A Conversation With: Journalist Naveen Soorinje


By ROHINI MOHAN
Naveen Soorinje.Courtesy of Daya KukkajeNaveen Soorinje.

On July 28, 2012, Naveen Soorinje, a journalist with the Kannada television network Kasturi Newz 24 in Mangalore, Karnataka, covered an attack by a mob from the right-wing group Hindu Jagarana Vedike on a group of boys and girls having a birthday party at a suburban resort. A cameraman, Seetharam, who goes by one name, filmed the brutal assault, which lasted half an hour.

Widely known as “the homestay attack,” it was only one of a rising number of incidents of sectarian moral policing in the developing and modernizing city of Mangalore. But when Mr. Soorinje and Mr. Seetharam were arrested in November, along with 43 others, and charged with conspiracy, rioting and unlawful assembly, the case inspired an intense campaign for media freedom and Mr. Soorinje’s release from jail. Mr. Soorinje was freed on bail on March 23, and the charges against him and Mr. Seetharam were finally dropped on Friday.

In an interview with India Ink, Mr. Soorinje spoke about what he learned during his time in jail and the dangers he sees in extremist groups and in the complicit police in Mangalore.

 

Q.

Since your arrest in November 2012, you maintained that you only recorded the attack and were not a participant. What led to charges being dropped now?

A.

Civil society groups and journalists appealed to the Karnataka chief minister’s office for charges to be dropped. They had approached the earlier B.J.P. [Bharatiya Janata Party] regime, but that was the government that in a way put me in jail, so we didn’t expect them to release me. It was only after the new C.M. from the Congress Party took charge that he signed the petition to drop charges against me. Of course, when the Congress was the opposition party earlier, they didn’t do anything then.

Q.

How were your five months in Mangalore jail?

A.

This might sound odd, but it was good that I saw the inside of a jail. As a journalist, my view of crime stopped at the arrest, police and trial. The life of imprisonment was a blind spot. I found that the increase in communal tensions in Mangalore has led to even the jail being segregated. In the A block, are the Muslims and Dalits, largely convicted or accused of terrorism, smuggling or theft. The B block is the Hindu block, with thugs from right-wing groups — people who attacked girls for talking to boys, or for drinking. I’m Hindu, but since the attackers I filmed and thereby got arrested were in B, the cops thought I’d be safer with the Muslims and Dalits.

I stayed in different wards every few weeks, chatting with whoever was willing to talk. It was eye-opening, the abysmal conditions, the twisted interrogations, the stories of so many innocents or one-time petty criminals that languish in prison for ages while their trials go on for decades.

Q.

Have threats and intimidation against journalists grown in the past few years in Mangalore?

A.

Yes, it has been a crucial part of the communal groups’ intention to intimidate society. After the pub attack of January 2009 — I was a print reporter then — [the Hindu extremist group] Sri Ram Sena upped its violent projects. Hindu boys and Muslims girls can’t eat ice-cream together, can’t sit together in a bus. The attacks on college kids were all over.

I’m lucky to have a secular, fair editor. I’d reported on all this with a group of like-minded reporters. We shared tip-offs, created maximum coverage. We were disgusted with the random attacks on women and even more ashamed by most media that focused on the so-called moral degradations — girls’ drinking and smoking and going with boys — than the assaults by these communal thugs.

We got life threats. People came around my house, screamed on the phone. They burned the press of the local paper I worked at, set fire to the editors’ chair. My editor was arrested; I was chased a few times. The head of Sri Ram Sena, in a press conference, said that it is not enough to kill one fellow. Openly, he said,” We should take out one more journalist, then Mangalore will be fixed.”

Q.

What have the police done to stop this?

A.

These lumpen elements have free rein because of two things: people’s discomfort with modernity and westernization, and police complicity. In the homestay attack, when the police turned up, they conversed with the attackers for over half an hour. One victim tried to escape, but the police caught him and brought him back. In custody, the police allowed the attackers to beat him.

Why did they detain the victims? The Mangalore police do this — take the scared, assaulted kids to the station, call their parents, and then give them advice. “Don’t send your girls with boys, don’t let Muslims and Hindus interact in college, why is your child drinking, don’t you know Indian culture?” This is moral policing, what else? Beat, and then give unsolicited advice to the wrong person.

Q.

The police blamed you for not informing them about the attack even when you were tipped off earlier by a source.

A.

That is untrue. I repeatedly called the inspector of the local police station, Ravish Nayak, from my official number. Nayak did not pick up. The attacks had begun by then, and there was mayhem; the poor girls were screaming. I asked my friend Rajesh Rao of channel TV-9 to call the police. He also called Nayak, again in vain.

My cameraman and I were the first people there, and we tried to record everything. Other journalists came in minutes. We all shot, but we couldn’t stop the drunk, crazy goons attacking the young boys and girls.

It was a birthday party. When I got there after a local source tipped me off — not one of the attackers, as my phone call record shows — a girl was sitting on the porch, and two boys were playing games on their mobile phone. There was no rave party, as the goons alleged.

Q.

You were also accused by the police of abetting the attack because you didn’t stop it.

A.

This is an old dilemma in journalism: do you stop the action or do you report it? But here, I had no dilemma. I was screaming and requesting, “Don’t hit the girls.” The camera has caught my voice, but the attackers were unwilling to listen. They were like a pack of lions. I couldn’t physically stop them. No one could. [Read a translated version of Mr. Soorinje’s full account of the attack here.]

It is common today in India for mobs to call the local media informing them of a planned raid or attack. This is their way of getting publicity. Just 20 days before this homestay attack, a girl was molested publicly by a gang in Guwahati, Assam. In that, the cameraman was egging the attackers on, instructing them. So it may seem like I was in the same situation, but I was not.

Q.

How do the people of Mangalore react to this? Have the sectarian groups influenced their actions?

A.

Mangalore is both modern and conventional. That friction is being exploited. People live their lives as they please, but in private. In public spaces like buses, colleges, restaurants, there is a lurking fear.

The homestay incident was in July 2012. After that, there have been 10 other assaults. None have been investigated, and visual evidence is limited. Moreover, some tabloids — why, even big dailies — mangle the issue. If the Bajrang Dal [a Hindu fundamentalist group] has slapped a girl who was smoking, the headline will say “Smoking girl slapped.” It’s a combination of right-wing ideology and power driving the police, goons and some of the media.

Q.

You are still with Kasturi TV, and still in Mangalore. Has this experience changed the way you report or live now?

A.

There is an angle of caste that I’ve begun to understand. For example, all the boys and girls attacked in the homestay are Muslims or from backward castes. The accused goons are also from backward or lower castes, barely educated until third or fourth grade. All the leaders — of Sri Ram Sena and of the Vedike — are high caste, sitting happily in Bangalore, never arrested, only giving wildly inflammatory speeches on Hindutva to their minions without any consequence. I’ve realized that accountability must go further than the immediate actors.

I used to always try and do balanced reports — you know, quote both sides. But now I want to expose the attackers even more strongly. There is nothing to redeem them.

Rohini Mohan is a journalist based in Bangalore. She is working on a book about the civil war in Sri Lanka.

[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.]

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/

 

Mahendra Nath Das’s mercy plea: Why SC commuted his death sentence


, TNN | May 3, 2013,

Mahendra Nath Das’s mercy plea: Why SC commuted his death sentence
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam had in 2005 favoured commutation of Mahendra Nath Das’s death penalty to life term.
 t

NEW DELHI: Revealing the casual manner in which mercy petitions are dealt with, theSupreme Court found that former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s 2005 note favouring commutation of Mahendra Nath Das’s death penalty to life term was never placed before his successor Pratibha Patil, who rejected Das’s mercy plea in 2011.

This and the 12-year delay in deciding Das’s mercy plea were cited by a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya to commute hisdeath sentence to life term on Wednesday.

Kalam had considered the mercy petition in light of the recommendation made by the home minister and passed an order on September 30, 2005, saying, “I have considered the mercy petition proposal sent for my consideration in respect of Mahendra Nath Das. I find that though the crime committed was of a gruesome nature, yet the conduct of the accused does not show trace of pre-meditated murder. The crime can well be attributed to a gross lack of mental equanimity on his part.”

Kalam continued, “In such circumstances, his mercy petition in my view, be accepted and his death sentence commuted to life-long imprisonment (that is for the rest of his life). During his further incarceration in prison, he may be given periodic counseling by spiritualist and moral leaders which could help reform his personality and mental psyche. This may be considered.”

Apart from the delay in considering the mercy plea, the bench of Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya noticed that the home ministry had prepared another note on Das’s mercy plea on October 5, 2010, with reference to Kalam’s note.

But “what was most intriguing” was that while making a recommendation on October 12, 2010 to Patil for rejection of Das’s mercy plea, the home minister did not mention Kalam’s note of September 30, 2005. “Why this was done has not been explained by the respondents,” the bench said.

“Omission to make a mention of the order passed by her predecessor and note dated September 30, 2005 from the summary prepared for her consideration leads to an inference that the President was kept in the dark about the view expressed by her predecessor and was deprived of an opportunity to objectively consider the entire matter,” Justice Singhvi, who authored the judgment, said.

“Therefore, it must be held that the President was not properly advised and assisted in the disposal of the petition filed by Das,” the bench said.

“In the above backdrop, we are convinced that 12 years delay in the disposal of Das’s mercy petition was sufficient for commutation of the sentence of death and the division bench of the (Guwahati) high court committed serious error by dismissing the writ petition solely on the ground that he was found guilty of committing heinous crime,” the bench said.

“The rejection of Das’s mercy petition is declared illegal and quashed and sentence of death awarded to him by the trial court, which has been confirmed by the high court and this court is commuted into life imprisonment,” it added.

 

TISS Turmoil – Disciplining at Tuljapur Campus


 A First-hand Experience : Sunandan K N

MAY 1, 2013

This is a guest post by SUNANDAN K N at kafila.org 

From the earlier article by Hartman De Souza and comments here on recent incidents at Tata Institute of Social Science campus at Guwahati, we had a glimpse into how a Deemed University heavily funded by the UGC and by both the Central and State governments could conduct its business in totally autocratic and authoritarian ways. Even with the risk of repetition I want to share my first-hand experience at another extension counter of TISS Mumbai which is TISS Tuljapur where exactly same events unraveled six months ago.

I was a faculty for short time at TISS Tuljapur campus and I was shocked to see how easily the administration could take totally unjustifiable and undemocratic decisions and get away with it.

The TISS Tuljapur is a residential campus and it is constructed like a jail (Oh that bald French philosopher) with full security surveillance.  All students stay in hostels.  Except a barber shop there are no shops or any other amenities inside the campus. The nearest market place is 6 km away and to get there you have to depend solely on the institution’s vehicle which run on fixed times.  Students have to sign on a register whenever they go out of campus and whenever they come in.  To go out or come in you have to pass through two security gates guarded by security men hired from a private security agency.  Within the campus students are not allowed to go certain places. The reason cited is that there are snakes in those areas; everybody knows the real reason, that those are the places where students engage in dangerous activities such as: a male student talking to a female student, a female student smoking a cigarette, a group of students singing and enjoying themselves and so on. The faculty are not under such restriction, maybe because administration already considers them dispensable. There are strict rules against drinking and smoking, though nobody was ever able to impose it completely.

Soon after joining, I met the present Dean on the campus who had come with an (evangelical) mission of cleaning the campus. He wanted not only to control drinking and smoking habits among students, but also to actively curb any sort of ‘disobedience’ among them students. A group of students who were vocal, active, and intelligent became the target of Operation Clean and the Dean experimented with all forms of disciplinary mechanisms on them. Whenever a student dared to ask question or complain, she/he was labeled ‘disobedient’, included in the above group, and threatened with disciplinary action.

Once this became rampant, some of us from the faculty tried in vain to question this obsession with moral policing.  We pointed out the fact that the Director, the Dean, and most of the faculty might also have violated the rule in Maharashtra regarding alcoholic consumption which says that every individual has to take a license even for private drinking.

The issue escalated when two students (a female and a male) went out and came back to the campus probably after having some drinks (which is completely legal). They were already on the top of the Dean’s watch-list, especially the female student who always asked difficult questions to the Dean and the faculty. Since they were a little late — past curfew time (9.30 PM) — the security guard at the first gate called the warden of the hostel and the warden permitted them to enter. One of the students decided to rest / have her own time alone and so the other student proceeded alone to the second gate. The security at the second gate was already notified from the first gate that two students are coming in. When they noticed that only one student is coming, they mentioned this to the Registrar who was taking an evening walk near the gate.  He immediately ordered a search for the female student. When five security men with high beam torches came near, the student was surprised and she asked what the problem was.  The security men told her that the Registrar wanted to see her.  They walked to the Registrar and questioned her in front of the five security men. She felt that she is being intimidated by six men and so she raised her voice. The next day, the administration, aided by some students, spread the rumor that the student was lying unconscious and was heavily drunk. But the security men then confirmed that when they found her she was not unconscious and had walked half a kilometer with them easily.  She filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Registrar for intimidating and spreading rumors against her. The next week these two students were served show-cause notices asking them to show reason why they should not be expelled.

By this time, the student community had become agitated not mainly just because of this issue, but rather out of accumulated anger and disappointment. Some of the faculty pointed out that there should be some procedure before serving such notices and faculty should be consulted before taking such drastic actions.  The Director then appointed a committee which included members who were already biased against these two students.  Some of us deposed before the committee and told the members that this issue was precipitated by the moral policing-obsession of the authorities on the campus. Before the committee took any decision, three faculty members (who supported the students) were dismissed without any reason being cited!  Two of them were temporary faculty and the other was a permanent UGC faculty under probation.  It is interesting to note that two of them were part of the sexual harassment committee which would have examined the student’s complaint!

Then a group of faculty members, including me, demanded an explanation from the Dean; he claimed to have nothing to do with this and that this was the sole decision of the Director.  When we contacted the Director, he lectured to us for half an hour over through phone.  He began with these words: “I am very angry with all of you (which means ‘don’t you know you have the responsibility of making me always happy?’).  What do you think of yourself (hum.. when did start thinking that you have rights and you can make complaints) …..  I will shut down the campus if anything further happens… (I am running the shop and I will shut down it whenever I want).”  He also mentioned that if these teachers want revolution why they don’t go to villages!!! (Until that point I did not know that the Director is a Mao-sympathizer!) He warned that if any existing faculty, temporary or permanent, try to support the dismissed faculty, they too will face similar disciplinary actions.

In this conversation the Director also mentioned about the sexual harassment complaint.  He said that it was fabricated and that he knew it to be the handwork of faculty. If he knews all about it, then surely the question is whether the sexual harassment committee at TISS Mumbai forwarded the complaint to the TISS Director! In that case, this would go against the norms prescribed by the Supreme Court in the Visakha judgment. No wonder the complaint of the student was dismissed by the committee!

When the students started an online campaign for re-instating the teachers the Director sent threatening emails to them individually and informed the parents about their children’s ‘revolutionary’ activities.   At this point reputed scholars like Dr. Gopal Guru intervened and the three teachers were re-instated not at Tuljapur campus but at Mumbai campus. The two students were rusticated from the campus and were not allowed to attend the classes, but were allowed to write the examinations  Eighteen other students who were in the above mentioned group was compelled to write apology letters.
The moral of the story:

1.    The TISS director can unilaterally suspend, transfer or dismiss any employee or student at any time without showing any reason.

2.     The faculty of TISS are not able to or not bold enough to organize or protest in any manner. I have to say that most of the senior faculty at TISS who claims they are Marxist, feminist or champions of democracy and social justice did not utter a single word when all these were happening at Tuljapur.

3.    At present the Director of TISS may be an exception (or may not be) but from what we see in Delhi University and Jamia Milia it is evident that democracy, transparency or justice is not anymore the concerns of the university administration.

Sunandan KN is a post-doctoral fellow at German historical institute, London. He is based in New Delhi

 

TISS Turmoil – Botched investigation – Termination of two Professors #Guwahati


Horn Tata Not OK! — Hartman de Souza

APRIL 29, 2013, KAFILA.ORG

This is a guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA

If you were to say that the right we give to those younger, to be contrary and different to those older, is not just their right after they turn eighteen, but that it is our need to let them speak so that learning continues, you would probably get a bigwig from the Tata’s sensing the USP of that and  using it in his next PPP to jack himself up the ladder.

So it’s a little puzzling that the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, a major beneficiary of the munificence of the Tata’s would not only fail to see the veracity of that statement, but appear to actively work against it.

Let me give you the background and context to that connection, and indeed to this post:

Some 10 days or so back, in the middle of pressing work, I get an email from an old friend, Vidyadhar Gadgil. Vidya’s the kind of friend I like to have; in his forties; well read, salt and pepper in his hair, scraggly beard, nice grin, heart left of centre, and with a laugh that goes from tenor to baritone depending on how funny he finds something.

A respected assistant editor with the Herald, Goa, he later moved to Himal magazine in Kathmandu, where he was as well regarded for his professional and meticulous ways. He’s commissioned and edited articles of mine at both publications, so I know what I am talking about.

I lost touch with him for a year and some, though I heard he had joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati as an Associate Prof. Our relationship is such, that when I saw his mail in my inbox, I clicked on it, saying one quick reply to catch up again, then back to my work.

There was also a file attached to Vidya’s troubled but measured mail that hinted that his services were terminated somewhat unfairly. The attachment kept promising much but was even more tempered, as if narrated by a somewhat detached barrister. It was exasperating to say the least. While on the one hand, one sensed a current of skulduggery as sharp as piranha under the water, everything was so damn veiled it revealed nothing. I said this much to Vidya, and got back to my work.

His next mail had another attachment, this one consisting of a wikileaks quantum of emails that went between four main protagonists from April 4 to April 11 or so and a few others this side and that side of the spectrum.

On the one side, Vidya, his teacher colleague, Uma Maheshwari, and later, by implication, Vidyadhar’s spouse, Mariette Correa – like Vidyadhar, fairly distinguished alumnus of TISS Mumbai and also independently appointed faculty at TISS, Guwahati.
Ranged against them was Dr. Virginius Xaxa, the deputy director of TISS, Guwahati, which, one can now see, was something like an extension counter of TISS, Mumbai, and actually administered by its Director, Dr. S. Parasuraman, the fourth and indeed major player who remote controlled matters from Mumbai.

Two hours later, three cups of tea and one cigarette too many, I was to mail Vidyadhar a terse: “Thanks for screwing my morning!!!!”

In fact Vidya did more than screw my morning: he ruined my entire day, and an undue part of the later evening better spent in mellower fashion at the local village bar. Maybe it makes more sense if I tell you I’ve been down this road that Vidya’s on and maybe much more unfairly.

How many people you know have the distinction of being sacked from an international school in Bangalore after getting them the best results ever in India for students doing the IGCSE exams for theatre? And that too, over the telephone by the Proprietor and Chairman…

You have to give me reasons for sacking me, I tell this shit…

Reasons, he shouts in his shrill, squeaky voice? You want reasons? I’ll give you reasons! You are making some of my students rebellious, you are making some of my teachers rebellious, and I don’t like all these plays you are doing with my students talking about caste and racism and all these social issues…I want happy plays…

You want to give me that in writing?

You want it in writing? You want to take me to court? You know what I can do to you?

He sounds positively apoplectic, so even as I’m wishing he drops dead from a seizure and chokes on his slimy tongue, I calmly say, no you stupid bastard, that’s exactly what good teachers ought to be doing…I want to frame your letter and hang it on my living room wall…

Yeah, I know, pity Kafila wasn’t around those days.

That night though, I mailed Vidya. Edit the emails, I told him, keep them in the same sequence, and post them on Kafila. They are self evident enough to work at many levels. A manual for instance, on how an institution can, without a by your leave, put a cloak over things. There one day, not there, the next.

Or maybe Vidya’s colleague, Uma Maheswari’s longer emails to the director and the rest. Her correspondence would be a beacon for younger teachers, showing on one hand, her fierce commitment to teaching at TISS, Guwahati, and on the other hand, her articulate, impassioned defence of the right to dissent, the urgency to embrace critique rather than shy away from it.

Would you not be left with a bitter taste in your mouth, if you knew that sick of the way she was being hounded, Uma, in sheer disgust, put in her papers? So what are we doing here then by letting her go, exulting in mediocrity?

I still don’t know how the brain sometimes associates something like this chain of mails, with visuals that form a parallel to the narrative.

Vidya saw William Blake in water colours, Behemoth and Leviathan, a visual of which he duly attached together with the mails. At the village bar that night, overlooking a sky with the embers of a sunset still visible, I thought of Zoltan Fabri’s The Ant’s Nest, a film set in a convent; the mother superior’s body lying in chapel and a camera catching brush strokes of pew, detail of statue, kneeling nuns praying with bowed head, and the sparse interiors of rooms. You see a commune, even as a battle for her successor rages between nuns who want change, and those who want things to be as they are.

I will still strongly argue that Vidyadhar and Uma make this correspondence public, if only to send clear signals to those who administer our institutes of higher learning that they cannot trample on the rights of either student or teacher or, for that matter, non-teaching worker.

You can wish as I do that some Owners of an International School-Factory will drop dead like gassed mosquitoes. It is possible to throw stones on some school administrators and frighten them into the hills. But try as you might, you cannot deny the primacy of the Kiswahili proverb from Tanzania that simply says “Without a student you cannot have a teacher; and without a teacher, you cannot have a student”.

This symbiotic relationship, whether parent, teacher or student, one does not mess with.

Like too many of those in their forties today, intent on avoiding confrontation even at the level of ideas and still looking if not hoping and praying for negotiation and due process to bear fruit, because it is, after all, negotiation and due process and we must give it a fair chance, Vidya lost the moment.

Maybe too many have forgotten the 60s demolition of value neutrality in the social sciences. We need to realize again that the other side, whether in pro-industry government or pro-industry education, is never value neutral; that they can’t be when the primary issues revolve around ownership and often wealth, the misuse of power and more effective control if not repression.

The net result therefore, even as this is being written, is that TISS Mumbai’s director has sent to Guwahati an enquiry panel set up by him to investigate matters pertaining to people who were supposedly to be investigated after they have first been silenced, and if that was not bad enough, then terminated from service.

Is it as simple as that?

Actually it’s even worse…

It all began simply enough: students at the campus, with good reason, complaining that standards of teaching were being compromised at TISS, Guwahati. This was raised by Vidyadhar at staff meetings and indeed brought it to the attention of the deputy director, Dr. Virginius Xaxa several times. This was apart from the students themselves complaining to the deputy director.

When the complaints from the students persisted, Vidyadhar emailed the director, TISS, Mumbai, Dr S Parasuraman on April 4, 2013, requesting him to conduct, at the earliest, an independent review of the academic programme as well as the functioning of TISS Guwahati.

Typically Vidyadhar, he mentioned he was making this request after following due process with the appropriate authority.
He listed the following reasons for seeking the review:

That the interests of the students were being severely compromised, and there existed a feeling of being short-changed by an institution of repute. Substantial parts of some courses for instance, and almost entire courses had not been taught to the students, and no adequate action had been taken to either complete the teaching hours or to take the necessary action against defaulting faculty.  In fact, Vidyadhar noted, whatever action had been taken compromised the integrity of the academic programme of the institute.
He mentioned the unethical practices in the classroom, of taking attendance and telling students to go and study on their own, using the register then to prove lectures were actually taken. Vidyadhar told Dr. Parasuraman in his measured tone that there was a complete lack of transparency in communication, decision-making processes, formation of committees, and other administrative matters; and that decisions on important academic matters were communicated to most faculty post-facto, if at all.

In what can only be termed a rigorously honest debriefing to one’s superior, Vidyadhar duly communicated the perceptions of both students and faculty that deputy director, Virginius Xaxa was partial towards certain faculty members; that there was a crisis of leadership in running the academic programme on sound lines, and in setting up transparent and fair systems and processes in the Guwahati campus.

He also sounded the warning notes that such a review be conducted ensuring absolute confidentiality to the students as well as faculty, since there was a genuine and strong fear that complaints against specific faculty were not entertained, and that the students or faculty who raised their voices on these issues were either belittled or victimised.

His concluding paragraph ought to have convinced Dr. Parasuraman that Vidyadhar had no personal axes to grind.

“Given that the academic programme at TISS Guwahati is in its first year,” Vidyadhar told Dr. Parasuraman, “and that decisions taken at this stage will have a bearing on the future course of the new campus, sorting out the above issues expeditiously is essential for the healthy growth of the institution”.

Dr. Parasuraman as he did later with great alacrity, sometimes even within the hour when he was issuing instructions to his IT managers to block Vidyadhar and a few others from using the intranet facilities for instance, did not respond.

Matters on campus however continued to fester with students on the Guwahati campus stonewalled by the deputy director in Guwahati, silence from Mumbai, and students complaining, as is their right, to faculty whom they respected.

Should we write to the director too, they asked. Faculty told them it was their right to do so, but refused to conceive, draft, edit or even read such a complaint before it went out. When this student’s letter did go out though, the what-you-may-call-it hit the fan.

More pertinently, germane in fact to what happened, is for us to consider and put on the backburner for now, the fact that we may just not be equipped to take criticism from students or those younger, and maybe that’s our real flaw – that we don’t even think twice of evaluating, assessing, grading and damning students every bloody day if we could but baulk at the thought of them doing the same thing to us…

It is tragic, as we shall see, that this poor kid who had the guts to put his neck on the line, who was doing his master’s in ecology, environment and sustainable development, has also had his spirit destroyed by something as simple as a lack of due process, and a total breach of confidentiality. His letter in fact must be seen in its entirety because its sincerity is palpable. It also provides empirical evidence to what Vidyadhar had already communicated in more general terms.

Even though a kangaroo enquiry is now in progress, names of both student and faculty have been deleted and his letter appears as it went out, warts and typos and all:

He titled his subject line: Attn Prof. Parsuraman: Student grievances for your kind consideration (TISS – Guwahati), and went on to write:

“Dear Prof. S. Parsuraman,

“Greetings Sir! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is ******* and I am a student of MA in at the TISS – Guwahati campus.

“Sir, I am writing this letter to you to express before you my grievances (which are also generally felt by other students) regarding the conduct of the course as well as the overall academic atmosphere at TISS Guwahati Campus. I write to you as a student in distress as well as; as a well-wisher of the institute seeking for your kind intervention and help.

“Sir, please find below some of the important issues concerning the students regarding the manner in which some of the courses have been conducted and also regarding the overall atmosphere at the institute. The main issues revolve around how the courses have been conducted by Prof. ************* and Prof. ********** and also aspects considering conflict resolution by the deputy director – Prof. Virginius Xaxa

“The first and foremost thing that I would like to bring to your notice is the sheer lethargy with which the course on Common Property Resources and Ethno ecology has been conducted. This course is shared by ******, *****  and ***** Out of the allotted 30 hours of mandatory teaching hours, Prof. ***** conducted only 12 hours of teaching during the second semester. Prof. ****and Prof. **** did complete their 30 hours and 8 hours of teaching hours. But here I would like to bring to your notice that Prof. ***** has regularly been late at reaching to the class and classes which are supposed to begin by 9.30 am usually start by 9.45 or as late as 10 am and the classes are always interrupted with his cell phone ringing invariably. Here I would like to mention that the students are very happy with the way Prof. ***** has conducted her classes and we have no complaints regarding her teaching.

“Though Prof. ***** did conduct his 30 hours of teaching in the semester there have been serious problems with his teaching methodologies. The entire topic of biodiversity was taught using a single chapter from a single textbook called ‘Ecology and Environment’ by P.D Sharma. Apart from this particular chapter in biodiversity from the book mentioned; Prof **** distributed 4 other papers on some aspects of biodiversity; but vital topics like measurement of biodiversity, topics on scientific measures of conservation have not been taught. I find myself inadequately equipped on this topic and I fear this would eventually affect my future research pursuits and employability on the whole.

“Also there have been serious flaws on the front of field works. During the second semester we just had one field work to a place called Chandubi apparently to understand issues of ecotourism and man-elephant concept. The very unplanned and mismanaged nature of the field trip eventually brought it down to being a mere ‘picnic’. Along with the disastrous field work where the students learn ‘nothing’ (which also  meant monetary loss for the students as well as the institute) there were a range of other interpersonal issues (some leading to gender issues) among students were fuelled as well as mishandled by Prof. ***** post-field trip.

“Sir, the above mentioned points which I am raising here; I have personally talked about each of these to Prof Xaxa. Also Prof Xaxa had talked to the entire batch (all 20 students of EESD) about these issues and had promised us ‘confidentiality’ as well as ‘action’ of these issues. Raising of these issues before him led to a series of faculty meetings at the institute which gave us hope that something positive would come out of this. But on Monday April 1, there was a sudden turn of events that left us students shocked and we felt betrayed. Prof. Xaxa conducted a meeting of the students with the entire faculty bringing up the issues in an open forum. The students (who were hand-picked by Prof Xaxa) were asked (almost forced) to talk in front of all the professors the issues concerning us and thus murdering the very idea of ‘confidentiality’ and betraying our trust in him.
“The nature of the conduct of the meeting between the students and the staff exposed a series of biases that are taking roots in the institute.

“First Prof. Xaxa through his very mild (in)action seems to be shielding Prof ****** on his lethargy who is conspicuously known as his ‘son’ at the institute.

“Also the closeness and consequent shielding was very evident among the Assamese professors – i.e. between Prof. *****, Prof. **** and Prof. **** and this is an evidence of the bias that these professors have against the so called mainland students which has been seen at various occasions.

“It was also a surprise to hear Prof Xaxa defending Prof. **** not taking classes as his mistake to apply the pedagogy used for M.Phil or PhD students at the MA level!
“The entire method conflict resolution adopted by Prof Xaxa and his intent to maintain ‘transparency’ and ‘fairness’ are seriously doubtful as this is embedded in a certain politics of regionalism and favouritism.

“Things have not much changed after all these processes and representations made by the students. Prof. ***** eventually conducted 4 hours of classroom teaching to cover the issues of CPR where still many issues remain uncovered. In fact I wonder if there is any particular syllabus that he is following as he keeps asking students what topics we want to be covered instead of him following a structured syllabus and topics!

“Prof. ***** still does not seem to indicate his intentions to cover any of the vital issues on the subject of biodiversity as he still asks students to make presentations on national parks in India!!!

“Dear Sir, I would be very grateful to you if you could please look into these issues as they have been suffocating us a lot for the past few days and I seek for your kind intervention and help. I also would be very grateful to you if you please keep my communication with you on this matter confidential as I fear vindictive behaviour from the concerned staff at the institute here.”
(Letter ends)

When you read that letter, you ought to ask yourself why matters couldn’t have ended right there and then, with the student’s letter the palimpsest over which you make sense of Vidyadhar’s earlier letter. Yet, within two hours of mailing out his letter, after expressly requesting strict confidentiality, Dr. S. Parasuraman, director, TISS, Mumbai, forwarded the student’s complaint to Dr. Virginius Xaxa, deputy director, TISS, Guwahati.

The student, terrified, mentioned this to at least three faculty members. He had reason to be scared. The next working day, April 8, Virginius Xaxa had a private discussion with the student who wrote the letter, then spoke to the class for three hours. Supposedly with the permission of the student who wrote it, he read the letter aloud. The students were then made to offer apologies to faculty mentioned in the student’s complaint letter.

This is when things get different from being sacked over the telephone by the Proprietor of an International School in Bangalore.

Vidyadhar followed due process again. He sent a mail that night to the larger TISS community with reference to the abuse of power shown and indeed, the totally unethical breach of student confidentiality.

These are the mails that then make up the heart of the correspondence that I have argued be made public. From here on, matters slide quite rapidly…
Vidyadhar and now, his spouse, Mariette Correa both had their email IDs on the TISS server blocked from the afternoon of April 9, 2013.
That night too, the student was made to write a brief letter to the director and deputy director apologizing, whereupon the director, TISS, Mumbai, magnanimously pardoned him, copying the email to Vidyadhar and Mariette.

The next day the student was tutored to write another letter stating he had been misguided and misled by Prof. Gadgil to whom he had shown the draft of his letter.  Dr. S. Parasuraman promptly gave instructions to send this across to TISS faculty listed on the server.

Sitting in Mumbai, not having visited the Guwahati campus since July 2012 when the academic programme began, Dr. Parasuraman was not to know that the student was forced into hiding for some days, wanted by those who complained in the first place and were now in trouble, and others, because he had falsely implicated Vidyadhar. When he did come back, he was always accompanied by a faculty member. Will this be a blight he now carries for the rest of his life?

There are several words that come to mind if one wishes the synonyms for this attitude displayed by the director of TISS, Mumbai, Dr. S. Parasuraman, and his deputy in Guwahati, Dr. Virginius Xaxa. ‘Autocratic’, ‘dictatorial’, ‘authoritarian’, ‘domineering’ and ‘arrogant’ all come readily to mind.

The word ‘farcical’ however, springs when you think of the panel intended to investigate matters on campus between April 25 and today, April 27, 2013, opaquely set up by the director TISS, Mumbai whose own role in this episode must be put first under scrutiny.

Students on the Guwahati campus got to hear about his panel on their notice board; informed that a team of senior faculty from TISS, Mumbai were visiting and would like to meet them. Did Dr. S. Parasuraman, and his deputy director and the panel not know that examinations at Guwahati would get over on April 26, and most students leave that very evening itself?

Faculty in TISS Guwahati received a mail from the deputy director’s research assistant saying very much the same thing and to keep themselves available for a meeting. No mention of a review, no mention of any terms of reference.

Interesting too, that the so-called review is being conducted after all dissenting voices have been silenced.  From the time he sent his first mail out protesting Dr, S, Parasuraman’s breach of the student’s confidentiality, Vidyadhar’s right to reply within TISS were denied to him. Given the age we live in, that information, thankfully, did go out.

Now matters become so pitiable, it could be any one of our governments at state or centre covering up one of the many scams. By the evening of April 11, both Vidyadhar and Mariette received letters terminating their appointment with immediate effect, with no explanation given, and instead some vague references made to an earlier letter of April 9 terminating their services – which they only got several days later after specifically asking to see it.

Not only was the project they administered closed, citing some bureaucratic nicety, the appointments of the rest of the project staff , one project officer and three administrative staff were also terminated on April 9 without even the one-month notice period as per their contract.

The closure of the project is the main reason cited for getting rid of two or three unnecessarily troublesome faculty who were there in the best traditions of TISS Mumbai. Had the project come to its natural and full closure, Vidyadhar and Mariette would have wound things up by the end of May, and both ready to move to Hyderabad, closer to where their children go to school, primed perhaps for a new adventure.

I ask Mariette in one of my mails to give me the names of TISS alumni that graduated with her and Vidya and she gives me a random list of six or seven, and why don’t I find it surprising that two of them are really well known to me – and this is without knowing that they also know Mariette and Vidya.
If you knew TISS from the late 70s because of people you knew who went there, or other people who knew them and knew you and told you about them, and if you sat down and seriously searched for your memories, say in a village bar, you would be surprised just how much is thrown up.

You would get Medha Patkar from the NBA and Brian Lobo and Pradeeep Prabhu of the Kashtakari Sanghatana, whom you would have met and are, in any case, better known. By the time you have finished your second and ready to head home though, even later, climbing the hill back, you end up with close to fifty people you know who are TISS alumni. They’re the kind of people whose names I see in my inbox I am going to click on them. I’d do this because I know they are people, even in the thick of the shit happening around us, who still walk the talk.

Maybe somebody should tell Drs. Parasuraman and Xaxa that TISS is a ‘brand’. You don’t even have to write ‘Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ and then put TISS in parenthesis. You just write TISS. Everyone knows what that is.

That, when you cut through the faff, is what ‘brand’ means, a quality or even edge for which a business house, say the Tata’s would pay serious money to build. Unlike the imperatives that dog business however, TISS as a brand was created by concerned faculty, students and alumni, and that you cannot buy.
Dr. Parasuraman, unfortunately, as too many ageing administrators, perhaps even many heads of government departments, appears to want, above all, to keep matters on an even keel and ensure that the boat is not rocked. What happens after he retires is the other guy’s problem. He’ll take his benefits, his perks, and his whatever, and go for evening walks with his dog.

He prattled at some length about “disturbing the academic environment” in one of his mails.
Vidya’s colleague Uma, in one of her responses asked him what this really meant. Would protest on the streets tomorrow against state oppression also come under disturbing the academic environment? She also asked him whether it was a teacher’s duty to support students who came to them with their problems, of whatever nature? Or were they to just turn a blind eye?

Most pertinent though are her remarks that take us back to the opening paragraph of this posting, namely, the right of the young to speak because it is our need to hear them.
Is suggesting a standard procedure to be followed, she asked Dr. S. Parasuraman, as indeed seen in both Vidyadhar’s and the student’s first letters in early April, a “disturbance to the academic environment” as he referred to it or, on the contrary, the only means to protect this? It is quite likely that Dr. S. Parasuraman, as many other teachers in our schools and colleges too, have not realized that dissent too, is something students need to be tutored in. Or maybe they know that too well…
By the time you read this, Dr. S. Parasuraman’s panel will have met; rubber stamped some papers, and fully exonerated him and his deputy director of all blame, wrongdoing, and whatever, when any tin-pot marketing executive in Tata’s would tell him this is a sure-fire way of severely diminishing a ‘brand’ .

From the Village of Moira, Goa, April 27, 201

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Missing Mystery of Majoni Das #AFSPA


 

PRESS RELEASE

MISSING MYSTERY OF MAJONI DAS

Organized by Women in Governance (WinG)-India, Women Alliance on Violence Against Women and Family members of Majoni Das

20th February 2013 at Gauri Sadan, Guwahati

We will not allow Majoni to be the next in the list of   those disappeared from custody mysteriously in this region. The family members have the right to know the whereabouts  and safety of their daughter. The Police should provide the information.  – Bondita Acharya , WinG-India

Guwahati Feb. 20, 2013 Enforced disappearances have been a very severe and a common human rights issue especially in North East India. The special powers entrusted upon the armed police and Police administration either by AFSPA or other draconian laws like UAPA has led to severe violation of human rights  of common people resulting into disappearances, extrajudicial killings, mental harassment, rape as well as sexual assault.

Majoni Das, a woman activist, teacher, writer from Sibsagar has been a victim of enforced disappearance in suspicion of having links with insurgent groups. Majoni Das, D/O Mr. Dimbeswar Das aged 30 was an active member women movement Nari Adhikar Suraksha Samiti (NASS) and also involved with fortnightly news paper namely AMI. Due to the poor financial condition of the family she was working with Purva Bharati Educational Trust, Jorhat for last 13 months as a warden of the hostel run by Purva Bharati Educational Trust, Jorhat Assam. On 6th February 2013 she went to her parent’s home at Demow, Sibsagar district, Assam to attend some family function. When she reached home local police sent messages to her several times to come over to Sibsagar SP office. She informed her colleagues about the calls and sounded very worried and tensed. On 8th February Pritam Das police officer of Nitai Pukhuri outpost along with a lady police officer came to their house to detain her. At that time she was not at home and then they left a message for her to come over to SP office in Sibsagar. On 9pm at that night she informed two of her neighbors that she would visit the SP office the next day. On 10th February morning around 9 am she left home to meet SP of Sibsagar district and since then she is missing.

 

Later FIR was filed in Jorhat PS by the Purva Bharati Educational Trust and in Demow PS by family members. Meanwhile the family and hostel authority made several visits to the SP office in Sivsagar requesting police to trace Majoni. SP informed that Majoni has joined the underground armed group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and left for Nagaland. Police also instructed the father of Majoni to visit Nagaland and trace her.

 

Police is not revealing any information about her; the reason why police wanted her to report to the SP office is not clear and they are giving different sorts of answers which is making the case complex. Meanwhile in an attempt to gain public support, police reported the case to media branding the she has joined ULFA and left home on her way to Myanmar via Nagaland. Family is worried about her whereabouts as in several such missing cases earlier the missing person was found dead or involuntary disappeared.

 

The question arises whether Police administration is responsible for the sudden disappearance of Majoni Das or was it her choice? The answer is still a mystery. But whatever be the answer it should be backed by certain evidences which needs to be transparent to the family members.

 

We urge the following demands :

 

1.      Police should immediately disclose information on whereabouts of Majoni Das and         present her to the family members.

2.      Police should step up the investigation and provide updated information about the process of investigation.

3.      Put an immediate end to the continuous harassment of the family members by the police officials.

4.      Effective protection to the members of the family of Majoni Das.

5.      Immediate action against the senior police officials of the Sibsagar district for their negligence of duty to disclose the whereabouts of Majoni Das.

6.      Immediate action against the senior police officials of the Sibsagar district who pressurised the family members to talk to members of Underground Group and also to go to Mon district of Nagaland to trace Majoni Das.

7.      Ensure legal support to the family members for the case.

8.      Ensure the safety of all colleagues and associates of Majoni Das during the  follow up.

9.      Police (Superintendent of Police of Sibsagar District) should provide explanation for calling Majoni Das repeatedly to his office without proper notice.

10.  As Majoni Das belongs to SC community, the FIR should be changed under the provision of SC/ST PoA Act.

 

Bondita Acharya  and Anjuman Ara Begum ,  WinG-India Phone: 98643233379954082155

Bharati Hazarika , sister of  of Majoni Das-7896065140


 

 

 

Anjuman Ara Begum

Guwahati, Assam, India

Phone: +91-9954082155 (M)
Skype: anjumanarabegum

 

 

Is this journalist behind bars because he spoke too often, too loud against communal forces?


Soorinje’s story has been playing out below the radar of national attention

January 24, 2013, Issue 5 Volume 10

IN A week when two national parties have found new helmsmen, a former CM has been convicted to 10 years in jail, another CM has been rapped by his own father for misgovernance, a state government is on the verge of collapse, and a major report on rape laws has been submitted to the home ministry, it might seem a bit odd to devote this column to something else altogether.

But over the past two and a half months, an important story has been playing out below the radar of national attention. It pleads a greater hearing. On 7 November 2012, Naveen Soorinje, a 28-year old reporter working with the Kasturi News 24 channel in Karnataka, was arrested on daunting charges: conspiracy; unlawful assembly; rioting with deadly weapons; criminal trespass; causing grievous hurt; and assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

Ironically, three months earlier, it was Soorinje’s story that had helped the police book 43 goons from the right-wing Hindu Jagaran Vedike for breaking into a private birthday party in Mangalore and molesting and beating the girls there. Now, in a cruel twist, the police had booked him as the 44th assaulter. In the last week of December, crushingly for Soorinje, the Karnataka High Court struck down some of the charges but still denied him bail. It held him guilty of colluding with the assaulters because he did not inform the police and because, according to the judge’s ruling, he had “encouraged the happening of the incident and assisted in videography of the event, and thereafter facilitated its telecast in television channels, which has caused greater damage to the dignity and reputation of the victims”. Soorinje’s argument that he was outnumbered by the goons and all he could do was record the crime as a journalist has been ignored. He is now waiting to appeal for bail in the Supreme Court.

Soorinje’s story has many disturbing implications for democracy and media freedom. This ruling sets a very dangerous precedent. There have undoubtedly been several cases in the recent past when the media has crossed a grey line and become, in some sense, not a chronicler of events but an uncomfortable magnification. The lumpen moral police, in particular, love the idea of spectacle: they often invite television crews before going on their brute rampage. Should the media report these incidents or should they cut off the vandals’ life breath by refusing to shoot? Should they tip off the police immediately? This must — and should — be subject to an urgent debate. But unless a journalist or media house is accused of actively exacerbating the crime — as in the Guwahati molestation case when the reporter’s role came into serious question — it is outrageous to arrest a journalist on these grounds.

Journalists are sometimes privy to secret information that can make for an exclusive story. It is understandable to expect them to report information of a bomb or a murder plot, a vandal attack or even a potential poaching incident to the police. But if this is stretched further, in the future, can they be arrested for meeting and getting an exclusive interview with a Maoist, insurgent, terrorist or underworld don because they did not tip off the police? Clearly, that would be a frightening absurdity.

In Soorinje’s case, the arguments against him already seem to have seriously skidded off the rails. According to him, he was not tipped off by the goons but by a frightened local he does not want to expose. His call records corroborate that he did not get any call from the goons. He also claims that he did try to call the police — both the Mangalore Police Commissioner (who, it turns out, was out of town) and a local inspector, Ravish Nayak. Neither picked his call or called back. Unfortunately for him, Soorinje’s calls to them, therefore, have not registered in his call records either.

The story gets more darkly ironic because Soorinje, who grew up in an agricultural family, has a track record of exposing the communal forces in Karnataka. According to his peers in the media, it is unthinkable — insupportable — that he would ever be party to such an attack. Many, in fact, suspect his arrest is driven by political vendetta: he was speaking up too often and too loud.

Last week, a small group of journalists went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest. The state home minister promised to intervene. Nothing has happened. The fact that the national media has failed to take up this story of a hinterland peer under assault is only serving to perpetuate the inaction.

Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka.
shoma@tehelka.com

 

Did you know about Laxmi Orang, a tribal girl raped ? #delhigangrape #Vaw


It is time society unites to seek justice for Laxmi Orang as it did for the  delhi rape victim

By  Neha Dixit
04 Jan 2013

Posted 04-Jan-2013
Vol 4 Issue 1, http://www.theweekendleader.com/

Short lived memory often leads to naked regret. This apprehension has been repeated time and again in the last fortnight in the light of the Delhi gangrape case.

While the passionate protests managed to percolate the public outrage deep into the crevices of the country, the nature of this wrath was also criticised as essentially middle class.

Laxmi Orang (the girl in this picture) is still fighting for justice

Amidst this criticism, The Weekend Leader dug out the picture of an adivasi woman, stripped naked, being kicked by a man on her private parts. This picture, when juxtaposed to the pictures of the indignant protests in Central Delhi, brings alive all the fears expressed in endorsing the Delhi protests as India’s own feminist movement in making.

There are similarities. In 2007, this adivasi girl, Laxmi Orang, travelled from Japowari Orang Basti in Sonitpuri to Guwahati as a member of the All Assam Adivasi Students’ Association. All of 17 then, Laxmi too believed that she has the right to protest and demand rights.

She and her supporters were demanding ST status for Adivasi people residing in Assam and enhancement of daily wages of tea garden labourers by Rs 70-200 by the small and major tea gardens in Assam. Like the Delhi protests, they too were tear-gassed and lathi-charged.

The commotion separated Laxmi from the rest of the crowd. A group of boys chased her, stripped her naked. While she was being brutally beaten up, the police chose to be its apathetic self and did not come to her rescue.

The next day, the media flashed her naked pictures leading to public outrage. Later, an enquiry commission was set up led by retired Justice Manisana Singh but not much came out of the report except that she was not given a proper hearing.

The fact that she still awaits justice, five years later, is a reminder that public wrath should not be spasmodic. Her case is also an epitome of the state’s nonchalance. It puts into perspective, Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s recent remark, “Tomorrow, if 100 adivasis are killed in Chhattisgarh or Gadchiroli, can the government go there?” It is people like Shinde who spread the malaise of trivialising issues of marginalised communities like the adivasis.

Laxmi, in the current context is not just representing the state atrocities on the working class but also on marginalised communities. The state’s and society’s collective injustice is manifested in their assault against her as a woman.

Earlier this year a girl was publicly assaulted and stripped outside a pub in Guwahati by a mob. Laxmi tried to meet the National Commission of Women members when they visited Guwahati to conduct an enquiry on the pub incident. A case that fizzled in the public memory hardly brings a pat on the back and in this light, the National Commission of Women Chairperson Mamta Sharma asked her to visit her in Delhi instead of taking some serious measures.

Laxmi is 22 now. Her case and the 95,000 pending cases in India are a cruel reminder why it is important to involve as many as her in the debate on rape and sexual assault. The state’s indifference towards the Shopian case in Kashmir, that of Manorama in the northeast, Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh and Laxmi Orang in Assam should not take the shape of the passivity of the masses.

It is incumbent upon the public to start discourse on the misogyny that spreads across states where the most potent weapon to teach a woman a lesson is to strip her, sexually abuse her. The sexual assault on Laxmi Orang is no different from the violence inflicted on a young protester last week when the police dragged her by her hair and slammed her head against the wall near Parliament house while she was protesting against the Delhi gang rape case. The police, like the mob who assaulted Laxmi are indoctrinated with systemic denigration of women. Where an independent woman, demanding her rights, asserting herself is always seen as a threat.

Laxmi has stopped working at the tea garden due to the stigma that followed after her public humiliation. It is this baggage we need to get rid of as a society that puts the woman in the dock instead of the culprits.

Laxmi was offered Rupees two lakhs as compensation which she refused. She is fighting hard to punish the guilty. It is this struggle of Laxmi Orang, who is not a ‘zinda laash (corpse)’ as the Minister of Opposition in Lok Sabha, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, described a rape victim, that needs to be merged with the gender movement the country is witnessing.

Laxmi refused to accept the Rs.2 lakhs the state govt offered as compensation

Where one sexual assault is not pitted against the other to gauge which deserves quicker justice. Where a demand for an equal society is made through reforms and not by easy modes of justice like death penalty and chemical castration. Where a man fears at the thought of sexually assaulting a man or a woman to assert his territory/ supremacy.

For the first time, the country has stood together on the issue of gender. Instead of dividing it on the basis of class and its superficiality, this is the time to engage and to carve a movement that is more inclusive.

To take under its wings women from across classes and castes to pull the ship in a progressive direction, to not douse the collective wrath in public dementia, to espouse Laxmi’s fight for justice as the fight of all beings who believe in an egalitarian society.

Neha Dixit is an award winning journalist based in New Delhi

 

#India- 11 convicted in Guwahati molestation case #Vaw


13 policemen will face trial for charges of gang rape in the case of Vakapalli tribal women  #Rape #Vaw

.

Mnaipur Mail

GUWAHATI, Dec 7 NNN: Five months after the incident had occurred, a local court in Guwahati today convicted 11 of the 16 accused.

On Friday, Kamrup chief judicial magistrate S.P Moitra after the hearing of 24 witnesses, convicted 11 including prime accused Amarjyoti Kalita who was arrested from Varanasi almost a month after the incident. However, the terms of sentence is yet to be pronounced. This is so, because, not happy with the judgement, those convicted persons have sought a re-examination of their case within 30 days.

In the month of July, the police had arrested  the youths for molesting and trying to strip a 16-year-old on the busy GS Road in Guwahati at late night. The girl, a class 11 student, was pounced upon soon after she emerged from a party organized in a bar.

Some 20-25 men attacked the teenage girl as she was about to board a vehicle on her way home. They pawed her for almost 30 minutes and tore off a part of her dress before the police team came to her rescue.

On the basis of video footage, the police got cracking.
One of the molesters turned out to be an employee of the state government-run IT agency Amtron. He was identified as Amarjyoti Kalita.

Days after the incident, a team of National Commission for Women had met the girl and recorded her version. The girl is said to be daughter of a deceased police officer.

In July, RTI activist and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi had alleged that the journalist – Gaurab Jyoti Neog, reporter of NewsLive TV channel – had instigated a mob to molest the girl and filmed it on his mobile phone. Gogoi’s allegation was based on a video footage screened at the Guwahati Press Club.

The news channel had denied the charge as baseless.

It is worth noting that as part of its measure to prevent such incidents, Assam government in November had raised the all-women commando company christened as Virangana, meaning ‘women warrior’.

One hundred women commando personnel attired in black uniforms were groomed to face any situation. They were given concerted training in martial arts, using of guns, handling bikes of all types and vehicles. These ‘women in black’  would also be required to act as decoys in areas prone to eve-teasing and molestation. Such areas include the vicinities of bars and hotels.

The elite women commando company was conceived in July this year following the molestation of a woman outside a bar in Guwahati.
Kanakeswar Borgohain, the spokesperson of Assam police had said last month that the recruits for the force underwent rigorous training at the Dergaon Police Training College in central Assam. The police spokesperson had also said that sixteen of the best trainees were sent to Tamil Nadu for advanced commando training.

“We have no reports of any other state in India having floated an all-women commando force specifically to check crimes against women,” Borgohain had added.

Some questions for Guwahati men #VAW #gender #mustread


 

GUEST POST BY- Krishna Malakar

In the year 1991, my family shifted to Guwahati from a village in the outskirts of the city in the hope of better education for their children, better facilities and in all, a better standard of living. I was two years old at that time. I have spent my entire school life in Guwahati. After my class 12th boards, I enrolled myself in Delhi University for higher education. I stayed in Delhi for five years. Now I have come back to my hometown, Guwahati to prepare for entrance examinations for pursuing a PhD. I am delighted to be back home. Staying with one’s own family is a different joy altogether but once I step out of my house it’s a strange world I encounter outside. The men in the streets do not allow me to be what I am as a woman. I have to keep my eyes low or straight on the street in front of me. Otherwise I will fall eye to eye with some staring loser and sometimes end up swallowing comments like ‘Madam, where to?’ or ‘what is your rate?’  Sigh! I have vomited my frustration in the following paragraphs and whatever I have written is based on my own and my women friends’ experiences and contains no real statistics.

In these last few years, there have been some major changes in the city’s infrastructure and lifestyle. A number of flyovers have sprung up, international fast food outlets like KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos, etc. have opened up their franchises, international clothing brands are easily available, number of internet and mobile phone users have increased manifold, easy access to international TV channels and so on. The youth and the middle-aged men wear jeans. (The earlier generation used to wear trousers and the generation earlier to them used to wear dhotis). These days, people enjoy Hollywood movies and listen to Akon, Mettalica, Black Eyed peas etc. There have been visible changes in people’s lifestyle and such change is inevitable. Many ‘international’ things have successfully taken place in our lives but ‘international’ thinking has failed to seep into the minds of Guwahatians. People still consider a girl wearing shorts, skirts, or having a drink as a taboo.

Strange it may sound given that Northeast India is considered more ‘women- friendly’ than rest of India but I have experienced more eve teasing in these last three months of my stay in Guwahati than in the entire five years in Delhi put together.

I generally dress in full-length jeans and tops or kurtis. It’s a personal choice I make. Tomorrow if I wish to wear shorts on the streets I would like to wear one. It is none of people’s business what I am wearing. But the problem lies in the fact that even if I cover my entire body, I deserve to be teased, as I am a woman, it is not because what I am wearing but because what my gender is. Thank you Society, you have indeed been successful in keeping ‘a girl within her limits’! No late night parties for girls otherwise she will be tagged as a prostitute (especially in Guwahati). No skirts and shorts, girls! Now people will question me why do I want to wear skirts and shorts like girls do in metro cities or other countries, why don’t I follow my own culture. I would say that I love my culture and I love Assamese clothing. I always make it a point to wear a mekhla chadar (a traditional Assamese woman- wear) during Saraswati Puja. I would jump at any occasion where I can adorn a mekhla chadar or a sari. But when I go to meet my friends in a mall (mall is not a part of Assamese culture, by the way), I would like to wear a western outfit. After this statement I hope people don’t think of closing malls and fast food joints as they are instigating girls to wear western outfits! If Guwahatians can accommodate malls, fast food, English songs, and western outfits for boys then why can’t people accept girls wearing western clothes?

I remember reading somewhere that the blouse that is worn with a sari is actually a western innovation. It is not a part of Indian culture. Previously, women used to wear saris without a blouse, which is still the preferred way to dress among some ethnic cultures. In mekhela chadars and saris, the back and the belly of a woman are clearly visible, then why can’t girls wear tops where the belly is hardly visible! Saris expose more body than skirts. Why can’t girls wear skirts then? We can’t blame a girl’s clothes for a man’s behavior. Even fully clothed women in saris and kurtas become victims of a man’s touch or comment. What do the people of the civilized society have to say on this? Is it a curse to be woman and hence be subjected to humiliation? Shouldn’t men be taught to behave rather than teaching girls to sit at homes? When will Guwahati men stop sexualizing every other woman they see on the street?

Also, people here in Guwahati consider women who drink as ‘characterless’. When will people get rid of these primitive ideas? If a man drinks in a gentlemanly way and do not create a scene, his character is considered to be intact. Why does not the same thing apply to women? Don’t we women have the right to enjoy a few cheerful drinks with our friends?

In Guwahati, open urination is such a popular hobby among men! Keeping public places clean is an alien etiquette for them. They don’t even bother to find a secluded place to attend to nature’s call. If a girl passes by them, she will turn their heads in the opposite direction out of embarrassment, but our Guwahati men are macho enough to continue staring the girl while peeing. Bravo! There has been no protest in Guwahati against men exposing their most private parts in public.

When I was in Delhi I used to read newspaper reports about rapes almost everyday and most rape incidents occurred at secluded areas and at late nights. There have been number of molestation cases also outside pubs and nightclubs. But X-ray stares, hoots, whistles, leering and jeering from men were rare in my experience, maybe 2 out of 10 men will do so. But here in Guwahati, in broad daylight, starting from early morning to late night, almost every man in the street will stare at you and some of the passing guys will make loud audible comments at you. And this is not limited to poor and illiterate males; males belonging to almost every class of the society shamelessly participate in eve teasing. Even education seems to have failed to bring in refinement of the male mental faculty. For me, in Guwahati, people trying to touch me in public buses, people colliding with me intentionally when I walk on the footpath or in markets are common. But in Delhi, I haven’t faced ‘pre- planned collisions’.

In Delhi, the participating male sees molestation as an offence. The police will never dare to portray the girl in a bad light. The media, intellectuals and the NGOs are supportive. But in Guwahati, if you are a woman and a victim of molestation, most of the local TV channels will title the news as ‘Girl creates ruckus in public area’ and the police will arrive half an hour late to take the girl ‘who was behaving indecently’ away from the angry mob. No action will be taken against the mob at that instant. The viewers seeing all of these on TV at home will curse the girl, question her character and blame her for whatever had happened to her. Only after the news is nationalized, is on youtube and facebook the regional media and the police will realize that a heinous crime has been committed against the girl and the mob should have been arrested.

The regional media features stories every now and then on how the Assamese youth, especially girls, are threats to ‘Assamese culture’ and how moral cleansing is the need of the hour. Here in Guwahati most of the people, especially the youth are scared of TV camerapersons. Most camerapersons are very efficient in capturing couples on their cameras spending some ‘lovey dovey’ time in parks. They film girls wearing shorts, skirts on streets (without their knowledge) and feature them in stories discussing how Assamese girls have lost their moral values in these modern times. Even girls wearing quarter length pants are not spared. People get pleasure in watching news stories about how leggings worn by girls beneath their kurtas get wet in the rain and become transparent. That particular channel where this story was aired is of the opinion that girls should not wear leggings and wear cotton pyjamas that do not stick to the skin. How ridiculous! Is this what the media is for? I think the situation has become a lot worse for young women after the state has been blessed with 24- hours news channels.

Yes, I agree women are oppressed all over the world. There have been complaints against molestation, rape, and domestic violence from even developed countries. Unlike the Punjabis and Haryanvis who take pride in their loud and rowdy attitude, the Assamese society takes pride in their peace loving, meek and polite attitude. But I am saddened to say that my observations have been contradictory to the above statement. Majority of Guwahati men are definitely not meek and polite. Just the other day, my female friend (who is on a visit from Delhi) and I were complimented with whistles and comments like ‘amaak fuck koribo diba neki?’ (‘Will you allow us to fuck you?’) in a city park! On another occasion the same day a man in his 30s commented on how my friend’s breasts were like apples in front of strangers on the streets. This is nothing new; I have been facing such harassment since as long as I can remember. Even 10 years back, I had to deal with men caressing my body while they passed by me. 10 years back, as a little girl, I used to shout at them. But now, after 10 years, I am afraid to raise my voice. I fear if I raise my voice, I may become a target of mob rage, I may get molested and become the next ‘indecent girl’ news story. I have been made to realize that it is better to listen to the dirty comments than actually give them a chance to touch me with their dirty hands.

Is it so hard for Guwahati men to behave as humans? Their sisters and mothers must be going through the same, don’t they think about them before making a comment on a girl on the street? Is teasing and molesting women, are part of Assamese culture? When will the media start acting in a responsible and ethical manner and stop imposing a new form of ‘talibanism’? When will women themselves stop looking down upon women who have been victims of molestation, rape or eve teasing? When will men think that a girl wearing shorts is not an invitation for them to tease or molest? When men have accepted westernization in their lifestyle, why can’t women be a part of it? I do not think its impossible to answer these questions if someone really attempts to.

Krishna Malakar

Guwahati

contact her at  krishnamalakar26@gmail.com 

 

Speaking out against sexual assault and moral policing #Mangalore #VAW #Moralpolicing


 

Namma deha, namma hakku!

 

That was how around 40 of us reclaimed our space vociferously and visibly on the roads of Madiwala (South Bangalore) and its environs between 5.00-7.00 pm last Saturday, 4th August. We energetically and emphatically expressed our views against various recent cases of moral policing and sexual assault across India including Guwahati, Mandya (Karnataka) and Mangalore.

Ithi(meaning “a start” in Sanskrit), a support forum for women employed in the IT/ITeS industry organized the action which attracted necessary attention from local residents, college students and onlookers some of who joined us. Starting with a stationary protest at a busy corner near the BMTC bus stop, we walked for an hour with slogans, pamphlets, placards/posters venting our outrage and rejection of sexual violence and the irresponsible and unacceptable response and attitude of state representatives (women’s commission chairpersons, police and ministers). “Most people have experienced (including us) gender specific harassment in their private, public and professional lives. But we rarely discuss that openly for various reasons”, observed Deepthi R, who works in the IT industry. Obviously, shame, low self-esteem, unempathetic family, friends, colleagues, insensitive media or state, insufficient redressal mechanisms et al are often why those facing sexual discrimination and atrocities prefer to be silent about them.

Madhu, a transgendered person from the Jayanagar zone of Samara (a community based organization for sex workers and sexual minorities) shared, “We are here to support the protestors and highlight our condition. An altered sexuality orientation is natural for us. But we undergo ostracization at home and outside because of it making it difficult for us to find housing, education and jobs. Further, goondas and the police often exploit us physically and emotionally. The latter sometimes imprison us under false cases and torture us. And the government denies us our basic entitlements like family ration card, voter id., etc. and the specific benefits announced.”

Members of the Karnataka chapters of the National Federation for Indian Women (NFIW) and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Suppression (an informal network of women’s rights organizations across India) participated. Conveying their solidarity, many human rights defenders across Bangalore appreciated the idea and importance of a demonstration at an unusual location. ITHI volunteers Chithra P and Sudha B summed up, “Content that we registered our voice against this issue, we parted with the spirit of continuing similar struggles”.

 

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