IAMC Weekly News Roundup – December 3rd, 2012
In this issue of IAMC News Roundup
- Naroda Patia: SIT clean chit for cops
- Justice sought for innocents jailed in terror cases
- “Honest citizens punished, powerful traitors applauded as patriots”
- SC seeks CBI’s response to missing Malegaon blast case suspect
- Politics of pardon in Maharashtra: Govts drop cases against rioters, embolden them
- Prajapati encounter: CBI urges SC to lift stay on proceedings against Shah
- Two death convicts acquitted in Lajpat Nagar blast case
- Case lodged against Ramdev’s Patanjali products
- Don’t tell anyone you’re a Muslim
- Gujarat cops used AK-47 on Dalits, says top officer
Opinions & Editorials
- The war on terror & the collateral damage. 33 innocent lives destroyed – By Baba Umar
- As protests roil Charminar, Hyderabad’s heritage slowly vanishes – By A.Srivathsan
- Modi’s Gujarat and Its Little Illusions – By Neera Chandhoke
- A troubling legacy – Editorial
- The Unwisdom Of Ajmal Kasab’s hanging – By N. Jayaram
- 500 Dalit Homes Burnt, And A News Blip – By Imran Khan
The Supreme Court-mandated special investigation team (SIT) has given a clean chit to accused cops in the Naroda Patia massacre case. The agency had probed the role of police officials in the case, one of the most gruesome during the 2002 riots, at the behest of the court hearing this case. The agency has concluded that the cops are not liable to face criminal prosecution as their roles were not so grave.
This is the second clean chit from the SIT for Gujarat cops. Earlier, probing the complaint of Zakia Jafri, the widow of slain former MP Ehsan Jafri, the investigating agency had told the court that the cops could not be accused according to Zakia’s complaint. She had filed a complaint against CM Narendra Modi and 62 others of conspiracy . The SIT had then probed into the roles of bureaucrats and IPS officers and said in its report that departmental action should be initiated against the then joint commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, M K Tandon and his subordinate, deputy commissioner of police P B Gondia.
The SIT had then thought it fit to refer the case to the state government for further action against the two officers. The agency had however given these cops a clean chit in connection with the charges of larger conspiracy behind the riots across the state. On Saturday, witnesses’ counsel S M Vora said that SIT submitted this report after further investigation on directions issued by special judge Jyotsna Yagnik, who heard the Naroda Patia case. While the court was trying 61 accused persons, witnesses had demanded further probe and sought to arraign top cops – the then Ahmedabad city police commissioner P C Pande; Tandon; DCP Gondia; and the then inspectors of Naroda police station K K Mysorewala and V S Gohil. Besides, there were demands to arraign a couple of SRP officials also.
After probing the cops a second time, the SIT now has reiterated its first conclusion. It filed this report before metropolitan magistrate B J Ganatra on direction issued by the special SIT court. Earlier, the session’s court had to intervene in this matter when the magisterial court turned down the probe agency’s attempt to produce the report before it. The magisterial court had refused to accept the report citing the ground of jurisdiction.
- Syed Shahabuddin clarifies his stand on Modi and Gujarat elections (Nov 26, 2012, Milli Gazette)
- Sreekumar criticizes amicus curiae for not acting in Zakia Jafri’s complaint (Dec 1, 2012, Times of India)
- Muslim groups refuse to build bridges with Modi (Nov 24, 2012, Hindustan Times)
- SIT is duty-bound to give all documents to Zakia Jafri: Supreme Court (Dec 3, 2012, Times of India)
Union Minister of State for External Affairs and national president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) E. Ahmed said that steps should be taken to provide justice to innocent people languishing in the country’s jails in terror-related cases. This was one of the resolutions adopted at the National Executive meet of the IUML here on Saturday.
“The Muslim League is concerned about the innocent people who are currently in jails without proper trial. Proceedings in such cases should be expedited and justice delivered. There have been cases where such prisoners were set free after many years due to lack of proof. They should be given proper rehabilitation as a compensation for the years lost in prison. The same has been conveyed to the respective State governments and the Central government. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has assured me that steps in this direction have already been initiated,” said Mr. Ahmed.
To a question whether this stand of the party applied to People’s Democratic Party leader Abdul Nasser Maudany, he said that if he deserved to be set free as per law, it should be done. He added that the IUML had always been in strong opposition to extremist politics. Another thrust area is development projects for the minorities. He said that there was a lack of enthusiasm in implementing development schemes aimed at minorities. Many of the recommendations of the Sachar committee and the Ranganath Misra commission were yet to be implemented, said Mr. Ahmed.
The IUML would also work towards an alliance with secular parties to counter right-wing forces working against the minorities. “There is a need for secular forces to come together considering the emerging political situation in the country. The Congress party is best suited to take the leadership role in such a coalition,” he said. The party also welcomed the moves to provide voting rights for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in local body elections. Mr. Ahmed said that the party would push all State governments to implement the rule. …
- Terror arrests: LJP on hunger strike, demands white paper on IM (Dec 1, 2012, Daily Bhaskar)
- Fight terror with democratic principles: NHRC chief (Dec 1, 2012, Yahoo)
- Acquitted man takes three dailies to court for calling him “terrorist” (Dec 1, 2012, The Hindu)
- Nationwide march against Muslim witch hunt in the name of terrorism (Nov 23, 2012, Twocircles.net)
Civil rights activists attending a national convention of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) here on Saturday expressed concern over State authorities resorting to violation of human rights of citizens for challenging the nature of development policies, police excesses, allocation of resources to private interests and brazen support for the rich and industrial elite. The two-day 11th convention is devoted to the theme, “People’s insecurity in the name of national security: Citizens’ rights, democracy & State terrorism.” About 300 delegates from 15 States are taking part in the event to deliberate on the challenges before democracy and rule of law in a complex and “violence-ridden” context when protests and agitations are being crushed with force.
The PUCL members honoured former Delhi High Court Chief Justice and the famous Sachar Committee chairman Rajinder Sachar for his distinguished work for protection of human rights of vulnerable sections. Noted Mumbai-based activist and Citizens for Justice & Peace secretary Teesta Setalvad was also felicitated for her courageous work for justice, peace and harmony. Activists pointed out that citizens who agitate as an expression of their fundamental right to live with dignity and freedom of speech are termed “traitors” by the State and beaten, killed, arrested and crushed. In contrast, those in power who sell natural resources and mineral wealth to foreign capitals are feted as “patriots” and rules are bent to favour them. In her keynote address, Ms. Setalvad said the impunity enjoyed by the police officers who unleash violence and brutality on common citizens warrants structural changes ensuring accountability. “When the State honours are given to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray during his cremation, we need to seriously ponder over the question of impunity in the public domain.”
Ms. Setalvad said there was an urgent need to create a jurisprudence on the hate speeches and hate writings which evolve an atmosphere facilitating communal and caste violence, even as the majority of people are forced to remain silent. “The issue is also related to destruction of evidence, as witnessed in 1984 in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat. There should be laws for prosecution of officers destroying evidence of communal violence,” she said. The CJP activist, who has been in the forefront of the campaign to get justice for the Gujarat victims, noted that the recent Naroda Patiya case judgment – in which the BJP and VHP leaders were awarded life imprisonment – was a tribute to the country’s justice system. However, the refusal of bail to the accused in Godhra train burning case for nine years and prompt release of the accused in the post-Godhra violence cases indicated “discriminatory justice”. Ms. Setalvad suggested that closed-circuit television cameras be installed in the trial courts to facilitate deposition by witnesses without intimidation and ensure free and fair trial. She also questioned the tendency of political parties to field candidates of dubious background in elections despite allegations about their involvement in violence and crimes.
Justice Sachar said poverty of large sections of the population was the biggest violation of human rights and noted that the gap between the rich and the poor was constantly widening. Social activist Aruna Roya, who is also vice-president of PUCL-Rajasthan, said the flaws in the democratic system should be addressed through honest efforts and human rights protected by evolving a positive mind-set. The sessions on the convention’s inaugural day dealt with subjects like “anti-democratic laws” such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Information Technology Act, combating State terrorism, politics of communalism and terrorism, struggles for justice and humanity and the politics of resource grabbing on the pretext of development.
PUCL national president Prabhakar Sinha, PUCL-Rajasthan president Prem Krishna Sharma and PUCL national general secretary V. Suresh threw light on strategies for maintaining the organisation’s relevance in the context of “anti-people” policies of the government. Prof. Sinha said the governments elected by the people had served a microscopic minority of the rich at the cost of the common man. Citing the latest instance of two young girls arrested in Palghar for posting Facebook remarks, activists said the governments, both at the Centre and the States, were violating with impunity Constitutional protections to free speech and freedom of association and protest to oppose the State policies. The Koodankulam agitation in Tamil Nadu was cited as one of the most inspiring acts of peaceful civil protest in recent years.
- Fate of Muslim youth in India: ‘Illegal detention, torture’ (Nov 23, 2012, Daily Bhaskar)
- UP High Court comment uncalled for: Rihai Manch (Nov 24, 2012, Twocircles.net)
- ‘Stop targeting Muslim youths’ (Nov 23, 2012, The Hindu)
- ‘Amended UAPA incorporates all the draconian features of POTA’ (Dec 1, 2012, Twocircles.net)
The Supreme Court has sought the response of the CBI and others on a plea seeking the whereabouts of one Dilip Patidar, who has been missing ever since he was allegedly picked up by Mumbai anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in 2008 in connection with Malegaon blast probe. A bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi also issued notice to Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments as well as the Mumbai ATS on the special leave petition filed by Indore resident Ramswaroop.
Senior advocate M N Krishnamani, appearing for the petitioner, challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court order of July 3, closing the case after the CBI filed a “vague” status report stating that the chargesheet would be filed against the accused persons in the ATS after obtaining necessary sanction.
The petition filed by advocate Anish Kumar Gupta alleged that Mumbai ATS, which picked up Dilip with the help of Indore police after midnight on November 11, 2008, had cooked up a story that he was allowed to go after recording his statement last time on then November 16 in order to facilitate him to bring his identity proof. The HC also failed to appreciate the call details of Dilip’s mobile phone allegedly showing that he was with the ATS at the relevant time.
“The HC ought not to have closed the habeas corpus petition at this stage and ought to have monitored the further proceedings to see to it that the real culprits are booked and brought behind the bars,” it said. The petition also referred to the CBI’s conclusion in its status report filed on July 11, 2011 in the HC which specifically stated that ATS, Mumbai had detained Dilip Patidar in illegal custody between November 11 and 20, 2008 and it was for them to explain his whereabouts.
- HC seeks report on CDRs submitted to trial court (Nov 30, 2012, Indian Express)
- NIA puzzled as Malegaon blast witness flip-flops (Dec 3, 2012, Times of India)
- No decision yet on withdrawing terror cases, UP govt tells HC (Nov 30, 2012, Indian Express)
- Techie had no role in Ghatkopar blast case: Kin (Nov 25, 2012, Times of India)
Politics of pardon in Maharashtra: Govts drop cases against rioters, embolden them (Dec 2, 2012, Times of India)
The Facebook fracas in the Palghar township triggered national outrage that resulted in the suspension of two top police officials. However, the rioting mob, which ransacked Dr Abdul Dhada’s hospital, could escape the consequences of their crimes if, as activists say, the Maharashtra government acts according to its past ‘politics of pardon’ in riot, arson and other related cases. State interference in riot cases, as empowered by the Criminal Procedure Code, has resulted in thousands of rioters going scot-free, with the powers-that-be in Mantralaya time and again withdrawing charges or denying permission for criminal prosecution. Meanwhile, victims of the violence have suffered monetary losses or grievous hurt, and have been left to fend for themselves in silence. Thane-based activist Nitin Deshpande said that, often, the government’s withdrawal of cases or denial of permission to prosecute is “more to suit political masters than to correct any wrong by law-enforcing agencies. In the process, the spirit of the law is diluted”.
On November 18, around 50 unknown people allegedly caused lakhs of rupees worth of damage to Dhada’s hospital because his niece had uploaded a comment lamenting the shutdown due to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Only 10 men were arrested, but they received bail of Rs 7,500 each. Similar rioters have walked free in the past. In 1995-99, the Sena-BJP government withdrew charges against 24 Sena activists booked for rioting and ransacking the office of a Marathi eveninger. The Sena-BJP regime’s chief ministerManohar Joshi also granted a state ‘pardon’ in over 200 cases registered against saffron cadres charged in the communal frenzy of the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. Sena chief Bal Thackeray also eluded action in a 1992-93 riots-related case after being accused of inflammatory speech in signed editorials in party mouthpiece Saamna after the Babri Masjid’s demolition. His signed editorials allegedly sought to promote enmity and hatred between communities and resulted in massacres on the streets of Mumbai. Joshi, however, reasoned that pursuing the cases would reopen old wounds and cause more harm than heal.
“It’s not only a case of misusing discretion given to the state government, but a sheer mockery of the crime and judicial system,” said advocate Suhas Oak. “When a crime has been notified and such a serious offence committed, which also results in financial loss to a private person or destruction of public property, there should not be any leniency and interference from the state.” In 1996, the Sena-BJP government, in keeping with its pre-poll promise, dropped charges in over 1,000 cases registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The cases related to riots and attacks on dalits in the wake of the January 1994 decision to rename Marathwada University as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University. The Sena-BJP has not been alone in being generous to its cadres. In 2002-03, the Congress-NCP-led Democratic Front government withdrew charges against 51,442 people allegedly involved in riots and street agitations for political and social reasons. Most cases concerned the riots that followed the desecration of an Ambedkar statue in 1998.
In an interesting non-riot case in 2004, during chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s Congress-NCP-led regime, the government – as an “after-thought”, according to activist Deshpande – withdrew Prevention of Terrorism Act cases against 25 people from Solapur who were allegedly found in possession of firearms and explosives. The state’s explanation was that the police had wrongly framed the Solapur suspects and the material recovered from them were country-made bombs and knives. Pota charges were dropped and charges were filed under the Indian Explosives Act. “It could be the most absurd reasoning considering that Solapur had experienced communal riots in 2002 and these people were held with life-threatening arms,” said Deshpande. “Where was the case for leniency? But, I guess political considerations outweigh everything else.” Deshpande said the decisions to withdraw cases or deny permission to prosecute are “politically motivated”. They amount to state pardons to the rioters who challenged the law of the land and caused damage to private or public property. Such acts of dropping charges mid-way through a trial only embolden future rioters, he said.
Oak said any decision on such crimes should be taken by the courts; the power to punish or acquit the suspects, or drop charges, should be left to the courts and not the executive or legislative branches. Deshpande said justice should be swift in cases of public offences and rioters should compensate for the damage done to private property as well. The authorities should check the annual income-tax returns or property holdings of those convicted in riot or arson cases and accordingly make them pay back for the damage done to private or public property. Statistics, in this case, tell the full story. Riots happen primarily because of government and police patronage. The Palghar case involving the two girls’ Facebook comments has got halfway to its justified end only because of media pressure; left to themselves, the government and the police would have sided wholly with the law-breakers. At the end of the day, riots and forced shutdowns (like the one Palghar saw on Wednesday) are a politician’s ultimate show of power. That explains why governments go out of their way to treat rioters with kid gloves.
- ‘Facebook arrests unjustifiable, but law not ultra vires’ (Dec 1, 2012, The Hindu)
- Facebook comments: IG report indicts police, clears 2 girls (Nov 24, 2012, Indian Express)
- Despite CM’s promise, no sign of action against erring cops (Nov 26, 2012, Times of India)
- Social media cries foul at the draconian law under which Shaheen was arrested (Nov 20, 2012, India Today)
Prajapati encounter: CBI urges SC to lift stay on proceedings against Shah (Nov 28, 2012, Indian Express)
The CBI on Tuesday sought lifting of stay on criminal proceedings against former state Home Minister Amit Shah in the Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case in the Supreme Court which said it cannot pass the order without hearing the parties. “We cannot vacate the stay. Let us hear the petition,” a bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said while deciding to hear from January 15 onwards the plea and other applications connected with the case. “No purpose will be served in vacating the stay,” the bench further said.
Shah’s counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the matter came before the court a day before his client (Shah) is going to file his nomination paper for the Assembly elections. CBI advocate Vivek Tankha said because of the stay in the Prajapati case, the trial in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter killing case has also come to a halt, though both the cases were the result of different transactions. The Supreme Court had on October 18 stayed further proceedings against Shah in the Prajapati case and had sought response from the CBI on his plea contending that Prajapati murder case is part of Sheikh’s fake encounter case and they should be heard together.
When the matter came for hearing, the CBI said it has already filed its response but the Gujarat government and Shah’s counsel replied that they have not been supplied with the copies of the affidavit. The bench said CBI was actually seeking vacation of stay in the Prajapati case. Shah had argued there was no need for a separate FIR in the Prajapati case as the case came to light during the CBI probe into the Sohrabuddin’s case. He had submitted that the chargesheet filed in the Prajapati case should be treated as second supplementary chargesheet in the Sohrabuddin case. The CBI, in its chargesheet filed on September 29 in the Prajapati case, has named Shah and 19 others. They have been accused of committing offences of murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence among others.
- Sohrabuddin case: court refuses to send accused policemen back to Gujarat (Nov 24, 2012, The Hindu)
- Accused cops face SIMI threat in Mumbai, Gujarat tells court (Nov 24, 2012, Indian Express)
- ‘Encounters are murders by the state against its people’ (Nov 25, 2012, The Hindu)
- First ever PIL on regulation of Indian inteligence agencies filed in SC (Nov 20, 2012, DNA India)
Pulling up the Delhi Police for “grave prosecution lapses” in the investigation of the 16-year-old Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case, the Delhi High Court on Thursday acquitted two death sentence convicts and commuted the capital punishment to life imprisonment for another. It, however, upheld the life term awarded to the fourth accused. All the four had been held guilty and sentenced by a lower court in 2010.
Coming down hard on the shoddy investigation, a Division Bench, comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and G.P. Mittal, said: “The nature of grave prosecution lapses, in regard to various issues such as lack of proof connecting some of the accused with the bomb incident, failure to hold TIP [Test Identification Parade] of articles and the accused, … [and] not recording the statements of vital witnesses…. underline not only its lapses and inefficiencies, but also throw up a question mark as to the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced.”
In 2010, Additional Sessions Judge S.P. Garg awarded the death sentence to Mohammed Naushad, Mohammed Ali Bhatt and Mirza Nissar Hussain and life imprisonment to Javed Ahmed Khan. The High Court set aside death sentence of Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohd. Ali Bhatt and acquitted them of all charges. It commuted the death sentence of Mohammed Naushad to life imprisonment. The blast claimed 13 lives in South Delhi in 1996.
- Lajpat Nagar blast: Never a case against duo, say lawyers (Nov 23, 2012, Times of India)
- Lajpat Nagar blast: Delhi HC slams police for ‘serious lapses’ (Nov 22, 2012, Daily Bhaskar)
- Lajpat Nagar blast case: Cops failed to furnish minimum proof, rules HC (Nov 23, 2012, Times of India)
- Lajpat Nagar Blast: J&K CPI(M) Wants Action Against Officers (Nov 23, 2012, Outlook)
A case has been lodged in a local court against Ramdev’s Patanajali Ayurved Ltd for allegedly selling five of its products without proper licence.
District food safety and standards department approached the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate yesterday, after charges of wrong labelling or misbranding of the five products were corroborated by tests conducted at the state laboratory at Rudrapur, said R S Rawat, district food safety officer.
Samples were collected from Ramdev’s Divya Yog Mandir establishment during raids on August 16 and sent for investigation to the lab where five of the products failed labelling tests, he said.
The products which failed label condition tests are Arogya Besan, Arogya Kachchi Ghani Tel, Namak, Kali Mirch Powder and Pineapple Jam.
- RP Singh’s 2G draft report full of holes (Nov 25, 2012, Times of India)
- I was made to sign on 2G audit report: Former CAG official (Nov 24, 2012, DNA India)
- Four accused to be put on trial for coal blocks allocation (Nov 25, 2012, Hindustan Times)
- Retired CAG officers ready for debate on 2G spectrum report (Nov 25, 2012, Times of India)
Even as the city tries to live up to its ‘mega city’ tag and the chief minister hard sells ‘Sadbhavana’, some people in the city remain insensitive to other religions. In yet another case of religion- based discrimination, a young girl who came to city ignoring advice of kin and acquaintances to work as a research associate at Indian Institute of Management has been denied rented accommodation by a landlady only because she is a Muslim. Twenty-six-year-old Nida Yamin, who hails from Delhi, joined IIM-A two weeks ago to work on a project on “Women-led sanitation” that will be conducted in Bihar. Since research associates (RAs) have to manage accommodation on their own, Nida along with Shwetambera, another RA hailing from Bihar, started a house hunt near the institute that would save them travel time.
They zeroed in on a flat near Vastrapur lake and the deal was finalised in one go. However, soon after the meeting, they got a call from the landlady who wanted they know about their caste and food habits. Says Nida, “As soon as I told the landlady that I am a Muslim, I was denied the accommodation citing society issues and others. It initially came to me as a cultural shock and I felt embarrassed about the entire episode…. However, I am a development practitioner and I have to deal with such problems.” The landlady asked Shwetambera, too, about Nida. Says Shwetambera, an NIFT-Bangalore graduate, “I was blatantly asked questions like how will I live with a Muslim roommate and how could I befriend her. I was surprised. I have stayed in Bangalore and other cities and have had a lot of Muslim friends.” She added, “The main question during a flat hunt is about cooking non-vegetarian food to which we abide if the landlord has a problem. But denying someone an accommodation on basis of caste/religion is weird.” All this after the chief minister himself appears to have mellowed down and been extending olive branch to the Muslims. He has been trying to invite Muslims to his party fold, too.
On her experience Nida said, “I have always had Hindu friends. A few are also Jains. They visit my place and we dine together. In fact, they are keen to know about our culture and hence we exchange social visits.” Nida recollected her Bangalore field visit. She along with two foreigner friends went house hunting, but no one asked her about her religion there. “Is it a crime to be born in a Muslim family? God chose me for my family. I could have also taken birth in a Hindu family. But does that really matter? I have been taught about Mahabharat and Ramayana in schools and I respect all religions. I expect the same for my religion.” Her query to people with narrow mindset: “I really wonder how people having such mindsets send their children to a college or abroad. Do they look for a community-based college or university? Are not we supposed to mix and gel with everyone?”
When Nida received the job call from IIM-A, she was told by a lot of people that Ahmedabad was not a Muslimfriendly city. But she did not pay attention to them as she never had had such an experience. She has travelled across the country for projects and never been asked about her religion. She says, “Despite this episode, I do not dislike the city or the people here, but I believe that their perceptions now need to be changed not only of my religion but of other religions as well. I respect all religions and the sentiments of the people. We are Indians and India is a land of multiple religions. Of course, there could be different localities as per personal preferences and that is accepted.”
Both Nida and Shwetambera will be in the city for a year and half and work on bringing about social change and development. Interestingly, Nida owns a house in a Jain colony in Delhi and has done her master’s in sustainability development. She has also worked on HIV-AIDS project of Family Health International. Shwetambera hails from Bihar and is here for a research on Sabarmati Riverfront. In the past, Ahmedabad Mirror had reported a similar case in which professor Javed Malik of IIT Kanpur was unable to find a house in an area other than ‘Muslim-populated’ one and this kept him from joining IIT-Gandhinagar (Developed A’bad denies Muslim prof a homecoming, AM, February 27). AM had also reported how a Muslim women executive had to stay in a rented accommodation and a Muslim woman married to a Hindu had to live by adopting Hindu-sounding names (‘Necessity forced me to take on a fake identity’, AM, February 28).
- No security for Muslims in State: Sharmila (Nov 24, 2012, The Hindu)
- Mumbai Police SPU gets tips from Israeli commandos (Nov 23, 2012, Indian Express)
- Nearly 20 years on, no justice for parents of Mumbai riots victim (Nov 29, 2012, The Hindu)
- Curfew continues in Sirsa, forces conduct flag march (Nov 26, 2012, Indian Express)
The Gujarat Police used an AK-47 assault rifle among other weapons during a protest by some Dalits in Thangadh town of Surendranagar district on September 22-23, according to a police affidavit submitted to a court. Three Dalits, including two 17-year-olds, were killed in the incident.
The affidavit, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, says that the weapons used included “revolver, (.303) rifle, carbine gun and AK-47”. Superintendent of Police R S Bhagora submitted the affidavit while opposing the anticipatory bail petition of one of the four accused police officers in the case, Kuldipsinh Jadeja. All the accused are absconding. The affidavit, dated November 6, says the motive behind the police firing was “hatred” and “prejudice” against Dalits. It adds that the weapons have been recovered and sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for evidence.
Confirming this, IGP, CID (crime), Anil Pratham, who is supervising the probe, told The Indian Express: “We have sent the recovered weapons to FSL to ascertain if they were fired from or not and if so, how many shots were fired… We cannot say right now if the AK-47s were fired from or not till the FSL reports come in.” While he declined to say how many AK-47s had been sent, he admitted that there was more than one. DGP Chitranjan Singh confirmed the use of at least one AK-47 in the incident. “The commando of SP Harikrishna Patel fired from his AK-47, probably some eight or nine rounds,” he told The Indian Express.
- Panel blames speech for violence against Dalits (Nov 29, 2012, The Hindu)
- TN meet calls inter-caste marriages a Dalit plan (Dec 3, 2012, Indian Express)
- PMK’s anti-Dalit rant in TN resembles Kerala’s ‘love jihad’ theory (Dec 3, 2012, First Post)
- Dalits targeted for their upward economic mobility: leaders (Nov 26, 2012, The Hindu)
Opinions and Editorials
The war on terror & the collateral damage. 33 innocent lives destroyed – By Baba Umar (Dec 8, 2012, Tehelka)
ON 31 July 2001, Syed Wasif Haider’s life changed, going from the humdrum to the hunted in the course of one long night. The plainclothes policemen, who came knocking at his door that night, were not guests the 1972-born sales manager in American multinational Becton Dickson was expecting. Haider calls it a kidnap because “they didn’t have an arrest warrant”. In the FIR, the police claimed to have arrested Haider on 3 August 2001. The next morning, a credulous media splattered the story across its pages. It made for ‘big’ news. Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran’s headline screamed: “Chamangunj Mein ISI Key Teen Agent Giraftaar” (Three ISI agents arrested in Chamangunj). The story quoted “highly placed sources” on Haider’s links with the Kashmir-based outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen. The condemnation came before the trial, and much before the case even reached the courts.
So when, on 18 November 2012, General Secretary of the CPM Prakash Karat led a delegation to President Pranab Mukherjee to demand the rehabilitation of wrongly imprisoned youth, Haider, who had spent eight long years in prison, found a place in it. The CPM had warned Parliament of the “dangerous consequences” of certain provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) Bill that are similar to the now-abolished TADA and POTA. Now, he told the president, these youth needed to be rehabilitated. “What has happened with many of these youth justifies the apprehensions we had spelt out then,” he said. “The new provisions of UAPA, added in 2008, in fact, give sweeping powers to police; and make it extremely difficult for the accused to get bail. So our party wants those provisions to go.”
With Haider were Mohammed Aamir from Delhi and Syed Maqbool Shah from Kashmir. Both had stayed behind bars for 14 long years, only to be acquitted. Aamir told the president that in the name of fighting the war on terror, Indian security agencies were inventing terrorists where none existed. Shah recounted several years of incarceration, of how young men are left to rot in jails for years together before being freed with a hollow redemption that leaves them jobless, stigmatised, and with the question: “Why us?” Aamir, the most outspoken of the trio, handed over a list of 33 youth who had been “implicated” (in a total of 22 cases) and remained in jail for over a decade before being acquitted by the courts. Each of them is today, Aamir asserts, without work, considered unskilled, and faced with a future that looks uncertain at best.
- Acquitted by court, media trial still continues – By M. Reyaz (Nov 24, 2012, Twocircles.net)
- ‘The State created paranoia about Islamic terror to dodge real issues’ – By Shazia Nigar (Nov 22, 2012, Tehelka)
- As many terror cases fall flat in courts, the stigma stays forever for the acquitted – By Mufti Islah, Shawan Sen (Nov 28, 2012, IBN)
As protests roil Charminar, Hyderabad’s heritage slowly vanishes – By A.Srivathsan (Nov 20, 2012, The Hindu)
A small Hindu temple constructed by the side of and abutting one of the four minarets of the 420-year-old Charminar has been at the root of recent troubles in Hyderabad. What started as objections to erecting a temporary structure over the shrine has now grown into a violent protest that questions the legality of the temple. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) – responsible for protecting this national monument since 1951 – is blamed for failing to protect Hyderabad’s Islamicate heritage. Over the past 10 days, vehicles have been burnt, people have been attacked, and shops in this busy hub have been shutdown. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), the political party that is at the forefront of the protest, has withdrawn its support to Congress both in the State and at the Centre over this issue. The fight in the name of Charminar is not a warning flare about the condition of just one heritage structure. It is a reflection of persisting state apathy, dismal performance of institutions that manage the city’s heritage and the misuse of history for political gains.
Contrary to the claims by Hindu groups, an old photograph available with The Hindu shows that the contentious temple dedicated to goddess Bhagyalakshmi is not as old as the Charminar. There is no date stamp on the photograph, but from the presence of the cars, it can be inferred that the photograph was taken about 60 years ago. No temple structure is visible in the picture. This lends credence to reports that the temple is only a few decades old and that what started as a tiny structure surreptitiously expanded into a shrine of significant size. There may not have been any serious protest against the presence of the Bhagylakshmi temple in the past, but the fact remains that the ASI failed to check the construction of the temple and its subsequent expansion. This is the case even in Golconda fort, another centrally protected monument located at the outskirts of the city. This fort along with the Charminar is vying for World Heritage Site status. Despite being a protected monument, more than 2000 illegal constructions have come up within this complex and the ASI has not been able to prevent them.
“Though ASI is empowered by an Act, we can only issue legal notice, but enforcing and removing encroachments cannot be done without State government support. We neither have the manpower nor the force,” an official explained. The State department of archaeology does not fare any better. Of the 42 protected structures listed by the department, five are missing. Anuradha Reddy, convenor of INTACH Hyderabad chapter who inspected these sites as a member of the technical committee, points to the case of Malkajgiri fort as a classic example of state apathy. “This ancient structure has been leased to a brewery company. Not only have they added many new buildings inside, even public access has been blocked,” she explained. Even the 16th century Badshahi Ashurkhana, which is a revered sacred space in the city and world renowned for its mosaic tile work, was not easy to protect. The Ashurkhana is a state protected monument, but shops and others structures steadily encroached the site. Following public interest litigation, in 2009, the High Court ordered the removal of unauthorised constructions. But the shop owners and MIM party members tried to resist it. Till date, for want of police protection, the state authorities could not fence the cleared area and erect a board declaring that the structure is a protected monument.
The authorities have remained indifferent to many insensitive and unauthorised expansions of beautiful old mosques which are also in the protected list. The three storied concrete construction in front of the Musheerabad mosque is a case in point. The condition of another 150 historic structures in the city declared as heritage buildings by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority is even more precarious. Theoretically these structures are regulated by special building rules and any plans to modify them have to be scrutinised by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC). But in reality these rules have been selectively applied and largely overlooked. The Hyderabad Corporation, citing ASI rules, rejected an application to build in a private property near Charminar. But in another case, when a shopping complex was built within the prohibited zone of Charminar, the Corporation regularised it without referring to the HCC. It has also de-notified a few heritage structures despite the HCC opposing it. The pedestrianisation of the Charminar area which was first planned in 2000 is yet to be implemented in full.
MIM, which is demanding better protection for Charminar, has not been consistent in its position on heritage structures either. Asaduddin Owaisi, MIM president and a Member of Parliament said that “a general answer cannot be given” regarding conservation of the city’s Islamicate heritage. “Each building has to be separately looked at,” he told The Hindu in an interview “We welcome road widening projects and do not agree with some of the objections made by heritage groups. But in the case of the proposed metro, we have recently submitted a letter asking one of the alignments be changed to save a large number of Islamic historical structures from being affected,” he added. The situation was neatly summed up by Sajjad Shahid, heritage activist and a member of the HCC: “Hyderabad was the second city in the country after Mumbai to bring in legislation to protect heritage structures. But all that enthusiasm and benefits of an early start were lost. A general apathy has set in and planning has failed. The government has no political will and had not upheld the law. The Charminar incident is an instructive example.”
- The temple near Charminar: Genesis of a controversy – By Ayub Khan (Nov 16, 2012, Twocircles.net)
Modi’s Gujarat and Its Little Illusions – By Neera Chandhoke (Dec 8, 2012, Economic & Political Weekly)
For some unfathomable reason, the Gujarat elections are being show-cased as if they were a run-through of the 2014 general elections. If Chief Minister Narendra Modi, it is predicted, wins, not only will he stake claim to the prime ministerial berth, he will also straddle it, preferably wearing a jewelled crown. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going about this task in the same methodical way it prepared Gujarat as a laboratory for Hindutva in the 1980s. But when last checked, the map of India had not changed. Gujarat had not expanded geographically and become coterminous with India, and neither had India shrunk to the size of Gujarat. Apart from geographical vastness, substantial parts of India remain committed to democracy and diversity, to secularism, to toleration, to pluralism, and to just letting people be. Politics can be unpredictable, but as of now the assumption that there is some inescapable link between winning elections in a state that has been hammered into homogeneity, and winning national elections in a country as diverse as India, seems an adolescent’s dream. For one, many have not forgotten 2002. Even if we were to believe that the BJP government did not mastermind the pogrom, it did stand by and watch while 2,000 people died brutal and premature deaths. That should not be forgotten, for those who cannot remember the past, Santayana reminded us, are doomed to repeat it.
Or perhaps Modi believes that the rest of us clutch the region of our respective hearts in breathless admiration for the so-called development miracle of Gujarat. Certainly, Gujarat has done well out of globalisation. Businesses have been subsidised, sales tax reduced, exemptions in taxes mandated, industrial parks developed, ports upgraded, and foreign investments encouraged. After 2000 the state domestic product in Gujarat escalated compared to the rest of India. During the period 2000-01 to 2007-08, agriculture and allied sectors grew at almost 10% per annum. Yet as every student of development knows, it is not only about the growth of gross domestic product, it is also and mainly about human development. Gujarat’s performance in poverty reduction and human development has been poor compared to other states which are growing at a lower rate. According to the 2011 India Human Development Report, in the human development index the state slipped from the 5th rank in 1996, to the 9th rank in 2006. It is the worst performer in child malnutrition with 69.7% of children up to the age of five anaemic and 44.6% malnourished. Health indicators for the scheduled tribes (STs) are worse than that at the national level, and also poorer than that for other social groups in the state. According to the Global Hunger Index brought out by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks 66 among the 88 countries listed. Among the five worst performers is Gujarat. Gujarat’s literacy rate is only marginally above the national average, and is extremely low in the tribal belt. In sum, Gujarat has proved to be one state where social welfare has not proved commensurate with increases in rates of economic growth.
Compare this with Tamil Nadu which has managed to combine a high degree of globalisation with the delivery of the preconditions of well-being. The reasons for success in this field can be traced to the historical legacy of the anti-caste movement, a committed leadership and a well-functioning bureaucracy, and a politically aware electorate. But it is the institutionalisation of a two-party system that has contributed to this success in more ways than one. Though these parties resemble each other, doppelgängers in more ways than one, the leadership of each party tries to outbid the other, and promise to the electorate all manner of good things ranging from bicycles to colour television sets. The power of the vote has both been understood and used effectively by voters. Viewed in this particular frame of reference, political expectations of the state in Tamil Nadu appear as a unique product of policies and political practices of the Dravidian parties who came into power in the state in the late 1960s. This enabled the electorate to make a choice between alternatives. The political expectations of the electorate in Gujarat on the other hand have been shaped by a very specific political context. Since 1995 the BJP has ruled the state and the other party, the Congress has lost out completely. Since 2001 Gujarat has been ruled by Modi, who is the longest serving chief minister of any state. The problem is that a de facto one-party system does not allow for political choices, and thereby does not compel the ruling party to heed popular expectations. Thereby, Gujarat has failed to ensure well-being even though it is one of the richest states in India.
The simple fact is that voters require a two-party or a multiparty system in order to use their vote effectively. Where a particular party is led by a figure who is considered to be charismatic, e g, Modi in Gujarat, or when he and his party, succeed in mobilising the electorate on grounds such as hyper nationalism or what is called Gujarati self-respect orasmita, the electorate actually tends towards depoliticisation. Political choices, for this party over that one, are not a given. They are the outcome of historical processes. In other words, the shaping of political preferences takes place in the context of institutions that bear traces of their own history-ideologies, leaderships, and actors which mould state-society relations. Conceivably political actors will behave differently in another situation. The contrast between Tamil Nadu and Gujarat is more than illustrative of this finding. Gujarat also lacks a vibrant civil society which in the case of Kerala has propelled social democracy. Despite some serious flaws, Kerala has achieved high indicators of social development such as infant mortality, literacy, and life expectancy. These compare favourably with those of several developed countries (IHDR: 65). In terms of health indicators, the performance of the state is the best in the country. It is undeniable that competent healthcare is directly related to the establishment of supportive infrastructure, high literacy rates, the mass media, social movements, and a strong political will.
Kerala’s success in ensuring well-being to a majority of its people is largely due to the interaction of two main factors. One, the goals of the Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) – have been institutionalised, and are generally adhered to even when non-left parties are in power. Second, Kerala possesses an active civil society, which has constantly pressed for the delivery of social goods. The anti-caste movement, missionary activities, and left movements in Kerala have aided in raising human development and social security for the poor. Women have played an especially important role in these movements. It is by now clear that states with high social development indicators might or might not be states with highest incomes. This finding has been substantiated by theHuman Development Report 2010. “One of the most surprising results of human development research in recent years…is the lack of a significant correlation between economic growth and improvements in health and education” (UNDP HDR 2010: 4). Kerala is a reluctant globaliser but performs best on literacy and infant mortality indicators. Gujarat is a high globaliser but lags behind on well-being. This is not to say civil society does not exist in Gujarat. Since the turn of the 20th century, Ahmedabad alone has an impressive number of civil society organisations. Many of them are philanthropic; many others are in the business of social service, and delivery of social goods. Sadly, however, civil society has kept silent on malnutrition and poor health services. It has certainly kept quiet on rampant injustice to the minorities. In 1919, when Gandhi was arrested by the colonial government, and the crowds erupted in anger on Ahmedabad’s streets, Gandhians walked the streets and counselled patience. Where were all these Gandhians in 2002, where were the leaders of the substantial Jain community wedded to non-violence, and where were the so-called holy men who head wealthy institutions and presumably teach the virtues of nirvana? Citizens of Gujarat were slaughtered in the streets, women were raped, little children were knifed, and civil society watched! So much for the much vaunted autonomy of civil society from the state. Civil societies it turns out follow the script authored by states and ruling parties. And this particular script enjoins on them the quietude of the tomb. Let us get the picture right. Today Gujarat appears peaceful because the minorities have been banished to the spatial margins or the ghetto, and bludgeoned into acquiescence by a muscular ideology that has tamed both political and civil society. The people of Gujarat have paid a heavy price for buying into demagoguery. Let us hope they understand that growth without human development is hollow, and democracy without minority rights is tyranny.
- Opportunity Costs Of A Leader – By Suchitra Balasubrahmanyan (Dec 10, 2012, Outlook)
- Gujarat: Campaign diet – By Anupama Katakam (Dec 1, 2012, Frontline)
Like all those who mobilise on the basis of ethnicity and religion, Bal Thackeray fashioned the Shiv Sena’s formidable clout out of political building blocks that were base and primordial. The language of hate and, when needed, violence were deployed to generate fear and insecurity, pride and solidarity. The founder-leader of the Shiv Sena first invoked Maratha pride against the State’s linguistic minorities and then the divisive agenda of Hindutva against religious minorities. Mumbai’s jobless were not offered land or employment, but they were taught whom to blame for all their miseries: the south Indians, the Gujaratis, and the Muslims. As a strategy of political mobilisation, this worked wonderfully well. The Sena’s brand of collective identity and the use of lumpens in direct action displaced trade unionism as the organising principle in political bargaining. Thackeray’s legion of followers raised him to the status of a demigod who could force an entire State to shut down with the mere threat of violence.
Of course, the Sena leader did not gather strength overnight. From his days as a caricaturist, he perfected the art of lampooning political rivals, and drew crowds with his acerbic oratorical skills. Like Hitler, whom he admired, Thackeray knew how to command loyalty and inflame passions. Every failing of his opponents added to his muscle power. Although the Sena took time to grow into a political force, and come to power with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in another sense, it was a rapid political success, inspiring organisational fear in opponent parties, and proving to be of political use to the powerful and the moneyed classes.
But the Shiv Sena’s success came at a great price for not only Mumbai and Maharashtra, but India as well. Mumbai’s communal fault lines were thoroughly exploited by Thackeray and his Sainiks, especially in the weeks after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. As the Srikrishna Commission documents, Muslims were systematically killed in riots engineered by Sena leaders. The brazen anti-minorityism of the Sena fed the BJP’s agenda in other parts of India too.
Other States in India have seen the rise of regional parties, which too have invoked regional and linguistic pride in their political mobilisation. But none of these parties displays the unreconstructed chauvinism of the Sena. Ironically the one outfit to rival its methods and approach is the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which broke away from Bal Thackeray in 2006. Even as people in Mumbai and Maharashtra mourn the passing of the patriarch, they ought to reflect on the manner in which his sectarian politics diminished the great city and State and demand of his legatees a change of course.
- Bal Thackeray: Identity Politics To The Fore – By Ram Puniyani (Nov 20, 2012, Countercurrents)
- Bal Thackeray’s death has as many difficult lessons for our democracy as did his life – By Shoma Chaudhury (Dec 1, 2012, Tehelka)
- How the tiger got his saffron stripes – By Kumar Ketkar (Dec 1, 2012, Tehelka)
- ‘Thackeray got a state funeral largely because he was an artist, not as much for his politics’ – Prithviraj Chavan with Rana Ayyub (Dec 1, 2012, Tehelka)
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 was a difficult day for the many Indians cutting across barriers of class, caste, religion or region, who oppose the death penalty. With no prior public discussion or even announcement, India’s cowardly government put to death Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, a 25-year-old Pakistani, the sole survivor of the 2008 attacks on the western Indian city of Bombay in which nearly 170 people were killed and more than 300 injured. The execution was carried out in secret and by stealth, in a manner unbecoming of a country that preens itself as the world’s largest democracy. It is undemocratic countries that execute quietly and at short notice. The convict’s hanging came days after the natural death in Bombay of Bal Thackeray, founding leader of Shiv Sena, which is widely believed to have been behind the killings, over the decades, of thousands of people in the city and other parts of Maharashtra – mostly Muslims and large numbers of South Indians and others. His death drew routine expressions of condolences from official India, which said his death was an “irreparable loss”. His body was draped in the national flag and given a 21-gun salute.
This speaks of the abject cynicism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government and of a society large parts of which bays for the blood of religious minorities engaged in alleged terrorist activities but looks askance at what ought to be labelled crimes against humanity by Hindu fanatics. None of the prime leaders behind the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in New Delhi in which more than 3,000 people were killed have faced trial. It took a little more than 10 years after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat where more than 2,000 people were killed, to pass sentence on a few dozen accused including former state minister Maya Kodnani in one case. In passing sentences ranging from life imprisonment shorter terms (Kodnani was handed 28 years), JudgeJyotsna Yagnik observed that capital punishment “undermines human dignity”. Again many prime movers have remained scot free. Kasab’s killing came within hours of India joining Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and other recalcitrant states in opposing a United Nations resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty (passed with 110 states supporting and 39 opposing). The execution also came a day after a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India made some confusing pronouncements on the issue: it said – correctly – that the Court’s now 32-year-old precept of handing down the death penalty in the “rarest of rare cases” was being differently applied by different judges (in other words, these judges were playing with human lives, albeit the lives of convicted criminals). But bizarrely, it went on to bar the authorities from granting sentence remissions.
Hardly any major Indian politician has criticised the hanging. A man who goes by the name of Anna Hazare (‘Anna’ being an assumed or conferred honorific) and who claims to be a Gandhian, reportedly said: “It’s taken too long to hang Kasab. He should have been hanged in public (chauraha – street corner). A public hanging of Kasab would have been a lesson for anybody who causes loss of life in our country. But it is heartening that sections of the media have criticised it and on online social networks many people from all sections of society and all age groups have expressed dissent. With Kasab’s hanging, India lost a prime witness who would have been valuable in efforts to get Pakistan to book Hafiz Saeed who is believed to be the prime suspect behind the Mumbai terrorist attack. In March 2011, The Hindu, quoting Wikileaks documents, reported that a dossier linking the Jamat-ud-Dawa chief to the Bombay attacks, which had been handed to Pakistan, was “drawn almost entirely from the confession of the surviving guman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, and statements by Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin.” Ansari and Sabahuddin are implicated in other cases too. “(Former) National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan described the material in the dossier as ‘Grade-1 evidence’,” The Hindu had noted. Why did the Indian authorities execute the most important witness?
Some oft-heard arguments advanced in defence of Kasab’s execution are that victims and survivors have rights, that his life in jail costs the tax-payer crores of rupees, that keeping him alive would provoke more terrorist attacks or motivate a hijacking attempt. It is heartening that at least one Bombay film star, Ashish Chowdhry, stated openly that he was not celebrating Kasab’s hanging, even though he had lost his sister and her husband in the attacks. There is a great need in India for forming network of survivors of crime and terrorist attacks opposed to retribution. Indians need to begin to acknowledge that the right to life is unexceptionable. Howsoever hate-worthy, everyone, including those convicted of terrorist attacks, those who have monumentally failed to respect the right to life of others, have an inalienable claim on the right to life, the most fundamental of rights.
And the same applies to the cost of keeping a convict alive. In the United States, given the high cost of litigation – anti-death penalty activists are well-organised and ensure that appeals and objections are filed to keep the administration occupied for months or years – keeping a convict alive is cheaper. India need not wait until human life becomes less cheap here in order to choose life-imprisonment over the death sentence. Some bizarre claims had been made in respect of Kasab’s life in jail. At least one, that he was kept plied with biriyani, has been exploded. Other rumours regarding cost need to be nailed. As for hijacking risks, Turkey spared the life of Kurdish separatist leader Abullah Ocalan when it abolished the death penalty as part of its application requirement to join the European Union (all of whose members are abolitionist). There has been no known attempt to get him freed through terrorist acts. Rather, Ocalan is reported to have mellowed in jail and to have called for a peaceful solution to regional problems. Executing a captured terrorist is the easy way out. Dealing with the causes of terrorism is the difficult task that the Indian state has thus far failed to engage in, be it in Kashmir, the northeastern states or the central Indian tribal belt. …
- Questions left hanging – By V. Venkatesan (Dec 1, 2012, Frontline)
The aftermath of the caste violence in Dharmapuri district of northern Tamil Nadu has rendered thousands of Dalits homeless and living in constant fear of another possible attack. On 7 November, a mob of 2,500 backward-caste Vanniyars had burnt and looted around 500 houses of Dalits, claiming to avenge the death of a Vanniyar who committed suicide after his daughter married a Dalit. Adding to the fear is a statement by Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) MLA Kaduvetti Guru, who heads the Vanniyar Sangam, forbidding inter-caste marriages. Locals and even the police officials posted in the area say the attack was premeditated and done with the connivance of pro-Vanniyar sections of the police and cadres of the PMK. Between 5 pm and 10 pm on 7 November, every single house of the three hamlets of Nathamkottai, Kondampatti and Annanagar was burnt down. “Around 4:30 pm, the police started doing the rounds, asking us to run for our lives as a mob of Vanniyars was on its way to attack us,” says Paulina, 30, a Dalit Christian and mother of three, who ran to the nearby fields to save herself, along with other women, children and the elderly. There were few men in the villages at the time as most of them work as labourers in the construction sector in Bengaluru and Coimbatore, or in the garment-manufacturing sweatshops in Tirupur. Now, Paulina stays in a temporary community shelter set up a stone’s throw away from the charred remains of her oneroom house. “They even took away the cash and jewellery we had left behind,” she adds.
Madiwayan, 36, works as a scrap-dealer in Bengaluru and was not in the village at the time of the attack. His parents were hiding in the nearby fields when the irate mob arrived. “It took me over a decade to save Rs 24 lakh, which I spent on building my house. They burnt it to the ground and also looted Rs 2 lakh that I had kept to buy some land nearby,” he says. Usha, wife of Periyaswamy, a cook in the local government hospital, says the police was unable to stop the mob. “The police came back only around 1 am and announced over the loudspeakers that those who had fled the village should come back.” The women returned the same night, followed by the children and the elderly the next morning.
The genesis of the recent violence is traced to the marriage of a Dalit man, Ilavarasan, 23, from Nathamkottai, with a Vanniyar woman, Divya, 20. As Divya’s father, 48-year-old R Nagarajan of Sallinkottai village, disapproved of their relationship, the couple had got married in secret a month ago. Nagarajan asked his daughter to return home, but she refused. Then, a meeting of the Vanniyar community was held, where it was decided that Divya must return to her father’s house. When she did not relent despite the community’s pressure, her father allegedly felt humiliated and committed suicide on 6 November. The Dalits of the three hamlets attacked by the Vanniyar mob allege that the father’s suicide was used as a pretext to whip up caste sentiments and fuel anger over inter-caste marriages. “There are more than seven inter-caste couples in our village. My wife Radha is a Vanniyar. We haven’t seen any violence in the 12 years of our marriage. The Vanniyars are just angry that we do not work in their fields for meagre wages,” says NC Armugham, 36, who runs a grocery store in Bengaluru.
Agrees Palaaiswamy, 40, who works as a newspaper vendor in Bengaluru. “Even a month after the couple had eloped, Nagarajan did not seem particularly upset,” he says. “We suspect his community must have pressured him to take this extreme step.” The attack has left the Dalits of the three hamlets economically devastated. A fact-finding team of People’s Watch, a Chennai-based NGO, which visited the area on 11-12 November along with the state representative of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights for RTE in Tamil Nadu, estimates the total economic loss caused by the attack to be around Rs 12 crore. According to this report, 215 families were affected in Nathamkottai, 152 in Kondampatti and 36 in Annanagar. The Jayalalitha government has offered Rs 50,000 as compensation to the victims.
“Violence of this kind would not have happened without the active support of the police,” says Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director of People’s Watch. “We found that the Vanniyars used more than 150 petrol bombs. It looks like a planned attack, instigated by the PMK, though Vanniyars from other parties also participated in it.” So far, the police has arrested 92 Vanniyars and filed cases against 218 more. PMK State Council Member Senthil denies any party hand in the violence. “Our party has worked for the upliftment of Dalits and it played no role in the incident,” he says. “Our position on inter-caste love marriages is that boys and girls less than 20 years old should not be allowed to get married as they cannot support themselves independently. Most end up getting divorced within six months. We are also campaigning for raising the marriageable age for girls to 21,” he adds. At best, this is an absurd argument. Moreover, in the case of Divya and Ilavarasan, neither was below 20. It is as if all the violence could be justified on the ground that Divya missed the PMK cut-off by a year. …
- For a Dalit perspective – By Jayati Ghosh (Dec 1, 2012, Frontline)