Delhi: 16-year-old Bangladeshi girl commits suicide in a police station #Vaw #WTFnews

IANS | Updated Jun 16, 2013
New Delhi: A 16-year-old girl committed suicide by hanging in a police station in Delhi on Saturday evening, police said. “The girl, a native of Bangladesh, who works as a domestic help in south Delhi, had gone missing from her home in Vasant Kunj on Friday. A passerby spotted her near Rithala Metro station on Saturday in north Delhi and took her to Vijay Vihar police station,” said a police officer.
Police informed her parents and asked the girl to stay in the ladies changing room, where she hung herself from a ceiling with her stole. A police personnel spotted her body around 5 pm.
Police said she was depressed as her parents were pressing her to marry against her wishes.
“On Friday, she left her house around 11 am without telling her parents without properly telling them where she was going. When she did not come back, after an hour they started searching and later informed police in the evening,” the officer said.
A case of kidnapping was registered at Vasant Kunj north police station, the officer added.


Complaint to NHRC -Minor ghastly killed by BSF and threw the body to Bangladesh


10 June 2013



The Chairman

National Human Rights Commission

Faridkot House

Copernicus Marg

New Delhi


Respected Sir

I want to draw your attention on an incident of gruesome killing of a minor boy by Border Security Force personnel. The deceased was at his age of 14 years and a student of local school. His father was a migrant labour and belongs to Scheduled Caste community. On the fateful day, the boy was dragged to the BSF camp and tortured to death. Then his body was thrown to the opposite side of the border; Bangladeshi land to hide their atrocious act. Few of the villagers were witnessed the incident of deceased being taken to the BSF camp by the BSF personnel. The police have started a criminal case against unnamed BSF personnel but I have serious doubt on the credibility of the police investigation when the accused are personnel attached with BSF.

I am attaching the detail of the incident which is self explanatory in nature and demand for:-

  • The incident must be investigated by the Commission
  • The involved BSF personnel must be booked and subsequently prosecuted
  • The witnesses and family members of the deceased must be protected and their safety and security maintained
  • The family must be duly compensated


Sincerely Yours



(Kirity Roy)




Name of the victim :-   Master Sourabh Shikari son of Mr. Utanka Shikari aged about 14 years , a student of Class IX at local school, belong to Schedule Caste community,  resident of  village- Dharampur,  Post Office- Putikhali, Block- Krishnanagar, Police station- Krishnaganj, District- Nadia, West Bengal.

Name of the perpetrator :-  Two Border Security Force(BSF) personnel  from  Tungi  BSF camp, attached with ‘F’ company of BSF Battalion 173 who were in duty from 11pm to 5 am and Company Commander of 173 BSF Battalion.

Place of incident:-  Adjoining alley of  Tungi BSF camp and Tungi BSF Camp under Krishnaganj Police Station of Nadia district.

Date and Time of the incident: –  On 10th May 2013 in between 10.30 pm to 11pm.


Case Detail:-

It is revealed during our fact finding that the deceased was a minor boy. He was a student of class IX standard of  Majdia Rail Bazar High School. The victim is belonged to a schedule caste family. His father Mr. Utanka Shikari is a mason and migrant laborer; he usually lived in Mumbai for his employment.  Mrs. Mamata Shikari the mother of the deceased stayed at their native with her two daughters Ms. Swati Shikari(13) and Ms. Jyoti Shikari (13) and the deceased in extreme financial hardships. The said area having overwhelming population of ‘Matua’ a scheduled caste community of Bengal, renowned for their religious fervors.


Mrs. Mamata Shikari is a renowned devotional singer of that area.  On 10th may 2013 a ‘ nam sankirtan’ (devotional music programme) was arranged at the house of Mr. Sujit Biswas . Usually this type of programme concluded at late night. On the said night while Ms. Mamata Biswas was performing at the said household; at around 10 pm the deceased returned back to his home to charge his mother’s mobile phone, after that he took the alley adjoining to the fence as he was scared of snakes at the usual road.    At that time two BSF personnel from Tungi BSF camp apprehended him on suspicion that he was a smuggler and dragged him to the said BSF camp. Some villagers saw the incident. They were Ms. Suchitra Biswas; wife of Mr. Ananta Biswas, Mr. Shukdev Roy; son of Mr. Shailen Roy and Mr. Pijush Bhakta; son of Late Subhash Bhakta; all residents of village – Dharampur under Krishnaganj police station. Few villagers heard the lament of the deceased made feeble protests out of BSF terror, the BSF personnel then said ‘come tomorrow morning at camp with member of panchayet and get him released’. But the hapless boy was tortured throughout the night at the said BSF camp.


Next day; on 11th May 2013 the family members of the deceased went to the Tungi BSF camp to get him released, the said BSF personnel at camp out rightly denied any arrest and subsequent custody at their camp. At around 5.30 am some farmers discovered the victim’s body at the opposite side (Bangladesh) of the border, while they were at their agrarian field.  The villagers univocally alleged that the BSF after killing the boy threw the body at the opposite side of the border to hide their atrocious act. On the same day Mr. Ananda Shikari, uncle of the deceased lodged a complaint in Krishnaganj Police Station which was registered as case number 113/2013 dated 11.5. 2013, under sections 364/302/201/34 of Indian Penal Code. Prior to that an unnatural death case was registered vide Krishnaganj PS UD Case No. 22/13 dated 11.5.2013.


On the same day under supervision of Krishnanagar Police Station the BSF personnel of Tungi BSF camp arranged a flag meeting with Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and got back the body. On the same day the victim’s body was sent to Police Morgue, Shaktinagar, Krishnanagar, district – Nadia for post mortem examination and the same was done by Dr. AK Biswas; MO, Medico Legal, Nadia District Hospital  vide Post Mortem number- 461/2013 dated 11/05/2013 and body was handed over to the family for cremation.

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Kirity Roy
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
National Convenor (PACTI)
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity
40A, Barabagan Lane (4th Floor)
Balaji Place
PIN- 712203
Tele-Fax – +91-33-26220843
Phone- +91-33-26220844 / 0845
e. mail :


#India – The Neglect of Health, Women and Justice #Vaw #Womenrights

A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

Vol – XLVIII No. 23, June 08, 2013 | A K Shiva Kumar , EPW
A report on the 2013 deliberation of the Kolkata Group at its 10th workshop which focused on healthcare, the status of women and social justice in India.
A K Shiva Kumar ( is convener of the Kolkata Group workshops which are organised by Pratichi (India) Trust, the Harvard Global Equity Initiative and UNICEF India.
At the 10th annual Kolkata Group workshop in February this year, 40 policymakers, development practitioners, non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives, scholars, activists, journalists, politicians and development experts convened to take stock of the state of women, health equity and social justice in India. The group focused on two major areas of concern. First is the abysmal state of healthcare in India driven by the lack of strong governmental policies, investments and direct operations, and the growing size and exploitive practices of commercial providers. And second is the limited progress in women’s rights, indeed sometimes retrogression, that is reflected by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices.
The Kolkata Group is an annual forum that deliberates on ways of advancing social justice, human development and human security in India. The group examines available information, seeks positive solutions, and shares its recommendations with wide audiences – government, civil society, the media, and the public. The group believes that bringing together outstanding people from different walks of life to discuss “good practices” and “lessons learned” can blend values, knowledge and discourse as part of a process of public reasoning for social action. Every year the group discussions have a particular focus. Themes in the past have included equity, security and basic education, rights and resources, child rights and development, economic progress and social values, and eliminating injustices in India. The theme in 2013 was “Public Action and Its Future”. The main focus was on health and nutrition as well as the alarming status of women in Indian society.
Balancing Economic Growth
Amartya Sen opened the workshop by underscoring that economic growth in India is good and necessary, because average incomes must be raised to achieve reasonable living standards and extensive income redistribution alone would not be sufficient for shared well-being. Growth generates private income, and even more importantly, it generates public resources which can be spent on the provision of a host of essential goods and services that contribute to decent living standards. Having noted this, Sen argued that it would be a mistake to “sit back” and rely on economic growth alone to transform the living conditions of the unprivileged. While India has much to learn from growth-mediated development elsewhere in the world, it must avoid unaimed opulence – an undependable, wasteful way of improving the living standards of the poor. Even today, after 20 years of rapid growth, India is still one of the poorest countries in the world, something that is often lost sight of, especially by those who enjoy world-class living standards thanks to the inequalities in the income distribution.
On several health indicators, India has fallen behind many of its neighbours. Overall in 1990, India had the best social indicators in south Asia, next to Sri Lanka. But now India ranks second-worst, ahead of only Pakistan. This is despite the fact that during the last 20 years, India has grown richer much faster than its neighbours. Take for instance Bangladesh. India’s per capita income was estimated to be 60% higher than Bangladesh in 1990. By 2010, India’s was 98% higher (about double). However, during the same period, Bangladesh overtook India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators: life expectancy, child survival, fertility rates, immunisation rates, and even some (not all) schooling indicators such as estimated “mean years of schooling”. Bangladesh’s relatively rapid transformation of social indicators seems to relate closely to the much greater participation and agency of women in the social services as well as in private economic activities, compared with India.
Equally intriguing is that Nepal is also catching up rapidly with India, even overtaking India in some respects. Around 1990, Nepal was way behind India in terms of almost every development indicator. Today, social indicators for both countries are much the same (sometimes a little better in India still, sometimes the reverse), in spite of per capita income in India being about three times higher than in Nepal. Looking at their south Asian neighbours, the Indian poor are entitled to wonder what they have gained – at least so far – from the acceleration of economic growth.
Even though India is still managing to achieve comparatively high growth rates, despite its very insufficient public provision of basic services, this is undoubtedly a source of future concern, and may already be playing a part in India’s contemporary slowdown. High growth in east Asia has been led by, and reinforced by, rapid formation of human capabilities, and this is the shared experience of Japan, China, South Korea and other fast moving economies and societies in Asia. The contrast with India cannot be sharper. Apart from the very limited reach of good quality healthcare and basic education, even today 48% of the population do not even have toilets in their homes. India suffers a chronic power shortage as the breakdown of the grid in north India last year highlighted, but it is also worth bearing in mind that a third of the population in the “black out” area did not ever have any electricity connection anyway. But Sen said you would not think that power supply was a problem in India if you visited government offices where the air-conditioning is kept at a bone-chilling 16 degrees celsius in the summer. This was quite unlike government offices in other Asian countries, which keep the temperature around 23 degrees, which is comfortable enough. It is hard to detect any sign of power supply being a problem if one visits over-chilled offices, restaurants, or hotels, patronised by the comparatively rich, and it would be hard to guess that a third of the Indian population is without electricity altogether. Is it also not ironical – or worse – that political parties support, rather than object to, subsidising electricity for the “middle class” in the name of the aam aadmi? This goes along with support for other middle-class consumptions, such as diesel, cooking gas, and other ingredients of a lifestyle from which the poor are excluded.
Health Inequities
Discussions drew attention to the Asian experience, beginning with Japan in 1860 after the Meiji Restoration, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China, where economic progress was driven by rapid human capabilities formation. We, in India, are trying to target a high growth rate without investing adequately in basic health, nutrition and education. In this connection, several participants pointed to the appalling state of India’s health system. Public healthcare has been relegated to low priority by the government, given that public spending on health in India is around 1.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) – and has remained so for the past five years – whereas it is 2.7% of GDP in China.
The Kolkata Group reiterated that the most urgent need in healthcare in India today is for an affirmative approach that advances universal health coverage through reversing the financial neglect of public healthcare and the removal of debilitating illusions about what private healthcare and commercial insurance can achieve without firm and active public policies. Influential policymakers in India seem to be attracted by the idea that private healthcare, properly subsidised, or private health insurance, subsidised by the state, can meet the challenge. However, there are good analytical reasons why this is unlikely to happen because of informational asymmetry (the patient can be easily fooled by profit-seeking providers on what exactly is being provided) and because of the “public goods” character of healthcare thanks to the interdependences involved. There are also major decisional problems that lead to the gross neglect of the interests of women and children in family decisions. Nearly every country in the world which has achieved anything like universal health coverage has done it through the public assurance of primary healthcare (whether in Europe, Canada, or much of east Asia).
India’s leaders ought to recognise the necessity for the state to ensure comprehensive quality primary healthcare for all. Related to the main focus of the recommendations, the Kolkata Group urged the government to increase public spending on healthcare to achieve its well-considered pledge of devoting at least 3% of GDP to healthcare. It is particularly important to recognise that there are good reasons for demanding universal entitlements to primary healthcare for all. Effective regulations and ethical professionalism are also essential. The steady increase in public revenues generated by economic growth can and should be fruitfully committed to this extremely important cause.
Child Nutrition
Related to health is India’s worrisome record in reducing child malnutrition. Noting the unusually high levels of under-nutrition in India, the Kolkata Group argued for a firm recognition of the Right to Food in general and legislation to guarantee the entitlements to food for all. Recent experience (including Supreme Court orders on the right to food as well as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) shows the value of putting economic and social rights in relation to a legal framework. Legislation should recognise that food and nutritional security depends not just on food but on a set of related interventions that promote women’s health and nutrition, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and healthcare.
The Kolkata Group had earlier endorsed the proposal for creating durable legal entitlements that guarantee the right to food in India. A Right to Food Act covering justiciable food entitlements should be non-discriminatory and universal. Entitlements guaranteed by the Act should include foodgrains from the public distribution system (PDS), school meals, nutrition services for children below the age of six years, social security provision and allied programmes. Ensuring non-discriminatory access and universal entitlements requires special initiatives that focus on the discriminated, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. Last but not least, design and implementation should include effective public participation, grievance redress provisions and independent oversight.
Women’s Rights
The Kolkata Group also drew attention to the limited progress in women’s rights that continues to be plagued by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices. Discussions were grounded in the developments following the incident of gang rape on 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya’s statement, “I want to live”, provided a very strong emotional impetus to the protests by large numbers of women and men from different sections of society. The fact that many people went past without helping when Nirbhaya was lying there with her friend wounded reveals something awfully callous about us. Similarly, it is not to our glory that dalit women have been violated and raped again and again. And there has been relatively little noise or protest. Underlying causes for the neglect and abuse of women include patriarchy as well as deep cultural factors.
Increasing the enormity of punishment in cases involving crimes against women does not necessarily solve the issue of rising crime against women. Awarding the death penalty, for example, can serve the purpose of revenge but it does not help in social reform. Society needs to ensure that the police are serious about such crimes, there is a system that will punish those responsible for the crime, and that such matters are tried expeditiously in a court. Indian women experience much greater difficulties in getting help from the police, and consequently do not trust the police to work in a professional manner. Protocols should be adopted to protect female complainers and in moving the court swiftly enough to get a judgment quickly.
The Kolkata Group noted that the violations of women’s rights are related to the continuation of early child marriage, violence against women, discriminatory practices, the impunity and bias that permeate the functioning of the legal and police systems, malnutrition of women and children, increasing prevalence of sex selection at birth as well as inadequate women’s autonomy, health, education, and freedoms. The steps ahead must recognise the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee report promoting women’s bodily integrity, dignity and sexual autonomy. Serious attention should be paid to health, education, nutrition as well as the lack of adequate recognition of women’s well-being and agency. The group also underscored the importance of public protests and the need to keep raising the demand for a police and legal system that protects the rights of women. Women’s needs have to be more centrally recognised as a political priority for their voices to be heard.
[Chaired by Amartya Sen, Kolkata Group attendees this year were Sabina Alkire, Louis-Georges Arsenault, Shabana Azmi, Abhay Bang, Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, Lori Calvo, Achin Chakraborty, Gregory Chen, Lincoln Chen, Abhijit Chowdhury, Asim Dasgupta, Keshav Desiraju, Antara Dev Sen, Jean Dreze, Shiban Ganju, Dilip Ghosh, Joaquin Gonzalez-Aleman, R Govinda, Shaibal Gupta, Pratik Kanjilal, Manabi Mazumdar, Surjya Kanta Misra, Nachiket Mor, Poonam Muttreja, Sridhar Rajagopalan, Kumar Rana, Sujatha Rao, Srinath Reddy, Nidhi Sabharwal, Abhijit Sen, Amartya Sen, Nandana Sen, A K Shiva Kumar, Amarjeet Sinha, Shantha Sinha, Sukhadeo Thorat and Sitaram Yechury.]


Two child limit imposed on Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya #Vaw #WTFnews

New measure, which applies to Muslim Rohingya families in western Rakhine state, does not affect Buddhists in the area.
Last Modified: 25 May 2013 14:34
Authorities in Myanmar‘s western Rakhine state have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area, and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of sectarian violence.

Local officials said on Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state.

The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95 percent Muslim.

The unusual order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group, and is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.

China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups.

India briefly practised forced sterilisation of men in a bid to control the population in the mid-1970s when civil liberties were suspended during a period of emergency rule, but a nationwide outcry quickly shut down the programme.

‘Overpopulation causes tension’

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new programme was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.

Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people.

The measure was enacted a week ago after the commission recommended family planning programs to stem population growth among Muslims, Win Myaing said.

The commission also recommended doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region.

“The population growth of Rohingya Muslims is 10 times higher than that of the Rakhine (Buddhists),” Win Myaing said. “Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension.”

Sectarian violence in Myanmar first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state between the region’s Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya.

Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.

Witnesses and human rights groups said riot police stood by as crowds attacked Muslims and burned their villages.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused authorities in Rakhine of fomenting an organised campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.


Bangladeshi Police Attack Garment Workers’ Protest

By K. Ratnayake

21 May, 2013

Police fired rubber bullets on tens of thousands of protesting Bangladeshi garment workers in the Ashulia industrial belt near Dhaka yesterday, injuring at least fifty.

Workers were protesting to demand higher wages and safe working conditions. They were also demanding the death penalty for the owner of the Rana Plaza clothing factory that collapsed on April 24, killing 1,127 garment workers, according to official figures.

Police sources said 20,000 workers joined the protest yesterday, blocking the main highway in Ashulia. Ashulia is the hub of Bangladesh’s garment industry, where 300 factories are located, producing thirty percent of the country’s garment exports.

Workers are demanding a $US100 monthly basic wage. They now receive a paltry monthly wage of $37, the world’s lowest pay for garment workers.

Ashulia workers have continuously mounted protests since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in the nearby Savar area. Workers organised demonstrations demanding pay hikes, benefits and workplace security.

Though permission had only been granted to build a five-storey building, the Rana Plaza owner illegally added three more floors. Five factories were located in the building. Though cracks were appearing on the walls on the previous day, the building owner insisted it was safe and factory owners compelled workers to go to production lines. Beyond the huge death toll, over 2,000 workers have been maimed for life from this disaster.

Terrible working conditions are not limited to Rana Plaza but are rampant in all garment factories. Despite the Rana Plaza factory collapse, US-based apparel maker VF Corp. confirmed that work is continuing at Liz Apparels, one of its Bangladeshi suppliers, even though a May 12 factory inspection found cracks in the Liz Apparel building. Liz Apparel makes Wrangler shirts for VF, whose brands include North Face, Timberland, and Nautica.

After a four-day shutdown starting Monday of last week, garment factories reopened on Friday. Factory management told workers they would be paid for Friday work because it was holiday but that they would not be paid for other days on the basis of “no work no pay.” This further angered the workers.

Prior to opening the factories, the owners and ministers including Labour and Employment Minister Rajiudin Ahmed and union leaders met and discussed how to control the workers. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Atiqul Islam said, “The government assured us of all assistance of maintaining law and order in the factories.”

After the disaster, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other government leaders feigned sympathy towards the workers. However, by deploying the police to crack down on protests yesterday, the government has shown that it will seek to ruthlessly suppress opposition among workers.

The deaths in to the building collapse have exposed the super-exploitation of the working class in the Bangladesh garment industry. Only six months before, in November, a fire at the Tazreen factory burned 112 workers to death.

The chief responsibility for poverty wages, unsafe conditions and suppression of democratic rights lies with the western clothing retail transnationals. In the face of growing militancy among workers, the retailers’ main concern is how to maintain Bangladesh as a cheap labour platform. They are extracting 60 to 80 percent profit margins from the garment trade, demanding that Bangladeshi factory owners and businesses keep wages at rock-bottom levels.

After the exposure of the disastrous conditions that they have played the key role in creating, the retail giants are moving into damage control mode.

The international trade unions have come forward to support them. The Swiss based UNI Global Union, the IndustriALL Union and several NGOs took an initiative with German officials to discuss a fire and building safety accord with European retail giants such as Carrefour, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, PVH and Calvin Klein. They are promising to spend a paltry sum of US$60 million over the next five years to improve factory conditions. They have also agreed to make periodic inspections of safety conditions.

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer company, Gap and several other US companies have opposed even this completely inadequate agreement, saying that if they signed such an agreement, they would be vulnerable to legal action.

Some companies are also seeking to shift production to other locations, leaving Bangladesh so as to escape scrutiny of the deadly sweatshop conditions upon which they rely. In an interview with the Financial Times, Karl Johan Persson, the CEO of the Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), said that the company is looking for locations in Central and South America or in Africa.

The Hasina government faces a massive political crisis as working class opposition deepens. It is desperately trying to deflect discontent among workers and maintain cheap labour conditions. About 3.7 million workers, mostly young women, work in garment factories. Bangladesh has become the world’s second biggest garment manufacturer after China, deriving 80 percent of its export income from garment exports.

The Hasina government and the BGMEA are terrified that workers’ unrest could result in the cancellation of orders or in retailers withdrawing from Bangladesh.

Last week, in an attempt to buy time, the Bangladeshi government announced the formation of a panel to make recommendations on salary increases for workers. The workers were told to wait until this committee made its proposals.

It also proposed possible changes to labour laws, such as allowing the formation of trade unions. Allowing trade unions in the garment sector would be a shift of government policy, reflecting the view that unions will help control workers and to keep low wage conditions in line with the requirements of garment manufacturers and retailers. In Bangladesh as in every country, the ruling elite is well aware of the trade unions’ role in thwarting working class struggles.

Retailers, manufacturers, and the Bangladeshi government’s main concern is the unrest building up inside the working class. The New York Times commented, “Garment manufacturing makes up a fifth of the economy in Bangladesh and four-fifths of its exports, which means that one of the world’s poorest, most densely populated countries is desperately dependent on continued export orders to stave off soaring unemployment and possibly further political unrest.”


Story of a refugee grand mother, of identities and displacements #Sundayreading

In times of displacement, do we leave our former selves behind and create new identities? In this moving personal history, Garga Chatterjee profiles his Bengali grandmother whose true self was unmasked only by a tragic stroke .


I have crossed the border between the two Bengals multiple times. In February 2013, I took back my maternal uncle Bacchu mama to his ancestral home in East Bengal (now part of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh). He had fled after his matriculation exams, a little before the 1965 war. Then we reached his modest, 2-storey, tin-shed erstwhile home in the Kawnia neighbourhood of Barishal Town. And here this mama of mine began to touch and feel the dusty walls and stairs. He is by far the jolliest person I have known. This was the first time I saw his eyes tear up. The story that follows is of his paternal aunt, or pishi.

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Dida and her husband - mid 1970s
Dida and her husband – mid 1970s
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Having taken an active interest, and in some cases an active role, in anti-displacement agitations of various hues, what rings hollow to my privileged existence is the trauma of such an experience. I know the statistics, the caste break-up of the internally displaced, the pain of being transformed from sharecroppers to urban shack dwellers – raw stories of loss and displacement. The “on-the-face” aspect of the accounts, unfortunately, has a numbing effect. When a populace is numb to the explicit, its sensitivity to things hidden is virtually non-existent. In spite of my association with causes of displacement, in my heart of hearts, I don’t feel I inhabit them. I can empathize but can’t relate. Nobody I have grown up with seemed to have any psychological scar or trauma about displacement – at least none that was carried around, although I grew up around victims of one of the biggest mass displacements of all times. I am talking about the partition of Bengal in 1947.

The narrow path was a metaphor for my dida’s connection to her new world

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Dida or Jyotsna Sen - early 1970s
Dida or Jyotsna Sen – early 1970s
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Growing up in Calcutta in the 1980s, visits to my maternal grandparents’ house were a weekly feature of my life. We lived in a 30-something-strong joint family, firmly rooted in West Bengal, very Ghoti. For Ghotis, the East Bengalis are a people with a culture less sophisticated than their own. In later years, especially post-1947, the term ‘Bangal‘, which used to mean East Bengali, also came to mean refugees, and hence evoked a certain discomfiture in West Bengal, if not outright animosity.

With time, however, social ties were built between certain sections of the two communities. I am a child of mixed heritage – I have a Ghoti father and a Bangal mother.

The people of my mother’s extended family had their displacement stories – not really of trauma, but of a sense of material loss – the money they couldn’t bring with them, the land they had left behind, the travails of some families they knew, etc. Calcutta subsumed much of their former selves. An exemplary figure here is my maternal grandmother, my dida. She was married off to my maternal grandfather, my dadu, who I hear opposed the marriage at that time, if not the match itself (both my parents were teenagers). When she came to Calcutta in tow with her husband, she was still quite young. My mother was born in Calcutta.

I have a Ghoti father and a Bangal mother

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The author and his dida
The author and his dida
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They lived in a rented place near Deshopriya Park. There was an air of dampness about the place. It was connected to the metaled road by a longish, narrow path, gritty and dimly lit, a metaphor for my dida’s connection to her new world, in that connecting to the mainstream required a certain tortuous effort. Inside that house, it was strange and intriguing to me. The lingo was different – they spoke Bangal (a Bengali dialect) with a Barishal twang (Barishal was one of the more pupulous districts of East Bengal) called Barishailya. Dida said chokh(‘eye’) as tsokkhu and amader (‘our’) as amago. I used to pick these up and relate them delightedly to my Ghoti joint family to regale them. Now I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that many Bangals didn’t like the fact that other people found simple pronouncements in their dialect amusing and even comical. (Some comedians have used this aspect in Bengali comedy: I am reminded of black clowns with artificial and heightened mannerisms who regaled white audiences.)

She bought her groceries at a bazaar full of grocers who were refugees from East Bengal

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Dida cooked well and was known for it. But what did she herself want to be known for? My mother related to me how her father was a great lover of letters and sciences. This was somewhat true – sometimes I abhorred going to him because he would not only tell me to do a math problem but also ask me why I did it that way. He tried to get all his children formally educated – a Bangal signature of the time. Markedly different was his attitude towards Dida – I remember numerous instances of “ o tumi bozba na” (‘You wouldn’t understand that’). On her 50th marriage anniversary, her children got together for a celebration. The couple garlanded each other. She looked happy with her self and her world. “ Togo sara amar ar ki aase” (‘What else do I have but you people’) was her pronouncement. Something happened a few years later that made me question the exhaustive nature of her statement.

Things happened in quick succession after that. The brothers and sisters fell out. This turn of events resulted in Dida staying with us. Our joint family had ceased to exist too. By now, I was a medical student. Dida was getting worse due to her diabetes. So I spent time with her. I remember her trying to speak (and failing miserably) our non-Bangal Bengali dialect to my paternal grandmother. She was still trying to fit in, for circumstances demanded that she do. At the time I thought she was extraordinarily fortunate. With my newfound sensitivity towards “identities”, I thought, she must have been very happy to speak Bangal until now. She bought her groceries at a bazaar full of grocers who were themselves refugees from East Bengal. Her husband’s extended family was essentially her social circle and they all chattered away in Bangal. They ate their fish in their own way. In spite of being displaced from East Bengal, she had retained her identity, her “self”. Or so I thought.

She was speaking gibberish – names we didn’t know, places we hadn’t heard of

[box9]She suffered a cerebral stroke not long afterwards. A stroke is tragic as well as fascinating to observe. It cripples and unmasks. The social beings we are, who care about what words to speak to whom, what state of dress or undress to be in where and when, all this complex monument of pretense comes crashing down with a stroke. For one whole day Dida had been in what would medically be termed a “delirium”, characterized by, among other things, a speech that was incoherent to the rest of us. She couldn’t move much and spoke what we heard as gibberish – names we didn’t know, places we hadn’t heard of. To ascertain the stage of cerebral damage, one asks questions like ‘Who are you?’ ‘Where are we?’ ‘What is the date?’ I was alone with her when I asked her these questions. Who are you? “Ami Shonkor Guptor bareer meye.” (‘I am a girl from Shonkor Gupto’s family.’) I repeated my question, and she gave the same answer. She couldn’t tell me her name. Shonkor Gupto wasn’t her father but an ancestor who had built their house in Goila village of Barisal in East Bengal. Later, when she had recovered from the stroke, she remembered nothing of this incident. When I asked her later, she replied “Jyotsna Sen” or “Tore mare ziga” (‘Ask your mother’). ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What’s your name?’ had become one and the same again. She died some time later. It was another stroke that felled her.

Displacement brings trauma with it. And the trauma can be cryptic. It can be hidden. It can be pushed down, sunk deep with the wish that it doesn’t surface. But displacement resurfaces in odd ways. And often an involuntary journey away from home is a journey away from one’s self too. The journey of displacement is hardly linear. It is more like a long arc. In most cases, the arc doesn’t turn back to where it started from. The journey looks unhindered by identities left back. But we can sometimes peer deeper. Nobody called my Dida by the name Jyotsna Sen – she merely signed papers with that name. She had a name by which people called her before her marriage – “Monu”. This name had become hazy after her marriage and the journey to her husband’s house; and it was essentially lost after she migrated to Calcutta. She had been doubly removed from the people, the household, the organic milieu that knew “Monu”. She had three children, four grandchildren, a husband, a new city. Where was she? And when all this was shorn off, what remained was a teenage girl from East Bengal village – a place she hadn’t been in 60 years, maybe the only place where she had been much of herself. Monu of Shankar Gupto’s house.

At this point, I wonder whether she silently bled all through her years in Calcutta. Would she have bled similarly if she had made choices about her own life, or if she had actively participated in the decisions that changed her life’s trajectory? The speculative nature of the inferences I draw from her “unmasking” story is not a hindrance to imagine what could have been. A little looking around might show such stories of long-drawn suppressions all around – suppressions we consider facts of life and take for granted. Who knows what she would have wanted at age 15, or at 22? Where was her voice, her own thing in the whole Calcutta saga that followed? The picture-perfect 50th anniversary clearly didn’t capture who she was. Her husband believed she had had her due – what more does one need, he would have thought. My mother assumed that with the well-intentioned husband that her father was, Dida must have been happy. The identity-politics fired lefty in me had thought she hadn’t been displaced enough, given the continuity of her Bangal milieu! But a part of her lived repressed.

In the microcosms we inhabit, there are stories of displacement, failed rehabilitation and denial of life choices. It is my suspicion that on learning about the Narmada valley displaced, a part of my Dida’s self would have differed vehemently with the Supreme Court judges, who upheld the prerogative of “development” over the costs of displacement.



Fast fashion, fair wages: Vietnam’s lesson to Bangladesh

AFP, May 2, 2013 

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh.

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP


From factory fires to slave labour, the growth of mass manufacturing in South East Asia has not been problem-free, but having shed its “sweatshop” reputation, the region could have lessons for Bangladesh.

The building collapse near Dhaka last week that left 550 dead and missing has unleashed global consternation over conditions in the factories that produce fast fashion — cheap, catwalk-inspired clothes — for top global brands.

Amid talk of consumer boycotts, Bangladesh needs to reform its industry before fashionistas wonder “if they should be wearing blood-stained dresses”, Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity told AFP.

Communist Vietnam — which produces clothes for disposable fashion industry giants Zara, Mango and H&M — shows it is possible to have “extremely strong” labour laws, fair wages and a healthy garment industry, experts say.

“It is not a race to the bottom here,” Tara Rangarajan, program manager of the International Labour Organisation‘s Better Work project in Vietnam, told AFP.

“Sweatshops are part of a short term, immediate payback, low cost strategy. (Vietnam wants to) be competitive in the long term on something besides just cheap labour,” so it is trying to enforce and improve its laws, she added.

Buyers are attracted to Vietnam — where wages are some three times higher than Bangladesh — if “they have reputations they are trying to maintain”, she added.

Garment exports, worth $3.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, were up 18.3 percent year on year. The government’s “number one priority” is boosting technology, Vietnamese legal expert Nguyen Dinh Huan told AFP.

In contrast, Bangladesh has “specialised in low cost production” and embraced the sweatshop model rather than investing in technology and upgrading, said Nayla Ajaltouni coordinator of the Collectif Ethique sur l’etiquette.

“The industry has grown very quickly, (which) is why we’re seeing this concentration of chronic health and safety issues,” she told AFP.

Outrage over the recent building collapse could prove a turning point, she said. Minimum wages were increased in Bangladesh in 2011 “not for philanthropic reasons but because protests were starting to disturb the supply chain”.

“It is a bit cynical but this disaster is also a critical point where brands can be pushed to move forward — by the media, by citizens,” she added.

In Thailand, standards in factories improved significantly after a fire at a toy factory killed 188 people in 1993, although activists say conditions particularly in smaller factories can still be problematic.

In Cambodia, where the garment industry developed in the 1990s, avoiding the “sweatshop” label was a conscious strategy, with the country embracing an ILO Better Factories program — which union leaders say has only been minimally effective.

Several thousands of garment workers marched in the capital Phnom Penh on Wednesday to mark May Day and demand better pay and working conditions.

But Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh “already has world class factories… some buyers just avoid placing orders there to maximise their profits”.

The trouble is “consumers are never really presented the real relationship between cheap clothes and labour abuses and health and safety standards, because of marketing, branding,” said Anne Elizabeth Moore, an award-winning author.

“In this set-up, buyers really aren’t motivated to care about labour issues unless they’re going for the altruism dollar, which is a long shot,” Moore, who has written extensively on the global garment industry, told AFP.

But attention on the recent accident in Bangladesh “is pressuring all companies, whether they were in that building or not, to tighten their supply chain — which is good,” said one Hong Kong-based manager with a global fashion brand who did not want to be named as her company policy bars her from talking to the media.

“But ultimately buyers cannot go in and change the system in Bangladesh. (The government) needs to take responsibility,” the manager added, pointing out that unlike Vietnam, Dhaka neither imposes a standard annual minimum wage increase nor allows garment workers to unionise.

Unless standards improve, Dhaka also needs to realise that its cash-cow industry — which accounts for some 80 percent of export earnings — is at risk, she said.

“A lot of buyers are looking into Myanmar, Kenya, Ethiopia. They don’t see Bangladesh as a long term hub anymore… there are too many problems.”

Mango has been recognised for revolutionising the global fashion industry, alongside brands such as Zara and Top Shop, by providing fast, affordable and accessible fashion to the masses. Mango shifts about 30,000 pieces of clothing an hour in stores across 109 countries.

But the national manager of Ethical Clothing Australia, Simon McRae, criticised the concept of ”fast fashion”, saying it put additional strain on garment factories already under pressure in developing countries and increased the chance of more disasters like the one in Bangladesh.

More than 300 garment factory workers were killed in factory fires between 2006 and 2009, and a further 79 workers died in 21 separate accidents in 2010, a report by the Clean Clothes Campaign showed. More than 100 were killed in a factory fire last November.

Michele O’Neil from the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia said Bangladesh was the world’s most dangerous place to work for a clothes maker.

”Western clothing brands have the ultimate responsibility for the conditions their stock is made in,” she said.

”The companies are really looking for the cheapest labour force in the world.”



Bangladesh: Testimony of 24 year old Survivor Morium Begum, Her Right Arm was Amputated #Vaw

MAY 6, 2013  |

Death Toll Reaches 665 at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh

The death toll at the Rana Plaza building has reached 665 as of Monday morning U.S. Eastern Time.  To date, less than 50 percent of the rubble from the collapsed building has been removed—meaning that many more bodies are likely to be recovered.

The stench of death is everywhere.  Many bodies are decomposed beyond recognition and workers are being identified through their ID cards and clothing.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is now admitting they did not have a comprehensive list of the workers in the five factories housed in the Rana Plaza building.  Now, no one knows how many workers were in the building when it collapsed.


Testimony of Ms. Morium Begum

“It is because of the ugly greed of the owners who forced us to work on April 24, forcing us into death at Rana Plaza. We demand justice as so many lives have been lost and so many others seriously injured and maimed. I wish it never happens again!

“How will I be able to bring up my kids? How will I buy food for them? How will they go to school?”

“I worked as a sewing operator for three years at the New Wave Style factoryon the 7th floor of the Rana Plaza building. The building had developed cracks and we were scared that it might break apart. But we were forced to enter the factory as they [management] threatened to withhold our wages [for the full month] if we didn’t work that day. Just after an hour, the factory caved in with a loud bang. It collapsed as heavy generators shook the floor. I was sitting on a stool sewing the garments. In a few seconds everything broke apart and my sewing machine fell on my right arm. Immediately a big slab from a concrete pillar fell on the machine and my arm. My right arm was crushed and trapped between the sewing machine and the concrete pillar. I tried to pull my arm out but I couldn’t. It was dark inside. Many of my co-workers were also trapped and screaming out, calling for Allah to save our lives. I had no idea where I was after the collapse.


“The rescue team pulled me out of the ruins at 8:30 a.m. on April 25, after spending 24 hours in a living grave. The medical team took me to the Combined Military Hospital at SavarThe doctor amputated my right arm at 8:30 p.m. on April 25. I was in a great deal of pain. I was shifted to the orthopedic hospital on that same day due to complications. I have been at the hospital since then. I still have pain where the concrete pillar hit me.

“It is clear that I will not be able to lead a normal life. How will I be able to bring up my kids? How will I buy food for them? How will they go to school? My daughter is in the third grade and my son in nursery school. They will have to stop their education as I won’t be able to afford to send them to school.

“Who is to blame for this cursed life? My hands were always busy sewing garments but now it all comes to an end. Everything has stopped. I never imagined such a tragedy. My life is worthless now. It is because of the ugly greed of the owners who forced us to work on April 24, forcing us into death at Rana Plaza. We demand justice as so many lives have been lost and so many others seriously injured and maimed. I wish it never happens again!”



Whose side are you on?


By Javed Anand

Leaders and the led from a host of rightwing Indian Muslim organisations – Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEI), All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamaat Committee included – have not been sleeping well in the last several weeks. Their angst is on two counts. One, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up by the ruling Awami League in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Two, the “atheist conspiracy” to banish Islam from Bangladesh that is supposedly behind the lakhs who have been thronging Shahbagh. 

So far, nearly a dozen men including nine currently top-ranking leaders of the Jamaat, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, have been held guilty and served stiff sentences. According to the sleepy-heads, the ongoing trials are a sham, a mere cover for the ruling Awami League’s “vendetta politics” against the Jamaat and its youth wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir. That the Jamaat had any hand in the genocide is news to them.

“Islamists are the most principled, pious, god-fearing and kind people on the earth… It’s far beyond their high moral standards to rape or kill someone,” claims a JEI spokesperson in an email. This is news to me. Are the Jamaat-Shibir supporters in India ignorant, wilfully blind, or do we smell theological affinity here to a totalitarian ideology parading as Islamic?

Keep the genocide of 1971 aside for the moment and take a look at what the “most kind” have been up to in recent years.

April 26, 2011: “A judicial commission has concluded that over 200 Hindu women were raped following the 2001 parliamentary election, forcing many terrorized families to flee the country. The acts were allegedly committed by cadres of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami who won the 2001 polls, the report said, citing the involvement of many top leaders and lawmakers of the alliance that is now in the opposition… It lists 3,625 incidents of major crimes, including killing, rape, arson and looting”. (IANS report from Dhaka published by the Muslim news portal, Two Circles).

 September 26, 2005: Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, international affairs secretary of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) resigns from the party protesting “the government’s failure to act” against the Jamaat-e-Islami (part of the then ruling coalition) which he said had direct links to terrorist activities across the country. The Daily Star published from Dhaka, quoted police records that the over 100 militants who were arrested during 2005 in connection with the bombings (including the simultaneous bomb blasts at 459 spots in 63 districts across Bangladesh on a single day – August 17 – aimed at establishing Islamic rule in the country) either belonged to the Jamaat or its various wings, or had worked with them previously.

November 24, 2005: The BNP expels one of its MPs, Abu Hena, from the party for blaming a section of his own government and party for patronising militants. What’s more, he charged that two ministers “are doing everything for the militants”. Hena further alleged that the Jamaat was directly involved in the emergence of the outlawed Jamaatul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh. His expulsion notwithstanding, BNP’s standing committee member and former minister Oli Ahmed and BNP whip Ashraf Hossain also spoke out, implicating the Jamaat-e-Islami in the rise of militancy in the country.

March 6, 2013: “Over the past week, individuals taking part in strikes called by Islamic parties have vandalised more than 40 Hindu temples across Bangladesh. Scores of shops and houses belonging to the Hindu community have also been burned down, leaving hundreds of people homeless… Survivors told Amnesty International that the attackers were taking part in rallies organised by the opposition Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JIB) and its student group Chhatra Shibir. JIB has publicly denied any involvement in violence against the Hindu community”. (A press release by Amnesty International)

April 20, 2013: “Despite High Court directives to the government to protect religious minorities and their places of worships, criminals continue their attacks on minorities across the country. In the latest such crimes, a group of criminals torched a 200-year-old Hindu temple in Rajoir upazila of Madaripur (on April 19)… at least 94 attacks were carried out in March (2013) on minorities, mainly on the Hindus. In total, 187 houses, 162 businesses and 89 temples were attacked and looted and 133 idols were vandalised, according to the statement of a writ petition jointly filed by six rights organizations”. (Daily Star, Dhaka). As always, the JIB will no doubt deny any role in the recurrent targeting of Hindus.

As for “atheist conspiracy”, an entire galaxy of maulanas affiliated to the Imam Ulema Somonnoy Oikyo Parishad, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (Bangladesh) and other religious bodies in Bangladesh have publicly alleged that the Jamaat-Shibir is linked with terrorist Islamist organizations. “People who believe in Wahabism and Moududism (Maulana Abul Ala Maududi was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami) are enemies of Islam as they misinterpret Quran and Sunnah”, thundered Ahle Sunnat (Bangladesh) secretary general Syed Muhammad Masiuddoula at a Sunni Ulema-Mashayekh Conference on March 17. (Daily Star).

On one side are the Jamaat which has never polled more than four per cent of total votes and extremist Islamist outfits dreaming of an Islamic state andshariah law. On the other side is the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshi Muslims love “their Islam” but would like it to stay far away from politics. It’s as simple as that. That’s what Shahbagh is all about.

Whose side are you on? The question is addressed in particular to Indian Muslim supporters of the violence-promoting Jamat-Shibir outfits in Bangladesh as much as to the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, both of whom seem to have granted to local Muslims the right to hold the state to ransom as often as they please.

(Javed Anand is co-editor, Communalism Combat, and General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy).

When a modern Indian marriage clashes with ancient rules



Last updated Sunday, Apr. 28 2013, 10:26 PM EDT

Six months ago, Mahinda Pal warned his son, Surya Kant Pal, to ‘stay on this side’ of the town. ‘We used to tell him, ‘Don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.’ (Simon de Trey-White)

  • In Pabnawa, a siege is under way. One quarter of the town is blanketed in an unearthly silence: There are no children in the lanes. No goats, no buffalo, no chickens. Almost no women – no one sweeps, hangs laundry or sifts lentils – and just a few men, standing around. Outside the neighbourhood, a ring of bored police in khaki uniforms lounge on charpoys in the shade. They are there to keep the ill-intentioned out, although the net effect is also to keep the few occupants in.

When a couple of Pabnawa college kids in love ran off and got married earlier this month, it thrust the village, about three hours’ drive north of Delhi, back to the Middle Ages, prompting a riot, a threat of mass rape and now this standoff.

The newlyweds, Meena Kumari and Surya Kant Pal, are living in a police shelter under 24-hour guard, because people on both sides of the conflict have vowed to kill them. The mayor of Pabnawa is meant to be brokering a truce, but he faces charges of attempted murder, among other crimes, for his actions in recent events.

Ms. Kumari is 21 years old and her new husband a year older, and no one might have taken much notice of their elopement except their surprised parents. But Mr. Pal is Dalit, from the group once known as “untouchable” at the bottom of the Hindu caste system; he grew up in a stifling one-room house, while his father worked construction for two or three dollars a day to put his three sons through school. Ms. Kumari, meanwhile, is from a dominant, land-owning caste, the Rors, and grew up in a balustraded two-storey home 150 metres and a world away from her new husband’s.

The standoff in Pabnawa is an allegory for a modernizing India – where young men from poor families work their way to good jobs at multinationals and young women ace their college exams, yet ancient rules remain in force. The silence is a blunt reminder that the old India and the new co-exist in an often painful way.

Police refused to let Ms. Kumari and Mr. Pal speak to reporters, saying it might compromise their safety. According to people in the village, they met in high school, have been sweet on each other for years, and ran off together on the morning of April 8.

When Ms. Kumari’s family realized she was missing, men from her caste summoned Mr. Pal’s bewildered family and demanded that they “give back the girl.” They said they had no idea what girl, and their own son was missing. That night Ror men went into the Dalit quarter and, police say, threatened to rape and abduct all the Dalit women if Ms. Kumari was not brought home the next day, prompting hundreds of women and children to flee.

The next night, an estimated 400 Ror men descended in a mob the police couldn’t or wouldn’t stop. The men allegedly carried pistols and knives, disabled the electrical connection for the neighbourhood and then smashed doors, looted shops and homes, ripped water tanks off roofs and beat people up.

“It was absolutely dark and there were more of them than I could count,” recounted Nimboo, who uses only one name and believes she is about 70 years old. She sat in the dark of her small house, filled with a choking pall of cooking fire smoke, because she is too afraid to cook outside. “We stuffed the babies’ mouths with cloth so they would not cry out and the men could not hear them and they could not hit them.”

Kamla Satpal said she smashed a hole in the side of a large tower of drying dung cakes and climbed inside with her husband and son, then covered the gash with straw. They hid there for five hours, she said. When they got home, they found their possessions ransacked and the money they had just made selling their buffalo – 70,000 rupees, or $1,400, several years’ income – missing.

“It’s because that boy ran off with that girl,” Ms. Satpal said angrily. “It’s very wrong. How can he think of marrying the daughter of a zamindar [landlord]? We are suffering and that boy should be punished.”

Police have arrested 17 people so far and are investigating 52 others for participation in the riot.

At Ms. Kumari’s house, her uncle refused to speak to a reporter, saying, “Go away – there’s nothing to tell you about them.”

At Mr. Pal’s house, his father Mahendar, 47, has the look of a man trying to figure out what has just happened in his upended world. He will have to move, very soon, he said. They can’t stay in this village that has been their home for generations. “That girl’s family – they haven’t done anything yet but in their eyes I am the target and I’m afraid of what will happen.”

His son was beaten up a lot over the last year, he said, set upon by boys from Ms. Kumari’s caste; at the time, the elder Mr. Pal didn’t understand why. Six months ago he caught wind of the romance, and warned his son to “stay on this side” of the town. “We used to tell him, ‘Don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.’ He said that he wasn’t having an affair, nothing like that was going on.”

Surya Kant Pal has finished one year of a commerce degree by correspondence course, his father said. Three months ago he was hired in a clerk’s job at a British-registered firm in the district capital, and started to commute. On April 8, he went to work and didn’t come back.

The couple, it seems, sneaked off to the high court, to be married and obtain police protection. Intercaste marriages in this region invariably cause a furor and at least three times in the past year have resulted in the “honour killing” of the couple.

When Ms. Kumari’s family learned where they were, delegations from both sides and the sarpanch, or mayor, went to talk them into a divorce. Ms. Kumari, by all accounts, handled those meetings with dispatch: she threatened to eat rat poison if her family didn’t stop pressuring her, and when it seemed her new husband was wavering, she threatened him too.

Mr. Pal appears more taken aback with the determination of his new daughter-in-law. “We never realized that a girl who used to walk with her head down,” he said, miming a deferential dropped chin, “would turn out like this.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to my son. The first person who sees him when he comes out [of police protection] will kill him.”

On the other side of town, the mayor, Husan Singh, spends his day receiving petitioners, wearing a spotless white kurta and smoking a water pipe. He said he was at home the night of the riot and professed his dismay at events in the town. Asked about criminal charges against him, his face hardened, but then, with a slight smirk, he rattled off numbers: 307, 506, 295, 148. They are statutes of the “Prevention of Atrocities” act meant to protect India’s Dalits and aboriginal people; he is charged with violating seven. The charges include attempted murder and forcible entry with a weapon. Asked if he is concerned, Mr. Singh gave the disinterested shrug of a man confident the law is on his side.

He said that a village committee had brokered a near-truce between the Dalits and the others, but a few hot-headed young people refuse to accept the deal. (Under its terms, the Dalits would drop criminal charges and demands for compensation, and the dominant caste citizens would end the siege and the threats to kill them.)

“The older generation, 50 and above, they understand. But part of the youth, they’re educated and they know there is a law that two adults can marry [but] they don’t understand that reality is different, the laws of the village are different,” Mr. Singh said. He said he is confident a deal will be reached.

Only two cases of intercaste violence have resulted in convictions in Haryana in the past decade, according to the National Committee on Dalit Human Rights.

Either way, the mayor said, Meena Kumari and Surya Kant Pal are never coming home. “They’ll never be able to live here safely.”


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