IAMC Weekly News Roundup - April 15th, 2013 - IAMC
no-image IAMC

IAMC Weekly News Roundup – April 15th, 2013

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Zakia moves court, challenges clean chit to Modi in Gulbarg massacre (Apr 15, 2013, Hindustan Times)

Zakia Jafri, the widow of slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, on Monday demanded a chargesheet be filed against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 58 others for their alleged complicity in the 2002 riots and sought a rejection of the special investigation team’s (SIT’s) clean chit to them. Zakia, in her court petition challenging the Supreme Court-appointed SIT’s closure report on her husband’s killing in the Gulberg Society incident of February 28, 2002, alleged the SIT “covered up the crimes and misled the court”.

Zakia, in her 514-page petition, has also demanded that the SIT report be scrapped and a further probe by an independent agency be ordered into the circumstances in which her husband was burnt to death. “She (Zakia Jafri) has filed two volumes of petitions and 10 CDs containing documents and other evidence. The court has directed the SIT to first argue on the matter from April 24,” a lawyer concerned with the case said.

The petitioner argued: “As part of the conspiracy to allow anti-minority riots, the administration and the police were deliberately paralysed and neutralised by the conspiracy hatched by Modi and others.” Zakia alleged the main police control room in Ahmedabad ignored messages sent by policemen about violence being unleashed by karsevaks.



[Back to Top]

Narendra Modi failed to tackle Gujarat riots in 2002: JD(U) (Apr 13, 2013, Times of India)

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is not in the prime ministerial race, the JanataDal-United (JD-U) said Saturday. “We have made our stand clear on PM issue. Nitish Kumar is not in the race for Prime Minister,” JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi said at a press conference. The JD(U) began a two-day meet on Saturday amid signals that the party may not immediately press the BJP to declare a prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections, while maintaining its reservations over Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Tyagi said his party would give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) time to declare the prime ministerial candidate. “We will wait for the BJP to declare PM candidate and we will comment then,” he said. On being asked about Modi as PM candidate, Tyagi said “he was not able to tackle Gujarat riots in 2002”. He, however, said that “we are not opposed to LK Advani for PM candidate.” Nitish Kumar has, on more than one occasion, expressed grave reservations over Modi’s candidature for prime ministership, given his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Tyagi also added that his party would not form government with Congress in future. “There is no question of forming government with Congress if situation arises,” the party spokesperson said. While the JD(U) national executive met on Saturday, the national convention will take place Sunday. The JD(U) is the largest constituent of the NDA after the BJP, with 20 members in the Lok Sabha. The party leads the government in Bihar, with the BJP as its junior partner.



[Back to Top]

Fake encounter case: Non-bailable warrants against 19 policemen (Apr 13, 2013, Times of India)

A court here has issued non-bailable warrants against 19 policemen in a 31-year-old fake encounter case, officials said here today. Chief judicial magistrate Ram Swaroop Saroj yesterday issued non-bailable warrants against 19 policemen and fixed April 30 as the next date of hearing.

Police claimed to have killed one Devendra Singh in an encounter in Gopiganj area here on April 4, 1982. Later the state government, on a complaint by Devendra’s brother, handed over the probe to the CB-CID which found the encounter fake.

A case of murder and criminal conspiracy was lodged against 20 policemen. Only one accused appeared regularly in court hearings. The court had earlier written to the Uttar Pradesh DGP for the appearance of 19 policemen who did not attend the court proceedings.



[Back to Top]

India policemen suspended for ‘taking bribes’ in Mumbai (Apr 11, 2013,BBC)

Thirty-six policemen in the Indian city of Mumbai have been suspended after they were allegedly filmed taking bribes, officials say. The footage shows policemen accepting 50 rupees (92 cents; 60p) to 150 rupees ($2.75; £1.80) from Kasam Khan.

Mr Khan said he was carrying out building works at a friend’s home in Nehru Nagar area when he was visited by policemen asking for bribes. The footage was recorded over a two week period in March, he said. Mumbai’s police chief Satyapal Singh called it “a shameful incident” and said that the policemen if found guilty would be punished.

Authorities have ordered an inquiry by the anti-corruption bureau. Mr Khan said he installed the video camera after some policemen threatened to frame him for carrying out illegal extensions unless he paid the bribery money. He submitted the footage to a senior police official which in turn resulted in the moves against the policemen.

This is the first time action has been taken against such a large number of policemen in Mumbai. The force’s website describes police in the city “as custodians of your trust” who strive “to enforce the law of the land impartially and firmly without fear or favour”.

The BBC’s Zubair Ahmed in Mumbai says authorities in Maharashtra state have launched an anti-corruption drive after 74 people were killed in a recent building collapse there. There have been allegations that a large number of illegal buildings have been built in and around Mumbai by unscrupulous builders who bribe police and local administration officials to turn a blind eye to poor safety standards, our correspondent adds.



[Back to Top]

RSS worker on bike with explosives dies in blast (Apr 7, 2013, Deccan Chronicle)

A worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was killed when the bike on which he was travelling, allegedly with explosive material, exploded at Maruthayil near Mattannur on Saturday. The deceased has been identified as AV Dileep Kumar (27), son of Ambiloth Sankaran, police said. The incident occurred at 5.30 am as Dileep was coming towards Mattannur. The bike was completely destroyed in the explosion. Three houses within a 50 metre radius also suffered minor damage, police added. Although Dileep was rushed to a hospital in Kannur, doctors said he was brought dead.

Top police officials including Kannur Range IG Jose George, Kannur SP Rahul Nair and others visited the spot. Bomb squad and forensic experts also visited the spot and gathered evidence. The actual cause of the explosion will be known only after a thorough probe, police said. According to initial indication, Dileep was carrying around 3 kg of explosive, said a member of the bomb squad who examined the spot. CPI-M Kannu district secretary P Jayarajan said the incident was more proof that the RSS was trying to vitiate peace in the district. The police had failed in effectively countering RSS violence, he said.

RSS Kannur district leader Valsan Thillenkeri said Dileep was not a member of the RSS. He was only a sympathizer of the organization. According to Valsan, the mishap was accidental and also pointed out that the family of Dileep were makers of traditional firecrackers. Dileep was carrying the explosive material after the festival in a local temple, he added. Police sources however said that Dileepan did not have a licence to manufacture firecrackers. A case was registered under the Explosives Act.



[Back to Top]

12 injured in communal violence in Jaipur (Apr 14, 2013, Hindustan Times)

A dozen people were injured on Saturday in communal violence in Jaipur following an objectionable religious comment on social networking website Facebook, police said. According to police, tension gripped Mulla Talai area of the city, 300 km from state capital Jaipur, when a mob thrashed a restaurant owner from a different community.

“Some people from the restaurant owner’s community retaliated. Both groups pelted stones at each other, in which about a dozen people, including two children, sustained injuries. We resorted to mild baton charge to disperse them,” said a police officer. “The derogatory comment targeting a particular religion has been deleted. We have also rounded up the man who shared the comment,” said the officer.

Police have been deployed in the area and people are not being allowed to gather. A similar Facebook comment had led to communal violence in the state’s Makrana town about 10 days ago. In a similar case, communal violence had left over two dozen people injured in Jaipur’s Sanganer area April 4.



[Back to Top]

1984 riots: Blow to Tytler as CBI told to examine witnesses (Apr 10, 2013, IBN)

In yet another setback for Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, a Delhi court ordered the CBI to re-investigate the role of the three-time MP in the killings of Sikhs near a gurudwara on November 1, 1984, rejecting the closure report filed by the investigative agency.

Lawyer HS Phoolka said, “On November 6, 1984 Jagdish Tytler went to the Police Commissioner’s office and asked him to release his men. This is clear proof but despite that the CBI never investigated his role.”

The CBI in fact has twice given a clean chit to Tytler – first in 2007 and then again in 2009. Phoolka’s principal argument in this case is that the CBI had ignored key witnesses while filing closure. This was accepted by the court and despite fears this new twist will further delay justice in this nearly 30-year-old case, families of riot victims said they still had hope.



[Back to Top]

CBI to question Ramdev in missing Guru case (Apr 9, 2013, Hindustan Times)

CBI is expected to question yoga guru Ramdev soon in connection with alleged kidnapping of his guru Swami Shankar Dev who mysteriously went missing six years ago while taking a morning walk in Haridwar. CBI sources said on Tuesday that an agency team had already visited Haridwar to pick clues and is likely to visit the temple town in Uttarakhand again soon to question Ramdev and his aide Balkrishna in the kidnapping case.

The sources said the focus of the questioning will be to get any information which might help in tracking down Shankar Dev’s whereabouts. The agency had registered a case in March in this connection under Section 365 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against unknown persons. The section pertains to kidnapping or abducting and wrongful confinement.

Uttarakhand Police had registered a case of abduction to probe the disappearance of Dev, who had been living in Ramdev’s ashram but was missing since July 2007 when he had set out for a morning walk. The FIR was reportedly filed by Ramdev’s aide Acharya Balkrishna at Kankhal police station three days after the Swami went missing under mysterious circumstances.

The state government had earlier sent a request to CBI in October 2012 to probe the case but the same was rejected as the state police had not even registered a case, the basic formality before the agency takes up the probe. Shankar Dev was the founder of Divya Yog Mandir Trust, currently headed by Ramdev who is under scanner for alleged violations in labelling of some of the products of the Trust.

Ramdev had earlier welcomed the decision of the government for a CBI probe into the disappearance of his guru. Ramdev and his trusts are facing a number of probes by the Income Tax, Service Tax and Enforcement Directorate for alleged evasion of taxes and irregularities in complying with forex laws.



[Back to Top]

NIA: Don’t agree with Sadhvi’s cancer report (Apr 9, 2013, Times of India)

The National Investigating Agency on Monday told the Bombay high court that it did not agree with a medical report stating that Sadhvi Pragya Singh, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, is suffering from breast cancer. Special public prosecutor Rohini Salian told Justice Abhay Thipsay, who is hearing a bail plea application filed by the Sadhvi, that it disputed the report. The NIA may seek a fresh medical report to determine her condition.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani and advocate Ganesh Sovani, counsel for the Sadhvi, said pointed out that both the Jawaharlal Nehru Cancer hospital, Bhopal, conducted a mammography test on her and had said that said she had had cancer. They said that a doctor at Breach Candy Hospital too had confirmed that Sadhvi had cancer. Sadhvi Pragya has sought bail both on merits as well as to undergo medical treatment.

Sadhvi, is one of the prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast and the RSS worker Sunil Joshi murder case. A blast at Dikku Chowk in Muslim-majority Malegaon on 29 September 2008 killed six persons. A bike used in the blasts was allegedly traced to Sadhvi Pragya, whose trail led to the other accused, including Lt Col Purohit. The charge sheet alleged that all the 11 accused were part of an organisation called Abhinav Bharat which aimed at establishing a Hindu rashtra through violent means. The NIA said she could undergo treatment at the Bhopal hospital or in Tata Memorial hospital, Mumbai.



[Back to Top]

Cops put 10-year-old Dalit ‘rape victim’ behind bars, upper caste villagers ‘terrorise’ family (Apr 11, 2013, Indian Express)

Life, for them, had never been easy. The couple and their family of 16 live in a two-room tenement and the father, who works at a local grocery store for a daily wage of Rs 200, is the only earning member. Theirs is also one of four Jatav Dalit families in a majority Lodhe Rajput village just outside Bulandshahr city, and have been under pressure for long. But over the last few days, things have turned downright ugly, they said. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter, their ninth child, was allegedly raped by a 35-year-old Rajput man on Sunday. And when the girl and her mother went to the police station in Bulandshahr to complain, the girl was made to spend the night in the lock-up. Now, the majority Rajputs of the village are pressuring the family to withdraw the case and leave the village of 150 houses even as the police said medical examination of the girl has not established rape or injury.

But the Jatav family is adamant. It is neither willing to withdraw the case nor leave the village because it is home despite everything. They hope the law will come to their rescue. “The Rajputs say they are men. They say they get tempted when they see a girl of my daughter’s age. They are blaming us saying why did we let her go out alone,” the girl’s mother told The Indian Express Wednesday. “They have been threatening to kill us, burn down our ancestral home and stone my daughter to death if we do not withdraw the rape case. Even the village panchayat, including the sarpanch, is in favour of the accused and is asking the family to settle the matter,” she alleged. “We are so scared that we cannot go out of our house. A day after the incident, all the Rajputs came and encircled our house. They told me to settle a price for my daughter and keep quiet about the case or else they would stone her to death,” the mother alleged. “I picked up my daughter in an unconscious state from the road. She was traumatized and was shivering. How can they expect me to withdraw the case?”

Hearing her mother speak, the 10-year-old girl, who was lying on a cot in the verandah with a blanket over her face, murmured weakly, “yes, he should not be spared”. She said she was walking to a local shop Sunday evening when the man, later identified as Harinder, a father of three who has since been arrested, asked her to accompany him to the field to water crops. “I told him I am going home. He stuffed a cloth in my mouth and took me to the field where he misbehaved with me. He then said he would throw me into the river if I dare to narrate the incident to my parents,” the girl said, her voice barely audible. “I am very scared of the villagers.” The girl’s four-year-old niece, who had accompanied her to the shop, said the man forced the 10-year-old to go with him and dragged her by her dress. “I ran back home and told her mother. We then went looking for her,” she said. The mother said the 10-year-old had bite marks on her body and scratches on her back when they found her.

When they went to the Bulandshahr women’s police station to complain, the girl was made to spend the night in the lock-up with another woman. “The woman inspector asked me to wait outside and took my daughter inside. She made her sit inside the lock-up through the night while I sat outside. We were sent back the next morning after a case was registered,” the mother said. Superintendent of Police (City), Ajay Kumar, admitted it was a lapse by the police and called it “illegal confinement” of the girl. He said an inquiry had been ordered against the officers on duty and that two women constables on duty had been suspended and two sub-inspectors transferred to the police lines. In Lucknow, the DGP’s office Wednesday ordered that a FIR be registered against unidentified police personnel for putting the girl in the lock-up in Bulandshahr.

Kumar also said the constables had asked the girl to sit in the lock-up as they feared she would leave without registering a proper complaint. Since the SHO was busy in a crime meeting, the constables thought they would ask the girl to wait until she returns. “Since the girl was a minor, her custody should have been given to her parents. The constables had no business asking her to sit inside the lock-up for the entire night,” Kumar said. “Eyewitnesses and the wife of the accused, who was reportedly with him throughout the day, have said the girl had gone to his field to pluck tomatoes, when he scolded her and asked her to go back. We have not found any evidence against the accused yet. However, we are waiting for the pathology report,” Kumar added.



[Back to Top]

Opinions and Editorials

The reality of Narendra Modi’s politics – By Aakar Patel (Apr 14, 2013, Deccan Chronicle)

Let’s look at the myth of Narendra Modi as a development candidate. There is no problem with the idea of him being projected as a candidate, or even as THE candidate, for development. This is because it is a good and positive approach in what is generally a country where politics is done on the basis of identity, not policy or governance. However, is the claim true? Many in the BJP — Smriti Irani is one — have said that nobody else in India has ever campaigned on development alone. Modi is the only man not to divide the electorate by talking of identity issues.

Let us assume that this is the case, and that Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, others in parties like the CPI(M), and Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Behari Vajpayee before them, demanded votes purely on the basis of caste and religion. But even if we were to accept that this were so, it must be recognised that development is only a part of Modi’s appeal and attraction. In Gujarat, as elsewhere, the BJP is essentially a caste-based party. Its primary votebank is the peasant Patel, whom the rebel Keshubhai tried unsuccessfully to break in the last elections. To illustrate this, let’s look at the numbers. Four out of nine ministers in Modi’s previous Cabinet and three out of seven in his current one are Patels. This is votebank politics, not development politics, because in choosing his ministers, Modi looks at their caste. And so it’s wrong to say that the Gujarat BJP, including Modi, spurns caste politics. The second aspect of identity politics is the politics of religion.

It is difficult to be convinced that Modi’s appeal to a segment of the Gujarati population is not because of his tough and uncompromising Hindutva. Let’s look at examples here. When his minister Maya Kodnani was convicted for the killing of 95 Gujarati Muslims last year, Modi did not condemn her. Actually when most Gujaratis knew of her involvement in the massacre at Naroda Patiya, Modi first gave her a ticket to contest and then made her minister. She has been sentenced to 28 years in jail for her actions, but he has avoided taking questions about her crimes. When his deputy home minister Amit Shah was jailed after being charged in a case where a Muslim man and his wife were wrongly killed, Modi backed him. In fact, he had him elevated a few weeks ago to the post of general secretary in the BJP.

The signal that Modi has consistently sent out is that he is going to be tough on Muslims, and if his team makes an error, and even if they are convicted of crimes against Muslims, he will not back off from supporting them and he will not condemn them. He doesn’t disown them, and doesn’t distance himself from their awful actions because this is an achievement that has brought him the admiration of many in the Gujarati middle class. Modi doesn’t need to advertise this side to his divisive politics because the media does it for him. He says that he is unfairly accused, but the facts are quite clear, as we can see. We can continue to talk about him as a development candidate, but the reality of his politics does not validate that claim.



[Back to Top]

Profiles of prejudice – By Jyoti Punwani (Apr 11, 2013, The Hindu)

Is there a grand conspiracy among the country’s intelligence and police agencies to demonise the Muslim community and Islam as many allege? Or is it that when police of different States single out Muslims for different treatment, their conduct should be treated as unconnected random acts based on prejudice? A senior officer of the Mumbai police had to apologise this week to the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind, one of the country’s two largest Muslim bodies. A circular issued by the Special Branch to police stations across the city, asked them to keep an eye on the Girls’ Islamic Organisation (GIO), the female students’ wing of the Jamaat. The GIO, the Marathi circular noted, was “trying to motivate girls towards Islam and asking them to live in accordance with the Koran and the Hadees.” Its main aim, said the circular, was to “inspire students towards orthodox Islam, prepare them for jihad, propagate Islam, and through such propagation, work for Islamisation of the world.”

Threatened with defamation, the officer apologised to the Jamaat – for the “hurt” the allegations had caused, not for the allegations themselves, though the circular bore his signature. This was the input he had received from “some other agency,” he maintained, and he had had to forward it. What he regretted was the leak of the internal circular. He would seek out the person responsible for the leak and make sure he was convicted, he said. Such determination to convict other colleagues who have hurt Muslims in rather extreme ways, not just their feelings, has never been shown by Mumbai’s senior policemen. The officer was livid not because his colleagues had made unsubstantiated allegations against a mainstream Muslim organisation, but because he had been embarrassed publicly. Ironically, the man in question is regarded as one of the few secular officers of the Mumbai police.

Police in other States aren’t so concerned about keeping up appearances. The Delhi Police Special Cell is quite open about the message it wants to convey about Muslims to the country. In 2008, they had draped the three boys arrested after the mysterious Batla House encounter in the red-and-white scarves popularised by the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The pictures of the boys, alleged to be members of the terror outfit, Indian Mujaheedin, wearing these scarves were flashed across the country. It turned out that the Delhi Police had bought these scarves in bulk, no doubt for the numerous Muslims they knew they would be arresting as “terrorists-who’d-slunk-into-the-capital-to-strike” (many of whom have since been honourably acquitted). Instead of the nondescript black hoods/coloured handkerchiefs/loose dupattas that detenus are made to wear in front of the camera, these scarves would leave an indelible, visual impression. Every time viewers saw these, they’d know some more Muslims with pan-Islamic terrorist links had been apprehended.

This long-term plan to stereotype terror accused was foiled by the furious response it evoked. But now, even more diabolic ways have been worked out by the police of other States to stamp Muslim terror suspects by marks of their faith. Yusuf Nalband was released in February after his name failed to feature in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) charge sheet in the Bangalore assassination case. He and four others, including Deccan Herald journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, had been arrested from their shared apartment last August. The allegation against them was that they were part of an Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) plot to assassinate Hindutva leaders. …

The Special Cell’s attempt to project the suspected terrorist as a devout Muslim would have gone unnoticed some years back. Now, the police’s continuous targeting of Muslims has made them alert. The mischievous substitution was exposed by the Muslim Mirror, an online portal. Making suspects display signs of their religious identity when presenting them before the world is not the police’s job. Surely, such religious profiling constitutes an offence. The Jamaat-e-Islami, that threatened to sue the Mumbai Special Branch for defamation, may let the matter die with a written explanation, for the latter’s communal prejudice now stands exposed. But the Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi Police can’t be let off. Who will force them to explain?



[Back to Top]

Carnage 84: The Ambushing Of Witnesses – By Ajmer Singh, Etmad A. Khan (Apr 10, 2013, Tehelka)

The dead cannot strike a deal so the living did. To bail out those who led the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. One witness was offered Rs 25 lakh to forget or not name the men who led the mob that killed 12 members of her family. She refused to give in. She was beaten and constantly threatened but she didn’t yield.

But some others did. They turned hostile one by one. Those who stuck to their deposition were left to fend for themselves, with neither the protector nor the adjudicator finding anything amiss. Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were let off, due to the behind-the-scenes machinations that included allurement and intimidation. And the not-so-subtle threat of a 1984 redux. Democracy and justice lay shamed.

Investigations reveal that in almost all cases, deals were struck to win over witnesses. In Bhagat’s case, Rs 25 lakh was offered to a witness. In Tytler’s case, a week after changing his statement the prime witness went abroad for a year and the second witness is still in the US. There were threats to their lives as well and a prominent Sikh leader was involved in pressurising the witness to say Tytler didn’t lead the mob.

Further sensational disclosures were made that a prime witness, who turned hostile, against Sajjan Kumar was taken to the Congress leader’s residence. Some of these witnesses enjoy a lavish lifestyle and their families misled Tehelka about their whereabouts. Our investigations uncovered the network of middlemen who struck dubious deals to win over witnesses, subvert the truth and derail justice.



[Back to Top]

The Thin Line Between Dissent And Rebellion – By Sunaina Kumar (Apr 20, 2013, Tehelka)

For the past two years, Sheetal Sathe had not been seen, but her songs continued to haunt our consciousness. The young singer with the soul-stirring voice was portrayed as a symbol of hope in Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan’s searing documentary on the Dalits of Maharashtra. Sathe, a member of the Pune-based cultural group of Dalit protest singers and poets, Kabir Kala Manch, was branded a Naxalite in 2011. Since then she had been underground, along with Sachin Mali and Sagar Gorkhe and three other members of the group. On 2 April, Sathe and Mali surfaced in full media glare, staged a ‘satyagraha’ outside the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai, and courted arrest. As they were taken into custody, Sathe retained her fieriness and raised slogans as she was whisked into the police jeep.

Sathe and Mali (both 27, married and expecting their first child) are facing charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), Mali was retained in ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) custody, and Sathe sent to judicial custody on compassionate grounds until 17 April. The recent ruling by the Bombay High Court granting bail to Kabir Kala Manch members Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle, who were arrested in May 2011 (along with Angela Sontakke, a member of the banned CPI(Maoist), still behind bars) gave hope to the disbanded cultural group and led to the decision of Sathe and Mali to come out of hiding. The high court declared that mere sympathy to Maoist ideology does not incriminate a person, and none of the Kabir Kala Manch members can be said to be active members of CPI(Maoist).

Through music and poetry, Kabir Kala Manch took up the cause of social inequality, exploitation of the underclasses, farmer suicides, female infanticide, Dalit killings and the widening net of corruption. Patwardhan of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, made up of civil society activists, says that Kabir Kala Manch members are at an impressionable age where their ideological thinking is still in process and their work covers a wide spectrum of political ideas such as Ambedkarism, socialism and Marxism. “I have known them since 2007 and can vouch for the fact that they have never taken up arms,” says Patwardhan. Kabir Kala Manch was formed in Pune in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and made up of students and young professionals who performed protest poetry and plays in slums and streets, shaking up the cultural scene in Pune as they presented a voice for the voiceless. Both Mali’s and Sathe’s academic backgrounds are exemplary; Sathe being a gold medallist and post graduate from Pune University.

Mumbai-based lawyer and activist Kamayani Bali Mahabal, also a member of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee, says that the existence of the group is crucial as they create space for dissent through shayari and songs that are much more effective than speeches. “They are responsible artists who interpret art as a catalyst for social change. Unfortunately, for the State there is no distinction between Dalit protesters and activists and Naxalites,” says Mahabal, who was exposed to their work through Jai Bhim Comrade. Mihir Desai, the lawyer for Sathe and Mali, says the defence is waiting for the Anti- Terrorism Squad to complete its investigation and file a supplementary chargesheet.

“A lot of people who fight for radical changes in society get attracted to different ideologies, but as the Bombay High Court stated, as long as you don’t act in pursuance of those ideologies, you are not guilty,” says Desai. Despite repeated attempts, TEHELKA was unable to reach the Anti-Terrorism Squad. Patwardhan says that the case against the Kabir Kala Manch proves that the State does not tolerate the voice of weaker sections of society. “In our democracy, only the upper-class elites are allowed to have a voice,” he says. Kabir Kala Manch member and poet Deepak Dengle, who is out on bail after two years in prison, penned a poem in jail called Kis kis ko qaid karoge, mocking those who imprison lovers of freedom. The stirring words of the poem promise that the young revolutionaries will not be kept quiet for long.



[Back to Top]

Murder In The Tea Garden – By Ratnadip Choudhury (Apr 3, 2013, Tehelka)

Lush green tea gardens meet the eye on both sides of the National Highway 37. Providing both succor to the onlooker and livelihood to the lakhs of people dependent on the tea industry, these estates are the lifeline of upper Assam. The Panitola Tea Estate in the Tinsukia district is one of the oldest tea gardens of this region. Among the many Adivasi families (also known as tea garden workers) living in the labour lines of Panitola, is the family of 43-year-old Gangaram Koul, a popular leader of the All Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association (AATTSA). A breakaway from the norm where tea tribe children follow their fathers to work in the gardens, Koul passed his Higher Secondary with first division. Graduating from the Dibrugarh University, Koul had taken on the mantle of fighting for the rights of tea tribes in his garden and surrounding areas. A fight that was to cost Koul his life.

On the evening of 25 March, on his way back home, Koul was attacked by a group of people wielding machetes and iron rods, who first beat him up and then hacked him to death. The gruesome murder has left the entire tea tribe community shocked. Koul was not only a popular leader among the tea garden workers, he was also their crusader who stood up to the corrupt practices in the region. Koul had been fighting against the corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS) meant for the tea labourers in Tinsukia and neighbouring Dibrugarh district. The Tarun Gogoi administration ordered a CID probe into Koul’s murder. Under severe criticism from the media and protests by AATTSA activists over allegations of local Congress leaders’ hand behind the killing, on 2 April, the government had to approach the CBI to take over the investigation.

“We feel that the same forces involved in the corrupt activities my husband was trying to expose is behind his murder,” says Koul’s wife Sakhila Munda, who teaches in a primary school in nearby Digboi town. “He had been instrumental in creating awareness among our community on how they were being exploited and their foodgrain looted.” Sakhila is having a hard time explaining to her shocked son Bishal, 14, and daughter Meghali, 9, on why their father was killed for doing the right thing. Koul’s tryst with politics began during his college days, when he was attracted to communist ideals and joined the CPI(ML). He raised the Sangrami Chah Shramik Sangha (SCSS) to counter the “monopoly” exercised by the Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS), the largest tea labourers’ union in the state, also known to be close to the ruling Congress. Following his death, the CPI(ML) called for a statewide bandh, and the police was forced to file an FIR against local Congress MLA Raju Sahu, two panchayat leaders of the Congress, two local office-bearers of the ACMS in Panitola and Purushuttom Singh, a PDS licencee as accused in plotting the gruesome murder.

Koul had reportedly found that 29 of some 50 Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards from a fair price shop owned by a Sudha Devi Singh in the Panitola Tea Estate were bogus, and the rice drawn on these cards were sold in the black market. Sudha Devi Singh is the sister-in-law of one of the accused, Purushuttom Singh. With the help of his colleague Subrajyoti Bardhan, Koul raised the alarm and soon the tea tribe community joined the movement that led to the suspension of Sudha Singh’s PDS licence. A case on this issue is still pending at the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Tinsukia district. Koul found that Purushuttom Singh, a PDS licencee himself, was operating along similar lines. Local people found that he had lifted two quintals of wheat from the Laipuli GPSS but did not distribute it, and had also shown a huge number of bogus consumers in the population list of 2004-06. But the Office of the Deputy Director of Food and Supply of Consumer Affairs reinstated his licence. “The Food and Civil Supplies Department allowed Singh to lift PDS items from the Laipuli GPSS on 26 December last year when Singh had no valid licence,” alleges Bardhan, also a state committee member of the CPI(ML). “It proves how corrupt officials are involved in this loot and plunder of the PDS.”

Koul had alleged that district officials were openly violating norms of transparency in the sub-allotment of PDS items. PDS items are sub-allotted by the deputy commissioner’s office and the list of the items must be uploaded on the National Informative Centre’s website. In Tinsukia district, all these ground rules were violated. “Koul found that all mandatory norms were violated and how the PDS mafia makes a separate sub-allotment list that shows much less than the actual quantity sub-allotted by the deputy commissioner,” says a tea garden worker on condition of anonymity. Koul’s stand against corruption added to his popularity. He even contested the Assembly polls in 2006 and 2011. In 2006, he contested from Chabua and finished fourth, with 3,042 votes. Again, in the 2011 Assembly polls, Koul secured more than 7,000 votes, a clear indication of his increasing popularity. In 2009, he had also contested for the Lok Sabha from the Dibrugarh constituency. He fought elections every time as a CPI(ML) candidate. However, more than his growing political clout, it is his crusade against the irregularities in the PDS that has forced the government to ask for a CBI probe. What it throws up could well decide the Congress’ fortunes among the tea tribes of Assam.



[Back to Top]

Let’s help realise the vision of Ambedkar for Dalits – By Anurodh Lalit Jain (Apr 14, 2013, The Hindu)

As the nation pays tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on his 122 birth anniversary (April 14), one would realise that much more remains to be done to achieve his aim of social equality for the suppressed classes. A principal architect in drafting the Constitution, he made significant efforts at giving political rights and social freedom to Dalits. However, till date, members of Schedule Castes continue to face caste biases. Dr. Ambedkar had a first-hand experience of untouchability in school, where he was segregated from caste Hindus. He was allowed to drink water from vessel only if it was poured from a height by the peon. In his biography, he spoke of school days when he would not drink water as very often the peon intentionally became unavailable.

Even today, there are instances where Dalit children are made to sit separately for the mid-day meal. Also, in some places students belonging to caste Hindus refuse to eat the food cooked by the ‘lower caste’ people. In a few districts of Madhya Pradesh, Dalit children are reportedly served food from a distance. Such caste biases in school will not only deprive these children of education but also fill their minds with pessimism about society at a tender age. Dr. Ambedkar throughout his life advised Dalits to get educated before agitating for their rights. Data from the House listing & Housing Census 2011 highlight the continued injustice done to Dalits through the demeaning practice of manual scavenging. These workers collect human excreta with their brooms and tinplate and carry it for disposal.

This work division continues based upon the traditional Hindu social order, which assigns to the Dalits the dirty, mean jobs. Dr. Ambedkar said that “in India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not.” A depressing fact as revealed in the 2011 census data on households is that an estimated 8 lakh people are traditionally engaged in manual removal of night soil – a great embarrassment to the State governments that are still in denial mode. Dr. Ambedkar’s efforts to root out such caste biases were perceived to be advanced by Mayawati, who eventually became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. However, the census data show that Uttar Pradesh continues to have the dubious distinction of leading the list with approximately 3.2 lakh people still involved in manually removing human waste.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act in 1993 has provision for punishment, including fine, for employing scavengers or constructing dry toilets. However, manual scavengers are continued to be employed to this day by municipalities, the Railways and defence establishments. The UPA government, on the advice of the National Advisory Council, has recognised manual scavenging as a social problem rather than as a sanitation issue and is looking for ways to stop the abhorrent practice.

Dr. Ambedkar is considered the messiah for his efforts to bring equal opportunity and social justice to the marginalised communities. A real tribute to the great leader would be to continue with his efforts of empowering the Scheduled Castes and helping them overcome the vicious cycle of caste and cultural barrier, rather than merely offering flowers to his statue on his birth and death anniversaries.



[Back to Top]