are imprisoned without hope for parole, including 2,500 under the age of 18.

That is just a fraction of those who have been given a life sentence but yet may one day win release. The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation that studies sentencing and criminal justice in America, estimated in 2009 that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US now serve a life sentence.

This does not include convicts given extremely long sentences with a fixed term, like the Alabama man sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Most of them will have the opportunity for parole – though Sentencing Project Director Marc Mauer says few will receive it.

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Criminals are always less popular than victims”

Franklin ZimringUniversity of California, Berkeley

David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, says several factors underlie the high number of American convicts imprisoned for life.

“In large part it reflects the overly punitive nature of the American criminal justice system,” says Mauer.

“Not only do we use life sentences much more extensively than other industrial nations, but even in the lower level of event severity, the average burglar or car thief will do more time than they will in Canada or Wales.”

The harsh sentences reveal a type of “sentencing inflation” that began in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It was almost a competition among legislatures of both parties to show how tough they could be on crime,” says Mauer.

At the same time, the sentence is thought to send a message.

“In states like Michigan where they don’t have a death penalty, this is what they have as its moral equivalent,” says Franklin Zimring, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

In states that do have the death penalty, long sentences underscore distaste for crimes that do not meet the threshold for capital punishment.

Inmates at Chino State Prison, which houses 5500 inmates, crowd around double and triple bunk beds in a gymnasium that was modified to house 213 prisonersCalifornia’s overcrowded prisons have prisoners sleeping in stacked bedding in the gymnasium

“This is a way of putting a denunciatory exclamation point in the punishment,” he says.

Politicians and other state officials are loathe to be seen as soft on crime, let alone to release an offender on parole only to have him commit another crime.

The 1993 death of Polly Klaas, a young girl killed by a recently paroled man with a long criminal history, led California to pass a “three strikes” rule mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for anyone found guilty of three felonies.

Continue reading the main story

Life in jail: Safer streets?

Does locking away criminals for life make society safer for everyone else?

“At some level the answer is obviously yes,” says Dan Bernhardt. “There’s no threat to safety if the prisoner is not at risk of re-offending, and a clear benefit if he is.”

But Bernhardt’s research shows that long prison sentences may impede rehabilitation.

“It can be grossly counterproductive,” he says. “It can discourage someone from trying to rehabilitate themselves.”

In the UK, “it is rare but not unheard of for someone on a life license to commit serious offenses,” says David Wilson, who says checks are in place to keep tabs on those who are released.

California lawmakers cite the three strikes policy as the reason for the state’s declining crime rate. But University of California, Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker says other factors are responsible, like the national decline in alcohol consumption.

“The drop in crime occurred all over the country, in every state. It dropped at the same time, magnitude, direction,” he says. “It can’t possibly be due to a policy in just one state.”

But now, in both the US and the UK the sentence of life without parole is coming into question.

In England, these sentences arecurrently being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, after a lawsuit brought by three men serving whole life sentences – “a double murderer, a man who wiped out his entire family to inherit money, and a serial killer,” says Wilson.

These men, at least one of whom proclaims his innocence, argue that the denial of a parole option does not allow them to claim they have changed. They further argue that the assignment of these sentences is arbitrary – some convicted killers get them, others do not.

In the US, budget cuts have forced states to reconsider whether the practice of locking criminals up for long periods of time is cost-effective.

“Lawmakers in Illinois have made the decision to shut down a few prisons and let people out early in order to save money,” says Dan Bernhardt, professor of economics at the University of Illinois.

“There’s nothing like state budget problems to get people to see what the costs are.”

In 2012, the US Supreme Court also established that for minors, a sentence of life without parole violates the Constitution’s safeguardsagainst “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The court also ruled that prison overcrowding in California – due in part to severe sentencing and the three strikes programme – violates the same safeguards. It ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners.

But action after these verdicts has been slow, as state officials continue to fight in court.

In the US, once someone has been sent to prison on a life sentence, it’s hard for him or her to get out.

 

Outrage Over Safety Issues at Indian Nuke Plant


By K. S. HarikrishnanReprint |   ips news
Residents of Kudankulam, a village in Tamil Nadu, protest against the Indian Supreme Court verdict approving construction of a nuclear power plant. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPSResidents of Kudankulam, a village in Tamil Nadu, protest against the Indian Supreme Court verdict approving construction of a nuclear power plant. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

KUDANKULAM, India, Jun 14 2013 (IPS) – The Tirunelveli district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu may seem idyllic, dotted with lush green fields, but upon closer inspection one sees signs of a battle that does not appear to be abating.

Locals here have been waging an incessant campaign against a proposed nuclear power plant that was supposed to be operational in 2012 and which is currently sitting idle 24 kilometres from the tourist town of Kanyakumari, located on the southern tip of the Indian peninsula.

A recent report by a group of prominent Indian researches has now added another issue to a long list of grievances with the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) that activists and residents have been compiling since August 2011: evidence of faulty material used in the construction of the plant itself.

Plans for the plant were first drawn up in 1988 under a bilateral agreement between Russia and India, but various political obstacles kept construction on hold for over a decade. It was not until 2001 that a fresh attempt was made to jump-start the 3.1-billion-dollar venture, which has an installed capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW).

Fishermen and their families protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Credit K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

Fishermen and their families protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Credit K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS

Things were moving smoothly until news of the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan in March 2011 went viral. Fearing a repeat performance of the tragedy, locals here took to the streets, protesting lax safety standards and possible nuclear radiation in the event of an accident.

The government has refused to address protestors’ concerns, instead issuing blanket assurances that the plant has been constructed using state of the art instrumentation and contains a passive cooling system and other mechanisms that will enable it to withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.

Nalinish Nagaich, executive director of the National Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), has repeatedly insisted that the equipment installed in the power station has undergone multi-stage quality checks.

Last month, in a 247-page ruling, a division bench of the Supreme Court of India consisting of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra dismissed protestors’ concerns as “baseless”, adding: “The benefits we reap from KKNPP are enormous since nuclear energy remains an important element in India’s energy mix, which can replace a significant (quantity) of fossil fuels like coal, gas (and) oil.”

But new information brought to light in ‘Scandals in the Nuclear Business’, a report published by Dr. V. T. Padmanabhan, a member of the European Commission on Radiation Risk, exposes cracks in the government’s position and highlights the potential crises arising from the use of faulty parts.

According to the study, the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV), considered to be the “heart” of a nuclear station, has been built using an outdated, three-decade old model. In addition, various pieces of equipment supplied by Russia have been found to be faulty.

The report has only deepened a crisis of confidence that surfaced earlier this year when Russian Federal prosecutors booked Sergei Shutov, procurement director of the Russian company ZiO-Podolsk that supplied vital equipment to the KKNPP, on corruption charges.

Shutov was charged with “having sourced cheaper sub-standard steel for manufacturing components that were used in Russian nuclear installations in Bulgaria, Iran, China and India”, according to a joint letter sent by over 60 scientists to the chief ministers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The New Delhi-based Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) has expressed serious concern over the recent scam, calling it a direct violation of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)’s safety norms.

Back in April, following a series of tests, the AERB itself acknowledged that four valves in the KKNPP were defective and ordered the NPCIL to replace the parts and surrender itself for review by the regulatory authority, before resuming construction.

World Nuclear News reported last month that “technical issues discovered during the commissioning of Unit One have necessitated the replacement of several valves in the passive core cooling system, leading to further delays” in the commissioning of the KKNPP.

Dr. A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of AERBhas urged the government to put an immediate stop to the project until allegations of corruption and faulty equipment have been adequately addressed, and the safety and quality of the parts used to house the reactor have been determined.

Police crack down on women protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS.

Police crack down on women protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India. Credit: K. S. Harikrishnan/IPS.

“The fact that a high-cost, high-risk nuclear reactor is (thought to have) defects…in its components and equipment even before it (has started operating) is highly unusual, and indicates gross failures at several levels in the AERB-NPCIL-Atomstroyexport (triumvirate),” he said, referring to Russia’s national nuclear vendor that stands accused of supplying low-quality parts to India.

N. Sahadevan, environmentalist and prominent campaigner against nuclear arsenals, told IPS that the recent scandal necessitated a “thorough re-examination of the safety aspects of the plant.”

Furthermore, according to Supreme Court Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the NPCIL, which operates the KKNPP, has failed to comply with the 17 post-Fukushima safety recommendations made by a special AERB committee.

Meanwhile, thousands of villagers in and around Kudankulam continue their daily, peaceful demonstrations.

S. P. Udayakumar, leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, told IPS that the Fukushima catastrophe categorically proved that nuclear power projects are not aligned with the welfare of the people, especially those living in the vicinity, and are incapable of providing any kind of “security”, energy or otherwise.

Activists have also exposed discrepancies in the government’s claim that nuclear power is crucial for the Indian economy, pointing out that the country currently has just 4,880 MW of existing capacity, “which contribute to only 2.7 percent of the total electricity generation in the country,” according to Dr. E. A. S. Sarma, former Union Power Secretary of India.

– See more at: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/outrage-over-safety-issues-at-indian-nuke-plant/#sthash.Q7VgTdmC.5cfoiTLx.dpuf

 

An Open Letter to the Media houses in India!


English: Construction site of the Koodankulam ...

 

The Struggle Committee                                                                     June 16, 2013
Idinthakarai & P. O. 627 104
Tirunelveli District
Dear friends:
Greetings! Please allow us to bring the following to your kind attention in the larger interests of our country, people and most importantly, our democracy and freedom. As the Fourth Pillar of our democracy, the media in India plays an important role in the smooth running of our country and the perpetuation of our democratic heritage.
We are sure that you have noticed the postponement of the commissioning of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) to July 2013 without giving any reasons or explanations. It is really so disappointing and upsetting why no print or visual media in our country asks the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) or its Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) about this. There has not been one single editorial in any Indian newspaper or an informed debate on any TV debate on the repeated postponement of the KKNPP commission since 2005. Don’t the people of India need to know the reasons behind this constant postponement and continued ducking and dodging by the prime minister, central ministers, chief minister, and nuclear officials?
We have been crying from the roof top that there has been massive corruption in the KKNPP and shoddy, substandard components and spares have been used in the project, but no mediahouse in India has shown any interest to probe this issue further. Most of the northern Indian mediahouses have not even shown any interest in the Koodankulam issue as if we were not part of India.
Although we cannot complain about the media coverage of our various struggles and campaigns here in Tamil Nadu both in the Tamil and the English media, a few irresponsible mediahouses have been portraying a very negative picture of our movement because of their connection with the nuclear industry, or their “higher caste” bias, or for cheap monetary gains. They go for sensationalism, profiteering, and unprincipled and unprofessional reporting. We would also like to point out that there have been good reports and analysis about the KKNPP issue but there is hardly any incisive inquiry into the commissions and omissions of the Indian nuclear industry in the larger media. Also many mediahouses in India tend to fall silent when power centers frown at them, or twist their arms.
As a result of the gross failure of the Fourth Pillar in our democracy, criminals wander about as leaders; ‘Merchants of Venice’ dominate the economic affairs; and all-knowing-scientists and engineers adopt an anti-people attitude in their mega-development projects. Consequently, there is rampant corruption, inefficiency, wastefulness, depression, inflation, regress, and overall moral decay all over the country.
Hence it is high time we undertook a thorough and comprehensive soul-search about the duties and responsibilities of the media in India. The Koodankulam struggle can be a cornerstone for undertaking this analysis.
We would earnestly request you to do a review of your own mediahouse’s policies and practices and see if you feel and write for the “ordinary citizens” of India or for the vested interests of our country and the world. We enclose a write-up pointing out the salient features of the crippled KKNPP that deserves national attention and nation-wide debate. If the Indian mediahouses fail to do this, all the Neo-East India Companies from the United States, Russia, France and everywhere else will come to dominate our socioeconomic-political affairs and enslave us all over again.
Looking forward to your careful consideration of our letter and favorable actions, we send you our best personal regards and all peaceful wishes,
Cordially,
S. P. Udayakumar       M. Pushparayan          F. Jayakumar               M. P. Jesuraj
Coordinator
R. S. Muhilan              Peter Milton                V. Rajalingam             Ms. S. Lidwin
Please allow us to bring the following dangerous developments, difficulties and discrepancies in the Koodankulam nuclear power project (KKNPP) to your kind consideration and request your immediate intervention to expose the irregularities and improprieties in the nuclear energy sector in India and save the people from massive disasters:
[1] Shoddy and Substandard Equipment from ZiO-Podolsk, Informtech Etc.
First and the most important of all, the KKNPP has been constructed with substandard equipment and parts supplied by ZiO-Podolsk, an engineering subsidiary of the Russian company Rosatom. The company’s official website has declared unequivocally: “Over the past few years ZiO produced and implemented a set of equipment for foreign nuclear power plants with VVER-1000: Tianwan (China), Busher (Iran), Kudankulam (India)” (http://aozio.ru/production/ob-atom/). ZiO-Podolsk began shipping shoddy equipment in 2007 or perhaps even earlier. In February 2012, the procurement director, Mr. Sergei Shutov, was arrested for buying low quality and cheap raw material, passing it off as more expensive grade and pocketing the difference. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, has been investigating the case that has serious implications for the safety of nuclear power plants built by Russia.
During July 15-18, 2012, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) delegation that included Special Secretary Mr. A. P. Joshi, Deputy Secretary Mr. Ninian Kumar and the Manager of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Mr. Dzhogesh Pady visited ZiO-Podolsk and discussed a range of issues related to the preparation for the launch of KKNPP-1, the progress of the KKNPP-2 etc. and signed a number of contracts relating to the implementation of the current phase of the KKNPP. (AtomEnergoMash, Posted 19.07.2012).
However, when we asked the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) under RTI on January 28, 2013 for “a list of those equipment and parts that have been supplied by Zio-Podolsk to the KKNPP units,” the NPCIL replied tersely on February 20, 2013 (No. NPCIL/VSB/CPIO/2460/HQ/2013/371): “No Information regarding any investigation against Zio-Podolsk is available to NPCIL.” It is a gross untruth and deception because the top DAE officials had just visited the ZiO-Podolsk and they must have followed up the developments. The NPCIL is hiding serious and important information from the Indian public and misleading the entire nation possibly to protect some Russian and Indian middlemen and profiteers.
When we asked the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) on January 28, 2013 for “a list of those equipment and parts that have been supplied by Zio-Podolsk to the KKNPP units” they responded on February 12, 2013 (No. AERB/RSD/RTI/Appl. No. 329/2013/2421) very evasively: “Selection of a company for supplying any equipment to NPCIL, is not under the purview of AERB. However, with respect to Quality Assurance (QA) during design, construction, commissioning and operation, a set of well established AERB documents on QA Codes and Guides are published and they were followed during the safety review of KKNPP.”
Later the NPCIL confirmed officially (in its letter No. NPCIL/VSB/CPIO/2574/KKNPP/2013/737 dated April 29, 2013) that the controversial and corruption-ridden M/S ZiO Podolsk has supplied the following equipment and parts to the KKNPP: “Steam Generators, Cation and anion filters, Mechanical Filter, Moisture Separator and Reheater, Boric solution storage tanks, Regenerative blow down heat exchanger, Pipelines and fittings of different systems, Insulation materials, PHRS Heat exchanger.” In other words, the Koodankulam project in its entirety is unsafe and dangerous.
Another Russian court has convicted one Mr. Alexander Murach, Director of another notorious Russian company, Informtech, for fraud and sentenced him to three years in prison for selling counterfeit measuring equipment for nuclear and hydro power plants’ turbines. The NPCIL has just confirmed in its letter dated May 24, 2013 (No. NPCIL/VSB/CPIO/2670/HQ/2013/884) that they have received “Communication equipment” from Informtech.
Some ten Czech and Slovak companies have also supplied valves, pumps and cables to the Koodankulam project. Leoš Tomíček, Executive Vice-president of Rusatom Overseas says: “We already work with Czechs today. For example, for two blocks of the Indian Koodankulam nuclear power plant, nine Czech companies supplied us with valves, pumps, cables and other equipment worth 58 million dollars.” There have been many cable-related accidents and deaths at the KKNPP. T. S. Subramanian says in a 2009 article: “Cabling is under way in the state-of-the-art control room for Unit-1, which is akin to an aircraft’s cockpit. M.I. Joy, Additional Chief Engineer (Site Planning), KKNPP, said, “Once the cabling is completed, the entire control of the plant, including the reactor and turbine, will be done from the control room.” The plant’s control room is humidity-controlled. “The atmosphere is so pure here that the cables will not be spoiled,” said Joy.
(http://www.frontline.in/navigation/?type=static&page=flonnet&rdurl=fl2616/stories/20090814261612). It is this “so pure” atmosphere that has killed six workers in the past three months in electrocution accidents. The quality of the Czech cables and the checkered electrical work, and the role of Mr. M. I. Joy in all these are important questions must be looked into.
Since shoddy and substandard equipment and parts in a massive nuclear power park pose enormous dangers of epic proportion to millions and millions of innocent people in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and elsewhere, this issue has to be thoroughly and comprehensively probed in collaboration with the officials of Rosatom, Atomstroyexport, Federal Security Service (FSB) and most importantly, with independent nuclear experts in India.
[2] The Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) Lies!
Izhorskiye Zavody, which is part of United Machinery Plants (OMZ) holding, signed a contract with India for the construction of two nuclear reactor bodies for Kudankulam’s station in 2002. They shipped a new nuclear reactor body that would be the first power unit of India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant to the city’s sea port. Yevgeny Sergeyev, general director of Izhorskiye Zavody, said at a ceremony sending off the reactor: “We were so sure of our partners that we started to produce the first reactor bodies four months before the official contract was signed.” Sergeyev said the reactor was completed six months before deadline (The St Petersburg Times, 19 November 2004,http://sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=2135).
The Koodankulam reactor pressure vessel (RPV) arrived at the Tuticorin Port in January 2004. The first unit of the power plant was expected to be synchronized in December 2007, and the second unit by December 2008. Mr. S. K. Aggarwal, the then project director said: “The project officials have targeted to complete the works for synchronisation of both the units in March and September 2007 respectively.”
The Russian Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision, Rostekhnadzor, claimed in 2009: “The main causes of violations in the NPP construction works are insufficient qualifications, and the personnel’s meagre (sic) knowledge of federal norms and rules, design documentation, and of the technological processes of equipment manufacturing. In particular, the top management of Izhorskiye Zavody have been advised of the low quality of the enterprise’s products and have been warned that sanctions might be enforced, up to suspending the enterprise’s equipment production licence”
(http://www.gosnadzor.ru/osnovnaya_deyatelnost_slujby/otcheti-o-deyatelnosti-sluzhbi-godovie/). Unlike the original design of the Koodankulam RPVs, the erected ones have beltline welds, questionable quality and corruption charges.
[3] Fiddling with the Reactor Design and Doing an Unauthorized Refit
When the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)’s dialogue with the Central Government’s Expert Group got aborted due to the violent attack on us by some anti-social elements, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister appointed a team of four members to study the KKNPP issue. When that group included Dr. M. R. Srinivasan, the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), we objected to his inclusion in the team. However, he continued to be part of the team and we did have a dialogue with the team on February 19, 2012 in Tirunelveli.
During our interaction that was held in the presence of the Tirunelveli District Collector and other officials, Dr. Srinivasan never mentioned once that the DAE had made changes in the core of the reactor. It is also not revealed to the public until now if he and the team included this unauthorized fiddling in the report they submitted to the CM. However, Dr. Srinivasan has publicly acknowledged now: “We sought an additional safety mechanism well before the Fukushima disaster. The safety mechanism consists of valves. The original reactor design had to be altered and I feel this is the basic cause for delay.” According to him, the valves were designed partially in India and Russia and compatibility with the reactor led to some hiccups (http://newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/article1517314.ece).
After fiddling with the original design of the KKNPP reactors, the Indian authorities went back and did an unauthorized “refit” without revealing the details to anyone. All these things point out the inherent deficiencies of the Russian reactors, their vulnerability due to all the fiddling, and their untrustworthiness after the refit. Since this matter has to do with the lives and sustenance of millions and millions of people, all the relevant details must be made public.
[4] Blaming the Protests for Atomic Inefficiency and Inept Engineering
The Russian and the Indian nuclear authorities are hiding their corruption, wastefulness and inefficiency by conveniently blaming the struggling people for all the delay and cost overrun. The Indian Express newspaper asserts that the “delay is on the supply side from Russia as a whole lot of components have been replaced, some of which had to be shipped in.” The KKNPP sources have also confessed that the “containment vessel of the nuclear core too has been changed since the old one had sprung a leak, which was detected three months ago during testing” (http://newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/article1517314.ece).
The KKNPP authorities claim that “most components meant for Unit-II that were already in the warehouse were used as replacements for Unit-I.” It is not clear why they were kept in the warehouse since Unit 2 was also being concurrently constructed along with Unit 1. The nuclear authorities are hiding the plain truth that Unit 1 is a complete failure and hence they are trying to revive it with the parts of Unit 2. Nobody knows the total loss that India has suffered because of all these shifting and shuffling.
The Srinivasan-confessed “refit” of KKNPP-1 is being blamed on its “idling for months together because of a major agitation plus litigation in the Supreme Court.” This is an outrageous falsehood! Even when our agitation was going on between September 2011 and March 2012, regular and full-swing maintenance work was going on at the Koodankulam plant on a daily basis. When the Tamil Nadu government changed its stand on our agitation on March 19, 2012 and pushed us to the village of Idinthakarai, the Site Director of KKNPP Reactors I and II, Mr. R.S. Sundar, said the “water chemistry” of the water being used in the coolant was encouraging as proper maintenance had been carried out with skeletal staff during the protests (P. Sudhakar, “Croatian experts to inspect the condition of equipment,” The Hindu, March 23, 2012).
Mr. S. T. Arasu, Senior Maintenance Engineer at KKNPP said: “We have operated all the pumps to measure the vibration level, which is less than the desirable baseline data and it shows the quality of our skilled workforce. Though this section could not be given complete attention during the past five-and-a-half months, the equipment are functioning in an amazing fashion” (P. Sudhakar, “Employees at Kudankulam project site a charged lot,” The Hindu, March 24, 2012).
Mr. Yevgeniy N. Dudkin, the head of the Russian Specialists Group, said that none of the Russian specialists of Atomstroyexport had left the project site during the protests. He pointed out that some additional works needed to be done and said, “It is not a huge work.” (P. Sudhakar and S. Sundar, “Primary coolant pumps to undergo another trial,” The Hindu, March 29, 2012.)
Similarly, when the Supreme Court began its hearing on a batch of petitions in September 2012, they refused to give a ‘stay’ to halt the ongoing work at KKNPP and allowed the authorities to continue with their work. Accordingly, the AERB allowed fuel loading in September 2012 dismissing the feelings and sentiments of millions of struggling people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Now the Supreme Court has given a green signal to run the project subject to 15 stringent recommendations.
But the KKNPP, NPCIL, AERB, and the DAE officials are conveniently blaming their inordinate delay in commissioning the KKNPP-1 on the “corrosion and leakage since sea water was used as the coolant.” If the pipes leak and corrode within such a short time, the government should order a probe into the quality of these pipes, the quality of the various equipment and spares that were sent by the Russians. If these pipes and parts cannot withstand one year of sea water circulation, how are they going to function safely for 40-60 years?
[5] Mounting Costs and Massive Corruption
Every single deal that India has signed with Russia has proved to be a disaster and big loss for India. The INS Vikramaditya/Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier has been delayed by five years with the final cost hovering in the $2.9 billion range. The time overrun and cost escalation also plagues another mega Indo-Russian defense deal of upgrading MiG-29 fighter planes. The KKNPP is yet another disaster.
The approved cost of the KKNPP 1 & 2 project is Rs. 13,171 crores. But the DAE and the NPCIL claim that they have spent an additional amount of Rs. 4,000 crores on the non-performing project. Nobody knows the exact end cost of the KKNPP or the breakdown of the final amount. The former AERB Chief, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, has claimed that the decision to import 40,000 MW capacity Light Water Reactors (LWRs) in early 2006 was taken without any techno-economic evaluation by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) or any other agency. According to Dr. Gopalakrishnan, “The decisions, price negotiations and supply terms are being negotiated by the UPA- 2 government in haste, with the intention of fulfilling the PM’s commitments to these foreign governments and their companies before he demits office. .The decision was merely a quid-pro-quo to give business to the reactor manufacturers in those countries which helped India get a Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) waiver” (DNA, February 16, 2013).
The Russian nuclear company, Atomstroyexport, has just released its financial statement for the year 2011. The company claims that losses in 2011 were twice bigger than the losses of 2010, and that the company is on the brink of bankruptcy. This has seriously affected the Russian nuclear projects at Koodankulam in India and Busher in Iran <http://www.interfax.ru/business/txt.asp?id=283928>. We wonder if the Indian government is secretly helping the Russian company with its losses and bankruptcy.
The NPCIL authorities have claimed that the Rs.4,000 crores cost overrun at Koodankulam is due to the “increase in interest during construction (IDC), escalation on works, contractor’s overheads and establishment charges” (RTI reply dated February 20, 2013). It is pertinent to note that the Russian government is not making such financial compensation to India for all the delay and cost overrun in all of the above projects.
Instead of explaining these mounting costs and massive irregularities, the Russian Ambassador to India Mr. Alexander Kadakin simply misleads Indians by unnecessary and unacceptable comments on our internal affairs. We wonder if the Indian nuclear establishment is secretly helping the Russian company with its losses and bankruptcy.  We wonder if the Koodankulam financial irregularities involve both Indian and Russian nuclearocrats, diplomats and politicians.
[6] Commissioning the KKNPP Every 15 Days
Instead of reporting to the citizens of India inside India about the largest and imported nuclear power park at Koodankulam, the Prime Minister of India goes to South Africa and reassures the President of Russia of its commissioning process (no pun intended). When the Prime Minister had announced in Moscow that the KKNPP would be commissioned “in a couple of weeks” on December 15, 2011, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister expressed her dissent and displeasure immediately.
The calendar for commissioning of KKNPP-1 has been shifted some 20 times in the past one year by politicians, bureaucrats and the nuclear authorities. In fact, this “commission dating” process has been going on from 2005 onwards and the Union Minister of State, Mr. V. Narayanasamy has set a record of sorts for himself in this calculated and irresponsible misinformation campaign. All these people have been lyingto the nation repeatedly and recklessly and hence we cannot trust these authorities with our and our families’ safety and well-being. If there is any truth and decorum in public life in India, all these officials should resign from their respective posts.
[7] No Information, No Liability, No Pollution Safeguard
The Government of India and the DAE have not shared any basic information with us about the KKNPP. Even after the Central Information Commission (CIC) has instructed them, they have not shared the Site Evaluation Report (SER) and the Safety Analysis Report (SAR) with us. They have not heard our opinions or allayed our fears and concerns about the lack of fresh water resources, the changes in the design of the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV), the management of liquid and solid waste and so on.
Neither have the Indian nuclear authorities got any liability from the Russian government and/or companies for KKNPP 1 and 2. The Government of India is not even willing to share the secretive Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that they signed with the Russian government in 2008. Even as we are dealing with KKNPP 1 and 2, the Government of India is announcing the agreement on KKNPP 3 and 4 with utter disregard for the sentiments of the local people and the people of Tamil Nadu as a whole.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) has also given consent to discharge enormous amounts of sewage, trade effluent, desalination plant effluent, demineralization effluent, steam generator effluent, suspended solids, dissolved solids, and many other waste products into the sea. The TNPCB fixed the temperature of the effluents at the discharge point as 45 degrees and later summarily reduced it to 36 or 37 degrees. They have also allowed the KKNPP to release significant amounts of Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, particulate matters and many other harmful radioactive pollutants into the air. Nobody seems to bother about the impact of all these on the sea, sea food, crops, dairy, food security, nutrition, health and wellbeing of us, our children and grandchildren.
Furthermore, it is revealed now that the NPCIL does not hold valid and legitimate clearances for all the various buildings and installations in the KKNPP from the Tamil Nadu Coastal Zone Management Authority under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2011.
[8] The Tamils Get Elegy and the Others Get Energy!
Even though the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has written to the Prime Minister on March 31, April 25 and August 19, 2012, demanding all the power from the KKNPP to Tamil Nadu, the Prime Minister or his PMO never even acknowledged those letters. Earlier the CM had demanded more power from the Central Pool and financial help for various power generation schemes, but the UPA government always ignored her genuine requests and earnest efforts.
If this is the way the UPA government treats the Chief Minister of an important State and popular leader of millions of Tamil people, one can possibly imagine the feelings and attitude they may have towards the poorest of the poor who have been struggling on our own for almost two years now. The Congress Party and the UPA government seem to have scant regards for the Tamil fishermen, Tamil women, and the Tamil people as a whole.
It is also strange that our neighboring states would not share the Nature-given river waters with us but we, the Tamil people, have to suffer nuclear waste, thermal pollution, saline refuse, and most importantly, nuclear radiation and give them all risk-free electricity. It is quite preposterous that the Congress government in Kerala stakes a claim for 500 MW from the KKNPP; in fact, the Congress governments in Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram can together decide to set up a few nuclear power plants somewhere in Kerala. The intelligent and Nature-loving people of Kerala would never allow that and the political parties there, whether Congress or Communists or BJP or others, would never let that happen also.
Given the above situation, may we request you to demand an inquiry into the construction, equipment, overall quality, performance and the viability of the entire Koodankulam nuclear power project; removal of the fuel rods from the core of the Unit 1 reactor; conversion of the KKNPP into a pro-people and Nature-friendly Model New Energy Park; bringing about renewable energy projects all over our country; rectifying the transmission and distribution issues, and protecting the interests and well-being of the Tamil people and our progeny please.
If we let this shoddy, substandard, unsafe, and corruption-ridden nuclear power project to go critical and fail in our collective historic duty to protect our people, preserve our Natural resources and prop up the interests of newborn and unborn generations of India, we all will be held responsible and answerable for all the upcoming calamities and uncalculable harms to our people.

 

 

 

 

#India – Sexual Harassment at Workplace #Vaw #Womenrights #mustread


Workplace Sexual Harassment

The Way Things Are

Vol – XLVIII No. 24, June 15, 2013 | Naina Kapur , EPW
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Sixteen years after the landmark Vishaka case judgment of the Supreme Court, the government introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2012 a defective Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill. The Act, as it stands, has failed to draw on the extensive research on sexual harassment that has been done in this country and elsewhere. Further, its inaccurate phrasing of workplace sexual harassment and mismatches between subheadings and content of the text eclipses the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment.

Naina Kapur (naina.kapur@gmail.com) is an advocate who pioneered the Vishaka directions on workplace sexual harassment.

Before 1997, “sexual harassment” had never settled into the Indian legal lexicon. We were instead saddled with an archaic Victorian template which criminalised “outraging or insulting” a “woman’s modesty”. It made us pretend that we had it all covered. But we never did. Unwelcome words, gestures, images, language, and all those subtle intangibles which sexually violate a woman, were comfortably woven into the pattern of life rather than the fabric of law. It all became a silent and acceptable part of “the way things are”.

Bhanwari Case

It was not until the 1990s that the sexual torment endured by a rural level change agent in Rajasthan and her subsequent determination to challenge what led to her violation gave rise to a long overdue common-sense approach to what needed to change. It was us. Sexual harassment hit the Indian legal map when Bhanwari, a saathin in Rajasthan, prevented the child marriage within an upper caste community. In doing so she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment through words and gestures from men of that community. When she reported the harassment, the local authority did nothing. That omission was at great cost to Bhanwari – she was subsequently gang-raped by those very men.

Surprisingly, nationwide calls for justice hovered around demands for a stringent criminal law response, i e, the filing of a first information report (FIR). With a history of failures by the criminal justice system to stem the pandemic of violence towards women, such demands appeared futile. At the risk of offending purists of criminal law, it has always struck me as somewhat offensive that a breach of criminal law is effectively treated as a crime against the state. Each FIR becomes the pursuit of a culprit by the police for a harm which the “State” has endured. At most the complainant woman is only ever a witness.

Bhanwari’s experience invited us to change that pattern. Rather than perceive sexual harassment in the home, on the street, at work or in accessing justice as individual personal injuries, we needed to experience it as a constitutional concern. The microcosmic commonality of Bhanwari’s experience of sexual harassment mirrored what scores of working Indian women faced in India – everyday, everywhere, all the time. In the absence of any existing legal response to “sexual harassment”, the opportunity was ripe for a comprehensive approach. In 1992, therefore, we approached the Supreme Court of India in a public interest litigation to do precisely that – rethink “the way things are”.

Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment was a form of discriminatory conduct at the workplace. It hampered women’s constitutional rights to equality and dignity. It sabotaged work performance, affected working environments, impaired women’s progress, resulted in absenteeism and cost both individuals and institutions in terms of qualitative health and growth. The statistics of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reveal how 55% of women from the ages of 14 to 55 in Italy have been subjected to sexual harassment (2004); sexual harassment in the United States army has cost close to $250 million (1999 survey); 40 to 50% of women in the European Union have faced some form of sexual harassment; and a 2002 survey by Sakshi (a non-governmental organisation) of 2,000 persons across workplaces found 80% acknowledging that workplace sexual harassment existed in India.

Statistics apart, constitutional equality was never the lens through which we viewed women’s experience of sexual harm at work. It took that rare creative courage of a judge, the late Justice J S Verma (then chief justice of India) to rise to the occasion and in 1997 we were given Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan. Unlike anything before it, Vishaka was a visionary decision. Primarily, it filled a legal vacuum. Second, it viewed sexual harassment through an equality lens and thus prioritised prevention. Third, in the absence of legislation, it became legally binding on all workplaces. Unlike the criminal law, it was the State, the employer, and the institution that had to own up for the equality and dignity of women at work.

Finally, it gave us a map for creating accountability. Workplaces, organisations, institutions (including educational establishments) were compelled to raise awareness about sexual harassment, take steps to prevent it and to offer effective redress. We sought and were granted the presence of a third party expert on complaints committees for sexual harassment, a mechanism mandated by Vishaka for all workplaces.

It was an innovative moment in the history of women’s constitutional rights within all workplaces. That is what a visionary approach does for people’s rights. It expands and uplifts them through an inclusive process. Vishaka changed the map of how we could respond to other forms of violence against women. Unfortunately, the moment and momentum was frittered away by a state unable and unwilling to adhere to the bar Vishaka had set. Despite the Government of India’s own ratification of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the women’s convention which promised to uphold the equality rights of women in all aspects of life, its commitment rang hollow. Added to this was increased public immunity to the daily sexual exploitation of women who never took adequate notice of what Vishaka had to offer.

‘To Do Something’

Still, Vishaka made it impossible for us to slip back to the way things are. It gave us language. Women’s experience of unwelcome sexual conduct was no longer a patronising moral transgression of her ”modesty”, it was sexual harassment – a violation of her constitutional equality.

Sixteen years post the landmark judgment, the Government of India introduced a new bill. Such delay might have been justified had excellence and improving on Vishaka been the goal. In reality, the state simply awoke from its lengthy slumber to “do something”. Amidst the din of the coal block allocations scam in the Lok Sabha, a defective Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill was allowed to pass into law without debate in September 2012. Before the Rajya Sabha, a feebler introduction was made by the minister whose “vision” suggested that it was a bill “to make them economically empowered so that they can do their work properly” – a condescending preface to constitutional equality which was the backbone of the Vishaka judgment. Adding insult to injury, nowhere does the debate find mention of constitutional equality.

Apart from the statement of objects, there is little in the language and content of the new Act which has continued to raise the bar, let alone retain the spirit of Vishaka. An itemised definition of what constitutes “workplace” might have been more easily stated as any place where a woman is present by virtue of her work – a suggestion supported by many at a consultation held in the presence of parliamentary standing committee members. Educational institutes have complained that the definition does not go far enough to include students who, while not workers, frequently suffer coercive sexual harassment on campus or otherwise linked to their educational growth, a concern endorsed by the Justice Verma Committee. Such institutes will need to adopt a creative approach to ensure students are covered. Extensive cross-country research carried out for the Vishaka hearings provided contemporary approaches to the definition and a road map for preventing workplace sexual harassment.

Use of such knowledge was scarcely evident in crafting the latest Act. Inaccurate phrasing (a trait which characterises much of the Act) of hostile workplace sexual harassment eclipses the relevance of the most common forms of workplace sexual harassment. Mismatches between subheadings and content compound that perception. A section titled “Prevention of Sexual Harassment”, for instance, fails to deliver on anything related to preventive measures. Instead, the section highlights “circumstances” which may amount to sexual harassment. Such glaring oversight betrays an abysmal lack of homework by the legislative draughtsperson and ignorance about the issue by parliamentary representatives across the political spectrum.

Diluted Version of Vishaka

As for the internal and local complaint committees now mandated under the Act in all workplaces, political understanding of what was intended to be an inclusive and informed redress mechanism simply is not there. Diluting third party presence on these committees to persons committed to “the cause of women” demeans the skill and specialisation required to meet the nuances of workplace sexual harassment. In a recent example, a lawyer committed to the “cause of women” was inducted into a government department complaints committee. Post the proceedings, my office was contacted by the department for a follow-up. Amazingly, the record revealed how the person accused of sexual harassment was allowed to openly question the complainant as part of the committee proceedings – a fundamental violation of the non-intimidation principle designed to protect complainants from just such practices. Third party persons (lawyers or not) must bring knowledge, skill and capacity to the table to ensure processes are professionally informed and unbiased. Vishaka envisaged an inclusive complaints committee to build ownership of the issue, ensure fair treatment and enhance knowledge and experience around workplace sexual harassment.

Of all sections, the most disturbing provision in the Act (Section 14) is one which punishes a “false or malicious complaint”. Such inventions are only ever peculiar to gender-specific legislations which relate to women and violence. In no other area of law do such penalty clauses exist as a matter of practice. Its presence in the new Act has no legal basis.

Investigations (and this is true of any law) are designed to determine whether a harm occurred or not. That is it. To premise an Act on the assumption that women are potential liars about their human rights abuses reeks of stereotyping women and for that reason would be constitutionally untenable. Flawed drafting further amplifies the lack of political seriousness towards socially relevant legislation for women. The “false” charges section provides that “mere” inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof “need not” attract action against the complainant, but does not enlighten us on what “need not” means. Does it imply that if a complaint does not succeed, it “ought not to but still might” attract action for false charges?

The absence of user-friendly, unambiguous and accessible language throughout the new Act renders it prone to typical gender stereotyping in such cases. In all consultations on the bill, this retrograde provision was rejected outright. To foist it into the legislation can only be perceived as an attempt to discourage women from making complaints of sexual harassment.

In the 16 years since Vishaka, progressive developments have taken place in international guidelines and practices on workplace sexual harassment. Prescribing “duties” under the new Act as a way to compel employers to prevent sexual harassment runs contrary to contemporary human rights emphasis on promoting “responsibilities”. It is the difference between what employers feel obliged to do (and hence resist and scuttle) from what they would responsibly own and do (and hence, be proud of).

Clearly, the absence of urgency and enhanced vision has given us a diluted version of Vishaka. Dilution is what traditionally allows sexually inappropriate conduct to fester, spread and eventually escalate into rape in the first place. That is how it all began in Bhanwari’s case. For that reason, a 16-year wait offers no excuse for not getting a law that mirrored global standards of excellence and understanding in systemically tackling workplace sexual harassment.

At the same time, legislation, flawed or otherwise, cannot excuse us from implementing change, one which calls upon our own willingness to connect the dots. At most, legislation has reignited attention towards the plague of workplace sexual harassment. Owning the constitutional subtext to make it work is our job. Unexpected but welcome initiatives have begun to dot the landscape even pre-legislation. A recent award by the industrial tribunal in West Bengal offers an unusually credible direction in the sexual harassment case of senior journalist Rina Mukherjee against The Statesman.

Rina Mukherjee vs The Statesman

Within six months of joining The Statesman, Rina Mukerhjee lost her job. While the company alleged that her work was “tardy” and “lacking in quality”, it suppressed Rina’s complaint of sexual harassment against the news coordinator, Ishan Joshi. Within her first month of work, Rina had taken her complaint directly to the managing director (MD), Ravinder Kumar. Understandably, she expected him to act professionally and intervene, but time passed and nothing happened. Exploiting her status as a probationer, Rina was fired by The Statesman.

Such patterns are common to organisations who fail to see the importance of promoting a workplace free from sexual harassment. Frequently, a woman on probation will find it impossible to make a complaint, let alone succeed with one. Hence, most women hesitate and tolerate the behaviour. Rina was an exception. Post her termination she filed a formal complaint with the MD, The Statesman’s owner, C R Irani and the West Bengal Women’s Commission with the firm belief that her termination was a result of her sexual harassment complaint.

The matter was eventually heard by the Industrial Tribunal (West Bengal). In a rare display of social context, insight and clarity amongst the judiciary, judge Kundan Kumar Kumai, rejected The Statesman’s claim that Rina only referred to “professional” harassment in her complaint to Ravindra Kumar. In Kumai’s view, Kumar’s failure to dig deeper was clearly suspect. In the judge’s words:

He [Ravindra Kumar] never started any enquiry however discreet it may have been. Fairplay demanded at least an explanation from the senior executives as to why there was an allegation of professional harassment against them. Rather he has gone hammer and tongs over the delay made in making the sexual harassment public, in writing. What else could she have done… she made a verbal complaint of sexual harassment and professional harassment and she was dismissed from her service even without completion of her probation period.

It should also not be forgotten that the lady workman was not only well-educated but had about ten years of journalism, with other well known publications, behind her and not a novice or a rookie journalist, at that relevant time.

Moreover…it becomes clear that there was no Committee on sexual harassment, as per the Honb’le Supreme Court’s direction in Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan, existing in The Statesman, at that relevant time…to expect-the lady workman to file a written complaint and not to believe the same, when it has been filed ‘at a later date’ is sheer bias.

The Statesman was ordered to reinstate Rina and grant her full back wages from the time of her termination to the date of the order. It took 11 years but Rina won an order that dispels assumptions about why women take time to complain about sexual harassment, how those in power try through sheer numbers and gagged employees to dismiss such claims, and how workplaces can no longer take legal compliance on sexual harassment lightly. HadThe Statesman taken her complaint seriously at the outset and complied with Vishaka, the result could have been beneficial for all – for Rina, women workers, the workplace environment and inevitably the company’s reputation.

Conclusions

Repetition creates a life pattern. Enduring workplace conduct which sexually demeans, intimidates, offends, excludes and limits women is not only about the patterns of sexist behaviour, it is also about the repetitive nature of our own complacency. We have become immune to the pervasive harm of sexual harassment and its unconstitutional character.

People like judge Kumai, justice Verma, Bhanwari and Rina remind us that this need not be so. They inspire the rest of us who care, to use our carefully crafted skills, know-how and passion to innovate and transform the most ill-crafted provisions in law to work for us rather than limit us.

Sexual harassment need not be “the way things are”. It is up to us as political leaders, judges, responsible workplaces and individuals to change that pattern of thought. Having found its way onto our constitutional map for all to follow the direction and visibility of workplace sexual harassment will be determined by the men and women who understand the professional and human worth of speaking up. As frightening as that can be, it will enable us to own our constitutional equality not has some elusive right we should continue to aspire for, but as something we can live, experience and embrace everyday. That is not the way things are, that is the way things should be.

 

 

#India – The Niyamgiri warrior against Vedanta – Sanjay Parikh #mustread


Aparna Kalra  |  New Delhi  June 15, 2013  BS

Though his case files are stacked across four rooms, Sanjay Parikh, the lawyer who thrust a spoke into India-focused miner Vedanta Resources‘ plans, has ensured each is marked neatly.

“This is the Kalahandi case… this is Basmati rice,” he says, as he hops excitedly from one room to another. These are famous cases – one in which the court, petitioned by Parikh, tracked delivery systems for 10 years to prevent starvation deaths; another through which India gave the US a stinging defeat on patents.

The lawyer behind these cases, however, is known only in select human rights and legal circles. It took this reporter three weeks of calls, doorstepping, and a reference from another lawyer to get an interview with Parikh. “Talk about my cases, but why a profile?” he asks at the eventual interview.

‘A balance is required’
The latest case that put the spotlight on Parikh is that of the Niyamgiri forest, where Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Aluminum Ltd, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources, tried to mine bauxite for its shut aluminum plant.

On April 18, Parikh’s arguments in favour of the forest dwellers or tribals seemed to have borne fruit. The court said before allowing mining, a village body, or a Gram Sabha, representing these people, should take their opinion. “Many of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are totally unaware of their rights. They also experience a lot of difficulties in obtaining effective access to justice because of their distinct culture and limited contact with mainstream society,” ruled a three-judge Supreme Court bench, asking Vedanta to await a consensus among the forest dwellers.

Odisha, where the Niyamgiri hills are located, represents Vedanta’s supply chain. India has the world’s fifth largest bauxite reserves of 593 million tonnes, the majority of that in Odisha, according to a Reuters report.

The Niyamgiri debate typifies the puzzle India is faced with – how to mine minerals without hurting indigenous rights and harming to the environment. So sharp has been this debate that it has strengthened the armed Naxal movement.

Back in Parikh’s study, in a single row are stacked the files of cases that bring in money. These relate to rent disputes and yes, crime and murder cases. However, it is clear the lawyer’s heart lies elsewhere. “Somewhere, a balance is required,” says Parikh, 54, talking about the cases he is paid for, as well as his other work. “Those who are coming to you and can pay, you must ask them to pay.”

Among Parikh’s high-impact cases is one where he assisted noted lawyer Indira Jaising in arguments that led to the Supreme Court implementing a ban on use of ultrasound technology to determine the sex of foetuses. A chunk of his cases were those in which he represented environmental activists. “Sanjay has committed himself totally to defending the public interest. He represented the first case the research foundation (Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology) fought to stop Monsanto’s illegal field trials of GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” says Vandana Shiva, an activist who has campaigned against patenting of seeds.

Dharma
Parikh says he was influenced into working on cases voluntarily and without payments during his training as a law intern. Born into an ordinary railway employee’s family from Rajasthan, he graduated in law from Agra University, before being selected to intern with former Supreme Court judge S Rangarajan in 1982. During the period of Emergency, Rangarajan had overturned the arrest of journalist Kuldip Nayyar. Parikh says he learnt moral courage from his mentor.

“I was quite clear there had to be a purpose to life,” says Parikh. “There is in the profession what you call dharma … (by which) the profession is a way of life.”

Parikh, whose two sons are also lawyers, admits it is not easy to comprehend the impact of a law his argument helped draft, or follow-through on its implementation. However, sometimes, one can take the next step, such as action against online advertisements on sex determination by pre-natal clinics based abroad, but targeting Indian parents.

Senior advocate
K K Venugopal, who argued for Vedanta, says of Parikh: “He has been doing a lot of pro bono work. I know that I have been seeing him appear in a number of environment cases… He was not the main opposing counsel. He was one of the main ones. I was opposed by the Union of India, so the solicitor general was appearing… Prashant Bhushan was there. Parikh was there, and played a fairly significant part.”

Parikh’s argument was one of the countervailing arguments in the case – Vedanta and the state of Odisha argued in favour of the mining project. The Indian government, represented by the solicitor general, opposed the project, as did Parikh.


Significant cases
Mandatory declaration of assets and criminal record by a candidate filing nomination as Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly (In 2003, challenging Union of India)

Petition in 1995, challenging dumping of toxic waste, including ship-breaking activities. SC did not ban the entry of toxic ships into Indian waters, but said prior informed consent was necessary. It set the ball rolling for monitoring toxic waste, including that in Bhopal (challenging Union of India and Gujarat maritime board, a ship-breaking company)

Petition in 1998 challenging field trials of genetically modified Bt cotton. Field trials were stayed a few years, but India planted more than 10 million hectares of genetically modified cotton in 2011 (challenging Union of India and Mahyco, which had an association with Monsanto, the world’s largest seeds company)

 

Men, Women and Other People: Understanding Sexualities #Sundayreading


breaking1

From left to right  ( Nine members of the research team ) – Hasina Khan , Kranti  ,  Shruti, Shalini Mahajan, Smriti Nevatia , Raj, Sabla , Meenu pandey, and Chayanika shah

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Women Feature Service 

The concept of gender needs to be transformed. That was the central thrust of a recent study entitled, ‘Breaking The Binary’, released by the queer feminist collective, Labia, at an event organised in Mumbai’s well–known SNDT University.

Questioning the male–female binary, the study concluded that there can be no uniformity within these identities. Even when people use the same term like ‘man’, ‘woman’, ’transgender’ to define themselves, their lived realities may differ greatly. Such categories, therefore, should necessarily be less rigid because when the boundaries between them get blurred, individuals are enabled to exert greater agency and choice in moving across them. According to the study, gender needs to be consensual; it needs to get transformed from a hierarchical discrete, binary system to a porous, multiple–gender one.

‘Breaking The Binary’ was based on 50 life history narratives that explored the circumstances and situations of queer PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth), who were made to, or were expected to, conform to existing social norms pertaining to gender and sexuality.

The research team for the study comprised 11 members, with Chayanika, Raj, Shalini and Smriti from Labia anchoring the work. Explained Chayanika, “Through this study, we looked at the experiences of our subjects within their natal families and while at school. We charted their journeys through intimate relationships and we attempted to understand what happened to them in public spaces, how they were treated by various state agencies, what were their sources of support and refuge when they came under the threat of violence or faced discrimination.”

The people interviewed came from a wide cross–section of society in terms of location, age, caste, class, and religion. These variations were critical, according to Chayanika, as the intention was to reach those living at the intersections of many marginalised identities. But achieving this was difficult, even impossible. As she put it, “The silence and invisibility around individuals who continually transgress gender norms meant that we were able to approach only those individuals who have some contact with queer groups.”

The 50 respondents were spread across north, east, west and south India – living in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Pune and Thrissur. The representation of individuals living in rural areas was low, but two persons – one from rural Maharashtra and the other from rural Jharkhand – were interviewed, and 11 of the respondents had grown up in rural settings. Of the 50 individuals who participated in the study, 30 were from the dominant castes, 11 people were from the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/Special Backward Classes, three were from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and six identified themselves as Others.

‘Woman’ as a biological category was one of the subjects that figured in the interviews. Persons whose biological sex did not correspond with their psychological sex, were branded as gender “variants”, even though women do not constitute a homogenous category and could belong to many different categories – including a category as unfamiliar as ‘working class lesbian’ or ‘dalit lesbian’.

According to Raj, a member of Labia, “We found that being from an upper class background was no guarantee of privilege. There was a 20–year–old from a business family. Because of family dynamics, she was unable to get the education she had wanted and was forced to support herself by earning small sums of money playing cricket. Another respondent, identified as upper class, was also deprived of a meaningful education.” Clearly, a privileged, upper class background does not protect queer persons, especially if they happen to challenge gender and/or sexuality norms.

The study identified three levels of violence the respondents had faced. The first is at the individual level, where harmful acts are perpetrated against people and property. This can range from taunts to forced marriage and even murder. The second is at the institutional level, where damaging consequences are perpetrated by social institutions with the idea of obstructing the spontaneous expression of human potential – as, for example, when an office denies promotion to an employee on account of sexual orientation. The third is at the structural – cultural – level as, for instance, when religious or political beliefs rule that homosexuality is immoral or illegal.

A woman’s sexual orientation can, among other things, determine her access to resources as well as her social status, according to the study. Women suffer severe material loss when their families desert them and many experience emotional and psychological trauma in their struggle against discrimination and ostracism. Mis–recognition and non–recognition can become a very perverse form of violence as it seeks to naturalise the power enjoyed by dominant groups over non–dominant ones.

For instance, families, friends and teachers could refuse to recognise the need of lesbians to be acknowledged as they are and treated with dignity, leading them to experience a severe loss of self–esteem. This constitutes a form of violence imposed by the majority on a minority. As Shalini, one of study team members, put it, “Every society has its own notion of what is normal and what is assumed to be normal. Going beyond that construct could invite violence on the individual. Many of the respondents felt that the gay rights movement was crucial precisely because people cannot hide behind identities that are not their own. Therefore, just as women defied patriarchy through the women’s rights movement, queer persons defy heteronormativity through the queer rights movement.”

This study, the first of its kind, has helped shed light on how queer persons have addressed the challenges of life and how they continue to search, negotiate, and challenge multiple boundaries. It has attempted to answer some important questions. Where, for instance, are the points at which gender binaries rupture? How are the normative gender lines being reinforced? What situations help to create varied gender identities? Most important of all, the study has helped to capture the experiences of Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth and their negotiations with families, friends, communities, social structures, as well as the health and legal systems.

The team hopes to take the study forward to highlight areas of concern and conceptualise effective interventions. As one of the team members put it, “We are aiming to convey its insights to the more general category of people, at least those who are interested in taking proactive steps in addressing violence against any human being in any form and also for those who would like to understand the root causes of homophobia. We also want to take it to educational and governmental institutions, so that they can also help usher in change.”

The study was released not just in Mumbai, but in Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Thrissur and Chennai as well. A Hindi translation of it is also on the cards. (WFS)

 

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories #Sundayreading


Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times is a book by James Finn Garner, published in 1994, in which Garner satirizes the trend toward political correctnessand censorship of children’s literature, with an emphasis on humour and parody. The bulk of the book consists of fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs and Snow White, rewritten so that they supposedly represent what a “politically correct” adult would consider a good and moral tale for children.

The revisions include extensive usage of politically correct buzzwords (and parodies thereof), deliberately stiff moralizing dialogue and narration, inclusion of modern concepts and objects (such as health spasmineral water, and automobiles), and often feature a plot twist that reverses the roles of the heroes and villains of the story (for example, the woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood is seen by Red Riding Hood not as a heroic saviour but as a “sexist” and “speciesist” interloper, and Snow White’s evil stepmother ends up with a positive portrayal while the prince and the seven dwarves are portrayed as chauvinistic).

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was Garner’s first published book (or, in the words of his similarly satirical biography blurb from the book, “his first processed tree carcass”). More than 2.5 million copies have been sold in the United States and it has since been translated into 20 languages. Garner wrote two follow-up books: Once upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories and Politically Correct Holiday Stories: For an Enlightened Yuletide Season,the latter book satirizing political correctness during the Christmas holiday season. In 1998, the three books were compiled into an omnibus collection called Politically Correct, the Ultimate Storybook. All editions of the Politically Correct titles are currently out of print.

POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES
By
James Finn Garner
(distributed for open access by the author)
THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHESFar away, in a time long past, there lived a traveling tailor who found himself in an unfamiliar country. Now, tailors who move from place to place normally keep to themselves and are careful not to overstep the bounds of local decency. This tailor, though, was overly gregarious and decorum-impaired, and soon he was at a local inn, abusing alcohol, invading the personal space of the female employees, and telling unenlightened stories about tinkers,dung-gatherers, and other tradespeople.The innkeeper complained to the police, who grabbed the tailor and dragged him in front of the emperor. As you might expect, a lifetime of belief in the absolute legitimacy of the monarchy and in the inherent superiority of males had turned the emperor into a vain and wisdom-challenged tyrant. The tailor noticed these traits and decided to use them to his advantage.

The emperor asked, “Do you have any last request before I banish you from my domain forever?”

The tailor replied, “Only that your majesty allow me the honor of Grafting a new royal wardrobe. For I have brought with me a special fabric that is so rare and fine that it can be seen only by certain people – the type of people you’d want to have in -your realm – people who are politically correct, morally righteous, intellectually astute, culturally tolerant, and who don’t smoke, drink, laugh at sexist jokes, watch too much television, listen to country music, or barbecue.”

After a moment’s thought, the emperor agreed to this request. He was flattered by the fascist and testosterone-heavy idea that the empire and its inhabitants existed only to make him look good. It would be like having a trophy wife and multiplying that feeling by 100,000.

Of course, no such rarefied fabric existed. Years of living outside the bounds of normal society had forced the tailor to develop his own moral code that obliged him to swindle and embarrass the emperor in the name of independent craftspeople everywhere. So, as he diligently labored, he was able to convince the emperor that he was cutting and sewing pieces of fabric that, in the strictest objective sense of reality, didn’t exist.

When the tailor announced that he was finished, the emperor looked at his new robes in the mirror. As he stood there, naked as the day he was born, one could see how years of exploiting the peasantry had turned his body into an ugly mass of puffy white flesh. The emperor, of course, saw this too, but pretended that he could sec the beautiful, politically correct robes. To show off his new splendor, he ordered a parade to be held the next day.

On the following morning, his subjects lined the streets for the big parade. Word had spread about the emperor’s new clothes that only enlightened people with healthy lifestyles could see, and everyone was determined to be more right-minded than his or her neighbor.

The parade began with great hoopla. As the emperor marched his pale, bloated, patriarchal carcass down the street, everyone loudly oohed and ahed at his beautiful new clothes. All except one small boy, who shouted:
“The emperor is naked!”

The parade stopped. The emperor paused. A hush fell over the crowd, until one quick-thinking peasant shouted: “No, he isn’t. The emperor is merely endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle!”

A cheer went up from the crowd, and the throngs stripped off their clothes and danced in the sun, as Nature had intended. The country was clothing optional from that day forward, and the tailor, deprived of any livelihood, packed up his needle and thread and was never heard from again.

(Any resemblance to the country, its rulers, its policy decisions, its judiciary and its people is clearly a complete figment of your imagination, and you should be ashamed of harbouring such unworthy thoughts)

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