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New Year vigil at Kudankulam reactor site

From the Times of India:

By Bella Jaisinghani, TNN | Jan 3, 2013, 02.13 PM IST

MUMBAI: A rare new year vigil was held atKudankulam in Tamil Nadu, whose residents are up in arms against the nuclear reactor proposed at the site. Mumbai-based writer-activist Jatin Desai said that awareness groups from all partsof the country got together to celebrate New Year 2013 with the people of Idinthakarai and othercoastal hamlets of Tamil Nadu.

Around 300 people participated in the night-long programme. Dr Binayak Sen, Admiral (Retd) Ramdas, Achin Vinaik, Ajitha George, Colin Gonsalves, Clifton D’Rozario, Praful Bidwai, Gabriela Dietrich, Ashim Roy, Lalita Ramdas, Wilfred D’costa, Meher Engineer, T Peter and others took part in the events held atIdinthakarai church.

Jatin Desai said Activists, struggle communities and professionals from various walks of life took a midnight pledge to fight against the nuclear plant. Trade unions, environmental groups as well as human rights organisations extended solidarity to the people’s struggle. Scientists, senior activists, artists, film makers and lawyers joined the night-long celebrations at Idinthakarai beach in a spirit of resistance and democracy.”

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) was among those who attended. Representatives from Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu all came together to oppose the undemocratic imposition of a nuclear reactor within two kilometres of Idinthakarai.

The day began with children painting a mural against the reactor followed by a vast public rally through the coastal hamlets. Music, song and dance characterised the protest march. To the beat of drums, the Janwadi Sanstrutik Andolan from Odisha opened the programme to welcome people gathered in solidarity at the Idinthakarai Lourde Matha Church. Despite speaking different languages, they raised a common voice against the proposed nuclear plant.

Cultural programmes were organised by different groups like Space theatre (Goa), DynamicAction (Kerala), Delhi Solidarity Group, Susanta Das (West Bengal). The night witnessed songs, dances and cultural performances that lasted till dawn.

A Conversation With Human Rights Activist Binayak Sen

From the New York Times:

Binayak Sen, 62, is no ordinary doctor. Few doctors, after all, spend three decades working in a region threatened by what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced” by the country. And that was before Dr. Sen was jailed on charges of “waging a war against the state,” which prompted a group of Nobel laureates to petition for his release.

Dr. Sen was released in 2009, after spending two years in jail, but still faces charges of supporting the Maoists, also referred to as Naxalites, which he denies.

The Maoists have been leading an armed movement to capture political power in 13 states in India over four decades, and claim to be fighting for the poor, dispossessed and marginalized. Dr. Sen ran mobile clinics in the interior of Chhattisgarh, one of the states most affected by the Maoist insurgency. In 2005, he led a 15-member team that published a report criticizing the Salwa Judum, which Human Rights Watch calls “a state-supported vigilante group aimed at eliminating Naxalites.”

The Chhattisgarh state government alleged that his work, and in particular his association with the Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal, amounted to helping wage “a war against the state.” Although that charge was dismissed, he was found guilty of sedition and conspiracy, and sentenced to life imprisonment by a lower court in Chhattisgarh in 2010. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2011 and an appeal against the conviction is pending in the Chhattisgarh High Court.

A group of 40 Nobel laureates described him as “an exceptional, courageous, and selfless colleague, dedicated to helping those in India who are least able to help themselves,” in a 2011 letter appealing for his life sentence to be overturned.

India Ink had several conversations with Dr. Sen, both over the phone and e-mail, to discuss how human rights activism grew from his work as a doctor.

Describe your journey from being a doctor in rural areas to being labeled a Maoist sympathizer.

My work in Chhattisgarh was with village communities, some of the poorest in India, and training health workers to look after their needs. Earlier, I had helped establish a hospital for mine workers in the area. As a logical outcome of my work, I was involved with human rights work, and was the general secretary of the state unit of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties.

In this capacity I was instrumental in documenting and exposing deaths due to hunger and malnutrition, and to the displacement of over 600 tribal villages by the state-sponsored militia called Salwa Judum, or S.J., in southern Chhattisgarh. Last year, the S.J. was banned by the Supreme Court of India.

But it was in 2007 that I was labeled a Maoist supporter, for reasons best known to the Chhattisgarh state government. I was arrested in 2007 and charged with sedition, as well as under internal security acts, spent two years in jail during the trial, was released on bail by the Supreme Court, convicted and sent to jail again, before again being released on bail in 2011. My appeal against the conviction is still pending in the state high court.

What was your association with the Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal?

I was approached by Narayan Sanyal’s family to help him with his legal cases and his health needs. In my capacity as a P.U.C.L. activist, I visited him in jail several times in the presence of senior jail officials, as they testified at my trial.

Could you tell us about your time in prison?

My time in prison was a time of deep despair, as I was unable to figure out the logic of the juridical action against me. At the same time it gave me an opportunity to know the stories of many fellow prisoners who were undergoing the same trauma as myself.

I came across many such instances where people had spent substantial amounts of time and were later let go. In some instances the judges have indicted the police for fabrication of evidence and illegal detention, but nothing has happened.

I did not do anything that was, to the best of my knowledge, wrong or illegal. I didn’t expect anything like this happen to me; I had in fact worked with the government to provide essential services in these areas. After coming out of jail, I have been part of a nationwide process for the repeal of unjust and oppressive laws.

There was no physical intimidation that I faced in jail. However, I was kept in solitary confinement. Life in jail is itself a form of mental intimidation.

Do you consider yourself fortunate that you received a great deal of media attention when you were arrested?

I faced a virulent media trial in Chhattisgarh in the print and electronic media, as well as on the Internet. The ordinary journalist in Chhattisgarh relies to a large extent on government (including police) handouts. It was the contribution of dedicated national journalists who turned their spotlight on the real story.

It was only over a period of time that a campaign against the patent injustice in my case built up, and many prominent citizens at the national and international levels besides sections of national media took a positive view about me.

What is your understanding of the Maoist problem in India? Does their use of violence overshadow the issues they are fighting for?

It is surprising that so much of the public discourse is about the issue of violence. Large sections of the population in the “affected areas” are living in a state of perpetual hunger, to the point of famine, and lack appropriate and basic health care. Their access to common property resources, essential for their survival, is denied to them as a result of state action, to a point where the very survival of entire communities is called into question – but this does not become the center of the discourse.

I have clarified on many occasions that I do not condone the violence either of the agencies of the state or of those who oppose the state.

You were recently part of a conference called “Resist the Silent Emergency” in Delhi; what is the “silent emergency” in India?

The conference to which you refer was mainly devoted to documenting and chronicling widespread fabrication of cases and the use of sedition-like laws to suppress dissenting voices across the country. The silent emergency refers to the suppression of fundamental rights to freedom of thought and expression, without the declaration of an actual internal emergency as in 1975.

You have spoken about the need to establish alternative agencies and systems. What has given rise to the need?

First of all, I want to clarify that I have always engaged with the state to help it function better. I was recently part of the steering committee for health in the 12th five-year plan, and earlier part of the advisory group on structural reforms in health care for government of Chhattisgarh.

However, recent developments make it plain that the planning commission is unlikely to carry out its stated commitments to the universalization of health care. The alternative strategies that most public health workers are advocating, is the universalization of health care and for increased resource allocation in the health and nutrition sector.

Some suggest we need to involve international bodies in improving health care. Does that signal a lack of faith in the country’s own systems of checks and balances?

The distress due to chronic hunger, lack of health care and widespread displacement of the people, who constitute one sixth of mankind, cannot be constrained only by questions of national identity. These are matters of concern for the entire world community.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.)

JU students take out first ever street protest in Kolkata to free Soni Sori

From Tehelka.com:

Jadavpur students take out street protest in support of Soni Sori


Photo: Shankar Sarkar

The campaign to free Soni Sori broke new ground on Wednesday 12 December, with the first street protest for her immediate release being organised at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. It was a small beginning, with fewer than 200 college students and a handful of civil society activists carrying out a march; a turnout blamed by organisers on college exams. “This is only the beginning,” said Madhushree Das, one of the organisers, “and we will continue the protest and plan something big for January, when the students are back on campuses.”

One man, however, was not in the least disheartened with the turnout. Piyush Guha was a tendu leaf businessman in Chhattisgarh with little involvement in politics, when he was arrested along with Binayak Sen and Narayan Sanyal in 2007, and charged with sedition in what became the biggest political trial in recent memory. Jailed in the same Raipur Central Jail where Sori continues to be lodged, Guha was released in 2011 after the Supreme Court granted him bail. “I never imagined so many youths would come to support Soni Sori,” he says of the low turnout. “If there’s anything this era has taught us, it’s that we are on our own. But there is a potential in this crowd for a bigger campaign. Our generation of political leaders either never did anything for us or failed in the attempt, but the young men and women who came today to support a woman they do not know show that there is still humanity in the next generation.”

There are parallels between Guha’s and Sori’s incarcerations. Neither was considered a Maoist by the state establishment, yet both were arrested; a sign that the State is expanding its campaign to silence even the voices on the periphery of the conflict, anyone it considers collaborators or sympathisers, he says. “The government wants the people on the periphery not to speak, not to think.” The parallels breed empathy —reason Guha was at Jadavpur for the rally. “When I was in solitary confinement, my biggest fear was that the people had forgotten us,” he says. “Hearing about the nationwide campaign for our release gave us succour, and the initiation of this campaign will give her hope.”

Guha recounts the horrors of the jail hospital, which denied Sori medical aid as her health deteriorated and proceeded to give her a clean bill of health. “You get nothing in the jail hospital,” he says. “Even though there are nominally three doctors responsible for it, it is actually run by a compounder. No inmate ever gets treatment there. People are afraid to go there, as even minor ailments can become fatal. We saw countless people dying from lack of treatment in front of our eyes. I remember one inmate who committed suicide because he was being denied treatment even when the Raipur Medical College is just across the road.”

Piyush Guha

Medical care is available, he says, but at a price. “If you can pay Rs 100, you’ll get an injection. Cough medicine comes for Rs 50. If you can pay Rs 500, you can even be treated at the medical college. Of course, if you are branded a Maoist, you can forget about that.” The entire prison, he says, runs on bribes, with career criminals scouring the local newspapers for news of wealthier people being arrested. “There are a lot of simple village youths in custody on false charges of being Maoists,” he says. “They cannot afford to get even the basic necessities in jail.”

Even release from prison has not been kind to Guha. Prison meant the end of his tendu business, as his partners were unable to sustain it in Chhattisgarh after his arrest. “Economically speaking, I only have my loans,” he says. “Even if my creditors don’t pressure me to return their money, I know it’s at the back of their minds. I’m starting not from zero, but from minus [sic].” He lost both his parents in the course of his arrest, famously not being allowed to attend their last rites, even by the Supreme Court. “The police repeatedly raided my house after my arrest,” he says, “and my wife and parents had to move house three or four times. Eventually, my parents decided to move back to their village, as the police hounding had made living in Kolkata an unsustainable proposition. It was impossible to continue my father’s treatment in the village, and he died of a cardiac arrest two years later.”

Guha, however, insists he has no regrets. “I understand that I faced some personal losses,” he says. “And I do regret those, sometimes. But jail gave me time to think. My years in prison have strengthened my conviction to stand up against injustice. I cannot forget all those unknown people who helped me. I have to stand up for all those other people I don’t know. It is my social obligation.”

I ask him whether he intends to become a full-time activist. “First I need to survive,” he says.

Medical care is available, he says, but at a price. “If you can pay Rs 100, you’ll get an injection. Cough medicine comes for Rs 50. If you can pay Rs 500, you can even be treated at the medical college. Of course, if you are branded a Maoist, you can forget about that.” The entire prison, he says, runs on bribes, with career criminals scouring the local newspapers for news of wealthier people being arrested. “There are a lot of simple village youths in custody on false charges of being Maoists,” he says. “They cannot afford to get even the basic necessities in jail.”

Even release from prison has not been kind to Guha. Prison meant the end of his tendu business, as his partners were unable to sustain it in Chhattisgarh after his arrest. “Economically speaking, I only have my loans,” he says. “Even if my creditors don’t pressure me to return their money, I know it’s at the back of their minds. I’m starting not from zero, but from minus [sic].” He lost both his parents in the course of his arrest, famously not being allowed to attend their last rites, even by the Supreme Court. “The police repeatedly raided my house after my arrest,” he says, “and my wife and parents had to move house three or four times. Eventually, my parents decided to move back to their village, as the police hounding had made living in Kolkata an unsustainable proposition. It was impossible to continue my father’s treatment in the village, and he died of a cardiac arrest two years later.”

Guha, however, insists he has no regrets. “I understand that I faced some personal losses,” he says. “And I do regret those, sometimes. But jail gave me time to think. My years in prison have strengthened my conviction to stand up against injustice. I cannot forget all those unknown people who helped me. I have to stand up for all those other people I don’t know. It is my social obligation.”

I ask him whether he intends to become a full-time activist. “First I need to survive,” he says.

UAPA – A law against liberty

From The Indian Express:

The Lok Sabha has quietly amended the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a dangerous tool in the hands of any government

[PUDR's critique of UAPA from April this year, before the recent amendments, is available here. -ed]

When two young women were arrested for a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai for Bal Thackeray’s funeral, middle-class fury forced the Maharashtra government to drop the case and suspend two police officers.The Centre also issued a set of guidelines to avoid misuse of the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, even as calls for repeal of the “vague” and “wide” provisions of the IT law that are “susceptible to wanton abuse” grew louder, the government silently pushed through much more controversial amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Lok Sabha, making it further mirror previous draconian laws like POTA and TADA.

The amendments did not merely make this law more stringent; they have made law enforcement agencies less accountable, despite substantial proof of misuse. The government had, in fact, brought in several amendments to give “anti-terror teeth” to the UAPA coinciding with the repeal of POTA in 2004, and more stringent amendments were pushed through in the backdrop of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The vast scope for the misuse of the amendments to the UAPA has been articulated in the recent citizens’ appeal to members of the Rajya Sabha, issued by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), which has been endorsed by several senior civil rights groups, scholars and activists. The appeal has questioned five aspects of the amended law.

The broad definition of person, especially as “an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not” is open to misuse because “this will actually allow agencies and government to create persons beyond that what are recognised by law and any group of friends/ acquaintances can be labelled an association of persons or a body of individuals by the agencies and the government” like a “book reading club to friends who meet every evening at a dhaba may be deemed to be an association of persons or a body of individuals”.

Another major amendment to the law has been to include economic offences within the larger definition of a “terrorist act”. There are two aspects of this amendment that have raised questions. The criminalisation of “production, distribution of high-quality counterfeit currency” is “repetitive” and are already “covered by the equivalent sections 489B, 489C, 489D in the IPC”. The civil rights activists question this amendment, arguing that “when comparable provisions in IPC and terror laws are available for same crimes, the police exercise the option of booking an accused under the terror law because it affords them greater leverage: bail provisions are much more stringent and the accused can be kept in custody for long periods (up to 180 days) without the filing of a chargesheet”.

Another amendment broadens the scope of action against fund raising for “terror activities”. Now, the raising of funds likely to be used (in full or in part) to commit a terrorist act or for the benefit of terrorists shall be punishable irrespective of whether the funds have been raised from legitimate or illegitimate sources. This is irrespective of whether such funds were actually used to commit a terror act or not. And it is punishable for a term not less than five years, but extendable to life.

The only safeguard is the condition that the accused should know that “such funds are likely to be used… by a terrorist organisation”. The civil rights activists apprehend that this amendment will “practically bring under the possibility of prosecution all transactions, even perfectly legitimate ones, without any remote connection to a terrorist act” because “all that the prosecution needs to show is that the accused had knowledge that such funds could be likely used for terrorist act. While such subjective knowledge may again be difficult to prove, it will no doubt result in the incarceration of accused for long periods without bail”.

While the introduction of several new changes has already made the UAPA exceptionally harsh, the amendment of Section 6 of the law has taken away the little hope for judicial scrutiny to prevent its misuse.

The ban on an organisation under the UAPA, which was earlier limited to a two-year period, has been extended to a five-year period. This means that the government has avoided putting its decision to ban an organisation under the UAPA through the scrutiny of a tribunal headed by a sitting judge of the High Court. For example, the tribunal hearing the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) did not only look into the legality of the government’s decision, but it also helped to record and raise the issue of fabricated evidence in individual cases across states. The government’s logic, that extending the ban to five years is to lower the costs to administer the ban, is flawed because the delay in such a judicial scrutiny would make law enforcement less accountable.

There is enough evidence that scores of young Muslim men were branded members of the banned SIMI and arrested. The terror tag was enough to create an atmosphere of public revulsion and they were guilty till proven innocent. There are cases where these men were unable to manage a lawyer who would defend them because several bar associations had banned their members from representing these “terror suspects”. There are examples where verses of the Quran, religious books and even Urdu literature were shown as incriminating material. There were instances where young men were arrested for “shouting slogans against the government” because they were “angry about the demolition of Babri mosque or Gujarat riots”.

Under the normal procedure of criminal law, these acts would have been inconsequential. But once the police branded them as members of the banned SIMI, it automatically invoked the provisions of the UAPA, magnifying the seriousness of the charges. And even once these men win long and tiring battles in courts and are acquitted after years of imprisonment, the terror taint stays, making it extremely difficult to pick up the pieces of their lives and start afresh.

To understand as to why these stringent amendments to the UAPA are especially dangerous, we need to return to the debate in Parliament when this law was enacted, in 1967. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called this law a “donkey that had been made to look like a horse” while George Fernandes had “moved an amendment that the period of ban be reduced to one year”. While opposing the UAPA bill, noted parliamentarian Nath Pai had termed it “a measure introduced by a group of men who have lost faith in the people of India”. Nath Pai had addressed the then home minister Y.B. Chavan and asked, “Will the baton of the police be the final guardian of the liberties, freedom and unity of this country? Can we trust the police to be the only fighter for the delicate fabric of our democracy?” Piloo Mody, who represented Godhra in the Lok Sabha, had said that he was “ashamed of the government”. J.B. Kripalani, who had been chairman of the Fundamental Rights sub- committee, had said that “all these repressive laws violate the rule of law”. He had termed the UAPA “superfluous”, one that “may be used by the executive for purposes for which it is not intended”. He had said that he did not question the intentions of the government. “Their intentions are good but it is like putting a sword in the hands of Hanuman. Hanuman may not like to kill, but somehow the sword kills”.

This time, the passage of amendments to the UAPA in the Lok Sabha happened amid the din of a debate over FDI in retail. Unlike the larger consensus over the need to preserve the freedoms on Facebook, there isn’t even a public debate over the UAPA and its misuse, because, in the dominant public discourse, its victims are deemed guilty till proven innocent.

muzamil.jaleel@expressindia.com

Brutality of the state exposed on Fabricated Cases

New Delhi: ‘It has been established beyond doubt that the Indian police and investigative agencies have for years run a systematic campaign to brutalize citizens by way of punishing them for defending their homeland, farms and communities, or for simply belonging to a certain community that is labeled as being involved in terrorism’ said the interim jury recommendations at a two day peoples hearing on fabricated cases at the Constitution Club. Jury members included JusticeRajinder Sachar Dr. Ram Puniyani, Dr. Binayak Sen and journalists Saba Naqvi and Ajit Shahi.


The depositions from across the country thoroughly exposed the role of the Indian state in fabricating cases of sedition and terrorism to implicate tens of thousands of innocent citizens across India.

The Jury also noted that ‘the Indian judiciary has for the large part been complicit in giving the police a free pass in this evil endeavor. This has only extended the ambit of misery that has incarcerated innocents for years, devastating lives and families’.

Saba Naqvi emphasized that the civil society groups, activists, and solidarity groups that work with the victims of fabricated cases and their families begin documenting in detail each such case around the country so that a single resource base is created to aid concerted action as well as to spread awareness.

Dr. Binayak Sen recommended that the campaigns explore the establishment of a legal support mechanism for the victims of fabricated cases so that they are supported throughout the life of their cases in pursuing a legal defense. He also added that the campaigns need to explore the possibility of bringing class actions suits and criminal law suits before the higher courts to plug the loopholes in the criminal jurisprudence system that lead to the fabrications.

Civil society groups at the meeting will ensure that National Human Rights Commissionand the state human rights commissions be pressured to create special cells devoted exclusively to dealing with fabricated cases on sedition and terrorism.

The public hearing also recommended that the government be pressured to bring action against police officers who are established to have forged evidences and fabricated such cases of terrorism and sedition against innocent citizens.

It is also recommended that the campaigns work towards taking the issue of fabricated cases of sedition and terrorism to international civil rights forums, and evaluate the application of the various international protocols that relate to the practice of war.

On the second day of the peoples hearing depositions were made on behalf of Kerala politician Abdul Nasser Maudany by former MP Sebastian Paul and Omar Mukhtar, the eldest son of Maudany. Suresh Velamanoor from the Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM) spoke about how the Kerala police branded his organization as a terrorist outfit.

Anjum Habib from the Muslim Khwateen Markaz ( Muslim Womens Organisation) in Kashmir spoke about how she was falsely implicated under POTA and spent five years inTihar Jail. Neena Ningombam and Babloo Loitongbam from Manipur spoke about tragic cases of more than 1500 young people who were killed in extra judicial encounters. Ningombam spoke about the loss of her husband in a fake encounter and her continuing struggle for justice not just for herself but hundreds of young widows in Manipur.

The final jury recommendations and report of the meeting will soon be released by the organizers.

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For more information contact:

Wilfred D Costa- 011-26517814. Email: willyindia@gmail.com
P T George – 011-26560133. Email: ihpindia@gmail.com
Sajeed K. –08891163485 Email: sajeedacl@gmail.com