Archive for November, 2008
Dear friends across India and the world,
The brutal Mumbai terrorist attacks sought to divide us. Join an urgent message to show the extremists they failed, and call for unity against terror:
Sign the message now
We’re all feeling the shock of the awful attacks in Mumbai. All our hearts go out to the victims and their families. I’m writing this because I feel we need to honor their memory.
The attacks were aimed at our people, our prosperity and our peace. But their top target was something else: our unity. If these attacks cause us to turn on each other in hatred and conflict, the terrorists will have won. They know that hatred and chaos feed on division. They also know they are radical extremists, and their only hope of reaching society as a whole is by turning the rest of us against each other.
Let’s deny them that victory. We’re launching a message to extremists on all sides and all our political leaders, one that will soon be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan. The message is that these tactics aren’t working, that we’re more united than ever, united in our love and support to each other, and determined to work together to stop violent extremism. If millions of people sign it, our message will be unmistakable, click below to sign it and please forward this email widely:
As a Muslim, I am shocked at what has been done in the name of my faith. As an Indian, I am determined to keep these terrorists from tearing our nation apart. As a human being, I join with the entire world in condemning this horrific violence.
It’s time to speak out, let’s do it together.
With respect, sadness and hope,
Soha Ali Khan
Bollywood actress and Avaaz senior advisor
It is possible today to voice a proposal to take the idea of primary health care, stated in the bold language of the Alma Ata declaration 30 years ago, forward and work towards making it a reality. Health activist Dr. Binayak Sen writes from prison for a special issue in the Economic and Political Weekly on the 30th anniversary of the Alma Ata declaration which envisaged a promise of “Health for All” in 1978. Binayak Sen also writes,
“Writing from jail, I did not have access to books and journals. This accounts for the disjointed state of some of the arguments. None of this is necessarily original or new. This article is based on earlier readings, as well as valued discussions with many friends and colleagues in Rupantar, Jan Swasthya Sahayog, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Shaheed Hospital, Medico Friend Circle, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, and the National Alliance of People’s Movements. The usual disclaimers apply.”
Binayak Sen, a paediatrician, public health professional and national vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, is the recipient of the tenth annual Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.
I should have done something else…
Done something else, other than going on screaming,
While struggling on in this terrifying society,
I should have done something else.
Day after day I watched a tiny hope
Going into something like a huge pair of jaws
Carrying around with me, in this widespread famine,
The shame of having stayed alive…
I should have done something.
–Raghuvir Sahay; translated by BS
The Alma-Ata declaration with its luminous promise of Health for All by 2000 AD was one such “tiny hope”. In September 1978, when the International Conference on Primary Health Care was held in what is now Almaty in Kazakhstan, and the conference declaration drafted under the charismatic leadership of the then director general of the WHO, Halfdan Mahler, the bold language of the declaration created a stir. Yet, 30 years on, the declaration as well as its guiding spirit seems rather to have fallen off the map. Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2003) makes no reference either to Alma-Ata, or to Mahler, or, for that matter, to primary health care (PHC), the key concept that the conference
Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwa Ranjan continues to make mendacious claims about ‘misguided’ critics when the fact is that the state police are hand in glove with rightwing vigilante group Salwa Judum whose acts of violence have been condemned by a number of human rights groups, write Sanjeev Mahajan, Ra Ravishankar, Preeti Shekar and Chukka Srinivas.
(Above): Protesters ring the audience at a conference room at the University of California at Berkeley as Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan (standing, seen from behind) speaks at a conference on justice and law organized by the Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India. [Sharat Lin photo]
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards?)
— Juvenal’s Satires.
Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan recently addressed a panel on human rights in Chhattisgarh at a conference on Indian democracy at the University of California, Berkeley. Ordinarily, this would not be a matter of interest to many beyond the confines of academia. For some, a relatively small state of India being the subject of a panel at a conference would be confirmation that India has finally “arrived,” and for yet others, it would be evidence that we are indeed living in a global village. So why did the address by this chief of police result in a large protest as well as result in a heated question and answer session? And why did Vishwa Ranjan, upon his return to India, declare that the protests at Berkeley were the “psy war machinery of Maoists” in action. An explanation is in order, for there must be many who are now perplexed by all the noise.
Chhattisgarh is not only a mineral rich state, it is also a new state in India, carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000. For the last three years, this state has witnessed one of the worst forms of violence in recent years in India. The Deputy Superintendent of Police of Dantewada district (southern tip of Chhattisgarh bordering the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh) has described the conditions as an aghoshit yudh (undeclared war). A report released in 2006, entitled “Where the state makes war on its own people,” describes the polarization of society between (i) “adivasis and other local inhabitants of the region [who] have little possibility of actual development and are acutely aware of their marginal and exploited status” and (ii) “a small minority [of] mostly trading families, shopkeepers, members of the bureaucracy, lawyers and others living in the small towns, and some rich tribal leaders.” The report contextualizes the rise of the Naxalite movement in Dantewada district in the ground realities of “a situation where the state claims rights to the land, and the people who live on that land are treated as peripheral to the national economy.” [Internet link: http://cpjc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/salwa_judum.pdf]
Subsequent investigations have borne out similar conclusions. For instance, an experts committee of the Indian Planning Commission recognizes the problem as follows:
Radical groups seek the justification for their methods of violence from structural violence (caste and class-based discrimination, for instance) which is implicit in the social and economic system. While not condoning the radical violence, an honest response to it must, therefore, begin by ameliorating the structural violence in the society. [Internet link: http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/publications/rep_dce.pdf]
We may discount the civil liberties groups’ version, but could the Experts Committee of the Planning Commission have gotten it all wrong? Isn’t it self-evident that those who abhor violence and want to put an end to it ought to address the root cause of violence — real injustice? Let us quote further from the experts committee report which identifies some instances of “failure, inadequacy or injustice of State mechanisms and institutions” that have “created space for Naxalite activities”:
State’s failure to enforce land ceiling acts and distribute land to the landless.
State’s illegalizing of traditional habitation rights and putting the “forest dwellers perpetually on the brink of eviction from their own habitat.”
State’s apathy toward forest-dwelling adivasis evicted due to irrigation/mining/industrial projects and its hostility to letting them settle down again in some other forest region.
Non-implementation of the Minimum Wages Act and gaps in the law which lead to exploitation of adivasi labor.
State’s failure to eliminate social oppression, be it caste-based humiliation and oppression of Dalits and lower castes amongst the OBCs, or forced labor “in the most medieval forms.”
While the denial of basic human rights and a decent standard of living might have stoked the flames of insurgency, the Naxalite movement has made no secret of the fact that it has an agenda of its own and brooks absolutely no dissent. We agree with the experts committee that the “task of putting an end to social discrimination should not have required the threat of Naxalite-inspired militancy.” However, barring perfunctory mentions of the need for holistic development of adivasi inhabited areas, the state has paid scant attention to adivasi needs. On the contrary, it has imposed conditions facilitating the corporate looting of minerals from adivasi lands, ruthlessly destroying the livelihoods of entire adivasi communities in the process, and justifying all this in the name of development. (For an articulation of development as envisioned by adivasis, see http://publications.aidindia.org/content/view/474/62) The state has also sought a military solution to the Naxalite movement by pitting adivasis against each other through the creation and nurturing of a paramilitary force known as the Salwa Judum, which many fear has created a permanent schism in the adivasi community.
(Above): Protesters hold placards during a presentation by Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwa Ranjan during his lecture at a conference in Berkeley, Calif. [Sharat Lin photo]
Salwa Judum, literally “purification hunt,” is the culmination of a long series of campaigns launched by the state of Chhattisgarh to “contain” the Naxalites. It has torn apart the lives of thousands of adivasis, forced them to take sides in the raging conflict, and has already resulted in the displacement of around 300,000 people. The state has all along claimed that the Salwa Judum is a “spontaneous” and “peaceful” movement, its immediate trigger being Naxalite “oppression” and violence. However, several human rights organizations investigating the Salwa Judum have arrived at very different conclusions. Although these organizations, such as the Indian Citizen’s Initiative, Human Rights Forum, Human Rights Watch, and Asian Center for Human Rights, are independent of each other, there is a remarkable consensus in their evaluation of Salwa Judum. While unsparing in their criticism of Naxalite abuses, these organizations have held state security forces and the Salwa Judum responsible for many instances of extrajudicial killings, rapes, extortion, torture and theft from adivasis. For details on abuses by Salwa Judum forces, see Human Rights Watch report, “Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime,” available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/india0708/6.htm
While murders by Maoists are rightly condemned by the state and the media, the Salwa Judum militia continue to operate with complete impunity. Human rights activists such as Dr Binayak Sen and Ajay T.G. who have criticized state actions, journalists reporting on state atrocities, and adivasis resisting forced dislocation have all been at the receiving end of harassment and imprisonment under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. The CSPSA has had a chilling effect on free speech and democratic dissent in Chhattisgarh. Its vague definition of “unlawful activities” and the provision for detaining violators for up to three years has placed enormous powers in the hands of state and police officials. Dr Sen, who is a pediatrician, public health specialist and national vice president of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, was arrested on May 14, 2007 under the CSPSA and languishes in prison despite the state’s inability to present any incriminating evidence against him (For details, see June 2008 issue of Siliconeer). Ajay T.G., a filmmaker and member of the state executive committee of Chhattisgarh PUCL, was also arrested but had to be released on bail after 93 days in prison after the police failed to file a chargesheet against him. As a recent faculty letter to Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwa Ranjan noted, unembedded journalists who seek to report the conflict objectively do so at their own peril; to avoid state harassment, most of them often rely on state press releases.
It was in these circumstances that student and community groups questioned Vishwa Ranjan at Berkeley about ongoing human rights violations in Chhattisgarh. While being largely evasive, Vishwa Ranjan did admit that the arrest of Ajay T.G. may have been a “technical mistake” (see video at http://tinyurl.com/3lqm5c). He also signed a postcard addressed to the Indian prime minister and the chief minister of Chhattisgarh demanding the release of Dr. Sen. The pre-printed words on the card read: “The imprisonment of this brave and good man is outrageous. I demand his immediate unconditional release,” to which the DGP added: “This should be sent to the govt [government], not to a police officer,” and signed it — a tacit admission that Dr. Sen is a political prisoner and the criminal charges against him are false.
Vishwa Ranjan has since, very “generously,” castigated the protestors as ignorant victims of the “psy-war machinery of Maoists.” Not surprisingly, Vishwa Ranjan’s castigation of human rights organizations and activists for their alleged one-sided criticism of Salwa Judum and state violence is simply one aspect of the state’s war against its own people, blurring the fundamental distinction between violence committed by state and non-state actors. Vishwa Ranjan and his police force appear to have forgotten this elementary distinction: when non-state actors commit atrocities, one can look to the state to provide succor, but who does one turn to when the state unleashes violence on its own people? Who will hold the police accountable? Is this not reason enough that human rights groups should be more vigilant towards the state? Can the fight against Naxalites be taken as an excuse to deprive hundreds of thousands of adivasis of their livelihood and displace them from their ancestral lands? All this while enriching the corporations who now have easier access to lands emptied of people.
By Subhash Gatade
03 November, 2008
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running and robbing the country. That’s our problem.”
~Howard Zinn, from ‘Failure to Quit’
Three month old Babu who is affectionagely called Yuvraj also is not in a position to read the changes in his mother’s face nor can comprehend why everyone in the family has suddenly started looking tense these days. For the kid the world remains the same, but for his family members it has rather changed a lot.
When Babu aka Yuvraj grows up, possibly he would be told that how his father Vinod Yadav – an activist of the human rights movement – was one day ‘kidnapped’ from Lucknow (24 th Oct 2008)by personnel supposedly belonging to some anti-terrorist squad of UP and later handed over to the police after three days of interrogation which booked him under charges of swindling people (IPC 419/420). Perhaps he would also find out that the arrest happened on the eve of Diwali when grand preparations were on supposedly to celebrate his arrival in this world.
Read the rest of this entry »
Times of India
5 Nov 2008
It’s been a hectic 17 months for Ilina Sen since Binayak Sen was arrested under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act. In between teaching at Mahatma Gandhi Hindi University, Wardha, meeting her daughters in Mumbai, attending her husband’s trial in Raipur, and coordinating the campaign for his release in Delhi, she talked to Jyoti Punwani:
You and your husband worked with the previous government in some areas. Was the arrest therefore totally a shock?
We had a long history of social involvement and activism in this area and were very well known. I had drafted the women’s policy for the new state of Chhattisgarh. We were both part of the state advisory committee on health sector reforms. At that time too, we were often critical of government functioning. However, once the BJP government came in, they began to fill up civil society spaces with their own people, and people like us were marginalised. This coincided also with the turning of Chhattisgarh into a high-security state, land acquisition for industry, and the Salwa Judum.
As state secretary of the PUCL, Binayak spoke openly against state repression. Once the new security law was enacted, we were sure human rights activists would be targeted. PUCL organised two major national conventions against the Act. Yet, even as the clouds were darkening, one felt that one’s reputation and history would carry one through. In that sense, the arrest and the misinformation campaign that was spread about Binayak (he is a doctor only in name, etc) was a shock.
But as a human rights activist this shouldn’t have surprised you.
Human rights activism is based on using a certain democratic space within the Constitution. Binayak’s work was essentially in this area. He opposed the Salwa Judum, took up fake encounters, visited Maoist prisoners – all this was legal activity. It is only a paranoid system that can treat this as guilt by association. I suppose one had misjudged the democratic space available. I first heard the phrase psychological war from a retired police official after Binayak’s arrest. I have heard it many times since and marvel at the way in which lies and more lies are traded by the police and the administration to frame and nail a person. This has been a great learning experience. I would like to write a novel about it if i survive this crisis.
What about the judiciary?
It is part of the same establishment. A G Noorani in ‘The trial of Bhagat Singh’ writes about the way in which the executive and the judiciary colluded to hang Bhagat Singh. It is the same here.
What’s been the effect on your daughters?
They are hurt and show it in different ways. However, they have also rallied round and shown remarkable courage and resilience. Family and a very large circle of friends have been very supportive. People in Raipur, though afraid to speak up, have shown their sympathy and support in many subtle and unsaid ways.
From: Kamayani Bali Mahabal
I had an opportunity to be on the same flight on which mr shyam Benegal and dr Amartya Sen were traveling and i took the opportunity to talk to them regarding Dr Binayak Sen
Watch the videos Below
share and spread the word around
Dr Amartya sen speaks on Dr Binayak
Shyam Benegal speaks on Dr Binayak Sen