Arindam Chaudhuri, the IIPM has sued The Caravan- and fight is on #Censorship


Arindam ChaudhuriSilchar

FEBRUARY 15, 2013

Given below is the text of a press release put out by THE CARAVAN magazine in 2011. This was first published in Kafila on 22 June 2011 and is being republished today for all those who may be interested in following up on the defamation case filed against The Caravan for a profile of Arindam Chaudhuri. The Supreme Court had stayed the case in August 2011.

When I read The Caravan‘s cover story on Arindam Chaudhuri some months ago, I wondered when he was suing them. And he’s done it! While a court injunction has made The Caravanremove the story from their wesbite, you can read it thanks to Google cache. No wonder Chaudhuri’s sued Google India as well! Given below is the full text of the press release put out byThe Caravan. Unlike when Chaudhuri took on bloggers in 2005, I’m glad it is an organisation with the resources to fight the case and take him head on – not to say that requires some spine as well. After you’re done reading the release below, entertain yourself with all the Arindam jokes on Twitter.  

IIPM’s Rs500-million lawsuit against The Caravan
In response to our February profile of Arindam Chaudhuri, the IIPM has sued The Caravan.

Here’s why we’re fighting the suit.

The Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), whose director, Arindam Chaudhuri, was the subject of the cover story of our February 2011 issue, has filed a lawsuit against The Caravan, citing “grave harassment and injury”. The article, titled “Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri Made a Fortune Off the Aspirations—and Insecurities—of India’s Middle Classes”, was written by Siddhartha Deb, a contributing editor at The Caravan and an accomplished writer and university professor based in New York. Deb’s profile of Arindam Chaudhuri, which shows how Chaudhuri built an image for himself and how he runs his educational institution, has been critically praised for both its thorough reporting and its spirit of evenhandedness. In the weeks that followed its initial publication, in print and on The Caravan’s website, the extensive article was widely referenced, commented on, and shared by readers.

The suit against The Caravan, which seeks huge damages, has been filed not in Delhi, where both the IIPM and the magazine’s publisher, Delhi Press, are based, but 2,200 km away in Silchar, Assam, 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s capital. The IIPM filed the case at the Court of Civil Judge in Silchar district, through one Kishorendu Gupta, who operates Gupta Electrical Engineers in a Silchar suburb, and is the first plaintiff. IIPM is the second plaintiff.

In addition to The Caravan and its proprietors, the suit charges Siddhartha Deb, Penguin (the publisher of the upcoming book by Deb in which the article is a chapter), and Google India (which, the suit alleges, has been “publishing, distributing, giving coverage, circulating, blogging the defamatory, libelous and slanderous articles”).

The civil court in Silchar granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining Delhi Press to remove the article in question from their website, ex-parte, without any pre-hearing notice.

Kishorendu Gupta is a commissioned agent who works for the IIPM on a contractual basis. Although Gupta is called a counselor, a contract between Gupta and IIPM shows Gupta is a recruitment agent who has commercial interest and is paid for his service on a commission basis. IIPM’s contract with Gupta states:

“for number of students enrolled between 1 to 24, the compensation would be 75,000 per student …[and] for anyone who crosses the 25 students mark, the compensation would be 90,000 per student…[and] for anyone who crosses the 50 student mark, the compensation would be 1,25,000 per student” (From the agreement submitted by the plaintiffs in the court).

It is learnt that the IIPM has filed similar lawsuits against certain other publishers, also in Silchar, Assam, rather than in Delhi.

In 2005, the IIPM filed a case against Rashmi Bansal, a blogger and editor of Just Another Magazine (JAM), who published an article in print and online questioning many of the claims made by the IIPM in its brochures and advertisements, which highlighted that the IIPM had not been accredited by any Indian agency such as AICTE, UGC or under other state acts. The IIPM filed a case against Bansal from Silchar, Assam, even though she runs a small independent outfit based in Mumbai. The IIPM managed to get an ex-parte order from the court, forcing Bansal to remove the article from the website. The IIPM also filed for damages.

In 2009, Careers360 magazine, published by Maheshwar Peri, who is also the publisher of Outlook magazine, carried an article titled “IIPM – Best only in claims?” investigating the authenticity of many of the claims made by the IIPM in their advertisements. The magazine’s investigation revealed that the IIPM claimed that its students were eligible for MBA degrees from IMI, Belgium, but that NVAO, the accreditation organisation of Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium), did not recognise IMI. Also it reported that following a local agitation against the opening of a new campus in Dehradun, the state government of Uttarakhand had asked the Uttarakhand Technical University to conduct an enquiry on the activities of the IIPM, with which IIPM did not co-operate. The investigations revealed that IIPM could not in any circumstances award valid MBA/BBA degrees or conduct such courses in the state of Uttarakhand. The IIPM, again, filed a case against the magazine and the publisher in Silchar, and obtained ex-parte restraint against them. The IIPM also filed a criminal case against Maheshwar Peri from Uttarakhand, which was subsequently quashed by the High Court. The cases against Rashmi Bansal and Careers360 are both still underway at the Silchar courts, as the IIPM seems to be interested in dragging the matter out now that their purpose has been served by obtaining interim restraints.

The Caravan’s profile of Arindam Chaudhuri was the most thorough article published to date on the subject. The 10,000-word story was the result of several months of work by Siddhartha Deb, whose exhaustive reporting included interviews with Arindam Chaudhuri himself and several of his close associates who spoke openly about the IIPM and its critics, coverage of Chaudhuri’s public functions, and an account of considerable time spent on the IIPM campus. The piece is distinguished by both its detailed research and its refined literary style.

The Caravan intends to fight this suit because we believe that we must defend the right of journalists to report on controversial subjects or persons without undue fear of legal intimidation from powerful entities or organisations that seek to insulate themselves from criticism. Delhi Press, the publisher of The Caravan and many popular titles like SaritaWoman’s Era,Grihshobha and Mukta, has time and again been at the forefront of defending the right to freedom of speech and freedom of press during its 70 years of publishing history. On account of the bold anti-authoritarian and anti-religious obscurantist articles published in its leading socio-political magazine in Hindi, Sarita, the group has successfully fought all attempts of legal intimidation over the years.

If the IIPM can demonstrate that any errors of fact have been made, The Caravan will print a correction in the magazine as well as on its website. But the vast majority of the “falsehoods” cited in the legal suit are not based on matters of fact, and the objections merely reflect the discomfort of the IIPM with the language employed to describe the facts.

The Civil Court at Silchar, in its order granting the injunction against the magazine, has noted:

“Defendants had written article making false imputations against IIPM Institute with false and concocted facts only to cause damage to the reputations, Goodwill, education activities of IIPM institute. The said magazine carries and morphid image of Mr. Arindam Choudhury-Dean of the Centre for Economic Research and Advance studies of IIPM saying him as a magician/soothsayer in an attempt to portray him as a trickster and falsely stated that Mr. Arindam Choudhury has a reputation as a fraud, scamster and ‘Jhony come lately’ in order to malign and defame the dean of IIPM and create a negative public image of Mr. Arindam Choudhury”.

In their petition, the plaintiffs have raised an objection to the article’s statement that placements had always been a pressing problem for the IIPM graduates. They have also raised an exception to the author’s claim, based on interviews with Arindam Chaudhuri himself, that almost 90 percent of Planman employees, including faculty members, have been former graduates of the IIPM.

The author had raised questions about the revenue and size of the company to Arindam Chaudhuri and his associates, but these went unanswered. The article states this, along with the fact that while the IIPM spent over 300 million on advertising in 2006, it paid no income tax that year or the previous.

The sum and substance of the petition is that The Caravan has published a false, incorrect, defamatory and libelous article and has made false imputations against the IIPM, which, the petition says, the author and editors of The Caravan knew to be false, and that these were made with the intention to defame the IIPM institute as well as its councilors like Kishorendu Gupta. While we reserve our right to respond to the allegations during the course of legal proceedings, it is interesting to note the following charges in particular:

“The magazine carries a morphed image of Mr. Arindam Chaudhari, Dean Centre for Economic Research and Advance Studies of IIPM, showing him as a magician/soothsayer in a manner which clearly is an attempt to portray him as a trickster.”“The present campus at Satbari is also not in the city’s outskirts nor the road leading to it is dusty. Moreover, the works “proprietor”, “small”, “run of the mill”, “outskirts of Delhi” and “the road is dusty” have been used by the Defendants with the aim to malign and defame the heads of IIPM as well as the IIPM institute.”

As stated before, The Caravan as a respectable publication stands by what has been published, which is a true and accurate account of the IIPM as experienced by the author. But the suit that has been filed leads us to believe that the IIPM does not appear to have any desire to correct the record: instead it aims to prevent any publication of material that paints the IIPM in a light it does not approve of.

The suit, in order to substantiate the charges, offers a long list of students, rent receipts from the Indian Tuberculosis Society, an agreement with Plaintiff No 1 Kishorendu Gupta, which runs into 25 clauses of commercial nature, and various newspaper cuttings.

Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right in this country, and various higher courts have consistently upheld this important fundamental right of individuals and publications.

The Caravan will continue to keep its readers updated with the proceedings in the court so that they know the truth about both the veracity of the statements made in the article and the arguments of the IIPM and Kishorendu Gupta. For the benefit of the public, news of the court proceedings will be published by Delhi Press in its 30 magazines in nine languages, which together have a readership of over 30 million people.

The Caravan Editors and Publishers

Forest dwellers deprived of livelihood and facing forcible eviction in Assam


Summary of BHRPC fact-finding report into the Patharia land-grabbing case

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of the North Eastern state of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a village where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail. The BHRPC is deeply concerned over the situation of the poor forest dwellers.

The BHRPC first learnt about the situation from newspaper reports (See 14 March, 2012 issue of the Dainik Prantojyoti, a Bengali daily newspaper published from Silchar, Assam) on 14 March, 2012 and formed a fact-finding group of 1. Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, 2. Mr. Sadique Mohammed Laskar, 3. Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das and 4. Mr. Sams Uddin Laskar to study the situation and prepare a report. The team visited the Patharia area on 17 March and met with the forest dwellers and other local people. This preliminary report is based on the findings of the team during the visit.

The area where the situation has developed is known as Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul and falls in the village of Pecharpar under the Patharkandi Police Stattion in the district of Karimganj that has about 100 kilometres long international border with Bangladesh. The village is situated along the border. A part of the village land comes under the Bilbari forest beat of the Patharia reserve forest. It is at a distance of about 30km towards south west from Karimganj town, the administrative headquarters of the district.

The BHRPC team, even though accompanied by a resident of nearby Patharkandi (name withheld), have been greeted with an eerie silence. Fear and disbelief were visibly writ large in the faces of the people. When the team met a person after entering the village and asked about the situation, another person came out running from a house and told that nothing happened there. With fear and terror-stricken face he told that there was no land grab and threat of eviction. Then the team met a woman resident (name withheld) who took them to her house. The team were aware that many people gathered around her house and were whispering trying to remain unseen and unheard. They suddenly came out looking agitated. They asked if the BHRPC team were ‘people of the minister’. After the team introduced themselves as human rights defenders and explained the purpose of the visit they calmed down and told their story one by one.

The team met around 30 persons of 18 families of the forest dwellers (names withheld). It is learnt from the villagers that they have been living in the area for generations and at the least for more than 75 years using approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) land for both dwelling and livelihood purposes. Almost all of the residents are Bengalis; either Hindus or Muslims by religion. It is very heartening to see that both the communities have been leading a simple and idyllic life in perfect harmony with each other on the one hand and with the nature on the other. Religion does not come in their sense of communitarianism.

According to them, a part of the land held by them for generations comes under the Patharia reserve forest, another part is government khas land (un-allotted government land) and the remaining part is farag land (land once held by the (Zamindars) feudal lords but later given to the tenants under contract). The villagers primarily live on forest produces, farming of cultivable land and cattle rearing. Among the forest produces, they usually only collect dried up and felled branches of trees and sell them as fire woods, which does not affect the forest in any way. In arable land they grow paddy, ginger, turmeric, taro along with growing bamboo and betel nut tress in high land. They also rear hen, duck, goat, cow and buffalo etc. in the forest land for livelihood support.

According to the villagers, some people started to fell trees in the forest land falling under Pecharpar village in November, 2011. When the villagers inquired why they were felling the trees, they were told that the tree cutters were ‘people of minister’ Siddeque Ahmed and he bought the land from the forest department for rubber plantation. This piece of news shocked and terrified the villagers so much that they could not decide the course of actions for months. The labourers employed for felling the trees were supervised by one Mr Mahibur Rahman (also known as Bolu Mia) of Choudhury Tilla, a person known to be close to the minister and dreaded by the local people, according to the villagers. The villagers also did not have any idea how much land would be grabbed in this way. They kept mum as they were asked.

Meanwhile, the tree cutters continued their work and almost all of the land held by the villagers were cleared within about a month. They felled almost all the big trees and burnt down small trees, vegetables, bushes and grass. This clearing of the land destroyed everything which the villagers live on. They had nothing to eat and feed their cattle. In this situation, some villagers met the minister at his residence in Nilambazar (Karimganj district). He told them that he had already procured title deeds of the land and now he owned it. He also told that if they still had any grievances he would provide them with some relief in terms of money. The villagers returned with empty hand.

However, the BHRPC failed to get a confirmation or denial from the minister of the claim made by the villagers about his direct involvement in the land grab as several efforts to contact him over his mobile number that is available with the BHRPC failed. Though most of the time the phone was found switched off he received one of the calls but did not talk about the matter. Later it was learnt that he told the local news reporters that the land in question was not bought by him. It is a non-government village organization named Asalkandi Gramin Bikash Kendra that took the land from the forest department on lease for rubber plantation and he has nothing to do with the organization, he added. But the organization is yet to confirm or deny the claim of the minister. The name of the organization suggests that it is based in Asalkandi, a village adjacent to Pecharpar.

After failure at the door of the minister, when the villagers tried to organize themselves to protest against the illegal land grab and illegal felling of trees, some people who identified themselves as persons working for the minister including Mr Bolu Mia, Mr. Abdul Hannan of Raghurtuk and Mr Manik told the villagers that it would not serve anything to try to fight against the minister. According to them, the minister is a powerful person and in case of opposition to him the villagers would have to face dire consequences including facing serious police cases, serving jail terms for long period and other dangers. They further asked the villagers to stop construction of any houses and leave the place as soon as possible, the BHRPC team was informed by the villagers.

One villager (name withheld) stated that he was residing in Pecharpar since he was born and his father told that he had also been born there. He had approximately 1.60 acres of land including his house. He used to grow betel nut, fruit trees and vegetables including taro and ginger etc. in the land, which were all cut down and taken away and which could not be taken away were burnt down. He was left with no source of livelihood and he was worried how to feed his family of 12 members (6 children, 3 adult female and 3 adult male). More worryingly, he has no place to live with the family if he is forced to leave the village.

When the BHRPC team met a woman resident of the village (name withheld) she broke down with emotion and wiping her tears told that she was worried about the personal security of her daughter (name and other details withheld) and female member of her family. She told that when the people who were cutting the trees and clearing the land did not respond to her protest as she was old she sent her daughter. They abused her daughter and threatened that they would abduct, rape and kill her and other female members of her family. The woman also told that she had about 2 hectares of land including her house. The trees and vegetables that she had grown in the land were cut down and burnt down. She had now nothing to support her family of 7 persons.

Another resident of Satkoragul (name withheld) told that he held nearly 4 hectares of land under farag contract. This land was also cleared out. He used to grow bamboos in high land and paddy in low land and vegetables and fruit trees in other parts. According to him, he and his family of 12 persons were leading a happy and very contented life. But, now he even lost words to express his anxiety and worries. He had nothing to provide for the family and nowhere to go in case of forcible eviction.

All other residents talked with by the BHRPC team told more less the same story. They held land ranging from half a hectare to 3 hectares per family, which has now been grabbed by the minister and his people. The villagers have nothing to eat and nowhere to go in case of eviction. If the situation continues they may have to live under conditions of starvation and may also be subjected to forcible displacement.

Some villagers (names withheld) accompanied the BHRPC team and showed the land, logs and roots of felled trees and ashes of the burnt out vegetables, bushes and grass. He uttered some chilling words as an aside. He said that he did not accompany any politicians from the opposition who came to inspect the area for fear of life, but he was accompanying the BHRPC team as they were human rights defenders. He did not know what would happen to him after the BHRPC team leaves.

On the other hand, it is reported that after one opposition politician issued a statement demanding resignation of the minister inquiries were initiated by the forest department. However, it is said that the forest department officials who visited the village were some times accompanied by ‘the people of the minister’. Therefore, the villagers have questioned the impartiality and objectivity of the officials. It is also learnt that a case was filed at the Patahrkandi police station against some unknown persons by ranger of Patharkandi forest range for illegal felling of trees in the land of forest reserve. According to the villagers, this is a move by the department to subvert the process of law as the accused have not been named and there is none who would dare to name them. It is further learnt that the District Magistrate (Deputy Commissioner) of Karimganj has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the felling of trees and land grabbing. But the villagers are of the opinion that an executive magistrate who works under the minister can not conduct an impartial and objective inquiry against the minister and his people.

In the meantime, destruction of forest and other land produces continue as well as the ominous threat of displacement keeps coming nearer to an infernal reality. And it is clearly written in the wrinkles that are getting deeper in the faces of the hapless villagers.

20 March, 2012

Guwahati, Assam

Note: The identity of the victims and witnesses is not disclosed in view of the threat they are facing. Disclosure may endanger their life. Concerned readers are requested to contact the BHRPC for names and addresses of the victims and other relevant information if they are required for taking actions on their behalf. The details may be provided under an assurance of confidentiality.

See Photographs here

Two more deaths again in Assam tea garden


TEA GARDEN MUNNAR

Image via Wikipedia

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt about two more deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district in Assam. According to information, a 7 days old baby and about 70 year old Balaram Bauri of North Bank Division of the tea estate died on 6 and 7 March, 2012 respectively. Now the toll stands at 14 according to the confirmed information available with the BHRPC.

This tea garden owned by a Kolkata-based private company was closed from 8 October, 2011 to 8 February, 2012 and the labourers were abandoned by the owners. About 500 permanent labourers and more than this number of casual workers had not been paid their outstanding wages for 9 weeks, bonus for years and other statutory benefits including provident fund dues. There were no facilities of health care, drinking water and sanitation. Government public distribution system and other welfare schemes including Integrated Child Development Schemes were virtually non-functional. These circumstances led the labourers in a condition of starvation and malnutrition resulting in several deaths.

The BHRPC reported (the report at hungeralert1) 10 deaths on 1 February following its fact-finding study and claimed that the underlying and contributory causes of all deaths were starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care going by the definition of starvation and malnutrition provided in the National Food Security Bill, 2010 drafted by the National Advisory Council and the Starvation Investigation Protocol prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food. The BHRPC again reported (see the report at http://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/) serious health condition of 43 other people of the tea estate on 11 February. Two people among them Belbati Bauri and Jugendra Bauri later died on 18 and 22 February respectively. This was also reported (see the report at http://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/) by the BHRPC on 23 February.

The deceased 7-days-old baby was daughter of Nikhil Bauri and Duhkia Bauri. After re-opening of the garden on 9 February, the garden hospital run under the National Rural Health Mission was revived but no qualified and permanent doctor and nurse have been appointed. There is also no electricity and water available. The Bauris had to go to the Primamry Health Centre at Sonai, a place about 20 km away from the garden, where Dukhia delivered an underweight baby and she fell seriously ill, according the garden sources.

Deceased Balaram Bauri, aged about 70, was a retired permanent worker of the tea estate. He became weaker day by day and his body got swollen. His son Ranjit Bauri is a permanent labourer. Ranjit claims after re-opening of the garden on 9 February he was paid only Rs 60/- and was provided with 2 kgs of rice, 1.2kgs of flour per week at Rs 0.54 per Kg and additional amount at Rs 10/- per Kg. He said that he could feed his family 6 properly during the 4 months of the closure of the garden and even thereafter. According to him, his father died in condition of starvation and for lack of proper medical care.

It is to be noted that the Arunodoy Sanga, a non government organisation based in Silchar, held a health camp in the garden on 4 March. A team of 5 doctors from Civil Hospital, Cachar Cancer Hospital and Kalyani Hospital who reportedly examined around 500 patients of the tea garden corroborated the phenomenon of malnutrition stalking the workers and their families. Doctors recommended for immediate supply of nutritious food and sustained treatment of the labourers. No visible and reasonable steps have been taken by the authorities in this regard.

10 March, 2012, Silchar, Assam

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 94019 42234

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