IAMC Weekly News Roundup - April 22nd, 2013 - IAMC
no-image IAMC

IAMC Weekly News Roundup – April 22nd, 2013

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Gujarat govt’s failure to protect people during 2002 riots: US report (Apr 21, 2013, Times of India)

India’s civil society continues to express concern over the Gujarat government’s failure to protect people or arrest those responsible for communal violence in 2002, a US report on human rights has said. The report, titled ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012′ released by the US state department, as mandated by the Congress, says human rights groups continue to allege that investigative bodies in their reports showed bias in favour of Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi.

“Civil society activists continued to express concern about the Gujarat government’s failure to protect the population or arrest those responsible for communal violence in 2002 that resulted in the killing of more than 1,200 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim, although there was progress in several court cases,” said the report, which was released by US secretary of state John Kerry on Friday. “Human rights groups continue to allege that investigative bodies showed bias in favour of Modi in their reports,” the US report said.

The chapter on India in the report runs into 60 pages, according to which the most significant human rights problems in India in 2012 were police and security force abuses, including extra-judicial killings, torture, and rape; widespread corruption at all levels of government, leading to denial of justice; and separatist, insurgent, and societal violence. “Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life-threatening, arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention. The judiciary was overburdened, and court backlogs led to lengthy delays or the denial of justice,” the report said.

“Authorities continued to infringe on citizens’ privacy rights,” it said. “Separatist insurgents and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern states, and the Naxalite belt committed numerous serious abuses, including killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians. Insurgents were responsible for numerous cases of kidnapping, torture, rape, and extortion, and they used child soldiers,” the report said. For the second consecutive year, Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast saw considerably less violence than in the past, it added.

The state department said, law enforcement and legal avenues for rape victims were inadequate, overtaxed, and unable to address the issue effectively. “Law enforcement officers sometimes worked to reconcile rape victims and their attackers, in some cases encouraging female rape victims to marry their attackers. Doctors sometimes further abused rape victims who had come to report the crimes by using the ‘two finger test’ to speculate on their sexual history,” it said, while referring to the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi.



[Back to Top]

Kodnani’s Death move to warn Advani,deflect Zakia? (Apr 18, 2013, Times of India)

The Gujarat government’s clearance on Monday of the file put forth by the special investigations team that recommended death penalty for former minister Maya Kodnani, instead of a life term, in the Naroda Patia massacre of 2002 has brought about turmoil in the entire Sangh Parivar in Gujarat. The file had been submitted to the legal department in September 2012 and the timing is most discussed.

In an interview to BBC on January 28 this year, BJP president Rajnath Singh had said that Maya Kodnani is innocent and the party will fully support her in the legal battle. But the moveon Monday against Kodnani is now being seen with suspicion by even Parivar insiders because Kodnani’s loyalties lie with L K Advani. Kodnani’s parents, who have a strong Parivar background, had met RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat in Ahmedabad last fortnight and requested him to use his good offices to help Kodnani. Many local RSS stalwarts had supported the impassioned plea from the family.

The timing of the clearance of the file is important as it comes seven months after the SIT submitted the report and deflects attention from Zakia Jafri protest petition against chief minister Narendra Modi with thousands of pages of wireless messages and call data record as evidence that Modi government knew about the violence in advance. Also, it comes on the heels of a section of the BJP and NDA favouring Advani as PM. The change in government’s stance is stark. In 2009, when Kodnani was granted bail and SIT wanted bail cancellation, the Modi government replied to SIT that Maya is innocent and denied permission. Even during trial, Kodnani was not arrested.

Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years in jail August 2012 with 30 others for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre. Kodnani, a three-time Naroda MLA, was identified in the court by 11survivors as a mob leader. Kodnani, a gynaecologist inducted as minister of state for women and child development by Modi in 2007, is the first former minister to be found guilty in any case relating to the riots.



[Back to Top]

Probe Narendra Modi’s call records in Tulsiram encounter case: Sohrabuddin’s brother (Apr 20, 2013, India Today)

Rubabuddin Shaikh, brother of alleged slain gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, has demanded that CBI should investigate phone call records of the office of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior IPS officers in connection with the Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case. “Rubabuddin Shaikh has sought probe of telephone calls between the office of Chief Minister and senior IPS officers under Sec 173 (8) of the CrPC,” his lawyer Mukul Sinha said. The section allows further investigation after charge sheet is filed. Sohrabuddin was killed in an alleged fake encounter by Gujarat police in November 2005.

“The telephone records produced by CID (Gujarat) in the case of Tulsiram Prajapati along with the charge sheet reveals that at least two accused, namely Amit Shah (then Minister of State for Home) and IPS officer Rajkumar Pandian, were in constant touch with the office of Chief Minister of Gujarat throughout December 2006,” Rubabuddin’s application to the CBI director states. “Frequency of their contacts markedly increased on and after December 12, 2006,” it adds. Shah, the key accused in Soharabuddin case, also figures as kingpin of the conspiracy in the case related to subsequent fake encounter of Sohrabuddin’s aide Prajapati. Shaikh was killed on November 26, 2005 in Ahmedabad.

Prajapati was the sole witness to his kidnapping and killing, according to CBI. Prajapati was killed in another encounter on December 28, 2006. “CBI has not investigated the details of phone call records of the office of the Chief Minister and senior IPS officers,” Sinha said. “It should also collect telephone records of all the Officers on Special Duty (OSDs) in the office of the Chief Minister apart from gathering call records of Shah, both mobile and landline (residence and office),” Rubabuddin’s application says.

Rubabuddin has also asked the central probe agency to investigate the manner in which Sohrabuddin’s wife Kausar Bi was killed. “The persons who are connected with the case in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are yet to be questioned,” it states. The decision to transfer IPS officer D G Vanzara from Anti-Terrorism Squad to Bhuj as Border Range DIG must also be probed, Rubabuddin has prayed in his application. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had said that murders of Prajapati and Sohrabuddin were part of the same conspiracy and there should be a single trial.



[Back to Top]

Bangalore blast: Terrorist attack or political plot? (Apr 18, 2013, First Post)

The lone blast outside the BJP office in Bangalore yesterday sparked the usual flurry of media overkill. There was the usual, knee-jerk speculation about jihadis, Islamic terror, blah blah. This is, of course, par for course these days in the aftermath of a bombing, be it in Boston or Bangalore. What makes the recent Bangalore incident an exception, however, is that it almost instantly triggered a flurry of political name-calling – an activity usually suspended in the immediate aftermath of a suspected terrorist attack. As wildly inaccurate rumours of multiple blasts circulated online, Congress party spokesman Shakeel Ahmad shot off his Twitter mouth: “If the blast near BJP’s office is a terror attack, it will certainly help BJP politically on the eve of election.” The allegation in turned spawned its BJP mirror, ie the Congress party staged the attack to consolidate the minority vote.

Cue the high decibel outrage, mutual recriminations and general confusion – which was compounded by the Home Ministry stepping in to insist that the attack “pointed to an Indian Mujaheddin footprint.” The state of hysterical anxiety amongst Karnataka politicians is not exactly news. More surprising is the air of cynicism that has quickly taken hold barely 24 hours after a shocking, if not fatal, attack. “Election Bomb?” screams the headline scrawled acrossBangalore Mirror’s front page, accompanied by a story that more or less makes the case for a faked terror attack: The blast has the police and forensic investigators baffled on three counts: One, the bomb was set off in a residential locality instead of a crowded place, as is typical of a terrorist strike. Two, the bomb was an incendiary one – intended to produce fire; not of the type that could cause mass destruction. Third, none of the terrorist organisations has claimed responsibility for the blast; nor there seems to be any motive behind the blast.

Over and again, the print version of the story casts doubt on the claim of a terrorist attack: Not to be left behind, Karnataka home minister R Ashoka dramatically declared, “Terrorist attack targeted the BJP national and state leaders visiting the party head office during election campaign.” This despite not one major leader being in the office at the hour, and not even a window pane at the party HQ cracking in the blast. The Mirror goes on to note the damage suffered by the house outside which the bomb was actually located, “but it never came into focus. The blast was truly and surely hijacked by the political parties.” What’s more interesting is that the story’s online version contains none of this language – except the three reasons why the bomb is “baffling” – and carries a far less accusatory headline: “Blast rocks Bangalore.”

The Mirror’s editorial choices also offer a contrast with its sister publication, the Times of India, which chose to play the story straight, as a possible terror attack, though noting: Senior intelligence officers, however, said poor execution ruled out the involvement of any big-time terror module. One theory was that the attack could have been carried out by locals or politically motivated individuals. Because the bomb was not packed with nails, nuts and screws, the shrapnel of choice, some felt there was no hard evidence yet of an IM operation. The casualties would have been higher had the blast occurred during the evening, when scores of people visit temples in the vicinity. Further, with elections approaching, there would have been hectic activity in Jagannath Bhavan.

The weary citizens of the city have meanwhile gone back to their daily business, unmoved by conspiracy theories whether they involve the IM, BJP or Congress. Their attitude best summed up by this quote from a resident of the locality that experienced the blast: ‘Malleswaram is one of the calmest places in the city which still retains Bangalore’s old-world charm. And in Malleswaram, Temple Street exemplified old Bangalore with its places of worship and low traffic. However, the scene changed with the BJP office shifting here. We do not know who was responsible for the blast or why they chose temple street. If the BJP office was the target, why should we have a political party’s office in a residential layout and why should we suffer for just being their neighbours?’ For most Bangaloreans, the blast merely confirmed a more everyday truth: Politicians make bad neighbours.



[Back to Top]

High Court cancels bail of ex RSS members accused in Mecca Masjid blast (Apr 18, 2013, New Indian Express)

The Andhra Pradesh High Court Thursday cancelled the bail granted by a lower court to two former RSS members accused in the 2007 terror attack at the historic Mecca Masjid here. The high court asked the sessions court to reconsider its orders, granting bail to Lokesh Sharma and Devender Gupta.

The high court verdict has come as a relief to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which opposed the bail on the ground that it could hamper the investigations. The NIA had also argued that freeing the two accused on bail could also have an impact on the probe in the Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express blasts as they are also suspected to be involved in all these terror attacks.

Nine people were killed and over 60 injured in the powerful bomb blast during Friday prayers on May 18, 2007, at the 17th century mosque here. The high court on Dec 4, 2012, suspended the bail granted by the IVth Additional Metropolitan Sessions Court here on Nov 27. Sharma and Gupta, former members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are among six accused arrested by the NIA in the case.

Swamy Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai, Tejaram and Rajender Choudhary alias Samundar are the other accused in the judicial custody. Two others, Sandeep V. Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra, are untraceable and on the run. According to the investigators, another key accused, Sunil Joshi, was gunned down by his associates in December 2007 following some differences.



[Back to Top]

Flutter over Bishop’s Hindu terror remark (Apr 17, 2013, New Indian Express)

Bishop M Prakash, Chairman, Tamil Nadu Minorities Commission, created a flutter at a press conference held in the presence of Collector Archana Patnaik and Superintendent of Police T Senthil Kumar at the Collectorate here on Tuesday by saying that Hindu terrorists were objecting to the construction of churches.

However, he retracted his words after some electronic media persons played his recorded voice and said that his statement would have serious repercussions if it was published or telecast. Realising his blunder, he defended himself, saying that he referred to Hindu fanatics and not terrorists.

Going a step further to convince reporters he said, “I am a Christian but most of my relatives are Hindus. I respect all religions. During my visit to various districts, Christians complained that Hindu fanatics are objecting and blocking the construction of churches. Christians also complained that Vinayakar temples are being constructed everywhere, but it is difficult to get permission to construct churches and mosques. It is the voice of the Christians and not mine. Hence I ask Collectors and SPs to permit the construction of churches in TN.”

When pointed out that the Collectors and the Superintendents of Police had the right to refuse permission in some cases to prevent law and order problem in their respective districts, Bishop Prakash said that the commission would cooperate with the Collector and the SP in such cases.



[Back to Top]

Christian victims tell People’s tribunal about arrests on false charges (Apr 20, 2013, Twocircles.net)

More than 70 Christian Pastors told a People’s Tribunal in Bengaluru city today how a highly communalized Karnataka police arrested many of them and kept them confined in police stations or jails on false charges in league with hoodlums of the Sangh Parivar. Women too were also not spared. The Women victims broke down as they narrated the violence against them. The victims remained in confinement from overnight to several days, the distinguished jury consisting of eminent social activists heard in the Tribunal organized by the All India Christian Council to assess the victimization and persecution of Christian pastors and attacks on churches in the state. It was quite clear from the narrations that Uttara Canara was the foci of the anti-Christian violence, but incidents of persecution were reported from every one of the 30 districts of the state during 2012 and in the first three months of 2013.

The “People’s Hearing on Persecution of Christians in Karnataka” was held at the Institute of Agriculture Technologists in the city. The Jury consisted of Mrs Brinda Adige, the celebrated Founder member of Global Concerns India, Advocate Omkar KB, and Mr K L Ashok, general secretary of Komu Souhardha Vedhike [Communal Harmony Front].and Mr. Mohamed Rafi Ahmed,General Secretay Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity. The Public Hearing comes in the wake of the statement by former Karnataka High court judge Michael Saldanha that Karnataka had witnessed 1,000 cases of persecution of Christians in three years between 2010 and 2012 – an average of more than 300 a year. This was the situation in 2012 also. Most of the victims remain in great fear. Of the 200 persons requested to come to the hearing, only 80 agreed to come. But all of them were afraid of what would happen to them if they spoke in public at the hearing. Many asked the Christian Council how they would be protected if anything happened to them after they gave their evidence.

From the statements of the victim, it is clear that the police have been heavily penetrated and politicized under the BJP rule of Mr. B S Yediyurappa and of his successors, while local thugs and Sangh activists across the state have been encouraged to take the law into their own hands. Many villages show a sharp increase in intolerance, encouraged by the inaction of police forces. Incidents of intolerance included Sangh Parivar members goading villages to stop the construction of churches, demolition of existing structures and stopping people from preaching or peacefully distributing literature. Witnesses identified their attackers as belonging to RSS, the Bajrang Dal and some local frontal organizations. Justice was procured only after the victims approached the local and higher courts. The High Court had to intervene in one case to allow the construction of a religious structure. The victims were, in essence, suffered four types of persecution – those who were imprisoned, those who had their churches destroyed, those who were physically assaulted and beaten up by mobs, and others who were stopped from praying or preaching.

Speaking on behalf of the jury, Advocate Omkar said it was clear the machinery of the state was used by the radical political elements to harass the Christian community and specially the pastors and religious leaders. There was a well-organized anti-Christian violence in 2008. It seems there is still a strong nexus between the police, the local village chiefs, tehsildhars against the community at the behest of the Sangh Parival. The state is also fully culpable. Advocate Omkar said the protectors had become the attackers. K Ashok called upon the community to make common cause with the civil society and progressive forces in asserting fundamental rights including freedom of faith. He also called for legal literacy in the community. Mohamed Rafi Ahmed said it was heart rendering to hear the tales of horror and the many incidents of police complicity the Bajrang Dal and others. The Government must take notice of it. India has a secular Constitution and it is the right of every citizen to practice, profess and propagate his faith. He asked the victims to stand for firm and pursue justice with the perseverance.

The All India Christian Council expressed its deep regret at the inaction of the State Government and the State Minority Commission in coming to the rescue of the persecuted Christians. The Council demanded that the Governor and Chief Minister send out categorical instructions to every police station to take notice of such incidents of violence and take stern action the aggressors. The Council has also demanded a single-window redressal system by the State Director General of Police to listen to complaints because local police station are not recording the incidents, said Dr. John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council and Secretary General of All India Christian Council. The testimonies have been recorded and are available for the press and the government. Copies will be sent to the concerned departments and a copy will be sent to the Chief Justice of Karnataka.



[Back to Top]

CBI to SC: Cautious approach delayed appeal against Advani in Babri case (Apr 17, 2013, First Post)

Not condoning delay in filing appeal against the Allahabad High Court’s order on dropping conspiracy charge against BJP leader LK Advani and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case would cause irreparable loss, the CBI told the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The agency contended before a bench of justices HL Dattu and JS Khehar that delay in approaching apex court against HC order be condoned and its appeal against Advani and others be heard on merit.

The bench, however, said that it will decide on condonation of delay only after hearing the contentions of Advani and others who have sought dismissal of CBI’s plea on the ground of delay. “In normal case we would have done it but in this there is objection from the other side. We will first hear all sides on the issue,” the bench said when senior advocate P P Rao, appearing for CBI, pleaded for condonation of 167 days delay. The bench posted the case for hearing on 17 July.

CBI in its affidavit said that if delay is not condoned then it would cause failure of justice as the accused would get away without facing trial for serious offence. “The delay in filing the SLP is not intentional and deliberate, but bona fide. In case the delay in preferring the SLP is not condoned, it will result in irreparable loss and injury to the State and the failure of justice by letting off the accused without facing trial for serious offences. The purpose of filing of this SLP in public interest would be frustrated,” the affidavit said.

The agency said that delay was caused because the then Solicitor General (SG) had to go through the voluminous documents before approving the draft of appeal and he was also busy in other cases including 2G case. “Time has been consumed because the appealing party was the state and it had to be circumspective and take all necessary steps before challenging the impugned order of the High Court. The delay has been occasioned because everyone associated with the matter was cautious keeping in mind the sensitivity involved in the matter and wanted to exercise due diligence,” the affidavit said.



[Back to Top]

Tormented by cops over Dalit rape victim gone missing, kin commit suicide (Apr 22, 2013, Hindustan Times)

A 38-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter died while her husband and two minor sons ended up in a critical condition after the Dalit family consumed poison in Bheri Akbarpur village of Uklana, 50km from district headquarters Hisar, allegedly tormented by the police over the whereabouts of her elder daughter who is missing after filing a report of rape.

The suicide pact came to light around 9am on Monday, when villagers took the family (names withheld to protect rape victim’s identity) to a hospital in Uklana and the police were informed. At the Hisar civil hospital, two members of the family were declared dead and the 40-year-old family head and two sons, 9 and 11, were referred to the PGIMS hospital at Rohtak, 100km away, where the man narrated the family’s woes. The two boys were in a critical condition.

A casual labourer, the man said his 16-year-old daughter who had reported rape in May last year was missing since many months, and not only would the police keep pressing him to locate her, but the family had been suffering humiliation at the hands of the villagers too. He said he wanted to kill only himself but, when he discussed it with his family, they wanted to do the same.

The rape FIR had been lodged on May 19 last year, two days after the girl had first gone missing and then found at a nearby village. The rape accused, arrested a day after the FIR, remains behind bars, even as the girl reportedly went missing again in June, the report for which was lodged only this February, it is learnt. Meanwhile, the sixth hearing of the case is on April 30, at which the police have to give status of the missing report filed on February 22. Thus under pressure for their failure to locate the girl, the police allegedly quizzed her father repeatedly.

“The case is in a fast-track court at Hisar. But as the girl’s statement has not been recorded, the court has been postponing the matter for around four months,” a police official said. Though deputy superintendent of police Mukesh Jakhar said he “did not know” if the family was being pressurised, officials sought to underline that the family’s financial condition was not good leading to them being “disturbed”.



[Back to Top]

Baba makes in-laws kick woman into miscarriage (Apr 16, 2013, DNA India)

A 20-year-old pregnant woman from Nashik was allegedly kicked in the tummy by her husband and three of his relatives to induce an abortion of the two-month-old foetus. The police said this was done at the behest of a baba (godman) who had told the family that if the woman gave birth to a girl, the child would be a harbinger of bad times for the family. The woman’s husband and his brother have been arrested for the brutal assault.

In all, seven people, including the husband’s mother, have been named in the complaint. On April 5, her husband and his relatives assaulted her to cause the miscarriage, said the victim’s, Suvarna Gaikwad, maternal uncle Somnath Tadakhe, adding that Suvarna’s neighbours had told him about the assault. The incident comes at a time when the chorus for the protection of women has been getting sharper. The alleged brutality also brings into focus the need to enact the Anti-Superstition (Eradication) bill which has been caught up in the legislative process for at least seven years.

An offence registered at Panchavati police station states that Suvarna’s husband had also been demanding dowry. Tadakhe said his niece married Khanderao in May, 2012. “At the time of the wedding, no undue demand had been made by her in-laws but quarrels between the couple started barely two months later,” said Tadakhe. “They demanded money to buy a motorcycle besides other luxuries.”

Tadakhe said Suvarna’s mother-in-law is a devout follower of a godman from Niphad taluka. “To broker peace between the couple, the godman often gave Suvarna’s mother-in-law a powder-like substance. Recently, he told the mother-in-law that Suvarna would deliver a girl if she continued the pregnancy and the girl child would herald wrath on the family.” When Suvarna’s husband asked her to undergo an abortion, she refused. Besides the police, a local organisation that works to eradicate superstition has also intervened.



[Back to Top]

Opinions and Editorials

India can do better than Modi or Rahul – By T. M. Krishna (Apr 22, 2013, The Hindu)

As the whole country views on television and reads in every newspaper the battle between Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, I am only worried that we have actually come to this. We don’t care anymore about thought, kindness, honesty, action, responsibility, courage, leadership. We have one person who refuses to answer any question on the blood on his hands as Chief Minister and another who is being projected as a mature philosopher when we actually need a dynamic leader. Recently at one of his many public appearances, Mr. Modi was asked whether he would take moral responsibility for the 2002 riots, to which he replied that he had already answered questions about the riots numerous times. But the same man has over the last few months been willing to answer time and again the same questions about his developed Gujarat.

Every time Mr. Modi’s name is discussed, the riots are a part of the narrative and the criticism is that we are trapping him within that event. But why not? Any person with some human essence must ask those questions time and again. Whether or not he was party to the violence is up to the courts to decide, but he was the Chief Minister of the State and has refused to say that he should have acted differently. How can we ever ignore that? In fact we should not. In my travels I have always met so many middle class Indians who think Mr. Modi is the Bill Gates of Indian politics. “Go to Gujarat and see the transformation, development, bridges, roads, IT companies, the speed of decision making and you will realise why he is the right person for us.” When I hear these statements I am filled with sadness that we as a society can easily erase people from our minds. We say that the courts have not convicted Mr. Modi, but we readily accuse someone else as being a criminal even when no verdict has been proclaimed. Essentially, economic growth seems to erase all sense of human decency.

I am also told that “after all the Muslims have also voted for him.” Honestly, I don’t care if all the Muslims in the world voted for him. I care that people died, not Muslims, Christians or Hindus. I am not aware of the voting patterns of Gujarat, that’s for psephologists. But I am aware that reasons for a minority community to behave in a certain way are usually driven by the behaviour of the dominant group. The “dominants” manipulate and coerce the weak to act in certain ways. The positive economic changes seen in the lives of the majority also influences the behavioural pattern of the minority. I am not saying these are the reasons but let us just keep this in mind. We as human beings are built to empathise and feel for others. Let us not lose sight of this basic quality of humanity in the dream of economic comfort or seeming political “stability.” I would rather be poor than inhuman! Mr. Modi, I will not stop asking you this: “Will you take moral responsibility for the riots?” You owe this country an answer.

While this is one end of the political narrative, there exists another in the form of a smart, genuine young man who needs to know what he is doing. Someone has to tell Rahul Gandhi that he is not a philosopher and India doesn’t need one in him! We need a strong individual who is honest and willing to show courage. He need not constantly mention the problems of the political and bureaucratic class. We are only too aware of its failings, and are constantly made aware of them. We do not need a “magic wand” but someone with a will to change things and has not until date shown any will. Mr. Gandhi has floated thoughts on “what ails Indian society.” So, what next? There seems to be a stupor hovering over him, a cloud of inertia and intellectual lethargy. The country can ill afford a slumber of ideas, courage and determination in a man who is meant to be waking the nation up.

What one misses in Mr. Gandhi is not earnestness of intent, not sincerity, but a crucial breaking of the trust barrier, a totally convincing breakthrough in winning the nation’s trust. He can fight all his political battles with Mr. Modi or anyone else but first he must be willing to fight the battle of his life for this country. Unless the nation sees him do that how can it entrust its future to him? His advisers don’t seem to see that the absence of a trust breakthrough in Mr. Gandhi is what Mr. Modi is cashing in on and substituting with his own brand of “I can do it” in surplus. India needs a good human being at its helm but also a proactive person with serious, practical ideas of how to change this nation. We have in him an exhaustingly long prologue; what we need now is the main action. …



[Back to Top]

The Seven Year Itch In Bihar – By Nirala (Apr 27, 2013, Tehelka)

ON 16 April, Bihar’s capital, Patna, witnessed an act of political grandstanding by the Janata Dal (United), which leads the state’s ruling coalition. Shivanand Tiwari, Rajya Sabha MP and party spokesperson, called a press conference to attack his party’s junior coalition partner, the BJP. “We haven’t forced the BJP to partner us and it is free to walk out,” Tiwari thundered. “The government will survive without it.” Perhaps the BJP thought, he smirked, it was more important of the two because it ruled several states while the JD(U) ruled only Bihar. If the BJP quits, he said, “we will fight Bihar’s election by ourselves: all the 40 Lok Sabha seats and all the 243 Assembly seats.” Left unsaid was that minus the JD(U), the BJP cannot really hope to storm back to power in New Delhi at the head of a coalition following next year’s General Election.

The two parties have never bickered as much as now during their partnership of 17 years, through several prequels and splinters of the JD(U). Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U)’s de facto supremo, Nitish Kumar, threw the gauntlet by daring the BJP to name Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and risk a break with the JD(U). Secularism, Kumar said, was non-negotiable, and then followed up by saying Modi should own up to the killing of some 2,000 Muslims in February-March 2002 by zealots linked with the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, which supplies the party most of its politicians, including Modi. The BJP shot back, telling Kumar to mind his business.

The verbal duel set the Ganges on fire, bringing juiciness back to Bihar’s politics, which has been rather staid since the coalition first won power in the 2005 Assembly election and retained it five years later. Among other rumours that flew hard and thick this week, one said Modi was considering contesting the 2014 parliamentary election from a seat in Patna and have the last laugh by winning it. But is the sparring for real? At the end of his press conference, Tiwari admitted that any breakdown of the coalition would be “unfortunate”. Around the same time, Kumar and his Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Modi of the BJP, were hanging out together at a function without a trace of bad blood. The BJP’s state president, Giriraj Singh, a Narendra Modi-supporter who held back no punches in attacking Kumar this week, too was in attendance.

The two parties have a history of bickering one day and shaking hands the next. They have been accused of barking without biting. But with temperatures as high as this week’s, the question uppermost in political minds is: which of the two would be the loser if the partnership is called off? Also, would Nitish Kumar succeed in exorcising the ghost of the BJP by ending the partnership now and convincing the state’s Muslims, who are over 16 percent of its eight crore people, to vote for the JD(U)?

Crunch some numbers to get a sense of what might lie ahead for the two parties. The vote share of the JD(U) stood at over 22.5 percent, the largest among all political parties in the fray, at the 2010 Assembly polls. This was an improvement of over 2 percent since 2005. On the other hand, the BJP polled considerably less, just shy of 16.5 percent, which was an increase of less than 1 percent over 2005.



[Back to Top]

Secular mask – Editorial (Apr 20, 2013, Deccan Herald)

The Gujarat government’s decision to seek death penalty for 10 convicts, including a former state cabinet minister Maya Kodnani and a senior Bajrang Dal leader, in the Naroda Patya massacre case will not be seen as prompted by a sense of justice but by politics. The government has also decided to ask for enhancement of the prison terms awarded to 22 other convicts and appeal against acquittals of some others. They had been found guilty last year and convicted for their roles in the massacre of 97 Muslims in the post-Godhra violence in 2002. Though it may be claimed that the government’s decision is largely procedural, as it is the SIT which decided to appeal the verdict, chief minister Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions probably have much to do with the government’s move.

Modi’s biggest handicap in the campaign for acceptance as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is the taint of the 2002 communal killings. He faces charges of not only not doing enough to prevent and control the attacks on Muslims but also inspiring them. Many NDA partners, and some leaders even in the BJP, are uncomfortable with the communal image of Modi. The JD(U) has clearly said that it would support only a secular leader for the prime minister’s office. The decision to seek harsher punishment for the Naroda Patya convicts might be intended to project Modi as a secular leader. It would show Modi as a leader who is fair and just and ready to invoke the provisions for maximum punishment for those involved in communal killings. Who could claim greater secular credentials?

But the attempt at image makeover will not appeal to many as convincing. Maya Kodnani was a minister in the Modi government even when she faced serious charges. The government had supported her and the other accused during the time of investigation and trial. The sudden realisation of their guilt and the move to seek stronger punishment for them will be considered opportunistic and even treacherous in some quarters. The credibility of a leader who is willing to sacrifice his supporters in order to promote his personal interests is bound to be questioned. On the other side, the secular image being projected will also be dismissed as sham. Modi might end up alienating at least a section of the Sangh parivar following without getting value in return in terms of a secular image. Delayed raj dharma is alloyed raj dharma.



[Back to Top]

End this callousness – Editorial (Apr 22, 2013, The Hindu)

It’s been four months since agitated citizens exploded in anger against sexual violence directed at women, since the Prime Minister said the Delhi gang rape victim’s death last December would not be in vain and the nation took a collective vow to repudiate the medieval social attitudes and patriarchal prejudices that give rise to and sanction violence against women. More than two months have gone by since the law relating to sexual violence was bolstered by a series of penal measures.

Yet, India continues to be a country highly unsafe for women and girls. The latest incident in which a five-year-old was left fighting for survival after being raped and brutalised is yet another reminder that penal processes, greater security and harsher laws are not enough to protect the innocent. It may be possible to police late night bus or train services, and even our ill-lit streets, but what does one do about the predator lurking in the garb of a close relative or neighbour? Crime statistics say most rapists are known to their victims, and perhaps no defence is available against them except for families and communities to stop tolerating and making excuses for crimes committed by “their own.”

In the midst of indignant protests over the Delhi incident last December, there was talk of channelling the emotion and energy into a constructive course of action. There were calls for rational debate and a positive change in the attitude of society, of men, and, in particular, of the law enforcement machinery. However, what seems to remain unchanged is the callousness of sections of officialdom. The police station to which the parents of the five-year-old girl went to complain that she was missing made them wait for hours to register the complaint. And there was an unacceptable delay in acting on it. The police did not even search the building in which the family lived, and ultimately it was the girl’s cries in a ground floor room that attracted a neighbour’s attention.

A policeman has been accused of offering Rs. 2,000 as hush money to the family so that they did not go to higher authorities or the media. Similarly, the police in Tenali in Andhra Pradesh was accused of doing nothing when a woman was pushed under the wheels of a truck after she took on a group of men harassing her daughter. In Kancheepuram recently, a police officer said that a woman, who had confronted some men teasing a child, “should have ignored them and walked past quietly.” He would have us believe that she was responsible for the eventual killing of her father by those men. No law will achieve its purpose unless its enforcers shed their insensitivity and callousness towards the victims of sexual crime.



[Back to Top]

The Larger Implications of the Novartis Glivec Judgment – By Sudip Chaudhuri (Apr 27, 2013, Economic & Political Weekl)

The Supreme Court of India has recently rejected the plea of Novartis for patent protection for its anti-cancer drug sold in the name of Glivec or Gleevec. The judgment has evoked extreme reactions. While some have greeted it as a landmark judgment which will make medicines more affordable, others have condemned it as harmful for innovation and foreign investment. We will analyse here some of the implications of the judgment. Patent laws are national laws. With no restrictions before the introduction of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organisation in 1995, India abolished product patent protection in drugs (and food) in 1972. Even under TRIPS, though product patents are mandatory, countries have some flexibilities to frame their own patent laws to suit their national interests. Thus legally and legitimately, what is patentable in India may not be so in other countries as we will see below.

Novartis applied for a patent for imatinib (and other derivatives of a compound) in the United States (US) in April 1994, abandoning an earlier application made a year earlier. (The judgment refers to this as the Zimmermann patent after the name of the inventor.) After getting marketing approval, what the company started selling as the drug for treating chronic myeloid leukaemia was not imatinib but a derivative of it viz, imatinib mesylate. It did not apply for a separate patent for imatinib mesylate in the US because as the judgment shows the Zimmermann patent covered not only imatinib but also imatinib mesylate. Novartis could not at that time apply for a patent for imatinib/mesylate in India because the country was not required to provide protection for a patent applied or granted elsewhere before TRIPS came into being, i e, before 1 January 1995. What it did in India after 1995 (in July 1998) was to apply for a patent for the beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate. But what India did in 2005 when she reintroduced product patent protection was to insert a condition in Section 3(d) that “the mere discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the known efficacy of that substance” is not patentable.

Under the transitional arrangements used by India as permitted by TRIPS, the Novartis beta crystalline patent application was processed for grant of patent only after 2004. The patent was rejected initially by the patent office in January 2006 and then by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) in June 2009. The Supreme Court judgment is basically related to the appeal of Novartis against this rejection of the patent by the IPAB. Novartis argued before the Supreme Court that starting from the Zimmermann patent, beta crystalline form for which the patent was applied in India was developed through two inventions – from imatinib to imatinib mesylate and then from the latter to the beta crystalline form. The Supreme Court however ruled that imatinib mesylate was a known substance directly following from the Zimmermann patent and hence does not qualify as an “invention” in terms of clauses (j) and (ja) of Section 2(1). It also ruled that the beta crystalline form does not satisfy the Section 3(d) criterion. The Supreme Court interpreted the word “efficacy” to mean therapeutic efficacy. The Supreme Court held that “therapeutic efficacy of a medicine must be judged strictly and narrowly” (p 91). Improved therapeutic efficacy must be claimed and established. Supreme Court rejected the appeal and hence denied the patent to Novartis because Novartis could not demonstrate that the new form (beta crystalline) of the known substance (imatinib mesylate) enhanced the therapeutic efficacy of the drug. The court rejected Novartis’ claims of better bioavailability and better physical characteristics such as better storability of the compound saying that these do not necessarily improve the therapeutic effect.

When Novartis applied for a patent for the beta crystalline form in India in 1998, it did not claim any therapeutic benefit. It was not required to do so at that stage because the Section 3(d) efficacy criterion was introduced much later. After the patent was taken up for examination after 2004 and after the grant of the patent was opposed (India’s legislation provides for pre-grant opposition), Novartis filed affidavits to satisfy the requirement of Section 3(d). But it was admitted that no study had been done earlier since nowhere in the world had such conditions been imposed. Acknow-ledging the spirit of the law, Novartis had the honourable option to withdraw the patent application. Rather what it did was to wage a seven-year-long legal battle opposing not only the rulings of the patent office and the appellate board but filing writ petitions for declaring Section 3(d) as unconstitutional! (The latter was dismissed by the Madras High Court in 2007.) Noting that what Novartis was selling in the US and in India was imatinib mesylate and not the beta crystalline form, the court remarked that the case of Novartis “appears in rather poor light and the claim for patent for beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate would only appear as an attempt to obtain patent for imatinib mesylate, which would otherwise not be permissible in this country” (p 96).

The judgment will have a positive impact on affordability and accessibility of medicines. Generic companies sell the anti-cancer drug at a fraction of more than the Rs 1 lakh charged by Novartis for a dose of the product. Patent is given for a limited time period, currently for 20 years under TRIPS. Thus after the expiry of the patent, other firms can and do enter the market and that results in a fall in the prices and hence of profits of the patent holder. The multinational corporations (MNCs) holding the patents often try to block or delay this competition by getting secondary patents on minor changes to the product, a practice which has come to be known as evergreening. But the objective of the patent system is not to encourage or permit patenting of new forms of old drugs to basically extend the patent term. Thus what, basically, the Supreme Court in interpreting Section 3(d) is saying is that consumers should not be forced to pay higher prices just because it is chemically a new drug unless there is a therapeutic benefit involved. It is not saying that a new form cannot be patented. All that it is saying is that under the current law it cannot be patented unless it is therapeutically more effective. … The deeper implication of the judgment is that it is not only justified to deny patents when incremental innovation is trivial as in the case of beta crystalline patent application. The judgment has linked the entire question of patenting with net benefits to society and has highlighted the relevance of specific conditions of a country for deciding the appropriate patent regime. If as the judgment notes, the experience in the 1950s and 1960s justified a change in the patent regime in the 1970s, then should not a similar experience after 2005 lead to another change? Of course in the 1970s India had the freedom. Now countries are bound by TRIPS. But TRIPS is not a permanent agreement. It provides for review. The Supreme Court did not comment on the fairness or otherwise of TRIPS. But what it says and implies do provide a justification for a review of TRIPS.



[Back to Top]

A criminal state of affairs – By Stalin K (Apr 20, 2013, Tehelka)

Ten Years ago, I started on a journey to document practices of untouchability across several states and religions of India. 25,000 kilometres, 9,000 minutes of footage and four years later, I put together a documentary called India Untouched. The main reason for making this film was to challenge the belief of most Indians that untouchability is a thing of the past. In the years since the making of that film, little has changed. We still receive reports of barber shops refusing to shave Dalits. Homeowners unwilling to rent their houses to Dalits. Children segregated and discriminated in schools, women not allowed to draw water from wells, families pushed out of temples. Segregated mosques, churches, even crematoriums. Pervasive violence aimed at those who challenge caste discrimination. Social and economic boycotts for those who dare to transgress caste boundaries. Newly-weds chased and killed because they chose to marry outside their own caste. Rapes. Acid attacks. The list goes on shamelessly.

What is more shameful is that these practices are manifestations of a belief that views certain castes as nothing but an impure sect, which should remain servile and accepting of its lesser status. Our failure is to see this belief as endorsing of and perpetuating criminal behaviour. Article 17 of the Indian Constitution states that “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.” However, society continues to look at untouchability as a social given, grounded in ‘tradition’. Instead, we should see such practices for what they are: criminal acts. If your house were burgled, you would expect the case to be treated as a criminal act/offence. Such a luxury is not afforded, however, to Dalits facing discrimination and persecution. The laws in place to address the scourge of caste-based discrimination may be progressive, but the mechanisms that exist to enforce legislation are regressive.

A large part of the problem is that law enforcement agencies operate in a reactive rather than a proactive manner. Despite the prevalence of caste-based behaviour leading to untouchability (criminal offences) these agencies wait for an aggrieved party to file a complaint – and report violation of Article 17 – rather than do their job in enforcing the law. How else does one explain the fact that police stations and courts have not taken any suo moto cognizance of these everyday events? How else can we understand that there are no public or government campaigns to remind citizens that untouchability has been abolished, and that those practicing it will be treated as criminals? In order to fall in line with the shifted morality and ethics of our time, we need a strong and proactive law enforcement mechanism. We do not have this in India. On 14 April 2012, we launched a campaign at Video Volunteers (a media and human rights organisation) to draw attention to the issue of untouchability. To date, we have collated 30 videos that document breaches of Article 17.

Together with the videos, we collected 2,800 signatures that were sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) with an appeal that the videos be taken as evidences of offences, and that those involved be prosecuted. Despite submitting the petition and video evidence twice over, we have not received any sort of acknowledgement – let alone action – from the NCSC. We have now sought answers with an application under the RTI Act. It’s a sign of the times when one needs to file an RTI with the institution responsible for protecting the rights of Scheduled Castes, just to find out what is going on. As a society, when we hear about untouchability practices, we should feel outraged, as we would with other criminal acts like murder and rape. It’s time we accepted that the practice of untouchability is not the vestigial remains of some backward, social phenomenon or tradition: it’s a criminal offence. Let’s start calling it what it is.



[Back to Top]