#India- Warning – UID will create a digital caste System #Aadhaar #Aadhar

Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

Interview with WikiLeaks activist, BS

Read more on:    UID | WikiLeaks | Jacob Appelbaum | Julian Assange | Digital caste system

Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks spokesperson

He prefers that the audio recorder is not switched on during the interview because “whenever there’s an audio recording, there’s a file to be subpoena-ed”. And, he’s stuck a band-aid over the camera of the laptop he’s been working on. All these precautions are not without reason – Jacob Appelbaum, computer security researcher, hacker, activist, and a spokesperson for WikiLeaks, who also co-authored Cypherphunks: Freedom and Future of the Internet with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, talks to Indulekha Aravind about the potential pitfalls of India’s ambitious UID project. Excerpts:

What is your view of India’s UID/Aadhaar programme?
UID will create a digital caste system because going by the way it is now being implemented, if you choose not to be part of the system, you will be the modern-day equivalent of an outcast. In theory, you are supposed to have the freedom to choose but in reality, the choice will only be whether to be left out and left behind.

What about the benefits it is supposed to offer, such as tackling corruption and protection against terrorism?
I don’t dispute that there will be benefits but I dispute whether UID will end corruption and whether one will be able to opt out of the system with dignity. Criminals will be able to subvert this system easily. In Germany, for example, a group of hackers were able to duplicate the fingerprint of Schauble (Germany’s finance minister, a proponent of collecting biometric data). And, it now costs less than a dollar to get a transferable fingerprint. About the question of containing terrorism, imagine a situation where a terrorist gets access to the central UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) database — he will be able to get all the details of every individual he wishes to target.

Considering that the programme has already been rolled out, what can the government now do to safeguard individual privacy?
First of all, there should be no centralised database. The information should be just on the cards. This can easily be done with smartcards. If you link all the information, that amounts to surveillance. There should also be legislation to prevent discrimination against people who have not registered with UIDAI.

What is your current involvement with WikiLeaks?
I like that to remain ambiguous (smiles). I’ve given talks on behalf of Julian (Assange) when he was unable to. After one particular talk I gave in 2010, my life changed. I was repeatedly harassed by US authorities.

What are the other projects you’re currently involved with?
I do computer security-related research, I work with human rights activists, and work with open software. I’m also involved with the Tor project, which aims at improving users’ privacy and security on the internet. If an Indian businessman goes to China, for example, and does not want his internet usage to be monitored, he can do that with Tor. (The Wall Street Journal termed Tor “an anonymous, and controversial, way to surf the Net”).

You have been dubbed a “hacktivist”…
I started working with open software and hacking before I was 15, after I realised I wanted to live in a world free from state surveillance. I’m a human being who does investigative journalism, research, and even works on international policy – I prefer not to be pigeon-holed.


Raped in India? Better marry your rapist, says G P Mathur retired jurist #Vaw #Womenrights #WTFnews

To Wed Your Rapist, or Not: Indian Women on Trial


[image]Associated PressActivists in New Delhi marched on Parliament earlier this year, protesting in one of several high-profile sexual-assault cases that have focused attention on women’s rights in India.

NEW DELHI—Just weeks after a gang-rape that shocked India, the National Human Rights Commission convened a meeting to discuss what to do about violence against women.

At the January gathering, G.P. Mathur, a retired Supreme Court justice, startled the crowd: He said it can be appropriate for women to marry their alleged rapists, provided the marriage isn’t coerced. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal in which he elaborated on his views, Mr. Mathur described such marriages as “compromises” that victims and their families seek in order to avoid the stigma of a public trial.

As India engages in soul-searching after a series of high-profile sexual assaults, prominent lawyers, professors, women’s advocates and even some judges say the views of some of India’s judiciary can be an obstacle to justice. The Indian legal system is built on British common law, and cases are decided by a sitting judge, not by a jury.

There is “a bias that begins in the society and spills over to the courtroom,” in certain sex-assault and domestic-violence cases, said Indira Jaising, an Indian additional solicitor general, a top federal legal-advisory position. She has called for a “gender audit,” an examination of rulings for bias, to be added to the process of elevating judges to higher courts.

“Courts repeatedly talk about getting married as the most important thing for a woman,” said Mrinal Satish, a National Law University professor whose research shows that courts have given shorter sentences to rapists of women judged not to be virgins, compared with rapists of virgins.

The rape of an unmarried virgin was viewed by the courts as “a loss of value because of which she’s not being able to get married,” Mr. Satish said. “It’s not legal reasoning.” He examined some 800 High Court and Supreme Court rape-case appeals decided between 1984 and 2009.

Since the December gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi, there have been widespread calls for better protection for women. The government has toughened rape penalties and vowed to put more female police officers on the beat. In recent weeks, new attacks—including the alleged rape of a five-year-old in Delhi—have sparked fresh protests.

Even though it is unusual for judges to criticize their peers, some are speaking out. A Supreme Court ruling in January expressed “anguish” over remarks by a lower-court judge suggesting that “wife-beating is a normal facet of married life.”

In the Journal interview, Mr. Mathur, the former Supreme Court justice, explained his view on marriage “compromise”—where a woman weds her alleged attacker—saying it can be an acceptable outcome if both people believe they can live happily together. He said victims’ families are often motivated to pursue such arrangements because the stigma of rape might otherwise make it difficult for the woman to marry. He reiterated that “it should be voluntary, a free consent.”

As an example, Mr. Mathur cited a case he adjudicated in 2007 that ended in marriage. In it, a man was convicted of forcing a woman to have a miscarriage, by use of a drug, without her consent, and was sentenced to seven years’ jail time.

[image]Getty Images‘There is a prejudice that plays itself out in judgments,’ says lawyer Vrinda Grover.

During appeal, the woman told the court she had since agreed to what Mr. Mathur called a compromise marriage. As a result, a Supreme Court bench of Mr. Mathur and Altamas Kabir (currently the court’s chief justice) reduced the man’s sentence to time served, about 10 months. Mr. Kabir declined to be interviewed through his secretary. The husband and wife couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Mathur, in the Journal interview, also questioned the extent to which judges should rely on an alleged victim’s testimony. “A grown-up girl who is married or used to sexual intercourse, she can accuse anybody,” he said. “It is very easy for her to say, ‘Yes, this person raped me.'”

The question of a woman’s believability is at the heart of one appeal currently pending in Delhi’s High Court. In the case, a woman alleges she was raped by a friend when she visited his house for lunch.

A lower court ruled that she was lying, citing among other things the fact that she could have scratched the man’s genitals, but didn’t. “Ordinarily, where forcibly sexual intercourse is committed upon a grown up girl there would be…some injuries on the person of accused particularly, if she has long nails,” the 2011 judgment said. The lack of such injuries “indicates that the alleged intercourse was a peaceful affair.”

The trial judge didn’t respond to requests for comment delivered through his clerk. The defense lawyer said his client maintains his innocence.

Indian society can be conservative in its views of male-female relationships. These views found expression in the weeks after December’s gang-rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus after a night at the movies—an attack that horrified India and the world.

In one instance, a prominent spiritual figure, Asaram Bapu, told his disciples that the victim could have avoided trouble if she had “chanted a prayer, taken one of her attackers by the hand, and called him ‘brother,'” according to a recording of the lecture. He also said, “If stronger laws are made, women will ensnare men with false cases.”

A spokeswoman for the guru confirmed the remarks were Mr. Bapu’s.

Separately, a local lawmaker in Rajasthan state, Banwari Lal Singhal, wrote to a government official saying that one solution to sexual violence is to not wear skirts at schools. Boys use cellphones to “click photos of girls while they wait for the school bus,” he said to the Journal at the time. “This increases social crime.”

In a recent interview, Mr. Singhal said his proposal was intended only for his district. He said another reason for girls to wear trousers or Indian garb, besides preventing sex crimes, is to protect against the desert climate.

In March, in Parliamentary debate over a bill strengthening sexual-violence laws, several legislators suggested that the government was going too far. The law, which ultimately passed, creates new crime categories including stalking.

“You’re saying girls shouldn’t be followed,” said Sharad Yadav, a legislator from Bihar state, according to a Parliament transcript. “Who among us has not followed girls? When you want to talk to a woman she won’t at first, you have to put in a lot of effort.”

Mr. Yadav didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Associated PressThe Indian Supreme Court’s chief justice, Altamas Kabir, has hailed some protesters.

Other lawmakers, however, took an opposing view. “What has happened to us?” said Pinaki Misra of Orissa state, the transcript shows. “There has to be a collective introspection that this country has to undertake.”

Indians pondering the roots of sexism debate many possible influences, from the machismo of swaths of northern India, to mythology, to caste. Caste-rights groups, in fact, say that some violence against women is a backlash against a modern blurring of caste lines. In particular they cite “honor killings,” in which young women and men are killed for forming relationships across caste lines. Mr. Yadav, in the March debate in Parliament, called for shelters for such couples, noting the immense harassment they face.

In a court of law, it can sometimes count against a woman if she has male friends. “There is a prejudice that plays itself out in judgments—if you are friendly with somebody, you are agreeing to making yourself available,” said lawyer Vrinda Grover.

Problems can also arise if a woman is perceived as disobedient to her family. In January the Supreme Court overturned a state-court acquittal of more than 30 men accused of raping a teenager and holding her as a sex slave. The lower court had acquitted based partly on testimony that the girl had once lied to her parents about having given money to a friend that was meant for her school expenses.

The lie suggested she was a “deviant,” the court ruled. The judge also wrote that the young woman appeared to be planning a trip with a male friend, “without any specific plan for marriage and family life with him.”

In an interview broadcast on Indian television earlier this year, one of the justices on the two-person bench, R. Basant, said he stood by the court’s assessment of deviance and its judgment. “She was used for child prostitution,” he said in that interview. “Child prostitution is not rape. It’s immoral.”

Mr. Basant, who now practices as a lawyer, declined to comment. The other judge is deceased.

Some judges are calling for greater awareness about crimes against women. In January, Mr. Kabir, the Supreme Court chief justice, hailed the protesters who took to the streets after December’s bus rape.

Bhagwati Prasad, the chief justice of Jharkhand state until retiring from the bench in 2011, said that judges, like anyone, are influenced by their social conditioning. “You have to forget everything” that happens outside the courtroom, Mr. Prasad said.

He said a court would likely consider it relevant in a sexual-assault case if the woman had prior sexual experience. Still, even in these cases, if the woman doesn’t alter her account under questioning, the court will believe her, he said. “Conviction is only secured when the girl sticks to her statement that, ‘Yes, I have been forced,'” he said.

Mr. Prasad also said that he was aware of cases in which he believed women were the aggressors against men. “I would not say that rape is only committed by boys,” he said. Asked for an example of such a case, Mr. Prasad offered a tale from Hindu mythology of a woman who tries to seduce her stepson.

Some textbooks until recently fostered the idea that it isn’t physically possible for some women to be raped. A 2005 edition of “Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology,” used in court for guidance on evaluating medical evidence, stated: “In normal circumstances, it is not possible for a single man to hold sexual intercourse with a healthy adult female in full possession of her senses against her will.”

It also stated that women of different social strata should be expected to offer different degrees of resistance to rape. “It is obvious that a woman belonging to a labouring class, who is accustomed to hard and rough work,” would be able to fight off an assailant, it said. But a middle-class woman “might soon faint or be rendered powerless from fright or exhaustion.”

This edition was used until 2011, when these passages were revised. The book now says it is “wrong to stereotype” in instances of rape. It also specifies that “rape is a crime and not a medical diagnosis.”

The 2011 edition, however, still refers to young women as “nubile virgins.” And in cases where assault victims are believed to be virgins, the book recommends a controversial vaginal exam, known as the “two-finger test,” that purports to show whether intercourse was physically possible.

LexisNexis India, which acquired the book’s Indian publisher in 2008, said it will completely overhaul the 2014 edition. “We realize how important this book is for the trial process,” said Abha Thapalyal Gandhi of LexisNexis India. The next edition will have “comprehensive changes” to reflect “gender justice approaches and new medical research.”

The book’s author died in 1954. K. Kannan, a retired justice and one of two editors for the 2011 edition, said, “I should have gone even more aggressively” in reworking the text. “We need to be sensitive,” he said.

Mr. Kannan said he is completely against the two-finger test. “Rape is not a medical thing,” he said. “It is not for doctors to be saying.”

Ved Kumari, a professor in Delhi University’s law school, suggested that adding more female judges, as some have advocated, won’t on its own address the bias issue. She described one female judge confiding in her that she had been “harsher to women litigants because I expected a higher level of adjustment from them compared with the men.” The judge comes from a traditional family, Ms. Kumari said, whereas a woman she has been required to make “a lot of sacrifices” herself.

Ms. Kumari, who also has served as chairwoman of the Delhi Judicial Academy, which provides training to serving judges, blames part of the problem on Indian legal education. Rape laws weren’t taught at Delhi University’s law school when she became a professor more than 25 years ago, she said. She and other colleagues pushed for their inclusion in the mid-1990s, she said. She recalled one male professor who declined to teach that portion of the class, so she did it herself.

The law school’s dean, Ashwani Kumar Bansal, who was a law professor at that time, called the episode a minor one. “Indian morés, ethos, were different” then, he said.

Things started changing in the late 1990s, when a small survey of Indian judges found that 48% of respondents said it was justifiable for a husband to occasionally slap his wife. After that, a group of nonprofit groups launched gender-sensitivity training for judges. The judges would meet with abuse victims and role-play the part of a victim’s parent.

It is difficult for judges to acknowledge that they carry “social baggage” and prejudices, said Samaresh Banerjea, a retired judge from Kolkata High Court. He went through the gender-sensitivity program a few years ago and said it altered his outlook.

Something “clicked in my mind,” he said. “To learn many things, you have to unlearn many things.”

Write to Tripti Lahiri at tripti.lahiri@wsj.com and Amol Sharma atamol.sharma@wsj.com


North Korea 101: Are We Really Primed for War?

Salon,  By Tim shorrock, Alternet

America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure — here’s how we got here.

We all know it’s a crisis. Every night this week, NBC, CBS and every other media outlet in the country have led their evening newscasts with increasingly grim news out of Korea.

It’s gone like this. A state of war has been declared between North Korea and the United States by Kim Jong-un, the North’s 27-year-old hereditary dictator. North Korea has battle plans to attack Washington and other U.S. cities, including, of all places, Austin, Texas, with atomic weapons. The Kaesong Industrial Zone, the last demonstration of North and South Korean cooperation just above the DMZ, has been temporarily shut down after the North refused entry to South Koreans who work there. Pyongyang has threatened to restart its Yongbyon nuclear power plant, mothballed since 2007 under a nuclear proliferation agreement with Washington and other regional powers, and begin producing bomb-ready plutonium again. And on Thursday, North Korea was allegedly moving missiles to its east coast facing Japan.

The sense of hysteria and impending doom has been magnified by the Obama administration and the Pentagon. In a show of force not seen in East Asia for decades, the United States, as part of a series of war games with South Korea, dispatched B-52 and stealth B-2 bombers capable of devastating nuclear and tactical strikes screaming across Korean skies. F-22 warplanes, perhaps the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal, are there too, along with two guided-missile destroyers. A new THAAD portable missile defense system is being deployed to nearby Guam as a “precautionary” measure against possible North Korean missile strikes, and plans are underway for a massive expansion in U.S. missile defense systems in Alaska and the West Coast. Meanwhile, U.S. and South Korean troops practice simulated nuclear attacks and even regime change in their massive military drills, which both governments described as “defensive.”

The rhetoric has ratcheted up too – to alarming levels. “We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed” by “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK,” a spokesman for the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) declared this week, using the formal name for the North – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded in kind, calling the DPRK a “real and clear danger and threat” to the United States and its allies. “They have nuclear capacity now,” he added. “They have missile delivery capacity now.”

And then, out of the blue, President Obama and his military leaders came out on Thursday and sought to calm the waters – and the skies. “The White House is dialing back the aggressive posture amid fears that it could inadvertently trigger an even deeper crisis,” the Wall Street Journal reported in Thursday’s editions. It quoted a “senior administration official” explaining that the concern was “that we were heightening the prospect of misperceptions on the part of the North Koreans, and that that could lead to miscalculations.” U.S. officials, the Journal added, didn’t believe the DPRK had “any imminent plans to take military action.”

What the hell is going on? Are we really as close to war as this sounds? Why all the buildup if North Korea was bluffing? What’s up with the “dialing back” of U.S. forces? And what brought us to this point?

Before getting to those questions, everybody should take a deep breath. First, as anyone familiar with North Korea knows, any attack by the DPRK on the U.S. or its allies would be suicide for the country of 30 million: It would be met by a relentless counterattack by the most powerful military force the world has ever seen. Threats sound ominous, but at this point that’s all they seem to be: threats, designed to trigger a response in Washington that, in the mind of Kim and his military advisers, might lead to direct talks. (Remember his plaintive request to Dennis Rodman? “Obama should call me.”)

Second, contrary to Hagel’s assertion about DPRK’s nuclear and missile capabilities, there is no evidence that North Korea has the means to lob a nuclear-armed missile at the United States or anyone else. So far, it has produced several atomic bombs and tested them, but it lacks the fuel and the technology to miniaturize a nuke and place it on a missile (many of which have failed in tests anyway). North Korea’s problems in this area were clarified this week by Siegfried Hecker, one of America’s preeminent nuclear scientists, who has been invited to visit the DPRK’s nuclear facilities several times.

“Despite its recent threats, North Korea does not yet have much of a nuclear arsenal because it lacks fissile materials and has limited nuclear testing experience,” Hecker said this week on a website run by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, according to the Associated Press. And whatever U.S. intelligence knows about the actual capabilities of North Korea – which is more closely watched by U.S. spy satellites and planes than any country on earth – is highly classified.

Beyond that, the answers to our questions about the current situation lie deep in the history of U.S. involvement in Korea, which dates back to 1945 and the terrible war that engulfed the peninsula from 1950 to 1953. That war, in which over 3 million Koreans and some 60,000 Americans were killed, ended in an armistice, not a peace agreement (signed, incidentally, by the United States and the DPRK). North Korea also remembers it as a hellish time when the U.S. Air Force bombed the country into cinders – literally.

But for now, let’s go back just a few years. We’ll start in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

It’s hard to believe today, but in 2000, Kim Jong-il, dispatched his second-in-command, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, to Washington. There, Jo met in the White House with President Clinton as well as the secretaries of State and Defense. At that time, Clinton officials later said, the United States and the DPRK were on the verge of an agreement in which North Korea was going to end its missile production and testing program in return for guarantees from Washington that the United States would recognize the DPRK and respect its sovereignity. Those talks grew out of Clinton’s 1994 accord with Kim Il-sung – the current leader’s grandfather. North Korea shut down its Soviet-era nuclear power program and the United States, South Korea and Japan agreed to help build a light-water reactor for civilian use and supply fuel oil to fill the gap.

The 1994 agreement, in turn, set the stage for South Korean President Kim Dae-jung – at one point that country’s most famous dissident – to initiate a broad “Sunshine Policy” with the North designed to build political and military trust and lead eventually to normalization and a form of unification. During the sunshine era, Kim’s successor as president, Roh Moo-hyun, reached an agreement with Kim Jong-il to build the Kaesong industrial zone – now the only thread remaining of this brief period of glasnost on the Korean Peninsula. The warming was symbolized in late 2000, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il in the highest-level meeting in U.S.-North Korean history.

But Clinton’s missile agreement was never completed, and in 2000 incoming President Bush declared that North Korea could not be trusted as a negotiating partner and stopped all talks with the DPRK. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush decided to place North Korea in the company of Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as partners in the “Axis of Evil.” That ended any chance of rapprochment. The hostility only deepened when Bush invaded Iraq and installed a pro-U.S. government – a move that Pyongyang understood as a clear statement of Bush’s intentions in Korea. This was followed in 2002 by U.S. accusations, denied at the time by the DPRK, that it was running a secret uranium facility to build bombs. After that, the earlier Clinton agreement completely unraveled. In 2006, North Korea shocked the world by testing its first atomic bomb (for a detailed timeline of North Korea’s program, click here).

By 2007, however, Bush began to rethink his policies as the costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan escalated. Prodded by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was edging out Dick Cheney as Bush’s chief foreign policy guru, the administration participated in a series of negotiations involving China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea. The so-called six-party talks ended in an accord that extended Clinton’s 1994 agreement, shut Yongbyon for good, and set a timeline for deepening U.S.-North Korean ties. That agreement ended what historian Bruce Cumings called at the time “the most asinine Korea policy in history.” The DPRK even broadcast video of the Yongbyon cooling tower being blown up (those images were replayed on U.S. television this week when the North threatened to restart that plant).

A year later, Barack Obama, running in part on a platform that promised U.S. talks with countries like North Korea and Iran, was elected president. Shortly into his administration, a new Korea policy began to evolve under the stewardship of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was called “strategic patience,” and was designed on the premise that Kim Jong-il was about to die and that the Kim dynasty, torn by internal power struggles, was bound to collapse. Clinton and Obama also made it clear that they would not reopen any talks with the North until it turned away from nuclear weapons and opened itself to change. That policy turned out to be a strategic miscalculation: Kim did die last year, but the transition to his third son, Kim Jong-un, has gone smoothly. The regime is still there, as strong as ever.

One incident from 2010 underscores how little Obama was interested in negotiations. That fall, a delegation of former high-ranking U.S. officials visited Pyongyang and met with senior officials in Kim Jong-il’s government. As I reported shortly after their return, the delegation was told “that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has ‘no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.”  Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was part of the delegation, recalled last week that the offer “would have been a first step toward permanently disabling the [Yongban] facility, making sure the reactor would never again be a threat.” The offer, he added, “was dutifully reported to the Obama administration in briefings for the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community.” But the Obama White House “didn’t even listen,” Wit said.

There was another complicating factor in Obama’s policies. After 2008, South Korea’s president was Lee Myung-bak, a conservative. Lee strongly opposed the “sunshine” policies of his predecessors and began to take a much harder line on military issues with the North. Relations across the DMZ took a nose-dive in March 2010, when Lee’s government blamed the North for blowing up a South Korean warship off Korea’s west coast, killing 46 sailors. The DPRK denied it, but a South Korean commission and an international team of investigators held the North responsible (many in the South still question those conclusions).

That incident kicked off the last big confrontation that had the Koreas and the United States talking of war. In November 2010, the United States and South Korea staged another major naval exercise on the west coast near where the Korean warship had gone down. The DPRK issued a series of warnings, saying that if any shells landed on their side of a disputed North-South maritime border, they would retaliate. Some did, and the North struck back ferociously by shelling the island of Yeonpyeong, killing several civilians.

South Korea, stung by this cruel attack on a non-military target, vowed to continue the exercises; the North issued more strong warnings. With several dozen U.S. soldiers on Yeongpyeong as observers and thousands more participating in the exercises, any clash was bound to draw in the United States. For a few days the world held its breath to see if war would break out. Lights were on 24/7 at the crisis center at the Pentagon (I explained what led up to that crisis in a long interview on “Democracy Now”).

Then something unusual happened. At the height of the crisis, on Dec. 16, 2010, Gen. James Cartwright, the outspoken vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he was deeply concerned about the situation escalating out of control. In words designed to be heard in Seoul, he made it clear that the Pentagon wanted to ratchet down the situation. If North Korea “misunderstood” or reacted “in a negative way” by firing back, he said, “that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter-firing.  What you don’t want to have happen out of that is for the escalation to be — for us to lose control of the escalation.” Cartwright, and the Pentagon, had no desire to be drawn into a war that was not of their own making.

Few noticed the significance of these words – but I did. Four days later, I tweeted: “When Gen. Cartwright warned of a ‘chain reaction’ that would cause the United States to ‘lose control of the escalation,’ he was talking to SK -not NK.” The morning the military drills were scheduled to restart, many reporters and Korea-watchers on Twitter were predicting that a second Korean War was about to begin. Then, as the time came close for the first live-firing to commence, the South Korean military put out the word that the exercises would be “delayed” because of weather. They were – and then were scrapped altogether. Cartwright’s warning apparently worked. The crisis ended. But a year later little had changed – except that Kim Jong-un was now in charge of the DPRK.

The current crisis began last December, when Kim’s military defied global warnings against his weapons program and successfully launched a rocket that actually placed a satellite in orbit. The move was quickly condemned by the United States and South Korea, but this time the criticism also came from China and Russia. Then, in February, North Korea carried out its third test of a nuclear weapon that was nearly twice as large as its last one. A few days later, the U.N. Security Council imposed deeper sanctions on North Korea. Its government lashed out again, but this time the rhetoric had changed. In the past, the North had always blasted South Korea as its primary antagonist, but early in January it began to frame its problems in the context of its decades-long confrontation with the United States.

As I explained to “Democracy Now” on Feb. 12, in recent weeks North Korea has “increasingly been focused on the role of the United States, the role of the United States military in South Korea and the whole Asian region. And they’ve been talking a lot about these massive war games that the United States and South Korea take that take place almost every year, and which one took place last week. And they see the United States and these war games as very hostile and as a threat to their sovereignty, as they put it.”

In other words, their “primary enemy” had shifted from the South to the United States. Since then, the DPRK has said again and again that Washington is to blame for the ongoing tensions in Korea, and that until those tensions are resolved, the region will remain in crisis. That position was summed up by the KPA official quoted earlier. “The U.S. high-handed hostile policy toward the DPRK aimed to encroach upon its sovereignty and the dignity of its supreme leadership and bring down its social system is being implemented through actual military actions without hesitation,” he said. “The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the U.S.”

And that’s basically where we are today. The Obama administration has a choice: It can continue a policy of sanctions, military pressure and no talks until North Korea agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons; or it can try something that’s been tried, with varying success in the past: negotiate, possibly with the assistance of China and other regional powers, toward a peaceful solution that benefits everyone in the region, including the DPRK. But two things are clear. One: America’s current policy toward North Korea is an utter failure. Two: Another Korean War is unthinkable. With the latest statements from the Pentagon today about “dialing back” tensions, those lessons may be sinking in.



Billionaire Communists–Defying Mao, Rich Chinese Crash the Communist Party

By JAMES T. AREDDY in Shanghai and JAMES V. GRIMALDI in Washington

Wall Street Journal

[image] Xinhua/Associated PressSeven of China’s richest were part of the Communist Party elite gathered to anoint new leaders last month in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

When the Communist Party elite gathered last month to anoint China’s new leaders, seven of the nation’s richest people occupied coveted seats in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda Group, worth an estimated $10.3 billion and the recent buyer of U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, took one of the chairs. So did Liang Wengen, with an estimated fortune of $7.3 billion, whose construction-equipment maker Sany Heavy Industry Co.600031.SH -0.19% competes with Caterpillar Inc. CAT -0.75% Zhou Haijiang, a clothing mogul with an estimated $1.3 billion family fortune, also had a seat. As members of the Communist Party Congress, all three had helped endorse the new leadership.

Political Fortunes

Explore an interactive database on the political ties of China’s business leaders.


For years the Communist Party in China filled key political and state bodies with loyal servants: proletarian workers, pliant scholars and military officers. Now the door is wide open to another group: millionaires and billionaires.

An analysis by The Wall Street Journal, using data from Shanghai research firm Hurun Report, identified 160 of China’s 1,024 richest people, with a collective family net worth of $221 billion, who were seated in the Communist Party Congress, the legislature and a prominent advisory group called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

[image] Bloomberg NewsGuo Guangchang, Fosun Group

China’s legislature, called the National People’s Congress, may boast more very rich members than any other such body on earth. Seventy-five people with seats on the 3,000 member congress appear on Hurun Report’s 2012 list of the richest 1,024, which Hurun says it calculates using public disclosures and estimates of asset values. The average net worth of those 75 people is more than $1 billion.

By comparison, the collective wealth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress was between $1.8 billion and $6.5 billion in 2010, according to the most recent analysis of lawmakers’ asset disclosures by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.


China has been grappling of late with political and social tension over its murky policy-making process and its growing income disparity. The party has been especially sensitive this year during the leadership change about revelations about fortunes amassed by the offspring of political leaders, known as “princelings,” by leaders of state businesses and by other politically connected people. Many ordinary Chinese blame high prices, poor quality food and pollution on guanshang guojie—meaning, roughly, officials in bed with businessmen.

As political families move into business, private tycoons are entering the political sphere—although precisely what is driving that isn’t clear. Other Chinese business leaders have cultivated relationships with party chiefs without entering politics themselves. But the Journal’s analysis showed that people appearing on Hurun’s rich list who also served in the legislature increased their wealth more quickly than the average member of the list.

[image] Bloomberg NewsGao Dekang, Bosideng Intl.

Seventy-five people who appeared on the rich list from 2007 to 2012 served in China’s legislature during that period. Their fortunes grew by 81%, on average, during that period, according to Hurun. The 324 list members with no national political positions over that period saw their wealth grow by 47%, on average, according to an analysis the firm ran for the Journal.

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely how holding political positions advances the business interests of the wealthy, if at all. They may do better because of their political positions, or, conversely, they may owe their positions to their business success. There are a multitude of reasons for Chinese companies to be on good terms with political leaders. Chinese companies routinely do business with the government, borrow money from state banks, even negotiate their tax bills with local authorities.

The business card of Mr. Zhou, the 46-year-old president of family owned Hongdou Group Co., lists 10 political positions. The clothing magnate said in an interview that his political positions give him opportunities to mix with “diverse elites”—businessmen, politicians and military officers.

[image] Xinhua/Zuma PressZhou Haijiang, Hongdou Group

“It makes me feel good to participate in this kind of exclusive group,” he said. Every time he gets a chance, he said, he prods state leaders to cut taxes, noting that he personally pressed Premier Wen Jiabao to extend technology tax breaks to firms building brands. It is unclear whether such tax breaks were extended.

In the days of Chairman Mao Zedong, capitalists were considered enemies of the state. Some business owners were persecuted and most enterprises became government property.

That changed in the 1980s and in the early 1990s when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping was said to have declared that “to get rich is glorious.” A 2002 constitutional amendment established that the Communist Party henceforth would consider valid the contributions of private enterprise, therefore providing a place for private entrepreneurs in the party system.

These days even lesser-known multimillionaires such as property developer Shi Yingwen of Guangxi Ronghe Co., shirt magnate Li Rucheng of Youngor Group Co. and wig queen Zheng Youquan of Henan Rebecca Hair Products Inc. 600439.SH -3.36% match Chinese mayors and generals in political rank. Self-made men and women serve in the legislature alongside party-appointed chairmen of state oil companies and banks.

China’s National People’s Congress bears little resemblance to its U.S. counterpart. Legislators aren’t popularly elected but are nominated by party institutions, which sometimes vote internally on nominees. Small groups of legislators write laws in consultation with top party officials. The broader legislature invariably passes them.


Political analysts sometimes describe China’s legislative seats as ceremonial because of the limited power of officeholders. Nevertheless, Dow Jones Watchlist, a sister publication of the Journal that provides financial institutions with a global database of government officials, characterizes more than 150 people on Hurun’s Rich List as “politically exposed persons” under international standards. Global anti-money-laundering conventions call on international banks to scrutinize transactions involving such individuals, their families and close associates.

Hongdou Group’s Mr. Zhou was invited into the party congress before his father retired from the legislature in 2008. Over the past 30 years, his family has gobbled up farmland near Wuxi to expand the company. The facilities now include more than 100 Hongdou-owned factories, including one of Asia’s biggest suit factories—and a hall honoring Communist leaders.

Hongdou was the first private company in China to win approval to launch a financing arm, and top party officials have supported its industrial push into Cambodia. Party leaders have adorned Zhongnanhai, the party’s Beijing leadership compound, with trees from Hongdou’s horticultural division, bolstering its claims that the plants provide therapeutic benefits.

In conversation, Mr. Zhou drops the names of top leaders, including Premier Wen, incoming president Xi Jinping and current President Hu Jintao. A quote from Mr. Wen adorns a full wall of Hongdou’s headquarters. Mr. Zhou says of his political activity: “I’m just trying to act as a representative for private entrepreneurs.”

Guo Guangchang, another member of the National People’s Congress, spent 20 years building China’s biggest private financial conglomerate, Shanghai-based Fosun Group. His fortune is estimated at $2 billion.

In March, he met with Mr. Xi, who was named China’s next leader last month. He pressed for expanded protection in China’s courts for insurers, more government investments into private-equity firms and increasing the scope of lending by nonbanks, according to a summary of his presentation on the company’s website. “Guo Guangchang expressed hope for more substantive initiatives in the liberalization of financial services and in reducing the tax burden of enterprises and individuals,” the website said.

Although it isn’t clear whether Mr. Guo’s efforts led to official changes, the fact that state media reported him airing views directly to Mr. Xi suggests that officials looked upon them favorably.

Mr. Guo and more than a dozen politically connected business leaders contacted by the Journal, including those mentioned in this story, either declined to comment on their government posts or didn’t respond to requests for comment. Questions about the political activities of the wealthy sent by the Journal to the National People’s Congress and other Chinese government and party organizations elicited no response.

Beginning as a tailor’s apprentice for his father in the 1970s, Gao Dekang built an apparel business and an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion. He joined the National People’s Congress in 2003. A year later, China’s foreign ministry certified jackets made by his company, Bosideng International Holdings Ltd., 3998.HK +0.85% as “national diplomatic gifts.” Russia’s Vladimir Putin was one of the foreign dignitaries to receive one.

Mr. Gao has hosted President Hu at his home, according to his authorized biography. Bosideng’s latest annual report says the company received “unconditional government grants” of about $3.9 million in the year ended March 31, which it said reflected its contributions to the development of local economies.

Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, or CPPCC, is an advisory council to the Communist Party and the legislature. With about 2,200 members, it is intended to be representative of China’s overall population, including those who don’t belong to the party. In practice, its function is to support government initiatives.

The CPPCC is becoming more like a Chinese version the U.K.’s House of Lords—weaker than the British version but richer. Seventy-four members appeared on Hurun’s rich list in 2012. The average wealth of those 74 was about $1.45 billion.

In a recent interview with the Journal, one CPPCC member criticized the influx of business people, saying she had witnessed “shameless” appeals by CPPCC members to Mr. Xi, China’s incoming president. At a small gathering in March, she said, a media tycoon and an infrastructure developer had pressed Mr. Xi to use his muscle to fix their business problems.

Member Chen Siqiang is the chief executive and controlling shareholder of New Oriental Energy & Chemical Corp., NOEC 0.00% a fertilizer company based in Henan. In late 2010, the company, whose shares were then listed in the U.S. on the Nasdaq Stock Market, faced a cash squeeze, according to a filing made to the Securities and Exchange Commission at that time. In the filing, Mr. Chen asserted: “I will also use my political influence as a member of the National Committee of CPPCC to coordinate with government agencies and financial institutions to enforce government support.”

About three months later, New Oriental announced the government in its home region had arranged $3.3 million in new loans. Nasdaq delisted New Oriental in 2011 after its capital fell below required thresholds.

The way political appointments are made is a murky business in China, and the process can involve currying favor with more-senior officials. In recent years, prosecutors in China have accused various officials of bribing their way into government positions and have jailed some of them for such activity. None of the wealthy individuals named in this story has been accused of such activities.

A Shanghai-based consultant said in recent interviews with the Journal that securing an appointment can involve a sophisticated campaign. He said he had devised and executed a “five-year plan” to try to gain political positions for an Internet-game tycoon. “Most people think you just have to bribe them, but it is actually quite subtle,” he said about efforts to persuade government officials.

In 2007, the consultant prepared a 14-page political primer for his client and mapped alliances between certain Beijing officials and the provincial government. The consultant said he added evidence to the company’s website that it was a “good citizen” that paid taxes and donated money. He said he staged a fake Communist Party meeting at the company in order to take photos.

The consultant hosted a dinner for the assistant to a senior Beijing official. During a foot massage, he said, the secretary hinted that a modest Chinese painting in traditional style might make an acceptable gift to the boss. The consultant said he bought one for around $3,000 and sent it anonymously to the official’s assistant in Beijing. He mailed the certificate of authenticity separately to make it clear the gift was from his client.

His client was hoping to be appointed to the Communist Party Congress. In the end, he got a lesser post: a seat in a provincial CPPCC. But in the process, the consultant said, he got potentially valuable information about provincial government plans for an economic zone and technology subsidies, which the consultant claimed were worth more than the campaign’s $320,000 cost.

Mr. Zhou, the clothing magnate, concedes that some people buy their way into power but calls such episodes “isolated incidents.” He says his fellow entrepreneurs are joining political bodies “to keep pace with the direction for the country’s development. If what I’m doing complies with the government principles, then every government official will support me.”

Write to James T. Areddy at james.areddy@wsj.com


#Chhattisgarh Turns Back on Mining Industry- #goodnews

By Prasenjit Bhattacharya, India Real Time, Nov 5.2012

Reuters,Miners worked at a coal mine in Chhattisgarh, November 21, 2009.

Chhattisgarh –  one of India’s three largest mineral-producing states – has had enough of industries like mining, power, metals and cement.

The local government says it doesn’t want any more such projects, although the state has long relied on these industries for growth.

Instead, Chhattisgarh is keen on reinventing itself as a hub for making auto-parts, processed food, electronics and software, says Raman Singh, the state’s chief minister.  ”I have been telling investors in one-to-one meetings … that we are not interested in new projects in the core sectors,” Mr. Singh told the Wall Street Journal. Over the weekend, Mr. Singh hosted a two-day investors’ meet aimed at persuading companies, mostly domestic, to invest as much as $22 billion in the state.

The “core sector” is shorthand for mining, metals, cement and power generation businesses. The state’s large reserves of bauxite, coal and iron ore have attracted significant investment from state-run and private companies, including Coal India Ltd. 533278.BY +0.54% Vedanta Resources VED.LN -3.28% and Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. 532286.BY -2.04%

“A power project takes 10,000 crore rupees ($2 billion) to build but employs 700 people, while an IT company would invest just 10 crore rupees and employ 600. We want to bring in industries that create jobs,” said Mr. Singh, a senior politician with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress-led central government.

Unemployment is a major problem in Chhattisgarh, a state that, despite its mineral wealth, is one of India’s poorest.

Endemic poverty is one of the reasons many locals support left-wing rebels, known as Maoists, who operate in the state and inhabit its densely forested areas. Chhattisgarh is a hotbed of rebels who claim they are upholding the land rights of local tribes and rural poor against the government and industrial interests.

Maoist rebels have opposed industrial and mining projects, which typically require large swathes of land, making it difficult for companies located in areas with strong Maoist presence to operate. Apart from Maoists, local villagers and tribals have also become increasingly vocal opponents of mining and power projects in mineral-rich states like Chhattisgarh.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh at a press conference in Raipur, December 7, 2003.

As a result, Mr. Singh says that for the state to guarantee land and water to large mining or power projects “is not that easy.”

“Water and land are limited. How many projects can the state support?” said Mr. Singh. “The government has enough land for industries that don’t require much land, be it agriculture-based companies, auto or technology companies, so we are encouraging such investments,” he added.

Mr. Singh said that while the Maoist insurgency remains a problem, the government has been able to contain it. “The problem is being fought on two fronts. We are educating children in tribal villages so they don’t pick up guns later in life, but when insurgents kill people, the police can’t just stand and watch. So we fight back too.”

The inside of Mr. Singh’s modest bungalow in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, is crowded with security. Cameras and cell phones are not allowed inside the premises, which are patrolled by officials armed with walkie talkies.

It’s unclear how successful Chhattisgarh’s investment pitch will be. While Indian states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and the Delhi have seen a steady flow of investment in recent years, security issues mean that states like Chhattisgarh are a tougher sell. Large Indian and global companies in technology and automobiles sectors stayed away from the investors’ meet over the weekend.

There is scope for investment in other sectors, like agriculture. Investors said that the state’s large production of fruits and vegetables is likely to be attractive for companies looking to make juices and other processed foods.

But can this really replace industries like mining in the state’s economy?

Gujarat-Not vegetarianism or dieting, Mr Narendra Modi

Indira Hirway, The Hindu

LOSING TRACK: The growth process in Gujarat has paid limited&#1
APLOSING TRACK: The growth process in Gujarat has paid limited attention to the well-being of the masses. File Photo

Low wage rates, poorly functioning public schemes and patchy access to water and sanitation are the real explanation for Gujarat’s persistent malnutrition

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s remark in an interview to Wall Street Journal that high malnutrition persists in his State because Gujaratis are mostly vegetarian (implying vegetarianism causes malnourishment) and are middle class, and more conscious about their looks and putting on weight than their health, created a furore. What explains Gujarat’s paradox of hunger amid the seeming plenty?

Economic growth and malnutrition do not have a one-to-one relationship. However, if malnutrition persists even after high growth, there can be two sets of reasons: one, people are not aware about the importance of nutrition and/or there are cultural practices that do not allow people to consume nutritious food. For instance, they eat expensive but unhealthy food (Incidentally, there is no evidence to show that vegetarian food causes malnourishment). Two, economic growth does not create large-scale productive employment with decent work conditions i.e. with reasonable wage rate, good working conditions and social protection.

The first reason may have played a marginal role, but empirical evidence suggests that the second reason is important in Gujarat. To start with, in spite of a slightly higher workforce participation rate compared to other States, the quality of employment is extremely poor in Gujarat; with the result that a large part of the workforce does not have enough purchasing power to buy enough food for the household. About 89 per cent of men workers and 98 per cent of women workers in the State are informal workers (the all India figures are 90 and 96 per cent respectively), who usually earn low wages, have poor working conditions and low social protection.

Wage rates

The wage rates of casual and regular workers of both men and women workers in rural and urban areas are very low compared to other States. As per the latest National Sample Survey Office statistics, the daily wage rates of casual men and women workers in rural areas are lower than the corresponding rates in India, with the State ranking 14th (Rs.69) and ninth (Rs.56) in men’s and women’s wage rates respectively among the major 20 States. In the case of urban casual workers’ daily wages, the State ranked seventh (Rs.109) and 14th (Rs.56) for male and female wage rates. In the case of regular rural workers also the State ranked 17th (Rs.152) and ninth (Rs.108) in the male and female wage rates respectively. The corresponding ranks for urban areas are 18th (Rs.205) and 13th (Rs.182) respectively among the major 20 States in India.

In short, in spite of the high growth rate, wages in the State are repressed with the result that most workers do not have the purchasing power to buy adequate nutritious food.

Special schemes

There are problems with the functioning of major special schemes for nutrition. As regards the Public Distribution System (PDS), till recently the State was providing much less than the stipulated 35kg food grains to Below Poverty Line (BPL) households on the ground that the number of BPL households in the State was much larger than what the Centre had estimated and was providing for. The State was not willing to use its own funds to meet the deficit. Several studies including our own study have shown that PDS, Mid-Day Meal and Integrated Child Development Services (particularly for pregnant women and mothers) are not working well in the State. A common observation of these studies is that these schemes work well when there are local organisations putting pressure on local administration. The instructions from the top are not implemented well at the ground level, largely because there is no strong monitoring. And as only a fraction of the State is covered by such organisations, the schemes work well only in limited areas. In other words, the possibility of improved nutrition through these special schemes also is not good.

Water and sanitation

Finally, the recent data of the 2011 Census of Population has shown that Gujarat lags behind many States in providing potable water and safe sanitation, which are critical in transforming food intake into nutrition. The Census shows that about 43 per cent of rural households get water supply at their premises and only 16.7 per cent households, treated tap water. About one fifth of the rural households, mainly women, walk long distances to collect water ­ impacting adversely on their health. In the case of urban areas, the situation is slightly better: 84 per cent households get water at their premises and 69 per cent, treated water.

As regards sanitation, Gujarat has a long way to go. According the 2011 Census, 67 per cent of rural households do not have an access to toilets and more than 65 per cent households defecate in the open, polluting the environment. The State ranks 10th in the use of latrines. Our recent study adds that 70 per cent villages in the State have yet to organise waste collection and disposal, and 78 per cent have yet to put up drainage for managing liquid waste. In the case of urban areas, the State ranks ninth in terms of the use of latrines. As studies have shown, in spite of the efforts made, waste management is a serious problem in most urban centres.

As a result, the incidence of diseases is fairly high: our recent study shows that 44 per cent villages have reported frequent occurrence of jaundice; 30 per cent, malaria, 40 per cent, diarrhoea, and 25 per cent, kidney stones, skin diseases, joint pain, dental problems, etc. In the case of urban areas also there are frequent reports of outbreak of diseases.

In short, the growth process in the State has paid limited attention to the well-being of the masses. It is not surprising therefore that National Family Health Survey 3 has shown that Gujarat not only ranks low in nutrition of women and children but has also performed very poorly in the recent decade. There is a need for the State to take a fresh look at its growth process.

(Dr. Indira Hirway is Director and Professor of Economics at the Center for Development Alternatives, Ahmedabad, and co-author of the State Human Development Report 2004.)

Vibrant Gujarat- Unheard Voices #Narendramodi #Mustwatch

Bole Gujarat is using social media to project voice of the marginalised sections of Gujarat and also of the educated masses, who have failed to express their anguish and unrest.

Letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr. Narendra Modi on Malnutrition

Rohit Prajapati, Dr. Trupti Shah, and Dr. Nandini Manjrekar
C/o 37 Patrakar Colony,
Tandalja Road, Post: Akota,
Vadodara 390 020, Gujarat
Phone/Fax No: +91-265-2320399
Email: rohit.prajapati@gmail.comtrupti.vadodara@gmail.comnandini.manjrekar@gmail.com
By Fax and Email
30 August 2012

Shri Narendrabhai Modi
The Chief Minister of Gujarat
Government of Gujarat
1st Block, 5th Floor, New Sachivalaya,
Gandhinagar – 382 010.

Subject: Malnutrition in Gujarat: Your statement to the Wall Street Journal.

Dear Shri Modi,

In an interview to the Wall Street Journal you, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, made a statement on the issue of malnutrition in the state that “Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle-class is more beauty conscious than health conscious that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat’.”

We would like to know whether this statement was based on any research study that examined whether malnutrition in Gujarat is related to lifestyle issues. We ask you to share the findings of this study with the people of Gujarat since available data portrays a grim scenario. The Human Development Report of 2011 indicates that  Gujarat is the worst among the high per-capita states in the country in fighting malnutrition, even lower than the ‘less developed’ states of Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam. 44.6% of children in Gujarat below the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition, 41% are underweight, and nearly 70% are anaemic. More than half the women in Gujarat (55%) also suffer from anaemia.

We hope that you are making such a statement based on some study done either by you or by your government or by any reputed institute or scholars. We request you to share the copy of such study because we are absolutely in disagreement with you on this issue.

Malnutrition is directly related to issues of livelihood and well-being, which are the foremost indicators of development, which you as Chief Minister take credit for having spearheaded in the state of Gujarat. You and your government has to take responsibility for the factors that have led to these appalling statistics —  where almost half the children do not even have access to milk — through pursuing a development model in aggressive promotion of privatisation and consequent immiseration of the poor. It is shocking that you should attribute this to the state being largely ‘middle-class’ and vegetarian and obsession with body image among girls. These statements are not only completely lacking in fact but also reflects an amazing callousness and trivialisation of the real issues of the people in the state you govern, especially women and girls, for whom access to livelihoods, education, healthcare and survival itself is a matter of everyday struggle.

In the absence of any substantive data that indicates otherwise, it is morally incumbent on you as Chief Minister, to apologise to the people, and especially women and girls of the state, for the disrespect you have shown them by making these trivial statements on such a grave issue.

Rohit Prajapati

Trupti Shah

Nandini Manjrekar

Grassroots activists in Pakistan have set an example for digital rights activism.

Jillian C. York . Aljazeera

Fighting online censorship when legal action fails

A new plan for internet filtering could put Pakistan on par with Iran and Saudi Arabia, activists say [EPA]

San Francisco, CA – When, in late February, Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority (PTAissued a call forproposals on a large scale internet filtering system to allow for the blocking of up to 50 million URLs (with, it should be noted, a processing delay of “not more than 1 milliseconds [sic]”), Pakistani rights activists were more than a little peeved. While censorship (either online or offline) in the Islamic Republic is no new thing, the new move – presumably designed to entice Western companies to the country – would potentially put Pakistan on par with countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia in terms of sites blocked.

Of course, Pakistan is not China, Iran or Saudi Arabia. It is, at least in theory, a democracy, with freely held elections. And yet, when it comes to the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression, citizens find themselves increasingly with no say in the matter.

Grassroots advocacy

Therefore, when faced with the PTA’s latest plans, grassroots organisations knew exactly what they had to do. Rather than appeal to their representatives, they took to the internet, calling on technology companies not to respond to the call for proposals.

http://www.aljazeera.com/AJEPlayer/player-licensed-viral.swfAre we entering an age of cyber-censorship?

Their efforts were echoed and supported by a number of international organisations, including the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Article 19, the Global Network Initiative, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (where I work), and made it to the pages of theNew York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others. As a result, a number of technology companies, including Cisco and McAfee SmartFilter (both of which, it should be noted, sell their censorship wares to other countries), made statements refusing to sell to the PTA.

Advocacy group Bolo Bhi has been vocal in their opposition of the filter. In one blog post, they explain how the system would affect citizens, noting: “Such a system will give the government extra muscle to go after ‘activists’ – ‘liberals’ – ‘troublemakers’ – You and I. Anyone who is a hindrance, becomes a target.”

Indeed, such a system would likely have the same capabilities as Bahrain’s, which allowed authorities to intercept emails and SMS, which were then read aloud to detainees, or Syria’s, notoriously used to spy on activists. Surveillance of that degree is dangerous and has no place in any of these countries, let alone one that purports to be democratic.

All of this pressure led the PTA to backtracking; on March 19, an article in the International Herald Tribune-affiliatedExpress Tribune declared the filtering plans shelved. As Islamabad-based digital rights group Bytes for All quicklynoted, however, the news item was not followed up by a press release from the government, leading them to believe that the piece was “a strategic move to put an end to the raging protests”.

Like Bytes for All, Bolo Bhi doesn’t see the fight as being over. In a recent letter addressed to the Ministry of Information Technology, the ICT Research and Development Fund, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and signed by eight additional organisations, the group wrote:

While it has become common knowledge that surveillance and censorship technologies are often used in Pakistan, the extent to which this is taking place has only recently become apparent with public reports on censorship and surveillance technologies by a large number of international companies. We also understand the Pakistan government may attempt to involve an academic institution in developing the system, making the biggest victim of this technology also a contributor.

A model for digital rights activism

Born from the bottom up and supported by (not, crucially, initiated by) international organisations, the efforts of local groups serve as a model for digital rights activism. Their actions were strategic, targeting the appropriate stakeholders, their collaboration with international groups built on consensus.

Furthermore, Bytes for All and Bolo Bhi were well-placed to understand the limitations of legal efforts and instead, chose the best possible path for advocacy: targeting the very businesses their government sought to attract.Another element of these groups’ success is in bypassing the “us vs. them” mentality, a strategy discussed in the 2010 anthology Digital Activism Decoded.  In the book, chapter authors Sem DeVillart and Brian Waniewski wrote, “It is tempting for organisations to adopt competitive strategies toward peers engaged in like or complementary efforts,” recommending that groups engaged in online advocacy avoid the competitive structure of corporations.

As a result, the IT Ministry has verbally committed to issuing a statement against the filtering system, says Bolo Bhi CEO Sana Saleem, who adds that they had been reluctant to meet with civil society groups directly in the past.

“I strongly feel that the campaign success is because of consistent pressure from organisations globally,” wrote Saleem in a recent e-mail, “Even though we have still only received verbal commitment, I believe that the success lies in how we planned the campaign to focus on issues such as businesses, trade, academia and economy steering the debate from the more controversial issues of blasphemy.”

As sure as the PTA will continue their attempts to censor, the efforts of groups like Bytes for All and Bolo Bhi show no signs of abating. And with the support of international groups – which help by raising their voices to a fever pitch – they may just win.

Jillian C York is director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. She writes a regular column for Al Jazeera focusing on free expression and Internet freedom. She also writes for and is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online.

Follow her on Twitter: @jilliancyork

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The Murder of Sister Valsa: the Complete Story

By Krishna Pokharel And Paul Beckett

[The Wall Street Journal last week serialized an investigation into the death of Sister Valsa John Malamel. It is a tale of greed, lust, friendship, betrayal, faith, and brutality set against the conflict between two major forces shaping India’s future: Industrialization and the preservation of traditional ways of life. This account is based on dozens of interviews, witness statements, court documents, and police files. One chapter of the story ran each day last week on India Real Time and india.wsj.com. Today, we are publishing the story in full. ]

The Wall Street Journal

Where is Sister Valsa?” they demanded. “Where is Sister Valsa?”

In the dark of night on Nov. 15, the mob surrounded the tiled-roof compound. They carried bows and arrows, spades, axes, iron rods.

“I don’t have that information,” replied a woman who lived in the house, according to a statement she later gave to a local court.

You’re lying, she was told.

In one corner of a tiny windowless room off an inner courtyard, Valsa John Malamel, a Christian nun, hid under a blanket punching numbers into her cellphone.

“Some men have surrounded my house and I am suspecting something foul,” she whispered to a journalist friend who lived several hours’ drive away.

“Escape at any cost,” he says he told her. The call was logged at 10:30 p.m.

She called a friend who lived in the same village.“I have been surrounded on all sides,” she told him, according to his own court statement. Then the line went dead.

Chapter One

The landscape of the Rajmahal Hills in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand unfolds in a scruffy mix of deep-red soil, patchworks of small fields of brown grass, clusters of banana, ficus and palm trees, stands of bamboo, and ponds of murky brown water. It is the heartland of the Santhal and Paharia, two of India’s indigenous tribes.

There are small signs of modern life here. Tribe members carry cellphones. A satellite dish sits on the occasional roof. But ancient, pastoral ways persist. The men hunt rabbit with bows and arrows.

Pachwara sits in the center of the tribal region. The village of about 3,000 stretches for miles. The houses are small compounds surrounded by rickety wooden fences, laundry scattered across the slats. Roofs of red tile or thatch stretch almost to the ground. The walls, once white or light blue, are spattered with clay. Pigs and piglets, goats and kids, chickens and chicks, cows and calves roam and rummage in the mud and leaves. Children, trousers and shoes optional, play on the pathways.

On Nov. 7, Surajmuni Hembrom — a 22-year-old woman with thick eyebrows and a gold stud in her nose – says she set out on foot with her aunt from Pachwara. They headed for a weekly market to buy groceries. After shopping, they took in a bull fight, a favorite pastime of the tribes. Then they started for home, she says.

At a crossroads, they encountered Adwin Murmu, a 24-year-old college student, and three of his friends, she says. They started teasing Surajmuni and urged her to join them.

“Why would I, since I don’t know you?” she says she responded.

One of the men caught her by the hand and pulled her onto a motorbike between him and Mr. Murmu, she says. Her aunt tried to intervene but was pushed away. Surajmuni Hembrom says the men drove her to an abandoned house and left her alone with Mr. Murmu. He pushed her inside, she says, and locked the door.

Then, she contends, “he raped me all night.” (Surajmuni Hembrom gave her consent to be named in this article.)

Surajmuni’s father, an oil and rice dealer in Pachwara, says he and his wife searched that night for their daughter. After a hint from a family friend that she had been seen with Adwin Murmu from the neighboring village of Alubera, the couple walked for two hours before dawn to confront Adwin Murmu’s parents.

Adwin’s father says he told them his son had not brought Surajmuni to the house. He says his son was “tricked into” spending the night with her by his friends. A lawyer for Adwin Murmu says his client didn’t commit rape. Police say the friends are on the run; they couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mayur Patel Kanaiyalal, superintendent of police for Pakur district, which includes the villages of Pachwara and Alubera, says he believes the incident took place but whether it was “with or without consent is still to be investigated.”

Later that day, Surajmuni Hembrom was reunited with her parents. They turned to the person that villagers had sought guidance from for years: Sister Valsa John Malamel.

With a broad jaw and hair pulled back behind her head, Sister Valsa was 53 years old and a member of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, a Belgium-based order of nuns. Surajmuni Hembrom, 31 years her junior, was saving $4 a week in the hopes of opening a tailoring business in the village. Despite their differences, the two were especially close.

Surajmuni spent her free time at the compound where Sister Valsa stayed, cooking for her, washing her clothes, and frequently spending the night. If Sister Valsa found something funny in the newspaper, she read it aloud. They laughed about a family in Mizoram state, in India’s northeast, that had 170 members and ate 50 chickens and 50 kilograms of potatoes for one meal.

Sister Valsa’s advice was for Surajmuni Hembrom’s family first to meet with the tribal chiefs, says Surajmuni’s father.

But he says the tribal chiefs said Sister Valsa would decide what to do next. She advised the family to file a complaint at the local police station seven kilometers away.

On Nov. 9, the family and three other villagers went to the police. The officer in charge was Chandrika Paswan. He was standing in for the station chief, who was absent that day. Mr. Paswan refused to accept the family’s complaint. He says in an interview he wasn’t authorized to do so in the absence of his boss. “I told them to settle the matter within their community,” he said.

The villagers returned home. Later that day, Adwin Murmu and his parents showed up at the Hembroms’ house with five villagers and two sons of the local tribal chiefs, both families confirm.

“We are ready to bring Surajmuni to our home as Adwin’s bride,” Adwin’s father says he told the family.

“You want our daughter to marry a criminal?” Surajmuni’s father responded.

On the morning of Nov. 15, Surajmuni Hembrom and her parents returned to the local police station with 13 villagers. The station chief, Banarsi Prasad, also refused to accept their petition, the villagers say.

Instead, they say, he introduced them to a broker who asked the family to accept 50,000 rupees (about $1,000) to settle the matter. The family refused.

The broker confirms the meeting but says he didn’t offer any money. He says he was trying to end the dispute between the families at the request of the police.

Mr. Prasad, the station chief, denies being at the police station that day, saying he was away for police training. He also denies asking a broker to intervene. He claims that, over the phone, he ordered that Surajmuni’s complaint be accepted.

However, his subordinate, Mr. Paswan, says both his boss and the broker were present and that Mr. Prasad, the chief, dealt directly with Surajmuni and the broker.

Dejected, the villagers returned to Sister Valsa’s house to talk about what to do next. They left around 4 p.m. A few hours later, the mob gathered.


Chapter Two

Valsa John Malamel was born in 1958, the seventh child of affluent Christian parents in the southern Indian state of Kerala. She attended a local church regularly as a child.

She studied economics at university in Kochi, a major Keralan port city, and taught at a local school. She was inspired by the work of two nuns from a nearby convent run by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, say family members.

Her father, a metals-company employee who later became a politician, died of a heart attack in 1982. Sister Valsa took it especially hard.

The next year, after graduating, she signed up for the Roman Catholic order of nuns, which was founded in Belgium in 1803 to serve “the poor and the abandoned,” its website says. Out of almost 2,000 nuns, about 400 are Indian. The order runs 55 convents in India, 24 of them in the state of Jharkhand. They are overseen by a provincial office in Ranchi, the state capital.

Sister Valsa first worked in Jharkhand, which was then part of Bihar state, in the late 1980s. A decade later, she was living and teaching at a convent and school in the Jharkhand town of Amrapara. In her spare time she roamed the fields and streams around the village of Pachwara, according to her sisters in the order and family members.

On her rambles, she became friendly with local tribe members – and increasingly sympathetic to the poverty she witnessed there.

In 1998, Sister Valsa moved out of the Amrapara convent and into Pachwara for good. Here she stayed, having apparently found a place where she could accomplish her mission in life: Helping and educating the poor.

She moved into a room in the home of Binej Hembrom. He is the traditional head – or parganaith — of 32 tribal villages including Pachwara. (Many of the villagers share Hembrom as a surname.)

The family already had abandoned the Santhal tribe’s traditional religion to become Protestant Christians. But Binej Hembrom, now 80 years old and almost deaf, continues to fulfill his role as tribal chief during ceremonies and rituals. Those include invoking a deity called “Sing Bonga” in a grove of native “sal” trees.

Sister Valsa “was doing good for the village,” Binej Hembrom said one recent day as he huddled in a blanket in front of the fire in his courtyard.

Sister Valsa did not proselytize, villagers say: there are only a handful of Christians in Pachwara. But she lived as the villagers lived and learned their tribal language, Santhali. She also encouraged them to change their ways.

At the time, adults in the village drank hooch made from the dry husk of the native mahua tree, says Sonea Deheri, a friend of Sister Valsa. Drunk men fought each other for women.

Mr. Deheri says Sister Valsa persuaded him, his wife, and others to stop drinking alcohol. “She would say to us, ‘Follow your culture but live well.’”

Around 2000, Sister Valsa helped the villagers construct their own school, a thatched hut that sits in an open field. She taught there for six years. Today, it is attended by about 170 children.

“We used to live like wild animals,” says Surajmuni Hembrom, who says she was 12 years old when she met Sister Valsa. “But after Sister’s arrival, we learned about living a good life.”

As Sister Valsa visited villagers to persuade them to send their children to the new school, she caught wind of a government survey being conducted of Pachwara and eight other villages for coal reserves, says Shaji Joseph, editor in chief of The Public Agenda, a Hindi-language bi-weekly published from Ranchi.

In an interview he conducted in 2002, Mr. Joseph says Sister Valsa talked about a company that was planning to mine in the area – and of the destitution she felt had been wrought on tribal life by mining projects in other parts of the state.

Jharkhand gained its statehood in 2000 to give greater representation to tribes who have lived there for thousands of years. The state’s name means “forest tract” and more than 30 tribal groups, including the Santhal and Paharia, make up about 28% of the state’s total population of 33 million.

During colonial days, the tribes in Jharkhand mounted several unsuccessful rebellions against the British, who extended their authority to the region in 1765. The British constructed a vast network of railway lines to ship minerals to Kolkata, the original capital of British India, and onward to England to fuel the nation’s booming industrialization.

Jharkhand today is one of the poorest states in India despite being rich in coal and minerals like uranium and iron ore. Pachwara and eight other nearby villages have combined coal reserves of 562 million tons, according to the coal ministry in New Delhi. All of the surrounding Rajmahal Hills area has reserves totaling 14.1 billion tons.

It wasn’t long before the government of the new state sought to extract that coal. It leased out 1,152 hectares of agricultural and forest land to PANEM Coal Mines Ltd. a joint venture between the government-run Punjab State Electricity Board and the privately-run Eastern Minerals & Trading Agency of Kolkata.

The company came to the Pachwara area in 2002. It planned to supply coal to thermal power plants in the state of Punjab, about 1,500 kilometers west, said Bishwanath Dutta, PANEM’s director, in an interview.

The villagers mounted a dogged resistance. Sister Valsa played a central role as an organizer. Their organization was called the Rajmahal Pahad Bachao Andolan or Rajmahal Hills Protection Movement.

Her work in rallying the opposition was a turning point in her relationship with the village. It initially strengthened her bond with villagers – and theirs with her – but it also set the course for future friction.

Villagers chased away company officials when they visited the area. They barricaded the roads with gates of bamboo. They stopped police and government officials from entering the village. They kept vigil with bows and arrows.

In 2003, as the standoff intensified, the villagers filed a petition before the High Court of Jharkhand. They claimed they had special rights under a 1949 law which prevents the transfer and sale of tribal land to those from outside the community. They also claimed the government’s action was against their customary right of self-rule, according to court documents.

Two years later, the court ruled against the claims. It said the 1949 law doesn’t stop the government from using its “right of eminent domain” — the power to acquire any private property for public purpose with compensation to the owner.

Sister Valsa and other activists appealed to the Supreme Court of India. Meanwhile, the company started negotiations for a settlement. It already had won over one village near Pachwara by offering higher compensation than the government. It started mining there in late 2005, says Mr. Dutta, PANEM’s director.

The other villages saw little option but to negotiate: They figured the Supreme Court would uphold the Jharkhand court ruling and that support would wane as company funds were distributed, villagers say.

Sister Valsa acted as an intermediary. The two sides reached an agreement in November 2006.

The company promised to provide displaced villagers with alternative shelter and regular income in proportion to the land they lost. It promised a share of mining profits as well as schools, a hospital and a job to a member of each family. And, as the company moved through the area and tapped out coal seams, there were provisions to return the land — restored to cultivable condition — to the original inhabitants before a new mine could open.

In return, the villagers withdrew their court appeal and the Supreme Court made a copy of the agreement part of its records. The central government has since proposed a law that would require mining companies to give equity and royalties to those affected by mines.

Binej Hembrom, the parganaith, signed the agreement on behalf of nine villages. He also headed a committee to oversee the agreement’s implementation. The other members included Sister Valsa and the tribal chiefs of all nine area villages.

The company began distributing a total of 7 million rupees (about $140,000) yearly to displaced families. Sister Valsa supervised the distribution of the money, according to the company and villagers. Most families in the area earn less than $150 a month, villagers say.

Mining money in the last few years has enriched many villagers. Some new amenities have been built. But the company’s arrival – and the protest movement it sparked – was to take a toll on many other aspects of life in Pachwara.


Chapter Three

As Sister Valsa John Malamel became more involved in the anti-mining protest movement around the village of Pachwara in Jharkhand, her relationship frayed with her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

In the early years that she lived in Pachwara, she used to visit the order’s nearby convent in Amrapara every weekend. But her visits ceased in 2006. “She found she didn’t have the time,” says Sister Lilly Pallipurath, who heads the order’s council that oversees the Jharkhand convents from Ranchi, the state capital.

The council summoned Sister Valsa to discuss her absence. It suggested placing her elsewhere. She refused.

Sister Valsa’s church attendance also lagged, though she told her sisters she celebrated the Eucharist when a local priest visited. The sisters worried that she was neglecting her nun’s rituals.

“We always said we approve of her work but about her religious life we were not very happy,” says Sister Lilly, 50 years old.

Sister Valsa would respond: “What is important for me is the life of the people.”

Was Sister Valsa losing her faith?

“If you look at rituals and other things, one would say she had no faith,” says Sister Lilly. “But rituals and timely prayers are not really faith. That she diminished in her faith, I cannot say that. She always felt close to Jesus.”

Sister Valsa also believed her work was closer to the order’s original mission of serving the poor than the life her sisters led inside their convents. And she wasn’t shy about saying so.

“ ‘I am living the life our founder lived,’ she would say,” says Sister Lilly. “She felt she was living it much more than the other sisters. I said, ‘You can’t say that.’ That was not appreciated.”

In Pachwara, too, resentment was building toward Sister Valsa.

Promodini Hembrom is the 42-year-old niece of Binej Hembrom, the tribal chief, and the daughter of his brother, Cornelious. She says that as Sister Valsa’s role as an activist increased, her father and uncle worked at her “beck and call, out of their goodness and ignorance.”

“We used to tell our fathers, ‘You are the head of the villages, how can an outsider make you run like her dogs here and there?’” Promodini Hembrom says. “But they wouldn’t listen. She had made everybody in the village dumb.”

Cornelious Hembrom, 73 years old, says he and his brother supported and helped Sister Valsa because they believed she was “working for the good of the village.”

After the village reached an agreement in 2006 with PANEM, the local mining company, Pachwara was undisturbed by the company’s activities. But PANEM opened two mines in the area, one in Kathaldih, about seven kilometers from Pachwara.

The mine’s entrance is a craggy and desolate terrain of black and gray shiny sludge. Dump trucks and coal trucks roar along the access road. A narrower road leads up a few hundred yards past machinery, workers’ housing, and piles of trash to the company’s offices. Of the almost 600 people employed at Kathaldih, about 400 are local tribal members, a company official says.

The mining takes places in a vast canyon. Its walls are layered like a Himalayan mountainside but they are devoid of green. In the canyon floor, solitary dots of yellow and orange — a mammoth excavating machine, backhoes and trucks — plow through the freshly-blasted earth to extract, load and remove the coal.

The road from the mine to the railway station in the nearby city of Pakur is in constant use. Dozens of trucks move slowly in giant convoys. Traffic jams are frequent as they meet convoys returning to the pit.

As the trucks trundle by, local men play out a gruesome ritual of desperate poverty. They line the roadside, waiting for their moment. When it comes, they climb the walls of the passing truck and throw out what coal they can grab from the high pile in the truck bed. The drivers make no effort to stop them. Back on the roadside, the scavengers scrape up the fallen coal with a long fork, pack it into tall sacks, mount the sacks on bicycles, and push them to market to sell as fuel in tea stalls or homes.

In the early hours of the morning, local women line the roads to scrape bare-handed for what the men leave behind, their blackened fingers probing the deep coal dust for a nugget. Everything, even the garbage, is plastered with soot.

Since 2005, more than 150 villagers have died after being hit by coal trucks, according to the villagers and police officials. Bishwanath Dutta, director of PANEM, says the transportation of coal is handled by contractors from Pachwara and elsewhere in Jharkhand and the company doesn’t have direct knowledge of these incidents.

The mine also has attracted the attention of local Maoist rebels. They are known as Naxalites after the village of Naxalbari in the neighboring state of West Bengal, where their insurrection started in 1967. The rebels seek the overthrow of the Indian state and have won support among some tribal villagers in Jharkhand and across central India where government services are decrepit or don’t exist. The rebels intimidate villages they view as unsympathetic to their cause. And they target police stations and corporate offices.

In 2009, two senior PANEM officials were shot dead while they were on a morning walk. The murders are under investigation. Police suspect the rebels. On Jan. 10, a group of about 20 Maoists attacked the Kathaldih mine, firing indiscriminately. They killed a security guard, police say.

Villagers in Pachwara and surrounding hamlets have earned unprecedented sums through road construction contracts and other benefits offered by the mining company.

But by early last year, Sister Valsa was growing frustrated. She believed PANEM was dragging its feet on key provisions of the 2006 agreement between the company and nine villages that she helped negotiate, according to villagers and her friends.

In a May meeting of the committee that oversees the pact, she demanded that the company build a hospital that, in 2006, it had promised to complete by the end of 2007, says James Murmu, a PANEM official, who was present. He says the company took her demand seriously and has acquired land where the hospital will soon be constructed.

Sister Valsa also was coming into increasing conflict with Pycil Hembrom, the 40-year-old son of Binej, the tribal chief, according to Sister Valsa’s friend, Sonea Deheri, and police documents filed later.

Pycil Hembrom was responsible for distributing company funds to villagers, a process Sister Valsa supervised. But by early 2011, he had begun challenging Sister Valsa’s supervisory role, Mr. Deheri says, and sought to usurp her.

He says Pycil Hembrom wanted to have “complete control” of the process of negotiating with the company, distributing company funds for compensation and welfare programs, dispensing contracts and supervising the implementation of the 2006 agreement. The contracts and compensation were set to increase dramatically when mining began in Pachwara.

Pycil Hembrom was not available for comment. His son, Prem Hembrom, says his father negotiated with the company only when Sister Valsa was away from the village. He added that his father didn’t “want anything for himself from the company.”

The differences between Sister Valsa and Pycil Hembrom caused a broader rift between the villagers. And it left Sister Valsa in a difficult position: Since she had arrived in Pachwara, she had been staying at the home of Pycil Hembrom’s family, where he also lived.

The atmosphere in their shared house soured. Father Tom Kavalakatt, a local priest, says Sister Valsa recounted to him an incident in June when Pycil Hembrom and his elder brother, Anand, were drinking at the house. Anand Hembrom verbally abused Sister Valsa, Father Tom says she told him.

She confided in her friend Mr. Deheri, too. In a statement later filed with a local court, he said Sister Valsa told him in June: “Pycil has started using abusive words against me and is hurting me emotionally.”

In late June, Sister Valsa moved out of the house to a pair of small rooms in a nearby home.

Anand Hembrom denies that he or his brother abused Sister Valsa. He says Sister Valsa “went out of the house peacefully.” But her relations with the village’s most powerful family would never be repaired.


Chapter Four

In July, Sister Valsa John Malamel of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary left the state of Jharkhand for Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala. She went to visit her elder brother, who was suffering from cancer. On Aug.1, he died.

That evening, Sister Valsa phoned her old friend Sister Sudha Varghese, a nun from a different order who runs a girls hostel in Patna, the capital of the state of Bihar.

“She was really down emotionally and physically,” Sister Sudha says of Sister Valsa. Sister Sudha asked her to visit. Sister Valsa accepted and arrived in Patna Aug. 26. She stayed for the next two months.

Sister Valsa spent her days meeting the girls in the hostel and reading books and newspapers. She was weak from chronic malaria and was recovering from typhoid, Sister Sudha says.

Sister Valsa lamented the state of affairs in Pachwara, the village in Jharkhand where she lived. In 2006, she had negotiated a deal with the local mining company, PANEM, that gave benefits to villagers displaced by mining and awarded contracts to local firms. But Sister Valsa had growing doubts about the company’s motives, she told Sister Sudha and other friends.

“She said she was getting in the company’s way and the company was trying to split the group that she had successfully built over the years into two,” says Sister Sudha. Bishwanath Dutta, director of PANEM, denies the allegation.

In the evenings, Sister Valsa talked with her friends in Pachwara by phone. The news was not good.

Sister Valsa had been the villagers’ interlocutor with PANEM since the 2006 agreement was signed. But Pycil Hembrom, son of the tribal chief known as the parganaith, and his supporters wanted to decide for themselves how compensation was distributed, who was awarded contracts, how mining in the area would proceed and how company funds for village development were spent, according to Sister Valsa’s friend Sonea Deheri, police documents and others in Pachwara.

“Didi” – elder sister, in Hindi – “the villagers are speaking against you so you have to be cautious,” Mr. Deheri says he told Sister Valsa in one call. He told her that he had heard threats made against her life.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he says she responded. “I haven’t robbed any money. I am doing service. As long as people want me there, I will be there.”

Before she left Patna, Sister Valsa said to Sister Sudha: “Anything can happen to me.”

Sister Valsa returned to Pachwara Nov. 7. She was met with a hostile reception. Several villagers say Pycil Hembrom organized a blockade that night that stopped trucks from transporting coal from PANEM’s mine in nearby Kathaldih. Their aim: To pressure PANEM into intervening and asking Sister Valsa to leave the village for good.

Mr. Dutta, director of PANEM, says he talked over the phone to Pycil Hembrom the next morning. “It happened while we were drunk and we will open the road immediately,” Pycil Hembrom said, according to Mr. Dutta.

Sajal Kumar Ghosh, a lawyer for Pycil Hembrom, confirms Pycil’s involvement in the blockade but says he doesn’t know about his client’s conversation with Mr. Dutta.

Pycil Hembrom’s cousin, Promodini Hembrom, says Pycil and other family members wanted Sister Valsa to stay away because they didn’t want her interfering in villagers’ dealings with PANEM.

The same night as the blockade, Surajmuni Hembrom, Sister Valsa’s closest friend in the village, says she was raped by Adwin Murmu, a young man from the neighboring village of Alubera.

“He tortured and raped me throughout the night,” she later told police. At 4 a.m. the next morning, Adwin Murmu pulled her out of the house where the alleged incident took place and said, “Run away quickly,” she says. A lawyer for Adwin Murmu denies that his client committed rape. (Surajmuni Hembrom is a distant relative of Pycil Hembrom and Promodini Hembrom. All the Hembrom families in the village trace a common ancestry.)

Sister Valsa recommended Surajmuni Hembrom and her family file a complaint with the police. Over the next week, they were rebuffed twice at the local police station, according to Surajmuni Hembrom, her parents and villagers who accompanied them.

On the afternoon of Nov. 15, Sister Valsa and other friends met at Sister Valsa’s place.

It is a small, tiled-roof compound she shared with a family. Inside the compound’s bamboo gate, an outer courtyard leads to a small passageway where pigeons nest in broken cooking pots tied to the ceiling. The passageway leads to an inner courtyard. Off that courtyard are the living quarters.

The friends talked about what Surajmuni Hembrom should do next to ensure that her rape complaint was registered. Then they dispersed around 4 p.m.

Two hours later, Sister Valsa called her journalist friend Shaji Joseph, chief editor of The Public Agenda, for advice, Mr. Joseph says. He says he suggested that Sister Valsa ask Surajmuni’s family to go to the deputy commissioner – the head administrator — of Pakur district, the area that includes Pachwara.

Later that evening, Sunil Kumar Singh, the deputy commissioner, says he got a call from an acquaintance of Sister Valsa who told him about the police refusal to register the rape complaint.

“I told the caller to bring the girl to my office the next day at 12:30,” Mr. Singh said in an interview.

At 8 p.m., Sister Valsa called her friend Mr. Deheri to ask him to prepare to leave for Mr. Singh’s office the next morning with Surajmuni Hembrom and about a dozen villagers, Mr. Deheri says. He says he called around to alert the group then went to sleep.

Back at the compound, Sister Valsa and Surajmuni Hembrom ate dinner together and had a bedside chat.

“She comforted me, saying ‘If we tread on the path of truth, God will be on our side,’” Surajmuni Hembrom says. They turned in for the night in two different rooms at around 10 p.m., she says. It would be the last time the two friends saw each other.

Not long after, Sonaram Hembrom, whose family lived in the house, returned from his shift as a dump-truck driver at the Kathaldih mine.

“All of a sudden there was a powerful push on the door,” he said in a statement filed later in a local court. About 40 men, armed with primitive weapons – rods, axes, spades – barged into the outer courtyard. They were lit by a partial moon.

Several men pushed further into the compound. Among them, according to the court statements of three witnesses, were Pycil Hembrom and Adwin Murmu, the man who allegedly raped Surajumi Hembrom.

“Where is Sister Valsa?” Adwin Murmu demanded, according to Sonaram Hembrom’s statement.

“I don’t know,” Sonaram Hembrom replied. “I just came back from duty.”

“If you don’t tell, we will kill you,” an unidentified voice threatened.

In her small, dark bedroom Sister Valsa cowered under a blanket. She made frantic calls on her cellphone. The compound was surrounded, she told two friends.

Then, witnesses testified, a voice in the compound shouted: “Found her.”

Then, shouts of “Cut her. Cut her.”

The attackers slashed at Sister Valsa in the doorway separating her two rooms. They cut her from above her left ear to her mouth and on her throat. Then they abandoned her bleeding body in the doorway.

As they fled, they blew whistles, burst firecrackers and shouted “Inqalaab Jindabad” — “Long Live the Revolution.” Near Sister Valsa’s body were scattered a few hand-painted posters, witnesses said.

Soon after, her friend Mr. Deheri rushed in with other villagers. “When we reached, we saw Sister Valsa was dead,” he later testified.

A lawyer for Pycil Hembrom, Adwin Murmu, and five other men allegedly involved says his clients played no part in Sister Valsa’s death.

Word about the murder spread quickly. About 90 minutes later, Gautam Kumar Samanta, a survey officer with PANEM, appeared at the house with Pycil Hembrom and several other villagers.

In an interview, Mr. Samanta says he went with Pycil Hembrom because “he is closely associated with the company and is the son of the parganaith, who is the last word for any matter in the tribal area.”

They stayed at the compound only 10 to 15 seconds, Mr. Samanta says. But before he left, he collected the posters strewn near Sister Valsa’s body.

Each poster was 1.5 x 1.5 feet in size, hand-painted with red ink, he says. They said in Hindi: “Stop looting the people. Punjab’s PANEM go back. Sister Valsa is deceiving the people. Communist Party of India (Maoist).” The party is the official name of the Naxalite rebel movement that has targeted the company in the past.

Mr. Samanta says he took the posters to prevent “terror among the villagers.”

He says he also called the police. They refused to come, saying they had orders not to enter the area at night because of the threat of a Naxalite attack. The next morning, Mr. Samanta says, he gave the police the four posters he had taken from the site of Sister Valsa’s murder.


Chapter Five

The investigation into the murder of Sister Valsa John Malamel in her rooms in the village of Pachwara is still underway.

Arun Oraon, the inspector general of police for the state of Jharkhand, is overseeing the probe. He says police have a theory that there were three different motives that brought together the mob that killed her on the night of Nov. 15.

Adwin Murmu allegedly raped Sister Valsa’s friend, Surajmuni Hembrom, the previous week. He may have known that Surajmuni and her family – at Sister Valsa’s urging – were scheduled to visit the area’s most senior bureaucrat on Nov. 16 after police twice refused to accept her rape complaint, Mr. Oraon says in an interview.

Pycil Hembrom, the son of the tribal chief, and others were fed up with what they viewed as Sister Valsa’s interference in their ability to negotiate directly with the local mining company, PANEM, Mr. Oraon says.

PANEM, which operates two mines in the Pachwara area, hands out contracts and benefits to local villagers. Sister Valsa oversaw the payments but Pycil Hembrom wanted to be PANEM’s point person in Pachwara, according to villagers and the police.

Six of the seven suspects, including Pycil Hembrom, hold contracts from the company, ranging from housing and road construction to the transportation of coal from the nearby Kathaldih mine, according to Gautam Kumar Samanta, a senior PANEM official, and the suspects’ lawyer.

“Pycil and others thought they will make maximum money in the absence of Sister Valsa’s supervision and monitoring,” Mr. Oraon says.

Police also believe there were perhaps two dozen Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, in the mob when Sister Valsa was killed.

The rebels may have wanted to create “fear psychosis” among the villagers so that they joined the rebel movement, Mr. Oraon says. He notes that in the wake of Sister Valsa’s murder, many villagers abandoned their houses and hid in the forests after police began investigating.

“That’s the rebels’ strategy: To get villagers to support them by creating an environment of distrust and fear of government authorities,” he says.

On Nov.17, two days after Sister Valsa’s murder, police finally accepted Surajmuni Hembrom’s rape complaint against Adwin Murmu.

On Nov.18, Jharkhand police suspended Banarsi Prasad, the local police chief, for dereliction of duty. Disciplinary action has been launched against him. Mr. Oraon says that, as the head of station, it was Mr. Prasad’s duty to ensure that Surajmuni Hembrom’s rape complaint was registered the first time she tried to make it. Mr. Prasad declined comment on his suspension and the disciplinary action.

On Nov.19 and 20, police arrested Pycil Hembrom, Adwin Murmu, and five others from the villages of Pachwara and nearby Alubera in connection with their alleged involvement in Sister Valsa’s murder.

On Nov. 21, police filed a petition with a local court asking that the suspects be remanded in judicial custody. In the petition, the police say the suspects had confessed to “having killed Sister Valsa due to money disputes and other disputes in the past.”

The suspects were taken into custody. Five remain in jail, two have been released on bail. They have not been formally charged; police must file charges by Feb. 15.

Sajal Kumar Ghosh, the lawyer representing all of them, says the police have not been able to establish any “intention behind the murder.”

Mr. Ghosh says his clients were tortured by police to make false confessions. He also notes that confessions before the police aren’t permissible in Indian court cases. He says all of his clients are innocent. He also says that Adwin Murmu denies he raped Surajmuni Hembrom.

Promodini Hembrom, Pycil Hembrom’s cousin, says she visited him in jail. Her brother is also one of the accused. She says the men also told her they were “excessively tortured by policemen to make false confessions.”

She says the seven accused were friends who “liked to eat, drink and party but they are not the ones who would kill anybody.”

Mr. Oraon denies police coerced the suspects into falsely confessing.

On Nov. 21, a local Maoist commander, Ramesh Soren, denied in phone calls to reporters that the rebels were involved in the murder, according to Manohar Lal, a local reporter for The Pioneer newspaper, who received a call.

Mr. Oraon, the police official, says Mr. Soren is a new member of the Maoists and that the rebels who were at the Pachwara compound were directed from a higher level of the organization. Police say they are hunting for the suspects.

G.S. Rath, the director general of Jharkhand police, says police also are looking into whether PANEM, the mining company, played a role in Sister Valsa’s murder.

Bishwanath Dutta, PANEM’s director, denies any company participation. “The allegations by the people that the company had connived to kill Sister Valsa are totally absurd,” he said.

As of mid-January, Sister Valsa’s rooms in the small compound where she lived in Pachwara were largely untouched although the site of her murder has been cleaned of blood.

A large metal trunk and a red plastic table occupy the first room, a 10-feet-by-10-feet square. On one wall, a plank suspended from the ceiling by rope holds crumpled copies of a newspaper from Nov. 14, the day before she was killed. Another shelf on another wall holds small pots of coconut hair oil, calamine lotion and Ponds cold cream.

The second room is near pitch black. A candle illuminates a charpoy — a low wooden bed with stretched cloth strips for a mattress – as well as a small gas stove with two burners, jars of herbs and powdered spices, and a large box of Nestle creamer.

Sister Valsa was buried in a public Christian cemetery in the town of Dumka, two hours’ drive from Pachwara. About 700 villagers, nuns and priests attended the funeral, including 30 nuns from her religious order, the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

In a prayer at the funeral service, the congregation said: “We believe that she has returned to the Heavenly Father after completing her mission here on Earth.”

A simple wooden cross is stuck in a large pile of reddish-brown soil that covers Sister Valsa’s coffin. Nowhere does the grave bear her name.

Back in Pachwara, Surajmuni Hembrom’s father says he is looking for “a suitable man who agrees to marry with Surajmuni after knowing all that has happened to her.”

But he says he doubts whether any man will come forward. “We are ready to keep her with us all our life,” he says.

Surajmuni Hembrom says she has been hiding out of fear at relatives’ houses. “Had Sister Valsa been here, I would have been fearless” she says. She still wants to train as a tailor. But as twilight descended on the village one January day, she tended to a small herd of cows with a switch. She wore a plaid shawl against the winter chill.

“Whenever she used to be with me and be free, we had lots of fun,” she says of Sister Valsa.

Then Surajmuni Hembrom, and the cows, wandered away.



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December 2022
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