Category Archives: South Asia Bulletin

Fascism in progress

Across the aisle: That sinking feeling – 2

Secularism is derided. Liberalism is challenged. Dissent is sedition. Questioning the government (or the Army Chief or the RBI governor) is anti-national.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: May 14, 2017 5:18 am

 That Sinking Feeling, dissent, freedom of speech, sedition, anti-national, maoism, terrorism, intolerance, aadhaar debate, vigilates, indian express

Representational Image. (Express Photo: Oinam Anand)

 

Everyone has likes and dislikes. They concern food, clothes, books, friends, neighbours, politics and practically everything else. That is why it is said ‘one man’s food is another man’s poison’.

Family, culture and religion have a profound influence on one’s likes and dislikes. One may argue for what one likes (“vegetarian food is sufficient for a strong body”), or one may argue against what one dislikes (“English must be replaced in the conduct of official business”), but one cannot kill or cause injury.

Violence Everywhere

India has become a killing field, not only because of militants and Maoists, but because of likes and dislikes. There is actual killing, taking a life, an act that the law describes as murder. Akhlaq, a poor farmer, was killed by a mob because the mob believed that he had kept the flesh of a cow — beef — at his home. Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, and his sons had bought two cows and were transporting them to their farm. They were stopped by a group of self-appointed gau rakshaks (protectors of the cow), beaten and Pehlu Khan was killed. In both cases, the mob or the group did not like the idea that someone may be eating beef.

There is violence short of murder as well. A crowd led by an elected representative defied the law, took out a ‘religious’ procession, was stopped by the police, went on a rampage, vandalised the home of the superintendent of police and terrorised his wife and small children. In this case, the crowd and the elected representative did not like the fact that another religious group had a long custom of taking out a procession.

There is vigilantism. A young couple (not married) rode a rickshaw to a cinema. The police apprehended them, took them to a police station, questioned them for hours, and finally let them off with a severe ‘warning’. The police personnel belonged to a group officially designated as ‘anti-Romeo squad’ and they were tasked to prevent young couples from using public streets or spaces. Non-police groups did the same thing in Kochi and elsewhere. An outfit called the Hindu Yuva Vahini became the enforcer of morals in Uttar Pradesh.

Also read: That sinking feeling – 1

Wither Secularism?

There are communal clashes. There are caste clashes. Leaders jumped into the fray, not to condemn the clashes or to make peace, but to find ‘reasons’ why the clashes were justified.

There is fear. Places of worship are desecrated. Religious minorities live in fear. Dalits live in fear. A Dalit is damned if he does (skins a carcass) and damned if he doesn’t (refuses to skin a carcass). Rohith Vemula wrote “My birth is my fatal accident”. Girls live in fear of harassment if they are seen with boys or wear jeans or have a drink at a bar. Tribals live in fear that they will be deprived of their land and forest rights.

There is polarisation. Without a shred of evidence to support the implied charge of discrimination, it was declared “if land is given for a kabristan, equal land must be given for a shamsan” and “if there is electricity for Eid, there must be equal amount of electricity for Diwali”.

Rise of Intolerance

There is intolerance of dissent.

Mr Sitaram Yechury was dis-invited to a scheduled lecture in Nagpur. My talk at IIT Delhi was cancelled a day before it was scheduled. Ms Priya Pillai was stopped from boarding a flight to London where she was due to address British Parliamentarians on human rights. Lest they become too vocal, non-government organisations are threatened with investigations or cancellation of registration under the FCRA or the Income-tax Act.

There is ideological profiling. RSS swayamsevaks were appointed as governors. Heads of educational and cultural institutions were selected from a small group of right-wing, conservative intellectuals. Text books in Haryana were screened by a committee headed by a self-confessed Hindutva ideologue.

There is insult. Some religions and their followers were ridiculed. Agents were paid to troll journalists and columnists. There is little or no counter-argument, only abuse in the filthiest language.

There is the spectre of an Orwellian state. Aadhaar has transformed from voluntary to mandatory. It was conceived as an aid to Direct Benefit Transfer schemes, it has become a precondition to exercise legal rights such as travel or buying property or paying taxes. Citizens’ data is collected by numerous agencies without a law on data security or data privacy. Data-leak is commonplace.

The government brazenly told the Supreme Court that no person has an absolute right over his or her body!

In the ranking of 198 countries on religious intolerance, India stands at fourth from the bottom. In the World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, India’s rank has dropped from 131 to 140.

It would be foolish to attribute all of the above to the period after the NDA government assumed office in May 2014. These ills were indeed present before. A hierarchical society is inherently authoritarian and intolerant. The difference is this: then, when these ills manifested themselves, persons holding positions of high authority condemned them and the nation bowed its head in shame; now, there is scant condemnation and absolutely no shame.

Secularism is derided. Liberalism is challenged. Dissent is sedition. Questioning the government (or the Army Chief or the RBI governor) is anti-national. The path to sabka saath, sabka vikas is paved with authoritarianism, uniformity and implicit obedience to the will of the rulers.

As that sinking feeling deepens, there is more.

Website: pchidambaram.in, @Pchidambaram_IN

 

Bilkis Yakub Rasool’s Statement to the Press

All Accused in Bilkis Bano Case, Including Police Officers Finally Convicted

BOMBAY HIGH COURT REJECTS APPEALS OF THE 11 CONVICTED ACCUSED, UPHOLDS LIFE IMPRISONMENT

Sets Aside Acquittals of 7 Gujarat Cops & Doctors Convicts them of Evidence Tampering & Cover Up

 Mumbai, May 4, 2017

 Through all of you, friends in the media, I wish to say to all my fellow Indian citizens, my fellow Gujaratis, my fellow Muslims, and to women everywhere – I am grateful that this verdict delivered by the Honorable Judges, has, yet again, vindicated my truth, and upheld my faith in the judiciary.

 My rights, as a human being, as a citizen, woman, and mother were violated in the most brutal manner,  but I have trusted in the democratic institutions of our country. Now, my family and I feel we can begin to lead our lives again, free of fear.

 I am happy that the State and its officials who emboldened, encouraged, and protected the criminals who destroyed the life of an entire community, are no longer unblemished, but today stand convicted of tampering with evidence and cover up. For officers of the state, whose sworn duty it is to protect citizens and enable justice, this should be their great moral shame, to bear forever.

 To fellow Indians, I appeal to all of you, at a time when we hear news everyday of people being attacked and killed because of their religion or community – please help affirm their faith in the secular values of our country and support their struggles for justice, equality, and dignity. For this verdict does not mean the end of hatred but it does mean that somewhere, somehow justice can prevail. This has been an long, seemingly never ending struggle for me, but when you are on the side of truth, you will be heard, and justice will be yours in the end. 

The close friends, who have stood with me through it all, know how much me, my husband Yakub and my family owe to them for their instinting support and love throughout this battle. For journeys like mine cannot be made alone. I am deeply grateful both to the CBI and to my lawyer who represented me during this appeal process in the Honorable Bombay High Court.

Ending impunity

1,528 alleged encounters

SC ruling rejecting immunity to armed forces in ‘war-like’ situations has profound implications

Written by Pradip Phanjoubam | Published:May 2, 2017 12:05 am

J&K attack, J&K attack on army, Hizbul Mujahideen, Hizbul attack on army, indian army attacked, indian express newsPhoto for representational purpose.The dismissal by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of an appeal by the Central government for recall of an earlier ruling by a smaller bench of the same court in the case of 1,528 alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur will go down as a landmark ruling. It has profound implications for the future of counter-insurgency strategies. If the government takes the judgment positively, it can be seen as anticipation of a special force fit for the purpose, armed and trained like the army, but attuned to doing civil duty and being answerable to the civil court of law.

The outline of such a force was quite distinctly visible in the dialectic between the government’s curative petition and the wording of its dismissal by the Supreme Court bench. Very briefly, the petition argued that the matter was urgent as the morale of the forces would drop if they were subject to investigation by the local police after every incident. The stress was on the need to give the army the freedom to use whatever means in its command to tackle what was described as “war-like” situations — and since threats of war were being tackled, the army’s actions should not be open to judicial review.

The judgment rejected the argument that “war-like” situations warrant a free hand to the army, noting that “democracy would be in danger” if the armed forces were permitted to kill citizens on the mere suspicion that they were enemies of the state. It was categorical that there would be “no absolute immunity” from legal prosecution for armed forces personnel on counter-insurgency duties if they are suspected to have caused deaths by the use of excessive and disproportionate force.

The intriguing phrase here is “war-like situation”, which is supposed to warrant the use of the military, which then deals with the situation as if in a war zone. The ambiguity of the term “war-like” speaks of a peculiar dilemma of the Indian state. On the one hand, the insurgency situations in Kashmir and the Northeast are being portrayed as akin to war, but because of the legal implications of calling them wars, the government refers to these problems as merely law and order issues, and therefore, a matter for domestic law to tackle.

The problem is, if this was war, it would imply a conflict of states, thereby giving the insurgents a status that all states would normally avoid. Moreover, if this was war, rules of war, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions, would be deemed applicable, again a prospect no state would concede to. From the government’s point of view, insurgency is therefore definitely not “war”, the noun, but “war-like”, the adjective. But would such semantic acrobatics warrant the use of unaccounted force, as in war? The Supreme Court has said no, urging, instead, all stakeholders “to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the festering problem.”

International combat laws did attempt to take care of this grey area created by “non-international armed conflicts” when the Geneva Conventions Protocol II was conceived of in 1977. The protocol is aimed at bringing violence by non-state forces under the purview of international humanitarian laws. Here, too, because of what are deemed compromises to national sovereignties, few states with internal conflicts have ratified it. India, too, though a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, refused to sign this additional protocol. The ambiguity as to whether insurgencies are “wars”, or merely law and order problems, remains. The use of the military in civil unrest situations, as is being done under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), also remains controversial.

This ambiguity is what perhaps anticipates a new special counterinsurgency force, with combat capabilities of the military, but answerable to civil law for their action. In many ways, the Manipur police commandos, a unit responsible for a great number of the alleged 1,528 fake encounter killings, is one such entity. Although they are not covered by the AFSPA, they still came to be affected by the climate of impunity introduced by prolonged exposure to the AFSPA.

Before the July 2009 photo expose by Tehelka magazine on how a captured former insurgent, Chongkham Sanjit, was eliminated in broad daylight, reporters of local dailies in Imphal would vouch that there were practically daily body counts of suspects killed by the government forces, often police commandos. Some even have frightening anecdotal stories of how they may have saved some would-be encounter
victims.

In those days, commandos were wont to calling up newspaper offices to send someone to cover encounter sites where alleged insurgents had just been shot. On some occasions, some reporters were too punctual and reached the spot before the encounter happened, and the police had to be content with “capturing” the suspects. Those were also the days when gallantry awards for government forces in Manipur were the highest. After the Sanjit killing expose, and the judicial probe that followed, everything quietened down, suddenly. Practically no more encounters, much fewer gallantry awards, and surprisingly less insurgent activities too.

There is no doubt the police can be as brutal, or more brutal, than the military. But the difference is, the police is accountable to the same law as its victims, therefore, the victims do not feel completely powerless. The Sanjit case has demonstrated how much this one attribute can be a check on the impunity of the forces. A disciplined special police force to meet violent challenges to the state may therefore be the answer to easing the military out of counter-insurgency responsibilities.

The terrifying case of 1,528 alleged fake encounter deaths in Manipur is a consequence of allowing a lapse of this accountability. As Amartya Sen cautions in The Argumentative Indian, consequences can make victory pyrrhic and meaningless, and so, though Krishna convinced Arjuna as to why evil must be fought and eliminated, Arjuna’s fears of the consequences cannot be ignored.

The writer is editor, Imphal Free Press, and author of ‘The Northeast Question: Conflicts and Frontiers’
Copyright © 2017 The Indian Express [P] Ltd. All Rights Reserved

 

End the tragedy of Kashmir

Yashwant Sinha-led group calls for corrective measures
Peerzada Ashiq SRINAGAR APRIL 21, 2017 15:44 IST

Delhi based citizens’ group expresses concern over the recurrence of violence, student protests.

As Kashmir remains on the edge, a Delhi-based concerned citizens’ group on Friday called for a political outreach, including dialogue, with the separatist leadership.

The group, headed by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, said in a joint statement: “Nobody in his right mind should want a repetition of the events of 2016 — not the government and certainly not the Kashmiri civilians.”

The statement was also signed by retired Justice A.P.Shah, former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities Wajahat Habibullah, former diplomats Salman Haidar and Nirupama Rao, social reformer Aruna Roy, mediapersons Shekhar Gupta, Prem Shankar Jha and Bharat Bhushan, historians Ramchandra Guha and S. Irfan Habib, retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, author Badri Raina, and activists John Dayal and Sushobha Barve.

The group expressed concern over the “recurrence of violence, student protests and the video war on social media in Kashmir”. “Peace in disturbed areas has never been achieved through more violence or by retributive measures,” said the statement.

Referring to the voter turn-out of a meagre 7% in the Srinagar bye-poll, it added, “An erosion of faith in democratic processes may eventually threaten the legitimacy of the State itself. This process needs to be stemmed and corrective measures taken.”

Calling for dialogue, the group said, “India’s heart is large enough and its Constitution flexible enough to accommodate the aspirations of all its citizens, the people of Jammu and Kashmir included. For this, the government of J&K and the Central government need to show exemplary restraint in either deploying force or adopting ‘innovative’ measures.”

The group asked the Government of India, “To carefully fashion a strategy of outreach for the people of Kashmir. Such an outreach should include not only leaders of Kashmiri civil society, opinion makers, public intellectuals and other stakeholders in the State but also the separatist leadership as promised in the agenda of alliance between the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party).”

The group visited the restive Valley in the last week of October and met senior separatist leaders and civil society groups.

Copyright© 2017, The Hindu