IAMC Weekly News Roundup – January 2nd, 2012
In this issue of IAMC News Roundup
- Summons to Modi: Hearing adjourned in riots case
- Sreekumar contradicting his own statements: Sanjiv Bhatt
- Jan 28 deadline: CBI yet to question AP cops, Shah
- Hindutva activists attack police commissioner office in Hyderabad
- Central security team tells state to focus on communal violence
- RSS leader late Nanaji Deshmukh’s photos haunt Anna and Congress
- Minority Sub-Quota Is Most Inadequate
- Black money in polls: EC deploys 204 IRS officials
- BJP man held for ‘video clip blackmail’
- Atrocities on Dalit women go unpunished: Gujarat NGO
Opinions & Editorials
- The duplicity of a saffron brigade – By Ram Puniyani
- Not in the picture – By Rajdeep Sardesai
- Bending towards justice – By Tanweer Alam
- It’s All About the Muslim Vote – By Margherita Stancati
- Legitimising an inhumane discourse – By Prabhat Patnaik
- Fiery trap – By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay
Summons to Modi: Hearing adjourned in riots case (Dec 27, 2011, Times of India)
The Gujarat high court on Monday adjourned the hearing on a plea which seeks that directions be issued to the Nanavati Commission to summon chief minister Narendra Modi for questioning in connection with the 2002 riots. The hearing was adjourned as the bench of Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice Sonia Gokani were not available.
NGO Jan Sangharsh Morcha (JSM) had filed an application urging the commission to summon politicians including Modi, late health minister Ashok Bhatt, former state home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, some bureaucrats and senior cops for cross-examination.
On April 22, a division bench of the then chief Justice S J Mukhopadhaya and Justice Akil Kureshi had reserved the order on the petition. But with Justice Mukhopadhaya being elevated to Supreme Court in September, the matter was placed before the bench of Justice Kureshi and Justice Sonia Gokani, which came up for hearing on December 16.
The bench had then directed government pleader P K Jani to get information from the state government about the possibility of extension to the Nanavati Commission. The state government has already during hearing on a PIL seeking status of the commission, informed the court about extension of the panel till March 31, 2012.
Appearing for JSM, Mukul Sinha had earlier argued that summoning of Modi and others was required for collecting evidence with regards to the Godhra train burning incident and the post-Godhra riots. The state government had opposed JSM plea contending that the NGO had no locus standi to seek summoning of Modi.
- After ‘sting’ in tale, Godhra convict on death row moves High Court (Dec 30, 2011, Indian Express)
- Gujarat HC notice to SIT on petition of Godhra carnage convict (Dec 29, 2011, IBN)
- HC rejects SIT plea for cancellation of Bajrangi’s bail (Dec 27, 2011, Times of India)
- Zadafia knew about violence unfolding in Gulburg, Naroda: Sanjiv Bhatt (Dec 30, 2011, Indian Express)
Sreekumar contradicting his own statements: Sanjiv Bhatt (Dec 28, 2011, Indian Express)
Suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt today said that ex-Gujarat DGP R B Sreekumar was contradicting his own statement saying that the former was “not a staff officer at State Intelligence Branch” and had refused to file affidavit on the 2002 riots before the Nanavati Commission. “I am little intrigued and perplexed by the content, tenor and timing (of) the letter,” Bhatt said referring to Sreekumar’s letter which he handed over to the judicial panel yesterday. In his missive, the former DGP raised questions over Bhatt’s integrity for speaking up against the state government after almost nine years of 2002 riots.
The former top cop said in his letter that he had asked Bhatt to file an affidavit over riots first in 2002 and then in 2004 but the now suspended IPS officer did not do so. Sreekumar in his letter also denied that Bhatt had worked as a ‘staff officer’ under him when he was ADGP of the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) during the 2002 riots. “Sreekumar in his own affidavit, dated October 27, 2005, before the Commission had stated that I was Superintendent of Police (Security) and attended many meetings convened by the higher authorities as the Staff Officer to Shri (G C) Raiger.”
G C Raiger was Sreekumar’s predecessor as SIB chief. Bhatt also said he had shot off a letter to Sreekumar clarifying this point and highlighting the contradiction in the ex-DGPs own statement. Bhatt further said he was never directed by the state government to file any affidavit before the panel as mentioned by Sreekumar in his letter. Sreekumar may have told me informally after I was transfered from SIB in September 2002 to file an affidavit. But unless I am told by the government, I cannot do so,” Bhatt argued. Bhatt also produced the office order issued by former DGP A K Bhargava which had directed all the police offices, who have already filed an affidavit before the Nanavati Commission on action by police till April 30, 2002, to file additional affidavit describing work done between May 1 and May 30, 2002.
This order was issued by Bhargava after the terms of reference of the commission was amended and the period it had to inquire about was extended till May 30, 2002. Bhatt in his letter to Sreekumar today said, “Your letter gives the false impression that I refused to file an affidavit before the Commission in July 2002. This is as far from the truth as can possibly be, as you were the only officer from the State Intelligence Bureau who was directed to file the affidavit on behalf of the SIB. “Having served as one of your Staff Officers during the tumultuous period of 2002, it would be against my personal standards of decency and professional etiquette to publicly join issues with you.
“I am, therefore, restraining myself from reacting to your unfounded and misplaced assertion that no officer was ever required to attend meetings or conferences with you.” The former IPS officer also accused Sreekumar of “disregarding” many important information available with SIB while filing affidavits before the judicial panel. “As you have always claimed, the said affidavit was exclusively and solely authored by you and you alone. It would therefore be improper and inappropriate at this stage for me to speculate or comment on the reasons and motives behind your having disregarded the plethora of information that was then available with the SIB,” Bhatt said in the letter. 893129 sreekumar-contradicting-his-own-statements-sanjiv-bhatt Sanjiv Bhatt.
- Sanjiv Bhatt did not expose govt role in 2002: RB Sreekumar (Dec 28, 2011, DNA India)
- Two anti-Modi top cops trade charges (Dec 28, 2011, Deccan Herald)
- Sanjiv Bhatt proposes reconciliation with ex-DGP (Dec 29, 2011, Express India)
- Ex-DGP accepts Bhatt’s truce offer (Dec 31, 2011, Indian Express)
Jan 28 deadline: CBI yet to question AP cops, Shah (Jan 2, 2012, Times of India)
The countdown for CBI’s Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter probe to draw to a close has begun. CBI’s extended term for probing the encounter, as per the Supreme Court directives, concludes on January 28. Before this date the probe agency is supposed to complete its investigation, make arrests and file a chargesheet in this regard. In April, 2010, SC had handed over the probe to the CBI to look for larger conspiracy behind Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. CBI officials had then claimed that Tulsiram was the third person who was abducted with Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauserbi from Hyderabad in 2005.
Gujarat CID (crime) officials who were probing the case had arrested 11 police officials. However, CBI has not arrested anybody in this case till date. Though CBI officials have probed the Rajasthan connection in Tulsiram case, the Andhra Pradesh module of the conspiracy still remains largely unexplored. AP police had allegedly helped Gujarat police in illegally detaining Sohrabuddin and the two others from a bus in Hyderabad. CBI has grilled many cops who were part of the encounter and the abduction but beyond that little has been done. Other than the cops, chairman and director of Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, Ajay Patel and Yashpal Chudasma have also been questioned.
According to SC orders, former minister of state for home Amit Shah has stayed outside Gujarat for more than one-and-a-half years. Till date he, too, has not been questioned in this regard. CBI sources said, “Before arresting anyone in this case, Shah will also have to be questioned.” When Shah was arrested earlier by CBI in the Sohrabuddin case, he had not been questioned. This had created legal complications for the probe agency.”
In the encounter cases, Gujarat DIG Rajnish Rai had collected call details in a CD and handed over to his superiors. The CD had been sent for analysis in the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), which concluded that the data has been tampered with. Before being handed over to the CBI, the CD was in custody of top officials of the CID (crime). These officials too are yet to be grilled in this connection.
- Tulsi encounter probe to go on (Dec 27, 2011, DNA India)
- CCTV grabs cop’s fake encounter threat for Rs 5 lakh (Dec 30, 2011, Mid-Day)
- No encounter stains on khaki in 2011 (Dec 31, 2011, Times of India)
- Head constable picked up by ATS for ‘links’ with fake currency racket (Dec 31, 2011, Indian Express)
Hindutva activists attack police commissioner office in Hyderabad (Dec 28, 2011, Twocircles.net)
More than 300 activists of BJP, Hindu Vahini and ABVP attacked the Hyderabad police commissionerate office at Basheerbagh in the guise of (Dharna) protest. They were accusing the city police commissioner A. K. Khan of having prejudiced attitude towards right wing Hindu groups.
The protesters were angry with the city police for arresting the activists of Hindu Vahini group in the case pertaining to the attacks on Muslim youths on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha. Importantly the protest was carried out even after the arrested Hindutva activists have confessed to their crimes.
The protesters were led by BJP MLA and state president G. Kishan Reddy, former union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, former MLAs Bandam Bal Reddy, Indrasena Reddy and city president B.venkat Reddy.
Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya alleged that A.K Khan is succumbing to the pressure from the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and targeting Hindu organizations in a systematic manner. He was referring to the recent arrests of Hindu Vahini activists in relation to the attack on Muslim youths.
“A.K. Khan is targeting Hindu right wing organizations like Hindu Vahini and Bajrang Dal by arresting there activists in false cases. 10 innocent activists of Hindu Vahini have been arrested out which four of them were not even present in the city at the time of attacks on the Muslim youths,” the former union minister alleged.
- Muslims stopped from Juma Congregation in Udupi (Jan 1, 2012, Siasat)
- Hindutva activists try to barge into star (Dec 29, 2011, Times of India)
- Hindutva and Zionism hurdles to peace and democracy: Scholars (Dec 30, 2011, Twocircles.net)
- VHP activists held in Ayodhya (Dec 31, 2011, Times of India)
Central security team tells state to focus on communal violence (Dec 29, 2011, Times of India)
A task force team on security, headed by former home secretary VK Duggal, Wednesday met top state government officials and held wideranging talks. Duggal, incidentally, was member-secretary of the Srikrishna committee, constituted to study the Telangana issue.
The seven members belonging to the Internal Security Group of the task force held a meeting with home minister P Sabita Indra Reddy, chief secretary Pankaj Dwivedi, DGP V Dinesh Reddy, armed services personnel and other top government officials at the Secretariat. During the meeting, Duggal suggested that the state government should focus more on communal violence and coastal security.
He also praised the state police for effectively curbing left-wing extremism. The state police briefed the committee about the structure and operations of specialised anti-naxal and counter terror teams. After the meeting at the Secretariat, the task force team met the chief minister at his camp office.
- Violence in the country still at ‘unacceptably high level’: Chidambaram (Dec 30, 2011, IBN)
- Amend RTE Act, Communal Violence, Waqf Amendment bills: Muslim groups (Dec 28, 2011, Twocircles.net)
- US officials pushed us for English in madrasas, says Godhra cleric (Dec 28, 2011, Indian Express)
- Samastipur Muslims protest against terror slur (Jan 1, 2012, Twocircles.net)
RSS leader late Nanaji Deshmukh’s photos haunt Anna and Congress (Dec 27, 2011, India Today)
Time and again, Anna Hazare has denied any association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). But irrefutable evidence has now emerged that the anti-graft crusader interacted often with a revered ideologue of the Hindutva outfit. Anna had visited Gonda in 1984 on the request of respected RSS leader, the late Nanaji Deshmukh, and spent three days with him to understand the latter’s village development model. This revelation was made by Ram Prakash Gupta (61), a former assistant director of the Deshmukh-founded Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Institute, who had accompanied the two.
Gupta recalled: “Annaji had stayed with us in Jai Prabha village. He attended a meeting of the DDU Institute in which Nanaji discussed the issue of empowered village-level democracy. Since Anna was also experimenting with a similar concept in Maharashtra’s Ralegan Siddhi village, they jointly decided to establish an umbrella organisation called Gram Vishwa.” Gupta said while Nanaji was elected its president, Anna became general secretary and he himself was its secretary. “Anna also visited many villages with me for a first-hand look at Nanaji’s social work,” he remembered.
Later on, Anna attended Gram Vishwa’s third meeting in Pune. The outfit was active for three years and we used to draw upon each other’s success stories in villages,” he revealed. Even as this disclosure was made Lucknow on Monday, in Mumbai Team Anna forcefully rebutted the allegations that the veteran activist had links with the RSS. The activists of India Against Corruption – the NGO that runs Hazare’s campaign – mailed photographs of several politicians, including Congress leaders, with Deshmukh to all media houses. The photos showed the late RSS leader with senior Congressmen N. D. Tiwari, Balram Jakhar and Motilal Vohra as well as with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The images were sent to counter Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s charge on Sunday that Hazare’s photograph with Deshmukh was proof of his being an RSS man. The Congress, which generally distances itself from Singh’s statements, backed him this time. The party demanded an explanation from Hazare and dubbed him an “RSS agent”. “The photos show even Congress leaders had hobnobbed with Deshmukh. If two persons are photographed together, it doesn’t necessarily mean they subscribe to the same views,” an IAC volunteer in charge of the publicity department said. To make matters worse for Singh, Team Anna member Kiran Bedi posted his own photo with Deshmukh on Twitter. Bedi tweeted: “Does sharing a dais make one each other’s agent?” While Singh clarified that the photograph was of an official function which he attended in his capacity as the Madhya Pradesh CM, he maintained that Hazare had worked as Deshmukh’s secretary.
Back in Lucknow, Gupta categorically denied that Hazare was an RSS member. He argued: “Then President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy had attended the foundation day function of the DDU Institute in 1978. Leaders belonging to all shades of political opinion, including Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, were very close to Nanaji. Even as this is no secret, it doesn’t mean they are RSS workers.” In Gupta’s view, being an RSS worker was a “different proposition”. He highlighted his own example, saying: “I have been an RSS member from the beginning and am a zonal office-bearer now. Many people come to me and spend time at the institute in Gonda, where I am still on the management board. This doesn’t mean that whoever meets me has RSS links.” All the same, Gupta added: “It is true that Anna ji had agreed to work with Nanaji. People are free to draw their own inferences.”
- Minority groups question secular credentials (Dec 28, 2011, Indian Express)
- Why target Cong, Muslims ask Anna (Dec 29, 2011, Hindustan Times)
- Dalits join anti-Anna chorus, dub fast anti-constitutional (Dec 27, 2011, DNA India)
- Constitutional Amendment Bill on Lokpal defeated (Dec 28, 2011, The Hindu)
Minority Sub-Quota Is Most Inadequate (Jan 1, 2012, Peoples Democracy)
The decision of the union cabinet to provide 5 per cent reservation for minorities within the OBC quota of 27 per cent in jobs is most inadequate. It does not reflect the main recommendation of the Justice Ranganath Mishra commission report. The UPA government has taken this step which smacks of tokenism and has been resorted to keeping the Uttar Pradesh elections in view. The CPI(M) reiterates its demand that the recommendation of the Ranganath Mishra commission report to provide for 10 per cent reservation for Muslims and 5 per cent for other minorities, based on the socially and economically backward criteria, be implemented. To enable this necessary constitutional amendment should be undertaken.
- Momin Conference terms 4.5 quota for minority as an eye-wash (Dec 27, 2011, Twocircles.net)
- Muslim leaders want separate quota (Dec 27, 2011, DNA India)
- 4.5 sub-quota for backwards among minorities: Khurshid (Dec 28, 2011, Indian Express)
- Togadia spits venom against reservation for Muslims (Jan 2, 2012, Ahmedabad Mirror)
Black money in polls: EC deploys 204 IRS officials (Dec 29, 2011, Indian Express)
To curb instances of black money use during the polls in five states, 204 Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax) officials have been deployed as ‘expenditure observers’ by the Election Commission. A total of 204 IRS officers, in the ranks of Additional Commissioners of Income Tax, largely drawn from various investigation wings of the department from across the country will head specially created ‘flying squads’ to check and take action against illegal movement of cash and transactions in the poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
The officials have been called to the national capital on January 2 by the EC for a pre-deployment briefing and they will also be allocated their regions. “The I-T officials will soon be briefed about their mandate and duties during the polls. They will have a 24X7 connect with the EC expenditure control office and the Chief Electoral Officer of the states. These IRS officials will have to report all instances of cash movement in their areas irrespective of the amount being legal or illegal,” said a senior I-T official citing EC directives.
In order to check illegal money power in the polls, the EC has asked candidates to open separate bank accounts for their election expenses and to make all expenses through them. The Commission recently has also issued fresh directions to the chiefs of Income Tax (Investigation) department in all these states to “keep vigil over” financial brokers and hawala agents including keeping track on illegal movement of cash at airports and through other transit locations.
In order to check illegal use of money power during the assembly polls, the Election Commission has recently written to all political parties asking them to avoid cash transactions and instruct their cadres not to carry huge cash during elections. The EC recently announced a seven-phased poll in Uttar Pradesh between February 4 and 28, while elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa will be held in a single-phase. Punjab and Uttarakhand will go to polls on January 30, while elections will be held on January 28 in Manipur and on March 3 in Goa. The counting of votes in all the states will be held on March 4.
- EC writes to parties over Black money in polls (Dec 27, 2011, Central Chronicle)
- Lokayukta wants Maya to sack ‘corrupt’ headmaster minister (Dec 29, 2011, Indian Express)
- Indians are second largest bribe payers in South Asia: survey (Dec 27, 2011, IBN)
- Minister’s ‘threat’ to Lokayukta referred to EC (Jan 2, 2012, Indian Express)
BJP man held for ‘video clip blackmail’ (Dec 29, 2011, Asian Age)
The police has arrested a BJP leader in Bhilwara for allegedly sexually exploiting a woman and blackmailing her by using video clips of the crime. In another incident, a cleric from Uttar Pradesh, Mohammed Kalam Khan Qadri, has been arrested in Bhilwara on charges of raping a young girl in an exorcism attempt.
The Bhilwara police arrested Gangapur municipality vice-chairman and BJP leader Rajendra Bansal for allegedly sexually exploiting a woman for the last five months. The victim claimed Mr Bansal had been blackmailing her after he filmed the crime and demanded 5 lakh. She said that when she refused to give him money, he circulated obscene clippings on mobile phones.
Mr Bansal, however, denied the charges. But the police claimed he was found to be involved in the crime. According to the victim, Mr Bansal, who runs a mobile phone shop in Gangapur town under Bhilwara district, made a phone call to her asking to come to his shop to collect her husband’s mobile phone. She said when she reached his shop, she was given some sedatives with water and raped.
The victim said the BJP leader also made video clips of the crime and blackmailed her for months. She approached the local police but the police refused to register her complaint, she said. The police took action only when the victim visited Bhilwara and made a submission to senior police officers. “We have arrested Bansal on charges of rape, blackmail and crime under the IT Act,” said a senior officer in Bhilwara. The police has recorded the victim’s statement. …
- Bar belonging to ex-MLA raided, 14 girls rescued (Jan 2, 2012, Mumbai Mirror)
- Rape victim’s post-crime trauma, state’s apathy ‘shock’ Delhi court (Jan 2, 2012, Indian Express)
- Three arrested for raping a woman, preparing video (Dec 24, 2011, Deccan Chronicle)
- Instil confidence in women, Justice tells commission (Dec 31, 2011, Times of India)
Atrocities on Dalit women go unpunished: Gujarat NGO (Dec 21, 2011, DNA India)
If it is a crime to be born a woman in society, it is a bigger crime to be born a Dalit woman. This, at least, is what a study by human rights organisation, Navsarjan Trust, says. While women are normally considered to be vulnerable to atrocities, women belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are more prone to various crimes. The study shows that it is more difficult for Dalits to get justice in the court of law for their traumatic sufferings. The study indicates that in the cases of violence by non-Dalits on Dalit women, no non-Dalit accused have been convicted so far, and in cases of violence by Dalits on Dalit women, there have been convictions only in six cases.
The study, ‘Gender-Violence and Access to Justice for the Dalit Woman: Final Report December 2011′, was undertaken by Navsarjan Trust in collaboration with Minority Rights Group International, London. It was focused on three districts of Rajkot, Kutch and Bhavnagar. It covers the atrocities cases on Dalit women registered from 2004 to 2009. The data was collected by filing RTI applications with district superintendents of police. Pointing towards the non-serious attitude of police stations towards Dalit women facing atrocity, the report says: “A low percentage of police stations responded to the request in spite of fines that may be levied for non-compliance with the RTI Act. Data was received from 41% of police stations for non-Dalit on Dalit crime, 44% of police stations for Dalit on Dalit crime, and 49% of police stations submitted Accidental/Unnatural Deaths data, from all three districts.”
Surprisingly, whatever data was received for the study shows a more gloomy picture of delivery ofjustice to the victims. Of 889 registered cases – 185 cases of violence by non-Dalits and 704 cases of violence by Dalits, only 6 cases (or 0.7% of the total) resulted in conviction of the accused. The report says, “Also significant is the absence of even one conviction of a non-Dalit accused. Given that 50.27% of crimes by non-Dalits on Dalits were of a grievous nature – cases that resulted in death or grave physical injury to the woman – not one case has ended in a conviction.Further, a full 50.5% of all cases remain pending in the sessions’ court. And the police stations did not provide any information on the status of 32.7% of cases filed. In other words, only 17% of all cases have reached court settlement or judgment.
Talking about the study, Majula Pradeep, of Navsarjan, said: “Non-Dalit accused often walk free from the cases because of political and social clout they have. For instance, in Bhavnagar, a majority of police personnel belong to a particular caste, so they don’t take seriously the complaints made by Dalit women. We will be submitting our report to state government departments, advocating for the rights of the Dalit women.”
- Dalit killed in clashes between protesters, police (Dec 30, 2011, New Kerala)
- Book on struggles of Dalits released (Dec 30, 2011, The Hindu)
- Dalit, Tribal MPs eye private campus quota (Dec 28, 2011, The Telegraph)
- Bhanwari case: Key suspect’s brother arrested (Dec 31, 2011, IBN)
Opinions and Editorials
The duplicity of a saffron brigade – By Ram Puniyani (Dec 31, 2011, Tehelka)
This year was very eventful as far as the political arena is concerned. Anna Hazare’s movement, the government trying to bring in FDI in retail, a Bill for rationalisation of fuel price and the deletion of Ramanujam’s essay in the University text were few of these. In many of the Bills related to FDI and the rest, which were brought up for discussion in parliament, BJP chose to oppose bills that UPA wanted to pass. It is intriguing, why a party (BJP), which stood for the FDI during its days in power, opposed it now? Logically such policies should have gladdened the hearts of BJP as it was an unfulfilled dream of the NDA. The shrewdest move on BJP’s part was its full hearted support to the Anna Hazare movement and tread cautiously in the parliament. It is taking full advantage of Anna’s anti-Congress stance while engaging with the Bill in the parliament. This forked tongue attitude of BJP is part of its character. BJP works toward building its electorate, either r with the RSS or on its behalf. It has to come to power by all means, fair or foul, to pave the way for an RSS agenda of Hindu nation. Its core agenda is totally opposed to the concept of democratic norms prevalent in the country today. Inherently, the BJP had been totally opposed to the state intervention in the economic matters, despite the fact that the public sector was the basic essentiality for India, as private capital was not substantial in quantum at that time to lay the foundation of economic growth.
The BJP and its predecessor the Bhartiya Jan Sangh had been sounding clear opposition of state’ role in these matters. Now since UPA is also following many policies, which BJP wanted to implement, irks BJP around and changes its stance. It does smack of opportunism and it seems that what dictates its public stand most of the times are the electoral contingencies of the time. If it supports the government on these issues it would be sound to toe the government line and would lose the electoral advantage in the coming elections. Apart from the turnaround in the economic policies, its shrewd managers have taken a very ambivalent stand on Anna’s draft after a faÃ§ade of totally upholding Anna as the person, his movement and his idea of the Bill as the desirable one. As such BJP has a long tradition in these matters of opportunism. It exploded the bomb in 1998, and tilted the foreign policy supporting the US. But when in opposition it again turned around and took contrary positions.
If we go back, we see the same ‘clever’ stance in the matters of the Mandal commission implementation. It did not have the courage to speak against the Mandal commission, to which it was deeply opposed, as that would have alienated it from a large section of voters. So to skirt around the issue, it went in for the Rath Yatra, bypassed the Mandal issue and tried to give confusing signals to the electorate. As a culmination of the Rath Yatra, Ram Janmabhoomi movement, it went on to undertake the criminal act of the Babri Masjid demolition. The BJP asserted that Babri Masjid is a blot on the Hindu India. Let’s note that while taking the oath, it swears by the Indian constitution, a secular India, while operating on a political chess board; it keeps Hindu India as the reference point. This demolition brought it to the seat of power in the centre.
After grabbing power, being in the government it did not build the temple for which it had demolished the masjid and had unleashed the violence that followed. When in opposition it promises to build the temple, when in power it finds excuses and wriggles out of the commitment on which it came to power. So what is the real BJP? Is it for the principles of a particular type or is it a party of Hindu Rashtra, using the democratic space merely to enhance its electoral power? The dilemma of BJP is that it is a political party operating in the electoral arena, in the democratic space, but at the same time to work for abolition of democratic space when in power. So far, it could not come to power without its non-Hindutva allies. So it has used the opportunity of being in power to communalise the education and state apparatus, to give more opportunities for the RSS progeny (VHP, Bajrang Dal, ABVP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram to infiltrate into the state apparatus).
The duplicity of BJP has a deeper agenda. It is not just a party of the right wing. It is a party of ‘religious right wing’. The right wing parties aim at the status quo in the society. The religious right wing parties not only aim to maintain status quo but go further and try to reverse the process of social change which has taken place due to the liberal space. The right wing parties may be principled, however wrong those principles may be, while the religious right wing groups are totally bereft of any qualms about principles as they are out to use the democratic space for the bringing in of the fundamentalist regime over a period of time.
- Communal riots 2011 – By Asghar Ali Engineer (Dec 30, 2011, Twocircles.net)
Not in the picture – By Rajdeep Sardesai (Dec 29, 2011, Hindustan Times)
Those who live by the media are often slain by it. At the 2011 CNN-IBN Indian of the Year awards, Anna Hazare candidly admitted that it was the media which was responsible for his rise from a regional figure in Maharashtra into a national icon. “If your cameras had not followed me everywhere, who would know me?” was the activist’s honest response. Today, the same media reports on Hazare’s flop show in Mumbai, on how an anti-corruption stir has become an anti-Congress agitation and how Hazare’s fasts amount to coercive blackmail. Last week, Mani Shankar Aiyar, the ruling class’s last iconoclast, referred to Anna as a “Frankenstein monster”, mirroring the views of several politicians who are convinced that Hazare is a media creation threatening parliamentary democracy. But was the media hype really responsible for Hazare’s larger-than-life image?
There is little doubt that over the last nine months, Hazare’s advisers used the media quite brilliantly. Prime time press conferences, made for TV spectacles, social networking campaigns: Hazare did benefit from saturated media coverage. Yes, some of it was high-pitched, and yes, some journalists did become Hazare’s cheerleaders. But to see Hazare as purely a media phenomenon would be a misreading of the mood on the street. Crowds were attracted to Hazare not because the TV cameras were there, but because he appeared the antithesis of a morally bankrupt political leadership beset with a series of scams. Rewind to April when Hazare first descended on the national capital. Just before the first fast in Jantar Mantar, Hazare addressed a press conference at the Press Club. The attendance was thin, and Anna remained at best an object of curiosity for the national media.
Yet, even before the fast could really take off, Union minister Sharad Pawar resigned from the group of ministers on the lokpal, thereby almost vindicating Hazare’s claim that a “corrupt” Pawar could not be on an anti-corruption law panel. Two days later, Hazare’s cause was further bolstered when the government issued a formal notification in the official gazette, setting up a joint drafting committee that would discuss and draft a strong Lokpal Bill. The members of the committee would be a 50-50 divide of government ministers and a unique concept called ‘Team Anna’. Till April 9, Hazare was just another voice in the ongoing debate over an anti-corruption law. The singular act of agreeing to formally negotiate with his appointees on the lokpal automatically legitimised him and his ‘team’ as the sole spokespersons for ‘civil society’. Suddenly, respected figures like Aruna Roy, Jaiprakash Narayan (of Loksatta) and a number of anti-corruption activists who had also worked hard on the lokpal legislation were confined to the margins. Did the media ask the government to make Team Anna the exclusive interlocutors of civil society, or was this a reflection of a government mindset eager to appease all shades of NGOs and their fellow-travellers? To compound the political error, all nominees on the government side were Congress ministers, effectively making the negotiations a Congress versus Team Anna exercise rather than a wider, more inclusive process.
If April 9 was a bad mistake, what followed on June 5 was another blunder. The Delhi police’s midnight crackdown to end Baba Ramdev’s fast against black money came barely 72 hours after four senior ministers had rushed to the airport to receive the yoga guru. Treating Ramdev almost like a visiting head of State one moment, then as a criminal the very next, was a flip-flop of the worst kind that further discredited the government. The third, and perhaps the most serious, error came on August 16 when the Delhi police arrested Hazare as he prepared for a second fast. By first denying him access to the fast venue, and then sending him to judicial custody, the government ensured Hazare’s transformation from anti-corruption crusader to martyred messiah. During Hazare’s fast in April, a huge Bharat Mata poster had formed the backdrop, with Baba Ramdev sharing stage space and Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s supporters providing vocal support. By August, when Hazare fasted at Ramlila Maidan, the Bharat Mata poster had been replaced by a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, Ramdev had disappeared, and even Sri Sri was a peripheral presence.
Moreover, the arrest provided the trigger for thousands to take to the streets: this was no longer about a lokpal or an anti-corruption law which most Indians knew little about, but an expression of general disaffection with a system that was seen to be arrogant and corrupt. Hazare, as the self-sacrificing ‘fakir’ like figure was the perfect mascot for the angry, anonymous Indian. The ‘I am Anna’ caps and T-shirts on sale marked the complete ‘personalisation’ of the movement: the journey from an environmentalist at Ralegan Siddhi to folk hero at Ram Lila was done. Hazare’s triumph appeared complete when Parliament, in a desperate bid to end his fast, passed a hurried ‘sense of the House’ resolution on the Lokpal Bill. So again the question: did the media push the government to arrest Hazare, or was this also the irrational act of an establishment in panic mode? In the end, both the State and Team Anna mistook the medium for the message. Team Anna saw the frenzied coverage as its main weapon, forgetting that democratic politics is not a repetitive television serial, but a tortuous process of negotiation and conciliation. The State, on the other hand, failed to recognise that cacophony will be part of a media environment in which there are more than 350 news channels and several hundred OB vans across India. The media will be a loudspeaker of grievances, not just of Team Anna, but of many other protest movements in the future. Strong leaders will not be swayed by the noise, a wise civil society will seek legitimacy beyond the camera lens.
- A lost battle? – By R.K. Raghavan (Dec 31, 2011, Frontline)
- ‘No political party wants an independent, strong Lokpal’ – Prashant Bhushan with Kunal Majumder (Dec 31, 2011, Tehelka)
- A pill to cure all ill? – Editorial (Dec 10, 2011, Hindustan Times)
Bending towards justice – By Tanweer Alam (Dec 29, 2011, Indian Express)
The late Osho was a fine interpreter of social absurdities that destroyed human happiness. At the height of one of the early waves of pro-and anti-reservation stirs in Gujarat he told a mass of his ochre-robed disciples that the argument against reservation was not fair. In his characteristic off-hand way, he said: “You tie somebody’s hand and feet for 5,000 years and ask him to compete in a race against people who have been practising on a daily basis.” Those observations provide some clarity on the contentious issue of reservations for Muslims: If Muslims have fallen to the bottom of the heap, they need to be pulled out of it before they can be able to run with the others, even though nobody had fettered them. There is a broad consensus that reservation would help. However, there is a widespread sense of scepticism about the announcement coming too close to UP elections.
The government has announced a sub-quota of 4.5 per cent for minorities within the existing 27 per cent quota for OBCs in Central jobs and admission to Central educational institutions. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians are notified as minority communities under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. This, hopefully, should enable the least developed castes among Muslims to get a foothold and extricate themselves from extreme deprivation. This is being seen as a first, small step towards a more equitable future. Reservation to Muslims is not a new idea, nor is it unconstitutional. Its opponents are saying it is ultra-vires to the Constitution as no reservation is allowed on the basis of religion. However, in the states where they have got reservation over the years, they have got it on the basis of socio-economic backwardness. Already there are various quanta of quota for backward Muslims in different states. In Kerala, it is 12 per cent; Tamil Nadu, 3.5 per cent; Karnataka, 4 per cent; Andhra Pradesh, 4 per cent; West Bengal, 10 per cent and Bihar 5 per cent.
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, economist and principal author of the Sachar committee report, who also has a legal background, cites the Constitution to say: “There is no bar on state action to uplift the weak on the basis of religion”. Prof. Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of the National Law University, Bhubaneswar, whose opinion on legal and constitutional issues is taken seriously, is also sure that reservation for Muslims does not violate any constitutional provision. To validate the point that such reservation is in consonance with constitutional provisions, he quotes Article 15 of the Constitution, which says, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. The reservation for OBC Muslims is not going to be made on the basis of religion, but backwardness, and is a step towards justice to backward minorities.
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, chairman of the Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies says that stalwarts like Ballabh Bhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had assured Muslims that their interests would be taken into account and accommodated in the days ahead. “During the formative years of the republic, when the wounds of Partition were still fresh, the two leaders had advised Indian Muslims to forego reservation for sometime, which the Muslims did,” says Dr Alam. “The two stalwarts had clearly assured our elders that they should trust the generosity of the Hindus and India,” to give them reservation when the moment came. “That moment has come,” says Dr Alam. While the general feeling among the Muslims is that reservation is an idea whose time has come, there are differences on the details.
Law professor and former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Prof. Tahir Mahmood says there is no legal problem with a quota within a quota . He was a member of the Ranganath Mishra Commission that recommended a 15 per cent quota for minorities and 10 per cent for Muslims. The Ranganath Mishra Commission came in the wake of the Sachar committee report that limited itself to gauging the extent of Muslim backwardness. The Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto had envisaged and promised reservation for Muslims on the model of southern states. The manifesto read: “The Indian National Congress has pioneered reservation for the minorities in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in government employment and education on the basis of their social and economic backwardness. We are committed (ourselves) to adopting this policy at the national level”. In that sense, this announcement of a quota is a logical extension of past initiative.
- What’s Ailing RTI? – By Shonali Ghosal (Dec 24, 2011, Tehelka)
- Castes of mind – By Sunil Jain (Dec 30, 2011, Indian Express)
It’s All About the Muslim Vote – By Margherita Stancati (Dec 21, 2011, Wall Street Journal)
Once upon a time, state elections in Uttar Pradesh were mainly about the Dalit vote. Today, Muslims are getting a fair share of wooing, too. Just take a look at the full-page ad chief minister Kumari Mayawati’s state government published in the Times of India on Tuesday: “What the previous governments could not do during the last 40 years, the present govt. has done much more in the last four years for the welfare of the Muslim Community,” said the ad, aimed at showing off what her government has done for the “progress and prosperity” of Muslims.
The ad, described as a “brief” account of what Ms. Mayawati’s government has done for Muslims, goes on to list 87 examples, one of which is no communal riots under her watch – a thinly-veiled stab at the Congress party and at the Bharatiya Janata Party, which have less of a clean record on this front. The publicity campaign comes as the election race in India’s most-populous state is heating up. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims represent around 18% of its roughly 200 million people and are a precious electoral prize. All parties are now courting the Muslim vote. Ms. Mayawati is one of many politicians who recently spoke in favor of expanding the country’s affirmative-action program to include more Muslims.
While Muslims are outside the traditional Hindu caste system, they usually fall among India’s underclass. Along with Dalits, who are traditionally at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, tribal people and other “backward” groups, Muslims lag behind other classes. As such, these groups are entitled to 27% of central-government jobs and university admissions. Since the Indian constitution does not allow privileges to be granted on religious grounds, the criteria for inclusion among “backward” classes focuses on groups’ socioeconomic standing. Setting aside a quota for Muslims specifically would thus require a constitutional amendment.
Ms. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which is supported by a large minority vote, isn’t the only one pitching for the Muslim vote. The chief minister’s recent overture to the state’s Muslim electorate comes largely in response to Congress’s proposal to introduce a quota specifically for Muslims. It is still unclear whether this would be earmarked from the broader quota set aside for backward classes or whether it would be separate. The Muslim quota – which some reports say could entitle Muslims to 6% of government jobs and university places – is largely aimed at luring the community’s vote ahead of the 2012 elections in UP, political analysts say. With this move, Congress is likely to gain more ground among the state’s Muslim electorate than its political rivals, said Rekha Saxena, associate professor of political science at Delhi University. “Congress is going to be the biggest beneficiary of this,” said Ms. Saxena, with reference to the proposed Muslim quota.
It could help Congress recover some of the support it lost from Muslims after 1992, when Hindu extremists demolished the Babri Mosque, which was located in UP. India’s central government, led by Congress, has been blamed for not having done enough to prevent the incident. Ms. Saxena expects the Muslim vote to be split between Congress and the regional Samajwadi Party, which a recent poll showed is likely to win more seats at the upcoming assembly elections than any other single party. The SP, too, has hinted it would favor a Muslim quota. Even the Hindu nationalist BJP is hoping for a slice of the Muslim electoral pie. In early November, a senior BJP official in the state said the party was also committed to supporting a quota for Muslims. This is a bit of a long shot, but it may help Muslims dislike the BJP a little bit less.
- Muslims key for Congress in UP – By Aziz A. Mubaraki (Dec 22, 2011, Twocircles.net)
Legitimising an inhumane discourse – By Prabhat Patnaik (Dec 27, 2011, The Hindu)
The UPA government mercifully has decided to keep in abeyance its decision to allow 51 per cent foreign equity in multi-brand retail. What is disturbing however is the argument with which it sought to justify its earlier decision, which represents a shift towards a palpably inhumane discourse in matters of economic policy. One must protest against this shift before it becomes “acceptable.” The official argument stated that FDI in multi-brand retail would benefit “consumers” (whoever they are), and peasants and small producers from whom the retail MNCs would procure supplies. Let us for a moment accept these arguments, notwithstanding their vacuity (exposed by C.P. Chandrasekhar in The Hindu, Nov. 30). Nobody however has claimed that the induction of retail MNCs will not harm the small retailers. Even the government’s own argument that confining retail MNCs to cities with more than ten lakh people will limit the damage to petty retailers, actually concedes that such damage will occur. There is, of course, an element of dishonesty involved in this argument: since it is not worth MNCs’ while to set up shops in villages, what is claimed as a restriction upon them conforms precisely to what they want anyway; but the argument itself vindicates the critics. And since the bulk of employment in petty retail at present is in urban areas, the fact that FDI in retail will cause substantial damage to the livelihoods of vast numbers of people is indubitable. Promoting it therefore is based on the presumption that distress for them should be acceptable because of the benefits that would accrue to other sections of society.
This argument however is dangerously violative of a humane discourse. It is analogous to saying that since the processing of minerals will bring benefits, by way of availability of manufactured goods, to some sections of society, the distress caused to the tribal population which has to be uprooted for obtaining the minerals should be of no concern. And it is exactly identical to the argument put forward in the colonial context that since imported manufactured goods were of superior quality and benefited the consumers (who would not have bought them otherwise), among whom were numerous peasants, the fact that they destroyed the livelihoods of millions of artisans and weavers, should not be held against the policy that freely allowed such imports. In fact the argument for FDI in retail is a precise recreation of the discourse of colonialism. It is instructive here to recollect the rhetorical question that Gandhiji had asked: If “my brother” the weaver is out of work because of imported cloth, then how can I be better off by it? The humaneness of this discourse was the foundation upon which our anti-colonial struggle was built, and we came into being as a nation. The current official discourse constitutes a rejection of it. Interestingly, the current official position is antithetical not only to the humane discourse that Gandhiji was propounding, which postulated that no section of the population should consider itself better off by some policy if certain other sections belonging to the non-affluent were pushed into greater distress by it, but also to what even conventional economic theorising suggests.
Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian philosopher-economist, had suggested a criterion for comparing alternative states of society, which has acquired wide currency in economics. According to it, between social states A and B, if there are some persons who are better off, and nobody is worse off, in A compared to B, then A is socially preferable. On the other hand, if some persons are worse off in A compared to B while others are better off then we cannot say that A is to be preferred to B. Taking A to be the social state where MNCs are operating in retail, it clearly follows that we cannot consider their operation to be socially preferable to a state where they are not operating. The Pareto criterion has major lacunae, the most obvious being that it flies in the face of egalitarianism. If the poor continue to remain as poor in A as they were in B but the rich become much richer, then A is socially preferable to B according to Pareto despite the increased inequality. Not many would accept this view: egalitarianism may override Pareto, but not the converse. But in the case under discussion, if we introduce egalitarian considerations in addition to Pareto, then the argument against MNCs in retail gets further strengthened. Not only will their operation, no matter whether it benefits some sections of society, hurt others, but those hurt will include a substantial number of the poor. Both Pareto and egalitarianism therefore point in the same direction, namely, jettisoning the move to introduce FDI in retail. What is intriguing is that a government headed by an economist should have ignored this basic bread-and-butter economics.
Even if we keep egalitarianism aside, just to pass the Pareto test, the least that the proposed policy should have provided for is a system of compensations, effected through the government budget, for those who stand to lose by it, to be paid for by those who stand to gain from it. But then it may be asked: who exactly stands to gain from it? The government’s answer to this question is palpably absurd. The insertion of some gigantic MNCs which would act as oligopsonists vis-Ã -vis the sellers of produce, consisting of a set of peasants and petty producers, and as oligopolists vis-Ã -vis the buyers, consisting again of a set of relatively small consumers, is bound to act to the detriment of both these sets. International experience, contrary to the claims of the Central government, testifies to this. But let us for the moment accept for argument’s sake the possibility that a large number of people may gain from this move. Of one thing however we can be absolutely certain, namely that the MNCs will gain from it. It stands to reason therefore that the MNCs should be asked to pay for compensating the petty retailers who will lose from their entry, and that they in turn can recoup this by charging whoever gains from their entry. (And if this makes transactions with them unattractive for buyers or sellers, then so much the better, for it will then serve to prevent the supplanting of petty retailers). For the introduction of FDI in retail to be at all a credible measure for consideration, it is essential therefore that it should be accompanied by a system of compensations for the losers, for example in the form of an Income Guarantee Scheme for the petty retailers. Even with such a system of compensations, FDI in retail can still be objected to on grounds of violating egalitarianism; but without such a system it is simply not worth considering at all. And if such a system of compensations is considered infeasible on administrative or any other grounds, then too it follows that FDI in retail is not worth considering at all.
The process of destruction of petty business by capitalist enterprises was referred to by Marx as “primitive accumulation of capital.” While Marx had seen primitive accumulation as occurring at the beginning of capitalism, it obviously characterises the entire history of capitalism which is marked by violence and predatoriness. But unleashing a process of primitive accumulation of capital, such as what FDI in retail amounts to, is not only violative of humaneness, but also undermines both democracy and the foundations of our nationhood. Having a system of compensations, say in the form of an Income Guarantee for petty retailers, is one way of preventing primitive accumulation of capital. It still does not make FDI in retail acceptable; but it makes it minimally worthy of being placed on the table for discussion. What is frightening about the current situation is the way measures which are not even minimally worthy of discussion and which entail primitive accumulation of capital, are being imposed upon society through executive fiat. And, to justify this, as many have pointed out, one section of the poor is being spuriously projected as constituting gainers, so that the distress caused to another section can be conveniently overlooked.
- Looking back – By Bhaskar Ghose (Dec 31, 2011, Frontline)
Fiery trap – By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay (Dec 31, 2011, Frontline)
Death came stealing in the wee hours of December 9 to AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, a prestigious private hospital in south Kolkata, and claimed more than 90 lives in a major fire disaster. There were 164 patients in the annexe building of the hospital when a fire broke out in its upper basement. The toxic smoke rose rapidly up the six-storeyed building. As the windows of the centrally air-conditioned building were sealed, there was no exit for the smoke to escape. This left the inmates completely helpless. Local youth, alerted by the cries and desperate signals from patients, tried to help, but they were turned away by hospital staff who claimed that the situation was under control. It was a disaster that was precipitated by the negligence and callousness of the hospital authorities. The fire apparently broke out a little before 3-00 a.m., but the Fire Department was alerted only at 4-10 a.m., and that, too, by a relative of one of those trapped in the building. According to police sources, hospital staff wasted more than 90 precious minutes by trying to douse the fire on their own. By then thick smoke had spread, killing trapped invalids and convalescents. The staff, it appears, were reluctant to call the fire brigade immediately because in an earlier instance an employee of the hospital had been suspended for calling the fire brigade without authorisation from the higher authorities when a minor fire broke out in the hospital precincts. Police sources said that the higher authorities of the hospital had been alerted by the staff long before the fire services were called. “There was complete violation of all fire safety norms in the building,” said D.P. Biswas, Additional Director General, Fire Services. The basement, which was meant for car parking, was used for various purposes, including housing a pharmacy, a biomedical department and a storeroom. According to the preliminary report prepared by the Fire Department, combustible materials kept in the basement prolonged the fire and added to the toxicity of the smoke.
Subsequent investigations showed that a disaster of this scale could have been averted had a mandatory precaution been followed and a vertical fire stop installed in the building. In centrally air-conditioned buildings, the vertical fire stop seals off the maintenance shaft at every other floor to prevent air from passing through and spreading to the other floors. According to Damyanti Sen, Joint Commissioner (Crime) of the Kolkata Police, smoke and fumes went up the shaft to the upper floors as these vertical stops were not in place. Moreover, the fire also prompted the authorities to switch off the mains, which stopped the air-conditioning. Lack of air circulation in the sealed building hastened the death of those inside. Police sources also suspect that the smoke alarms in the hospital had been switched off; it is not known why. Investigations have revealed what the police called “active omission” on the part of the hospital authorities. On September 5, the hospital had given an undertaking to the Fire Department that hazardous materials would be removed from the basement. “We have found that in a board meeting held sometime in November, after the hospital had given an undertaking to the Fire Department, a resolution was taken to look into the issue of safety measures,” said Damyanti Sen. However, the issue of safety continued to remain ignored. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who holds the Health portfolio, said, “It is a criminal offence. It is a crime.” The police arrested seven directors who were allegedly involved in the day-to-day functioning of the hospital: Shrachi Group chairman S.K. Todi, Shrachi director Ravi Todi, Emami vice-chairman R.S. Goenka and Emami directors Prashant Goenka and Manish Goenka, AMRI director R.S. Agarwal and its executive director Dayanand Agarwal. S. Upadhyay, senior vice-president and the hospital’s safety committee chairperson, and Sanjib Pal, administrative officer, have also been arrested. Mamata Banerjee cancelled the hospital’s trade licence. The patients in the other buildings were shifted to various other hospitals.
The death toll would have been lower had the authorities and the hospital security staff not refused the aid volunteered by the youth of the nearby slum who came rushing to the hospital the moment they heard of the fire. “My friends and I rushed to the hospital around 3-00 a.m. There were people screaming inside and flashing the light on their mobile phones and banging desperately on the windows, signalling for help,” Biswajit Chakraborty, a local resident, told Frontline. He and four other youth then approached the security guards, only to be turned away. “Meanwhile the screams from inside were getting louder and it was impossible for us to remain mute spectators. So we climbed up the building from the back side with bamboo ladders,” said Biswajit. Risking their own lives, they saved five people. One of those who came forward to help, Shankar Maity, had to be hospitalised soon after, having inhaled the deadly fumes. “It was terrifying inside. It was pitch dark with suffocating smoke everywhere, and we could see people lying around and heard others gasping from unseen corners,” said Biswajit. He said many more lives could have been saved had more youth from the neighbourhood been allowed to enter the building. Biswajit, a construction worker, is at present unemployed.
Biswajit’s words are borne out by 77-year-old Anjali Mitra, a patient on the third floor of the hospital and one of the survivors. “It was the people from the slums who saved me and many others. We received no help from the hospital staff,” she told Frontline. She said that when the local people told the trapped victims that they were not being allowed to come in, some of the patients pleaded with them to “enter forcibly”. “As we were choking, the hospital staff kept telling us not to worry and that everything was under control; at the same time we could hear screams of the people from the floors below,” she said. She and the other patients on her floor managed to break one of the thick glass windows, and it was perhaps that little opening which kept them alive. It was past 4 a.m. when the local rescuers carried her down to safety. Among those who died that day were two nurses, Remya Rajappan and P.K. Vinita, who hailed from Kerala. They lost their lives while saving eight patients in the women’s ward. All other staff members, curiously, were unscathed in the tragedy. Most of them, according to reports, fled the scene as soon as they sensed danger. The scene outside the hospital was also traumatic. The trapped patients had called their near and dear ones on their mobile phones and hundreds of them had gathered in the narrow lane leading to the hospital. They were helpless as they could not get in or get any information on those inside. One by one, their phone calls to those inside went unanswered, and their plea to evacuate the patients fell on deaf ears.
The police estimated that more than 3,000 people had gathered outside AMRI that morning. Their apprehension turned to grief and anger as the bodies began to be brought out. People scrambled among the corpses to look for their loved ones. Among those frantically searching was Paritosh Sen from Tripura, whose brother Santosh had been admitted in the hospital. Nine days after the incident, on December 18, Sen had still not traced his brother. As the morning progressed, the situation turned more and more chaotic until the Chief Minister herself arrived on the scene and took charge of crowd control. The tragic irony is that many of the victims had fought off serious aliments and were on their way to recovery. Krishna Chakraborty, 62, had undergone a successful brain operation and had practically recovered when the accident claimed her life. “I had spoken to my mother just the day before and she was fine, and then this happened,” said her son Bhaskar Chakraborty. Then there were those who had come with very minor problems. “Criminal negligence” turned an institution designed to save lives into one that destroyed lives instead.
- Playing with Lives – Editorial (Dec 31, 2011, Economic & Political Weekly)