A Sour Mail- #Nardendramodi

By: Akshay Pathak

(Akshay Pathak, having worked with the publishing industry for five years, is an independent consultant now)

An email invite landed in my inbox yesterday. A garishly designed and grammatically flawed invitation to hear the “honourable” and “enigmatic” ‘Narendra Modi ji’, who has been elected chief guest to the All India Federation of Master Printers’ (AIFMP) annual conference, “Romancing Print”, on March 2, 2013, in New Delhi. How fitting as we approach the eleventh anniversary of the Gujarat pogrom.

Many in the print and publishing world are outraged by this. I am sure many are equally eager to be blessed by a vision of the king himself, and partake of his “remarkable ability to transform dreams into reality”—as the brochure written by some sycophant, or most likely by his PR agency, informs us.

I belong to the former, the outraged set of people. Perhaps not a very large number, but surely a set of people loud enough to not let the “the supreme dream” that Modi says he has—“to regenerate and transform the state of Gujarat”—be touted around yet again. And this time, to the world of print and publishing. Some of us have already signed and sent a letter to the organizers denouncing this decision of theirs. A petition is being planned. In fact as I write this a welcome email hits my inbox where PrintWeek, their media sponsor has withdrawn from the event. The editor Ramu Ramanathan has since been receiving threats from members of the federation.

The event being titled “Romancing Print,” perhaps the organisers deemed it fit to invite the poster boy, the hero of the macho men of India, who, the brochure says, has the reputation of being “a hard taskmaster and strict disciplinarian and an embodiment of strength and compassion”. Since reputation is the word they chose to associate the “enigmatic” chief minister with, it would be fitting to identify other tags attached to that “reputation”. And, compassion, yes, it is a lovely word indeed—to be used for a man who, while he finds it easy to suck up to European Union officials, refuses to acknowledge even once, forget apologize, the carnage of 2002 where Muslims were brutally attacked, murdered and displaced on his watch. Did that also fit in with the dream of this supreme dreamer, whose vision, we are told, fosters “agricultural research, protection of the environment, infrastructure as the lifeline of industry and global investments”? The fact that the development story of Gujarat is a selective promotional exercise churned out by the Modi government and the corporate houses that benefit from it, is not news anymore.

A year ago, at roughly around the same time, I received a phone call from someone representing the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. In my capacity as the Director of German Book Office, New Delhi, then, I was invited to a “core meeting” to discuss publishing. The AMC was planning to host a book fair, and wanted to discuss ideas and “learn from international experience”. Curious to know more about the proposed fair, and also because my job demanded it, I attended the meeting. It was held at the Gujarat Bhavan in New Delhi, and I saw some men from among the publishing circuit of Delhi sitting in a room stinking of damp sofas and perhaps some other unidentifiable stench.

The meeting began with a representative from the National Book Trust, New Delhi, introducing the new fair that they would be organizing in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the municipal corporation. We were shown grand 3D plans of a makeshift book fair tent on the banks of the River Sabarmati. There was an uneasiness in the room. Not because of the stench, I can say for certain. Surprisingly, in all this time, the “M” word was not mentioned once. The presentation was made by Powerpoint-savvy bureaucrats, the rare breed that a lot of urban yuppies imagine to be their ideal “public servants”.

At this time, I had already quit my job at the GBO, and was serving my notice period, and I was quite disillusioned with the world of publishing (something I have written about previously. But, for once, I was almost proud of the old men of publishing, men of my grandfathers’ age, who habitually grope young women after they have raided the bar sufficiently at book fairs and festivals. These men—for that room only had men—categorically asked if the proposed book fair had anything to do with the Gujarat Government (read “Shri Narendra Modi ji”). Never mind that the NBT and the AMC perhaps forgot that publishing is also made up of women, many women in fact. Or perhaps this was a demonstration of the true face of the vision and mission of the supreme dreamer, being emulated by his orderlies. I was glad that the “M” word was brought up by the publishers before I could do it. The officials, after quickly exchanging glances, insisted that it was the municipal corporation’s event. One still could not dare to convince people to associate with anything to do with Modi. After much cross-questioning, the officials admitted to wanting to create a “Jaipur-like event.” Here, DSC Jaipur Literature Festival can be proud yet again. The “greatest literary show on earth” has the supreme dreamer taken in by it too. Now that Kapil Sibal has stopped inflicting poetry on us (or has he?) in Jaipur, they have a candidate for next year’s list of VVIP guests. It can also assure them of enough scandal.

My engagement with the AMC-NBT event ended then and there. The first “Ahmedabad National Book Fair” went ahead, though not in a Jaipur-like manner, nor with similar results, I am told. It was a seven-day affair in an air-conditioned canopy on the banks of the Sabarmati. All over the venue, larger-than-life backdrops of the supreme dreamer himself (in one of the stalls alongside those of Steve Jobs) greeted visitors, something that wouldn’t surprise anyone any more. They dwarfed guests and invitees who were invited on stage, as well as the audience that sat to hear them speak. Some of notable Gujarati writers attended, and all the big Gujarati publishers and booksellers reported brisk sales. A handful of booksellers from neighbouring Rajasthan and Maharashtra, and a few from New Delhi too, had taken stalls. An Indian Express article dated May 2, 2012 describes all this and quotes Modi who inaugurated the book fair saying, “When we say German or Yahudi (Jews), we conjure up specific images of them but when it comes to Gujaratis, the image that comes to mind is people with taraju ya vyapaar (weighing scale or business). But the arrival of this fair will change this image.” A large statue of Vivekananda was also to be seen the moment one entered the fair. It was earlier advertised that the event would be opened by none other than Sri Asaram Bapu, clearly the most literary of all figures we have in India today. The PR companies must have realized the danger of that in time for this plan to be abandoned.

Narendra Modi, many say, has visions of taking this country “ahead”, something the organisers—and a section of the print and publishing industry too—seem to endorse. What do we read into this? The comically titled conference, which by its own admission derives inspiration from Bollywood, with sessions titled Jab Tak Hai ‘CARE’, promises to be a drab event. But the organisers, AIFMP and PRESSIdeas, urge us to be “inspired to do better business in our chosen field of printing.”

Does this mean that the print and publishing worlds, having first succumbed to the corporate world’s sin-bins—the many lit-fests and think-fests—are also now succumbing to the designs of a man whose political biography should have to be printed in blood?



An open letter to Madhu Kishwar on her visit to Gujarat #Vaw #Development #NarendraModi

by- Zahir Janmohamed

JANUARY 15, 2013

Dear Madhu ji,

I was very excited when I learned you were coming to Ahmedabad and I was honoured that you expressed interest in possibly meeting with me.

I was sitting with a journalist friend when I read your Tweet about visiting Ahmedabad and he told me you are a “pioneering feminist who did ground breaking work.” He also told me that in 2005 you signed a very strong petition calling for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s dismissal because of Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. He also added that you have been veryvocal on behalf of Kashmiri Pandits. After I witnessed the Gujarat riots in 2002, I returned to the United States—where I was born and raised—and I gave lectures for six months about the violence I saw. In each lecture, an audience member would inevitably shout at me that I have ignored the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is true. I know very little about Kashmir, and for that matter Kashmiri Pandits, and I would have enjoyed and benefited from listening to your views on the conflict there.

I understand from your Twitter feed that you have left Ahmedabad. I know your days in Ahmedabad were limited and I fully understand that you were not able to meet. Therefore in this letter I will try to convey some of the things I had hoped to tell you in person, in particular about your Tweets.

I am pleased that you have enjoyed your stay in Ahmedabad. To quote some of your remarks:

@madhukishwar: Friends say auto rickshaws never refuse passengers, never over charge in Ahmadabad or elsewhere in Gujarat. Why are Delhi autos lawless?

@madhukishwar: Photographs of young men and women past mid night having soda in Ahmedabad. Young men don’t have menacing presence

@madhukishwar: North Indian friends I’m staying with in Ahmedabad took me for midnight drive to see how safe is gujarat for women- even on  highway.

@madhukishwar: I am out on Ahmedabad streets past 1 am enjoying uniquely satvic nightlife of Gujarat. Will write more about it

Indeed, Gujaratis are exceptional with their hospitality and kindness. As a Gujarati whose grandparents are from Kutch, I am pleased you feel welcome here.

But I take exception to your comment that women are safe in Gujarat or that “young men don’t have menacing presence.”

According to the National Crime Bureau, the number of rapes in Gujarat increased from 408 cases in 2010 to 439 in 2011. When we look at other forms of violence like dowry deaths, this number becomes more staggering.

From the Indian Express, March 28, 2008:

In a span of twelve years, more than 50,000 cases of violence against women have been reported from 12 districts of Gujarat. With 640 dowry deaths and 1,443 rape cases, the chart is topped by a staggering 14,998 cases of cruelty by husband and in-laws, followed by accidental deaths which is pegged at 14,631.

The article cites a report from an NGO called Navsarjan that conducted research in 12 districts in Gujarat during a twelve year period (1995-2007). According to the report, “7894 women committed suicide and 3,006 women were abducted during this period in these districts.”

In a December 28, 2012 story, DNA reported that in Gujarat only 1 out of 5 got life term for rape and that in over 50% of the cases, the rapist had to serve only 6 to 10 years in prison. Just this week, IBN-Live reported that an ex-MLA’s nephew and three friends gang raped a girl for over three years.

I recognize that these numbers might be better than other states in India but the statistics show that violence against women in Gujarat is increasing.

At a forum I attended this weekend sponsored by Apna Adda called “Rape and Me,” female students from various universities in Ahmedabad said they no longer feel comfortable going out alone or with only girls at night. One said she had faced so much sexual harassment in Gujarat that she is now advising girls to take self-defence classes. Another young woman told me that at her college an elderly man flashed his genitals to her on three occasions. She said she rarely goes out past dark alone for fear of these incidents happening again.

Parents at this forum on Saturday—many of whom were born and raised in Ahmedabad—said Gujarat was not always like this and that it is getting progressively worse. I am happy that you felt comfortable staying out as a woman at 2 am. In my two years of research, I have met very few women in Gujarat who would say the same.


However the main reason I write to you, Madhu ji, is to take issue with your Tweets about the “inclusive development of Gujarat”. Some of your tweets:

@madhukishwar: Modi sure knows how to address and strengthen self esteem of his people. Give hope and confidence

@madhukishwar: 2\4 If I as much as say Gujarat roads are best in country, see Modi’s inclusive development for urself I become political untouchable. Why?

@madhukishwar: Those upset at my Gujrat observations: challenge me on facts. Don’t hurl ideology or prejudice at me. I’ll be 1st to apologise 4 inaccuracy

Since you have requested facts, here are some to consider.

In an article in the Business Standard, Mihir Sharma takes issue with the notion that Gujarat is growing at a much faster rate than other states. He writes:

…between 2004 and 2012, Gujarat’s GDP growth left the national average, 8.3 per cent, far behind. It grew at 10.1 per cent. But, in the same period, Maharashtra grew at 10.8 per cent and Tamil Nadu at 10.3 per cent.

Sharma acknowledges that Gujarat has grown faster during the period of Modi’s rule but its rate of growth has not been as impressive as in other states:

Gujarat in 2004-12 grew 3.6 per cent faster than it did in 1994-2002. Meanwhile, Bihar grew 6.5 per cent faster, if from a lower base. But better-off Maharashtra’s growth was 5.8 per cent faster in that period, and Tamil Nadu’s was 4.7 per cent.

As a resident of Ahmedabad, I have seen much of the progress myself, something Sharma acknowledges in his piece. But should Modi be given credit for Gujarat’s successes yet be given a clean sheet for the state’s failures? Sharma notes:

Still, is this chief minister somehow special? The evidence seems indisputable that Gujarat’s bureaucracy is responsive, decentralised and innovative. It is possible that Mr Modi is somehow personally responsible for this; Professor Debroy says to deny him all credit would be unfair and uncharitable. I agree. Though I do note that less objective observers of Mr Modi than Professor (Bibek) Debroy are hypocritically happy to suggest that he is individually responsible for the emplacement of every handpump in north Gujarat, but somehow had nothing whatsoever to do with the complete failure of the entire state machinery in 2002.

In an article in Rediff, Shivam Vij writes cautions against simple explanations of Gujarat’s growth. He writes:

Look at the per capita net state domestic product, a better indicator of prosperity than the mere rate of growth. Gujarat has been occupying 6th or 7th rank on this list since the early ’70s and it’s not as if Narendra Modi’s leadership made Gujarat jump up to the top end of the list.

Given your claim of “inclusive” development in Gujarat, I want to point out to you some more numbers:

According to a study by Rakesh Basant of the IIM Ahmedabad University entitled “Education and Employment among Muslims in India: An Analysis of Patterns and Trends,” he concludes that Muslims carry a double burden of being labeled as “anti-nationalists” and being appeased at the same time.

But he cautions us to think that the “appeasements” have helped Muslims in any way. He states:

The fact that the so-called appeasement has not resulted in any benefits is typically ignored. Identity markers often lead to suspicion and discrimination by people and institutions. Discrimination too is pervasive in employment, housing and education. Gender injustice is usually identified purely with personal law to the exclusion of gender-related concerns in education and employment that Muslim women do face on a continuing basis.

Basant acknowledges that while education rates for Muslims in Gujarat remain woefully low, the trends show that Muslims are improving in this category. But this is stymied, he argues, by “identity based discrimination (which) reduces access, enhances inequity and adds to insecurity.”

This inequity exists in other areas of life too. In an article in the New York Times, Hartosh Singh Bal writes that “Gujarat has an urban poverty ratio of almost 18 percent, compared with almost 21 percent for the country as a whole.” According to Bal, “42.4 percent of the Muslims in urban Gujarat are poor, compared with 33.9 percent of Muslims in urban India overall.” Bal illustrates the disenfranchisement of Muslims in Gujarat by citing the refusal of the Narendra Modi government to release 53,000 scholarships for Muslim students. Vij writes in his Rediff piece that “Gujarat is the only state to not have implemented central government scholarships for students from minority communities, started in 2008.”

Indeed in my neighborhood of Juhapura, often called one the largest ghettoes of Muslims in India, there are only four high schools for a population of 300,000. Of these four high schools, one is private, two are partly aided (ie the teachers salary is provided by the state) and only one is fully aided up to the 12th standard.

VK Tripathi, an IIT Delhi Physics professor, has been coming to Juhapura, the Muslim ghetto of Ahmedabad, every two months since 2007 to fight for schools. In a 2009 article in the Times of India, Tripathi says there were only “24 educational institutions for a population of more than 3.5 lakh.”

Most schools in Juhapura do not have paved roads, let alone enough class rooms, and Tripathi has been fighting the Gujarat government to provide better educational opportunities for residents of Juhapura. I saw Tripathi sahib just last weekend in Juhapura and he told me that while there is some progress, it is still “abysmally low”.

Muslims do not just lag behind in education. In an article in Outlook magazine in 2011 by Pragya Singh, she cites statistics from the Sachar Committee Report and the NSSO (61st round) that state that urban poverty among Muslims in Gujarat is 800% higher than upper caste Hindus; 50% higher than OBCs. Rural poverty among Muslims is 200% more than Hindus and about 60% of Muslims live in urban areas.

Citing research by Abusaleh Shariff for International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Singh says that Gujarat’s high levels of hunger are akin to Bihar, Orissa, and Maharashtra, and Karnataka. Singh writes that “Gujarat’s Muslims are most likely to be self-employed where wages have increased the least,” and that “Muslims are least likely to get organized sector and salaried jobs”.

For Shariff, who conducted extensive research on Gujarat’s Muslims, the explanation is straight forward: “The economic and social life of Gujarati Muslims is worse than in some least developed states. The reason is discrimination.”


I could continue to cite statistics but as one of India’s most accomplished social scientists, you know far more reports and statistics than I do.

What I really want to do in this letter is to explain what I would have shown you in Ahmedabad.

I would have taken you to Siddiqabad, a colony of about 200 homes built for survivors of theGulbarg and Naroda Patiya massacre. Siddiqabad is tucked behind the main road in Juhapura just down the street from my flat. Siddiqabad was meant to be temporary housing for riot victims. But it has been ten years and residents have grown weary of promises that they will get regular electricity, a gutter line, or access to a school nearby.

I would have taken you to Narol (Bombay Hotel), a row of homes occupied by survivors of the Naroda Patiya massacre. Narol is next to a massive trash dump and the builder, a Muslim, told me no one else wanted to sell land to him after the 2002 riots. Each year during the monsoon, water runs from the trash dump into people’s homes. As a result, children in Narol have grown up with deformities. When I visited, a young boy of about 12 years interrupted his cricket game to talk with me. “Yes we see dead bodies here all the time,” he said casually as he tossed a ball into the air.

I would have taken you to Vastrapur, where I lived last year for six months in an all Hindu building. My friend said I could live there on one condition: I could not use my real name. It was humiliating. It was also in Vastrapur where my friend Nida Yamin, an IIM research associate from Delhi, was recently denied housing because she is a Muslim. She left Ahmedabad after just a few months. “This place,” she told me, “is not for us.”

I would have introduced you to Asif bhai, the director of the Crescent School in Juhapura who built his school in 2008 because he realized that the Gujarat government was never going to build adequate schools for Muslims.

I would have introduced you to Kiran Uncle, a tireless advocate for secularism who has fought both Hindu and Muslim communalism and has been ostracized from his family for speaking out so vociferously for Muslims after the 2002 riots.

I would have introduced you to Hemanshu Uncle, a restaurant owner in Ahmedabad. He tells me that every day someone comes into his restaurant and criticizes him for serving non-vegetarian food. Sometimes they tell him he is a bad Brahmin and he has grown tired of the “holier than though attitude of Gujaratis.” This is not the Gujarat, he tells, that he experienced in his childhood. It was more tolerant then.

I would have introduced you to Sheba ji, a remarkable advocate for women’s rights in Gujarat who has been working tirelessly to address Gujarat’s rising problem of violence against women. I would have introduced you to Sheba ji’s staff, many of whom themselves are survivors of domestic violence.

I would have introduced you to Pravin bhai, a film maker who has conducted extensive interviews with farmers in Gujarat who tell him farmer suicides are on the rise in this state.

I would have introduced you to Jila, a 24 year old Ahmedabadi who was displaced in the 1992 and the 2002 riots. She still hopes to live in a Gujarat where people don’t always look at her as a Muslim first.


Of course I know, Madhu ji, that you have met many Muslims here and I commend you for that. You mentioned businessman Zafar Sareshwala in one of your Tweets. Zafar bhai is a friend and I have no interest in criticizing him or anyone else. But I will say this: it has taken me an awful amount of time to get Muslims to open up about their experiences in Gujarat. When I first started conducting research in 2011, most of the Muslims I met told me that everything was great and that they have moved on.

But as I spent more time with them, as I shared my own horror story of watching mobs attack people in 2002, as I spoke about the depression that I plummeted in for years after the riots, as I talked about the counseling I went through to help me cope with the memories of dozens of women who shared their stories in the relief camps of being rapedduring the 2002 riots, then people gradually—and very slowly—people start telling me their own stories. But it has taken long, two years actually, to get to this point.

Gujarati Muslims are often afraid to say what they really think about Gujarat or Narendra Modi. In Gujarat, Modi has become a “god” for so many—given all the Muslims face in Gujarat, why should a Muslim face further isolation by criticizing Modi or life in Gujarat? I hear this all the time: “Zahir you can criticize Modi or the Gujarat state because you do not have family here. But for us, our life will become hell if we speak out.”

And yet the outrage, the anger of Gujarat’s Muslims is there in the pauses, in the things they are afraid to say, in the silent articulation of their faces.

Last year I interviewed a BJP Muslim politician, whose name I will withhold, and he kept praising Modi. I try to speak to everyone I can and his story was equally important to me. As we pulled out of his drive way, his car got stuck on his unpaved road outside his home in Juhapura. He pulled out his phone and called his friend in the government.

“About that paved road. Is it coming?” he asked. I could not hear the response on the other hand. When the BJP politician hung up the phone, he could no longer make eye contact with me. Two years later he still does not have a paved road.


I wish I could write more but there is no electricity in my flat in Juhapura right now and I am writing this sitting on charpai outside my building, trying to catch some light from my neighbor’s generator powered well lit bungalow. I have not had regular running water for the past two days (the same happened last weekend) and when I told my society manager, he told me “yeh hai Juhapura.”

That seems to be the root problem here in Gujarat: Muslims—and so many others in this state—have come to accept less, to ask for less, to be content with less, and then told by society that they should complain less.

I know you Tweeted that such problems do not exist in Gujarat.

@madhukishwar: 8\9 Modi doesn’t rest. Already every rural urban household has 24×7 power, most hv high quality piped water. But guj govt working on further

@madhukishwar: 9\9 Gujrat working on amazing improvements in water policy. It was water scarce state, today it is water surplus with water table rising

Perhaps we will have a chance to meet in the future and you can show me this Gujarat: where Muslims do not face prejudice, where women do not report that sexual harassment is increasing, where farmers do not feel that their livelihood is being threatened.

Yes, some people do indeed have more after Modi. But many others do not. This profoundinequity upsets me, not because I am a Muslim, but because I love Gujarat and my Gujarati people and I would not be writing this letter if I did not want more for Gujarat and all its people.

My invitation is still open to you, Madhu ji. I have emailed you my mobile number and it would indeed be an honor to meet you and to meet you in Ahmedabad.

With fondness and respect,

Zahir Janmohamed,
January 15, 2013.

(Zahir Janmohamed is a freelance writer living in and writing about Juhapura, the Muslim neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. He previously served as the Advocacy Director for Amnesty International and Senior Foreign Policy Aide in the U.S. Congress. He tweets as @ZahirJ.)


Linguist in a POTA Court

22 December 2012, Open Magazine 

When terror confessions are put to expert scrutiny

  • ·        The speed of writing,  sentence length, credibility  of content, degree of focus  and primacy of form of the  POTA confessions cast  serious doubt on their  genuineness



TAGGED UNDER | terrorist | handwriting | POTA


The speed of writing, sentence length, credibility of content, degree of focus and primacy of form of the POTA confessions cast serious doubt on their genuineness

When I agreed to assist the defence in the Tiffin Bomb Trial in Ahmedabad by analysing confession statements of the accused, my brief was simple: to convince the POTA Court in Ahmedabad that the confessions could not have been obtained the way the police were claiming. I was to refute the police contention that they were verbatim depositions given freely and written down in real time.

Suspects arrested in India often sign confession statements which they later deny in court, saying that they had signed them under duress. But in a POTA case, they cannot. However, there is nothing in the law that stops an expert witness from seeking to discredit confessions.

My interest in recording and transcribing verbal testimony goes back to the first project I did after finishing my doctorate, a study of the language spoken by rural Indians in Trinidad, West Indies, as a case of language death. Unable to elicit translations from old Bhojpuri speakers, I had to simply let them talk and then transcribe the tapes later to see what I could find in them. And what the data suggested was a way of comparing the testimony of different speakers by reducing their speech to a list of linguistic features that could be counted. I could look for patterns of grammatical errors, the incidence of peculiarly Indic grammatical structures that a non-native speaker might avoid using, and measure each person’s speed of speech.

When I turned my attention to analysing POTA confessions later in India, it was these last two approaches that turned out to be the most useful: transforming speech data into numerical scores, and clocking speed.


The information I was given at the time of the trial was minimal: the boys were accused of having planted bombs around Ahmedabad in 2002, bombs packed in steel tiffin cases. Much later, I learnt that the case had been closed soon after the blasts, as there were no leads. Then, after the assassination of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya the following year, the case was suddenly reopened and 18 boys were arrested and charged under POTA with having planted the bombs. In the case of some boys, the police had obtained signed testimonies from witnesses. But for most of the boys, the only thing that implicated them at all in this case was their signed confessions.

The confessional statements of the Tiffin Trial accused were handwritten in longhand Gujarati. To get a sense of a normal testimony and transcription in Gujarati, I arranged for two boys from backgrounds similar to the accused to speak at length, and videotaped the sessions, keeping both the speaker and transcriber in the same frame. The boys were simply asked to speak in Gujarati about their experiences on the day after the Godhra train fire: that, I thought, would elicit an almost unbroken chunk of discourse. But it was not the boys who interested me, it was the scribes, writing down their speech on camera in real time. The material they had to write would be clearly recorded, as would their attempt to capture it in transcription. How would their transcriptions compare with the actual statements?

Our scribes’ transcription speed was measured, and the total number of words in the transcript divided by the time as recorded on the videotape timer. The first scribe was able to maintain a transcription speed of 46 words per minute. The second scribe managed 40 words per minute.

Native-spoken Bhojpuri in Trinidad tends to be between 110 and 125 words per minute; a speed less than 100 words per minute is positively correlated with the speaker testing ‘non-native’ in terms of other features of competence. By my reckoning, normal spoken Gujarati also falls more or less in this speed range: around 110 to 125 words per minute. I would expect any native speaker of Gujarati to speak fluently too, without the pauses that bring the overall speed below 100 words per minute. This means that the speed of transcription is limited by the speed the scribe is able to maintain, not by the speaker. We only needed to look at the scribe: how fast could s/he write longhand Gujarati?

In confessional statements in India, the starting and ending time of the scribe is always given. This allowed us to calculate the transcription speeds of the Tiffin Trial confessions: they averaged an improbable 60 words per minute.

The handwriting in the transcriptions done by our scribes on camera showed a consistent pattern of deterioration: after a few paragraphs, it got larger and more irregular, the words got shorter (or rather, more abbreviated) and there was an increasing use of acronyms. There was also significant right-shift: each line on the page would begin a bit more to the right of the margin. The vowel maatras, too, above and below the words, were more and more right-shifted with respect to the consonants they belonged with. And the frequency of scratched out words and phrases went up.

By comparison, the confessional statements procured by the police were spectacularly free of right-shift, handwriting deterioration and scratches. Sentence length was another simple indicator of whether the confessional statements represented verbatim speech. The average sentence length of the confessions was about 30 words, and the longest sentence had 70. And all those sentences were complete and grammatically well formed.

To get a sense of what this means, consider that this article so far has averaged a bit under 23 words per sentence, with 46 words in the longest sentence, the first. And this is not by any means colloquial speech: it is technical writing. It has also been edited: I have had the option of going back and changing and expanding sentences as much as I want while still preserving their grammar.

In the verbatim speech transcribed later from the videotape, the average sentence length was a bit less than 14 words, and the longest sentence had 31 words. There were five sentences that were incomplete. These are more credible figures, as we would expect verbatim speech to have shorter sentences. Shorter sentences are simply easier to construct in real time. And, at times, in spontaneous speech, it is normal for speakers to abandon sentences that are getting too complicated, resulting in incomplete sentences that are crudely joined to whatever discourse follows.


Linguists abroad often look at the word usage and style in order to determine who might have written a text, or, conversely, if a defendant could not have written it. This brings in the issue of interpretation, and the credibility of the linguist as an expert witness. Could content, too, be presented in terms of numbers?

In an earlier case in 1984, I was asked by some students of Mass Communications if I could analyse an editorial written by Girilal Jain, editor of The Times of India, during the anti-Sikh violence. They had complained about the article to the Press Council, and there was to be a hearing to decide whether Girilal Jain should be censured. Could I find a way of demonstrating that his editorial was excessively communal? I decided, for comparison purposes, to look at all the editorials in Delhi newspapers on that day. I chose three indices of communal content: phrases where ‘we’ referred to Hindus, phrases where ‘they’ referred to Sikhs, and phrases that showed an approval of violence. I counted the total number of words in each category for each of the editorials, and calculated it as a percentage of the total text. By adding up all three categories, I got a score for how communal that editorial was. Plotting all the scores of all newspapers for the same day on a graph showed where the spikes were: which paper had the most communal editorial. The Times of India won hands down.

Since I do not know Gujarati, the two scribes in our legal team tagged the communally loaded words in the Tiffin Trial confessions. The word for atonement, ‘paschatap’ or ‘pastavo’ (‘prayaschit’ in legal Hindi), turned up in the second-to-last paragraph of all the confessions. Looking more closely, we saw that the last two paragraphs were also essentially identical in all the confessions. This was irrespective of the day on which the confession was written and the scribe writing it. They were block paragraphs that had been inserted into all the confessions, not something that could possibly have been generated independently by each of the boys in spontaneous dictation. I was later told that this paragraph, in essence, appears at this point in all POTA confessions in Ahmedabad, not just those of the Tiffin Trial.

In terms of content, there was one other feature that rang false: the confessions were all too focused, too free of the rambling that verbatim speech is known for. At no point had a boy digressed from giving information that would implicate him. This is a sure sign that the discourse has been edited, or at least condensed. Deciding which part of a verbatim testimony to record and which to omit would require the exercise of judgment by the person taking it down. Could the scribe have done this in real time, without having to go back and cut out text or otherwise deface the transcript? And could the scribe have maintained the already improbable speed of 60 words per minute while doing this?

When we write, even if we are only taking dictation, our attention is always on meaning. The only time we are completely fixated on formis when we are copying. The lines of the Tiffin Trial confessions were in almost perfect registration: each page ended on the same line, and not simply where the last sentence or paragraph ended. In the words of one of the team, they looked almost like animation flipbooks. It would appear that the paragraph with the word ‘paschatap/pastavo’ comes from a standard paragraph intended to serve a legal purpose. This, together with the absence of any sign of editing on the confession, suggested the existence of an earlier draft.


The final question at the hearing was: what would have been the actualspeed of writing for a document as neat as the confession statements? I had two sources of information to go on.

At the time of the Parliament Attack case, for which I had to analyse confessional statements written in English, I had some paragraphs dictated to me and timed myself writing them down. My speed at first was 22 words per minute, dropping later to 20 words per minute as I saw my handwriting start to deteriorate. If I had tried writing down a full confession, my speed would certainly have dropped further. But I am not a professional scribe.

Our faster scribe was timed copying down the videotaped deposition. He was allowed to pause and rewind if necessary. His instructions were to write as neatly as the confessions. His speed was 18 words per minute. But then, copying down from a tape is not exactly the same as taking dictation longhand in real time.

So, in the end, I was asked to use my judgment. I estimated somewhere between 20 and 22 words per minute, definitely not more than 25.

My conclusion was drawn from this consideration of speed of writing, sentence length, credibility of content, degree of focus and primacy of form: that the genuineness of the confessional statements was in serious doubt.

It was not part of my brief to speculate on how these confessions bore the signatures of the 18 boys in custody. But it seemed unlikely that the boys had actually read the confessions before signing on the back of each page. Later some of them spoke about having been asked to sign blank sheets of paper. Their families, too, said they had been asked to sign blank sheets. But at the time of the trial, it was just an uneasy question in my mind: what exactly had happened between the time of their arrests and the day they appeared in front of the magistrate that made them all decide to sign their ‘confessions’?



#Gujarat #Elections -Banned Congress Ad on Modi #censorship

Narendra Modi at a BJP rally

Narendra Modi at a BJP rally (Photo credit: Al Jazeera English)

A hilarious advertisement  in Gujarati censored by election commission.






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August 2022
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