Chhattisgarh – Letter to NHRC on the denial of rights to political prisoners at Raipur Central Jail


May 8, 2013

by Prashant Rahi

This is to bring to your notice the unrepentant high-handedness of the authorities of the Raipur Central Jail in Chhattisgarh as regards thedenial of fundamental and human rights to two of their under-trialinmates whom I visited there last week, both senior, well-educated citizens of the country.

It was on April 26, 2013 that I visited these two under-trials with due permission from the Jail Superintendent. One of them is called Purnendu Mukherji, a resident of Kolkata (aged 70 years), and the other, Varanasi Subrahmaniam, a resident of Andhra Pradesh (aged 57 years). Both have spent about 3 years in various jails of the country ever since they were shown arrested in Bihar. To the best of my knowledge, they have been framed up in cases related to a violent incident reported some time ago from the Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh, which may have been an outcome of the ongoing civil war in that state between the Maoist-led forces on the one hand and the paramiltary and police forces on the other. These two political prisoners, whom I visited, appear to have been falsely implicated in the case/s related to this incident simply because they were among the alleged Maoist leaders already incarcerated in some other part of the country, and hence vulnerable to be charged by the Chhattisgarh police, hard-pressed as they were to affix the blame for the untoward incident on one civilian suspect or the other. While Purnendu Mukherji’s trial proceedings arew ell underway at the Rajnandgaon District and Sessions Court, Varanasi Subrahmaniam (who was recently transferred early this year to Raipur Central Jail from District Jail, Warangal, AP) has not yet been served any charge-sheet in this matter. The two are charged under various sections of the IPC, such as waging war against the state and sedition as well as the provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2008.

As per the security provisions for such so-called high-profile prisoners, my meeting with the two was arranged in the office of the Additional Jail Superintendent, to which neither did my prisoner friends nor I have any objection. However, the mere seriousness of the charges against these prisoners – itself a very common occurrence for the hundreds and thousands of tribals and activists thrown behind bars in that state – cannot be allowed to be made a ground for the denial of their fundamental and human rights. My objections on this count are as follows:

* The jail official, in whose office my two prisoner friends and I were seated during my visit, remained ensconced within earshot of our conversation, and was listening throughout. This violated the stipulated norms for prison visits by family members and friends and legal advisers.

* Other prisoners who worked in the Jail office were also well within earshot.

* In addition, an official in plain clothes, who did not work in the jail, but was very obviously an informer or intelligence official of the very police, who had fabricated the case against my two prisoner friends, seated himself on a chair right next to me, even closer to us than the jail officials and the other prisoners.

Personally, I found such eavesdropping a serious infringement upon my own civil right to converse freely with my friends and ask about their well-being and about the details of the cases foisted upon them. I did raise objections there and then, stressing that agents of the very same state that had foisted the case could not be allowed to overhear our conversation, and that there should be a sufficient distance of a few metres between us and any official or any other person for that matter, such that we could be seen and observed clearly for security reasons, but our conversation could not be heard. Such pleas, however, went unheeded within the premises of the prison with the officials not even batting an eyelid. This may also be perceived as an outright denial to my friends of their right to a free and fair trial. If officials of the state can be allowed to overhear every aspect of the preparations and mutual discussions of the defence side, then how can the accused expect to convey in confidence their defence points and arguments to their visiting lawyers or to friends like me who would coordinate between them and their defence lawyers? This is especially so in the case of these two prisoners who are total strangers to Raipur and Rajnandgaon, and badly need help from friends like me to co-ordinate their legal defence. The few relatives who visit them live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and hence cannot pay regular visits to the jail and court.

The jail officials allowed us only 20 minutes, with all the interruptions and interventions owing to the unwarranted eavesdropping by the jail and police officials and other prisoners.

Among the instances of denial of basic human rights to these two prisoner friends of mine, which were brought to my notice during those 20 minutes, the following are liable to be considered as serious violations:

1. The jail officials refused to let them read a copy of the Jail Manual. It seemed as if the officials did not want to inform the prisoners of the officially laid out rules and regulations along with their own rights and obligations. Not providing copies of the Jail Manual was a common ploy adopted by the authorities to remain unquestioned while putting up a high-handed and arbitrary behaviour. My prisoner friends told me in front of the jail official present that they had been asking for the Jail Manual for several months, yet the official maintained his stoic refusal to comply with their request.

2. In most Jail Manuals, prisoners are said to possess the right to write and receive letters. In this jail, however, I was told by my prisoner friends (with the Jail official silently listening on) that letters sent to them by family members were not delivered. Varanasi Subrahmaniam said that he had once asked for a message to be wired through telegram to his lawyer in Andhra Pradesh, but no such facility was granted. Similarly, speed post facility even at one’s own cost was denied even if the matter concerned some urgent, legal issue. The same prisoner friend of mine further complained that a letter, which he wanted to send to seek some pertinent information under the RTI, 2005, could not be sent due to this high-handed attitude of the officials.

3. An elder brother of Varanasi Subrahmaniam, who visits him once in a month or two, had during his last visit subscribed to the reputed newspaper, The Hindu on the latter’s behalf. However, the jail authorities had neither co-operated nor allowed him to procure copies of this newspaper. Even such innocuous reading material was flatly denied.

4. The usual jail newspaper when circulated into the barracks of these two prisoners would often be found to be heavily censored. Even such news items that did not pose any threat to the maintenance of order in the jail and did not directly impact its security would be invariably cut up. Especially with prisoners, who have been detained for political reasons or those who have certain political inclinations and beliefs, denial of the right to read all that he or she may wish to read from registered newspapers, magazines and books openly available in the market would amount to outright denial of his or her right to information and knowledge.

5. Even serious books that could be food for thought for anyone who may be concerned with the betterment of our society are not allowed as reading material for these two prisoners.

6. Varanasi Subrahmaniam is further not allowed to read in his mother tongue, Telugu.

7. Writing materials such as blank papers and other permissible stationery items are also not provided in the course of normal routine.

8. Apart from the above instances of the denial of fundamental and human rights that seemed part and parcel of the normal manner of administration at this prison, the septuagenarian among the two, Purnendu Mukherji told me that he was suffering from a number of ailments, some of which are quite serious and needed urgent investigation and treatment at an appropriate advanced referral centre outside the state of Chhattisgarh. The ailments he is currently suffering from include chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease, arthritis, hernia, spinal problems and gastric trouble. A special diet, as may be permissible, was also required for him.

At the end of my visit, I tried to appeal to the Additional Jail Superintendent, who was overseeing my visit, in the hope that my prisoner friends would be accorded human treatment, especially as no crime was yet proven to have been perpetrated by them. However, I soon realized that my appeal fell on deaf ears, and I was left with no option but let this apex watchdog of the state of human rights in our country, as also the world at large,know what transpires within the underbelly of our criminal justice system, namely jails like the one at Raipur.

I urge you to please help restore the rights of the two prisoners whom I visited on April 26.I am forwardinga copy of this letter for the sake of information to the Jail Superintendent, Raipur Central Jail, and to some concerned civil liberties and democratic rights activists in the country.


#India – What Are We Doing To Our Kids ? #sexualabuse

Shocking statistics. Devastating stories. Our dirty national secret. Nishita Jha & Revati Laul bring you a horrifying report on the rampant sexual abuse of children in India
Nishita JhaRevati Laul


4-05-2013, Issue 18 Volume 10

Illustration: Anand Naorem

Illustrations: Anand Naorem

To begin with, hear the story of one child. On 17 December 2012 — just one day after the gangrape of a young paramedic in New Delhi shook the world — a three-and-a-half-year old baby girl returned from school with her clothes streaked with vomit and blood.

Her father, Gagan Sharma (name changed), had moved from Kolkata to a slum in west Delhi in 2003 in search of a better life. The little girl had been listless and reluctant to go to school for weeks. Now, when her mother asked her what had happened, she told the story haltingly, riven by fear.

She spoke of a bald man — the principal’s husband — who had threatened to hang her from a ceiling fan if she dared to open her mouth. She spoke of how he had taken her to the bathroom, made her lie down, and inserted his penis and fingers into her vagina and her anus, blaring music in his room to drown any noise. She spoke of how he had done this to her many times before, forcing her to keep quiet by saying terrible things would happen to her parents if she talked about it.

The girl’s mouth was full of ulcers from a drug the alleged perpetrator — a man called Pramod Malik — had forced her to take to render her unconscious while he raped her.

The fact of the rape is horrific enough. Here’s what came after. According to the parents, it took them 12 hours at the police station to get an FIR registered. They were taunted by a woman sub-inspector for living in a colony of “disrepute”; their own reputation was questioned; the little girl was asked to recount her story in front of three policemen. The woman sub-inspector prefaced the inquiry by telling the little girl: “Tell the truth or insects will crawl all over you and your mother and father will be beaten.”

Despite these threats, the little girl repeated her story exactly as she had told it to her parents. In the magistrate’s court, she was challenged again. She told her story again. The medical examiner, however, ruled out rape and left the report vague. The headmaster was let out on bail on 28 February. On the other hand, Gagan Sharma’s landlord asked him and his family to leave. They are still struggling with the case.

Now, hear the story of a second. Asha, an 18- year-old in Gowandi, a slum in Mumbai, is a volunteer with a community-based NGO called Aastha Parivar that helps slum-dwellers and sex workers — the poor and the marginalised — lodge complaints with the police. One day, her 14-year-old friend Neelima (name changed) complained about being harassed by a boy next door. Emboldened by her training at the NGO, Asha took her friend to the police to complain. They rebuffed the girls rudely. The boy stepped up his harassment, standing at his doorway and masturbating when Neelima passed. Asha went to the police again. This time the cop gave her a scrap of paper with a number: “Jab rape hoga, tab bulana,” he smirked, (“Call us when there’s an actual rape.”)

A month later, Neelima’s naked body was found cut in pieces and dumped in a drain. Her neighbour — the boy she had been complaining about — had disappeared without a trace. Incensed, Asha went to the police again with a description of the neighbour. This time she was ordered to leave the slum and create no more trouble.

Here’s the story of a third. In Ahmednagar, a city in Maharashtra, a 13-year-old girl was forced to inhale chloroform by her own father so he could knock her out and rape her.

And a fourth. In 2010, in Paravoor in Kerala, another father filmed his own 14-year-old daughter taking a bath before he raped her. He then pimped her out to customers across the state, before selling her. Over the next two years, she was raped by 148 men.

And a fifth. In April this year, the 16- year-old daughter of a rich mining baron based in Gurgaon confessed to her teachers and principal that her father frequently took her on “bonding trips” all by herself, raping her in anonymous hotel rooms across the country. Her father also used to beat her mother. A case was filed just as he was going to take her off to Dubai. By the time child welfare groups reached the girl’s home, however, relatives had had their way: the shutters had come down. Though the father had been taken into custody, in the presence of her family, the adolescent refused to speak. Mother and daughter have now withdrawn their story before the magistrate’s court.

And a sixth. A 50-year-old mother from Punjab speaks of how her husband sexually abused their daughter when she was four. He would lock her in a room and tell her that if she made a noise, her stuffed toy lion would eat her up. When she noticed the bite marks on her child, the mother began to ask questions and reported her husband to the police. The case took three years to reach the court. Since there had been no penile penetration, the case was registered under the arcane clause of “outraging the modesty of a woman”; the father was let out on bail within one day. The mother, herself a survivor of childhood sex abuse, filed for divorce. The father agreed not to meet his daughter till she was 13. However, when she turned 15, he petitioned the courts for visitation rights. His daughter testified in court that she wanted to have nothing to do with her father. She is 19 now and still has nightmares.

Child A – AGE 14 | Paravoor, Kerala

Occurred 2010 | Convicted in 2012
The nightmare began in 2010, when her father filmed this 14-year-old having a bath, and then raped her. After that, he pimped her out to customers across Kerala, before finally selling her. In the span of two years, she was raped by 148 people, of whom 102 were finally arrested and 19 given life sentences.
Child B – AGE 13 | Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

Occurred 2011 | Accused under trial
Her father would first sedate this 13-year-old with chloroform, then rape her. This Class VIII student was tortured, burnt and threatened with dire consequences if she dared tell anyone. She finally gathered the courage to talk to her uncle, who in turn contacted an NGO. The father was charged and arrested.

Hear these stories and then imagine them amplified thousands of times — in every brutal variation — in every part of the country. Imagine 48,838 children raped in just 10 years. Imagine what it means when you are told this staggering figure — which is a National Crimes Record Bureau statistic — is possibly only 25 percent of the actual child rapes going on in the country. And that only 3 percent — a mere 3 percent — of these make it to the police. Imagine what it means when you are told child rapes have seen a chilling 336 percent jump from 2001 to 2011.

Imagine this, and you begin to have a small measure of how deep the inhuman phenomenon of child rapes runs in India.

THIS WEEK, the barbaric story of a five-year-old girl in east Delhi, raped and bitten by two drunk neighbours — who inserted candles and a plastic hair-oil bottle into her before trying to strangle her — has brought the phenomenon of raped minors into hard and timely focus.

Since this horrific story hit the headlines, others that were merely footnotes in the country’s consciousness have started getting foregrounded in the media. How a nine-year-old from Silchar, Assam, was kidnapped, gangraped and found with a slit throat on the same April day as the five-year-old in Delhi. How a 10-year-old Dalit girl was raped by a 35-year-old Rajput in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. How a compounder in Bhopal would rape his three-year-old daughter while his wife went to drop their five-year-old son to school. And how a 75-year-old man in Tripura was arrested for raping a 10-year-old.

While this intense but delayed media attention is positive, it is still selective — privileging only the most violent, the most sensational, and the rapes most ‘similar’ to the case in New Delhi. But to do only that would again be to miss the landscape. Violent rape of minors is only one aspect of a hellish self that India must now confront.

A 2007 Human Rights Watch report, which quoted a government survey of 12,500 children from 13 states across the country, found that 57 percent children — that is more than one in every two children — said they had been sexually abused in some way. Twenty percent of these children admitted to being aggressively assaulted: they had either been penetrated; made to sexually fondle an adult; or been forced to display their own genitals. And clearly, gender is no bias where child sexual abuse is concerned: of the 57 percent children who said they had been abused, more than half were boys.

One of the most crucial aspects of child sexual abuse and rape that must be acknowledged, therefore, is that it is rampant, indiscriminate and cuts across class, geography, culture and religion. It happens in cities and villages, by fathers, brothers, relatives, neighbours, teachers and strangers.

There is a temptation to cast only predatory working-class men in the mould of rapists. Both the paramedic’s rape and that of the child in east Delhi this week fit that narrative. It is easier — even comforting — to think such heinous crimes are only done by deviant, drunk men, incapable of processing their depraved sexual urges; men who can be hung and exterminated. It is much harder to confront the dark reality within the walls of one’s own homes.

As Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, says, “Minors who live in slums are certainly vulnerable because, in most cases, both parents work and have nowhere secure to leave their children. But middle- and upper-middle- class children are also vulnerable because they live in such closed communities, they have no one to talk to about their abuse. They are under immense family pressure to preserve ideas of ‘family honour’ and not speak up.”

The scars the 50-year old mother from Punjab carries is emblematic of the wounding and unmapped silence that grips India. “I was sexually abused from the age of 10 until I was 19 by a member of the family who was like a father to me,”
she says. “This stayed unaddressed because there was no way one could talk about it. Being abused by a man who you look up to, seek protection from and who claimed to love me, completely changed a part of my soul. I suffered from a deep sense of self-loathing and blame. I could no longer connect with people or my inner self. I have always had trouble trusting people or asserting myself. Soon I found myself attracting the same kind of abusive relationships. There is also a deep sense of shame I feel towards my body. It has been 31 years since I was abused, but I’m still ashamed of wearing fitted clothes or deep necklines. And even today when I see a man with a child, I feel nauseated.”

Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan encapsulates the heart of the problem. “I think the Indian family is in deep crisis,” he says. “The violence in our families — the perversions, the sexuality, the silences — are creating a tremendous crisis that we are not looking at; that we don’t even want to look at. We focus on the ‘scandalous’ nature of these incidents. But it is a scandal that is taking place every day. Unless we look at its everyday nature, nobody is going to understand the heinousness of it.”

VIEWED FROM a different prism, the story of child rape in India is also a story of deeply ingrained callousness. When the parents of the five-year-old raped in east Delhi had found her missing and gone to the police, they refused to file an FIR and did not even undertake a cursory search. In the end, it was her shrill, insistent wailing that helped neighbours locate her, locked in a room in the very building in which her parents lived.

Look at the shocking data, based merely on reported cases, and you can almost hear the clamour of children still waiting to be found. The story of raped minors in India then is also the story of its missing children. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child goes missing in India every eight minutes. (Recall the gruesome Nithari murders when panicked parents from an east Delhi slum kept reporting their lost children but no action was taken till their bodies started turning up in raped and cannibalised parts.)

Where do these children go? TEHELKA cover story, The Nowhere Children by Neha Dixit, 1 November 2008, discovered that human trafficking was the third largest illicit industry after arms and drugs.

In a room cramped with young girls, the air thick with perfume and whispers, Reshma, 18, a sex worker in Mumbai, is no stranger to the epidemic of incest and rape in India. “Why do you think fathers or brothers are any different?” she asks with a hard-earned worldliness, “Hai toh voh bhi mard hi na? (After all, they too are men, aren’t they?)”

Trafficked from Chennai at the age of six when her mother died, Reshma was raped in every way imaginable — or “trained” to use her words — at seven different homes in Mumbai before being sent to a brothel madam when she turned 14. “The first time, I was asked to set his clothes out on the bed before he went to work. He came out of the bathroom, picked me up and forced me face down on the bed. He lay down on me. I started to cry and said, “Uncle I can’t breathe, why are you doing this?” The man told her if she shouted, he would tell everyone she had tried to steal from him.

Reshma soon learnt the easiest way to stay out of brutal harm was to remain silent. Soon after, she was sent with a pimp and groups of young girls to London, Dubai and Malaysia to sleep with men as old as 60 or 75, for a premium rate. She doesn’t flinch when she says civilian women in the country are safe only because there are sex workers in the world — warriors of a different kind — to ensure there is a vent for baser male desires. Each girl in the room has stories more barbaric than the other: chilli powder applied to genitals; hands and legs tied while one customer after another uses their bodies in any way he sees fit; daily beatings; in-house abortions. “Wives and daughters cannot withstand what we do,” says Reshma.

 Child C – AGE 14 | Kannur, Kerala

Occurred 2010-11 | Convicted in 2011
It was only when she could take it no more that this 14-year-old girl confided to her schoolteacher that her father, a daily wage labourer, had been raping her for the past year. After the intervention of a local NGO, the girl was shifted to a shelter home and her father sentenced to life imprisonment.
Child D – AGE 13 | Delhi

Occurred 2012 | Accused out on bail
This three-year-old came home from school with vaginal bleeding and vomitsoaked clothes. Her principal’s husband had been raping her, and had threatened to hang her from the fan if she told anyone. The medical examiner ruled out rape and registered a vague report, and only when local NGOs and political parties got involved did the case come to court.

Aastha Parivar, the Mumbai-based NGO, routinely finds young girls in brothels, who claim to be adults but are no older than 14 or 15. Asha — who had tried to help Neelima — recently rescued one such girl. She travelled to her village in Rajasthan, found her birth certificate, got a letter from the gram panchayat and finally came back to Mumbai to threaten her pimp to release the girl. But when she took the girl home to Jodhpur, the family, who had been perfectly happy to pick up money orders from the post office for the past six months, was suddenly too ashamed to take her back.

In most cases, once these young girls are trafficked, the pimps make a fresh set of false papers for them, which is how they are able to travel abroad with no trouble. Clearly, there is an entire system working in collusion: among the 148 men that slept with the young girl in Kerala, who had been trafficked by her father, there was an NRI doctor, an actor, a retired naval officer and various businessmen.

It is no surprise then that these children — the ones who are not the subject of Facebook pages and popular protests — should have learned to think like adults, to weigh morals against money and choose the latter. “The younger you are, the more you can charge,” Reshma says matter-of-factly, pointing to Bilquis, a dimpled 14-year-old who had her first abortion last month.

IN WHICHEVER diabolic form it comes — rapist fathers or rapist strangers, rape within the home or in brothels, whether it is with prepuberty children or adolescent girls — there is a systemic failure that needs urgent redressal.

Inevitably, the police is the first interface. And inevitably, like most stories in India, the story of police response to rape is a complex one.

At one level, there is plain brutishness and malevolent prejudice. A TEHELKA sting last year, The rapes will go on by G Vishnu and Abhishek Bhalla, 20 December 2012, captured the venomous chauvinism with which many police officers and constables view women and rape. Shockingly, this sometimes extends to children as well. Some of the cases mentioned in this story already illustrate that. But, depressingly, there are thousands more.

Sudha Tiwari, a child rights activist, recalls a case from the 1990s, when a 13-year-old was raped by her father. The parents had had a fight and the mother had gone to her parents’ place leaving her daughter behind. At night, the father climbed onto his daughter, stripped her naked and raped her. Hearing her screams, the neighbours came in and dragged the father to the police. They refused to register a case. The next day, Tiwari and other activists got involved and took the father to the police station again, forcing them to file a case. They did file the case but not before taunting the mother. “You are frigid,” they told her, “that’s why your poor man has no choice but to go to his daughter to satisfy himself.”

According to Tiwari, they see less of that level of criminal boorishness in the police now (though activists elsewhere in the country have different experiences). But, contrary to the clamour in the media and public domain, there are seemingly no shortcuts.

The presence of women cops, for instance — one of the great demands of all street protests — is no automatic safeguard. Bharti Ali, of HAQ, has some sobering insights. “We often have serious issues with women police officers,” she says. “They want to hush things up and refuse to register cases because they are facing so much brutality in their own personal lives, they have no empathy for others.” She speaks of how women cops are scared to go home wearing uniforms because they have no power within their own homes. “You can’t be walking in uniform into a place where an hour later the neighbours can hear screams of you getting beaten up.”

But frustration, prejudice and entrenched social bigotry do not account for the whole police story either. In the curious twists that India can be replete with, it appears the police are wrongly incentivised.

During Mayawati’s reign, the Uttar Pradesh Police were infamously loath to register any cases against Dalit atrocities because she had wanted the crime rate to be brought down: the only way to create such miracle change was to keep the books clean and pretend there was no crime.

In Delhi this week, the cops allegedly tried to bribe the parents of the five-year-old to bury the case. It’s unclear whether they were merely being venal and exploitative or were scared of having such a brutal crime happen on their watch.

Either way, Ganguly, also of HAQ, points out how ill-thought-out the incentives are. “The police are rewarded for being crime free. No one gives them credit for reporting cases in a timely and competent way; for lodging sound FIRs and investigating a case well. So where is their motivation to investigate and prosecute these cases? They would rather just stay out of trouble and wash their hands off it. Pretend their areas of jurisdiction have no crime.”

Child E – AGE 14 | Maliwada, Maharashtra

Occurred 2006 |  Convicted in 2010

An autorickshaw driver approached Childline when his 14-year-old daughter went missing. It took three years to rescue the girl, during which she had been sold into prostitution and taken to various places in the state and Goa. After a four-year battle, 20 high-profile individuals, including politicians and traders, were sentenced to two life-terms each.
Child F – AGE 14 | Mumbai

Occurred 2009 | Accused at large

She complained to the police twice that a 14- year-old girl in her slum was being sexually harassed by a neighbour. The police laughed it off, asking her to call when an actual rape took place. A month later, the girl’s naked body was found cut to pieces and dumped in a gutter. The boy had disappeared overnight.

Bharti Ali points out other imponderables. “Police sensitisation has been happening,” she says, “but though a lot of the rules are now in writing, all of it is contingent on how receptive a particular DCP is. For instance, we were having a monthly meeting with all stakeholders — the Child Welfare Committees, the Juvenile Justice Boards, social workers, the magistrate and the police — in the Outer Delhi district. But it’s all stopped now because the new DCP doesn’t think it is useful.”

childDelhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar may have been right when he said he would “resign a 1,000 times if that would prevent rapes”. The prevention of rape may not always be in his hands. But the response to it certainly is. He — and his peers in the system — have to square up to that.

IT IS crucial to drive home at each juncture of this story that more than anything else, it is families and parents who are failing India’s children the most. Apart from being the main perpetrators themselves, the violence of silence is all-pervasive. It is imperative to break this silence.

Harish Iyer, 32, an equal rights activist, believes he was “set free” when his best friend told his entire college that he was being abused. Iyer, the son of a well-to-do businessman and a homemaker, was raped regularly between the ages of seven to 18 by an uncle close to the family. “The first time he raped me, he forced my mouth on to his penis. If I tried to scream, he would choke me harder,” says Iyer. Soon after, when Iyer’s aunt was away, his uncle crawled into bed with him and sodomised him. “Every time I tried to scream or protest, he would hurt me more. I learnt the easiest way to make it end was to just stay quiet. After a point, whenever he entered my room, I would just take my clothes off, lie down and wait for it to be over.”

Iyer’s mother, who told her friends that her increasingly reticent son was “just different” from other kids, could never fully comprehend what her son meant when he told her he disliked his uncle. On the sole occasion Iyer, terrified and filled with shame, told her he was bleeding, she told him he was “probably eating too many mangoes”.

Over the 11 years that he abused him, Iyer’s uncle devised newer and increasingly more sadistic methods for his pleasure. He opened up his nephew with tongs when he was not receptive, poked him with needles to make him bleed, inserted various objects into his anus. On occasion, he even forced him to perform sexual favours on other men.

Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer and director of the anti-trafficking NGO, Shakti Vahini, says the maximum incidences of fathers raping daughters that he has witnessed happen in upper-class, elite families. But he hasn’t been able to take even a single case through to its just end. “There is so much pressure within the family, the fathers brothers, their wives, everyone suddenly appears on the scene once ‘family honour’ is at stake,” he says.

But even as one persists with these reiterations, it is important to map the other key vulnerabilities in the system. Juvenile justice homes are one such black hole.

A report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights has listed four reasons why these shelter and rehabilitation homes have become sites of such intense sexual assault and exploitation. First, most states have not formed Inspection Committees, which are mandated to inspect juvenile justice homes at least once every three months. Secondly, there are hundreds of unregistered childcare homes in the country that fall outside the purview of any regulatory mechanism. Thirdly, though the Juvenile Justice Act, 2007, provides for separate facilities for boys and girls, for the most part, this is not complied with. Finally, though there are 462 district-level Child Welfare Committees in 23 states mandated to verify the viability of childcare institutions, most of these exist only on paper. (Bizarrely, in October 2010, the Karnataka government even prohibited members of the welfare committees to visit childcare institutions without prior permission from the institution heads. In effect, this order prohibited any random or surprise inspections.)

Unfortunately, the judicial infrastructure and attitudes around child rape can often be as bruising and opaque.

Following the 2007 Human Rights Watch study, which revealed one in every two interviewed children had been abused, Parliament had passed a landmark Bill for the prevention of sexual offences against children last November. According to the Prevention of Child Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, separate and stringent punishments are to be meted out for each kind of violation of a child’s innocence, including exposing the child to pornography, taking nude photographs of him/her or exposing the child to one’s private parts. Further, the Act attempts to make legal proceedings ‘child friendly’ by decreeing that the victim’s testimony be recorded by an officer not in uniform (preferably female), at a place of the child’s choosing. Under no circumstance should the child be detained at a police station. Additionally, the Act declares that anyone who knows of a child being abused and fails to report the matter to the police can and will be punished.

There were other good interventions. The Act made it mandatory for legal aid to be provided to minors who have complained of rape. This was meant to be implemented by state-level commissions and Child Welfare Committees, statutory bodies set up to administer shelters and children in need of protection and care under the Juvenile Justice Act.

This was a path-breaking clause because even though a public prosecutor is appointed to all such cases, there was a desperate need for legal counsel for parents who don’t want to suffer the laborious process of filing a case, being threatened, or even putting their child through the repeated trauma of testifying before a magistrate.

But sadly — depressingly — on ground, all of this is just so much white smoke. As already mentioned, most of the state-level commissions don’t even exist. And recently, when the Ministry of Women and Child Development wrote to all the state secretaries asking them to report back on what had been done to set up state-level commissions to implement POCSO, only Odisha and Haryana wrote back.

Child G – AGE 8 | Delhi

Occurred 2008 | Accused set free by trial court
His eight-year-old daughter was raped by a neighbour’s son. When he filed a case, the court deemed the accused a juvenile despite electoral rolls putting his age at 20 and medical tests determining that he was at least 18 years and two months old at the time of the crime. After two weeks in judicial custody, he was let off.
Child H – AGE  3 | Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Occurred 2012 | Convicted in 2013
He would rape his three-year-old daughter when his wife went to drop their five-year-old son to school. A compounder by profession, he knew how to rape his daughter in a manner that would cause minimal visible damage. The abuse only came to light when he was caught in the act. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in January.

India’s darkest, most ugly and hellish epidemic and no government functionary is even interested to write back. Like most Indian laws, POCSO too appears to be written for an imagined law-enforcing machinery.

This criminal absence of response becomes even starker when contrasted with how effective these interventions could be — if acted upon.

Bharati Sharma, former chairperson of a Child Welfare Committee in New Delhi, and founder of the NGO Shakti Shalini, describes one such case. In 2007, a five-year-old girl was briefly left alone at home by her parents. Her mother had gone back to the village with her younger sibling; her father had gone or work on night duty. A female neighbour was supposed to stay the night with her but got slightly delayed. In that short span of time, a neighbour entered the home and raped the child so brutally she was hospitalised for a month. The community banded together and informed a social worker from the NGO World Vision. They got an FIR filed.

This is where Sharma stepped in. Her outfit managed to get a lawyer from HAQ for free. It made all the difference. The parents had wanted to give the child up to a shelter home out of shame. But the Child Welfare Committee and the lawyer counselled them out of it. He used to visit them at home, patiently explaining the process to them — something a public prosecutor will rarely have the time to do. The magistrate, in this case, was so insensitive, the hearing for the child’s statement was fixed and postponed seven times, forcing her to appear repeatedly in court. The lawyer took this up with the Delhi High Court and had guidelines issued for all stakeholders: police, doctors and lawyers. The whole case took three years, but the perpetrator was sentenced for 10 years. And the family was able to go back to their existing home, without abandoning the child.

“That’s how crucial legal aid or the lack of it can be while dealing with rape of minors,” says Sharma. “Often parents have no clue what to do; they don’t have the finances and are under a lot of trauma. Under such circumstances, a dedicated lawyer for a minor victim can literally mean the line between life and snuffing its future out.”

Yet, despite all the public noise over rape in recent months, almost no government has paid acute attention to galvanise any of this on ground.

THE GANGRAPE on 16 December and the child rape this week have triggered unprecedented protests in Delhi and across the country. While these protests have undoubtedly been a powerful catalyst — breaking the silence, searing the country’s consciousness, ringing in at least some important legislative changes — their demands and their echo chambers in the media and political establishment have also veered towards two issues that threaten to derail more substantive changes. This is the demand for death penalty for child rape and the banning of pornography.

Apart from all the usual ethical and legal arguments against having death penalty in a civilised democracy, to ask for it in the context of child rapes is almost suicidal. Repeatedly, we have seen families loath to break the omerta and speak about their children being raped merely to save “family honour”. Imagine what a steel wall of silence — what a complex concertina of social backlash — will descend if speaking up will mean death for one’s fathers, brothers, uncles and neighbours.

The question of banning pornography is slightly more complicated, but perhaps equally inconsequential.

Bharti Ali of HAQ does believe that regulating of pornography might be necessary now, given the hyper-sexualised content available to children on their cell phones, computers and television screens. “Rather than changing the channel though, it might be a better idea to let a child watch a film where the actors are making out to the end, so that he or she can place sex in a context instead of looking at it as an isolated, unemotional act,” she says.

But Asha points out that pornography has existed before the Internet and will continue to do so. It is impossible to control. In any case, for children growing up in tiny, box-sized 8ftx8ft shanties, crammed children and adult in joint families, the sexual act can never remain hidden. Privacy is not a luxury the poor can afford. Even in the cases of juvenile rapists that she has encountered, Asha says boys find it easier to “scare a little girl” into doing what they want rather than look for money to watch a blue film at the local parlour or visit a brothel.

Our desire to weed out the scourge of rape from India has to start a lot deeper.

SUNITHA KRISHNAN refuses to engage with the din emanating from New Delhi just now. Twentyfive years ago, Krishnan, then 16, was gangraped by eight men. Among the many injuries the ordeal caused to her body and mind, it also left Krishnan partially deaf — this is her second ear surgery in four years. Despite social pressure to define herself as a ‘victim’ of rape, Krishnan has been not just a survivor of, but a champion against sexual violence. She has consistently refused to hide her identity or her face, insisting that rape survivors must be the first to “shift the shame”.

Yet, when TEHELKA contacted her to talk about the rape of minors, she chose to remain silent. “Do the story when there is no noise about it,” was her terse reply to our email. In a sense, it was not surprising. At our first meeting, she had lambasted the media’s biased coverage, saying that journalists never hounded rapists, and even when they did, it was always the lower class, anonymous perpetrator that they wrote about — never the father taking his daughter on solitary vacations, or the uncle always coming over when no one was home.

When Krishnan spoke of a “certain kind” of rape that is reported, she referred to the privileging of rape by strangers over rape by family or institutions. The insinuation is — New Delhi will take to the streets over the gangrape on the bus, or for the five-year-old raped by her neighbour, but never for the countless boys and girls violated as a matter of routine in their own homes, or the girls violated by officers of the state. Even the new anti-rape Bill, generally considered a step in the right direction, stays coy on the issue of marital rape, or rape by the armed forces. The only way to make sense of the sharply accelerating incidences of sexual violence against children is to stop looking at them in isolation. There is something that these rapes by strangers, families, caretakers and customers have in common: the noise that they create is not just getting incredibly loud, but it is also extremely close.

Child I – AGE 7 | Mumbai, Maharashtra

Occurred 1988-99 | Case never filed
He was raped regularly between the age of seven and 18 by his uncle. His uncle became more sadistic as time went by, opening him up with tongs when he was not receptive, poking him with needles, inserting foreign objects into his anus. When he told his mother that he was bleeding, she dismissed it, saying he had been eating too many mangoes.
Child J – AGE  8 | Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Occurred 2010 | Convicted in 2010

The eight-year-old was raped so brutally by her maternal uncle’s 15-year-old son over three months that she had to be hospitalised with severe vaginal bleeding. Her younger sister was also raped. The girls told their mother about the abuse, but she tried to hush it up. They finally complained to their father, who lodged a police complaint. After an inquiry, the rapist was sent to a juvenile justice home.

Two weeks ago, when we had met in New York at Newsweek’s Women in the World summit, Krishnan sat alone on the steps of the Lincoln Theatre eating her lunch, “I don’t feel too comfortable in crowds,” she smiled, as if to explain why we could not have this conversation in the banquet hall inside. At 4 ft 6 in, Krishnan is as tall as she was when she was 16. She says her case was “doomed” from the beginning because she could not recall the faces of a single one of her assailants. “All I remember from that night is a smell,” she says. A smell. And the lasting fear of being in crowds.


Press Release-Condemn the Growing Tendencies of Re-arrests of Political Activists!




Dated: 19.04.2013

Condemn the Growing Tendencies of Re-arrests of Political Activists!

Condemn the Brutal Torture and Illegal Detention of Zakir Hussain!!

Release Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami

Immediately and Unconditionally!

Punish the Officers Responsible for the Torture and

Illegal Confinement of Zakir Hussain!


Yet again the People of West Bengal are being witness to another instance of police brutality, trampling all constitutional norms, perpetration of third degree torture in police lock-up and the submission of false statements in the court of law. In its treatment of dissident voices, the present Mamata-led government is no different from the previous Buddhadev-led government which had ruled the state of West Bengal for more than 3 decades.

On 19 April 2013, Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami were produced in Bankshall Court, Kolkata. The police force (STF) as usual showed them to have been arrested on 18 April from Behala in Kolkata for having Maoist links. Zakir had signs of police torture in STF lock-up all over his body and was almost unable to move. Actually, Zakir was arrested on 15th from Dharmatala in Kolkata—a place other than what was stated before the court. He was produced after four days of arrest—a clear violation of Supreme Court directives which makes it binding for the police to produce an arrested person within 24 hours of arrest. Zakir’s face was covered by a mask by the police in the lock-up to escape identification. Then he was beaten black and blue to extract confession—yet another violation of court directives and UN Covenant relating to Civil and Political Rights.  Sabyasachi Goswami was picked up on 18 April from Piyali, Canning in South 24-Parganas. He was subjected to mental and physical torture and was not allowed to sleep the intervening night between 18 and 19. They, as usual, were implicated in false cases like carrying arms and indulging in seditious acts, having Maoist connections.

 Both Zakir and Sabyasachi were arrested and incarcerated earlier for years together in another case and both were acquitted and released in 2011 after spending six years in prison. Both of them had been attending courts regularly since then in cases where they were released on bail. Last year, the STF raided the house of Sabyasachi and threatened his relatives. His mother who had been suffering from various ailments had a traumatic experience and she expired recently—a clear case of death by torture, brutal police forces driving a mother to her death by intimidation. This is how ‘democracy’ works in this ‘this largest democracy’ in the world.

Re-arrests of activists who have been acquitted of previous trumped up charges that too after prolonged periods of incarceration—in this case six years—has become a regular feature of the modus operandi of the police forces whether it is in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa Bihar etc. This while undoubtedly shows the growing impunity of the police and other special forces as well as investigating agencies is further becoming a standard operating procedure vis-à-vis criminalizing all forms of political dissent in the subcontinent.     

At CRPP, we unequivocally condemn the re-arrest of Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami, the torture perpetrated on them in police custody by the notorious Special Task Force under the Mamata Banerjee-led government, demand exemplary punishment of those police personnel guilty of committing torture as well as the immediate and unconditional release of the political prisoners.


In Solidarity,


SAR Geelani                  



Amit Bhattacharyya             

Secretary General                    


Sujato Bhadro              



MN Ravunni

Vice President


Rona Wilson

Secretary, Public Relations


West Bengal – Octogenarian widow is starving – government apathy #Vaw


11th April 2013



The Hon’ble Chairperson

West Bengal Human Rights Commission

Bhabani Bhaban


Kolkata – 27 




I want to draw your attention on the impecunious living of an aged woman at the Polta village under Aturia Gram Panchayet. Ms. Madari Dasi Biswas, wife of Late Guricharan Biswas, aged about 89 years, a resident of village -Polta under Aturia Gram Panchayet of Badurai Block and Police Station. She lost her husband years back and now living with her two sons. She lives in a dilapidated hutment with pouring roof. He sons fend themselves by catching fish but not looking after their aged mother. She is now totally dependent on alms from her neighbors. She is unable to work due to her age.


This poor woman was erstwhile getting old age pension and in this connection opened an account in post office in the year 21.1.2008 and received first installment of Rs. 2000 on 24.12.2008, and last on 15.10.2009 of Rs. 400. All of a sudden her pension was stopped by the block administration. She contacted the local panchayet member and pradhan to know the reason, the panchayet members and pradahan not made any heed and directed her to contact the Baduria Block administration. She found the block administration equally unresponsive on her woes. Later, the local panchayet member told her that the age written in her voter identity card (EPIC) is lower and not attract the facilities under old age pension. The aged woman was forced to ferry between the block administration and the member/ pradhan of gram panchayet; while both tried to shirk their responsibility, though she is not in proper physical shape to walk the distance. On 27.07.2011 she made a written complaint to the Block Development Officer; Baduria. Again the Block administration asked her to meet the pradhan of the panchayet. At last she made a complaint to the Sub Divisional Officer; Basirhat on 18.3.2013, but, without any respite.


The poor woman has been suffering for the administrative wrongs and mistakes for which she is not distantly related. In the EPIC (Identity Card WB/14/094/426232), her age has been stated as 30 years as on 1.1. 1995, and in sharp contrast, her son Mr. Kartik Biswas’s age has been stated in the EPIC (WB/14/094/426007) as 40 years as on 1.1.1995.  In the voter list of 2011, the gaffe continued, as it shows in part number 127 of Polta, Purba Para, Mouza- Polta, JL No.- 99, Village and Post- Aturia, Police Station- Baduria, the serial no. 452 is of Mr. Kartik Biswas; the son of the victim woman; his age has been shown as 56 years and the serial number 453 is of the victim; her age has been shown as 46 years. So, the mistake was on the part of the administration, and they are duty bound to rectify the same without any delay.


In this connection I request and demand to you for:-


·       The age dispute of the victim woman should be rectified without delay and during the course, she must not face further harassments and troubles


·       The victim must be provided with prescribed assistance or benefits in accordance to the state deliverances; Old Age Pension and Antodaya and Annapurna Yojna

·       The victim should provided with a proper shelter and safety and security of the victim should be guaranteed with due protection measures

·       The irresponsible and delinquent block administration and Panchayet officials should be charged for non compliance of their official duty

·       The responsible authority who made mistake regarding her age in the EPIC must be punished


Thanking You


(Kirity Roy)

Secretary – MASUM

Inline images 1

Madari Dasi Biswas

Inline images 2

Roof of Madari’s palace

Kirity Roy
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha
National Convenor (PACTI)
Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity
40A, Barabagan Lane (4th Floor)
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Phone- +91-33-26220844 / 0845
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Narendra Modi – Repeats every female stereotype he condemns #Gender #Womenrights


In the course of a high-profile speech Narendra Modi, putative great leader, ended up repeating every female stereotype he condemned, points out Rajyasree Sen

April 13, 2013, Times Crest

Narendra Modi has been a busy man for the last few weeks. And I’m frankly surprised that he hasn’t lost his voice by now. His first stop on the lecture circuit was the 29th a nnual general meeting of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) in New Delhi this week.
So who made up the audience? People from the grassroots level who were trying to break out of the constraints placed on them by tradition and society? Who needed to learn that they could play the roles which their social milieu expected them to adopt — that of wives and mothers — and also be economically independent ?
No, these were women togged up in Satya Paul sarees, pearl earrings, perfectly coiffed hair, and were involved (at least some were) in a business of their own or with others. I might be making a blanket statement, but I can pretty much bet on it that a negligible percentage — if that — of these women would be making chapatis for their husbands at home. Not while the subalterns were there to do so.
The problem when you make three speeches in a day is that you forget to tailor your speeches to your audience. That Modi is a great orator, who doesn’t need to fumble through cheat notes is known. It is only expected that he will speak without hesitation, crack a joke or two and not falter. But what of the content? The keynote address was to be on women’s empowerment. What was obvious 15 minutes into Modi’s speech was that only the mother and sister amongst us should be empowered. Bad luck if you’re a childless woman without siblings. This speech wasn’t meant for you.
What is worrying is that a man who claimed that the West views women in India incorrectly, assuming that all Indian women are housewives, seemed to believe the same thing. Analogy after analogy painted women out to be pining for their husband’s affections and attention, spending hours trying to make the perfect chapati and when burning their fingers pretending that the burn was worse than it was when their husbands came home from work. Following this analogy, Modi even asked the FLO audience if they’d done the same thing. They giggled and agreed. There was also a story about how mothers will desert a sari sale to save their child from a burning house. The bizarreness of it all, made you wonder if he knew what he was saying. Did he even realise how brainless he was making women sound?
Modi also went on to say that in the 21st century, women are killed before they’re born. While this is appalling, this really isn’t news. What he didn’t state was that the highest instances of female foeticide in Gujarat have been seen in the state’s urban areas. We did get another analogy about how families with four sons have been abandoned by their sons. And of families where the eldest daughter has refused to get married so she can look after her parents. The either-or, neither-nor choice was a little absurd. The stated premise of stating these analogies was that women must be protected and they are our future.
And while Modi’s love for the girl child might indeed be genuine, ground realities belie what he said. Since he did give examples from Gujarat for any ill he mentioned, you’ll realise that his argument sounds a bit hollow. While he said that women should be included in decision-making, look at how only 2 of 19 ministers in his cabinet are women. Also, under his rule, Gujarat’s sex ratio has dropped even further —from 920 in 2001 to 918 in 2011. Yet it’s not like Modi was averse to mentioning facts. He peppered his speech with examples of the many achievements and measures Gujarat has taken to empower women. All these were passed off as ‘chhota nirnays’ by Modi. And all are indeed commendable measures.
He also seemed to be very pre-occupied with cooking and food. From Jasuben’s pizza to Induben khakrato Lijjat papadto Amul milk — almost all examples of entrepreneurship were related to food. By the end of it, you felt that all that people in Gujarat did was cook and sell food. Also, poking fun at the Congress and its build-up of the Kalavati incident is fine. But FLO members seemed to think it was very funny when he said that Induben had died five years back, because they burst out laughing. Nice.
You felt that at least when the ‘Q & A’ segment
began, the ladies would rise to the occasion. Ask him why if he was all about women’s empowerment, he felt that he could refer to Sunanda Tharoor as a 500-crore girlfriend and whysex ratios in Gujarat had worsened. But no such luck. He instead got asked the vital question: “You are such a strong personality and so disciplined, what is your weakness?” Then there was the bit about how the Congress had left so many potholes in Gujarat, which was repeated the next day in Kolkata, as Modi took a potshot at the Left.
It must be tiring to have to deliver so many speeches in a span of 36 hours. And, of course, there’ll be spillovers. But if you can’t figure out what you need to talk to your audience about, it’s better not to talk. While Modi’s heart might indeed be in the right place when it comes to the ladies, he would have done himself and his audience a favour if he’d realised how irrelevant his speech was to the gathered audience. And how it drove home the fact that according to Modi a woman’s identity is connected directly to home and hearth and to the male members of her family. There’s no place in the Modi scheme of things for all us brotherless spinsters who don’t cook.
The writer is with Newslaundry


#Kolkata- Loose women and other urban Indian tales #Vaw

I am writing this to share a recent incident that brought me face to face with many issues I feel are of wider importance, and to use this as a collective sounding board for possible future action.

My idea is simply to tap into the wider experiences and insights of the community of people this may reach, who are invested in creating a more just and equal environment for everyone. Since some people reading this may not know me personally, I will begin with some information on myself.

I live in Kolkata. I am a freelance journalist and travel around a bit. I run an award-winning indie youth media collective called Jalebi Ink. I am also a single mom, by choice. I haven’t faced any significant negative situations about my choice/status.

Till now. Here in Kolkata.

Two days back, a nasty run-in happened with some older boys (17-18) in my colony (Behala) and with their parents.

These boys had been harassing my 13 yr old son for a while. But he wouldn’t let me intervene saying no, they will make more fun of me. Things came to a head in an incident in the park where these boys caught hold of him and in public pulled his pants down while the rest watched and clapped.

What I did and what followed was illuminating.

I went to the leader of this gang and asked him to cease immediately. The gang was there. They shrugged it off with non-chalance. Your son is a liar, they said. This is all in fun anyway. Shoulder shrugs and a lot of smug laughter.

An altercation followed with the boys, and their parents and neighbours which turned nasty and in the next 15 minutes, I (a five foot one inch woman) was surrounded by a pack of these boys and their parents, and even their maids. It was like a chakravyuh. They shoved me around. They proceeded to hurl every known gendered and cliched abuse. They threatened to beat me and my son up. “I will kill you and your son,” the boy said. I slapped him and his pal who had smugly admitted that he had “only touched my son’s pants”. The boys came at me with their fists balled up. But were held back by some friends.

There were onlookers – no one did anything

They came to my house after that, with more people. Same thing happened. More abuses – and extolling of virtue of their sons. “Bring out your son” “Chool chhaata mohila” (short- haired woman), “we know what you are”, “frustrated” “loose” “harlot” “your son is abnormal” etc.

My mother and father (who has Parkinsons) stood behind asking them to leave with folded hands. He was told to get lost.

The neighbours did nothing – they walked past on the stairs, looking away.

I filed a complaint. They too did – ostensibly as I had “assaulted” these 17-18 yr olds.

The cops came and asked my son questions. They were decent enough. They told my son the bullying will stop. All that. But they may have done that as I had called up several of my media friends who in turn would have put pressure on them. They said we’ll see what we can do and went off.

The father of the leader of the pack of boys incidentally is a local real estate promoter with links to local councillors. The house they stay in is forcibly occupied and belongs to someone I know.

It is sad what this place has become. I feel that the more women get out of stereotypes, the more reactionary society becomes.

A chool chhata (short haired), pant pora (pant-clad), westernised, single woman = ‘loose character’, as per Bengali middle-class morality. This is a dangerous trend that I have noticed over the years – the simmering violence within middle-class Bengalis and the growing tendency to ostracize independent single women based on warped notions of morality. It’s mob mentality in its most vicious form, the shocking part being that these are the so-called ‘educated’ bhadroloks, not uneducated people from deprived backgrounds.

Like a friend pointed out, the external trappings of middle-class society have changed. Everyone thinks they’re ‘modern’ now. But the mindset is still feudal. Add to that a growing propensity for violence, and you have a dangerous cocktail.

It’s like living in the dark ages. Everything they said to women then, they are saying now. Women have to have male figures around as “protectors” and “guardians”.

The police fellow’s pen had hovered for a while over the “son of” section in his report when I said write my name. When I fill govt or even other forms (as in banks etc), there is a predominant “Wife of” “Daughter of” section. His glance had changed when I told him I am a single mom.

Ever since my father was diagnosed with Parkinsons, my mother has taken over all the document, bank etc work completely. And yet, they still ask her to fill in who she is a wife of or daughter of. It is frustrating. When will this end? It was well-known writer Githa Hariharan, who slammed home the point that a mother can be the sole guardian of a child. Before that, a father’s signature would always be required on forms. (

I want to drive home to these boys and their parents that what they did was wrong on so many levels. What they did to a kid. Their strange warped perception of women. And the fact that they think it is fun to bully a 13 year old. The fact that they invaded my space and abused me. They did not bother about an old and ailing person. The boys who labelled me as a ‘fallen woman’ were teens, some of them going to the new crop of ‘international’ schools that have mushroomed in Calcutta. They have a music band. And yet they have such regressive mindsets.

I am looking for ideas and suggestions. From media stories, justified legal intervention to interventions or campaigns in the colony maybe. Blank Noise is a great organisation that does some amazing campaigns on harassment faced by women. Check them out here:

Anuradha Sengupta

An open letter to Shri Manna Dey- Call for endorsements

Dear Manna da,                                                                                                          

Last week brought us shock by the West Bengal Police’s brutal assault on a peaceful demonstration of students in Kolkata, killing a young activist, Sudipto Gupta, and inflicting serious injuries to many students. While the victim was battling for his life, the Chief Minister, who is also in charge of the police department, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, was active in the Indian Premier League (IPL) opening ceremony extravaganza. With stains of blood in her hand, within a day, she came down to Bangalore to “honour” you!

Our question before you, Manna da, is as follows.

Do you really need this “honour” from her, who has blood in her hands? Did you not check her record before you gave your approval to this “honour”?

Is it not a tragic irony that while you are a musical genius, the boy’s father, an unknown violinist, is also a musician? While the bereaved father plays the tune of mourning, can you – Manna da, accept this “honour” from a person, who publicly label the brutal custodial death of a student a ‘petty matter’ – who is the cause of it?

You have enthralled us with your unforgettable Puchho na kaisey mayne rayen beetayee..? Can you ask the same question to Sudipto’s father and sister, as to how, they spent the dark night of April 2, 2013 and thereafter?

Manna da, your voice became ours, when you sang Manbo na e bondhoney, manbo na e shrinkhaley (We shall not accept these chains that shackle us). That still is our aspiration. We are sure that you too have not strayed away from that.

This reminds us of an episode in the life of Bhagat Singh. An admirer of of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhagat Singh was shocked when Lajpat Rai joined the communal organization, The Hindu Mahasabha. In agony, the young freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh , wrote a letter of protest to his leader, quoting from Robert Browning’s poem, The Lost Leader, which was Browning’s condemnation of Wordsworth’s betrayal of the cause of “liberty, equality and fraternity”. The poem begins with the words, Just for a handful of silver he left us. It pains us to believe that you could have accepted this “honour” from Ms. Banerjee “just for a handful of silver.”

And, it would always give us pain, to say about you,

We, who had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,

Lived in his mild and magnificent eye…..

…..He alone breaks from the van and the free-men,

He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!

It would, hence be a great sorrow for us to say,


Blot out his name then, record one lost soul more,

One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,

One more devil’s triumph and sorrow for angels,

One wrong more to man, one more insult to God.

We are sure that what has happened is a cynical ploy by a discredited political agency to purchase credibility, by making you a victim of it. We, in no way would like to allow your name to be linked with them. For it was your voice which described them as,

Anna ditey narey bubhukkhu janataye,

Kantha rodh karey lathi raifele.

(Those who do not give food to the hungry mouths but throttle their voice with batons and rifles.)

But Manna da, we do not believe in infallibility of humans, even of the greatest of the great. We want you in our midst and thus request you to return this “one gift”. As Rabindra Nath Tagore had said, while returning the knighthood to the British crown in the wake of the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, “The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation.”

Please, do consider whether the time has come for you too, to “give voice to the protest of millions of my countrymen, surprised into dumb anguish of terror.”

Do not be shackled, Manna da, by this “honour”, which heaps insult on you.

Manbo na e bondhone,  manbo na e shrinkhale

Mukto manusher swadhinata adhikar, kharba korey jara ghrinnyo koushaley…

(We shall not accept these chains that shackle us

We will unshackle from those, whose shameful machinations trample upon the right to liberty of free human beings.)

With reverential honour to you from the depth of our hearts.


Subhankar Chakraborty,

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human rights activist, Mumbai


(If you agree pl sign in the comment section, name, org/profession, city

Hindu outfit forces artist to take painting off exhibition #Censorship #FOE

, TNN | Apr 9, 2013,

Hindu outfit forces artist to take painting off exhibition
Painter Eleena Banik had painted Goddess Kali without the usual garland of skulls and another of Goddess Durga wearing a fig leaf cover of strawberries.
MUMBAI: Activists of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) Saturday forced a Kolkata-based painter to remove two canvases depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude. The Jehangir Art Gallerythat was hosting the exhibition, as well as officers of Colaba police station, urged her to comply in the interest of peace.

Painter Eleena Banik had painted Goddess Kali without the usual garland of skulls and another of Goddess Durga wearing a fig leaf cover of strawberries. “As an artist I retain the freedom to interpret my culture. Those who object to my art, or of M F Husain and Akbar Padamsee, have not read Hindu mythology where our deities are depicted nude. I drew Durga this way to empower women after the Delhi gangrape,” she said.

Banik accused Varsha Thakar of the HJS of “threatening her” and “forcibly taking photographs” of the paintings. “She arrived at the gallery on Saturday and asked why I had painted cherries on the figure of a female Hindu deity. I pointed out that they were strawberries and cited my rights as an artist to draw things the way I see them. I could draw a tree in violet colour and nobody could object,” she said. Thakar telephoned Colaba police station and senior police inspector Vinod Sawant arrived and requested Banik to remove the artworks for public peace. Thakar said, “We are not against artistic freedom but would like to know what connection can be drawn between the gangrape victim and a goddess. Why is it that artists take liberty with certain communities and are careful not to hurt others.” Shivaji Vatkar of HJS said they would move court if Banik didn’t remove the pictures from her website.

Banik countered she had shown the Kali painting in India and in London without incident.

Incidentally Jehangir Art Gallery had urged her to remove a painting on the opening day of the exhibition on April 2. Gallery director K G Menon said, “We are mindful to not display artworks that can offend people’s religious sensibilities.Our staff found the canvas of Durga offensive and because children and senior citizens alike visit the gallery, we urged her to take it down. She chose not to do so, and on April 6, the HJS arrived to object.”

Inspector Sanjeev Mandlik of Colaba said the matter was “sorted out” between the artist and protestors.

“The painter felt she had the right to express herself while the HJS argued that self-expression did not include the right to offend religious sensibilities. We requested her to remove the artworks and she did,” Mandlik said.


Maharashtra’s role exposed during Emergency in India #Vaw

April 9, 2013, TNN

Documents released by WikiLeaks have also revealed that Maharashtra had proposed a “compulsory sterilization legislation’’ during Emergency.

Wikileaks has a document dated September 10, 1976 classified as “Limited Official Use’’ and marked to: Department of Health Education and Welfare; Chennai; Kolkata; Mumbai.

It was the “first proposed legislation in the world dealing with compulsory sterilization’’ and it had proposed a “six month to two years jail term for persons not adhering to the child limit.’’ TNN


A dangerous connivance

Shahbag Protest



It is worrying that West Bengal’s political class remained tactical spectators to the Kolkata rally organised by Muslim groups in support of Bangladeshi war criminals

West Bengal looked to the Shahbag protests in Dhaka with hope. In 1971, a massive relief and solidarity effort was undertaken in West Bengal for the millions trying to escape a veritable genocide. The then leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami in East Bengal and its students wing organised murder and rape squads in collaboration with the Pakistani forces. Their crimes included mass murder, rape as a weapon of war, arson and forced conversions. Post-1975, generals used them to cast an Islamic veneer of legitimacy over their illegal capture of power. Their immunity lasted until the present Bangladesh government restarted the legal proceedings in the War Crimes tribunal. The Shahbag protests demanded maximum punishment for the guilty.


In West Bengal, a few meetings have happened around Shahbag, mostly expressing support. But, shockingly, the largest was a massive rally held in Kolkata on March 30, explicitly against the Shahbag protests and in support of the war criminals already convicted. Various Muslim groups, including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised the rally. People arrived in buses from distant districts of Murshidabad and Nadia, as well as from neighbouring districts. Students of madrassas and the new Aliah Madrassa University were conspicuous at the gathering.

The old rallying cry, “Islam is in danger in Bangladesh,” was heard. We heard a similar cry in 1952 during the mother-language movement, in 1954 when Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani challenged the Muslim League, in 1969 when the Awami League made its six demands and during the 1971 liberation struggle — basically during every secular movement for rights and justice. The rally thundered that West Bengal would be “cleansed” of supporters of war crimes trial and the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. They promised that political forces supporting Shahbag would be “beaten with broom-sticks” if they came asking for Muslim votes. Like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, Sheikh Hasina would not be allowed inside Kolkata. They expressed solidarity with the anti-Shahbag “movement” in Bangladesh. This assertion is worrisome, as the anti-Shahbag forces in Bangladesh have initiated a wave of violent attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and secular individuals, and the destruction of Hindu and Buddhist homes, businesses and places of worship. Amnesty International documented attacks on over 40 Hindu temples as of March 6. That number has increased.

This large gathering and its pronouncements have been in the making. A collapse in the Muslim vote was important in the Left Front’s demise. Muslim divines regularly remind the present government of this. The Trinamool Congress wants to ensure a continued slice of this vote. In an unprecedented move, the government handed out monthly stipends to imams and muezzins to build a class of Muslim “community leaders” who eat out of its hand. The debt-ridden, vision-deficient government is unable to solve the problems that are common to the poor. It has wooed a section of the marginalised on the basis of religion by selective handouts. These are excellent as speech-making points masquerading as empathy. This also gives fillip to forces whose trajectories are not under usual political control.

The Left Front’s political fortune stagnated after 2011. It has cynically chosen not to strongly oppose this communal turn. Waiting for the incumbent to falter is its roadmap to power. The damage this is doing to the West Bengal’s political culture is possibly irreparable. The incumbent’s connivance and the opposition’s silence are due to the long-eroded tradition of democratic political contestation through grassroots mobilisation. Both deal with West Bengal’s sizeable minority population primarily via intermediaries, doing away with any pretence of ideology in the transactions.


Organisations inspired by political Islam have used this disconnect to the hilt to blackmail the government. An emerging bloc of divines, and former and present student leaders have used students and youths as storm troopers at short notice. Sadly, they are unconcerned about life and livelihood issues of Muslims. With assistance from the Left Front regime, they drove out the persecuted humanist writer, Taslima Nasreen. The extent of their clout as blackmailers was evident from the government’s pro-activeness in keeping Salman Rushdie out of Kolkata, after his visit to Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai. This pushing of the envelope fits into a sequence of events that is increasingly stifling the freedom of expression. The double-standards are clear.

On March 21, a group of small magazine publishers, human rights workers, theatre artists and peace activists were disallowed from marching to the Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh to express their support to the war-crimes trial efforts. The police had “orders;” some marchers were detained. A month earlier, the same police provided security cover to an anti-Shahbag march and later to the marchers when they submitted a memorandum to the Deputy High Commission demanding the acquittal of convicted war criminals. Last year, public libraries were directed to stock a sectarian daily even before its first issue was published! The State thinks that it can play this brinksmanship game with finesse. When the political class acts as tactical facilitators or tactical spectators to apologists of one the largest mass-murders ever, the demise of Kolkata as a centre of culture is a natural corollary. A combination of circumstances can cause an uncontrollable unravelling. Bengal’s experience with sectarian politics is distinctly bitter.

The bye-election to Jangipur, a Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituency, saw the combined vote of the two main parties fall from 95 per cent in 2009 to 78 per cent in 2012. The beneficiaries were the Welfare Party of India, a thinly-veiled front organisation of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, and the Social Democratic Party of India, a similar group. “Tactical pluralism” is their game, a concept quite akin to the tactical defence of Taslima’s freedom of speech by Hindu communal political forces. The rally in support of war criminals has exposed this faux pluralism.

There was another significant beneficiary in the same election — the Bharatiya Janata Party. Communal tension has been rising, with serious disturbances in Deganga and Canning. Sensing a subterranean polarisation, the majoritarian forces see an opportunity. Mouthing banalities about Bengal’s “intrinsically” plural culture is useless. Culture is a living entity, recreated every moment. It is being recreated by the victimisation discourse by fringe groups like Hindu Samhati and in certain religious congregations where unalloyed poison produced by divines like Tarek Monawar Hossain from Bangladesh is played on loud-speakers. Thanks to technology, vitriol produced in a milieu of free-style majoritarian muscle-flexing in Bangladesh reaches West Bengal easily. Hence the popularity of one of the convicted war criminals, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who in his post-1971 avatar had become a superstar in the Bengali waz-mahfil circuit.

What are the effects of cultural exchange of this kind? The rally is a clue. A defence of Sayedee and the claim that he is innocent, made repeatedly in the rally, are like perpetrating Holocaust-denial.

A day after the anti-Shahbag rally in Kolkata, almost as a divine reminder of starker realities beyond the defence of Islam, nearly 45 lakh unemployed youth, Hindus and Muslims, sat for the primary school teachers’ recruitment examination for 35,000 posts. Clearly, the ‘minority’ employment exchange set up by the incumbents has failed. West Bengal has petitioned the Centre for a relaxation of the minimum qualifications for primary school teachers. The promotion of religious education is hardly the way to empowerment and livelihood generation for the minorities in a State where they have been grossly under-represented in all white-collar services. There are no short-cut solutions.

(Garga Chatterjee is a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology)





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