Uttar Pradesh – PUDR statement on the death of Khalid Mujahid in police custody

June 11, 2013

PUDR strongly condemns the death of Khalid Mujahid, an undertrial arrested in 2007 in connection with bomb blasts in UP earlier that year. Mujahid died on 19 May, 2013 when he was being escorted by a team of the Uttar Pradesh state police from a court in Faizabad to Lucknow jail. His death while under police escort in what is a clear case of custodial killing raises several questions – the rights of citizens, especially Muslim youth; the character of the police and state; the truth behind terror cases and arrests.

Khalid Mujahid, together with Tariq Qasmi had been shown as arrested on 22 December 2007 from Barabanki railway station. The ATS accused them of being behind the bomb blasts in Lucknow and Faizabad courts in November 2007, and the blast in Gorakhpur, claiming that explosives and other incriminating material were found on the two. The Bahujan Samaj Party, then in power, set up a Commission of Inquiry in March 2008 following protests against the arrests.

The Justice RD Nimesh Commission of Inquiry constituted by the state government to look into this matter submitted its report in December 2012 almost exactly five years after their arrests.

The inquiry commission examined police records, affidavits and testimonies of witnesses. On this basis, it concluded there was ample evidence to show that Tariq Qasmi and Khalid Mujahid were arrested not on 22 December 2007 as claimed, but on 12 December and 16 December respectively. The Commission reports that when the National Loktantrik Party’s youth leader in UP Choudhary Chadrapal threatened to immolate himself on 22 December if by then the two Muslim youth were not released, that the top brass decided to show their arrest on 22 December from Barabanki railway station. The Commission recommended action against the concerned officers and personnel who could be identified.

Despite the conclusions of the report and evidence cited, the now ruling Samajwadi Party too dragged its feet. By the time the government acted on the report, another six months passed. Finally on the basis of the Commission’s report the state government moved an application to withdraw the case. However the Special Court in Barabanki turned down the application in May 2013, claiming that the charges were much too serious. And then, nine days later, Khalid died in police custody, in circumstances which remain mysterious.

Some light can be shed on the so-called mystery by recalling that Khalid’s story is one that is being played out over and over again. The forms may be different but the essential plot and characters remain the same. Bomb blast/s occur. Muslim youth are picked up. Connections with SIMI etc. are alleged; seizure of explosives and extremist literature produced as evidence. In many cases the accused are found to be innocent, having been wrongly incarcerated for years. They are either released on bail or cases withdrawn or they may still continue to be in jail due to various reasons. This, if they are lucky. It isn’t unusual that some like Khalid never return. Not too long back in November 2012 Quateel Siddiqui (arrested for his alleged involvement in the German Bakery blasts) too died in a high security cell in Yerawada jail in Pune, in judicial custody. Again, under so called ‘mysterious circumstances.’ However generally no one is held accountable for the years lost and lives destroyed.

In this context PUDR welcomes the fact that in this case a rare FIR has been filed against 42 police personnel, including the former DG of Police Uttar Pradesh. Whether the case will be properly investigated, and the guilty prosecuted, remains to be seen.

Khalid Mujahid’s arrest, imprisonment and custodial death exposes the brazenness with which the police and ATS routinely arrest Muslim youth under false charges, force ‘confessions’, torture and kill them in custody. It also reveals the callous attitude of elected governments wary of displeasing the police, ATS or the Hindutva elements; and a compromised judiciary for whom terrorist activity requires no proof; guilt is decided by the magnitude of the alleged crime.

These acts of omission and commission expose a disturbing synchronicity between various agencies in terrorizing ordinary citizens, particularly Muslim youth, in the alleged fight against terrorism. The fact that a person could remain incarcerated for years after being abducted illegally and implicated in a fabricated case raises the issue of institutionalization of bias against Muslim youth in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’. Not only does ‘let law takes its course’ approach means years can elapse before those falsely implicated, mostly Muslim youth, win back their freedom. But their struggle to do so through the legal system is now coming under attack from Hindutva forces in an organized way amounting to a violation of the right to legal defense. While protests against Khalid’s custodial death were expressed in several cities in UP including Faizabad immediately afterwards, the local Bar Association passed a resolution expelling Khalid Mujahid’s lawyer Jamal Ahmad. His assistant Mohammad Shakeel was grievously injured. Indeed local bar associations have been issuing diktats that those accused of terror attacks will not be defended by their members and anyone who defies this ban will face expulsion and threat to life. Their recurrent diktats and attacks on lawyers who defy their ban has not persuaded either the High Court/Supreme Court or the Bar Council of India to show any concern over this subversion of the ‘rule of law’.

The death of Khalid Mujahid, raises questions about the police, lower judiciary and legal profession and their commitment to uphold, without discrimination, the constitutionally mandated protection of life and liberty of every citizen. PUDR calls upon all democratically minded people to protest against this attack on democratic rights and violation of the laws of natural justice and demands that:

1. Criminal responsibility be fixed in the in death of Khalid Mujahid and the guilty punished.

2. The Bar Associations expel lawyers obstructing legal aid to the accused, and lawyers guilty of attacking Khalid’s defense counsels be immediately disbarred.

3. Arbitrary picking up and illegal detention of Muslim youth be stopped and officials guilty of their wrongful confinement and fabrication of cases against be prosecuted and punished.

D. Manjit
Asish Gupta


Protest Against Uttar Pradesh Power Plant Enters 1000th Day

Several people’s movements have emerged in recent times against industrial projects. The reasons behind the protests vary from opposition on environmental grounds to lack of proper compensation for land acquisition. But without doubt, it has always got something to do with protecting livelihood, which the Indian state machinery is hell bent on snatching away from the people.

A protest against a nuclear plant has been brimming for 1000 days now in villages in Uttar Pradesh. Farmers, mostly from SC and OBC communities, in Kachari village had gathered for the 1000th day of the protest against the 1980 MW Karchhana power plant. It was under the Bahujan Samaj Party back in 2007 that the project was first conceived. As much as 2,500 bighas of land was acquired from 2,286 farmers in eight villages, namely Devari, Kachari, Katka-Medhra, Dehli, Dohlipur, Bagesar, Kachara and Bhitar. But once the project was handed over to Jaypee group in 2009, violent protests from the farmers erupted and it got stalled.

Protest Against Karchanna power plant

Photo Courtesy: Brijesh Jaiswal / The Hindu

While some of the farmers had accepted compensation, more than a hundred reportedly had refused it at the onset. Now, almost all the farmers are refusing to part with their land. Instead, they want compensation for the loss incurred due to damage to land. The impasse is compounded as the farmers are in no position (and mood) to return the money for compensation.

The police and local petty politicians have first tried to bribe them, but when it did not work, they started using goons and threatened the farmers with dire consequences. The farmers have maintained that the lands are fertile and they don’t want anything but the project scrapped. But living under constant threat has taken a toll on them, as they are often afraid of cultivating the fields fearing attacks.

Despite Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s promises that all the charges against the farmers will be withdrawn, no such action has been taken.

As a footnote, it must be pointed out that the patriarchal mindset of the people have come out, ironically through these protests. Check out this photo and you will know what is being meant:

Women in Karchanna Protest

Women in Karchanna Protest
Photo Courtesy: Brijesh Jaiswal / The Hindu

Not only that, one of the reasons the farmers did not want to give away land included their worries over not being able to give land as dowry!

This is indeed the dilemma in India, where the capitalist structure is in a comfortable co-existence with feudal values.


#India- Dalit activist shot dead #humanrights

Feb 13, IE

Dalit rights activist and Bahujan Samaj Party member Chandrakant Jaywant Gaikwad (30) was shot dead by assailants in front of a dhaba in Jamb village of Indapur taluka in Pune district on Tuesday morning.

A case was registered against Satpal Mahadev Rupnavar (22) of Jamb, a “notorious” goon and historysheeter, his aide Santosh alias Lubya Chandalkar and three others at the Walchandnagar police station on the complaint of Dada Shivaji Jadhav (32) of Jamb. Jadhav was with Gaikwad when the latter was shot.

Police suspect the assailants wanted to eliminate Jadhav, with whom Rupnavar had a dispute, but he managed to flee.

Inspector Dashrath Patil said Gaikwad, a resident of Jamb, had come to Mahalaxmi dhaba to meet Jadhav. Around 10 am, the assailants reached there in a jeep and an argument ensued between Jadhav and Rupnavar. As Jadhav managed to escape, Rupnavar allegedly fired at Gaikwad from his revolver and fled.

The incident has created panic in several parts of Indapur. Nearly 300 policemen have been deployed in Jamb to maintain law and order. Senior police officers, including DySP Manoj Lohiya, visited the crime scene. A hunt is on to nab Rupnavar and his aides.

Meanwhile, Dalit activists held agitation and burnt tyres to protest the murder. Gaikwad was known to be an office-bearer of the Rashtriya Dalit Nyay Hakka Samiti, Indapur Taluka.


Gujarat’s Dalits: Nobody’s babies even in election time

Last Updated: Saturday, November 24, 2012, 14:00, zeenews


Ahmedabad: As the poll battle intensifies in Gujarat, the tussle is on for support of the Dalit community, perceived to have moved from the Congress to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but neglected by both with discrimination continuing as it has for decades.


“The Narendra Modi government has not implemented any schemes for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes (SC) like educational scholarships, employment schemes, financial aid and reservation at the promotional level,” said social activist Father William.


“Atrocities against Dalits are still rife in Gujarat. According to a survey by Dalit NGO Navsarjan Trust, untouchability still exists as does manual scavenging,” he told a news agency.


The Congress, trying desperately to wrest control of Gujarat after having lost two successive elections, says the BJP regime has been anti-Dalit but admits that it has done little to win the Dalits, who form seven to eight percent of the state’s 60 million population.


“Modi’s rule and before that Keshubhai’s ((Keshubhai Patel’s) government have been anti-Dalit,” said Ishwar Makwana, president of the Congress’ SC Morcha.


What about his own party?


“I agree that in recent years, the Congress has drifted away from Dalits.

But we are rectifying that,” said Makwana.


The BJP of course rejects the allegations.

“The Modi regime cares for Dalits. We have provided the community with reservations in jobs, loans, assistance in businesses and justice from atrocities,” Jivraj Chauhan, president of the Gujarat BJP’s SC wing, told a news agency.


As the election fever catches on – polls for the 182-member assembly are due on Dec 13 and 17 – the parties would do well not to neglect the Dalit vote, say analysts.


“The Dalit vote, though small, is significant. Dalits can influence the outcome of the elections in seven-eight constituencies. Also, 13 constituencies are reserved for the Scheduled Castes,” Manu H Makwana, head of the sociology department in Ahmedabad’s Gujarat University told a news agency.


Dalits in Gujarat are divided into four major subcastes: Vankars, Chamars, Garodas, and Valmikis. Gujarati Dalits are found in both the Hindu and Christian communities.


Dalits in the state have been traditional Congress supporters since Gujarat was formed in 1960. In the 1970s and 1980s, the community was part of Congress’ ‘KHAM’ (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) formula.


But with the rise of the BJP and the polarising work of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, many Dalits turned to the right. Indeed, Sangh outfits have often been accused in the past of brainwashing young Dalits and provoking them to attack Muslims in many riots, including that of 2002.


The results seem to prove that the Dalits have embraced the Hindu right. In 2007, just two of the 13 reserved seats went to the Congress with the BJP taking the rest. In the 2009 general elections, both the reserved seats (Kutch and Ahmedabad) went to the BJP.


Dalit activists and intellectuals bemoan the turn to the right by some sections of the community.

“The new generation of Dalits in most urban areas of the state have not seen the terrible sufferings borne by previous generations, especially in the rural areas. They are loyal to the BJP as they see the party as a stepping stone to political power,” said Makwana.


“Modi has only favoured landlords and big business. He has done nothing for the socio-economic uplift of Dalits,” he added.


According to a Dalit government official, Dalits who vote for the BJP “do not know history.”


“In 1981 and 1985, when there were strident anti-reservation campaigns in Gujarat, it was the BJP’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, that had taken a lead in supporting these campaigns,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.


The problem is that the Dalit community does not have too many options other than the BJP and the Congress.


The Republican Party of India does have some presence in Gujarat as does the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Lok Janshakti Party. But, as a Dalit activist pointed out, they don’t have grassroots support.


“Plus, the Gujarat BSP and LJP are led by a Brahmin and a Gurjar respectively. Why will Dalits vote for them?” he asked.


The next government must implement various schemes for the SC, offer protection from atrocities and remove untouchability, community leaders say.


Can the Congress and the BJP make up for lost time and focus on the community’s needs, for votes if nothing else?



#India- Women don’t need mobile phones as they get distracted #WTFnews

Muzaffarnagar, Oct 22, 2012: Vraious media sources

Now, politicians will decide whether women need mobile phones or not? Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLA Rajpal Saini has stirred a controversy by saying that women and children don’t need mobiles. The BSP leader thinks that mobile phones are distracting women.

“There is no need to give phones to women and children. It distracts them and is useless. Why do women need phones? My mother, wife and sister never had mobile phones. They survived without one,” said Saini.

His comment has shocked women across the nation. Many have asked as who is he to decide whether women need mobile phones or not?

Saini is not the only politician or organisation which has come out with bizarre comments targeting women and their various rights.

Recently former Chief Minister of Haryana Om Prakash Chautala had endorsed medieval ideas of Khap. Like the influential caste councils, Chautala also wants girls to be married off at an early age to control rising rape incidents. Khap panchayats want marriageable age limit should be abolished and girls should be married off as early as possible to decrease incidents of rape.

“Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16-year-old, so that they do not stray… this will decrease the incidents of rape,” Sube Singh, a Khap representative, said.

Another Khap member said, “As soon as the children attain puberty, it is natural for them to have sexual desires but when these are not fulfilled, they stray… so there should not be any minimum age limit for marriage.”

Almost akin to a Taliban-type diktat, a Khap panchayat in Baghpat in July, 2012 had also banned love marriages and barred women below 40 years from going out for shopping and using mobile phones. Meanwhile, a Khap leader recently had asked youngsters to refrain from eating junk food like chowmein.

The bizarre statement was made by Jitender Chhataar who said that men experience hormonal imbalances when they eat chowmein, momos and then they commit rape. In a shocking reaction to the recent spate of rape cases in Haryana, Khap panchayat members earlier blamed girls for such incidents.


Women don't need mobile phones as they get distracted, says BSP MLA Rajpal Saini

One Khap Panchyat member gave a bizarre solution and suggested that the marriageable age for girls should be reduced to 16 years. When asked why rapes are occuring at this scale in Haryana, Sube Singh said that movies and television are to be blamed for rapes. “I believe this is happening because our youth are being badly influenced by cinema and television. I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don’t need to go elsewhere. This way rapes will not occur,” commented Singh.

So now after khap panchayats, we need to fight  this  misogynist pig, Mayawati how can you have him in your party, throw him out now


Sivakami, first Dalit woman to become a novelist #goodnews


Sivakami travelled to foreign countries on government missions and brought back varied experiences

  • Image Credit: Courtesy: Sivakami
  • Palanimuthu Sivakami, IAS officer and novelist

New Delhi: The first Dalit (lower caste) woman to become a novelist, the titles of Palanimuthu Sivakami’s books reveal her life and times. After her first book The Grip of Change, the recently released The Taming of Women, is all set to create waves.

An Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, her journey from Tamil Nadu took her to Tokyo to serve as regional director of the Indian Tourist Office. Sivakami travelled to foreign countries on government missions and brought back varied experiences that could be moulded the Indian way.

The Indian posting gave her the opportunity to meet women and Dalits, which led to social issues becoming Sivakami’s primary concern and avocation. Without making any tall claims, the firebrand leader made a space for herself and began contributing towards fulfilling her social goals. Passionate about social irregularities and injustices, she motivated parents living in small towns and villages to provide education to their children.

Sivakami made a short film Ooodaha (Through) based on a story written by one of her friends. Set in 1995, it was selected by the National Panorama and won the President Award the same year.

She quit the administrative service after 29 years in 2008 and joined politics a year later, contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Kanyakumari representing the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In 2009, she founded her own political party, Samuga Samathuva Padai. Sivakami informs, “Based on the principles of Dalit educationist and political leader Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, it is a forum for social equality.”

She speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview.


GULF NEWS: How factual was your first book The Grip of Change that created a stir by taking on patriarchy in the Dalit movement?

SIVAKAMI: At times, The Grip of Change appears too real to be called a fiction. But then it is merely a perspective of realities perceived by (the protagonist) a 17-year-old girl. The unedited Dalit patriarchy, as portrayed in my novel, created a furore to the extent that the male world refused to recognise it as a Dalit novel. But to their surprise and discomfort, the book has been doing the rounds in the same tag.


What made you send one of your works anonymously to see it published?

It was my first novel Pazhayana Kazhithalum, original Tamil version of The Grip of Change, published in 1986. That was because I feared the publishers would market the IAS following my name rather than my work.


Born in a Dalit family, over the years, do you see any change vis-à-vis attitude of the society towards the community?

I do see changes, but they are slow and miniscule and not to anyone’s satisfaction. Discrimination changes its colour according to modern times.


Could you cite some recent examples regarding discrimination against the Dalits?

For instance, due budget share is not allocated to the Dalits and whatever is assigned, is not fully spent. But the state governments are not bothered about monitoring such irregularities. Often, cases of atrocities against Dalits are not registered and few accused are punished.

Another phenomenon appeared recently. The media grew suspicious when a batch of 20 people from Tamil Nadu got through the Public Services examinations from Ambedkar Colony in Arur Dharmapuri district. People recommended a probe to find out whether the question paper had been leaked! In contrast, a couple of years ago, when more than 30 persons had passed the same examination from Ayakudi, near Palani, the village was honoured for its achievement.


At a time when people did not believe in educating girls, how did you manage to study and become an IAS officer?

My father was elected to the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu in the first general elections in 1952. He was keen to educate his children. Moreover, I was the topper of my school in academics. I sustained the interest till I got through the civil services examination and even thereafter.


Did you find any kind of disparity while at work?

Yes, quite a lot. That is the subject matter of my next novel in Tamil and it will be published shortly. Though a fiction, it is based on my experiences.


What was the reason for quitting the administrative service and joining politics in 2008?

If I mention that I quit because of the caste discrimination at the higher level, people would argue that not everyone facing discrimination quits the IAS. Hence, I would say that I quit of my own sweet will that was thrust upon me! Additionally, I had prepared myself for this exit at least for a decade. Other factors apart, I was guided by a strong desire to work for the poor and the disadvantaged.


Contesting on the BSP ticket, what made you leave Mayawati’s party having a Dalit entity?

Mayawati’s party was non-existent in Tamil Nadu. And as a follower of Dr Ambedkar and BSP’s founder Kanshiram, I cherished a dream of strengthening the party in Tamil Nadu. But later I found that there was no such agenda for Tamil Nadu by the BSP.


A news report on you said —‘To be a Dalit is one thing to be a feminist is another. In your case, you are a Dalit-feminist and everyone wants to disown you.’ Could you clarify this point?

I do not subscribe to the theory of disownment. It is a kind of an acknowledgement to someone who is daring and different. I have worked in my own way for people’s rights. When I started the Dalit Land Right Movement in 2004, many thought it was a worthless attempt. For sometime it remained a lone battle, but after a few years others began talking about it.

Later, in 2008, with the massive support of women I organised a huge public conference on Women and Politics, which was attended by nearly 250,000 women. Subsequently, in 2009, the political party Samuga Samatuva Padai was launched. So, the question of being disowned does not arise.


Dalit politics must embrace less powerful caste groups

On the margins of the margin

Badri Narayan, The Hindu, June 210, 2102

COUNT THEM IN: Lesser Dalit groups need to counter their disembodiment by developing their own politics. A February 2012 picture of supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party at an election rally at Sitapur, near Lucknow. Photo: AP
COUNT THEM IN: Lesser Dalit groups need to counter their disembodiment by developing their own politics. A February 2012 picture of supporters of the Bahujan Samaj Party at an election rally at Sitapur, near Lucknow. Photo: AP

Dalit politics must embrace less powerful caste groups

When Kanshi Ram emerged on the political scene, he developed himself as a leader of all Dalits as a whole and tried to create a homogeneous identity for the diverse Dalit castes who comprise the lower castes of the social system. He ensured that each and every Dalit caste had respect by providing representation to them in democratic power. Through his efforts, a large section of Dalits, who were earlier excluded from the democratic processes of the country, have succeeded in obtaining political empowerment in Uttar Pradesh through the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). However out of the 66 Dalit castes, only four including shoemaker (cobbler) caste — called Ravidasi or Harijan in some parts of India — Pasi (watchman of feudal lords/toddy tappers/some of them tame pigs), Dhobi (washerman) and Kori (weaver) have become visible in democratic politics. The rest are invisible. Even among the more visible Dalit castes, the cobblers and Pasis have grabbed most of the space.


But in the ever-evolving politics of U.P., the invisible and unseen communities are unable to demonstrate their presence. While democracy has helped in empowering many erstwhile marginalised communities, it has also led to the disempowerment of many other smaller communities because marginalised communities which have gained power do not want to share it with their less fortunate brethren. Thus are dominant communities born.

The cobbler caste, the largest Dalit community in U.P., constitutes 56.20 per cent of the total Scheduled Caste population, which is 21.1 per cent of the State’s total population (2001 census). It has emerged as one of the dominant castes among Dalits.

The caste took to education in a big way in pre-Independence years. That helped its members find jobs in cities, in turn helping in their rise as a political caste after Independence. When Kanshi Ram emerged on the scene, the caste already had a middle class, community leaders and the makings of an intelligentsia. They were a ready-made cadre for the party in its initial phase. The cobbler caste thus made up a chunk of the BSP, and succeeded in cornering the benefits of Dalit political empowerment. However many other Dalit castes like Jogi, Nat (wanderer), Musahar (who make items out of leaves), Kanjar (mat weaver), Dom, Domar, Hela (sweeper), Basor (basket weaver), and Bansphor (bamboo basket maker) are so insignificant despite their numerical strength that they cannot make their presence felt in U.P’s vote bank politics and continue to face exclusion.

Aside from these castes, there are others found in lesser numbers like Bahelia (bird hunter), Khairha (woodcutter), Kalabaaz (songster), Balai (farm labourer), Majhwar (musician), Hari (basket maker) and Sansiya (musical instrument repairer). They are not visible in any political or governance strategies, and lack a presence in the political sphere. While conducting research, it was observed that communities which are not educated, and which do not have leaders, caste histories and heroes are unable to create their own identities which can make their communities assertive in democratic politics.

Vocabulary of exclusion

Within Dalits, the term ati-Dalit (lowest of the low) has become a part of the vocabulary of the Dalit intelligentsia as a result of this exclusion. In its election manifesto for the U.P. Assembly elections, the Congress party had promised to give respect, representation and status to these castes. More recently, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar created a new category, Mahadalits, to offset the exclusion of certain Dalit communities. Commentators saw this move as a step by Mr. Kumar to line his own vote-bank, but it served to establish that exclusion among Dalits exists. Not much was mentioned about these margins in the election manifesto of the Samajwadi Party (SP), nor is it apparent in their policies.

As the Congress did not win the elections in U.P. and Kanshi Ram is not alive to fight for the rights of the marginalised Dalit castes, the most marginalised communities would benefit by adopting the road map provided by the major and dominant Dalit castes. They need to acquire visibility, possible only by building capacity to desire change through the same means that empowered the other Dalit castes. These lesser Dalit groups need to counter their disembodiment. To do that, they need to develop their own politics. The dominant Dalit groups who now have control over scarce resources should act as agencies to help distribute these resources more evenly. In fact, for Dalit politics to become sharp and dynamic it is necessary that all smaller and lesser Dalit groups who are now invisible and unseen, are included within its socio-political matrix.

(Badri Narayan teaches at the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute in Jhusi, Allahabad, and is an analyst of Dalit issues. His latest book published is The Making of the Dalit Public in North India: Uttar Pradesh 1950–Present, from Oxford University Press.)

NRHM financial wrongdoings reflect systemic irregularities

Prioritizing healthcare for India's rural poor

Prioritizing healthcare for India’s rural poor (Photo credit: Gates Foundation)

It turns out that some state officials were using NRHM to enrich themselves
Vidya Krishnan

New Delhi: The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) was launched seven years ago with the goal of improving healthcare delivery to people in villages, especially the poor, through a generous infusion of federal funds. Local authorities were given a relatively free hand in deciding how to spend the money, with the Centre promising funds with no strings attached for the first seven years.

It turns out that some state officials were using NRHM to enrich themselves instead, raising questions about oversight, governance and accountability at the government’s marquee public health programme, which has won a five-year extension because many of its goals, such as significantly reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, haven’t been met.

Last month, several senior officials of Madhya Pradesh’s health department came under investigation for allegedly siphoning off Rs800 crore from the programme’s budget.
That follows a corruption scandal surrounding NRHM in Uttar Pradesh after allegations that Rs5,700 crore was embezzled from the scheme by health department officials during the regime of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which was ousted from power in the February-March assembly elections.

Six officials directly associated with the scheme in India’s most populous state died in controversial circumstances, one of them in police custody.

In Madhya Pradesh, health director Amarnath Mittal, who was overseeing NRHM’s implementation in the state, was suspended after income-tax (I-T) raids led to the recovery of evidence that he possessed unaccounted property worth Rs100 crore, according to Siddharth Chaudhary, superintendent of police, Lokayukta, an independent anti-corruption body that holds oversight of the state government.

Some Rs38 lakh in cash, 2.5kg of gold, jewellery worth Rs.72 lakh, foreign currency (€3,000 and 1,080 Australian dollars) and documents claiming titles for 50 acres of land were seized in the raids, Chaudhary said.

Public health experts say the case illustrates the larger malaise of corruption in India rather than fault lines in the programme that allowed flexible spending at the grassroots level.

“There is a need to delink the scheme from the system. The problem is not with NRHM’s design, but with governance,” said Amit Sengupta, co-convenor of the People’s Health Movement. “NRHM has been implemented efficiently in many states. Corruption at this level and of this kind—where bureaucrats are amassing Rs100 crore—does not happen without the connivance of elected representatives.”

“Besides, there are vested interests that want NRHM-like schemes to fail so that the argument in favour of outsourcing services to the private sector is strengthened,” Sengupta added. “There is a lot of evidence that there is connivance between government officials and private sector.”

The alleged financial wrongdoing in NRHM reflects the systemic irregularities that plague centrally funded schemes, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, said Sidharth Sonawat, assistant director and healthcare analyst at industry lobby group Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“This is a result of giving large amounts of funds, poor administering at state-level organizations and even worse monitoring from the Centre,” Sonawat said. “In the case of NRHM, district-level officials to elected representatives seem to be aware of the irregularities; otherwise such blatant, systemic corruption cannot exist in isolation.”

According to officials in the Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta, recent raids have established a payoff between the state’s health department and the procurement cell, Laghu Udyog Nigam. These officials didn’t want to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

An audit by the Accountant General of Madhya Pradesh, the apex body for compiling and preparing state-level accounts of public spending, has revealed that the health department incurred expenditures worth Rs67 crore without having budgetary provisions or approvals from the Union government.

In a letter dated 7 May, the audit officer sought a response from Ravindra Pastore, NRHM mission director for Madhya Pradesh.

The investigative arm of the Lokayukta is currently probing 13 cases of misuse of office against health commissioner Manohar Agnani and nine cases against Mittal, but is yet to link them to NRHM.

“As of now, Mittal’s raid is being treated as a case of disproportionate assets and we have not yet linked it to NRHM even though he was heading the department that rolled out the health scheme,” said Chaudhary.

“Besides disproportionate assets case, we received complaints alleging irregularities under various NRHM schemes in March and we have started our investigations,” he added.

While Mittal declined to comment, Agnani maintained that the cases of irregularities have been exaggerated and that he was “unaware that contracts had been given to blacklisted firms, substandard material procured at inflated rates, and unqualified officials had been employed”.

“My director (Mittal) would be best placed to answer these queries,” he said.

The department’s previous commissioner, Rajesh Rajora, is currently under suspension for irregularities to the tune of Rs11 crore, according to official data. Previous mission director Ashok Sharma was suspended in 2008 after Rs130 crore was allegedly recovered from his residence by I-T officials in a raid. Sharma was reinstated in 2010 and is currently director, health services.

“They (I-T officials) recovered only Rs27,000 from the raid at my residence. Subsequently, judicial inquiries were conducted in nine cases in which no irregularity was found,” Sharma said. “All those cases have been closed.”

Madhya Pradesh health minister Ajay Vishnoi resigned in 2008 on moral grounds after I-T officials raided 56 places in the state and unearthed evidence of a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and suppliers.

This time, cases being investigated by the state’s Lokayukta include procurement of an insecticide under the anti-malaria programme, causing the exchequer a loss of approximately Rs70 crore; imposing monopolies in the purchase of ingredient used for analysis of blood samples that caused a loss of Rs20 crore; appointments in the health department that did not follow prescribed procedures; and favouring of two companies—Nitapol Industries and Kilpest India Ltd—that were blacklisted by the Gujarat government for supplying substandard insecticides.

Both the companies declined to comment on the matter.

NRHM was launched with a budget of Rs6,730 crore; the outlay swelled to Rs20,822 crore in the latest budget. It aimed at improving health indicators in rural areas, with a special focus on 18 states that lagged behind the rest on key health parameters.

It aimed at reducing the infant mortality rate (IMR) to 30 per thousand live births and the maternal mortality rate (MMR) to 100 per 100,000 live births and the total fertility rate (TFR) to 2.1 nationally, in line with the millennium development goals.

At the time of launch, Madhya Pradesh’s TFR was 3.6 while, MMR and IMR stood at 335 and 76, respectively. Seven years and Rs3,381.93 crore of spending later, the health indicators remain below target at 3.3, 269 and 67, respectively.

Still, the improvement is commendable given the backdrop of leakages, some public health experts say.

“If these figures are to be trusted, the drop in maternal mortality rate is impressive,” said Sakthivel Selvaraj, health economist at the Public Health Foundation of India. “The nine-point drop in infant mortality is also not bad. Overall, it is evident that NRHM has made a dent in these figures despite leakages in the system.”

Last month, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said it found large-scale financial irregularities in the NRHM scheme during Mayawati’s reign over Uttar Pradesh.

According to CAG’s audit report, funds worth Rs1,768.12 crore were received from the Centre but never shown in state government accounts. The report revealed that the government had not maintained accounts for advances worth Rs4,938.74 crore.

The Central Bureau of Investigation is investigating at least two ministers in Mayawati’s government and several bureaucrats in connection with financial irregularities.

Union health secretary P.K. Pradhan said NRHM could not be faulted because of Uttar Pradesh; anyway, only a portion of the scheme allowed flexible use of funds, he said.

“Because of UP (Uttar Pradesh), everyone is faulting NRHM without seeing how well it is implemented in southern states,” Pradhan said. “The government will never be able to implement any scheme if we start faulting in on this basis. Procurement and construction, etc., are the state government’s prerogative and states with better governance have done well under NRHM. Since funds were easily available in large amounts, a portion was flexible; states which lacked transparency took advantage of this.”

“It is vacuous to blame the system when the issue is individual intention and integrity of state-level bureaucracy and politicians,” Pradhan added.


Why silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment and loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons ?

Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy

Vol – XLVII No. 22, June 02, 2012, economic and political weekely | Anand Teltumbde

Why has there been such a silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment acquitting all those accused of killing 21 dalits? At the same time, what explains their loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons in the textbooks? Has the elevation of Ambedkar as an icon relegated the dalit leadership to a politics of empty symbolism? Is the issue of a lack of accountability in the judicial system towards dalits not more important than the hollow iconisation of Ambedkar?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Bathani Tola 1996. After 14 years the case was decided by the Ara Sessions Court in May 2010 convicting 23 of the accused; three were awarded the death penalty and 20 with life imprisonment.

The verdict was challenged and the division bench of the Patna High Court delivered its verdict on 16 April 2012, reversing the judgment and acquitting all the accused. The judgment stunned every sensitive Indian who knew the ghastliness of the massacre of 21 dalits in this hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district of the then unified Bihar state on 11 April 1996. It did evoke angry reactions but mostly from family members of the victims at Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Arwal, all within 60 km of Patna.

In a ritualistic manner the Nitish Kumar government, accused of disbanding the Justice Amir Das Commission that was instituted by the then Rabri Devi government (March 1998) to investigate the political backing for the notorious Ranvir Sena, issued a statement that the government would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. With that, the massive act of rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor was pushed under the carpet. No television debate, not much media concern or highbrow analysis either!

Another controversy broke out over a cartoon that was drawn 63 years ago by a noted cartoonist of yesteryears, Shankar Pillai ofShankar’s Weekly, which showed Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on the Constitution depicted by a shell, mounted over a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru with a raised whip behind, all in the public gaze. The cartoon was a part of a Class XI Political Science textbook since 2006 and hence there was something fishy about it being noticed by politicians only now. As the grammar of electoral politics mandates, Kapil Sibal, the union minister for human resource development, with extraordinary sensitivity apologised and asked the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the creator of these textbooks, to withdraw the cartoon immediately. However, the controversy escalated and culminated in the ransacking of the office of Suhas Palshikar of Pune University by some Republican Panther activists who hogged the headlines and prime time on all the television channels.

Notwithstanding the content, at the most basic level these two instances throw up an important question about the attitude of dalits: Why are they moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge upon their existence?

The Ambedkar Icon

The entire dalit emotional charge is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon. Given the monumental contribution of Ambedkar to the dalit cause, it is natural that he is considered as their emancipator, a messiah. Further, given the state of the dalit masses, it is also natural that he is iconised. Ambedkar’s icon replaced their gods and symbolised their self-esteem, honour and prestige. It became their beacon, a rallying point to carry on with their emancipatory struggles. As it did all this, it became susceptible to manipulation by vested interests. The fi rst such manipulation came from within, by a section of college-educated urban dalits who painted it with shades that suited their self-interests. The icon was shorn of Ambedkar’s vision of radical transformation of India expressed, for instance, in States and Minorities and he was portrayed as a caste-based reservationist, constitutionalist, an anti-materialist and mind-centric Buddhist. When electoral politics became increasingly competitive with the rise of the regional parties of the middle castes, the political class realised the importance of the dalit vote bank and used this icon to infl uence dalits.

Suddenly, Ambedkar, who faced ignorance from the mainstream all through his life, became its darling. It began erecting his statues, naming roads and institutions after him and paying eulogies to him. It went on further strengthening this icon in increasingly distorted ways that would distance dalits from reality.

Once entrenched in the psychology of the dalit masses, it became a matter of competitive display of devotion in order to appeal to them. As dalit politics became rent-seeking from the mainstream political parties, many charlatans rushed in as leaders, feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits. The louder one shouted allegiance to Ambedkar, the bigger the leader one became. The more irrationality displayed in devotion to Ambedkar, the better the Ambedkarite. The real Ambedkar was forgotten in this process – Ambedkar, the iconoclast, the painstaking truth seeker, the fearless fighter for the cause of the oppressed, and the universalist dreaming of the world sans exploitation and humbug. It was forgotten that he struggled to solve the existential problems of dalits. Even his decision to renounce Hinduism and embrace some other religion had actually emanated from the need to counter the vulnerability of dalits in villages if one goes by his original explanation in Mukti kon Pathe (“Which way the deliverance”) which basically is about their atrocity-prone existence. And of course, he lamented at the fag end of his life that whatever he did just benefited the urban dalits and he could not do much for the rural folks.

The Cartoon Controversy

It is this iconisation that is behind the cartoon controversy. Without going into whether such a cartoon was necessary to be included in the textbook, given the proclivity of society to negatively interpret it, the fact remains that it was there for the last six years. If it had not caused any problem until now, it was unlikely to do so in the future. One need not accept the explanation provided by Palshikar, one of the advisors to the NCERT, that the cartoon was meant to enliven interest in young minds insofar as it presented a piece of the past before them, and was complex enough to yield various interpretations. But that in no way warrants ransacking his office. It is sad that it was the activists of the Republican Panthers – the radical non-parliamentary outfi t that has forced the overzealous state to incarcerate its members (Shantanu Kamble, Sudhir Dhawale and many others) for their revolutionary profession – who attacked Palshikar. It only shows how deeply internalised the Ambedkar icon is among dalits that it overwhelms even their revolutionary politics.

The controversy was raked up by Mayawati in Parliament, who badly needs to reconsolidate her core constituency of dalits in the wake of the fi ssures that showed up in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in order to be prepared for the general elections any time before 2014. It has been the core stratagem of her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, to make creative use of icons to build and maintain its constituency. Not to be left behind, all other dalit leaders, particularly the more unscrupulous ones like Ramdas Athawale (who has established an alliance with the anti-Ambedkar Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine) and Thol Thirumavalavan (the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (dalit panthers) of Tamil Nadu, who switches from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to DMK with ease as per the electoral prospects), raised their angry voices. As if there are no issues other than the Ambedkar icon (and of course reservations) to vent their anger!

The increasing misery of the vast majority of dalits in the absence of quality education, falling job opportunities (reservations arguably cater to only a minuscule section and that too the relatively welloff among them), declining public health and general contraction of the democratic spaces are all of no issue to them. Such is the power of the Ambedkar icon that for dalits Mayawati spending Rs 86 crore to renovate her residence or Athawale building a palatial house in a prime location in Mumbai have become non-issues. Even the rising incidents of atrocities which dishonour their women every day and devour their lives have become non-issues!

Dalit Blood, No Issue

The acquittal of all the 23 Ranvir Sena men who butchered 21 dalits in Bathani Tola therefore does not become an issue for the dalit leadership today. Bathani Tola is not a unique case; it only reinforces the pattern formed by many such judgments in other atrocity cases. For example, the Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh) case went exactly the same way as the High Court of Andhra Pradesh acquitted all the 50 accused. It was only in the Supreme Court, after 23 long years, that one accused was awarded life imprisonment and 30 others were given varying amounts of punishment upto three years. In Khairlanji (Maharashtra), in the wake of a public uproar, the special district court had awarded death to six and life imprisonment to two, which was foolishly celebrated by some dalits leaders who forgot the fact that 35 culprits were already discharged and the court had taken away the very ground for harsher punishment by observing that there was no conspiracy, no sexual violence, and no caste angle. In the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe (Bihar) carnage by the Ranvir Sena, the verdict of the lower court came after almost 13 years, sentencing 16 people to death, 10 others with life imprisonment and a Rs 50,000 fine, while acquitting 19 for lack of evidence. The pattern indicates that the lower courts, under public pressure, award harsh punishments, the high courts mostly invalidate them and if they are persisted with, the Supreme Court upholds parts of it. The long legal battle, which no ordinary dalit can afford, effectively takes away any justice from the fi nal judgment.

Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik recently (17 April 2012) expressed concern over the dismal conviction rate (just 3% to 8%) in such atrocity cases. This exposes how the atrocity cases, which are admitted with extreme reluctance by the police, are deliberately weakened in the investigation or invalidated by non-compliance of rules, mishandled by the prosecution in the courts, and at times perversely adjudged by the courts themselves under political pressure.

In the Bathani Tola case the court rejected the evidence of the eyewitnesses on the weird argument that they could not have been present at the scene. If they had really been there, the court observed, they would have all been killed.

What lies at the root of this malady is the total lack of accountability in such a legal process. Is that not an issue for dalits to agitate against?

Children of god ?- Kuldip Nayar

Kuldip Nayar

Kuldip Nayar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kuldip Nayar

in Dailystar
When an Australian editor posed a question to the Indian press on why it never had a dalit, the untouchable, at a top position in journalism, I felt embarrassed. I considered it an omission which should have been rectified long ago and felt confident that it would happen before long.

But after noticing that no attention was paid a few days ago to the 121st anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a Gandhi for the dalits, I have come to believe that the discrimination against the dalits is a prejudice which would take many decades to wear off. They are at the lowest rung of the Hindu society which develops a bias against them at an early age and has no shame in perpetuating it.

The only thing to remind Dr. Ambedkar was a full-page advertisement sponsored by the central government in leading newspapers. There was also a small function around his portrait in the central hall of parliament which is out of bounds for an ordinary citizen. I did not see television channels showing any programme on Dr. Ambedkar, nor did I find any edit or article in any newspaper to recall his services.

Dr. Ambedkar is the framer of India‘s constitution and we owe the parliamentary system to him. This is enshrined in the constitution. I recall how boldly he stood in parliament to have a provision against untouchability, the bane of Hindu society, and how he expressed hope that the prejudice would disappear. Yet the upper caste has proved him wrong.

Reservations given to the Scheduled Castes, namely the dalits, are laid down in the constitution. But this was despite his opposition. He was against reservations which he compared with crutches by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and other Congress leaders prevailed upon him to accept the provision for 10 years.

Little did Dr. Ambedkar realise at that time that political parties on the one hand and the vested interests among dalits, particularly the creamy layer, on the other would go on prolonging reservations for electoral advantage. So demanding is this consideration that reservations are given extensions decade after decade without a debate in parliament.

The Hindu society should be grateful to Dr. Ambedkar that he and his followers embraced Buddhism. He had threatened to convert to Islam along with his dalit followers to escape discrimination. Mahatma Gandhi beseeched him and even threatened to go on fast unto death. Dr. Ambedkar bowed before the wishes of Gandhi but refused to return to the fold of Hinduism.

Even conversion has not helped the dalits. They are more or less treated in Islam, Christianity or Sikhism in the same way as in the Hindus society. The dalits carry the tag of discrimination and helplessness wherever they go, although the three religions claim equality for the followers. Therefore, the dalits have not escaped the rigours of caste system even outside Hinduism. The Sachar committee has pointed out the inhuman treatment meted out to them even when they have embraced Islam.

Gandhiji christened the dalit as Harijan, Son of god. But it reflected a patronizing attitude which the dailit scornfully rejected. Why the dalits, who constitute some 17% of India’s population, have continued to stay in the Hindu society despite all the insults heaped on them is beyond me. They have never revolted nor have they taken any step to harm the Hindu society which still does not give them even a modicum of individuality.

A few years ago some dalits, led by Kanshi Ram, constituted a political party of their own, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). It has won them political recognition but not social status. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, despite corruption and her authoritarian trait, has given dalits the feeling that they can go to the police station and register complaints. They are offered even chairs as is the case with members of other communities. Home Minister P. Chidambaram‘s advice to dalits to join major parties to enjoy power does not mean much. They followed the Congress faithfully for 45 years. but their lot has remained the same as it was.

Even now the dalits carry night soil on their head. The government proposes to prohibit the practice which was contemplated 50 years ago. The home ministry issued instructions even at that time. Apparently, very little has happened since because the government is enacting a law to stop the practice. The dalits would do well if they were to refuse to carry night soil on their head. Yet they are economically so poor that they cannot afford to risk the livelihood.

At the same time, crimes against the dalits have not lessened. There is a proposal to give arms to them in what are called “atrocity prone areas.” Obviously, the government has failed to protect the dalits and their property. Unfortunately, the police force is also on the side of the landlords and other vested interests who treat the dalits as their subject like the maharaja used to do.

Official figures reveal that there is a huge backlog of cases relating to the atrocities committed against the dalits. Had the centre been serious about preventing atrocities against them it would have taken measures like special courts, fast track prosecution and steps to dispose of cases quickly. Strangely, the Patna High Court has acquitted all the 23 persons accused of perpetrating the massacre of 21 dalits at Bathani Tola in Bhojpur.

It should have been clear by now that no law or no government action can do away with the evil of untouchability. You cannot succeed if the mindset does not change. What the children have grown up with in the name of tradition or religion is prejudiced and cannot be effaced until the society is forced to give up bias which has got entrenched.

The country needs a social revolution. Alas, I do not find any meaningful movement to bring it about. Take, for example, the belief that girls are a burden. How many of them are killed either in womb or after birth is not possible to count. That it happens mostly in north India, particularly Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP is no solace.

A sustained effort to change the mindset and remove the clogs of superstition can make a dent into this widely prevailing evil. But no political party is interested in doing so. Nor are the activists because they are aiming at economic changes. Social problems are begging for attention.

The writer is an eminent Indian Journalist.


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