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COVER STORY

10-11-2017

Cow menace

The problems posed by abandoned, unproductive cows

Briefing

Unfulfilled promises

For pastures new

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI cover-story

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Haryana has been extremely enthusiastic in making promises on matters bovine. One of the commitments the party made in the run-up to the Assembly elections in 2016 was about developing grazing lands with government grants in order to protect cows. Other promises included a world-class cow research centre and a milk revolution in the State. The punishment for cow slaughter would be the same as that for manslaughter, said BJP State president Ram Vilas Sharma while releasing the party’s manifesto.

One animal activist-cum-conservationist from the State is determined to remind the BJP repeatedly of its promises. For over four years, Gopal Das from Panipat, who has the prefix “sant” or saint to his name, has been waging a relentless campaign to restore common grazing lands, which, he said, was the most non-violent way of protecting the bovine species. Since June 2, he has been on a hunger strike protesting against the BJP’s apathy towards cow protection. He has been arrested time and again and shifted to hospitals in and outside the State.

But on August 3, he and his supporters did the unthinkable: they placed a dead bull at the venue of a meeting in Rohtak that was being chaired by BJP national president Amit Shah. Incarcerated since then, Gopal Das seems unflappable. “That was the only way I could highlight the problem of stray animals that were falling prey to road accidents. They had me arrested,” he told Frontline from his bed at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.

Breaching the security cordon, Gopal Das reached the venue on August 3 with a handful of supporters and, with the help of a JCB excavator, placed the carcass at the entrance of the Tilyar Convention Centre. The animal was apparently killed by a speeding vehicle. Gopal Das’ idea was to highlight the dangers that abandoned and stray cattle faced and to remind the government of its promise to provide grazing land.

“The only way the cow can be protected is by providing grazing lands. They are dying today in road accidents. This is what I was trying to tell Amit Shah by showing him the dead bull. The State government is charging me with cow slaughter now, saying that I poisoned the bull. The post-mortem report says that the animal died in an accident,” he said with a weak smile. His long-standing grievance has been against the BJP government for not taking the issue of cow protection seriously, which, he says, was just an electoral issue for the party. He pulled out a poster issued by the Rashtriya Govansh Vikas Prakoshth, an organisation set up by the BJP specifically for cow protection, to show how the organisers had expressed their gratitude to the BJP for being the first among political parties to commit itself to cow protection in its manifesto.

Vipin Malik, one of his steadfast supporters, said that Gopal Das belonged to a well-to-do Jat family. He was born Azaad Malik to a family of landed peasants in Panipat and could have had a comfortable life, having inherited his family’s land. But his calling was in the protection of the cow and the preservation of ecological balance, said Vipin Malik. Gopal Das recalled how everyone was jubilant when the BJP got elected at the Centre and in Haryana. They were impressed by the party’s commitment to the cow, and in particular the protection and conservation of native breeds. Haryana even enacted the Cow Protection and Conservation Act (Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015), which sought to give stringent punishment for cow slaughter—three to 10 years in prison with a fine of up to Rs.1 lakh.

Government permits (given at the discretion of the government) were required to send cows to other States. A requirement for this is a declaration that the animals would not be slaughtered. A Gau Sewa Aayog, or Cattle Welfare Commission, was also constituted. Alongside these measures, the foot soldiers of the cow protection movement too got into action, leading to an escalation in cases of cow vigilantism.

Unforeseen consequences

But the government did not foresee the extent of the consequences of the law. The restriction on the sale of cows, especially of unproductive and non-milch cattle, and the inability of the farmer to provide fodder and shelter for such livestock led to the number of strays on the roads growing exponentially. Agricultural mechanisation had also resulted in the bull getting redundant. Farmers and cultivators Frontline spoke to said they could not afford to keep unproductive cattle and therefore had to let them go.

With growing cow vigilantism, there were now fewer buyers for the cattle too, even those used for breeding purposes. The lynching of the Mewat resident Pehlu Khan on the Delhi-Jaipur highway in Alwar district in April this year for transporting cows was still fresh in the minds of people. On October 13, less than a week before Deepavali, five Muslim men were beaten up in an area in Faridabad district by cow vigilantes who accused them of transporting beef in an autorickshaw. It turned out to be buffalo meat. According to IndiaSpend, a data-based news portal, Haryana was among the top States that reported a large number of cases of cow vigilantism leading to lynching.

According to Gopal Das, the solution is not gaushalas but grazing lands. The number of gaushalas went up from 370 to 430 after the new government took charge in the State and the budgetary allocation for the Cow Welfare Commission, too, was hiked manifold times. Yet the gaushalas were overflowing with stray bovines, and their budgets were too meagre for them to take care of the bovines. Bovine deaths in gaushalas in Kurukshetra in Haryana and Hingonia in Rajasthan vindicated Gopal Das’ view. Gopal Das’ fast has drawn support from other political parties. Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar reached out to the fasting seer in July. The Indian National Lok Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party and even a section of the BJP are known to support him. Several gaushala owners in the State also support his demand for freeing “pastureland” from encroachment. Gopal Das claimed that the State government had raised Rs.2,378 crore by auctioning wasteland that could have been developed as pastureland, or gochar land, but had allocated only Rs.3 crore for cow protection and conservation. He also alleged that four and a half lakh acres of common grazing land had not been “cleared” by the government as promised.

Supreme Court guidelines

Most importantly, Gopal Das says, the Supreme Court had way back in 2011 banned the diversion of village grazing land and directed that governments ought to compensate for allowing pastureland to be used for community needs like schools or hospitals. A bench consisting of Justices R.V. Raveendran and H.L. Gokhale held that “any attempt by either the villagers or others to encroach upon or illegally convert the gochar to house plots or non-grazing use should be resisted and firmly dealt with”. The order was delivered in the context of diversion of grazing land in a village in Jharkhand. The court also laid down that “5 per cent of village land must be set aside for cattle pasturing and in unavoidable diversion cases, the government’s adherence to guidelines was a must”.

The judgment was in effect a blow for those peasants and farmers who had small landholdings, were landless, or relied on their livestock for a living. The order, which came a couple of years before the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, was perspicacious in that it laid down that “any requirement of land for any public purpose should be met from available waste or unutilised land in village and not gochar land… when the gochar in a village is de-reserved and diverted to non-grazing use, simultaneously or at least immediately thereafter the State government should make available alternative land as gochar in a manner and to an extent that the gochar continues to be not less than 5 per cent of the total extent in a village”. In addition, where the grazing land was not owned by the government, prior consent of the village headman and villagers was to be obtained before its diversion for non-grazing purposes, the bench ruled. It was an apex court judgment that applied to the entire country.

Gopal Das claimed that historically all the 36 communities in Haryana, called Chattis Biradari colloquially, had reserved 3,32,50,000 acres (an acre is 0.4 hectare) of land for grazing purposes, which roughly constituted 13 per cent of the total land in the State. He said that grasslands for grazing had come down drastically over the years.

The Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, too, has accepted that “shortage of green and dry fodder was a major and continuous challenge”. It is also well documented that the “commons” play a significant role in the household incomes of the poor. Studies have shown that 80-100 per cent of the rural poor depend on the commons for fuel, fodder and food. A study by N.S. Jodha of 80 villages in 21 districts of seven States has found that there was a significant contribution of common property resources on employment and income generation for the rural poor (“Common Property Resources and the Rural Poor in Dry Regions of India”, a 1986 paper by N.S. Jodha in Economic & Political Weekly).

Gopal Das’ campaign is limited to that of cow protection and conservation, but he knows that the poor will also benefit in some way. “It will help everyone in the long run. It is a charitable act for animals as well as the poor,” he said in English. Gopal Das apparently protested in Gujarat as well when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister. He said he was arrested three times in Gujarat alone. The Gujarat government has a Gauchar Development Board, which Gopal Das said should be replicated in all States, especially in BJP-ruled States, as the party had promised to do so in its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. In 2014, he led a rally of bullock carts from Jind, which was the epicentre of a farmers’ agitation, to Delhi in support of Modi. “The police beat us up badly and threw us in jail,” he sadi.

On cow vigilantes, he said they were not the “real protectors” of cows. “There are extortionists among the gau rakshaks,” he said from his hospital bed. Gopal Das has a persistent headache and ulcers in his mouth because of the fasting he has undertaken. His weight is all but 43 kg and his sugar levels fluctuate. His hospital admission slip describes him as a “patient… protesting for grazing land in Haryana”. He said he was still on a “hunger strike” and would not relent until the government allocated adequate grazing land for livestock. Saying that people across the world were demanding such rights for their livestock and themselves, he shows a video of the Sioux tribe protesting peacefully for grazing land rights in Standing Rock, Dakota.

In May 2016, the government organised a national seminar in the national capital on gauvansh (cow progeny) and gaushalas with the objective of discussing government schemes for cow protection and conservation. The programme coincided with the second anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance’s victory in the Lok Sabha election. The participants included non-governmental organisations, religious groups and owners of gaushalas. The issue of grazing lands being sold off for real estate business was raised, and the meeting, according to media reports, turned acrimonious. There were protests as some of the experts roped in by the government spoke in English; there was also anger reportedly because the kit provided to the participants had the pictures of the Jersey cow on it instead of a desi breed. It was here that Minister for Environment and Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar made an assurance that his Ministry was working on a plan to protect gochar bhoomi, or grazing land.

The cow and its emotive appeal may have been used for divisive and narrow political ends, but there is a growing restiveness among those like Gopal Das and others who have campaigned for and voted for the BJP. This yawning gap between what was promised and what is delivered on the ground is what riles them.

Meat traders

Held to ransom

cover-story

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a clear majority in Haryana for the first time in 2014 and was able to form the government on its own. The State government then proceeded to implement some of the promises made in the BJP’s manifesto, including tough laws on cow slaughter. That was on expected lines as the BJP government at the Centre had made cow protection an issue even for the Lok Sabha election. Almost every BJP-ruled State had added teeth to laws banning cow slaughter.

So when Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced in May this year that meat shops and abattoirs would not be allowed to operate near religious establishments and schools, there was no surprise. Meat shop owners were given a list of 21 conditions, quite similar to those that their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh are required to meet. A directive to close down illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses was issued, and such shops were sent notices asking them to obtain licences. They would have to give details of what kind of meat they sold and where they were sourcing it from. As many as 666 meat shops were closed in the State, the largest number in Gurugram. Henceforth, “meat shops should be situated on a site or in building transferred by the committee improvement Trust for the purpose or in a locality approved by the committee”.

The similarity with what happened in Uttar Pradesh after Yogi Adityanath took over cannot be missed. However, whereas in Uttar Pradesh shutting down of unlicensed meat shops had been an electoral promise of the BJP, that had not been the case in Haryana. A Dalit meat seller in Gurugram city made his feelings clear: “Let us say we made a big mistake voting for the BJP.”

On October 8, a fresh directive from the Chief Minister said no new meat shops would be allowed to open in residential areas.

Frontline spoke to meat shop owners whose shops had been sealed for almost six months following the first directive against meat shops operating near religious places and educational institutions. Apart from acquiring licences, meat shop owners were now required to keep deep freezers, specify what meat they were selling, and indicate whether the meat was “halal” or “jhatka”. They would have to plaster and lime-wash their walls and use impervious material for flooring. There were other inexplicable conditions like “there should not be any direct communication between the premises of meat shop and any room used for living and sleeping”.

The directive proscribed slaughter of animals on the meat shop premises. Animals can now be slaughtered only at places permitted by the Municipal Committee. Yet there is not a single government-authorised abattoir in the State. Local residents told Frontline that there was a proposal to build one in the Kadipur Industrial Area in Gurugram, but the plan was abandoned following protests from people living in the area. A building that had been constructed for the purpose was converted into a fire station with a temple attached to it.

Despondent traders

In the predominantly Dalit locality of Nai Basti in old Gurugram, a quiet air of despondency hangs over four shops that sell pork. They catered to a population of about 12,000 people and also received orders from outside the locality. “We have been in the business for nearly three decades. We don’t know anything else. Our families survive on the sale of meat. The idea of doing this in Haryana has come from Uttar Pradesh,” said Gyaneshwar Singh, owner of Shikaar Pork Shop. He said that after 2007, licences were not renewed by the Municipal Committee.

On August 10, he received a notice to “close the illegal sale of meat”. It followed an inspection of his shop by a Municipal Corporation team, which found him guilty of selling meat without a licence and thus in contravention of the Haryana Municipal Corporation (Regulation of Sale of Meat) Bye laws, 2008, and the Municipal Corporation Act. He applied for a licence within 10 days of receiving the notice. It has been more than a month, but he has received no intimation.

“The notice is clear that until I get the licence, I cannot sell meat. Never before were we made to feel as if we were doing something illegal. I have bought a deep freezer, but not everyone can afford it, nor do they have the space for one in their shops. I have spent a lot of money renovating the shop and have yet to recover the money from the sale of meat,” he told Frontline. He added that a freezer was not of much use anyway as most of the meat was sold off on the day of slaughter.

Dalits and Muslims suffer

Suman, another pork seller, said: “For 15 days our shops were shut after the list of conditions was issued. The police scared us by saying we would have to move. If we move out from here, we will lose our customers. Our buyers are mainly poor people, the industrial workers who live in the old city, rickshaw pullers and even body builders. Some among the upper castes request us to give them the teeth of the pig for superstitious reasons. Look, there are no jobs for us, either in the government or in the private sector, and this is what we have been doing for years.”

There is social pressure on meat shops to stay shut during religious festivals, and they comply. “Why antagonise people? We do not want any trouble,” Suman explained. “The majority community expects that we will not sell meat on festive days, especially during Navaratri. Yes, we do lose out on income.” Another meat seller, Raju, said: “Every day there is a jayanti [anniversary] of some religious figure, so we have to close our shops.” Some local residents say that the obsession with vegetarianism and religiosity is new. Some of them recalled that devotees used to offer meat at the famed Sheetla Mata temple in Gurugram, believed to be located at the site where Eklavya cut off his thumb as an offering to Dronacharya.

In Jacobpura, a neighbourhood adjoining Nai Basti, 15 meat shops were sealed as they were located near a temple. One of the shop owners, a Dalit called Pritam, told Frontline that the meat shops predated the temple. “The government has to provide us with alternative livelihoods,” he said. He said that Dalits and Muslims, the two communities engaged in meat trade, were suffering because of the new proscriptions. “Our shutters have been down for the last four months. We are challenging it in court as there are vested interests behind shutting us down, and I do not rule out land grab,” he said with unconcealed bitterness.

Meat shop owners in Haryana are worried over what they perceive as a targeting of their trade. The way in which the Shiv Sena forced meat shops to stay shut on two occasions this year has only deepened their anxiety. That meat sellers now have to declare whether their meat is “halal” or “jhatka” is curious. It is well known that halal meat sellers are Muslims, while jhatka meat sellers are Hindus.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

Economic and ecological concerns

Running roughshod over livelihoods

SUDHIR PANWAR cover-story

THAT livestock has been one of the mainstays of rural economy the world over since prehistoric times is a widely accepted fact. In India, 20 million people are dependent on livestock for their livelihood. It is a reliable source of income for households in rural areas and contributes a substantial portion of the income of all rural households. The importance of livestock as livelihood is even more significant for small farm households, as their incomes from land are lower due to the small size of the landholdings. Consequently, it also contributes significantly to national income. In 2012-13, the livestock sector contributed 4.11 per cent of the total national gross domestic product and 25.6 per cent of the total agriculture GDP.

In India, unlike other countries, cattle rearing is mainly for milk production. Fragmentation of agricultural land and an increase in the demand for milk on account of rapid urbanisation made the dairy business popular among the unskilled and semi-skilled workforce in rural areas. Farmers as well as landless labourers found the business profitable. In 2013, the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh started the Kamdhenu Yojana, which involved providing interest-free loans to milk producers. The scheme proved to be immensely popular, and Uttar Pradesh became the top producer of milk in the country.

Overall, the cattle economy was working well for farmers and was, in many ways, helping to tide them over the larger crisis in agriculture, which has been felt in varying degrees over the past decade. A 2016 report titled “Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households in India”, based on a countrywide 70th round survey of nearly 35,000 households by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), documented livestock as the principal source of income for 23 per cent of small and marginal farmers. The report pointed out that besides its importance as an income source, the livestock sector was also poised for faster growth at 14.9 per cent. In comparison, the cultivation sector was at 4.2 per cent, wages and salary at 1.8 per cent and non-farm business at 0.6 per cent.

This background makes it even more crucial to examine the impact of the recent developments in the livestock sector, especially the hue and cry that has been raised in the name of protecting the cow. These recent developments pose a serious threat to the sustenance and viability of this sector. Incidents such as killings and beatings of Dalits and Muslims in different parts of the country under the pretext of cow protection have created a sense of fear among the rural populace. To add to that, the Uttar Pradesh government’s recent crackdown on abattoirs has impacted the rural economy in a direct way by cutting off a substantial source of income for cattle traders. A Central government order in May on the ban of sale of cattle for slaughter added to the woes of an already suffering cattle economy.

The generally held belief is that the government’s recent interventions will hurt the Muslim community the most as it is dependent on cattle for food (beef) and a sizeable section of the community is engaged in cattle-related businesses. These include running of slaughterhouses and associated businesses as owners, exporters, butchers and commission agents. As per informal statistics, 80 million Indians eat beef or buffalo meat. Amongst them, 63 million are Muslims. This amounts to 40 per cent of the Muslim population. So, any restriction on the meat industry will hurt Muslims on account of their food habits and will also have an economic impact, including loss in employment opportunities. India’s meat industry employs approximately 22 million people, of which nearly 15 million are from Uttar Pradesh. The economy of the Uttar Pradesh meat industry was worth Rs.22,000 crore before the meat crackdown.

Cattle ownership patterns

However, a study of the patterns of cattle ownership does not present a straightforward reflection of the religious and economic linkages that are projected as part of the general impression. The NSSO conducted the All India Debt and Investment Survey in 2013 on 110,000 households in rural and urban areas. The collected data show that cattle ownership is highest among Sikhs, with 40 per cent of Sikh households owning cattle. This is followed by Hindu households, where 32 per cent own cattle, followed by Muslim households at 18 per cent. The all-India average stands at 30 per cent. Cattle ownership patterns differ across regions. In Kerala, where the employment rate is high, only 7 per cent of Hindu and 5 per cent of Muslim households own cattle. In an agrarian State such as Uttar Pradesh, the corresponding figures are 52 per cent for Hindu households and 21 per cent for Muslim households. In Jammu and Kashmir, 57 per cent of Muslim households own cattle, compared with 37 per cent of Hindu households. We can see that patterns of cattle owning are region-specific but not religion-specific.

The study also revealed two other important findings. First, in different economic quintiles, the likelihood of owning cattle is the same among Hindus and Muslims. Second, as regards the ownership ratio between milch and non-milch animals, only 15 per cent of households own non-milch animals, which is half of the overall cattle ownership figure of 30 per cent. The pattern is almost the same across different religions. The end use of the non-milch animal is in the meat industry. It is the Muslim community that is primarily dependent on the meat industry for food and employment. And this is exactly where the hullabaloo around the cow created by the BJP gets communal in nature.

Flawed notification

On May 23, the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a notification banning the sale and purchase of cattle from markets for slaughter. First, it was stayed by the Madras High Court, and the Supreme Court upheld the stay in August. When Harsh Vardhan took charge of the Environment Ministry after the demise of Anil Dave, he first indicated that the notification could be withdrawn—probably because he was new to the Ministry and did not know what had transpired behind the scenes before the notification was issued. Thereafter, the Minister has been silent on this issue. In the Supreme Court, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha had said that the government was looking into the objections from various stakeholders, that rules were under scrutiny and that the notification would be tabled in Parliament after the scrutiny.

There are some basic flaws in the notification. How does a seller know that the cattle (both cow and buffalo) he is selling will be used for a particular purpose other than slaughter? Suppose someone runs out of money to maintain a cow or a buffalo, what is the harm if he sells them? Is it not better to sell rather than keep them and allow them to die of starvation? The Chhattisgarh incident where cows died at a shelter run by an influential Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader bears this reality out in a stark and shocking manner. Evidently, the present government, which says that it has a sociopolitical-ideological commitment to protect cows, is not making enough of an effort to help farmers manage their cattle. There is also the sense, at least in some States, that the entire burden of protecting non-milch cows is being shifted on to cow shelters. The Centre’s Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries launched the National Gokul Mission in December 2014 after the BJP assumed power. The focus is on doling out money to cow shelters, while no help is provided for individual farmers. The aid provided to cow shelters should instead be diverted to individual farmers who can, and will, do a much better job of managing cattle.

With rapid urbanisation and the declining population of indigenous breeds of cows, many States have kept grazing land exclusively for that purpose and have not changed the land use policy. Since almost 70 per cent of the population lives in rural India, and almost each family owns cows or buffaloes, cattle rearing is still a traditional form of livelihood. It is closely linked to the agricultural economy. India has about 199 million cattle, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s cattle population.

Of this, about 166 million are indigenous breeds. It would indeed be a humongous job to manage 199 million cattle, and if a ban (such as the one proposed by the Environment Ministry) is made effective, it would be nothing short of disastrous for the dairy industry and farmers. As per the estimate of the Lucknow-based Kanha Upwan, Asia’s biggest shelter for stray cows, the expenditure on feed for a single cow is Rs.1,950 a month, while as per the NSSO report, the monthly income of a farmer family is Rs.6,426. Therefore, it is obvious that for economic reasons neither farmers nor dairy farms can keep unproductive animals.

The economic consequences

The result of the recent interventions of the government and so-called “social organisations” is an increased population of stray cattle. These animals can be seen both on urban streets and in farmers’ fields. Several breeds of cattle are not useful for the farmer in his field, and the restrictions on sale of cattle and the closure of abattoirs has arm-twisted the farmer into releasing these animals and leaving them to fend for themselves. The released animals are often found grazing on fields, and end up destroying valuable crops. Ironically, the “revered” cow has now become a menace because of the actions of its “protectors”.

While the damage caused by these stray cattle on the rampage is yet to be tabulated, there is little doubt that the numbers are huge and run into crores of rupees. On the other hand, if dairy farmers are forced to rear unproductive animals, their cost of production of milk will also go up.

While the damage caused by the situation in terms of farming is yet to be quantified, there are some indicators as to how the buffalo meat industry has been impacted. It is already suffering as can be deduced from the drop in the country’s beef (buffalo meat) exports. They fell by 7.62 per cent to $257.06 million in April, immediately after the Yogi Adityanath government closed several slaughterhouses across the State. The situation has also made it clear that India will have to import hide from the United States (U.S.) to meet its demand for leather. The Calcutta Leather Complex Tanners Association has already expressed its apprehension that the U.S. leather industry may take over the Indian industry in the long run. The government needs to exclude buffaloes from the ban when the rules are framed again. Otherwise, Indian exporters will have no option but to look to the U.S. to import hide to meet their trade commitments. Buffalo hides form more than 50 per cent of the total leather demand. Thus, the economic impact of the “cow initiative” of the Union and BJP-led State governments has already proved to be disastrous and is bound to get worse if course correction is not set in motion immediately.

Ecological impact

The proliferation of stray cattle and their going on a rampage are bound to have serious ecological ramifications too, which would add to the damage caused by the negative economic impact. To start with, an ever increasing number of cattle coupled with the declining growth of fodder, both green as well as dry fodder, would trigger unprecedented health issues among the cattle population. As per the livestock census of 2012, there was a 28 per cent growth in the population of buffalo and a 10 per cent growth in cows during the 2007-12 period. The vision document of the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute reported a shortage of green fodder to the tune of 63.5 per cent, while a report from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research said that the shortage of dry fodder was about 23 per cent. According to the 54th round of the NSSO, common property resources, which include village pastures and grazing grounds, have been declining annually at the rate of 2 per cent.

In Bundelkhand and other arid regions, farmers resort to Anna Pratha, a system where farmers free their domestic animals to survive in wild habitats. Recent legislations on cattle trade and slaughter have already prompted farmers in other regions to adopt the Anna Pratha practice to get rid of uneconomic animals. In Uttar Pradesh, there are 25 wildlife sanctuaries and one national park for the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife. The probable impact of increased stray cattle will result in the import of diseases, especially foot and mouth disease in wild animals, and vegetation composition change owing to selective grazing and finally affect the predator-prey relationship too.

It is well-known that in forest ecosystems animal grazing is always an issue of concern because of multiple effects on wildlife. Vegetation and wild herbivores co-evolved in many rangeland systems and are connected through a complex food chain and energy pyramid. Cattle invasion of the wild ecosystem is an area of concern worldwide; there are several impact studies on biodiversity loss from Tanzania, Kenya and other African countries. In 1956, the Fauna Preservation Society commissioned Professor W.H. Pearsall to conduct an ecological survey of the Serengeti in Tanzania. On domestic livestock, he made the following observation: “It is almost universally the case that herded animals do more damage than wild game of similar requirements, and in similar numbers. Damage from trampling and over-grazing is inevitable when stock are continually brought back to the same watering-places or stock yards. Also their gait is different and the mere fact of continual herding makes them habitually move in long lines and keeps them from dispersing widely over the plains.... Many pastoralists still favour large herds of livestock, moving them across swathes of wilderness, all of which researchers say escalates soil erosion, watershed degradation, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and the indiscriminate killing of pesky wildlife. It is part cultural, part political, part coterie, all one giant conundrum.”

The social and political developments in Tanzania that led to this observation, which is more than six decades old, seem to be getting a rerun in India albeit on account of different social and political factors. Clearly, the cow protection policies and cattle trade regulations need to be reviewed and recast with some new policy measures and budgetary provisions. Otherwise, non-productive animals will become an even greater economic burden on already stressed farm economy and vulnerable wild ecology.

Professor Sudhir Panwar teaches molecular genetics and genomics at the Department of Zoology, Lucknow University, and is the president of Kisan Jagriti Manch, a non-governmental organisation addressing agrarian issues.

Cover Story

The cow menace

RAJU, a 23-year-old Dalit youth of Malhendi village in Shamli district of western Uttar Pradesh, is a living symbol of what the metamorphosis of the benign cow into a menace of multidimensional proportions can do to a humble farmer. Raju, who was released from jail a couple of days before Deepavali, would be able to tell you how the cow, more specifically the stray and abandoned one, has become an agrarian hazard, a law and order threat, a political provocateur, a victimiser nonpareil, all rolled into one. Raju’s life since the last week of September is a dynamic testimony of this. He spent two weeks in jail on account of these assorted roles that the cow has acquired. Raju has just one plea: save me from the cow and the political-administrative machinery of the government which has converted this docile animal into one capable of perilous forays affecting everyday life, especially in rural northern India. Raju lays stress repeatedly on the role of the political-administrative machinery in aggravating the situations. He is certain that it is the politico-administrative machinery’s moves and manoeuvres that have converted this docile domestic animal into a menace, as perceived by people across the cow belt—Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Raju’s encounter with the metamorphosed cow led to a chain of precarious developments in the last week of September, when he set out on a farm-related errand, which included collection of fodder for a relative’s buffalo. As he passed by the small field owned by his family, he noticed that stray cattle had destroyed the crop and the fresh seeds kept for sowing. He had heard about similar damage done in the fields of other farmers by stray cattle. He heard that farmers in Malhendi and nearby villages were forced to chase the cattle away using red chilli sprays or by wielding lathis. He had also heard that at several places, abandoned cows were devouring fodder stored for farmers’ own milch cattle and that farmers and farm workers thrashed the stray animals mercilessly. It was also in his knowledge that farmers were forced to keep round-the-clock vigil in order to stop the marauding cattle from raiding their harvest. He was under the impression that his small, marginal farm would not attract the attention of stray cattle. So, when he saw his crop trampled upon, he was devastated.

The aggrieved Dalit farmer was aware that the population of cows and bulls had multiplied in the village’s streets ever since Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and later the Narendra Modi-led Union government imposed serial bans on the slaughter of unproductive cows.

While the Yogi Adityanath government issued instructions immediately after assuming office in April 2017, directing the police to take action against illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses, the authorities went for an overkill, moving not only against illegal slaughterhouses but also against mechanised slaughterhouses and meat-processing and packaging units. This in itself had caused considerable confusion among livestock holders and traders, but in about a month, on May 23, the Centre came up with an order that further complicated the situation. This order, based on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 (Animal Market Rules), imposed a virtual ban on the sale of cattle in animal markets for the purposes of slaughter. These bans, in turn, unleashed Hindutva-oriented gau rakshak (cow vigilante) groups across Uttar Pradesh. The vigilantes blocked transport of cows, bulls and calves, leading to violence and mayhem in several parts of the State. The cumulative effect of the government ban as well as the ruckus created by cow vigilantes was an abrupt and massive reduction in the slaughter of unproductive animals and the abandoning of these animals by their owners.

On seeing the damage done to his crop, Raju lost his cool and composure. The fact that his predominantly agricultural labour family, which migrates to Punjab and Haryana periodically to earn better wages, had cultivated only on small patches of land exacerbated his sense of rage.

What followed was a full-throated voicing of some choice epithets against the stray cows for the damage they had caused and against the political-administrative perpetrators of the stray cow menace, which included Modi and Adityanath. One of his friends recorded this venting of ire on his mobile phone, and as is the wont with all youngsters, rural and urban, nowadays, promptly posted it on social media without thinking about the consequences of such an act. The video went viral, as the content had some extreme expletives targeted at the top administrative executives of the country and the State. This happened on September 29-30 and October 1. Within no time, a first information report (FIR) was registered, on October 1, Raju was arrested and sent to judicial custody. Initially, there were suggestions that sedition charges would be invoked against Raju since the video, in which he was seen showing his anger in pronouncedly extreme language, had references to the Prime Minister. However, later procedures showed that the case was largely confined to defamation and related charges. This toning down of the offence helped him get bail in two weeks and join his family for a muted Deepavali celebration, marked by apprehension.

Indeed, Raju’s encounter with the stray cow phenomenon and the developments that followed have marked a high point in terms of public visibility, at the level of the media and social media. The Raju incident has also become a vastly noticed, high-profile case in terms of police action and legal procedures. But scores of similar but relatively less intensive police actions, legal procedures and wranglings have come up in different parts of northern India. More importantly, farmers and farm workers across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are becoming increasingly more voluble about the menace and the “misguided political-administrative actions and manoeuvres that have created this abject situation”.

Highly placed sources in the Home Ministry in Madhya Pradesh told Frontline that reports of angry farmers using not only lathis and red chilli sprays but even acid sprays against marauding cows come up every day. “Most of them say that they have no alternative to protect their crops from the ravaging herds. When reports of acid attacks on cows started emanating from across the State, many gau rakshak groups sought to blame the Muslim community. But in places as varied as Malwa and Bundelkhand regions, inquiry by government agencies and in some places by cow vigilantes themselves revealed that it was Hindu farmers who were attacking cows with acid,” a senior Home Department official told Frontline.

Reports from Rajasthan have it that the aggression of stray and abandoned cows have even resulted in deaths of people. The State Home Department officials said that a stray cow attack, which resulted in the death of a 60-year-old woman, was reported from Mahaveer Nagar in Kota city, barely a month and a half after the Centre’s May 23 ban. “There are unconfirmed reports about more such deaths from Kota. Informal information is that four people have succumbed to injuries caused by stray cow attacks in Kota and Dausa. The cattle invasion on agricultural fields and vegetable markets are a regular occurrence across Rajasthan villages and towns, as in other northern States,” said Mahendra Singh, a Dausa-based farmer. He said these cows were getting thrashed and whipped by the local population.

A progressive farmer and retired colonel, Subhash Deswal of Sikandrabad in Bulandshahar district of western Uttar Pradesh, pointed out that the problem of marauding stray and abandoned cows was literally a law and order problem that was bound to explode in a big way in the not-so-distant future. “My carrot farming and trade keeps me in touch with almost all the States of India and what I am hearing on the cow menace from the farming community in all these States is extremely alarming. It is palpable on a day-to-day basis in almost all the States. However, it is most alarming in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra also face a problem but with less intensity. The skewed government policy and its reckless implementation has led to a situation wherein cattle owners are left with no other option but to abandon their unproductive cows and bulls. This number will grow as more and more cows reach non-productive age, without being directed to the natural course of slaughter. This army of stray cattle will virtually overturn cane, vegetable and grain fields. Apart from the assault on rural fields and farms, the stray and abandoned cows cause widespread traffic snarls and accidents across national highways in northern India, many of them built under the guidance of the BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The majority of the accidents triggered by stray cattle have been reported from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.”

Deswal added that because of the huge population of Uttar Pradesh (it is the most populous State), the impact and damage of the cow menace was also felt strikingly in the State. He said that the political undertones of this disturbing social situation were palpable and strikingly anti-BJP.

Travelling across several districts of central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, this correspondent was able to confirm the veracity of Deswal’s observation. From Shamli and Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh to Barabanki in central Uttar Pradesh and to Faizabad in central eastern Uttar Pradesh and to Bahraich and Lakhimpur Kheri bordering Nepal, farmers and common people had the same story: cow menace. In many places, Frontline came across genuine and committed cow protectors who complained about the cow menace and accused the Yogi Adityanath and Modi governments of talking big about cow protection but doing nothing concrete on the ground.

Talking to Frontline at Ram Vatika Dham, a designated cow protection centre at Nighasan near Lakhimpur Kheri, Udit Narain Dwivedi, the caretaker of the centre, said that the number of cows brought there had grown in leaps and bounds in the past three months, but the government support was not proportionate. “Nobody takes care of our genuine demands or the needs of the cows. All that they do is deliver speeches.” Dwivedi hoped media coverage would draw the attention of the authorities to the menace and result in the setting up of better infrastructure.

In the nearby Khazipurva village, the farmer Mohammed Shareef told Frontline that he and fellow farmers were constrained to keep round–the-clock vigil to restrain the marauding cows. “We have not slept a wink for the past two months. It is going to be like this until harvest is completed.” Shareef said some farmers had already lost lakhs of rupees worth of crops. Evidently, this story is not confined to Khazipurva. Farmers in thousands of villages across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been having sleepless nights and restless days for months. Reports of massive destruction of crops are emanating from these States despite the Herculean efforts of farmers to protect their crops.

The phenomenon of abandonment of unproductive cows and bulls has acquired bizarre and almost surreal proportions at the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, which straddles the districts of Bahraich and Lakhimpur Kheri. The sanctuary, spread over approximately 400 square kilometres, is located on the banks of the Sarayu river. Cattle owners from Bahraich and Lakhimpur Kheri and a few other adjoining districts have taken recourse to abandoning their unproductive cattle on the borders of the sanctuary, including on the river side. The number of these cattle has swelled into thousands. Such is their concentration that entry to and exit from the sanctuary are now dictated by the crowding cows. Only when they move out does the road open for traffic. Lalji and his son-in-law Atul Kumar, residents of Tediya village adjoining the sanctuary, told Frontline that every day cattle owners would come to the area surreptitiously at night in mini trucks and tractors. “And each day hundreds of cows are abandoned near the sanctuary. Sometimes, the cattle owners bribe the so-called gau rakshaks to facilitate the transportation of the cows. These cattle graze in the sanctuary’s grazing lands during the day and move to nearby wheat and vegetable fields at night.” Lalji added that farmers in the nearby areas complained about these herds but there was no action from the authorities to stop the abandonment of cattle in the area or clear the herds.

Environmental disaster

Ecologists pointed out that the large-scale abandonment of domesticated animals in a wildlife sanctuary posed a grave ecological threat. Speaking to Frontline, Sudhir Kumar Panwar, a professor attached to the Zoology Department of Lucknow University and president of the Kisan Jagriti Manch, a collective of farmers and academics focussing on agrarian issues, pointed out that what was happening in Katarniaghat was primarily an example of invasion ecology, pregnant with very disastrous results. “At the very basic level, this invasion of cattle means that they would be encroaching upon the natural grazing lands of herbivorous wild species such as deer. In the medium and long term, translocating an alien species from another region is bound to have a lasting ecological impact on animal populations of the region as well as novel biotic interactions. As masters of the discipline have time and again pointed out, invasion of non-indigenous species is a serious concern in terms of managing and protecting natural as well as managed ecosystems. The government may be advised to look into this fallout of its cow protection manoeuvres. Otherwise, we could be witnessing a huge environmental catastrophe in the region,” Panwar warned (see separate story on page 13).

Clearly, the portents of the highly rhetorical and hugely impractical cow protection policies of the Modi and Yogi Adityanath governments are massive and extremely disconcerting. Analysing the political and administrative dimensions of the cow menace as a whole, Deswal pointed out that cow nationalism served as a good political ploy for the BJP to acquire power both in 2014 in the Lok Sabha election and in 2017 in Uttar Pradesh, but the party leadership should have realised that this unique play of nationalism could not be blindly applied to policy and administration. “The Modi and Yogi Adityanath dispensations seem to have committed the colossal error of becoming blind,” Deswal said.

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has apparently come up with a so-called rectification scheme, which involves tying Aadhaar tags on the ears of the cattle complete with a chip that will contain the cow’s date of birth, address, milk yield, and reproductive and health details. Apparently, this was being planned as a huge, State-wide exercise.

Deswal is of the view that while one must wait to see how the scheme will play out, the fact remains that the Aadhaar scheme does not address the fundamental flaw of banning the slaughter of unproductive and aging cattle. For a real solution to the menace and for a way forward, this fundamental flaw will have to be addressed, but the big question is whether the tenets of the long-exploited cow nationalism will allow Yogi Adityanath and Modi to take the sagacious course correction.

Economic and ecological concerns

Running roughshod over livelihoods

SUDHIR PANWAR cover-story

THAT livestock has been one of the mainstays of rural economy the world over since prehistoric times is a widely accepted fact. In India, 20 million people are dependent on livestock for their livelihood. It is a reliable source of income for households in rural areas and contributes a substantial portion of the income of all rural households. The importance of livestock as livelihood is even more significant for small farm households, as their incomes from land are lower due to the small size of the landholdings. Consequently, it also contributes significantly to national income. In 2012-13, the livestock sector contributed 4.11 per cent of the total national gross domestic product and 25.6 per cent of the total agriculture GDP.

In India, unlike other countries, cattle rearing is mainly for milk production. Fragmentation of agricultural land and an increase in the demand for milk on account of rapid urbanisation made the dairy business popular among the unskilled and semi-skilled workforce in rural areas. Farmers as well as landless labourers found the business profitable. In 2013, the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh started the Kamdhenu Yojana, which involved providing interest-free loans to milk producers. The scheme proved to be immensely popular, and Uttar Pradesh became the top producer of milk in the country.

Overall, the cattle economy was working well for farmers and was, in many ways, helping to tide them over the larger crisis in agriculture, which has been felt in varying degrees over the past decade. A 2016 report titled “Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households in India”, based on a countrywide 70th round survey of nearly 35,000 households by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), documented livestock as the principal source of income for 23 per cent of small and marginal farmers. The report pointed out that besides its importance as an income source, the livestock sector was also poised for faster growth at 14.9 per cent. In comparison, the cultivation sector was at 4.2 per cent, wages and salary at 1.8 per cent and non-farm business at 0.6 per cent.

This background makes it even more crucial to examine the impact of the recent developments in the livestock sector, especially the hue and cry that has been raised in the name of protecting the cow. These recent developments pose a serious threat to the sustenance and viability of this sector. Incidents such as killings and beatings of Dalits and Muslims in different parts of the country under the pretext of cow protection have created a sense of fear among the rural populace. To add to that, the Uttar Pradesh government’s recent crackdown on abattoirs has impacted the rural economy in a direct way by cutting off a substantial source of income for cattle traders. A Central government order in May on the ban of sale of cattle for slaughter added to the woes of an already suffering cattle economy.

The generally held belief is that the government’s recent interventions will hurt the Muslim community the most as it is dependent on cattle for food (beef) and a sizeable section of the community is engaged in cattle-related businesses. These include running of slaughterhouses and associated businesses as owners, exporters, butchers and commission agents. As per informal statistics, 80 million Indians eat beef or buffalo meat. Amongst them, 63 million are Muslims. This amounts to 40 per cent of the Muslim population. So, any restriction on the meat industry will hurt Muslims on account of their food habits and will also have an economic impact, including loss in employment opportunities. India’s meat industry employs approximately 22 million people, of which nearly 15 million are from Uttar Pradesh. The economy of the Uttar Pradesh meat industry was worth Rs.22,000 crore before the meat crackdown.

Cattle ownership patterns

However, a study of the patterns of cattle ownership does not present a straightforward reflection of the religious and economic linkages that are projected as part of the general impression. The NSSO conducted the All India Debt and Investment Survey in 2013 on 110,000 households in rural and urban areas. The collected data show that cattle ownership is highest among Sikhs, with 40 per cent of Sikh households owning cattle. This is followed by Hindu households, where 32 per cent own cattle, followed by Muslim households at 18 per cent. The all-India average stands at 30 per cent. Cattle ownership patterns differ across regions. In Kerala, where the employment rate is high, only 7 per cent of Hindu and 5 per cent of Muslim households own cattle. In an agrarian State such as Uttar Pradesh, the corresponding figures are 52 per cent for Hindu households and 21 per cent for Muslim households. In Jammu and Kashmir, 57 per cent of Muslim households own cattle, compared with 37 per cent of Hindu households. We can see that patterns of cattle owning are region-specific but not religion-specific.

The study also revealed two other important findings. First, in different economic quintiles, the likelihood of owning cattle is the same among Hindus and Muslims. Second, as regards the ownership ratio between milch and non-milch animals, only 15 per cent of households own non-milch animals, which is half of the overall cattle ownership figure of 30 per cent. The pattern is almost the same across different religions. The end use of the non-milch animal is in the meat industry. It is the Muslim community that is primarily dependent on the meat industry for food and employment. And this is exactly where the hullabaloo around the cow created by the BJP gets communal in nature.

Flawed notification

On May 23, the Union Ministry for Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued a notification banning the sale and purchase of cattle from markets for slaughter. First, it was stayed by the Madras High Court, and the Supreme Court upheld the stay in August. When Harsh Vardhan took charge of the Environment Ministry after the demise of Anil Dave, he first indicated that the notification could be withdrawn—probably because he was new to the Ministry and did not know what had transpired behind the scenes before the notification was issued. Thereafter, the Minister has been silent on this issue. In the Supreme Court, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha had said that the government was looking into the objections from various stakeholders, that rules were under scrutiny and that the notification would be tabled in Parliament after the scrutiny.

There are some basic flaws in the notification. How does a seller know that the cattle (both cow and buffalo) he is selling will be used for a particular purpose other than slaughter? Suppose someone runs out of money to maintain a cow or a buffalo, what is the harm if he sells them? Is it not better to sell rather than keep them and allow them to die of starvation? The Chhattisgarh incident where cows died at a shelter run by an influential Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader bears this reality out in a stark and shocking manner. Evidently, the present government, which says that it has a sociopolitical-ideological commitment to protect cows, is not making enough of an effort to help farmers manage their cattle. There is also the sense, at least in some States, that the entire burden of protecting non-milch cows is being shifted on to cow shelters. The Centre’s Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries launched the National Gokul Mission in December 2014 after the BJP assumed power. The focus is on doling out money to cow shelters, while no help is provided for individual farmers. The aid provided to cow shelters should instead be diverted to individual farmers who can, and will, do a much better job of managing cattle.

With rapid urbanisation and the declining population of indigenous breeds of cows, many States have kept grazing land exclusively for that purpose and have not changed the land use policy. Since almost 70 per cent of the population lives in rural India, and almost each family owns cows or buffaloes, cattle rearing is still a traditional form of livelihood. It is closely linked to the agricultural economy. India has about 199 million cattle, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s cattle population.

Of this, about 166 million are indigenous breeds. It would indeed be a humongous job to manage 199 million cattle, and if a ban (such as the one proposed by the Environment Ministry) is made effective, it would be nothing short of disastrous for the dairy industry and farmers. As per the estimate of the Lucknow-based Kanha Upwan, Asia’s biggest shelter for stray cows, the expenditure on feed for a single cow is Rs.1,950 a month, while as per the NSSO report, the monthly income of a farmer family is Rs.6,426. Therefore, it is obvious that for economic reasons neither farmers nor dairy farms can keep unproductive animals.

The economic consequences

The result of the recent interventions of the government and so-called “social organisations” is an increased population of stray cattle. These animals can be seen both on urban streets and in farmers’ fields. Several breeds of cattle are not useful for the farmer in his field, and the restrictions on sale of cattle and the closure of abattoirs has arm-twisted the farmer into releasing these animals and leaving them to fend for themselves. The released animals are often found grazing on fields, and end up destroying valuable crops. Ironically, the “revered” cow has now become a menace because of the actions of its “protectors”.

While the damage caused by these stray cattle on the rampage is yet to be tabulated, there is little doubt that the numbers are huge and run into crores of rupees. On the other hand, if dairy farmers are forced to rear unproductive animals, their cost of production of milk will also go up.

While the damage caused by the situation in terms of farming is yet to be quantified, there are some indicators as to how the buffalo meat industry has been impacted. It is already suffering as can be deduced from the drop in the country’s beef (buffalo meat) exports. They fell by 7.62 per cent to $257.06 million in April, immediately after the Yogi Adityanath government closed several slaughterhouses across the State. The situation has also made it clear that India will have to import hide from the United States (U.S.) to meet its demand for leather. The Calcutta Leather Complex Tanners Association has already expressed its apprehension that the U.S. leather industry may take over the Indian industry in the long run. The government needs to exclude buffaloes from the ban when the rules are framed again. Otherwise, Indian exporters will have no option but to look to the U.S. to import hide to meet their trade commitments. Buffalo hides form more than 50 per cent of the total leather demand. Thus, the economic impact of the “cow initiative” of the Union and BJP-led State governments has already proved to be disastrous and is bound to get worse if course correction is not set in motion immediately.

Ecological impact

The proliferation of stray cattle and their going on a rampage are bound to have serious ecological ramifications too, which would add to the damage caused by the negative economic impact. To start with, an ever increasing number of cattle coupled with the declining growth of fodder, both green as well as dry fodder, would trigger unprecedented health issues among the cattle population. As per the livestock census of 2012, there was a 28 per cent growth in the population of buffalo and a 10 per cent growth in cows during the 2007-12 period. The vision document of the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute reported a shortage of green fodder to the tune of 63.5 per cent, while a report from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research said that the shortage of dry fodder was about 23 per cent. According to the 54th round of the NSSO, common property resources, which include village pastures and grazing grounds, have been declining annually at the rate of 2 per cent.

In Bundelkhand and other arid regions, farmers resort to Anna Pratha, a system where farmers free their domestic animals to survive in wild habitats. Recent legislations on cattle trade and slaughter have already prompted farmers in other regions to adopt the Anna Pratha practice to get rid of uneconomic animals. In Uttar Pradesh, there are 25 wildlife sanctuaries and one national park for the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife. The probable impact of increased stray cattle will result in the import of diseases, especially foot and mouth disease in wild animals, and vegetation composition change owing to selective grazing and finally affect the predator-prey relationship too.

It is well-known that in forest ecosystems animal grazing is always an issue of concern because of multiple effects on wildlife. Vegetation and wild herbivores co-evolved in many rangeland systems and are connected through a complex food chain and energy pyramid. Cattle invasion of the wild ecosystem is an area of concern worldwide; there are several impact studies on biodiversity loss from Tanzania, Kenya and other African countries. In 1956, the Fauna Preservation Society commissioned Professor W.H. Pearsall to conduct an ecological survey of the Serengeti in Tanzania. On domestic livestock, he made the following observation: “It is almost universally the case that herded animals do more damage than wild game of similar requirements, and in similar numbers. Damage from trampling and over-grazing is inevitable when stock are continually brought back to the same watering-places or stock yards. Also their gait is different and the mere fact of continual herding makes them habitually move in long lines and keeps them from dispersing widely over the plains.... Many pastoralists still favour large herds of livestock, moving them across swathes of wilderness, all of which researchers say escalates soil erosion, watershed degradation, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and the indiscriminate killing of pesky wildlife. It is part cultural, part political, part coterie, all one giant conundrum.”

The social and political developments in Tanzania that led to this observation, which is more than six decades old, seem to be getting a rerun in India albeit on account of different social and political factors. Clearly, the cow protection policies and cattle trade regulations need to be reviewed and recast with some new policy measures and budgetary provisions. Otherwise, non-productive animals will become an even greater economic burden on already stressed farm economy and vulnerable wild ecology.

Professor Sudhir Panwar teaches molecular genetics and genomics at the Department of Zoology, Lucknow University, and is the president of Kisan Jagriti Manch, a non-governmental organisation addressing agrarian issues.

Translation

New Custom (Naya Kaayada)

literature

THE man’s nostrils quivered, blasted by stench. As soon as he alighted from the bus, his nose collided with the smell, while his eyes met the form of a man lying naked in the distance. Was there a relationship between the two? He thought about it for a moment, but it was hard to make a connection because the odour—whether of rotting flesh or soured milk—was coming from the opposite direction.

The bus stand was quite deserted. The wind was exceedingly cold; the man shivered despite his warm coat. Of their own, his hands sought out the warmth of his trouser pockets, only to quickly re-emerge to tighten his rust-coloured muffler. Romila had insisted on wrapping it around his neck as he left, the same way she sometimes put her arms lovingly around him. His conscience stirred, and he wondered why he was always in a fault-finding mood with her. It depressed him.

He wanted to wrap the muffler around his ears—it would surely have brought him some relief—but he couldn’t. People who wore mufflers around their ears were looked down on in the city; he would be jeered at with shouts of “Hey Bihari! Oye Bihari!”, which was yet another way of making people feel inferior. He preferred suffering the piercing wind to being branded a muffler-bundled Bihari.

It was well past nine in the morning, but because of the heavy fog, it seemed like night was gathering. The sun’s rays could not penetrate the dense fog. There was just enough illumination to see as far as one’s hands, but it was a drowsy light, not a lively one. A damp gleam was settling in all directions as though a big furry brown cat had stretched itself out.

There were only a few days left for spring, but this year the winter had shown no sign of relenting. All the newspapers and TV channels said the cold this season had broken a thirty-year record—the Meteorological Department’s forecast had been proved wrong once again—and, interspersed with dispirited offerings of “chewing-gum news”, the channels were packed with ads for various national and international products to keep you from the cold. In one, a slender, beautiful girl hides her boyfriend from her father in a large fridge, where he is discovered happily eating ice cream. The cold doesn’t bother him in the least because he wears the thermal undergarments the advertiser is promoting. A rival manufacturer shows how a young girl’s devotion to a flabby old man causes his youthful nephew much heartache, upon which the man vainly and indecently leers that it is an “inside” matter. A tonic advertisement features honeymooners raving about a saffron-containing product and the “heat” it generates. This is a man’s world, where women are treated like objects and men are deluded into believing themselves to be the consumers. In this game, it is hard to know who the product is and who the customer; everyone is stirred around in the same pot.

If he lowered his eyes a bit, they snagged on the naked man again. Was he dead? The question smouldered. He picked up his suitcase and walked in the man’s direction. He stared straight ahead.

“Take a seat, darbar,” a voice broke his reverie.

A man at a roadside tea stall was watching him as he set an aluminium pot on a big stove. The stove was fired up and emitted a low, hissing sound, its flames making the blackened pot even blacker. The wayfarer shifted his attention from the pot with effort, his glance transfixed instead by a big chunk of fresh ginger lying on some greasy sacks near the man’s fat, filthy feet.

Inwardly, he smiled when the shopkeeper called him “darbar”. The man knew that this form of address was reserved for the thakur landlords of the region. Perhaps the shopkeeper had assumed him to be one, going by his tall stature and broad frame. Or was it his thick moustache? Or perhaps it was a marketing strategy to flatter potential customers. But then why would a customer be gratified at being called “darbar”?

“Tea,” said the traveller, surprising himself. Given how filthy the place was, how could he drink tea here? His own voice sounded alien to him. At home, he upbraided Romila for kneading dough without washing her hands after closing the bathroom door—a comparatively small matter. Romila’s retort was that she had already washed her hands with soap in the bathroom washbasin, so why the fuss?

“You don’t care for hygiene!” he would shout to cover his discomfiture. “And you’re obsessed with cleanliness!” she would squawk like a chicken in a coop.

The shopkeeper crushed some ginger and put it in the black water seething in the even blacker pot.

“I shouldn’t watch this,” he thought and looked in the other direction. After all, he wanted to drink tea. Having taught for ten years at a famous university in the metropolis, he had acquired a special kind of pride and refinement. A short distance away from this stall was another, and then a third and a fourth, each with small black pots mounted on black stoves.

There were two puppies at the opposite stall that were keeping warm by wrestling each other. This entertained him, and he began to take an interest. The brown puppy, who was a little skinny but extremely feisty, sometimes pulled the white puppy’s ear, or bit his tail, or stuck his teeth into his neck. The white pup was plump and dignified, and had a long mark like a saffron tilak on his forehead. He ran a little distance, whining kuun-kuun ghoon-ghoon, but then he got annoyed, flipped the skinny brown pup over, and stood on him. Some devout soul had tried to erase the difference between the two by putting a saffron tika on the brown puppy’s forehead as well, but it was very light, and you could only see it if you looked hard enough. Across the way, their mother lay dozing.

“Here you are, darbar,” the shopkeeper’s voice penetrated the man’s intense concentration the way a spider enters its web, stalking its prey. When the shopkeeper repeated “Darbar, tea” in a brisk voice, the man turned his attention towards him. The shopkeeper had a dusky, oily face that sported a vermilion tilak. His rotten teeth were stained black by paan masala. The man’s attention moved to the streamers of poisonous paan masala and tobacco packets hanging in the shop.

“This is how the English turned the Chinese into opium addicts.”

“What?” The shopkeeper could make no sense of the man’s utterance.

“Nothing. So, how did you know…” he paused.

“What?”

“…that… I’m a darbar.” He turned his gaze from the shopkeeper’s face and took a sip.

“Oh, that’s easy, darbar. Seeing your coat and pants, and your commanding presence, anyone would know,” his voice was sycophantic.

“Are you one too?”

“No, not at all.” He was embarrassed. “I’m a mali, darbar, a saini.” His hands were joined as though seeking forgiveness.

The traveller turned his head and started to drink his tea. His attention once again turned towards the roughhousing puppies and their mother, who had now lifted her head and was taking pleasure in her pups’ wrestling.

He recalled the conversation he’d had with his father the night before he left home. “No, even if you repeat it a hundred times, I still won’t accept it… money changes everything… village, city, town… all of it.” He saw his father’s emotional upheaval. “You’re wrong, thinking that we could ever live well without it.” He rubbed his finger and thumb together, signifying hard cash. “Only with forbearance and piety—my foot! Is this so-called piety meant only for us?” He stamped angrily. “All these righteous souls crave worldly possessions, which only come from hard work and are bought with money.”

“Still, be careful, everything is just as it was there… the change that money has wrought is the change you see on rocks in a riverbed.” A father is anyway weakened in the face of a grown-up son. The position of a young, salaried son is like a young lion’s. His father inevitably starts to quietly accept the new order, like an old lion must.

“No, Papa, money changes everything.” His voice was firm.

“Hey, shoo! Get out of here!” The shopkeeper yelled, and the man snapped back to the present. The shopkeeper was chasing the puppies that had slipped under the tables set outside his stall.

“What’s the population of this village?” he looked towards the shopkeeper.

“Which one? There are three villages, that’s why this place is also called Tigaon, Tri-village. One is Vanla ki Dhani, then there is Rajgarh, and the third is Kiratgarh. Which one are you asking about?”

“Rajgarh.”

““There are about three thousand houses… there must be about twenty-five thousand people.”

“Twenty-five thousand…” he gaped. “It’s a pretty big village.”

“Yes, darbar, they say that three or four hundred years ago, it was the biggest trading hub of the area… now it’s become a poor village.” The shopkeeper put his hands on his knees and stood up, then stepped down from the stall. He drew a long bamboo pole from under the stall, hung a fat electrical wire on it, and attached it to the government power cable above the stall.

“What is this?” the man laughed.

“Connection…” The shopkeeper simply shrugged his shoulders, came back inside and squatted down as before. He reached for a portable television set lying at the back of the stall, brought it forward, and switched it on. An ad came on with an aged film actress making a living selling a brand of chips.

“Do you have those?” the man asked the shopkeeper, cocking an eyebrow at the screen.

“Which, the chips or the heroine?” the shopkeeper snickered. The man disliked his lascivious joke and laughter.

The shopkeeper read the disapproval in his face. “I have them!” He took down a basket hanging at the back of the stall, in which there were several kinds of chips—Kurkure, Bingo. “Can’t stock everything up front.” The shopkeeper hung the basket on a protruding nail at the entrance to his stall.

“There’s mineral water too,” he gestured towards the bottled waters arranged there and muttered, “Have you come to see the fort?” The shopkeeper was inclined to chat. In this cold, he didn’t have any other customers. The man was the only traveller to get off the bus here.

The shopkeeper’s question went unheard. On the television set, an international channel was now showing pictures of Saddam Hussein. American soldiers had arrested him in a bunker and were interrogating him, forcing him to open his mouth. The channel showed this scene over and over. America was making him an example to the world, issuing a warning of how they would similarly go after anyone who crossed them.

“You’ve come to see the fort, darbar?” The shopkeeper repeated his question.

“No, I’ve come for a wedding.” He took a sip of tea.

“At whose place?” The question got trapped in his eyebrows, the way a fly thrashes about when it is caught in someone’s hair.

“Dharm Singhji’s place.” The man straightened his back.

“Oh, I see, I had no idea there was a wedding at the darbar saheb’s place.” He struck his forehead with his hand theatrically. “Darbar saheb, my wife is right when she says I am so wrapped up in my work that I have no idea what’s going on around me. Now, you tell me, what’s a man to do? I leave the house in the morning and come back late at night. I slave away the whole day for two pieces of roti… and what do women do? They live off our earnings, they idly eat and sleep. On top of this, they complain, ‘We have to do the cooking. If you’d have to cook you’d know.’ I tell you…”

He stopped for a moment and started again. “Believe me, when his elder daughter was married, I slogged real hard… I was young then.” He twirled his moustache. “I even gave five cots and eight copper pots for the wedding party’s stay… my whole family slept on the ground for five days… I mean, why not? After all, she’s the daughter of the village. Her honour is ours… you have to think of every little detail.”

“Hmm.” The man was staring determinedly at the TV and trying to shut out the shopkeeper’s chatter.

“You have to maintain the rules and customs of the village,” the shopkeeper jabbered on.

“Hmm,” said the man downing the last of his tea and putting the glass on the table.

“Dharm Singhji hasn’t said a word about his daughter getting married,” the shopkeeper muttered quietly. “How strange.”

“Not his daughter, his son.” The man took out a handkerchief and wiped his mouth.

“His son?” The question shot up through his eyebrows. “Which Dharm Singhji are you talking about?”

“Dharm Singhji of Rajgarh,” the man’s voice was soaked in indifference.

“But he doesn’t have a son. God only gave the poor man two daughters,” the shopkeeper’s voice was clammy with sorrow.

“Arrey, no, it’s his son’s wedding… the wedding party will go to Jivangarh tomorrow… today is the bhat, the rice ceremony.” This time the man’s voice had a glimmer of apprehension. He was hoping he wasn’t in the wrong place.

“You’ve got it wrong somehow.” There was harshness, conviction, and authority in the shopkeeper’s voice. “Not just Dharm Singhji, I know the entire village. There must be a mix-up.”

“Doesn’t he work in the waterworks department?” The man got irritated.

“Oh no! You’re talking about Dharma Harijan, the operator,” the shopkeeper slapped his forehead. “As if there could be a wedding in the village without my knowing!” The shopkeeper’s voice was distant and rude.

“How much do I owe you?” Noting the shift in the shopkeeper’s tone, the man pulled out a hundred-rupee note.

“Three rupees. But, brother, first wash the glass.” This in the shopkeeper’s rudest tone yet.

“Why?” The man felt as though a bucket of water had been dumped on him. His own voice seemed to come from the bottom of a well.

“Why?! This is the custom of the village,” the shopkeeper shouted for any bystander to hear. “A rise in status does not put an end to custom.”

The man stepped down from the stall. He suddenly thought of his father. He saw the naked man lying in the distance. He saw the puppies wrestling. A few people had gathered. It was as if he were naked among them. Their gaze scorched him.

“What’s going on, Banwari?” a face from the crowd tossed out the question.

“See, Chaudhari, I had taken him to be a good man… it’s not as if it’s written on someone’s forehead who is what. He could have told me at the outset that he has come to Dharma Harijan’s place,” the shopkeeper answered rudely.

There was some hesitation among the bystanders when they saw the man’s clothing and impressive stature. The shopkeeper’s next question was meant to clinch the issue. “Should I serve you tea now in a harijan glass?”

“And if I hadn’t told you …?” Under the weight of the insult, the words emerged with difficulty.

“If you hadn’t said anything, the sin would have been on you. You don’t drink from a cup once you’ve spotted a fly in it,” the shopkeeper shouted, raising his hands.

“Why are you being stubborn, brother? Just wash it, this is the custom here,” a man came forward.

“Why make an issue of it?” another asked.

“Do you wash it too?” He turned toward the voice and asked haughtily.

“Why should I?” The man was offended.

“So then why should I?” came the retort.

“He’s going to get thrashed. The bastard’s exposed.” The shopkeeper’s war cry was not lost on the man.

“How much for this glass?” His jaw clenched in anger.

“Why?” The shopkeeper was surprised.

“Tell me how much it is.” His brows were drawn together.

“Ten … no, twenty rupees,” the shopkeeper inflated the price.

“Take this,” he thrust the hundred-rupee note at the shopkeeper. The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was smiling on the note, wrapped in a shawl. The shopkeeper quickly grabbed the money.

“Change.” His eyebrows were stretched taut.

The man took the change from the shopkeeper, put it in his pocket. Picking up the glass, he smashed it against the chabutra, the platform under the trees on which village folk sat for tea and chit-chat. Chanaak—shards of glass flew in all directions. Startled by the noise, the mother dog jumped away, and the naked man suddenly sat up.

The man bent down, picked up his suitcase, and started towards the village. A smile bloomed on the shopkeeper’s face, a smile not unlike Gandhiji’s on the note.

Story selected by Mini Krishnan.

Agriculture

Killer spray

LYLA BAVADAM the-nation

ON August 19, reports of the death of a farm labourer who worked in the Bt cotton fields around Kalamb in Maharashtra’s eastern district of Yavatmal took his co-labourers by surprise. Twelve days earlier he had sprayed the pesticide Profex Super, a combination of the insecticides Profenofos and Cypermethrin, in the fields. Since then, in the same month, 20 more farmworkers died in Yavatmal district and 16 in Buldhana, Nagpur, Akola, Wardha and Chandrapur. All the deaths were a result of the spraying of the pesticide. About 1,800 people who handled the pesticide in these districts were admitted to hospitals with symptoms ranging from severe nausea, vomiting, acute abdominal pain, diarrhoea and blurred vision and even temporary loss of sight caused by passive, accidental inhalation of the chemicals.

News of the deaths remained largely unknown except in the neighbourhoods where they happened. Informed sources in the region said that every year there were cases of unintended poisoning by pesticides, so such patients were almost a routine matter during the season. And since the deaths happened over a large geographical area, the government only realised that something was amiss when these were reported in small local publications. Although the authorities sent quality control teams to find out whether the pesticide was spurious, there was no immediate intervention to halt its use, withdraw it temporarily or even send out a general alert on the dangers of handling it.

Although pesticides are categorised as hazardous materials, safety gear for the handlers is non-existent and emergency medical aid is lacking. Advice on the use of pesticides is given by the seller, who naturally has commercial interests in mind. Besides, there is little government monitoring of usage of pesticides.

Vijay Jawandhia from the farmers’ group Shetkari Sanghatana confirmed that basic safety precautions were non-existent. “The hazards of using pesticides must be explained to users, but no such extension work is done by the Agriculture Department. Also, gloves, goggles and masks push up costs and this is not factored into the cost of production. Hence, they are left out.” Equally seriously, the local primary health centres (PHCs) lack even basic medication such as the drug Atropin, which is an essential antidote if pesticide chemical combinations affect the eyes. “If Atropin had been available at the PHCs, the temporary blindness could have been averted,” said Jawandhia.

Stretching the limits

Under the Insecticides Act, 1968, which seeks to regulate the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides, government officials are required to train farmers in the use of these chemicals, but in reality it is the privately owned Krushi Seva Kendras that give them advice. Since the kendras are commercial ventures, it is likely that they stretch the prescribed limits of the spraying dosages. The usage instructions on the packets in a number of languages are of little use as many of the farm labourers cannot read.

Other reasons, too, contributed to the tragedy. Pesticide spraying is a sought-after job because a labourer gets Rs.350 a day for it and only Rs.250 for other farm work. Sometimes farmers and labourers also negotiate a fee on a per acre or per-tank-sprayed basis.

Naturally, said Jawandhia, “in this system the labourer is tempted to spray more tanks a day to earn more, ignoring the increased inhalation risks”.

Furthermore, the haphazard monsoon this year meant that the heavy rains that normally come in July and August were absent. “Heavy rains kill at least one generation of the bollworms, but this year the poor rains resulted in multi-generation survival of bollworms, and so the spraying was more intensive,” said Jawandhia.

The crop had reached a height of about five feet (1.5 metres) and harvest time was nearing. This, along with a closely planted crop, meant that the labourers were literally in the thick of the chemical cloud they were spraying. The hot weather, which made many of them go bare–chested, and the lack of protective gear were a perfect recipe for the tragedy that ensued.

Kishor Tiwari of the Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) affirmed that the deaths were due to excessive inhalation of the chemicals. Poisoning occurs when this group of organophosphates and organochlorides enters the body via lung and/or dermal (skin) absorption. The poisons enter the bloodstream and are then distributed throughout the system.

The VNSSM, which is the standing task force appointed by the Maharashtra government to look into farm distress, said in a statement: “Environmental changes have resulted in huge attacks of Bollworm and Whitefly on cotton, which forced these farmers to go for continuous uncontrolled insecticide and pesticide spraying to save their standing cotton crop.” The anxiety felt by farmers as the harvest neared in September fuelled the problem. The price was already down from Rs.5,500 a quintal last year to Rs.4,200 this year. Keen to maximise profits, they did not compromise on the pesticide, especially since Bt cotton had not been living up to its promise of being pest resistant.

Questions about Bt cotton

There are two obvious questions that arise from the current scenario. If Bt cotton is supposed to be resistant to bollworm, why is there any need to spray pesticides? And should this tragedy promote some rethinking on the use of Bt cotton? Jawandhia agreed that there should be a rethink on its use and said that the resistance bit was “propaganda by Monsanto”. He added: “They mention in their pamphlet in small print that every week farmers must inspect their fields and randomly select 20 plants, and if 20 bollworms are found they must spray their crops.” Jawandhia said the seeds had no resistance to sucking pests such as thrips, whitefly and green leafhopper, but “that was not told loudly”. For farmers, the need for increased spraying had led to a sense of disillusionment with Bt cotton.

Tiwari, too, agreed that Bt cotton had lost its potency. Explaining the economics of it, he said that when farmers sowed it they had hoped for a decrease in input costs, but this never happened. In fact, the costs actually rose because of increased application of pesticides, fertilizers, growth enhancers, and so on. In rain-fed areas, Bt cotton yields about eight quintals an acre. If the fields were not sprayed with chemicals, the yield dropped to two quintals an acre. “Obviously, the farmer will go in for the full chemical treatment,” he said.

Tiwari said that a few years ago seed companies had claimed that the BG-II variety of Bt cotton, which is in current use, would be resistant to the pink bollworm. This implied that less or no spraying would be required, but field reports showed that the pink bollworm feasted on the crop unless pesticides were applied. He said the next generation of seeds, called BG-III, was waiting to hit the markets, but its introduction had been stalled because of some international legality. Despite this, he said, eight lakh seed packets of the unauthorised BG-III had been sold in Yavatmal district alone this year.

It took the government two and a half months after the first death to take action. On October 3, it ordered a probe into the deaths and earmarked a compensation of Rs.2 lakh each for the families of victims. On October 6, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court issued notices on a public interest petition asking for criminal action against government officials and manufacturers of the pesticide. Although Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot said there would be an explanation for the deaths, none had come as of mid October.

Nepal

A new Left alliance

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

WITH provincial and national elections just around the corner, politics in Nepal is witnessing unprecedented churning. Provincial elections are scheduled to be held on November 24 and parliamentary elections on December 5. The Left parties, which were until recently at each other’s throats, have made the announcement about their intention to fight the elections under a united banner. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), or the CPN-UML led by K.P. Oli; the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by Pushp Kumar Dahal “Prachanda”; and the Naya Shakti Party will join hands in the elections for the first time. Baburam Bhattarai, who until recently was the second most important leader of the CPN-Maoists, left that party to float the Naya Shakti. The three parties have pledged to merge into one unified communist party after the elections.

The announcement of a “grand alliance”, made in the first week of October, took the opposition parties, especially the Nepali Congress, by surprise. The Nepali Congress has been in alliance with the Maoists. Prachanda had ditched Oli midway last year and opted for a coalition with the Nepali Congress.

Reportedly, the Indian government had an important role to play in patching up what many Nepalese view was an opportunistic coalition. Prachanda was also angry with Oli for not adhering to the “gentleman’s agreement” reached between the CPN-UML and the Maoists before the formation of the government that Oli would step down after completing half the term and hand over power to Prachanda. The Nepali Congress and the Maoists then worked out a power-sharing formula and ousted Oli, and Prachanda became the Prime Minister. A couple of months ago, he ceded office to Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress as per the agreement.

The Indian political establishment also seems to have been taken aback by the sudden developments. The Indian government would have preferred a continuation of the power-sharing arrangement between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists and an alliance between the two parties to fight the CPN-UML.

India’s missteps

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in India has been steadily losing influence in the corridors of power in Nepal because of a series of missteps. India’s diminishing influence in Nepal is instead being blamed on Nepal’s other big neighbour, China.

There are tendentious reports that the “Left unity” in Nepal was engineered from Beijing so as to advance China’s national interests. For a long time, China has scrupulously avoided interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. In fact, all the political parties in Nepal, including the Nepali Congress, have excellent relations with China. All the major political parties in Nepal now make it a point to take a neutral stance in disputes involving India and China. Significantly, on the Doklam issue, Nepal chose to remain quiet despite the Nepali Congress leader holding the Prime Minister’s post at the time.

The most serious Indian foreign policy blunder under the National Democratic Alliance II, according to many observers, was the five-month blockade imposed on Nepal from September 2015 to February 2016. It came at a time when the Madhesi’s agitation against the new Nepal Constitution demanding more political representation for them was at its peak.

It is widely perceived that New Delhi had a role in ousting Oli from the Prime Minister’s post earlier in the year. The government in New Delhi apparently viewed Oli as uncompromising on the Madhesi issue and on the demand to further amend the Constitution. Even more damning, from India’s point of view, was his alleged tilt towards China. The communist alliance is considered the front runner in the electoral race. The two major communist parties, fighting separately, had together attracted the majority of votes polled in recent elections. The CPN-UML had got the second largest number of seats in Parliament and the Maoists had come third. The Nepali Congress got the largest number of seats in Parliament but not enough to rule on its own. Electoral arithmetic is expected to give the Left alliance the upper hand in the coming elections as it now has the largest vote bank. Nepal has adopted a proportional electoral system, giving a united front led by the communists a better chance of winning a majority.

Under the understanding reached by the Left parties, Oli will be the Prime Minister once again if the “grand alliance” wins the elections, as most political observers predict. Prachanda will be recognised as the leader of the unified Left forces in Nepal. In the past couple of years, the CPN-UML has emerged as the most popular party in the country. Oli’s refusal to accede to the demands of the Indian government on the Madhesi issue has made him a hero of sorts among the majority of the populace. On the other hand, Prachanda’s popularity has perceptibly dipped. If he had continued his alliance with the Nepali Congress, his party would have been reduced to the status of a junior partner.

Alliance of non-Left parties

Five political non-Left parties have decided to form a “democratic alliance” to counter the “grand alliance”. It will be led by the Nepali Congress and includes the Rashtriya Janata Party (Nepal); the Federal Socialist Forum, Nepal; the pro-royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal; and the Nepal Loktantrik Forum.

Other smaller parties such as the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Democratic are likely to join the anti-communist bloc. Smaller left-wing parties such as the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party are likely to join the communist-led front in the increasingly polarised environment that Nepal politics currently finds itself in.

It is good news from the progressive point of view that the fractious communist parties of Nepal have once again decided to join hands. The united Communist Party of Nepal, like the Nepali Congress, was only allowed to function legally after the introduction of multiparty democracy in Nepal in 1991. The CPN-UML was formed at that time merging the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist).

The CPN (Maoist Centre) came to the limelight in 1996 when it launched a countrywide armed insurgency to establish a “people’s republic” in the country. The guerillas under the leadership of Prachanda were successful in gaining territory and holding their own against the country’s security forces. India played a key role in brokering peace talks and bringing an end to the Maoist insurgency in 2006.

Since then, the Maoists have been key players in Nepal’s electoral politics. In the 2008 elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists emerged as the single largest party.

Initially, India viewed Prachanda and the Maoists with distrust. After becoming Prime Minister for the first time, Prachanda committed the “sin” of visiting Beijing before coming to New Delhi, breaking the long-standing protocol followed by all previous Prime Ministers. New Delhi played a role in pushing him out of office after he had spent just eight months as Prime Minister. In his second stint in office, he saw to it that New Delhi was the first port of call in his itinerary.

The India factor

To assuage New Delhi’s exaggerated fears and suspicions, the “grand alliance” has gone out of its way to include Baburam Bhattarai, who is known to be close to the Indian establishment, in its senior ranks. Although his splinter party did badly in the last municipal elections, he is expected to be given a senior post, either in the party or in the government, after the elections. All the political parties realise the importance of the India factor in the country’s politics and are awake to Indian sensitivities.

At the same time, they want Nepal to pursue an independent foreign policy. The Maoists, for instance, have been demanding the “scrapping” of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between India and Nepal. This issue has regularly featured in the manifestos of the Left parties in previous elections. There are also festering border disputes between the two countries that have the potential of becoming burning election issues.

China has been signalling in various ways that it considers Nepal to be in India’s sphere of influence. However, Nepal is an important cog in its ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. India has until now refused to be part of the OBOR project. Chinese President Xi Jinping had suggested that Nepal become the “economic bridge” between China and India so that the three countries could benefit. China is building huge rail and road projects that would connect it and Nepal.

For the first time, China and Nepal held joint military exercises in February this year. Before this, the Nepalese Army had only held exercises with the Indian and United States armies. Prachanda, during his last stint as Prime Minister, said that China was concerned about the U.S. using India to encircle China in the region. Nepal too, feels, that overdependence on India for most of its imports is not good for its national interests in the long run.

India’s propensity to impose blockades on landlocked Nepal has cost it a lot of goodwill among ordinary Nepalese. If the communist-led “grand alliance” wins in the coming elections, Nepal may be all set to chart a new and more assertive course in bilateral relations with India.

Nobel Prize: Literature

More English than the English

A.J. THOMAS literature

KAZUO ISHIGURO, winner of the Literature Nobel this year, was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. When he was five years old, his family moved to Britain, with no definite plans of staying on. It was obviously not a migration with the conscious intention of absorbing the language and culture of the host country. Therefore, it was in a Japanese family speaking Japanese at home that Ishiguro grew up; he was groomed in “Japanese values”, as he was quoted as saying by Graham Swift in 1989. He acquired English along with his mother tongue. As the family’s stay in England got prolonged, his education progressed in English, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kent was in English and philosophy. He took his master’s in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Here, we get the picture of a non-native speaker of English acquiring the language and reaching the pinnacle of creativity in it, without getting influenced deeply by the British culture as is the case with many immigrant writers and artists, including Indians, whom I had occasion to observe during a brief sojourn in Britain two decades ago. As if reflecting what I have deduced above, Ishiguro made it clear in an interview on October 5, after winning the Nobel: “I’ve always said throughout my career that although I’ve grown up in this country and I’m educated in this country, that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese.” He continued: “I have always looked at the world through my parents’ eyes.”

Ishiguro has written seven novels: A Pale View of Hills (1982), An Artist of the Floating World (1986), The Remains of the Day (1989), which won him the Man Booker Prize, The Unconsoled (1995), When We Were Orphans (2000), Never Let Me Go (2005) and The Buried Giant (2015). Of these, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go have been made into celebrated movies, with the former featuring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the lead roles, and both getting Oscar nominations. All the novels, except the last one, are written in the first person. Most of these novels are set in the past and are reconstructions of memories.

Ishiguro also writes screenplays, apart from songs for the jazz singer Stacey Kent.

Except perhaps in A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World in which the Japanese identity comes through, albeit with a view to positioning memory, Ishiguro does not seem to assert openly his Japanese identity, belying his own observations on that. Unlike, for example, what one may find in fellow immigrant writer Salman Rushdie’s works. Beginning with Midnight’s Children, a few of Rushdie’s novels are set in India and seem to have an Indian soul. His language is “chutnified” (as he himself has quipped), mixing desi expressions and phrases with English, often resulting in unique and complex constructions (most notably in Midnight’s Children, as against the chaste and simple constructions of Ishiguro’s English). Conversely, V.S. Naipaul repudiates his roots, beginning with An Area of Darkness and is hell-bent on being “pure” British, though, with Nirad Chaudhuri (if his name can be mentioned alongside Rushdie and Naipaul) taking it to the other extreme of unabashed Anglophilia.

Ishiguro’s novels (except The Unconsoled) are set in England, though A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World have but Japanese memories running through. The Remains of the Day has a typical English theme, with the English butler, certainly a “national institution”, being its hero. Stevens, the butler, who, by virtue of the characteristics of his trade, represses his personal aspirations, including a romantic inclination towards the housekeeper Miss Kenton, and several decades later, realises the futility of it all when it is too late to revive his relationship with her, even as he finds that her marriage is on the brink of breaking down.

The Buried Giant (2015), Ishiguro’s last published novel, takes place in the England of the beginning of the Dark Ages, peopled by early Britons and Saxons immediately after the action of the Arthurian legends happens. The novel’s opening sentences set the mood, which pervades throughout: “You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated. There were instead miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there, rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland. Most of the roads left by the Romans would by then have become broken or overgrown, often fading into wilderness. Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land.” People lived in a world of monsters, shadows and darkness, in warren-like homes hewn on the hill-slope. Though at first reading it looks like a moral story, it is about memory. The book serves as a reminder that the tragic and traumatic happenings of the past are to be remembered, obviating the tendency to forget the ages before the advent of humanism when theocracy reduced individuals practically to deformed beings, vestiges of which are carried forward even to the present times, resulting in bigotry and bloodshed.

Influences

The Nobel Committee described Ishiguro’s oeuvre thus: “If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell. But you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix. Then you stir, but not too much, then you have his writings.” Ishiguro dismissed such comparisons in the past (except the mention of Marcel Proust, perhaps); he has revealed that if at all, he may have been faintly influenced by Japanese author Junichiro Tanisaki and before him Fyodor Dostoevsky and Marcel Proust. He also acknowledges the influence of Japanese films by Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse in his interview with Gregory Mason in 1989, clearly sticking to his Japanese identity. However, one who reads The Remains of the Day cannot but reflect that the narrative style reminds one of Jane Austen.

The Nobel Committee noted thus about the stylistic and thematic specialties of Ishiguro’s fiction: “Ishiguro’s writings are marked by a carefully restrained mode of expression, independent of whatever events are taking place. At the same time, his more recent fiction contains fantastic features.” The last sentence is clearly in view of his last two novels, Never Let Me Go and The Buried Giant. The former can be described as belonging to the genre of science fiction, while the latter is steeped in fantasy.

It is, however, noteworthy that the English novel is obviously straying far from being “British”; the Empire definitely seems to continue to write back. Immigrant authors have contributed majorly to the English novel of the latter part of the 20th century, three of them winning the Nobel Prize for Literature—Doris Lessing, from what is now Zimbabwe, V.S. Naipaul from Trinidad and Tobago and now, Ishiguro. Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize in 1981 and, again, the Booker of Bookers in 1993 for Midnight’s Children.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading fiction by two authors who contributed significantly in changing the language of contemporary English fiction—Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness makes for cautious reading, while Rushdie’s The Golden House is in the grand narrative pattern replete with names, incidents and anecdotes, which keep you riveted to recent history and ancient prototypes, as well as the essentially comic in the human vanity of being calculative. Both have deliciously different styles. As I read again Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, I found the felicity of expression similar to that of these two authors but more nuanced and typically “British”, albeit, of a “classical” mould, as already mentioned. And the common factor among the three? They are not white English speakers. They learned English and became masters in their own styles in that language. They did this with utmost seriousness as students of that language, with a diligence only a foreign student can show in its acquisition, while the native speaker may take for granted the finer points in this process. This could be possible perhaps only in English. Of course, I am not forgetting authors such as Samuel Beckett or Milan Kundera, who learned French and wrote in that language, but English is one language that seems to attract quick learning and creative expression of non-native practitioners, bespeaking its global appeal. Creative imagination experiencing fecundity in an acquired language like English for a Japan-born Ishiguro, and getting the ultimate recognition through winning the Nobel Prize, gives an Indian English buff like me great personal satisfaction. I only wish Salman Rushdie and a host of the younger generation writers of English from India similarly win the Nobel Prize, in good time.

A.J. Thomas is an Indian English poet and translator from Malayalam. He was Editor, Indian Literature , the bimonthly literary journal of the Sahitya Akademi and is now its Guest Editor.

The golden 'Diwali gift'

Jayati_Ghosh

THE Narendra Modi government made its supposed determination to end corruption in India its signature theme. The massive damage done by demonetisation and the continuing chaos produced by the flawed introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) have all been justified on the grounds of reducing the possibilities of corruption and tax avoidance. Similarly, the imposition of Aadhaar requirements on the population for access to all manner of publicly provided goods and services is regularly justified on the grounds of reducing “leakages” and misappropriation of benefits. The Prime Minister has sought to burnish his image as an anti-corruption crusader through emotional appeals and dramatic public claims that he is willing to be sacrificed for the larger good of “cleaning up” the country.

Yet, like so many other policy initiatives of this government, the heavily publicised anti-corruption moves also were mostly about optics and hype rather than substantive change since the quiet, careful and systematic measures that could have dented various types of corrupt practices at different levels were rarely undertaken. This is a government that has sought to push many more aspects of government policy and implementation under a shroud of secrecy, regularly denying requests under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It has aggressively gone after dissenters and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that seek to bring some accountability into official functioning, denying them space and seeking to dry up their sources of funding. More than three and a half years into its tenure, it has yet to appoint a Lok Pal. Nevertheless, through all this, the drama being enacted of a government determined to end corruption has been given prime billing in all public statements.

But now it is clear that even this carefully cultivated image is taking a battering. The most obvious example of this is the almost hysterical reaction of Ministers and other important official functionaries to the publication of some of the surprising financial dealings of a company owned by a private citizen, albeit one who happens to be the son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah. The excessively aggressive and intimidating response of filing civil and criminal defamation cases on weak grounds—accompanied by silence on the part of the otherwise tweet-prone and speech-happy Prime Minister—suggest a party and a government on the back foot.

And, along with this, we have the unravelling of even the most halting and minor attempts to curb the use of “black money”. The recent decision of the government to allow purchase of gold above the limit of Rs.50,000 (and up to Rs.2,00,000) without a permanent account number (PAN) or any other identification beggars belief. It is well known that the purchase of gold and precious jewellery is one of the easiest, most popular and obvious forms of money laundering. So, there can be absolutely no justification for going back on a move that would have at least put some curbs on such laundering.

It is not just that this makes a complete mockery of the government’s claims that it wishes to target money laundering and storing of wealth in secretive and unproductive ways. This is also a bizarre move given the likely implications on India’s balance of payments.

India has long been a “sink of precious metals” with a voracious appetite for the yellow metal, which is dominantly chosen by people inside the country for its property as a store of value. This has also meant that India has remained one the largest importers of gold in the world, and other forms of personal saving have remained low in comparison. Demonetisation has perversely added to scepticism about financial savings that can be affected by a government that has shown itself to be irresponsible, abrupt and unexpected in its policy moves. While the initial impact of demonetisation was to dampen gold demand through the absence of liquidity, once some remonetisation occurred and currency came back into the system, the demand for gold surged.

As a result, gold imports surged from early 2017 onwards, to the point that the value of gold imports from April to August 2017 was more than the value and volume for the entire fiscal year of 2016-17. Over the first half of the financial year, gold imports amounted to nearly $17 billion. A declining proportion of such imports contributes to the gems and jewellery export sector; a significant proportion is actually hoarded and traded as final demand within the country.

However, domestic demand for gold purchases by final consumers, which surged between January and June, declined in July as the impact of the higher duty rate under the GST made itself felt. This was further compounded by the notification of August 13, 2017, requiring KYC (know your customer) identification of purchasers of gold jewellery above Rs.50,000. Both domestic sales and imports of gold slumped in September. In principle, and in macroeconomic terms, this should be seen as a good thing. Storing gold (quite apart from the link with dubious transactions and parallel/shadow incomes) is the most unproductive channel for savings, contributing nothing at all to much-needed domestic investment and not allowing financial intermediation to that extent. But obviously it is not such a great thing for gold and jewellery traders, who were able to mobilise and demand the rescinding of this rule.

So, on November 6, the Ministry of Finance issued a new notification: “The government has received representations from various associations in the gems and jewellery sector with respect to certain incongruities in the August 23, 2017, notification wherein dealers in precious metals, precious stones and other high-value goods were notified as persons carrying on designated business and professions under the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act). After considering various aspects of the issue, the government has decided to rescind the said notification.”

Consider: that is all it took, a few representations from a few bullion dealers and jewellery retailers. Contrast this with the situation of at least several hundred thousand poor people who have been denied their wages, food rations, access to social services, ability to open bank accounts—all because they have been either unable to produce Aadhaar identification or because their numbers and biometric data did not match, for no fault of their own. Representations have been made by them and on their behalf, their plight has been highlighted by several in the media and even raised in Parliament—but the Government has been deaf to their pleas on the grounds of the over-riding importance it purportedly places on “reducing corruption”. Cases of extreme denial and suffering, like that of the young 11-year-old girl in Jharkhand dying of starvation after her family had been denied their rations because their ration card had not been linked to Aadhaar, are obviously not enough to move the people who matter.

What is worse, this was part of the package that the Prime Minister presented as a “Diwali gift” to the people: the ability to evade identification while purchasing large quantities of gold and other precious jewellery! It is truly hard to think of a worse example of doublespeak in recent times, or a move so blatantly in favour of some relatively richer groups while denying ordinary people their basic socio-economic rights.

All this makes it truly extraordinary that this government is still able to project itself as “pro-poor” and “anti-corruption”. The narrative may be changing to some extent, but surely it has still not changed as much as is warranted by these truly unbalanced and unjust moves.

Tatas

Slide of an aging leader

C_P_Chandrasekhar

AFTER 15 years, the Tata group has exited the mobile telephony business. Its assets in the area located in Tata Tele Services Ltd (TTSL) have been taken over by Bharti Airtel. The Tata name has featured in the mobile telephony market ever since it acquired Hughes Telecom (India), incorporated in 1995, and renamed it Tata Teleservice Maharashtra in 2002. Since Tata Tele’s other enterprise, retail fixed line, and broadband businesses are being merged with Tata Communications and Tata Sky, TTSL is in essence being dismembered. Few of the firm’s current employees will be absorbed by Airtel or the Tatas themselves. So, this is clearly the end of the road for TTSL.

From an industry level perspective, the exit of TTSL seems to be only one more step in an inevitable process of consolidation in the mobile telephony business. The promise of fast growth and high profits encouraged many players to seek out fortunes in the industry. The resulting competition not only saw entrants and incumbent firms paying huge sums to win licences for different circles and acquire spectrum, but also triggered a price war that brought down the average revenue per user (ARPU). Soon, it was clear that there was not enough space in the industry for all service providers to survive and record profits. So, if there is cause for surprise in the TTSL development, it is not about the exit of another firm from the industry, but the fact that a venerable business group such as the Tatas had to give up its space and make way for others after a 15-year effort.

Moreover, it is not just that the Tatas threw in the towel but that they gave Bharti Airtel a bargain to envy. Airtel needed an acquisition. With the Mukesh Ambani-established Reliance Jio having entered the market and decided to launch a no-holds-barred price battle to win customer base, and with Vodafone deciding to acquire Idea Cellular, subject to clearing the regulatory hurdle, an acquisition by Airtel was imperative. It would have been willing to pay a decent price for access to more spectrum, coverage area and subscribers. Yet, it seems to have won itself a rather good deal in the so-called merger with the mobile telephony business of TTSL. Having to pay just Rs.1,500 crore to cover a part of the unpaid spectrum fees owed by TTSL and under no obligation to keep the former 5,000-plus employees of that company, Airtel gets additional access to 19 circles with 178 MHz of spectrum.

This overshadows the fact that the addition to the subscriber base is only 40 million. After the deal, Airtel has managed to cover much of the distance between it and the merged Vodafone-Idea Cellular venture. The share in total spectrum of the two merged groups are 29 and 28 per cent respectively, and though Airtel’s enhanced subscriber base is at 324 million, lower than that of Vodafone-Idea’s 404 million, its revenue share is estimated at 40 per cent, around 5 percentage points ahead of the latter because of a better ARPU. Further, it has made the catch-up challenge it poses for Reliance Jio much harder, since Jio has only 18 per cent of the spectrum share, 11 per cent of the subscriber share and, because of its aggressive pricing, an estimated mere 2 per cent of revenue share. Reliance would have to dig deeper into its pockets to realise its ambition of becoming the leading mobile services provider in the country.

When compared with all this, TTSL has got nothing out of the merger other than mere exit. Airtel is required to pay Rs.1,500 crore to cover part of the payments due for spectrum acquired by TTSL. The Tatas, on the other hand, are left with the task of clearing up debt of Rs.38,175 crore (including Rs.7,500 crore of payments for spectrum), and the residual businesses outside mobile telephony as compensation for sums pumped into the loss-making company to keep it running. In the earlier history of the telecom industry, those who left the mobile business did so after taking huge capital gains from the sale of assets, especially the scarce spectrum they had acquired in previous rounds of spectrum sale. Now exit is costly as the debt burden left with TTSL proves. Clearly, Airtel has managed to drive a hard bargain.

A number of factors seem to have favoured Airtel. The Tatas are desperate to exit the industry, and at this stage there are few buyers for mobile assets since ARPUs are low and the price war is still on. The desperation on the part of the Tatas stems from two sources. First, the long saga of missed opportunities and downright errors that explain the current state of TTSL. The Tata group entered the telecommunications game early. And even though CDMA, through which it made its entry, appeared initially to be a disadvantage, the group had other advantages such as the acquisition of VSNL under the then National Democratic Alliance government’s strategic sale initiative. That acquisition gave it not only an early and material presence in the data distribution business but also access to the Rs.1,200 crore cash surplus left behind in VSNL by the government, which the Tatas chose to invest in TTSL. In time, migration from CDMA to GSM services became possible under the government’s Unified Access Services policy. All that is more than enough reason not to complain. If failure still occurred, it is because of just bad management, the setback from which, the Tatas clearly decided, cannot be reversed.

Second, the industry is still populated with sundry providers holding around 30 per cent of total spectrum and around a quarter of the subscriber base. With the shakedown of the industry, they too are looking to sell. Deals between smaller players are difficult to engineer as the collapsed merger talks between Reliance Communications and Aircel suggest. So, the strategy of accepting the Airtel bid, however unfavourable, and cutting losses and moving out, rather than looking for better terms, possibly made sense to the Tatas under its new chief.

That having been said, the TTSL sell-out does not do much good for the image of the Tatas. The Tata group had for long an image of being efficient, fair and socially responsible. There were good reasons, including its foray into the capital-intensive steel industry early in India’s industrialisation history under the British. That image remained unsullied when instances of failure surfaced, but were soon forgotten. One such instance was the Maharashtra State Textile Corporation’s takeover of the group’s flagship Empress Mills in Nagpur in 1986 and its closure in 2002. That did show that the Tatas too were capable of letting a once-flourishing enterprise go to seed. There were also examples of forays into technologically dynamic areas that did not work, such as the entry into electronics through NELCO, incorporated as The National Ekco Radio and Engineering Co. Ltd as far back as 1949. More recently, the group resorted to high-profile acquisitions of firms such as Jaguar Land Rover and Corus at prices that many assessed as unwarranted. Finally, there was the dramatic collapse of its presence, surrounded by hype, in the small car business in the form of the Nano. By then it had become clear that this giant too had feet of clay.

If, despite all this, the Tata name commands respect among Indians, it is partly because of the pathetic state of many others among the traditional business groups. But, the Tata group’s strength today is in significant measure also due to the success of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), engaged in the software and IT-enabled services business. So much so, when a nasty boardroom spat saw the exit of Cyrus Mistry as chief executive, the former head of TCS, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, was brought in to address many of the company’s flaws that were brought to light in the feud between Ratan Tata and Mistry. Chandrasekaran’s mandate is clearly to clean the books of Tata Sons and its group companies of the bad assets that have accumulated in them. TTSL’s exit is one step in that cleaning process. Many more are likely in the coming days. At the end of that, the group, in both relative size and image, may be reduced to a shadow of its former self. And not only because others have grown faster and better than it has.

Gender issues

A blow for child rights

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

IT is well documented that a good percentage of Indian women get married under the age of 18, compromising their basic rights to evolve and develop as individuals. The Rapid Survey on Children commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013-14 estimated that such marriages had declined from 47.4 per cent according to the National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06) data to 30.3 per cent. The fact sheet of NFHS-4 for 2015-16 indicated that child marriages had declined to 26.8 per cent but it showed that in rural areas marriages of women below the age of 18 constituted 31.4 per cent of the total, much above the national average. The percentage of such marriages was higher than the national average among the Scheduled Castes (34.9 per cent) and the Scheduled Tribes (31 per cent). Child marriages were prevalent in nearly 44.1 per cent of families with a low wealth index, an indication that poverty was a dominant factor in child marriages.

Early marriages result in multiple child births and often are the reason for maternal mortality, infant mortality and reproductive health challenges. The application of the rule of law to prevent child marriages has been somewhat limited. A strong correlation exists between child marriages in States that have lower literacy levels for men and women in general. However, various studies have shown a stronger correlation between child marriages and poverty, indicating that the law by itself was inadequate to address the challenge unless accompanied by government interventions at multiple levels.

In what is seen as a blow for women’s rights and the rights of the girl child, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has held that sexual intercourse by a man with his under-18 wife would amount to rape. This ruling, delivered by Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, in two separate judgments, has, in effect, questioned the rationality and validity of the exception provided in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which validates intercourse of a man with a girl who could be between the ages of 15 and 18 provided she is his wife. The petitioner, a child rights group, approached the court in 2009 with the plea that as Section 375 of the IPC laid down the age of consent for sexual intercourse as 18 years, any person having sexual intercourse with a girl under 18 was committing rape. If a girl, aged between 15 and 18 was married to a man, Exception 2 under Section 375 allowed him to have sex with his wife “without her consent”. The petitioner pleaded that as a girl did not cease to be a child under the age of 18 and since Exception 2 ran contrary to the beneficial intent in Article 15 (3) of the Constitution, which enabled Parliament to make special provisions for girls and women, the sex “without her consent” exception in Section 375 should go.

The court’s attention was drawn to the Law Commission of India’s (LCI) 84th report titled “Rape and allied offences: Some questions of substantive law, procedure and evidence”, submitted in 1980, which had pointed out that marriage with a girl below 18 was prohibited under the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA), 1929 (although not void in personal law), and so sexual intercourse with a girl under 18 should also be prohibited. The minimum age of marriage for girls as 18 was laid down in 1978. The LCI’s 172nd report (submitted in 2000) recommended the retention of the exception in Section 375, maintaining that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided she was not below 16 years of age, was not tantamount to sexual assault.

Taking a conservative position, the LCI’s 172nd report held that removing Exception 2 from Section 375 “may amount to excessive interference with the marital relationship”. However, the age of the child was not raised from 15 to 16 in Exception 2 as recommended by the LCI. In fact, the counter affidavit of the Union government had held that the age had been kept at 15 to give protection to the husband and wife against criminalising the sexual activity between them. Interestingly, a child bride under the Hindu Marriage Act could nullify her marriage if she was married under the age of 15. There are provisions in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, that allow for annulment of a child marriage within two years of the minor attaining majority. The two judgments totalling 127 pages held that the exception provided in Section 375 was arbitrary, unreasonable, unjust and unfair. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 18 was rape, the judgment said. The exception “created an unnecessary and artificial distinction between a married girl and an unmarried girl child” and “has no rational nexus with any unclear objective sought to be achieved”, it stated.

The “exception was capricious, whimsical, violative of the rights of the girl child, not fair or just and violative of Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India”, the court said Moreover, it was inconsistent with the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.

Referring to various studies, national and international, on the debilitating effects of early marriage, the court observed that there was a strong established link between early marriage and sexual intercourse with a married girl child between 15 and 18 years of age. There was a plethora of material, it observed, to clearly indicate that sexual intercourse with a girl child below the age of 18 (even within marriage) was not advisable for her for a variety of reasons, including her physical and mental well-being and social standing.

The judgment observed that the enactment of the PCMA showed that Parliament was not in favour of child marriage but was somewhat ambivalent about it. The court pointed out the contradictions within various laws relating to the prevention of child marriage. While sexual intercourse with a child was punishable under the POCSO Act, it was not so under the IPC. Although child marriages were prohibited and criminalised, they were not declared void. The preamble to the PCMA, the judgment noted, which held that sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children were heinous crimes that needed to be addressed effectively, was in conflict with Exception 2 of Section 375 of the IPC “which effectively provided that the sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of a girl child was not a crime, let alone a heinous crime”. In fact, it legitimised the activity if the sexual abuse was by the husband.

International conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child made it obligatory on the part of the government to take steps to “prevent the coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity”. Under the POCSO Act, the rape of a married girl child would constitute a form of aggravated penetrative sexual assault, which was punishable with 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine.

Leading cause of death

A more recent collaborative study and statistical analysis on the impact of child marriages and early childbirth on the health of girls by organisations such as the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (on the basis of Census 2011 data) had shown that girls between 15 and 19 were more likely to die at childbirth and pregnancy than older women, making pregnancy a leading cause of death in developing countries. Girls from S.C. and S.T. communities were on an average 10 per cent more likely to give birth earlier than girls from other castes. The analysis, released in June 2017, found that girls who were likely to have a child by 19 years were from the poorest groups, with less educational aspirations, from rural areas, had least educated mothers, and were themselves less likely to be enrolled in school between the ages of 12 and 15.

The LCI’s 205th report on “The proposal to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and allied laws”, which was submitted to the Law Ministry in 2008, made several recommendations for changes in the PCMA and allied laws. While hearing a writ petition in 2006, the Supreme Court sought the assistance of the Law Commission to look into the definition of a child under different laws. The Law Commission looked at various aspects, including the implications of child marriage from various dimensions and also the various laws relating to age of consent and age of marriage in different countries. It examined the CMRA and the age of marriage and age of consent for sexual intercourse and recommended that child marriage below 18 be prohibited for boys and girls, marriage below age 16 be made void, and marriage between 16 and 18 be voidable. More importantly, it recommended that the age of consent should be 16 for all girls, regardless of marriage.

The writ petition, which was filed by the Delhi State Commission of Women and the National Commission of Women, had said that while children were defined as persons under 18 in the Indian Majority Act and Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000, it was 18 for girls and 21 for boys in the CMRA. The IPC had no definition for “child”. The petitioners pointed out that Sections 5 and 11 of the Hindu Marriage Act did not give the court the authority to declare a marriage void on the grounds that either of the parties was under age and the Exception to Section 375 exempted the husband from the charge of rape if the wife was not under 15 years of age. They pleaded that this was in contradiction with the CMRA, which disallowed child marriage but did not totally invalidate it. The petitioners said that there should be a uniform definition of a child in all laws in order to protect children from abuse. Marriages under 18 should be declared void as such marriages could only be “coerced and no full or informed consent could be given by a person under eighteen”. The petitioners did not touch on the issue of consensual sexual intercourse between persons under 18. The Law Commission report, however, said that the age of consent should be 16 for girls irrespective of whether they were married or not. The Supreme Court bench of Justices Lokur and Gupta did not make this distinction.

Choice relationships

The Supreme Court advocate Kirti Singh, who has been dealing with women’s issues and laws relating to women, was a part-time member of the committee that drafted the LCI report on child marriage. She welcomed the Supreme Court order for the removal of Exception 2 from Section 375 of the IPC but felt that aspects relating to the prevalence of voluntary consensual sex among young people needed to be considered. She told Frontline that the “judgment rightly made no distinction between unmarried and married girls and had enumerated the various ills that befall a child marriage”. However, she felt that an exception should have been carved out for relationships between young couples whether they were married or not. “Penalising these relationships in a country where choice relationships and marriages are dealt with so brutally, where inter-caste marriages or relationships face violent repercussions and couples are hounded usually by the girl’s family, where false cases are filed against the boys and their families and girls are routinely pressurised to agree to the filing of such false cases, and where charges of rape can be so easily levelled with a minimum 10 years of imprisonment, I think the decision of the court to criminalise sexual intercourse with girls under eighteen can be counterproductive,” she said. There was a need, therefore, to distinguish between a much older person marrying a young girl and a young couple in a consensual relationship. In the past, women’s organisations have argued that the proximity rule should apply to young marriages where the boy was not five years older than the girl.

The best way to stop child marriages, she said, was to enforce the provisions of the PCMA and at the same time ensure that the rights of the girl and the children born from such marriages were safeguarded. The difference in the ages of marriage for men and women as 21 and 18 was not based on any scientific understanding, she said, adding that it was highly discriminatory. The LCI report had maintained that there was no rationale for different ages of marriage for boys and girls. It had recommended that marriages below 16 be made void; between 16 and 18, they be voidable at the option of either party; and the Exception to Section 375 be deleted, which would ensure that the age of consent for sexual intercourse for all girls, married or not, would be 16.

“At the moment, the government had done very little to stop child marriages where they are recurring and that is where the problem lies,” she said. Protecting the rights of the child as well as the right to choice, of bodily integrity, were in fact fundamentally a right to life, she said.

Justice Lokur, in his judgment, made it clear that he was not looking at marital rape of a woman aged 18 and above as that issue was not before him. “Therefore, we should not be understood to advert to that issue even collaterally,” he stated.

Kirti Singh said it was high time marital rape was recognised by the law, especially since violence within the family by the husband on his wife was recognised through Section 498A of the IPC. Therefore, the resistance to recognising that sexual assault could take place within a marriage was inexplicable. “It is totally wrong to presume that women would bring in false charges as experience shows that Indian women tolerate a lot of violence and complain only when they cannot get any redress. To say that criminalising marital rape would result in the breakdown of marriage is wrong. Any marriage based on violence is unacceptable to women and also to a civilised society,” she said.

Women’s organisations such as the All India Democratic Women’s Association and Sakshi had demanded laws dealing with marital rape more than 10 years ago.

It is evident that a range of factors is responsible for the prevalence of child marriages, poverty and dowry being among the more prominent ones apart from customs and tradition. However, the principal responsibility of preventing such marriages in the interests of the girl child and boy child lies with the government. A realistic assessment should include considering the prevalence of choice relationships that occur much below the age of 18. The rights of young couples are as important as the rights of the child bride. To this extent, revisiting the recommendations of the LCI’s 205th report may be a realistic move before criminalising all relationships under 18.

Politics

Ripples of discontent

NOTWITHSTANDING the public posturing of dauntlessness, there is general agreement within the echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) that the revelations brought out originally by the news and analysis portal The Wire on the amazing growth of the business ventures of Jay Shah, BJP president Amit Shah’s son, have aggravated the political troubles facing the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government. A number of senior and middle-level leaders of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits who talked to Frontline on the issue were of the view that “The Wire Jay Shah revelations”, as they have come to be termed by a section of political observers, had dented the image of the government and the party.

“To start with, it has landed a very heavy blow on the public image of the BJP and the Modi government as a steadfast upholder of probity in governance and public life. The strangeness of the growth of Jay Shah’s business empire in a matter of approximately one financial year has indeed raised eyebrows even among the rank and file of Sangh Parivar organisations. This being the case, the sense of disillusionment is even higher among the broad support base of the party and the government, which is not yet completely in tune with the organisational systems of the Sangh Parivar. Along with this qualitative element, the timing of the revelations is also pretty bad since it has marked the persistence of the trying times of the last two months,” a senior RSS functionary based in Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh told Frontline.

Many of these senior and middle-level functionaries of the Sangh Parivar outfits were in agreement that when the history of the Narendra Modi regime was documented objectively, the months of September and October 2017 would be designated as among the most trying. “Who knows,” added the Meerut-based leader, “it could well get termed as the very tipping point of larger reverses.” He recounted how the RSS had convened a meeting of 40-odd Hindutva outfits in its fold in early September to warn about a growing restiveness among the people against the three-and-a-half-year-old Modi government. This warning was soon followed by voluble criticism of government policies by two senior BJP leaders—former Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and former Union Commerce Minister Subramanian Swamy—that the economic policy direction of the government was headed for an “unmitigated disaster”. That the Jay Shah revelations have followed all this is indeed ominous.

The Wire’s story

The Wire’s story says that Temple Enterprise, a company owned by Jay Shah, recorded a turnover increase of 16,000 times in the year following the election of Modi as Prime Minister and the elevation of his father as party president. This astonishing growth, according to the website, was recorded in the very filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). In concrete terms, this meant an increase in revenue generation from a mere Rs.50,000 in 2014-15 to over Rs.80 crore in 2015-16. The RoC records, as reported by The Wire, also revealed “that in the financial years ending March 2013 and 2014, Shah’s Temple Enterprise Private Ltd engaged in negligible activity and recorded losses of Rs.6,230 and Rs.1,724 respectively”. However, “in 2014-15, it showed a profit of Rs.18,728 on revenues of only Rs.50,000 before jumping to a turnover of Rs.80.5 crore in 2015-16”.

The report also said that the “astonishing surge in Temple Enterprise’s revenues came at a time when the firm received an unsecured loan of Rs.15.78 crore from a financial services firm owned by Rajesh Khandwala, the samdhi (in-law) of Parimal Nathwani, a Rajya Sabha MP and top executive of Reliance Industries”. It went on to add that “one year later, in October 2016, however, Jay Shah’s company suddenly stopped its business activities altogether, declaring, in its director’s report, that Temple’s net worth had ‘fully eroded’ because of the loss it posted that year of Rs.1.4 crore and its losses over earlier years”.

Interestingly, the company closed its operation barely a month before the announcement and implementation of demonetisation by Modi in November 2016. According to a senior RSS functionary, this aspect is a major sore point among the Sangh Parivar rank and file. “Essentially, a large section of the Sangh Parivar rank and file is of the view that this sudden closure of operations points to something akin to insider trading and access to privileged information leading to unfair advantage. Many of them also feel that this has placed Jay Shah on a par with Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who too had allegedly benefited in big monetary terms during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government on account of access to privileged information. In any case, these activists complain that the revelations have made them overwhelmingly defenceless before their political adversaries on the ground.”

They also see as problematic the manner in which the BJP leadership, especially party president Amit Shah, sought to build up a defence for Jay Shah. By now it is evident that Amit Shah had altered the plan for his participation in the Kerala BJP’s Jan Raksha Yatra to work out the defence of his son. Amit Shah had originally announced that he would participate in the Kerala programme for three days starting October 3 but rushed back to Delhi after staying in Kerala only for a day. The story that the BJP leadership circulated initially was that Modi had summoned him urgently to discuss GST-related issues and initiatives. However, it was soon revealed that the real reason was his urgency to try and build up defence for his son.

Central to this manoeuvre was the listing of Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to defend Jay Shah in court. Later revelations showed how Mehta was granted permission to defend Jay Shah on October 6 itself, even as The Wire had raised some questions as part of eliciting response before the publication of the story. The Wire published the revelations on October 8, four days after Amit Shah cut short his Kerala trip and two days after Mehta had obtained permission from the Law Ministry. This was followed by Mehta’s announcement that he was being consulted by Jay Shah and that he had obtained necessary permissions to appear before the court on behalf of Jay Shah. Yashwant Sinha has already questioned it and stated that the very move had made the BJP lose “the high moral ground that we had occupied all these months and years”. Sangh Parivar activists at various levels of the organisation that Frontline interacted with are overwhelmingly in agreement with this point of view.

Weak defence

Naturally, this situation, complete with the strong resentment in relation to l’affaire Jay Shah, manifesting even within the BJP, has come in handy for opposition parties, including the Congress. In fact, the climate created by the revelations seems to have infused Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with new confidence, and his interactions with the public and the media have become markedly sharp in comparison with those of the past. On its part, the line of political defence adopted by the BJP leadership, including Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, was seen to be palpably weak and inconsequential. An important line in the political defence prepared by Amit Shah was that the Congress had never made bold to file defamation cases with massive demands for compensation when they faced similar cases relating to financial impropriety, but here the BJP had gone ahead and filed a Rs.100 crore defamation suit against The Wire. He also argued that none of his son's companies had done even one rupee worth of business with the government or received kickbacks like in the case of Bofors.

Injunction issued

Even as this political defence was put forward, Jay Shah obtained a lower court order from Ahmedabad restraining The Wire from publishing any further report on his business turnover. The court said that this was being done “so that the right to live with dignity of the plaintiff (Jay Shah) may be protected”. This order, dated October 12, 2017, expressly admitted that the court had not heard the arguments of the respondent (The Wire website) before issuing the injunction, but it also sought to defend the action by stating that “in the present case, it appears that if an immediate remedy is not given to the applicant, there is a chance of publishing the news, for which the present plaintiff has filed the suit”. Indeed, it is as amazing a contention as the stupendous growth of Jay Shah’s company and is already being looked at sceptically by a predominant section of political observers and the political class, from within the Sangh Parivar too.

As the needles of suspicion point towards the Modi dispensation and the top leadership of the BJP, the grapevine is replete with stories about impending revelations on more financial improprieties, including ones that involve a couple of current and former Ministers. The portents of September-October 2017, say some carriers of this intelligence, seem to be getting heavier and gathering greater momentum.

Jantar Mantar

Displacing dissent

JANTAR MANTAR, famous for its iconic sundial, has acquired a new persona ever since it was designated as the official site for protests and dharnas in New Delhi in 1993. The 18th century observatory, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II, emerged into prominence in the aftermath of the humongous protest by the Mahendra Singh Tikait-led Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) at the Boat Club in 1988, which threw life out of gear in the national capital. In 1993, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government finally shut the Boat Club down for protests, and pushed dissenters back to Jantar Mantar Road.

Jantar Mantar was a convenient protest site, not too far from Parliament House, but not too close to it either. The road is so located that it can be barricaded any time without throwing normal life out of gear. Its proximity to the Parliament Street police station also meant that the police could “arrest” or “detain” protesters with ease. The barricaded Parliament Street, where protesters marching towards Parliament would usually be stopped, afforded great photo opportunities too. It was a win-win situation for both the authorities and protesters.

Landmark movements

In the years that followed, Jantar Mantar Road witnessed many landmark events, including the birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the protests that led to the historic amendments to the rape law following the brutal gang rape and murder of a paramedic, now known as the Nirbhaya case. Especially after the Anna Hazare movement in March-April 2011, which eventually led to the birth of the AAP, the Jantar Mantar protest site became a symbol of India’s throbbing democracy. The site witnessed iconic movements, including the one against lynching, aptly christened “Not In My Name”. It saw students from all over India converging to protest against the manner in which a Dalit research scholar from the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, had been hounded and driven to suicide. Students from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, arrived to protest against the appointment of television and film actor Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s Director, and this turned into a campaign against the increasing stranglehold of the government on academic and cultural institutions. There were protests by intellectuals who opposed the restrictions being imposed by the government on the freedom of speech and expression. Farmers from Tamil Nadu arrived with their grievances and innovative ways to draw the government’s attention to their problems. And not least, ex-servicemen descended on Jantar Mantar to demand One Rank, One Pension (OROP). Highly decorated Army veterans have been sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar since June 15, 2015, demanding their dues and respect from the government.

The NGT order

However, Jantar Mantar will soon fall silent, with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering an immediate ban on protests and dharnas there. On October 5, a bench headed by Justice R.S. Rathore ordered the Delhi government, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Delhi Police Commissioner to “immediately stop all dharnas, assembling of people, public speeches and use of loudspeakers at Jantar Mantar Road within four weeks”. It also said that all protesters at the site would be shifted to Ramlila Maidan.

The tribunal said: “The respondent (NDMC) shall shift the protesters to Ramlila Maidan, Ajmeri Gate, forthwith…. The NDMC chairman, Delhi Police chief, and Government of NCT of Delhi shall file compliance reports before the NGT within five weeks from the date of judgment.”

The order was passed after a group of residents of Jantar Mantar Road filed a plea with the NGT last year saying that although the area was earmarked as “residential” in the 2021 Delhi Master Plan, protesters had erected tents on the road and put up loudspeakers. The plea said that some protesters stayed at the site for years together, slept in tents there, bathed with the water provided by Delhi Jal Board tankers and ate there, littering the area and causing nuisance to the residents at large.

Addressing the issues of pollution and cleanliness raised by the petitioners, the NGT said: “It is amply clear that the petitioners are suffering because of gross violation of laws and non-performance of duty by authorities. The environmental condition at Jantar Mantar Road—in relation to noise pollution, cleanliness and waste management—has grossly deteriorated. Besides constant dharnas, noise pollution and health problems due to unhygienic conditions generated by agitators… is unique in the case.”

The tribunal also reprimanded the NDMC, saying: “In the circumstances, we are of the considered opinion that merely giving directions to the respondent authorities to control the agitators would not be of any use.” Justifying the shifting of all protesters to Ramlila Maidan, the tribunal said: “The place for such activities (dharnas) has already been earmarked at Ramlila Maidan—for gathering of more than 5,000 people. This would strike a balance between the rights of people with respect to their freedom of speech and expression, and that of residents of Jantar Mantar Road to live a peaceful and pollution-free life.”

Assault on democracy

But in its zeal to protect the rights of the 15-odd residents of Jantar Mantar Road, the NGT seems to have overlooked the larger aspects of democratic principles: the fundamental right to speech and expression, of peaceful assembly, of dissent and disagreement. According to the noted Supreme Court lawyer/activist Prashant Bhushan, the NGT order is an assault on democracy itself because it seeks to curtail the right to speech and freedom of expression.

Significantly, the grounds cited for shifting the protests to Ramlila Maidan—noise pollution and health problems due to unhygienic conditions created by the protesters—become untenable in view of the fact that there are many hospitals in the vicinity of Ramlila Maidan. Noise pollution around hospitals should be a bigger concern for the NGT than the problems of 15-odd residents, say the protesters at Jantar Mantar Road.

According to them, the tree-lined road gives them a shaded place for sitting, whereas Ramlila Maidan has no trees and the protesters would have to brave the elements: the scorching sun in the summer, the rain during the monsoon and the biting cold in winter. Besides, at Jantar Mantar, a system has evolved over the years to facilitate protests: there are Jal Board tankers to provide drinking water, the protesters eat their lunch at the nearby Bangla Sahib gurdwara; and they rest in the shade of the trees. At Ramlila Maidan, there is no such facility available. Besides, it is in the midst of a busy commercial area and any big agitation would totally derail the road traffic.

Cross-spectrum of activists

“The NGT decision is totally illogical. If noise pollution was the concern, then should the patients in hospitals near Ramlila Maidan be exposed to noise pollution? Besides, the NGT has passed a totally one-sided order, without listening to the other side,” says Ramji Lal Shukla, who has been agitating at Jantar Mantar Road since April 21, 2013, demanding the use of Indian languages in all official works. According to him, the NGT did not use its discretion while passing the order.

Similarly, S.K. Pande, a history professor from Rewa, who has been at Jantar Mantar Road for the past seven months demanding a new economic order wherein the government should draw a line of affluence ( amiri ki rekha) instead of the poverty line in order to frame its policies, says the logic cited by the NGT to shift them out of Jantar Mantar Road is flawed.

According to Vasudevan, a Tamil Nadu farmer who has been sitting at Jantar Mantar since July 16, 2017, dissent and protest are fundamental rights of any citizen in a democracy and there is no way they will be hustled out. “We will not leave. We have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the NGT order,” Vasudevan says. According to him, sitting here at Jantar Mantar, they feel they are close enough to the centre of power in order to be heard, whereas at Ramlila Maidan, they will be pushed to a corner.

“This place is close to Parliament and the ministries, yet there is nobody to hear us. Once we are pushed to Ramlila Maidan, there will be no redress of our grievances,” say Bittoo Sherpa and Pervina Rai, representatives of the Gorkhaland Sangharsh Samiti, who have been on a dharna for more than four months demanding a separate Gorkhaland. According to them, noise pollution is only an excuse; the real motive is to silence the common man.

Group Captain (Retd) Brij Mohan Karir, a representative of the ex-servicemen who has been sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar since June 15, 2015, demanding full OROP, is of the same opinion. “Sitting here we feel we are being heard because this place is close to Parliament House, North Block and South Block, which is the seat of the government. At Ramlila Maidan, it will be like sitting in a back lane, with no one paying attention. After all, we sit here and shout slogans because we feel we have not been heard. Isn’t it the government’s duty to listen to the grievances being voiced by the people?” he asks.

The larger issue

According to Yogendra Yadav, one of the founder-members of the AAP who has since fallen out with Arvind Kejriwal and is now leading his own movement called the Swaraj Abhiyan, the merits of the case notwithstanding, the larger issue of importance has to do with the space for dissent.

“The systematic shrinkage of space for protest, both literally and metaphorically, is of concern. What is worrisome is the fact that protest of any kind is seen as a problem, not only by the ruling party and the government but by the media and the judiciary as well,” he says. According to him, a few years ago, when thousands of people landed up in Delhi to protest, the media would talk about their issues and concerns and why they were protesting, but now the media constantly highlights the resultant traffic jams and the problems faced by the common people.

“It is surprising how the mindset has changed. People view any protest, any dissent, as problematic. Larger issues of concern which make thousands flock to Delhi to protest are of no significance to people, it seems. Look at the way FIRs [first information reports] have been filed against people for lampooning or criticising Modi. Why can’t you criticise your government, why can’t you criticise your Prime Minister?” he says.

Indeed, the larger issue in this ban order is not about the merits of the case. The NGT order could be justified in view of the grievances of those living with the constant sounds of protest, but the real issue is the shrinking space for dissent. First the dissenters were pushed out of Boat Club, and now out of Jantar Mantar to the outer periphery of Lutyen’s Delhi. “What next?” ask the protesters.

It is interesting to note here that neither the Delhi government nor the NDMC nor the Delhi police has expressed any intention to seek a review of the order. The NDMC and the Delhi police have stopped giving permission for any protest at Jantar Mantar and have been visiting the protesters to ask them to vacate the place peacefully; the use of loudspeakers and mikes has been stopped. The Delhi government, led by the AAP, a child of the anti-corruption movement at Jantar Mantar, which had perfected the art of dharna while in movement mode, has only carried out the formality of verbally requesting the NGT to review its order.

Come November 5, Jantar Mantar will slip into peace and ignominy. Only the sound of silence will remain. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court takes note of the petition filed by the Tamil Nadu farmers and does something about it.

Godhra

The puzzle remains

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

MANY people have argued that the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 Hindu kar sevaks died was as brutal and violent as the communal riots it triggered in Gujrat. In fact, the number of arrests and the degree of punishment given to those convicted for setting fire to two coaches of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on the morning of February 27, 2002, appears far more severe than those convicted for orchestrating the riots that killed more than 1,000 people.

In a significant judgment in the Godhra case, the Gujarat High Court, on October 9, commuted the death sentence of 11 people convicted for burning the coaches. The 11 convicts will now undergo rigorous life imprisonment. The court also upheld the life sentences of 20 other convicts and confirmed the acquittal of the remaining 63 accused. The court backed the theory that it was a planned attack. Additionally, it pulled up the State government for failing to maintain law and order during and after the incident.

The Godhra ruling puts the protracted legal battle back in focus and once again raises the question whether this is an equitable sentence compared with the verdict given in the riots case.

Commuting the death sentences is obviously a humane step, in line with the move towards reducing the number of instances where capital punishment is awarded, but is not completely fair, say lawyers and activists monitoring the Gujarat pogrom cases.

The Godhra case has seen several twists in its 15-year course. Was all the evidence submitted to and considered by the courts? Lawyers and activists in Gujarat do not believe so. There are some critical questions that to date have been either dismissed or not addressed.

Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organisation that fights for justice for the victims of the Gujarat communal violence, said: “The good thing from the judgment is the commuting of death to life. Removing the death penalty is in keeping with the move to reduce [the number of death penalties]/abolish it. The other good point is the court’s observation on the State’s responsibility regarding law and order. Yet, what is hugely disappointing is that the court has upheld the conspiracy theory.” She added: “The main issue with this case is that it got stuck in a quagmire of political hyperbole.” It is unfortunate that several crucial areas were not examined by the court. For instance, Ashish Khetan, who had evidence and data on the case, was not called. Section 311 allows the court to examine evidence by a witness. A major point that has not been considered is that there is forensic evidence to prove the fire started before the chain was pulled. This matter was crucial for the verdict, she said.

On February 27, 2002, Sabarmati Express, carrying a large number of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, halted at the Godhra railway station at 7:30 a.m. According to reports, the kar sevaks had been harassing people at various stations along the route and at Godhra the harassment intensified when one person reportedly attempted to molest a young Muslim girl. The train managed to pull out of the station, but the chain was pulled and it stopped a kilometre from the platform near a place called Signal Falia. There are various reports on how and what happened subsequently, but two coaches caught fire as inflammable substances were thrown into the coaches. The coaches were packed beyond capacity. Government officials and a few politicians accompanied the bodies of the victims to Ahmedabad ostensibly for a post-mortem. However, when news began to spread that the coaches were burnt by local Muslims in Godhra, the mood in Ahmedabad turned aggressive. When the bodies were taken through the main roads towards Sola Hospital, violence against the Muslim community began to rage across the city. Communal violence spread to other parts of the State, and for three days Gujarat was under siege.

Along with the Godhra case, there are nine cases of severe rioting. In 2002, the Nanavati-Shah Commission began probing the riots. In 2008, it submitted an initial report, which supported the conspiracy theory. According to the report, Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji, a cleric in Godhra, collected along with his accomplices 140 litres of petrol before the train arrived and then allegedly instigated the kar sevaks, knowing well that it would lead to a sensitive situation that would bring Muslims out to attack the train. The committee made a final submission to the court only in 2014. Several lawyers and activists working on the cases criticised the committee by saying that it reinforced communal prejudices by ignoring valuable evidence and that it supported the conspiracy theory too quickly.

In February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others, saying there was a conspiracy behind the incident. Eleven persons were given the death penalty for planning the attack. This was the only riot case in which the convicts were awarded capital punishment.

Maulana Umarji, regarded as the “mastermind”, was among those acquitted. He passed away in 2013. “He died broken-hearted,” his family said. The maulana was a respected cleric, who repeatedly maintained that his community was not at fault.

Death as a punishment

In none of the post-Godhra reprisal killing cases did lawyers seek death for the convicts. “It’s an acknowledgment to the community that in spite of the violence they saw they were convinced not to seek retributory justice,” said Teesta Setalvad.

The Gujarat High Court ruled that the burning of the coaches at Godhra was neither “terrorism” nor an “act of waging war” against the state. It stated that the Law Commission wanted the death penalty abolished for crimes not relating to acts of terrorism and war against the state. The court followed this diktat. “Death penalties eliminate a person to a point of no return. While considering the question of sentence to death, a duty is cast upon the court to deliberate on various facets of sentence and to immunise itself to avoid branding imposition of death sentence as ‘judge centric’ or ‘bloodthirsty’,” said the court.

Citizen’s Tribunal

The Gujarat government has consistently maintained that it was a pre-planned attack by the local Muslim community, which used the unruly behaviour of the kar sevaks as a ruse to trigger a communal clash.

However, evidence collected by investigators and the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by eminent Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.B. Sawant and Hosbet Suresh, along with a panel of respected jurists, lawyers and human rights activists, allude to the theory that the train burning was part of a larger, darker conspiracy and was neither an impulsive attack nor a pre-planned one by the Ghanchi Muslims who reside at Signal Falia. Their report was ignored by the courts, but those who follow the case say the tribunal’s findings were explosive and their accuracy should not be discounted.

This case was all about forensics. A police officer involved in the investigation said the courts should have based their verdict on forensic data.

“The Gujarat Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL] Report, for instance, clearly states that 60 litres of inflammable liquid was poured into the mouth of the two coaches, which is why only those [two coaches] caught fire and the fire did not spread,” he said. “They imply that the incident was not an accident nor an act of impulse.”

The court ruling has brought the issue back into focus and it would perhaps be appropriate to revisit the tribunal’s report. Given that its findings emerged from investigations conducted by knowledgeable and experienced professionals, it is unfortunate that it was never considered by the courts.

Forensics on the actual burning point to a much more sinister plot, the official said.

Frontline has access to the report and here are some of the key findings on the trigger and the torching of the train.

On the actual burning

• As the train travelled back from Ayodhya on its return journey to Ahmedabad, kar sevak girls and boys armed with trishuls and lathis were getting down at every station and shouting slogans like, “Mandir Vahin Banayenge!” “Jai Shriram!”, “Muslim Bharat chodo, Pakistan jao” (Muslims, Quit India! Go to Pakistan), “Dudh mango tho kheer denge, Kashmir mango tho cheer denge” (Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer (pudding), But ask for Kashmir and we’ll cut you up). Many passengers felt harassed by this behaviour but were constrained to remain silent because the kar sevaks had captured all the reserved seats and the train was packed.

• The train reached Godhra station at 7:30 a.m. (three hours late), on February 27, 2002. There were certain incidents on the platform. There were some reports to the effect that a Muslim girl was molested by the kar sevaks who attempted to pull her into the train.

• As the train left the platform, at 7:48 a.m., it was immediately stopped by someone pulling the chain. The obvious reason for this was to enable some of the kar sevaks who were still on the platform to board the train. The train proceeded for about a kilometre. At Signal Falia the train stopped. Whether this was on account of someone pulling the chain or otherwise is not clear. The engine driver, at that point of time, had only seen someone from outside pelting stones at the train though not at coach S-6. Soon thereafter, coach S-6 was on fire. The question is, how did the fire occur?

• The version of the government appears to be that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station, who had gathered in large numbers, threw fireballs into the train and that resulted in the fire. The government version also has it that the Ghanchi Muslims wanted to attack the kar sevaks, and that there were about 2,000 Muslims who were bent on attacking the train.

• It may be stated at this stage that the full capacity of the train is 1,100. But, in fact, the train at that time had about 2,000 passengers, of which about 1,700 were kar sevaks. Only one coach was burned and even in that coach one is not sure how many passengers were kar sevaks. The train had 11 coaches with vestibule connection and kar sevaks were spread all over the train.

• So why did anyone target coach S-6? If 2,000 Muslims had gathered there, could they not have attacked the other coaches? Again, did anyone try to come out from the other coaches? If it is reasonably presumed that some of the passengers, including kar sevaks, rushed out, did anyone attack them? On all these questions there is no satisfactory answer. Why were all those dead called kar sevaks? Not everyone on the train was a sevak.

• A very significant fact is that coach S-6 was the only one that got burnt. The fire did not even spread to the other coaches. It is also not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire in the coach or the coach was set on fire after the train stopped. If it was the latter, why was the train stopped at all? It is reasonable to presume that because of the fire in the coach, someone must have pulled the chain and the train was stopped by the engine driver.

• If kar sevaks were the target, they were overwhelmingly present in the entire train and the whole train could have been set on fire. The fact that the fire did not even spread to the remaining coaches is a clear indication that the fire originated in that compartment itself. That also explains why only persons in that coach died.

• On 7-5-2002, we inspected the coach and the site where it was burnt. The site where the train stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12-15 feet and it is a slope. At the top, there is hardly enough space for 2,000 persons to assemble on either side of the track. Assuming that so many had gathered at that spot, the crowd would be spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S-6. This is only to indicate that if the government version is true, the other coaches would have been as easy a target as coach S-6.

• Our own observations were subsequently confirmed by the reports of the Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL]. Among its other findings, the relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory (State of Gujarat, New Mental Corner, Ahmedabad–16, Spot Investigation Report No.2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station) filed by Dr M.S. Dahiya, Assistant Director, states:

“It was found that the height of the window of the coach was around 7 feet from the ground at the place. Under this circumstance, it was not possible to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach from any bucket or carboy, because by doing this, most of the fluid was getting thrown outside.” The FSL had used water to recreate the throwing of inflammable liquid into the train.

“On the basis of the above experimental demonstration, such a conclusion can be drawn that 60 litres of inflammable liquid was poured towards the western side by using a wide mouthed container by standing on the passage between the northern side door of the eastern side of the S-6 coach and the compartment of seat No. 72 and coach was set on fire immediately thereafter.

• By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire.

Thus, it is clear that the fire came from inside. We have seen the inner side of the coach. The intensity of the fire was such that even the iron rods, the seats, the fans were all burnt to such an extent that we found them twisted and molten out of shape. We also found rice and wheat partly burnt and scattered all across the floor of compartment S-6. Some of the witnesses had stated that kar sevaks had stoves in the train, but we did not find them in the coach.

The FSL report shows that for fire of such an intensity, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, “by using a wide mouthed container”. The question is, where is this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was this taken inside the coach or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armed with trishuls and in such an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for that would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.

The tribunal also explores questions such as whether the Godhra incident was pre-planned and why it was “allowed” to happen, and also the subsequent instigation of communal hatred that led to the brutal violence. The courts ignored the report.

Catalonia

Catalan crisis

VIDYA RAM in London world-affairs

ON October 1, Magdalena Clarena, a 70-year-old resident of the Catalan village of Fonollosa, refused to move her chair to allow two members of Spain’s Civil Guard to enter the polling station where voting in the Catalan independence referendum, declared “illegal” by the Constitutional Court of Spain, was to take place. She was thrown to the ground by the guards and she broke her wrist in the ensuing melee when a young man was thrown on top of her.

Magdalena Clarena was one of many who were injured in the village which had set up hay bales decorated with flowers as a “symbolic barrier” against the efforts by the Civil Guard and other police officers to disrupt the voting. Hers was one of the numerous cases documented by Human Rights Watch, which, on October 12, released details of the use of “excessive force” by Spanish forces that the Catalan authorities say resulted in injury to nearly 900 people. Other instances of injury due to violence from across the region in the report included a fire-fighter whose arm was broken and a man who sustained multiple injuries while filming the seizure of ballot boxes. “The police may well have had the law on their side to enforce a court order but it didn’t give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters,” the report concludes.

In another country, these scenes of violence, broadcast across the world, would have proved a career-ending moment for a national leader, especially one who had, in the run-up to the referendum, pledged vehemently to tackle it with the firmest possible hand. While there have been some calls for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to step down, personally the crisis has left him remarkably unweakened—a testament to how divisive to Spanish society the question of Catalan secessionism has been, as well as how difficult the road forward is likely to be.

History of Catalan resistance

Catalan secessionism shares a long history with the Basque separatist party, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), as movements pushing for independence from Spain. It dates back to 1714, when the Spanish King Philip V finally defeated Catalan troops during the War of the Spanish Succession. September 11, the day when Barcelona fell, is still celebrated as Catalan National Day (one of the few countries to mark its “independence” on the anniversary of a defeat!). Catalonia was granted autonomy in 1932, but this was brief.

The Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and it was followed by the military regime of General Francisco Franco, who ruled the country for nearly 40 years. Franco abolished Catalan autonomy and took steps to quash the movement, as he did with others who opposed him. The measures ranged from the killing of leaders, both political and civilian, to the discouragement of the Catalan language.

While a degree of autonomy was restored to the region following Franco’s death and the end of the dictatorship, the push for greater powers and regional control continued unabated, resulting in a 2006 statute . It gave the region autonomy in many areas and the Catalan language preferential treatment over Spanish. These efforts were curtailed four years later, when the Constitutional Court of Spain struck down sections of the statute, resulting in much anger in sections of Catalan society.

The anti-austerity movement

The action may not have taken on such significance had it not coincided with another event that proved deeply traumatic and divisive for Spanish society—the eurozone crisis that followed the 2007 global financial crisis, which left the Spanish economy in ruins and the government pursuing a rigid and grinding austerity agenda. This laid the foundation for the Indignados movement, the youth-led anti-austerity movement (whose takeover of the Puerta Del Sol in Madrid heralded the global Occupy movement), and ultimately Podemos, the left-wing party founded in 2014 by Pablo Iglesias. In his recently published book The Struggle for Catalonia : Rebel Politics in Spain, Raphael Minder, a journalist of The New York Times, argues that both resulted from similar social and economic tensions, noting the similarities shared by supporters of both the left and secessionist movements, including their appeal to younger voters who had been particularly hard hit by economic woes (and high levels of unemployment). “The Catalan solution is that we should get out of the Spanish system, as opposed to the Podemos answer, which is to say that we should overturn the system,” Marina Subirats, a sociologist, tells Minder in the book.

While La Diada (National Day) has been celebrated on September 11 in Catalonia since 1880 (and was, suppressed, of course, during the days of Franco and at other times), the festivities gained new gusto from 2012 onwards, when, depending on whom you asked, between 600,000 and 1.5 million people attended the peaceful rally-cum-demonstration in the centre of Barcelona. “Citizens took to the streets because they were upset by rising unemployment and budgetary squeezing, but mostly because they were galvanised by the belief that independence could somehow brighten Catalonia’s economic future,” writes Minder, noting the presence of EU flags at the rally that underlined “their faith in the European Union rather than Spain.”

It was at this juncture that Catalan President Artur Mas, who did not attend the rally, began making noises about independence, suggesting the day after that if further steps towards guaranteeing Catalan authority were not made, the movement for full-scale independence would continue. This move thrust his centre-right Convergence party to the forefront of the independence movement, which has since included a cross-spectrum grouping of parties. The wide spectrum of political positioning has meant that the independence movement has, to date, struggled to present a coherent vision for an independent Catalonia, particularly with the European Commission (E.C.) cautioning it about the difficulties of gaining membership. (The E.C.’s stance is in line with its position on Scottish independence, which it has said would have to involve an application to join, rather than automatic membership.) It is certainly one of the reasons why independence has only had limited appeal in Catalonia, with polls ahead of the referendum suggesting levels of support hovering between just over half the population and just over 40 per cent. The 90 per cent support for independence in the referendum was the result of many opponents staying away from the ballot, given the Central government’s stance on the matter.

The independence movement believes that the treatment of voters on October 1 has added new life to the movement and won over those who had been undecided. “Thank you for making people realise why we don’t want to be part of your country,” wrote one independence activist for the British daily The Independent recently. While the extent of this backing remains to be seen, the Central government’s authorities have faced protest from others such as Barcelona’s left-wing mayor Ada Colau, who, while opposing independence, was in favour of allowing the referendum to take place and was deeply critical of Rajoy’s heavy-handed tactics. “For a long time we have been in a situation of deadlock between Catalonia and the government of the Spanish state because there has been no dialogue…no proposals on the table,” she told Spanish television channels earlier this month, calling for Rajoy’s resignation.

Lack of international support

However, there has been a strong disconnect between public statements of outrage internationally and the treatment that the crisis has received from international leaders and institutions, as well as domestically elsewhere in Spain. The E.C., while expressing concern about violence, described it as an “internal matter for Spain” that had to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain. Other leaders have expressed their support for Spanish unity, perhaps not surprisingly, given the fear of secessionist and independence movements. Britain is far from alone in facing calls for independence: the Bavarian secessionist movement in Germany and the Flemish independence movement in Belgium are but two examples. While the shadow of Franco and his oppressive tactics loom large over Spanish life, the domestic media have, by and large, been equally suspicious of the independence movement, with El Pais, one of Spain’s most circulated dailies, calling the referendum an attempt at a “coup” on the same level as that of 1981 when right-wing military action attempted to unseat Spain’s democratic institutions. In fact, Rajoy’s heavy-handed approach has been applauded by sections of society, playing to his support base to a certain extent at least. With this and little international pressure, he has had little incentive to change tack.

It is notable that the Socialist Party has stood with the government both in rejecting international mediation suggested by some as well as in reiterating calls from Rajoy for Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to clarify whether or not he had declared independence for the region. Puigdemont had suspended the declaration and had been given until October 16 to clarify his stance, without which the government could trigger Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which would revert power to the Central government, while Puigdemont would face the prospect of imprisonment. Subsequently, Puigdemont reiterated an offer to meet Rajoy as soon as possible to discuss the situation in Catalonia and also asked that dialogue take place over the next two months.

For now there are glimmers of hope—most notably a move by the Socialist Party’s Pedro Sanchez, alongside the ruling People’s Party—for a parliamentary commission to examine constitutional reform as a means of finding a way out of the deadlock. However, this will take months, and the situation requires urgent action. Spanish banks and other companies have announced plans to move their headquarters out of Barcelona, and there are fears that because of the uncertainty Spain, at the very least, will not be able to capitalise on the investment opportunities thrown up by Brexit and potentially see an outflow of investment.

A worsening economic situation is one that Spain and Catalonia—which currently accounts for just under a fifth of Spanish GDP—can ill afford. Leaders such as Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias argue that only a referendum, legally held and endorsed centrally, could begin to defuse the situation. “I don’t have children, but I would like to, and I would like them to know a Spain with Catalonia in it, and that can only happen if a referendum is held,” he told Parliament earlier this week, as reported by El Pais. In the current environment, his reasoned attempt at compromise is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Rohingya

In search of a solution

HAROON HABIB in Dhaka world-affairs

MEN broke down in tears embracing the bodies of their children who had died crossing the mountainous border point. Women wailed looking at the endless sea, remembering their dear ones who had drowned in the Bay of Bengal. Young women, mostly clad in burqas, stood numb like statues not knowing where their husbands or parents were and preferring not to talk about the cruelty they had faced before fleeing to Bangladesh from Rakhine State in neighbouring Myanmar.

According to the United Nations, more than 5,20,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since August 25 after a military crackdown in Rakhine State following a coordinated attack on 30 police posts and an Army base by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant outfit, on that day. According to Rohingyan and U.N. agencies, the Myanmar Army and local Buddhists burned down village after village, shops, markets and fields belonging to the ethnic minority who have been living in Arakan, later named Rakhine, for generations.

There may be up to another 1,00,000 people waiting to cross over, says the International Organisation for Migration. Those who arrived have found temporary shelter in Cox’s Bazar and partly in Banbarban district, both bordering Myanmar. At least 150 people, mostly children and women, drowned either in the Naf river, which connects Bangladesh and Myanmar, or in the Bay of Bengal as their boats capsized in rough weather.

Those who survived the massacre and the perilous journey by sea and land to reach Bangladesh have harrowing tales to tell: of their houses set on fire by the Myanmar Army and its civilian associates, of family members killed in front of them, of girls taken away to be raped, and of children thrown into blazing fires. Hospitals in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong are struggling to cope with people injured by gunshots, burns or landmine explosions.

The number of Rohingya in Bangladesh camps is swelling by the day. Most of them look pale, malnourished and traumatised. An overwhelming number of women were raped and need reproductive and sexual health care, said local and international aid workers.

Local relief workers and international aid agencies said some 200 babies were born in unsafe and unhygienic conditions in no-man’s-land during September-October. They all risk death unless proper care is given.

Whatever compulsions Myanmar may have, the military crackdown is seen as a clear case of ethnic cleansing aimed at driving out the Rohingya from their ancestral homes. Brutal attacks were organised and systematic, designed to drive out the Rohingya and prevent them from returning, said a U.N. report from Geneva on October 11.

Troubled history

The Rohingya have had a troubled history in Myanmar. For generations they have called Myanmar their home but were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, which denied them almost all rights and rendered them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practise their religion or work and have little access to medical care, food or education. The U.N. has labelled these people “one of the world’s most persecuted religious minorities”. While the overwhelming majority of the Rohingya are Muslim, slightly over 500 Hindus have also crossed the border fleeing violence.

This is not the first time the Rohingya have fled their homes. Thousands fled to Bangladesh to escape atrocities in 1978 and again in 1991-92, though some of them returned after a bilateral agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Sectarian violence between the majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims erupted again in 2012, at a time when Myanmar was making the transition from a dictatorship (for half a century) to a democracy, resulting in another 1,00,000 fleeing.

Although officially the Rohingya number 11 lakh, the exact population is not known. It is alleged that the authorities in Myanmar have deliberately excluded them from census operations since 1962.

Bangladesh’s burden

Bangladesh has accepted the Rohingya now on humanitarian grounds, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of others from Myanmar who came earlier. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina termed the exodus “an unbearable human catastrophe” and “ethnic cleansing”. She said it reminded her of 1971 “when the Pakistani forces burned down our houses and killed our people, [and] around 10 million people crossed the border into India”.

As hundreds of thousands were driven out of their homes, a statement by Myanmar’s powerful military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, caused further concern. He asked the people to unite against “Bengali terrorists”, referring to the attackers of August 25.

Bangladesh, which strongly denounced the August 25 “terrorist attacks” on police and Army camps in Myanmar, reacted sharply to the allegation. Although it offered help to flush out terrorists in joint operations, Myanmar refused the offer. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmud Ali accused Myanmar of running a “malicious propaganda”.

U.N.’s role

For the first time, world attention has been focussed on the plight of the Rohingya. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the crisis as the “fastest growing humanitarian catastrophe”. The U.N. human rights body called the massacre a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. The global outcry was so loud that the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who once earned appreciation for her heroic struggle for democracy in Myanmar, has had to face bitter condemnation.

But the U.N. Security Council, as in other cases across the globe, has failed to endorse any united action plan to stop the catastrophe. Three years ago, when the Security Council held a discussion on the 20th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide, China and Russia joined other members of the Council in voicing their concern against the genocide. But in the case of the current violence against the Rohingya, the two countries have sided with Myanmar.

Guterres, in his speech to the Security Council, demanded that Myanmar end military operations and open humanitarian access to its conflict-wracked region.

China has a long-established influence on the military junta in Myanmar. It has apparently softened its stance and agreed to “mediate” between Bangladesh and Myanmar to resolve the crisis.

India has also been cosying up to the regime in Myanmar of late. However, as an ally, India has said it will remain with Bangladesh in dealing with the refugee crisis. Both countries have started sending relief materials for the Rohingya refugees.

While the Islamist tilt of the Rohingyan militant outfit ARSA, led by one Attaullah, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia, is a matter of great concern, many observers see the military aggression against the Rohingya in a different light. The attacks were carried out just a few hours after the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State made its recommendations public. The commission was mandated to examine the complex challenges facing Rakhine State and to propose answers to those challenges.

“The military crackdown resembles a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history,” said Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, which works to improve the conditions of the ethnic minority. “Security forces have been burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it’s still ongoing,” said Lewa.

Tricky repatriation

Myanmarese Minister Kyaw Tint Swe, who visited Dhaka on October 2, gave an assurance on the repatriation of the refugees. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mahmud Ali, however, made it clear that his country had not agreed to Myanmar’s proposal of following the criteria in the 1992 agreement to take back the displaced people. The 1992 deal was signed after an influx of more than 2,50,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh following violence in Rakhine. Myanmar had agreed to the return of those who could “establish their bona fide residency in Myanmar”. But only a handful of refugees could be repatriated because of the tricky identification process.

Explaining Bangladesh’s position, Mahmud Ali said the principles and criteria of repatriation under the 1992 joint statement were not “realistic” as the situations of 1992 and 2017 “are entirely different”. He also alleged that Myanmar was “trying to defuse the international pressure” and claimed that its government and state media were projecting the entire issue as “Islamic terrorism” or “radical Bengali terrorism”. The Minister said although Bangladesh had repeatedly requested Myanmar not to use the term “Bengali” to describe the Rohingya, its request had gone unheeded. He insisted that the Rohingya were “a problem of Myanmar and it must be solved by Myanmar itself”.

The Myanmar Army, said the Foreign Minister, had begun a large-scale operation code-named “Area Clearance” to confront “terrorists” but in fact was continuing with the inhuman oppression of the Rohingya. “Around half of the Muslim villages in Rakhine State have been burned down, and the burning is still going on,” Mahmud Ali remarked on October 10. He wanted continued engagement of the world “until a peaceful means is found to resolve this humanitarian crisis”.

For a permanent solution

Sheikh Hasina sought expeditious U.N. and global intervention to protect the civilians in Rakhine and take effective steps for a permanent solution to the protracted crisis. She called upon the U.N. Secretary-General to send a “fact-finding mission” immediately to Rakhine.

Sheikh Hasina, in her U.N. General Assembly speech on September 22, also suggested a few steps to end the “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine. “Firstly, Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and the practice of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State immediately and forever,” she said. She also called for the establishment of “safe zones” in Myanmar under U.N. supervision to protect all civilians irrespective of religion and ethnicity and for the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission. She also demanded a “sustainable return” of all the forcibly displaced people to their homes in Myanmar safely and securely and with dignity.

Many analysts are of the view that Bangladesh alone cannot solve the crisis which goes deeper in history and has far-reaching implications. For a viable and long-term solution, the crisis demands the effective involvement of the U.N. and the strategic collaboration of other stakeholders.

Of paramount importance now is negotiation, not conflict. Myanmar, which is now a democracy where the role of the military is still dominant and where the religious and ethnic divide is painfully sharp, made its first welcoming move by holding an inter-faith dialogue on October 11. It is also essential to impress upon the powers that be Myanmar that lack of a political solution may give rise to extremism, which will further destabilise the region.

Puerto Rico

Devastated Puerto Rico

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

ON September 20, Hurricane Maria swept through the United States territory of Puerto Rico and devastated the island (“A tale of two islands”, October 27). The death toll is not yet confirmed. It is hard to know what is happening since the roads in the interior of the island remain impassable and communications networks are down.

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria left the island, the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans remain in the dark. It is estimated that 85 per cent of the population will not get power for at least six months and that 40 per cent of the islanders will not have access to drinking water. Waterborne diseases threaten the people, whose health has been further endangered by the threadbare hospitals.

The government of the island and U.S. President Donald Trump have been exaggerating the situation in the island. For instance, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rossello, said that 63 of the island’s 69 hospitals were fully operational. The Centre for Investigative Journalism (Puerto Rico) suggested that this was impossible. A week before Governor Rossello made these comments, 56 hospitals were closed. When the staff from the centre called many of the hospitals that were said to be operational, they found them not in any state to receive patients. The government suggests that the death toll was somewhere in the vicinity of 45. But Representatives Nydia Velasquez (Democrat of New York) and Bennie Thompson (Democrat of Mississippi) wrote to the Department of Homeland Security suggesting that the death toll was being “woefully underreported”. They say that at least 450 people might have died in this calamity.

Donald Trump arrived in Puerto Rico on October 3. He suggested that the death toll was minimal—16. “Everybody around this table,” he said of the political leaders and disaster relief personnel, “and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.” He was in San Juan, the capital, where he visited the wealthy suburb of Guynabo, whose gated communities were spared the devastation visited on nearby poor neighbourhoods such as La Perla or Barriada. Small towns outside San Juan such as Florida and Caguas suffered a complete apocalypse: sewer water ran through the streets of Florida, while houses in Caguas lost their roofs whose metal dammed up creeks and increased the flooding.

Trump went to the Calvary Church where chartered flights were bringing in meals for the more affluent residents. Trump threw rolls of paper towels at people in his version of providing relief. The journalist Valeria Collazo Canizares put it most wryly: “Our catastrophe is not real. Our need is towel paper. Our dead, a pride. The resources sent, a budget deficit.”

Valeria Collazo Canizares’ statement about the budget deficit is utterly along the grain of reality. For the past several years, the island has been struggling to manage a depressingly bad financial situation (“Puerto Rico: A Greece Moment”, August 7, 2015). This hurricane has now set the island on course to total bankruptcy. Puerto Rico is saddled with a $74 billion debt, with its own bonds worth pennies on the dollar. There is no easy way for Puerto Rico to move to solvency. “We are going to wipe that out,” Trump had said about the debt in one of his moments of paternalist braggadocio. Trump’s statement crashed Puerto Rico’s already defaulted bonds. Then, hastily, his administration walked back from his statement.

In its $36.5 billion disaster relief package, the U.S. Congress is slated to give Puerto Rico $4.9 billion, not as a grant but as a loan. This money is to go towards the maintenance of basic government activity such as normal services of the government, but not for any activity that will generate revenue. In other words, distressed Puerto Rico is being made to take a loan out to perform constitutionally mandated tasks of the government. This is not an investment towards any future revenue that could service this additional debt. This is just the heavy weight of debt on an island already sinking into financial collapse.

Whatever industry existed on the island is now substantially destroyed, and the tourism sector will not recover from the destruction of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. Unemployment rates are slated to rise, which is going to put more of a burden on the government. How it will raise revenue to service the debt, let alone pay it off, is unknown.

Meanwhile, out of this $36.5 billion package, $16 billion will go as a contribution towards Puerto Rico’s debt of $74 billion. This is money that will go directly to the banks that own Puerto Rico’s debt. Relief will go to the banks while Puerto Rico’s residents, U.S. citizens all, will continue to live perilous lives. The insurance companies, hurt by their payouts in Texas and Florida, will get some money, as will government agencies that have been dealing with a series of hurricane-related disasters.

None of these packages, like similar previous packages, will solve Puerto Rico’s problem. The debt cannot be paid off. Puerto Rico, already a semi-colony of the U.S., has drifted gradually into becoming a colony of the U.S. banking system.

Campsite of the forgotten

A few days after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, the Association of Electrical Workers said that it would bring 17,000 workers to put up fallen electrical posts and to restore electricity supply. It waited for the government of Puerto Rico to invite it and to raise $25 million to cover its costs. The electrical utility, PREPA, is wracked by debt, but it suggested at the time that it would be able to find the money. The invitation never came. The electrical workers were set aside. Instead, with great fanfare, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came and took over the recovery effort. They are in charge but they do not know the island like its own electrical workers. The pace of repair is glacial.

PREPA is itself trapped by its own contracted obligations to a Brazilian firm, Whitefish Energy Holdings (Comtrafo S.A.), which has its own approach. Money and corporate law block relief. The state watches as businesses take their time to do what should be done with speed. Privatisation turned over the responsibility to these firms, which are accountable only to their owners and shareholders. The customers, knee-deep in water and without electricity, cannot call to complain. Their phones are not working.

Rosa Perez, a journalist with Abayarde Rojo, told me a story about the town of Utuado, 104 kilometres south-west of San Juan, high up in the mountains. The Vivi river that flows near the town has been filled with debris, which broke the town’s bridge. The 33,000 townspeople who live in this coffee-producing area have united to help each other, according to their Mayor Ernesto Irizarry Salva. They call themselves the “campsite of the forgotten” and find the means to take care of themselves. To ford the river, they have built a bridge using some wood and have dangled a shopping cart on a rope to send supplies across it. The hospital is in poor shape, so the residents are trying to take care of the indigent in whatever homes remain functional. The residents have rediscovered old springs in the mountains that have long been forgotten. They are now their source of water, which is carried down in bottles and buckets.

No one is coming to save Puerto Rico, Rosa Perez says. It is the people in such campsites of the forgotten who are trying to save themselves.

Recognition

Top shot

the-nation

THE wildlife photographer Shefiq Basheer Ahammed’s photograph of a tiger at the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve won the first prize in the wildlife photography contest organised by the Kerala Forest Department during Wildlife Week celebrations this year.

He was at the reserve in July 2016 when he stumbled upon the tiger relaxing and rolling on its back. Shefiq felt that the tiger spotted him clicking away, but it calmly withdrew into the forest.

Shefiq has contributed photo essays, along with this writer, to Frontline: “In quest of the frogmouth” (December 11, 2015), at Thattekad in Kerala; “Brown bear, red salmon” (March 18, 2016), at Kamchatka in the Russian Far East; “Himalayan kaleidoscope” (October 28, 2016), on birdlife in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary; and “In the leopard’s lair” (February 3, 2017), on man-animal coexistence in Rajasthan’s Pali district.

This is the second time that Shefiq, a motor vehicles inspector in Kochi, has won this award. The first time was in 2015 for a shot of a leopard staring at him from its perch on a rock, taken in 2014.

G. Shaheed

Essay

Betrayal of Indian nationalism

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

Gandhi ne asj jang ka ailan kar diya,/

Baatil se haq ko dast-o-garebaan kar diya.

Hindustaan mein ek nai rooh phoonk kar/

Azadi-e-hayaat ka samaan kar diya.

Parwurdigaar ne ke woh hai aadmi shinnas,/

Gandhi ko bhi yeh martaba pahchaan kar diya

(Gandhi has made a declaration of war

Betwixt Truth and Falsehood a deadly battle starts.

Infusing a new spirit into the Indian hearts,/

For independence complete he has prepared the path.

God, who is the judge of men, in His wisdom great,/ Has rightly chosen the mahatma as the shepherd of our flock.)

THIS stirring poem was written by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan during India’s movement for independence. He predicted accurately: “ Woh din aane ko hai azad jab Hindustan hoga,/Mubarkbaad isko de raha saara jahan hoga.” The day is fast approaching when India will be free,/The whole world will greet her on this triumphal feast.” (K.C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu Poetry, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, pages 449, Rs.350.)

Can the Sangh Parivar, in all its varied outfits—the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)—cite a single poem, by a member or supporter, on India’s inclusive nationalism with its rich composite culture?

India’s freedom movement was enriched by the enthusiastic participation of all its communities: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and some others. All spoke for India amid voices of separate rights and even religious revivalism. The Sangh Parivar was not a movement for religious revivalism but for political ascendancy and power over all others—in the name of religion.

The RSS was established by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a former Congressman, at Nagpur in September 1925 on Vijaya Dasami Day. Enough is known about its chequered career since. But one fundamental question concerning its very raison d’etre has not been addressed as pointedly and in as much depth as it deserves. Why on earth was the RSS set up at all? The answer to this question explains its entire career to this day. Remember, the freedom movement led by the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership was at its height in 1925. The Liberals of old disagreed with the new technique of civil disobedience and insisted on constitutional methods. Patriots like Bhagat Singh rejected both and opted for violence.

Why RSS?

The RSS was not set up because it disagreed with the three—Gandhi, Liberals and terrorists—or with the methods they advocated. Its aim was not to provide vigour and speed to the freedom movement. It was to promote the cause of a Hindu state at the end of British rule. Its technique was to collaborate with the British, meanwhile, and carefully avoid a confrontation with the alien rulers. In doing so, it did not merely part company with the freedom movement. The RSS opposed it, as did the Hindu Mahasabha. Both rejected Indian nationalism at the very outset. Its themes, its ideology, and its secular, democratic ideals were rejected and sneered at, especially its flag.

It was inherent in its ideology and its techniques, while distinguishing itself from Indian nationalism, not only to espouse Hindu nationalism but to belittle other communities, chiefly Muslims and Christians, and spread hate against others. This technique continues with fanatical zeal to this day. The RSS was never banned by the British. It was banned three times after Independence by the government of India.

This explains the futility of those who expected the RSS or its political outfits—the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party—to moderate and turn Indian. They would lose the very reason for their existence.

Which brings us back to the crucial question—why was the RSS set up at all? Pralay Kanungo, a painstaking scholar, has ably recorded the atmosphere in which the venomous RSS was born: “The period from 1923 to 1928 has been described as ‘an era of Hindu communal resurgence’ in North India in which Arya Samaj played an important role. Shuddhi had been a part of Arya Samaj activities during the late nineteenth century. But now under the leadership of Swami Shraddhanand, the campaign became intense. His proselytising mission was aimed at those Hindus who were converted to Islam or other groups of borderline Muslims who had retained many Hindu customs. …In this charged atmosphere of communal confrontation, a new organisation of the Hindus was established at Nagpur on the Vijaya Dashmi day of 1925, upholding the spirit of sangathan ideology. The founder was Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The four other persons present on the occasion were Dr B.S. Moonje, Dr L.V. Paranjape, Dr B.B. Thalkar and Babarao Savarkar. The name given subsequently to this organisation was Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)” ( RSS’s Tryst with Politics, Manohar, pages 35, 36 and 38).

“A major influence on Hedgewar’s thinking was a handwritten manuscript of V.D. Savarkar’s Hindutva, which advanced the thesis that the Hindus were a nation” (Walter K. Andersen and Sridhar D. Damle, The Brotherhood in Saffron, page 33). Hedgewar had a guru, Moonje. Significantly, he had met Savarkar in March 1925, shortly before launching the RSS, for lengthy discussions.

RSS never an adversary of the British

In his carefully documented Hindu Nationalism (Oxford, New York), Chetan Bhatt of the University of London notes: “Whereas Congress and allied movements and activities were violently repressed, banned or imprisoned in huge numbers, the RSS was not considered an adversary by the British. On the contrary, it gave loyal consent to the British to be part of the Civic Guard. The RSS was not proscribed by the British, but was banned three times by Indian governments. Both Hedgewar and Golwalkar (its second leader) actively opposed joining the anti-colonial movement in favour of ‘character-building’ work in the service of the Hindu Nation.

“Similarly, the RSS, as a matter of explicit organisational policy, refused to join the non-cooperation movement and anti-colonial satyagrahas in the 1920s and 1940s, including the anti-Rowlatt agitations, the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements, and the Naval mutiny in Bombay.…

“The RSS is quite explicit that one of the reasons for its formation was Hedgewar’s view that whereas Muslims were organised and strong, Hindus were disaggregated and weak and hence had to be consolidated into a militant, unified and aggressive force. Hedgewar’s diagnosis of the political situation in the early 1920s was as follows: ‘The upsurge witnessed during the days of non-cooperation movement has died down. The various evils accompanying the movement are now having a heyday. Mutual distrust and ill will, personal and caste rivalries, Brahmin and non-Brahmin controversy have all raised their ugly heads. No institution or organisation seems to be free from these internal squabbles and utter lack of discipline. The snake of Muslim fanaticism, having been fed on the milk of non-cooperation, is now baring its poisonous fangs and spreading the venom of violence and riots all over the country.’”

Chetan Bhatt adds: “Hedgewar also believed that it was the ‘lack of cohesion and self-respect’ among Hindus that was the key problem facing Hindu society during this ‘dark night of self-oblivion’, which, for him, characterised Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement” (pages 115 and 117). This idea, instilling an inferiority complex in a great community, is still being propagated by the RSS.

The RSS was duly set on its course. A biography records: “After establishing the Sangh, Doctor Saheb in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organisation. Direct comment on government used to be nil.” (C.P. Bhislikar, Sanghavariksh Ke Beej/ Dr. Kashaavrao Hedgewar. This official biography in Hindi deserves translation into English. Excerpts in English are quoted in Dr Shamsul Islam’s Hindu Nationalism and Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh published by Media House, Delhi, 2015, and his pamphlet Know the RSS, published by Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, 2017.)

Another biography records: “It is clear that Gandhiji worked constantly with one eye on Hindu-Muslim unity. … But Doctorji sensed danger in that move. In fact he did not even relish the new-fangled slogan of ‘Hindu-Muslim Unity’” (Quoted in Shamsul Islam, Hindu Nationalism and RSS, page 207).

This is most revealing. No struggle for freedom would be waged against the British in unity with Muslims. The RSS would parley directly with the British; keep the rulers in good humour; secure transfer of power; and establish a Hindu Rashtra.

What the RSS pracharak Narendra Modi has sought to do since he came to power in 2014 is to make up for lost time (1947-2014) and move systematically, step by step, towards that ignoble end. Hence his eloquent silence on the misdeeds of his followers. Barack and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were friends of Harvey Weinstein. They publicly denounced him to signify their dissociation from his crimes. Modi cannot do that to his followers. The RSS and he need each other badly, locked as they are in a deadly embrace.

A near century’s record has made the RSS what it is now. The prayer in Sanskrit which was introduced in 1939 to replace the Hindi-Marathi prayer is more explicit: “Affectionate Motherland, I eternally bow to you./ Land of Hindus, you have reared me in comfort./ Sacred Land, the Great Creator of Good, may this body of mine be dedicated to you/ I again and again bow before you./ God Almighty, we the integral parts of Hindu Rashtra salute you in reverence.”

The oath that every member has to take reads: “Before the All-Powerful God and my ancestors, I most solemnly take this oath, that I have become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in order to achieve all-round greatness of Bharatvarsh by fostering the growth of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu society and Hindu culture. I shall perform the work of the Sangh honestly, disinterestedly, with my heart and soul, and I shall adhere to this oath all my life. Bharat Mata ki Jai” (D.R. Goyal, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Radhakrishna Prakashan, Daryaganj, New Delhi, pages 247-249; an able work). Instruction in the use of the lathi was part of the “group prayers” (Andersen and Damle, page 35).

Leader worship

The five who set up the body in 1925 did not even have a name in mind for the newborn. It was adopted on April 17 (Ram Navami Day) in 1926. Hedgewar was formally designated chief organiser (Chalak) on December 19, 1926. Appetite whetted, three years later he made himself the RSS’ dictator.

“In a meeting with the Sanghachalaks in Nagpur [November 9-10,1929], Hedgewar as chief once again personally declared that ‘from the point of view of internal discipline, the organisation should work under one leader who would mastermind the programmes’. For Hedgewar it became the sole principle of organisation as can be seen reiterated in an official circular in 1933, which he himself wrote: It is essential that the Swayamsewaks should implicitly obey the command of Sarsanghachalak. The Sangh should not reach a stage when tail should wag the body. That is the secret of the success of the Sangh. This obedience to the sole leader was soon turned into leader worship. In fact, it got institutionalised as early as 10 November, 1929, when in a full-fledged organisational meeting of RSS in Nagpur, Hedgewar was offered pranam or salutation in a true military style by the Swayamsewaks present” (Shamsul Islam, page 213). This fascist tradition has been continued to this day.

collaboration with the british

If the Congress was to be condemned and the Muslims excoriated, the Sangh Parivar (that is, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS) plumped for the obvious third choice—collaborate with the British.

“Golwalkar believed that the British should not be given any excuse to ban the RSS. When the British banned military drill and the use of uniforms in all non-official organisations, the RSS complied. On 29 April 1943 Golwalkar distributed a circular to senior RSS figures, announcing the termination of the RSS military department. The wording of the circular reveals his apprehensions regarding the possibility of a ban on the RSS: ‘We discontinued practices included in the government’s early order on military drill and uniforms… to keep our work clearly within bounds of law, as every law abiding institution should. …Hoping that circumstances would ease early, we had in a sense only suspended that part of our training. Now, however, we decide to stop it altogether and abolish the department without waiting for the time to change.’

“Golwalkar was not a revolutionary in the conventional sense of the term. The British understood this. In an official report on RSS activity, prepared in 1943, the Home Department concluded that ‘it would be difficult to argue that the RSS constitutes an immediate menace to law and order…’. Commenting on the violence that accompanied the 1942 Quit India Movement, the Bombay Home Department observed, ‘The Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August, 1942…’” (Andersen and Damle, page 44).

Savarkar’s many and abject apologies are well known: 1. Brought to the Andamans on July 4, 1911, he pleaded for clemency before the year ended.

2. In 1913, he offered to serve the government in any capacity it liked. He repeated this in 1914 and 1917.

3. On March 30, 1920, he filed another mercy petition ( Frontline, April 8, 2005).

4. He was released on January 6, 1924, on the condition that “he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the government” for five years. It was extended until 1937 when Home Minister K.M. Munshi released him.

5. On February 22, 1948, he gave an undertaking to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay to renounce politics in order to avert arrest for Gandhi’s murder.

6. On July 13, 1950, he gave another undertaking, this time to the Bombay High Court, saying he would not participate in politics.

The Second World War exposed the Parivar’s two top men in their true colours. Savarkar met the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow in Bombay on October 9, 1939, who duly recorded his offer. “The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s Government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary” (Marzia Casolari, The Shade of the Swastika, page 172).

S.P. Mookerjee’s letter

The prize goes to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, erstwhile president of the Mahasabha and founder of the Jana Sangh under a pact with the RSS. In December 1941 he became a Minister in the Bengal Cabinet headed by Fazlul Haq, who had moved the Pakistan Resolution at the Muslim League’s session at Lahore in March 1940. On the eve of the Congress’ Quit India movement he wrote to the arch imperialist the Governor of Bengal Sir John Herbert in these fulsome terms: “Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feelings, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any government that may function for the time being. …as regards India’s attitude towards England, the struggle between them, if any, should not take place at this juncture. The present war is being fought not for perpetuation of British domination over India. Old ideas of imperialism must be buried underground, and they are not going to revive, whatever the result of the present war may be.…

“The question is how to combat this movement in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, specially responsible ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people. In some spheres it might be limited during the emergency. Indians have to trust the British” (S.P. Mookerjee, Leaves from a Diary, pages 179 and 183). The Mahasabha had a representative in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Sir Jwala Prasad Srivastava.

Bankim Chandra’s bias

The collaboration had an ideological besides a tactical basis. In his Autobiography of An Unknown Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has aptly described the atmosphere of the times in which the song Bande Mataram was written. “The historical romances of Bankim Chatterjee and Romesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their spirit.”

The historian R.C. Majumdar pithily puts it: “Bankimchandra converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism.” The novel Ananda Math, for which Bande Mataram was written, was not anti-British. In the last chapter, we find a supernatural figure persuading the leader of the sanyasis, Satyananda, to stop fighting. The dialogue that follows is interesting: “He: Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do. No good can come of needless slaughter.”

Anti-Muslim references are spread all over the work. Jivananda with sword in hand, at the gate of the temple, exhorts the children of Kali: “We have often thought to break up this bird’s nest of Muslim rule, to pull down the city of the renegades and throw it into the river—to turn this pigsty to ashes and make Mother earth free from evil again. Friends, that day has come.”

The use of the song “Bande Mataram” in the novel is not adventitious. It is essentially a religious homage to the country conceived as a deity, “a form of worship” as Majumdar aptly called it. The motherland is “conceived as the Goddess Kali, the source of all power and glory”.

This, in the song itself. The context makes it worse. “The land of Bengal, and by extension all of India, became identified with the female aspect of Hindu deity, and the result was a concept of divine Motherland” ( India as a Secular State by Donald Eugene Smith, 1963, Princeton University Press). How secular is such a song?

The refrain was picked up by Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and others. In 1925, the year the RSS was born, Lala Hardyal wrote in the Pratap of Lahore: “I declare that the future of the Hindu race, of Hindustan and of the Punjab rests on those four pillars: 1. Hindu Sanghathan. 2. Hindu Raj. 3. Shuddhi of Muslims, and 4. Conquest and Shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers.” Savarkar and Hedgewar inherited that heritage, which successors like Modi & Co. are now carrying forward.

Repression of Muslims

Asoka Mehta wrote of the 1857 Mutiny: “When the rebellion began Hindus and Muslims participated in it in large numbers. …The hand of repression fell heavily on the Muslims. They were tattooed with terror” ( 1857, The Great Rebellion).

Muslims suffered the most, as Asoka Mehta acknowledged in his history. The British singled them out for hostile treatment, which was documented in the classic The Indian Musalmans (1871) by W.W. Hunter of the Bengal Civil Service. These lines give the flavour of the times: “The first of them, the Army, is now completely closed. No Muhammadan gentleman of birth can enter our Regiments; …Musalman element in the public services has gone on growing weaker every year, just as before. …There is now scarcely a government office in Calcutta in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of porter, messenger, and filler of ink-pots and menders of pens. …Among the judges of Her Majesty’s High Court of Judicature in Bengal are two Hindus but no Musalman. Indeed, the idea of a High Court judge being taken from the race that once monopolised the whole administration of justice is inconceivable alike to Anglo-Indians and to Hindus at the present day. …In short, the Muhammadans have now sunk so low, that, even when qualified for government employment, they are studiously kept out of it by government notifications. Nobody takes any notice of their helpless condition, and the higher authorities do not deign even to acknowledge their existence. …Had the Musalmans been wise, they would have perceived the change, and accepted their fate.”

Thus the Muslims had no incentive or desire to collaborate with the British. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised them to shun politics and take to education. Others like Badruddin Tyabji and Jinnah joined the Congress and enriched the freedom movement. The first resolution for complete independence was moved in the Congress session of 1921 by the great poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a great admirer of Tilak. It said: “The object of the Indian National Congress is the attainment of Swaraj or complete independence free from all foreign control by the people of India by all legitimate and peaceful methods”. Gandhi strongly opposed it accusing the supporters of the motion of “levity”. It was defeated.

Dr K.C. Kanda’s volume has poems galore by Muslims and, of course, Hindus on independence, including a poem by Ashfaqullah Khan who was hanged in 1927 for his role in the Kakori train robbery case.

Dr Shamsul Islam has compiled a documented record in Muslims against Partition of India (Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, pages 249, Rs.280). It has a foreword by the distinguished historian Harbans Makhia.

Muslims opposed the British rulers. The Sangh Parivar collaborated with them. Who is “anti-national”? The record speaks for itself. The betrayal of Indian nationalism by the Parivar continues still, as its pracharak Narendra Modi ousts it to spread Hindu nationalism, longing all the time for American support. They replaced the British.

Jantar Mantar

Displacing dissent

JANTAR MANTAR, famous for its iconic sundial, has acquired a new persona ever since it was designated as the official site for protests and dharnas in New Delhi in 1993. The 18th century observatory, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II, emerged into prominence in the aftermath of the humongous protest by the Mahendra Singh Tikait-led Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) at the Boat Club in 1988, which threw life out of gear in the national capital. In 1993, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government finally shut the Boat Club down for protests, and pushed dissenters back to Jantar Mantar Road.

Jantar Mantar was a convenient protest site, not too far from Parliament House, but not too close to it either. The road is so located that it can be barricaded any time without throwing normal life out of gear. Its proximity to the Parliament Street police station also meant that the police could “arrest” or “detain” protesters with ease. The barricaded Parliament Street, where protesters marching towards Parliament would usually be stopped, afforded great photo opportunities too. It was a win-win situation for both the authorities and protesters.

Landmark movements

In the years that followed, Jantar Mantar Road witnessed many landmark events, including the birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the protests that led to the historic amendments to the rape law following the brutal gang rape and murder of a paramedic, now known as the Nirbhaya case. Especially after the Anna Hazare movement in March-April 2011, which eventually led to the birth of the AAP, the Jantar Mantar protest site became a symbol of India’s throbbing democracy. The site witnessed iconic movements, including the one against lynching, aptly christened “Not In My Name”. It saw students from all over India converging to protest against the manner in which a Dalit research scholar from the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, had been hounded and driven to suicide. Students from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, arrived to protest against the appointment of television and film actor Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s Director, and this turned into a campaign against the increasing stranglehold of the government on academic and cultural institutions. There were protests by intellectuals who opposed the restrictions being imposed by the government on the freedom of speech and expression. Farmers from Tamil Nadu arrived with their grievances and innovative ways to draw the government’s attention to their problems. And not least, ex-servicemen descended on Jantar Mantar to demand One Rank, One Pension (OROP). Highly decorated Army veterans have been sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar since June 15, 2015, demanding their dues and respect from the government.

The NGT order

However, Jantar Mantar will soon fall silent, with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering an immediate ban on protests and dharnas there. On October 5, a bench headed by Justice R.S. Rathore ordered the Delhi government, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Delhi Police Commissioner to “immediately stop all dharnas, assembling of people, public speeches and use of loudspeakers at Jantar Mantar Road within four weeks”. It also said that all protesters at the site would be shifted to Ramlila Maidan.

The tribunal said: “The respondent (NDMC) shall shift the protesters to Ramlila Maidan, Ajmeri Gate, forthwith…. The NDMC chairman, Delhi Police chief, and Government of NCT of Delhi shall file compliance reports before the NGT within five weeks from the date of judgment.”

The order was passed after a group of residents of Jantar Mantar Road filed a plea with the NGT last year saying that although the area was earmarked as “residential” in the 2021 Delhi Master Plan, protesters had erected tents on the road and put up loudspeakers. The plea said that some protesters stayed at the site for years together, slept in tents there, bathed with the water provided by Delhi Jal Board tankers and ate there, littering the area and causing nuisance to the residents at large.

Addressing the issues of pollution and cleanliness raised by the petitioners, the NGT said: “It is amply clear that the petitioners are suffering because of gross violation of laws and non-performance of duty by authorities. The environmental condition at Jantar Mantar Road—in relation to noise pollution, cleanliness and waste management—has grossly deteriorated. Besides constant dharnas, noise pollution and health problems due to unhygienic conditions generated by agitators… is unique in the case.”

The tribunal also reprimanded the NDMC, saying: “In the circumstances, we are of the considered opinion that merely giving directions to the respondent authorities to control the agitators would not be of any use.” Justifying the shifting of all protesters to Ramlila Maidan, the tribunal said: “The place for such activities (dharnas) has already been earmarked at Ramlila Maidan—for gathering of more than 5,000 people. This would strike a balance between the rights of people with respect to their freedom of speech and expression, and that of residents of Jantar Mantar Road to live a peaceful and pollution-free life.”

Assault on democracy

But in its zeal to protect the rights of the 15-odd residents of Jantar Mantar Road, the NGT seems to have overlooked the larger aspects of democratic principles: the fundamental right to speech and expression, of peaceful assembly, of dissent and disagreement. According to the noted Supreme Court lawyer/activist Prashant Bhushan, the NGT order is an assault on democracy itself because it seeks to curtail the right to speech and freedom of expression.

Significantly, the grounds cited for shifting the protests to Ramlila Maidan—noise pollution and health problems due to unhygienic conditions created by the protesters—become untenable in view of the fact that there are many hospitals in the vicinity of Ramlila Maidan. Noise pollution around hospitals should be a bigger concern for the NGT than the problems of 15-odd residents, say the protesters at Jantar Mantar Road.

According to them, the tree-lined road gives them a shaded place for sitting, whereas Ramlila Maidan has no trees and the protesters would have to brave the elements: the scorching sun in the summer, the rain during the monsoon and the biting cold in winter. Besides, at Jantar Mantar, a system has evolved over the years to facilitate protests: there are Jal Board tankers to provide drinking water, the protesters eat their lunch at the nearby Bangla Sahib gurdwara; and they rest in the shade of the trees. At Ramlila Maidan, there is no such facility available. Besides, it is in the midst of a busy commercial area and any big agitation would totally derail the road traffic.

Cross-spectrum of activists

“The NGT decision is totally illogical. If noise pollution was the concern, then should the patients in hospitals near Ramlila Maidan be exposed to noise pollution? Besides, the NGT has passed a totally one-sided order, without listening to the other side,” says Ramji Lal Shukla, who has been agitating at Jantar Mantar Road since April 21, 2013, demanding the use of Indian languages in all official works. According to him, the NGT did not use its discretion while passing the order.

Similarly, S.K. Pande, a history professor from Rewa, who has been at Jantar Mantar Road for the past seven months demanding a new economic order wherein the government should draw a line of affluence ( amiri ki rekha) instead of the poverty line in order to frame its policies, says the logic cited by the NGT to shift them out of Jantar Mantar Road is flawed.

According to Vasudevan, a Tamil Nadu farmer who has been sitting at Jantar Mantar since July 16, 2017, dissent and protest are fundamental rights of any citizen in a democracy and there is no way they will be hustled out. “We will not leave. We have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the NGT order,” Vasudevan says. According to him, sitting here at Jantar Mantar, they feel they are close enough to the centre of power in order to be heard, whereas at Ramlila Maidan, they will be pushed to a corner.

“This place is close to Parliament and the ministries, yet there is nobody to hear us. Once we are pushed to Ramlila Maidan, there will be no redress of our grievances,” say Bittoo Sherpa and Pervina Rai, representatives of the Gorkhaland Sangharsh Samiti, who have been on a dharna for more than four months demanding a separate Gorkhaland. According to them, noise pollution is only an excuse; the real motive is to silence the common man.

Group Captain (Retd) Brij Mohan Karir, a representative of the ex-servicemen who has been sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar since June 15, 2015, demanding full OROP, is of the same opinion. “Sitting here we feel we are being heard because this place is close to Parliament House, North Block and South Block, which is the seat of the government. At Ramlila Maidan, it will be like sitting in a back lane, with no one paying attention. After all, we sit here and shout slogans because we feel we have not been heard. Isn’t it the government’s duty to listen to the grievances being voiced by the people?” he asks.

The larger issue

According to Yogendra Yadav, one of the founder-members of the AAP who has since fallen out with Arvind Kejriwal and is now leading his own movement called the Swaraj Abhiyan, the merits of the case notwithstanding, the larger issue of importance has to do with the space for dissent.

“The systematic shrinkage of space for protest, both literally and metaphorically, is of concern. What is worrisome is the fact that protest of any kind is seen as a problem, not only by the ruling party and the government but by the media and the judiciary as well,” he says. According to him, a few years ago, when thousands of people landed up in Delhi to protest, the media would talk about their issues and concerns and why they were protesting, but now the media constantly highlights the resultant traffic jams and the problems faced by the common people.

“It is surprising how the mindset has changed. People view any protest, any dissent, as problematic. Larger issues of concern which make thousands flock to Delhi to protest are of no significance to people, it seems. Look at the way FIRs [first information reports] have been filed against people for lampooning or criticising Modi. Why can’t you criticise your government, why can’t you criticise your Prime Minister?” he says.

Indeed, the larger issue in this ban order is not about the merits of the case. The NGT order could be justified in view of the grievances of those living with the constant sounds of protest, but the real issue is the shrinking space for dissent. First the dissenters were pushed out of Boat Club, and now out of Jantar Mantar to the outer periphery of Lutyen’s Delhi. “What next?” ask the protesters.

It is interesting to note here that neither the Delhi government nor the NDMC nor the Delhi police has expressed any intention to seek a review of the order. The NDMC and the Delhi police have stopped giving permission for any protest at Jantar Mantar and have been visiting the protesters to ask them to vacate the place peacefully; the use of loudspeakers and mikes has been stopped. The Delhi government, led by the AAP, a child of the anti-corruption movement at Jantar Mantar, which had perfected the art of dharna while in movement mode, has only carried out the formality of verbally requesting the NGT to review its order.

Come November 5, Jantar Mantar will slip into peace and ignominy. Only the sound of silence will remain. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court takes note of the petition filed by the Tamil Nadu farmers and does something about it.

Godhra

The puzzle remains

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

MANY people have argued that the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 Hindu kar sevaks died was as brutal and violent as the communal riots it triggered in Gujrat. In fact, the number of arrests and the degree of punishment given to those convicted for setting fire to two coaches of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on the morning of February 27, 2002, appears far more severe than those convicted for orchestrating the riots that killed more than 1,000 people.

In a significant judgment in the Godhra case, the Gujarat High Court, on October 9, commuted the death sentence of 11 people convicted for burning the coaches. The 11 convicts will now undergo rigorous life imprisonment. The court also upheld the life sentences of 20 other convicts and confirmed the acquittal of the remaining 63 accused. The court backed the theory that it was a planned attack. Additionally, it pulled up the State government for failing to maintain law and order during and after the incident.

The Godhra ruling puts the protracted legal battle back in focus and once again raises the question whether this is an equitable sentence compared with the verdict given in the riots case.

Commuting the death sentences is obviously a humane step, in line with the move towards reducing the number of instances where capital punishment is awarded, but is not completely fair, say lawyers and activists monitoring the Gujarat pogrom cases.

The Godhra case has seen several twists in its 15-year course. Was all the evidence submitted to and considered by the courts? Lawyers and activists in Gujarat do not believe so. There are some critical questions that to date have been either dismissed or not addressed.

Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organisation that fights for justice for the victims of the Gujarat communal violence, said: “The good thing from the judgment is the commuting of death to life. Removing the death penalty is in keeping with the move to reduce [the number of death penalties]/abolish it. The other good point is the court’s observation on the State’s responsibility regarding law and order. Yet, what is hugely disappointing is that the court has upheld the conspiracy theory.” She added: “The main issue with this case is that it got stuck in a quagmire of political hyperbole.” It is unfortunate that several crucial areas were not examined by the court. For instance, Ashish Khetan, who had evidence and data on the case, was not called. Section 311 allows the court to examine evidence by a witness. A major point that has not been considered is that there is forensic evidence to prove the fire started before the chain was pulled. This matter was crucial for the verdict, she said.

On February 27, 2002, Sabarmati Express, carrying a large number of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, halted at the Godhra railway station at 7:30 a.m. According to reports, the kar sevaks had been harassing people at various stations along the route and at Godhra the harassment intensified when one person reportedly attempted to molest a young Muslim girl. The train managed to pull out of the station, but the chain was pulled and it stopped a kilometre from the platform near a place called Signal Falia. There are various reports on how and what happened subsequently, but two coaches caught fire as inflammable substances were thrown into the coaches. The coaches were packed beyond capacity. Government officials and a few politicians accompanied the bodies of the victims to Ahmedabad ostensibly for a post-mortem. However, when news began to spread that the coaches were burnt by local Muslims in Godhra, the mood in Ahmedabad turned aggressive. When the bodies were taken through the main roads towards Sola Hospital, violence against the Muslim community began to rage across the city. Communal violence spread to other parts of the State, and for three days Gujarat was under siege.

Along with the Godhra case, there are nine cases of severe rioting. In 2002, the Nanavati-Shah Commission began probing the riots. In 2008, it submitted an initial report, which supported the conspiracy theory. According to the report, Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji, a cleric in Godhra, collected along with his accomplices 140 litres of petrol before the train arrived and then allegedly instigated the kar sevaks, knowing well that it would lead to a sensitive situation that would bring Muslims out to attack the train. The committee made a final submission to the court only in 2014. Several lawyers and activists working on the cases criticised the committee by saying that it reinforced communal prejudices by ignoring valuable evidence and that it supported the conspiracy theory too quickly.

In February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others, saying there was a conspiracy behind the incident. Eleven persons were given the death penalty for planning the attack. This was the only riot case in which the convicts were awarded capital punishment.

Maulana Umarji, regarded as the “mastermind”, was among those acquitted. He passed away in 2013. “He died broken-hearted,” his family said. The maulana was a respected cleric, who repeatedly maintained that his community was not at fault.

Death as a punishment

In none of the post-Godhra reprisal killing cases did lawyers seek death for the convicts. “It’s an acknowledgment to the community that in spite of the violence they saw they were convinced not to seek retributory justice,” said Teesta Setalvad.

The Gujarat High Court ruled that the burning of the coaches at Godhra was neither “terrorism” nor an “act of waging war” against the state. It stated that the Law Commission wanted the death penalty abolished for crimes not relating to acts of terrorism and war against the state. The court followed this diktat. “Death penalties eliminate a person to a point of no return. While considering the question of sentence to death, a duty is cast upon the court to deliberate on various facets of sentence and to immunise itself to avoid branding imposition of death sentence as ‘judge centric’ or ‘bloodthirsty’,” said the court.

Citizen’s Tribunal

The Gujarat government has consistently maintained that it was a pre-planned attack by the local Muslim community, which used the unruly behaviour of the kar sevaks as a ruse to trigger a communal clash.

However, evidence collected by investigators and the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by eminent Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.B. Sawant and Hosbet Suresh, along with a panel of respected jurists, lawyers and human rights activists, allude to the theory that the train burning was part of a larger, darker conspiracy and was neither an impulsive attack nor a pre-planned one by the Ghanchi Muslims who reside at Signal Falia. Their report was ignored by the courts, but those who follow the case say the tribunal’s findings were explosive and their accuracy should not be discounted.

This case was all about forensics. A police officer involved in the investigation said the courts should have based their verdict on forensic data.

“The Gujarat Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL] Report, for instance, clearly states that 60 litres of inflammable liquid was poured into the mouth of the two coaches, which is why only those [two coaches] caught fire and the fire did not spread,” he said. “They imply that the incident was not an accident nor an act of impulse.”

The court ruling has brought the issue back into focus and it would perhaps be appropriate to revisit the tribunal’s report. Given that its findings emerged from investigations conducted by knowledgeable and experienced professionals, it is unfortunate that it was never considered by the courts.

Forensics on the actual burning point to a much more sinister plot, the official said.

Frontline has access to the report and here are some of the key findings on the trigger and the torching of the train.

On the actual burning

• As the train travelled back from Ayodhya on its return journey to Ahmedabad, kar sevak girls and boys armed with trishuls and lathis were getting down at every station and shouting slogans like, “Mandir Vahin Banayenge!” “Jai Shriram!”, “Muslim Bharat chodo, Pakistan jao” (Muslims, Quit India! Go to Pakistan), “Dudh mango tho kheer denge, Kashmir mango tho cheer denge” (Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer (pudding), But ask for Kashmir and we’ll cut you up). Many passengers felt harassed by this behaviour but were constrained to remain silent because the kar sevaks had captured all the reserved seats and the train was packed.

• The train reached Godhra station at 7:30 a.m. (three hours late), on February 27, 2002. There were certain incidents on the platform. There were some reports to the effect that a Muslim girl was molested by the kar sevaks who attempted to pull her into the train.

• As the train left the platform, at 7:48 a.m., it was immediately stopped by someone pulling the chain. The obvious reason for this was to enable some of the kar sevaks who were still on the platform to board the train. The train proceeded for about a kilometre. At Signal Falia the train stopped. Whether this was on account of someone pulling the chain or otherwise is not clear. The engine driver, at that point of time, had only seen someone from outside pelting stones at the train though not at coach S-6. Soon thereafter, coach S-6 was on fire. The question is, how did the fire occur?

• The version of the government appears to be that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station, who had gathered in large numbers, threw fireballs into the train and that resulted in the fire. The government version also has it that the Ghanchi Muslims wanted to attack the kar sevaks, and that there were about 2,000 Muslims who were bent on attacking the train.

• It may be stated at this stage that the full capacity of the train is 1,100. But, in fact, the train at that time had about 2,000 passengers, of which about 1,700 were kar sevaks. Only one coach was burned and even in that coach one is not sure how many passengers were kar sevaks. The train had 11 coaches with vestibule connection and kar sevaks were spread all over the train.

• So why did anyone target coach S-6? If 2,000 Muslims had gathered there, could they not have attacked the other coaches? Again, did anyone try to come out from the other coaches? If it is reasonably presumed that some of the passengers, including kar sevaks, rushed out, did anyone attack them? On all these questions there is no satisfactory answer. Why were all those dead called kar sevaks? Not everyone on the train was a sevak.

• A very significant fact is that coach S-6 was the only one that got burnt. The fire did not even spread to the other coaches. It is also not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire in the coach or the coach was set on fire after the train stopped. If it was the latter, why was the train stopped at all? It is reasonable to presume that because of the fire in the coach, someone must have pulled the chain and the train was stopped by the engine driver.

• If kar sevaks were the target, they were overwhelmingly present in the entire train and the whole train could have been set on fire. The fact that the fire did not even spread to the remaining coaches is a clear indication that the fire originated in that compartment itself. That also explains why only persons in that coach died.

• On 7-5-2002, we inspected the coach and the site where it was burnt. The site where the train stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12-15 feet and it is a slope. At the top, there is hardly enough space for 2,000 persons to assemble on either side of the track. Assuming that so many had gathered at that spot, the crowd would be spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S-6. This is only to indicate that if the government version is true, the other coaches would have been as easy a target as coach S-6.

• Our own observations were subsequently confirmed by the reports of the Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL]. Among its other findings, the relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory (State of Gujarat, New Mental Corner, Ahmedabad–16, Spot Investigation Report No.2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station) filed by Dr M.S. Dahiya, Assistant Director, states:

“It was found that the height of the window of the coach was around 7 feet from the ground at the place. Under this circumstance, it was not possible to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach from any bucket or carboy, because by doing this, most of the fluid was getting thrown outside.” The FSL had used water to recreate the throwing of inflammable liquid into the train.

“On the basis of the above experimental demonstration, such a conclusion can be drawn that 60 litres of inflammable liquid was poured towards the western side by using a wide mouthed container by standing on the passage between the northern side door of the eastern side of the S-6 coach and the compartment of seat No. 72 and coach was set on fire immediately thereafter.

• By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire.

Thus, it is clear that the fire came from inside. We have seen the inner side of the coach. The intensity of the fire was such that even the iron rods, the seats, the fans were all burnt to such an extent that we found them twisted and molten out of shape. We also found rice and wheat partly burnt and scattered all across the floor of compartment S-6. Some of the witnesses had stated that kar sevaks had stoves in the train, but we did not find them in the coach.

The FSL report shows that for fire of such an intensity, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, “by using a wide mouthed container”. The question is, where is this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was this taken inside the coach or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armed with trishuls and in such an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for that would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.

The tribunal also explores questions such as whether the Godhra incident was pre-planned and why it was “allowed” to happen, and also the subsequent instigation of communal hatred that led to the brutal violence. The courts ignored the report.

Recognition

Top shot

the-nation

THE wildlife photographer Shefiq Basheer Ahammed’s photograph of a tiger at the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve won the first prize in the wildlife photography contest organised by the Kerala Forest Department during Wildlife Week celebrations this year.

He was at the reserve in July 2016 when he stumbled upon the tiger relaxing and rolling on its back. Shefiq felt that the tiger spotted him clicking away, but it calmly withdrew into the forest.

Shefiq has contributed photo essays, along with this writer, to Frontline: “In quest of the frogmouth” (December 11, 2015), at Thattekad in Kerala; “Brown bear, red salmon” (March 18, 2016), at Kamchatka in the Russian Far East; “Himalayan kaleidoscope” (October 28, 2016), on birdlife in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary; and “In the leopard’s lair” (February 3, 2017), on man-animal coexistence in Rajasthan’s Pali district.

This is the second time that Shefiq, a motor vehicles inspector in Kochi, has won this award. The first time was in 2015 for a shot of a leopard staring at him from its perch on a rock, taken in 2014.

G. Shaheed

Essay

Betrayal of Indian nationalism

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

Gandhi ne asj jang ka ailan kar diya,/

Baatil se haq ko dast-o-garebaan kar diya.

Hindustaan mein ek nai rooh phoonk kar/

Azadi-e-hayaat ka samaan kar diya.

Parwurdigaar ne ke woh hai aadmi shinnas,/

Gandhi ko bhi yeh martaba pahchaan kar diya

(Gandhi has made a declaration of war

Betwixt Truth and Falsehood a deadly battle starts.

Infusing a new spirit into the Indian hearts,/

For independence complete he has prepared the path.

God, who is the judge of men, in His wisdom great,/ Has rightly chosen the mahatma as the shepherd of our flock.)

THIS stirring poem was written by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan during India’s movement for independence. He predicted accurately: “ Woh din aane ko hai azad jab Hindustan hoga,/Mubarkbaad isko de raha saara jahan hoga.” The day is fast approaching when India will be free,/The whole world will greet her on this triumphal feast.” (K.C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu Poetry, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, pages 449, Rs.350.)

Can the Sangh Parivar, in all its varied outfits—the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)—cite a single poem, by a member or supporter, on India’s inclusive nationalism with its rich composite culture?

India’s freedom movement was enriched by the enthusiastic participation of all its communities: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and some others. All spoke for India amid voices of separate rights and even religious revivalism. The Sangh Parivar was not a movement for religious revivalism but for political ascendancy and power over all others—in the name of religion.

The RSS was established by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a former Congressman, at Nagpur in September 1925 on Vijaya Dasami Day. Enough is known about its chequered career since. But one fundamental question concerning its very raison d’etre has not been addressed as pointedly and in as much depth as it deserves. Why on earth was the RSS set up at all? The answer to this question explains its entire career to this day. Remember, the freedom movement led by the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership was at its height in 1925. The Liberals of old disagreed with the new technique of civil disobedience and insisted on constitutional methods. Patriots like Bhagat Singh rejected both and opted for violence.

Why RSS?

The RSS was not set up because it disagreed with the three—Gandhi, Liberals and terrorists—or with the methods they advocated. Its aim was not to provide vigour and speed to the freedom movement. It was to promote the cause of a Hindu state at the end of British rule. Its technique was to collaborate with the British, meanwhile, and carefully avoid a confrontation with the alien rulers. In doing so, it did not merely part company with the freedom movement. The RSS opposed it, as did the Hindu Mahasabha. Both rejected Indian nationalism at the very outset. Its themes, its ideology, and its secular, democratic ideals were rejected and sneered at, especially its flag.

It was inherent in its ideology and its techniques, while distinguishing itself from Indian nationalism, not only to espouse Hindu nationalism but to belittle other communities, chiefly Muslims and Christians, and spread hate against others. This technique continues with fanatical zeal to this day. The RSS was never banned by the British. It was banned three times after Independence by the government of India.

This explains the futility of those who expected the RSS or its political outfits—the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party—to moderate and turn Indian. They would lose the very reason for their existence.

Which brings us back to the crucial question—why was the RSS set up at all? Pralay Kanungo, a painstaking scholar, has ably recorded the atmosphere in which the venomous RSS was born: “The period from 1923 to 1928 has been described as ‘an era of Hindu communal resurgence’ in North India in which Arya Samaj played an important role. Shuddhi had been a part of Arya Samaj activities during the late nineteenth century. But now under the leadership of Swami Shraddhanand, the campaign became intense. His proselytising mission was aimed at those Hindus who were converted to Islam or other groups of borderline Muslims who had retained many Hindu customs. …In this charged atmosphere of communal confrontation, a new organisation of the Hindus was established at Nagpur on the Vijaya Dashmi day of 1925, upholding the spirit of sangathan ideology. The founder was Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The four other persons present on the occasion were Dr B.S. Moonje, Dr L.V. Paranjape, Dr B.B. Thalkar and Babarao Savarkar. The name given subsequently to this organisation was Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)” ( RSS’s Tryst with Politics, Manohar, pages 35, 36 and 38).

“A major influence on Hedgewar’s thinking was a handwritten manuscript of V.D. Savarkar’s Hindutva, which advanced the thesis that the Hindus were a nation” (Walter K. Andersen and Sridhar D. Damle, The Brotherhood in Saffron, page 33). Hedgewar had a guru, Moonje. Significantly, he had met Savarkar in March 1925, shortly before launching the RSS, for lengthy discussions.

RSS never an adversary of the British

In his carefully documented Hindu Nationalism (Oxford, New York), Chetan Bhatt of the University of London notes: “Whereas Congress and allied movements and activities were violently repressed, banned or imprisoned in huge numbers, the RSS was not considered an adversary by the British. On the contrary, it gave loyal consent to the British to be part of the Civic Guard. The RSS was not proscribed by the British, but was banned three times by Indian governments. Both Hedgewar and Golwalkar (its second leader) actively opposed joining the anti-colonial movement in favour of ‘character-building’ work in the service of the Hindu Nation.

“Similarly, the RSS, as a matter of explicit organisational policy, refused to join the non-cooperation movement and anti-colonial satyagrahas in the 1920s and 1940s, including the anti-Rowlatt agitations, the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements, and the Naval mutiny in Bombay.…

“The RSS is quite explicit that one of the reasons for its formation was Hedgewar’s view that whereas Muslims were organised and strong, Hindus were disaggregated and weak and hence had to be consolidated into a militant, unified and aggressive force. Hedgewar’s diagnosis of the political situation in the early 1920s was as follows: ‘The upsurge witnessed during the days of non-cooperation movement has died down. The various evils accompanying the movement are now having a heyday. Mutual distrust and ill will, personal and caste rivalries, Brahmin and non-Brahmin controversy have all raised their ugly heads. No institution or organisation seems to be free from these internal squabbles and utter lack of discipline. The snake of Muslim fanaticism, having been fed on the milk of non-cooperation, is now baring its poisonous fangs and spreading the venom of violence and riots all over the country.’”

Chetan Bhatt adds: “Hedgewar also believed that it was the ‘lack of cohesion and self-respect’ among Hindus that was the key problem facing Hindu society during this ‘dark night of self-oblivion’, which, for him, characterised Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement” (pages 115 and 117). This idea, instilling an inferiority complex in a great community, is still being propagated by the RSS.

The RSS was duly set on its course. A biography records: “After establishing the Sangh, Doctor Saheb in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organisation. Direct comment on government used to be nil.” (C.P. Bhislikar, Sanghavariksh Ke Beej/ Dr. Kashaavrao Hedgewar. This official biography in Hindi deserves translation into English. Excerpts in English are quoted in Dr Shamsul Islam’s Hindu Nationalism and Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh published by Media House, Delhi, 2015, and his pamphlet Know the RSS, published by Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, 2017.)

Another biography records: “It is clear that Gandhiji worked constantly with one eye on Hindu-Muslim unity. … But Doctorji sensed danger in that move. In fact he did not even relish the new-fangled slogan of ‘Hindu-Muslim Unity’” (Quoted in Shamsul Islam, Hindu Nationalism and RSS, page 207).

This is most revealing. No struggle for freedom would be waged against the British in unity with Muslims. The RSS would parley directly with the British; keep the rulers in good humour; secure transfer of power; and establish a Hindu Rashtra.

What the RSS pracharak Narendra Modi has sought to do since he came to power in 2014 is to make up for lost time (1947-2014) and move systematically, step by step, towards that ignoble end. Hence his eloquent silence on the misdeeds of his followers. Barack and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were friends of Harvey Weinstein. They publicly denounced him to signify their dissociation from his crimes. Modi cannot do that to his followers. The RSS and he need each other badly, locked as they are in a deadly embrace.

A near century’s record has made the RSS what it is now. The prayer in Sanskrit which was introduced in 1939 to replace the Hindi-Marathi prayer is more explicit: “Affectionate Motherland, I eternally bow to you./ Land of Hindus, you have reared me in comfort./ Sacred Land, the Great Creator of Good, may this body of mine be dedicated to you/ I again and again bow before you./ God Almighty, we the integral parts of Hindu Rashtra salute you in reverence.”

The oath that every member has to take reads: “Before the All-Powerful God and my ancestors, I most solemnly take this oath, that I have become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in order to achieve all-round greatness of Bharatvarsh by fostering the growth of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu society and Hindu culture. I shall perform the work of the Sangh honestly, disinterestedly, with my heart and soul, and I shall adhere to this oath all my life. Bharat Mata ki Jai” (D.R. Goyal, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Radhakrishna Prakashan, Daryaganj, New Delhi, pages 247-249; an able work). Instruction in the use of the lathi was part of the “group prayers” (Andersen and Damle, page 35).

Leader worship

The five who set up the body in 1925 did not even have a name in mind for the newborn. It was adopted on April 17 (Ram Navami Day) in 1926. Hedgewar was formally designated chief organiser (Chalak) on December 19, 1926. Appetite whetted, three years later he made himself the RSS’ dictator.

“In a meeting with the Sanghachalaks in Nagpur [November 9-10,1929], Hedgewar as chief once again personally declared that ‘from the point of view of internal discipline, the organisation should work under one leader who would mastermind the programmes’. For Hedgewar it became the sole principle of organisation as can be seen reiterated in an official circular in 1933, which he himself wrote: It is essential that the Swayamsewaks should implicitly obey the command of Sarsanghachalak. The Sangh should not reach a stage when tail should wag the body. That is the secret of the success of the Sangh. This obedience to the sole leader was soon turned into leader worship. In fact, it got institutionalised as early as 10 November, 1929, when in a full-fledged organisational meeting of RSS in Nagpur, Hedgewar was offered pranam or salutation in a true military style by the Swayamsewaks present” (Shamsul Islam, page 213). This fascist tradition has been continued to this day.

collaboration with the british

If the Congress was to be condemned and the Muslims excoriated, the Sangh Parivar (that is, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS) plumped for the obvious third choice—collaborate with the British.

“Golwalkar believed that the British should not be given any excuse to ban the RSS. When the British banned military drill and the use of uniforms in all non-official organisations, the RSS complied. On 29 April 1943 Golwalkar distributed a circular to senior RSS figures, announcing the termination of the RSS military department. The wording of the circular reveals his apprehensions regarding the possibility of a ban on the RSS: ‘We discontinued practices included in the government’s early order on military drill and uniforms… to keep our work clearly within bounds of law, as every law abiding institution should. …Hoping that circumstances would ease early, we had in a sense only suspended that part of our training. Now, however, we decide to stop it altogether and abolish the department without waiting for the time to change.’

“Golwalkar was not a revolutionary in the conventional sense of the term. The British understood this. In an official report on RSS activity, prepared in 1943, the Home Department concluded that ‘it would be difficult to argue that the RSS constitutes an immediate menace to law and order…’. Commenting on the violence that accompanied the 1942 Quit India Movement, the Bombay Home Department observed, ‘The Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August, 1942…’” (Andersen and Damle, page 44).

Savarkar’s many and abject apologies are well known: 1. Brought to the Andamans on July 4, 1911, he pleaded for clemency before the year ended.

2. In 1913, he offered to serve the government in any capacity it liked. He repeated this in 1914 and 1917.

3. On March 30, 1920, he filed another mercy petition ( Frontline, April 8, 2005).

4. He was released on January 6, 1924, on the condition that “he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the government” for five years. It was extended until 1937 when Home Minister K.M. Munshi released him.

5. On February 22, 1948, he gave an undertaking to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay to renounce politics in order to avert arrest for Gandhi’s murder.

6. On July 13, 1950, he gave another undertaking, this time to the Bombay High Court, saying he would not participate in politics.

The Second World War exposed the Parivar’s two top men in their true colours. Savarkar met the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow in Bombay on October 9, 1939, who duly recorded his offer. “The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s Government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary” (Marzia Casolari, The Shade of the Swastika, page 172).

S.P. Mookerjee’s letter

The prize goes to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, erstwhile president of the Mahasabha and founder of the Jana Sangh under a pact with the RSS. In December 1941 he became a Minister in the Bengal Cabinet headed by Fazlul Haq, who had moved the Pakistan Resolution at the Muslim League’s session at Lahore in March 1940. On the eve of the Congress’ Quit India movement he wrote to the arch imperialist the Governor of Bengal Sir John Herbert in these fulsome terms: “Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feelings, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any government that may function for the time being. …as regards India’s attitude towards England, the struggle between them, if any, should not take place at this juncture. The present war is being fought not for perpetuation of British domination over India. Old ideas of imperialism must be buried underground, and they are not going to revive, whatever the result of the present war may be.…

“The question is how to combat this movement in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, specially responsible ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people. In some spheres it might be limited during the emergency. Indians have to trust the British” (S.P. Mookerjee, Leaves from a Diary, pages 179 and 183). The Mahasabha had a representative in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Sir Jwala Prasad Srivastava.

Bankim Chandra’s bias

The collaboration had an ideological besides a tactical basis. In his Autobiography of An Unknown Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has aptly described the atmosphere of the times in which the song Bande Mataram was written. “The historical romances of Bankim Chatterjee and Romesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their spirit.”

The historian R.C. Majumdar pithily puts it: “Bankimchandra converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism.” The novel Ananda Math, for which Bande Mataram was written, was not anti-British. In the last chapter, we find a supernatural figure persuading the leader of the sanyasis, Satyananda, to stop fighting. The dialogue that follows is interesting: “He: Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do. No good can come of needless slaughter.”

Anti-Muslim references are spread all over the work. Jivananda with sword in hand, at the gate of the temple, exhorts the children of Kali: “We have often thought to break up this bird’s nest of Muslim rule, to pull down the city of the renegades and throw it into the river—to turn this pigsty to ashes and make Mother earth free from evil again. Friends, that day has come.”

The use of the song “Bande Mataram” in the novel is not adventitious. It is essentially a religious homage to the country conceived as a deity, “a form of worship” as Majumdar aptly called it. The motherland is “conceived as the Goddess Kali, the source of all power and glory”.

This, in the song itself. The context makes it worse. “The land of Bengal, and by extension all of India, became identified with the female aspect of Hindu deity, and the result was a concept of divine Motherland” ( India as a Secular State by Donald Eugene Smith, 1963, Princeton University Press). How secular is such a song?

The refrain was picked up by Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and others. In 1925, the year the RSS was born, Lala Hardyal wrote in the Pratap of Lahore: “I declare that the future of the Hindu race, of Hindustan and of the Punjab rests on those four pillars: 1. Hindu Sanghathan. 2. Hindu Raj. 3. Shuddhi of Muslims, and 4. Conquest and Shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers.” Savarkar and Hedgewar inherited that heritage, which successors like Modi & Co. are now carrying forward.

Repression of Muslims

Asoka Mehta wrote of the 1857 Mutiny: “When the rebellion began Hindus and Muslims participated in it in large numbers. …The hand of repression fell heavily on the Muslims. They were tattooed with terror” ( 1857, The Great Rebellion).

Muslims suffered the most, as Asoka Mehta acknowledged in his history. The British singled them out for hostile treatment, which was documented in the classic The Indian Musalmans (1871) by W.W. Hunter of the Bengal Civil Service. These lines give the flavour of the times: “The first of them, the Army, is now completely closed. No Muhammadan gentleman of birth can enter our Regiments; …Musalman element in the public services has gone on growing weaker every year, just as before. …There is now scarcely a government office in Calcutta in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of porter, messenger, and filler of ink-pots and menders of pens. …Among the judges of Her Majesty’s High Court of Judicature in Bengal are two Hindus but no Musalman. Indeed, the idea of a High Court judge being taken from the race that once monopolised the whole administration of justice is inconceivable alike to Anglo-Indians and to Hindus at the present day. …In short, the Muhammadans have now sunk so low, that, even when qualified for government employment, they are studiously kept out of it by government notifications. Nobody takes any notice of their helpless condition, and the higher authorities do not deign even to acknowledge their existence. …Had the Musalmans been wise, they would have perceived the change, and accepted their fate.”

Thus the Muslims had no incentive or desire to collaborate with the British. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised them to shun politics and take to education. Others like Badruddin Tyabji and Jinnah joined the Congress and enriched the freedom movement. The first resolution for complete independence was moved in the Congress session of 1921 by the great poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a great admirer of Tilak. It said: “The object of the Indian National Congress is the attainment of Swaraj or complete independence free from all foreign control by the people of India by all legitimate and peaceful methods”. Gandhi strongly opposed it accusing the supporters of the motion of “levity”. It was defeated.

Dr K.C. Kanda’s volume has poems galore by Muslims and, of course, Hindus on independence, including a poem by Ashfaqullah Khan who was hanged in 1927 for his role in the Kakori train robbery case.

Dr Shamsul Islam has compiled a documented record in Muslims against Partition of India (Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, pages 249, Rs.280). It has a foreword by the distinguished historian Harbans Makhia.

Muslims opposed the British rulers. The Sangh Parivar collaborated with them. Who is “anti-national”? The record speaks for itself. The betrayal of Indian nationalism by the Parivar continues still, as its pracharak Narendra Modi ousts it to spread Hindu nationalism, longing all the time for American support. They replaced the British.

West Bengal

Uphill task for Bimal Gurung

the-nation

FOR the past decade, Bimal Gurung’s writ was law in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal. But today the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) president, who has reigned unchallenged in the region and has spearheaded the movement for a separate State of Gorkhaland (to be carved out of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and parts of the Terai and the Dooars in the foothills), is a cornered man—on the run from the law and fast losing the ground beneath his feet. The latest episode of violence, on October 13 between the police and alleged supporters of Gurung in which one policeman was killed, may well be the final nail in the coffin of Gurung’s political supremacy in the region.

When Gurung and several top GJM leaders were forced to flee Darjeeling to avoid arrest on June 15, a week after the hills erupted in violence, the stage was set for his ouster. With the police subsequently bringing several charges against him, including those under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the GJM supremo could neither be present for the bandh he himself had called in the hills, which lasted 101 days, nor could he give direction to the movement he instigated. From his hideout, sending video and audio messages, Gurung could only watch helplessly the enormous power that he once wielded rapidly slip away from his grasp. The other political parties of the hills, for so long suppressed by the might of the GJM, found the scope to assert their identities as the grievances against the GJM began to come to the fore. But the decisive blow was when the party itself split, with Binay Tamang and Anit Thapa, two of Gurung’s trusted lieutenants, turning against him.

The two leaders, who represented the GJM in meetings with the State government in the absence of Gurung and general secretary Roshan Giri (who also went into hiding), openly opposed the bandh and were promptly expelled. However, they refused to accept Gurung’s expulsion order and continued to represent the GJM, unchallenged by other members of the party. With the rift coming out in the open, the Trinamool Congress government struck a strategic blow that weakened Gurung’s position further. It put its weight behind the rebel faction and nominated Tamang and Thapa as chairman and vice chairman respectively of the reconstituted board of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA, the autonomous administrative elected body from which Gurung and all the other members had resigned on June 23). However, the shadow of the absent Gurung still stretched across the hills, and shops and offices remained closed despite the State government’s concerted efforts to get them to reopen. It was only when the GJM chief officially called off the bandh on September 27 that shops and business establishments in the region opened. But if Gurung expected any sort of clemency for ending the strike, it was not to be. The charges against him remain (as of October 16), making it impossible for him to attend the tripartite talks in New Delhi, talks that he himself had been demanding. The State government, too, voiced its reservations on sitting for a meeting with Gurung, a person facing charges under the UAPA.

Meanwhile, Gurung began to lose his political strongholds and following within the party. The councillors of Kurseong and Kalimpong civic bodies announced their support for the Binay Tamang faction; even in Darjeeling, the majority of the councillors pledged their support toTamang. The Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the party, also shifted its allegiance to Tamang, with more than 80 per cent of its members apparently opting to go with the new power centre. “We are supporting the Binay Tamang-Anit Thapa camp as we believe that the statehood agitation can move forward only through democratic means,” said Arjun Chhetri, the Yuva Morcha spokesperson.

The manner in which Gurung has lost his hold in the hills can be compared to the way in which his predecessor, Subhash Ghising of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), was dethroned. Ghising, whose name was synonymous with the Gorkhaland movement and who ruled the hills for 22 years, found himself outmanoeuvred by one of his most trusted aides, Bimal Gurung. In 2008, when Gurung wrested control of the hills from Ghising, he made sure that Ghising could not re-enter the hills until all his support bases were in Gurung’s grasp. Ghising died in 2008 in political obscurity. Now, as normalcy returns to the hills, Gurung’s inability to enter Darjeeling weakens his position with every passing day, rendering the possibility of his staging a comeback more and more remote. Gurung’s position was pushed further to the brink when a police officer was killed in an exchange of fire between the security forces and alleged supporters of Gurung on October 13. The incident took place in a forested area at Sirubari in Darjeeling, where, according to the police, Gurung and his supporters had set up a camp. “On the basis of specific information that Bimal Gurung and his team were there, the police conducted a raid. They [the police] had to face very heavy firepower, which led to the death of a sub-inspector, Amitabh Mullik, and injuries to some police personnel.... We have information that Bimal Gurung had instructed his followers to attack the police,” said Anuj Sharma, Additional Director General of Police, Law & Order. The police seized nine AK-47assault rifles, more than 1,800 rounds of ammunition and a large number of gelatin sticks and detonators from the camp. The police are seeing it as a last-ditch effort by a desperate Gurung to win back his position.

Gurung’s slide actually started a few years ago. Although the GJM remained the single-most powerful political force in the hills, it had perceptibly lost its universal appeal among the people. The decline began with the assassination of Madan Tamang, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL), allegedly by GJM workers in broad daylight in 2010. Madan Tamang was not only one of the most respected leaders of the hills but also a very vocal critic of Gurung’s policies. The subsequent investigation into the assassination by the Central Bureau of Investigation put the GJM on the back foot, and until the flare-up in July this year, Gurung was forced to tone down the agitation for a separate State, a fact that did not go down well with a section of the people. However, with muscle power on his side and no viable opposition, Gurung to continued to rule the region. The Gorkhaland movement that he took over from the GNLF and revived also began to fizzle out with the establishment of the GTA in 2011. The following year, the GJM won the election to the autonomous body unopposed.

Although it registered convincing victories in the subsequent Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the erosion in its support base became apparent, with the Trinamool Congress gaining inroads into the hills and even winning the Mirik municipal body in May this year. Many believe that the flare-up in the hills orchestrated by Gurung in June against the State government’s decision to make Bengali compulsory at the school level was nothing but a ploy to avoid the GTA elections scheduled for July. If it was indeed a ploy, it backfired. By reviving the Gorkhaland issue, he may have won back his dwindling support among the masses, but after having to flee the scene, he now stands to lose it all.

However, Binay Tamang’s position, in spite of the backing of the State government, may not be all that secure. The fact that he was placed in power by the State government has not gone down well with a large section of the hill people, who see it as a blatant compromise with the Gorkhaland cause. There is the danger of the resentment of the masses rising once the initial relief that comes with the lifting of a prolonged bandh passes. The other prominent hill parties, too, stand firmly against the State government-backed GTA board. “Nobody is in favour of this GTA Part 2. The people of the hills are against it as it goes against their sentiments and aspirations. The State government will have to look for an alternative long-term settlement,” GNLF leader Niraj Zimba told Frontline.

A section of political observers also feels that even now, with all the setbacks, it may be a little premature to write Gurung off. “As things stand, it appears to be difficult for Bimal Gurung to come back to the mainstream of politics. But I would not count him out, as a section of the hill people still identify with him and support him. Just because he has been accused of preparing an armed uprising does not mean one can write his epitaph,” said Sandip C. Jain, editor of The Himalayan Times.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

Recognition

Award for Frontline journalist

the-nation

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN, Senior Associate Editor, Frontline, was awarded the Maja Koene Social Journalist award 2017 in Madurai on October 14. Instituted in 2000, the award honours “socially responsible journalists who have done a significant work in the field of awareness building in order to remove injustice and poverty”.

Apart from journalists, the Maja Koene awards are also presented to social activists as well as people and institutions working to promote the agenda of peace and non-violence in any part of the world. The awards, jointly instituted by the Centre for Experiencing Socio-Cultural Interaction (CESCI) Switzerland and CESCI-India, is in memory of the late Maja Koene, photojournalist and Gandhian social activist. The award citation stated that “Venkitesh Ramakrishnan has proved that journalism can influence local action and policies at State and national levels” and that “through his writings, he has brought attention to social movements that are taking up larger issues in the society”.

Other awardees in the journalist category were Sarvodaya Press Service, Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and Jayant Singh Tomar, a freelance journalist from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Awardees in the social activist category were Jugra village, Jharkhand, for its struggle against corporate mining and displacement; Plachimada village, Kerala, whose people carried out a victorious agitation against the depletion of water resources by Coca-Cola; P. Sekar, for empowerment of disabled people; and Shanmugaraja, people’s theatre activist. The Peace Prize was awarded to CICODEV, Senegal, Africa.

The awards were presented by the veteran Gandhian S.N. Subba Rao; S.C. Behar, former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh and president CESCI; Anuradha Shankar, Additional DGP Madhya Pradesh; and Dr M. Geetha, Secretary in the government of Chhattisgarh.

Crime

Murder mystery

V. VENKATESAN the-nation

RAJESH and Nupur Talwar, the dentist couple who in 2013 were sentenced by a trial court to rigorous imprisonment for the murder of their only daughter, the teenaged Aarushi, and the family’s domestic worker, Hemraj, walked out free from Dasna Jail in Ghaziabad on October 16. The Allahabad High Court on October 12 allowed their appeals against the trial court verdict and acquitted both.

The prosecution, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), had treated the murder as an honour crime and charged the Talwars for killing Aarushi and Hemraj, allegedly after witnessing them indulging in sexual intercourse in Aarushi’s bedroom in the intervening night of May 15-16, 2008.

The Allahabad High Court bench of Justices Bala Krishna Narayana and Arvind Kumar Mishra found the CBI’s theory absurd and weak and the trial court’s reasoning full of erroneous assumptions. The High Court found clinching evidence pointing to the presence of outsiders in the Talwars’ residence on the fateful night.

Censure for trial court judge

It indicted the trial court judge in Ghaziabad, Shyam Lal, for the style and approach of his judgment. Shyam Lal had delivered the judgment in the case shortly before his retirement. “Like a film director, the trial judge has tried to thrust coherence amongst facts inalienably scattered here and there, but not giving any coherence to the idea as to what in fact happened,” the High Court observed.

As the case against the Talwars relied only on circumstantial evidence, the motive was very significant. The trial court accepted the CBI’s theory that catching Hemraj in an act of sexual intercourse with Aarushi in her bedroom provided grave and sudden provocation to her parents, who murdered both by assaulting them with a golf club and slitting their throats with a surgical scalpel.

The CBI’s case was based on the finding of Dr Mohinder Singh Dahiya, the then Deputy Director, Institute of Forensic Science, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, that Hemraj’s blood was found on the pillow in Aarushi’s bedroom.

The report of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), New Delhi, dated June 19, 2008, however, stated that the blood and DNA of Aarushi alone were found on the bed sheet, pillow, pillowcase and and mattresses seized from Aarushi’s bedroom on May 16, 2008; Hemraj’s blood and DNA were not detected on these.

This was affirmed by Dr B.K. Mohapatra, DNA expert of CFSL, New Delhi. This was corroborated from the evidence of Suresh Kumar Singla, serologist, CFSL, New Delhi, who was examined during the trial. Singla also testified before the trial court that Aarushi’s blood was not found on Hemraj’s clothes, and vice versa.

A.G.L. Kaul, the CBI officer who submitted closure report on December 29, 2010, clearly stated in paragraph 25 of the report that Hemraj’s blood was not found on Aarushi’s bed sheet and pillow, and there was no evidence on record to prove that Hemraj was killed in her room. The Ghaziabad Magistrate Preeti Singh, however, rejected the closure report and directed the CBI to proceed with the trial. The Talwars themselves challenged the closure report, though ironically its rejection led to their subsequent conviction and imprisonment for nearly four years.

Aarushi’s post-mortem report, prepared by Dr Sunil Kumar Dohre, did not indicate any kind of sexual assault. Yet, Dr Dohre deposed before the trial court that Aarushi’s vaginal cavity contained a white discharge, and that the cavity was open and the vaginal canal was visible on account of manipulation/fiddling with the vaginal cavity either prior to or during the stage of rigor mortis.

Dr Dohre later clarified that what he told the court—as against what he recorded in the post-mortem report—was based on his subjective findings.

The High Court held that Dr Dohre’s subjective findings had no place in forensic science and no credibility could be attached to his evidence suggesting sexual intercourse or any fiddling with the victim’s vaginal cavity after the murder.

The deposition of Dr Naresh Raj, who conducted post-mortem on Hemraj’s body, also supported the prosecution’s case. He stated that Hemraj’s penis showed swelling, either because he was in the midst of sexual intercourse or because he was about to indulge in it immediately before being murdered. This, he said, was his inference on the basis of his own marital experience.

Hemraj’s body was discovered at about 10 a.m. on May 17, 2008, on the terrace of Rajesh Talwar’s residence, where it had lain for over 24 hours, exposed to the scorching May sun. The post-mortem was performed at 9:30 p.m. on the night of May 17.

The High Court concluded that the swelling was the result of the elapsing of 36 hours after Hemraj’s death before the post-mortem was performed and had nothing to do with sexual intercourse.

Dr Urmila Sharma, a renowned gynaecologist, deposed before the trial court that the presence of a white discharge noticed in Aarushi’s vaginal cavity was normal. She explained that biological discharge starts in every girl at 13-14 years when hormonal changes start taking place in the ovaries. She told the trial court that the vaginal orifice could not have been found open in a teenaged girl like Aarushi. She explained that the vaginal orifice is found open only in women who have given birth to several children, a condition that is described in medical terminology as “prolapsed”. She also said in the trial court that the vaginal cavity would not be visible after the girl’s death unless an instrument was forcefully inserted.

The CBI cross-examined Dr Urmila Sharma at great length but could not extract anything from her that supported Dr Dohre’s theory or suggested that she was on unsure ground. The High Court demolished the “last seen” theory, which was used to convict the Talwars. The trial court relied on the Talwars’ driver Umesh Sharma’s deposition that on May 15, 2008, when he went to the Talwars’ flat to hand over the car keys around 8:45 p.m., he saw the four of them, Rajesh, Nupur, Aarushi and Hemraj together. The High Court held that it could not be presumed that no one visited the flat after Sharma left.

The CBI used Talwars’ part-time domestic worker Bharti Mandal’s testimony to establish that the flat was locked from inside when she arrived on the morning of May 16 and concluded that there was no possibility of any outsider having accessed the flat during the night.

The High Court, which found Bharti Mandal to be a tutored witness, said that her testimony was insufficient for establishing that the flat was locked from inside.

CBI theory rebutted

The High Court rebutted the CBI’s theory that Internet activity in the flat on that fateful night showed the Talwars were awake through the night. The Talwars claimed they had no idea of what was happening because they were sleeping with their noisy air conditioner on. The evidence adduced by the CBI proved that it was not possible for the Talwars to have heard the sounds of footsteps or the closing and opening of doors, the High Court said.

The prosecution alleged that the Talwar couple had wrapped Hemraj’s body in a bed sheet, dragged it over the stairs to the terrace and then wiped out bloodstains from the stairs.

The High Court, however, pointed out that Hemraj’s blood had not been found either in Aarushi’s room or anywhere else in the flat or in the outer gallery of the staircase.

The High Court did not agree with the prosecution’s contention that the injuries caused to Hemraj by the blunt weapon would not have led to any bleeding or that maximum blood loss suffered by him was due to the slitting of his throat on the terrace. The CBI alleged that when Rajesh Talwar was told of the bloodstains on the door and the lock of the terrace on May 16, 2008, he climbed up the stairs, immediately returned to his flat and failed to provide the keys to the terrace lock though he was asked.

This, according to the CBI, showed that he wanted to divert the police’s attention so that Hemraj’s body was not discovered.

The High Court, however, held that the prosecution failed to prove by any cogent evidence that the Talwars refused to make the keys available to the Investigating Officer, Data Ram Naunaria. It was the officer’s negligence, and not the non-availability of the key, that led to the terrace not being checked for hours, the High Court said.

There was no evidence that either Rajesh or Nupur or any of their relatives tried to prevent the police from breaking open the lock on May 16. The High Court also found the theory that the Talwars had hidden the dead body of Hemraj on the terrace in order to dispose of it upon getting a suitable opportunity later patently absurd.

That there was no blood on the toys on Aarushi’s bed could not be construed as conclusively pointing to the dressing up of the crime scene by the Talwars, the court said. It added that there were minimal creases on Aarushi’s bed sheet because she was immobilised by the attack, which left no scope for any scuffle or resistance, and not because the crime scene was dressed up. The High Court found that the prosecution had failed to pick up the fingerprints that must have been left by those who put a cooler panel on Hemraj’s body and compare them with those of the Talwars.

The record shows that Aarushi’s room was cleaned in the Talwars’ absence, after they left for the crematorium to perform the last rites of their daughter, by Umesh Sharma in the presence of a large number of policemen. The High court found no evidence to show that Sharma cleaned the room at the Talwars’ behest.

The High Court disagreed with the prosecution’s theory that the Talwars’ conduct following their daughter’s murder was not “normal” and that this indicated guilt. It observed that people react differently to any given situation.

The High Court also held that the prosecution was not able to prove that a golf club and a surgical scalpel were the eapons used by the Talwars to commit the double murder.

More importantly, the High Court found that the prosecution was unable to prove by any cogent and reliable evidence that there was any typographical error in the description of pillow and pillow cover seized from Hemraj’s room and a purple pillow seized from the room of Krishna (Rajesh Talwar’s assistant at his dental clinic) in the report of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnosis (CDFD), Hyderabad. The report indicated that Hemraj’s blood was found on the purple pillow cover seized from Krishna’s room. The CDFD’s clarificatory letter, issued after a lapse of almost three years from the date of submission of its report, that it was a typographical error, appeared to be a procured document, the High Court held.

“It is proved from the evidence of PW25 SPR Prasad that the CDFD Hyderabad before preparing the report dated 6.11.2008 Ext. Ka51, he had got the two exhibits purple colour pillow cover seized from the room of Krishna and pillow along with pillow cover seized from the room of Hemraj examined by experts, who had sat down together and prepared the final report and as such there was no possibility of any error, as claimed by the prosecution having crept in the description of the two most material exhibits of the case,” the High Court concluded.

The High Court took note of the fact that during the investigation, the CBI arrested and interrogated Krishna, Rajkumar (a domestic help of one of Talwar’s friends) and Vijay Mandal (a domestic help employed by Talwar’s neighbours) and the three remained suspects for a considerably long time.

The High Court held that Rajesh and Nupur could not be convicted for their failure to come up with any explanation for the circumstances under which the double murders were committed.

The results of narco and brain mapping tests on suspects are not legally admissible evidence, although they can help the police in their investigations. The narco tests on the Talwars showed them as innocent, while similar tests on Krishna, Raj Kumar and Vijay Mandal pointed to their culpability. Mandal agreed to turn approver, while Krishna and Raj Kumar offered alibis and refuted the results of the narco tests on them. There is no explanation why the CBI did not pursue the leads after it reconstituted the investigative team.

Anchor’s revelation

The journalist Avirook Sen, in his book Aarushi (Penguin, 2015), refers to a revelation by the television anchor Nalini Singh, who ran a Nepali television channel in 2008. She claimed that she had received a telephone call from CBI officer Anuj Arya a few months after the murders. Arya, who worked under Arun Kumar, had asked Nalini Singh to provide a very curious piece of information: What was the playlist on her channel on the night of May 15-16 2008?

Nalini Singh provided the information after Arya told her that domestic workers suspected in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case had under narco analysis named specific songs that they were watching that night in Hemraj’s room. The songs played matched with the ones named by the suspects, leading to the inference that the domestic workers were together that night in Hemraj’s room, though all of them denied it. The Talwars pleaded with the trial court judge, Shyam Lal, to allow two additional witnesses, Nalini Singh and Anuj Arya. But Shyam Lal rejected the application, and the final arguments in the case began in 2013.

Nalini Singh confirmed this revelation in her article “Someone did kill Aarushi” in Indian Express on October 17 and asked whether the CBI would constitute Team Three to find the truth behind the murders.

The Talwars, having suffered at the hands of the law, will likely desist from seeking reinvestigation or retrial.

Social Issues

Unending wait in Tamil Nadu

WHAT bothers reformists in Tamil Nadu is why every government in the State, which is known for the social reform movement pioneered by E.V. Ramasamy “Periyar”, has been reluctant to appoint non-Brahmin archakas in temples within its administrative purview, while neighbouring Kerala has done it with relative ease. As many as 206 non-Brahmin youths, including 30 Dalit candidates, who were trained at government-run Archakas’ Training Centres have remained jobless for a decade.

The issue of archakas in the six-decade-old Dravidian party rule in Tamil Nadu exposes a sinister fact—the power of regressive forces that are determined to carry on their discriminatory practices against any social reform the State attempts to initiate. Activists and followers of Periyar blame it on the lack of political will. “The problem in Tamil Nadu could not be resolved despite the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] government’s intervention, mainly because of a few who adopt partisan attitudes against any reform in the State, especially in temples,” said S. Vanchinathan, a Madurai-based lawyer who is also the State coordinator of the People’s Rights Protection Centre, which, along with a few similar organisations, has taken up the issue.

It is not far from the truth. A peek into history will reveal the persistent Hindutva politics behind it. Periyar called “hereditary priesthood” and the exclusion of non-Brahmins from priestly functions a “thorn in his heart”. The issue has its origins in the passing of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 1959 which brought temples under the State administration. But the piece of legislation came with a rider. Section 55 of the Act sought to recognise the right of hereditary priesthood. “Hence, it retained one denomination’s control over worship and other ritualistic exercises that are performed inside the sanctum sanctorum of temples,” said C. Raju, State coordinator, Makkal Athigaram (People’s Power).

In 1971, the then DMK government moved an amendment abolishing Section 55. It was moved on the basis of the findings of a committee headed by the Dalit leader L. Elayaperumal in 1969 at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. (It was an all-India committee that detailed the status of the oppressed in the country.) As expected, the abolition was challenged in court ( Seshammal vs State of Tamil Nadu).

Including that of Seshammal, 12 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the 1971 amendment alleging that it violated Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, while concurring with the abolition move, said that the appointment of office-bearers or servants of the temples was required to be made from a particular denomination/group/sect as mandated by the Agamas.

It was again left to the government headed by the DMK to take up the issue in 2006. It issued a Government Order (G.O.) and subsequently an ordinance on May 23, 2006, saying that “any person who is a Hindu and possessing requisite qualification and training can be appointed Archaka in Hindu temples”. In pursuant of the order, it opened six priest training schools for candidates from all castes to train them as archakas. A year and a half later, a batch of 206 candidates passed out, but no one has so far been appointed in any of the temples. It is still the preserve of veda pathasalas, run by individuals and attached to big temples that train only Brahmin boys.

K. Venkatesan, 28, a Dalit who was trained at the Tiruvannamalai Archaka Centre, told Frontline that out of 39 students in his class, six, including himself, were Dalits and two were Brahmins. “We were trained in Vedic chanting, mantras and other Agama rules. Senior Vedic scholars took classes. It was a year-long course, and on successful completion, we were issued certificates of merit,” he said. “I am struggling today with no income. The government promised us jobs. But it has failed on its promise,” he said.

Another Dalit priest, G. Balaguru, who was trained at the Tiruchendur Centre, however, said that since he was not given any posting, he took up independent assignments of performing pujas, kumbabhisekams (temple renovation pujas), grihapravesams (housewarming), marriages and other work which Brahmins used to perform in his area. “I am busy today. All castes, including the backward caste groups, ask me to perform rituals at their functions today. I even perform the role of chief purohit in marriages. There is no use of waiting for the government nod [to get appointment]. I have no regrets,” he said.

Both have turned vegetarians and strictly adhere to the Vedic principles of life today. The State provided them a stipend of Rs.500 a month during their course at the Archaka residential centres. “Admission was strictly on merit and on 69 per cent reservation basis. All Vedic scholars took classes. Both Tamil and grantham were taught. We can chant and perform pujas and other rituals as per Agama scriptures. Only our birth prevents us from performing pujas to our gods,” Balaguru said. Today, these schools have been closed, with the government citing no reason whatsoever. The issue was revived every time the DMK was in power, but political indifference prevented a solution. As the State had been ruled alternately by the DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or AIADMK (barring the 2016 elections in which the AIADMK retained power), the governments, especially the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government, never showed any interest in it.

The G.O. issued by the DMK government was also challenged in court, preventing any further development. The State government then closed down the training centres after the completion of the inaugural course. “In fact, out of 1,174 archakas working in big Vedic temples, 574 are serving on hereditary basis. Many of them are not trained as per the Agamas. This was noted in the Justice A.K. Rajan Committee report,” said Raju.

The Supreme Court, in its December 2015 judgment, did not strike down the G.O. of May 23, 2006, but said that “priests can be appointed only as per the Agama sastras of respective temples”. This has led to misinterpretations and haphazard conclusions. The court’s ruling was that the appointment of archakas in temples as per the Agamas was not a violation of the right to equality and contended that Agamas were the "fundamental religious belief" of a particular sect and that the exclusive right to enter the sanctum sanctorum could not be construed as “untouchability”.

Any person, irrespective of caste, the court said, would be eligible for appointment so far as he belonged to the particular denomination of the temple, and in case of dispute, individuals could approach the court as it had to be decided “on a case by case basis”. But the ambiguity in the verdict made the present government put things on hold.

“This verdict in our view creates confusion among people. Any discriminatory practice on birth-based descent, whether it is inside the sanctum sanctorum or not, is an act of untouchability. Agamas are not codified, how can one rely on them? The State should come out with an answer to this vexatious issue,” said Vanchinathan.

But the State remains a mute spectator on this issue of social justice.

Pollution

Breathing space for the capital

V.VENKATESAN the-nation

ARJUN GOPAL, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin, all children not even four years old and living in Delhi, will indeed thank their parents when they grow up for making them the lead petitioners in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2015. The PIL had sought effective relief from the worsening air pollution in the city. On October 9, it had an unexpected success, ensuring that Deepavali this year was less polluting than last year. A bench, comprising Justices A.K. Sikri, Abhay Manohar Sapre and Ashok Bhushan, restored the Supreme Court’s 2016 order suspending the permanent licences granted earlier to sell fireworks in Delhi and the national capital region (NCR).

That order was passed on November 11, 2016, soon after Deepavali, when Delhi and the NCR were faced with a situation described as a “health emergency”, following the rapid deterioration of air quality because of the bursting of fireworks and other factors. It was passed by a bench comprising the then Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, and Justices Sikri and S.A. Bobde. But on September 12, 2017, a two-judge bench comprising Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta lifted the suspension of permanent licences “for the time being”.

Judicial discipline requires that a bench of smaller strength does not dilute an order passed by a larger bench. Yet, the Lokur-Gupta bench lifted the suspension of permanent licences by tweaking the 2016 order on the grounds that a graded regulation was necessary, which would eventually result in prohibition. It had reasoned that from the material available to it, it could not be said with any great degree of certainty that the extremely poor quality of air in Delhi in November and December 2016 was solely the result of bursting fireworks during Deepavali.

Certainly, there were other causes as well, but the contribution of fireworks cannot be glossed over; unfortunately, it was not possible to give an accurate or relative assessment of what worsened the air quality in Delhi and the NCR, the bench suggested. Consequently, a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be an extreme step that might not be fully warranted by the facts available, the Lokur-Gupta bench held on September 12.

A concealed fact

It is indeed unusual for one bench of the Supreme Court to review and reverse an order passed by another bench within a few days of its passing. However, rather unusual circumstances were behind it. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had taken the stand before the Delhi High Court, nearly 20 years earlier, that sulphur in fireworks should not be permitted. Sulphur, on combustion, produces sulphur dioxide, which is extremely harmful to health. The CPCB had stated then that between 9 p.m. to midnight on Deepavali day the levels of sulphur dioxide in the air were dangerously high. The CPCB had also stated in a letter to the Commissioner of Delhi Police on November 4, 1996, that bursting crackers joined together should be banned. Neither the CPCB nor the Delhi Police, who are the respondents before the Supreme Court in the Arjun Gopal case, divulged this fact to the court.

What the CPCB failed to divulge was not a new fact. On the contrary, it maintained that it had been consistent in its stand and that it was in favour of a complete ban on the sale of fireworks. However, the counsel for the petitioners also came across a report submitted by the amicus curiae to the Delhi High Court on September 14, 1998, in Sagun Kaushik vs Lt Governor of Delhi. The amicus curiae was none other than Justice Lokur himself, before his elevation to the bench as a judge of the Delhi High Court.

In this case, the High Court had imposed a ban on the manufacture, sale or use of firecrackers that generated noise levels exceeding the acceptable limit and required manufacturers to specify the noise level on the product itself. The High Court also held that people should be made aware of the ill effects of air and noise pollution caused by indiscriminate use of fireworks. More importantly, the report submitted by the amicus curiae had recommended a ban on certain types of firecrackers and the use of sulphur.

The petitioners in the Arjun Gopal case, therefore, first moved an application before Justice Lokur himself, annexing the 1998 report that he had submitted as amicus curiae to the Delhi High Court, to review his September 12 order relaxing the ban on the sale of fireworks. Justice Lokur, in a brief order, referred to this annexure and recused himself from hearing the application. The matter was then posted before the Justice Sikri-led bench, which finally decided it on October 9.

Justice Sikri described the petitioners’ move to cite the 1998 amicus curiae report as an attempt to take the case away from Justice Lokur’s bench. He denounced it as an unhealthy practice and recorded the court’s strongest condemnation. But Justice Sikri admitted that the application raised an important public issue that needed serious and adequate consideration.

Justice Sikri reasoned that the 2016 order was passed immediately after Deepavali, and therefore, its effect would be discernible only if it was implemented for at least one Deepavali season. “The order suspending the licences should be given one chance to test itself in order to find out as to whether there would be positive effect of this suspension, particularly during Diwali period,” the Justice Sikri-led bench held. The bench then said that Justice Lokur’s September 12 order would become effective only from November 1, well after this year’s Deepavali. The Justice Sikri-led bench suspended the temporary licences to sell fireworks that might have been issued after September 12 so that there was no further sale of crackers in Delhi and the NCR.

In Arjun Gopal and others, the petitioners sought relief from wide-ranging issues—from the use of fireworks (including firecrackers), harmful burning of crops and dumping of malba (construction material), and so on—besides demanding steps required for a cleaner environment. However, the court chose to restrict its order to granting interim relief only in the case of fireworks.

Measuring air quality

The 2016 order noted that air quality was measured in terms of the Air Quality Index (AQI), launched in India on October 17, 2014, by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. It consists of a comprehensive set of parameters to monitor and assess air quality. The AQI considers eight substances as pollutants (particulate matter, or PM 10 and PM 2.5; nitrogen dioxide, or NO2; sulphur dioxide, or SO2; carbon monoxide, or CO; ground-level ozone, or O3; ammonia gas, or NH3; and lead, or Pb), and based on the levels of these pollutants, six categories of AQI, ranging from “Good” to “Severe”, have been prescribed. Reports indicated that the AQI in Delhi was much worse than “Severe”, going above the AQI 500 mark on many days in November 2016. On the day after Deepavali in 2016, it was 14 times worse than the safe limit.

In its 2016 order, the court cited, apart from other studies, the results of a study conducted by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, commissioned by the CPCB. The study found that in the key indicators of palpitation, vision, blood pressure and respiratory health, such as lung function, children aged between four and 17 in Delhi were worse off than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

The court found that concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 had shown considerable increase in the NCR. PM 2.5 refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and a half microns or less in width. The widths of the larger particles in the PM 2.5 size range would be about 30 times smaller than that of a human hair. These particles primarily emanate from vehicle exhausts and other operations that involve the burning of fuel such as wood, heating oil or coal and, of course, firecrackers. The court considered the fact that in 2016, the 24-hour average of the PM 2.5 level in South Delhi was 38 per cent higher than on the Deepavali night of 2015. The day after Deepavali in 2016, it was twice as high as it was on the day after Deepavali in 2015, estimated at 26 times more than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards or levels considered safe. On November 1, 2016, Delhi woke up to an average PM 2.5 level which was 29 times above WHO standards.

The CPCB report indicated that air pollution levels across the region rose by four to five times on Deepavali as a consequence of fireworks.

The court held that when the AQI in the NCR was abysmally and threateningly severe, allowing free trade in fireworks, which was a major source of noise and air pollution, and allowing the availability of such fireworks or explosives constituted a serious invasion of the freedoms and rights conferred on citizens by Part III of the Constitution.

Balancing the vital interests of the vast majority of citizens against the commercial interests of a few, the bench held that the balance must tilt heavily in favour of the citizens. Applying the precautionary principle, the court mandated that where there were threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Rule 118 of the Explosive Rules, 2008, framed under the Explosives Act, 1884, provides for the manner in which licences issued under the Act to store and sell explosives could be suspended or cancelled. Sub-rule (5) thereof confers on the Central government the power to suspend or cancel a licence if it considered that it was in the public interest. Considering the grave air quality situation in the NCR, the Supreme Court found it was justified in intervening and suspending the licences given to store and sell fireworks in the NCR. It, therefore, directed the Central government in 2016 to suspend all such licences, wholesale and retail, in the NCR. It held that the suspension would remain in force until further orders, and that such licences could not be granted or renewed until further orders.

It remains to be seen how restoration of the 2016 order by the Supreme Court will affect the air quality in Delhi this Deepavali.

Meanwhile, expressions of dissent to the Supreme Court’s order in the social media, giving it a communal colour and suggesting that the court was targeting only Hindu festivals to control pollution, have anguished the court. On October 13, traders who had invested huge sums of money in the purchase of crackers and were likely to suffer severe financial loss approached the court for relief.

The Justice Sikri-led bench declined their plea, expressing its anguish that the criticism against its order was on communal lines. “We are not against celebrating the festival, but we want to experiment to bring down the pollution level,” the court explained.

Gender issues

'Extremely positive step for women’s rights'

V. VENKATESAN the-nation

IN the judgment in Independent Thought vs Union of India, delivered on October 11, the Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta read down Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to hold that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife if she is below 18 years of age would amount to rape. Reading down is an interpretative tool that enables a constitutional court to bring a law in harmony with other legal provisions. The Exception had provided that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, was not rape. Many observers consider the judgment a landmark, although it has led to some apprehensions about its implications.

Jayna Kothari is an advocate practising in the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court. She is also the executive director of the Centre for Law and Policy Research (CLPR) in Bengaluru. She practises extensively in the field of constitutional law, including the right to education and health and gender and disability rights, and is the author of The Future of Disability Law in India (OUP, 2012).

In the organisation Independent Thought’s challenge to the Exception 2 to Section 375 of the IPC before the Supreme Court, Jayna Kothari represented the Child Rights Trust as an intervener. The organisation works in Karnataka against child marriage. Both Justice Lokur and Justice Gupta, in their concurrent judgments reading down the Exception, complimented Jayna Kothari for her contribution and research, which helped in deciding the case.

Excerpts from an email interview she gave Frontline:

Has the Supreme Court’s judgment in “Independent Thought” made child marriages void, rather than voidable, because even the husband and wife of existing child marriages have to avoid intercourse and, therefore, living together until the wife turns 18?

No, the judgment does not make child marriages void, although it does give a recommendation that all other State governments should follow the Karnataka example of amending the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, to make child marriages void. In existing marriages, even if the husband and wife have to live separately until the wife turns 18, it will not make the marriage void. The marriage is still legally valid even if the couple may not be staying together or not having sexual intercourse.

In many cases, courts have themselves directed couples to stay separately and not consummate the marriage until the girl turns 18 and this would not make their marriages void. This was directed by the Delhi High Court in Association for Social Justice & Research vs Union of India [2010 SCC Online (Del) 1964] to the parents of a minor girl and to the husband to ensure that the marriage was not consummated until the girl turned 18 and after that it could be consummated only with her consent, which was also referred to by the Supreme Court in its judgment.

If the wife below 18 gives her consent for intercourse, will it still be an offence after this judgment?

Yes, it would still be an offence of rape because the judgment holds that with or without consent when the wife is under 18 years, any sexual intercourse would amount to rape. A similar provision is provided in Section 375 in (Sixthly) of the IPC, which states that sexual intercourse with a woman is rape “with or without her consent, when she is under eighteen years of age”.

This is also provided under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, where there is no mention of consent for any sexual act with a child, who is defined to be under 18 years of age.

If a minor wife cannot live with her husband until she turns 18, and if they already have children before this judgment, what will be the consequence? Would it mean disruption of their family as a result of this judgment?

No, it would not mean disruption of the family. It would mean protection of the sexual and reproductive rights of the minor girl. If her husband wants to see the children and spend time with the children, he is free to do so. It is only sexual intercourse with a minor girl that would be treated as rape.

DATA FROM KARNATAKA

From your study of child marriages in Karnataka, which is the only State to make child marriages void, rather than voidable, what do the data suggest?

In Karnataka, as per the data obtained by the CLPR pertaining to the year 2016-17 under the Right to Information Act, a total of 702 complaints were received by the Child Marriage Prohibition Officers (CMPOs) in various districts. But only 17 complaints were registered with the police.

It also states that 58 child marriages were in fact conducted. There is no explanation given as to why the CMPOs did not file complaints and take steps for prosecution in the remaining cases. Thus, implementation of the PCMA is a serious issue, and child marriages are not being prevented by the authorities effectively. Also, the actual number of child marriages conducted is much higher, as child rights activists working on the ground state from their experience.

The amendment to make child marriages void ab initio has been with effect from April 26, 2017, but the State government has taken no steps to publicise this amendment and spread awareness about it. People do not know that this amendment has been brought into force and that child marriages are void. There is an urgent need to ensure that this amendment is given wide publicity.

How many CMPOs does the country have and what have they achieved under the PCMA? Do you have State-wise data? Has the PCMA been ineffective? If not, why?

We do not have countrywide data on how many CMPOs are appointed. It varies from State to State. Having more CMPOs does not have a direct correlation with better implementation of the PCMA.

In Karnataka, for example, there are 54,000 CMPOs because almost all government officials have been made CMPOs. This includes government schoolteachers, anganwadi workers, revenue officials, police inspectors, among others. Owing to this, in fact, implementation of the PCMA is very weak because none of these officials know their roles under the PCMA, and when complaints are made, the officials pass the buck and ask the complainant to approach someone else as they are either too busy or not aware of what they are required to do.

MARITAL RAPE


Justices Lokur and Gupta have said in their separate judgments that they were not dealing with marital rape of a woman who is 18 years of age and above since that issue was not before them. Considering that the Delhi High Court is currently hearing a challenge to marital rape, how far do you think this judgment would come to the help of the petitioners in the Delhi High Court?

Although the judges have specifically held that they were not dealing with the issue of marital rape, I believe this judgment will play a significant role in deciding the issue in the Delhi High Court. For the first time, it has been held that sexual intercourse within marriage will be rape, even if it is in the case of minor wives. This barrier of recognising sexual violence within marriage has been crossed by the Supreme Court. Justice Madan Lokur categorically rejected the argument that recognising marital rape would destroy the institution of marriage, which has been the central argument of the government.

This will open up the debate on recognising marital rape in the country and is an extremely positive step for the protection of women’s constitutional rights within marriage.

Exception 2 of Section 375 of the IPC, which the bench has read down to protect married girls below 18 from rape, appears to be a redundant provision because other pieces of legislation, such as the POCSO Act and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, do not have similar exceptions and also deal with sexual violence. Therefore, how serious was the challenge to this provision in the IPC? In fact, Section 42 of the POCSO Act says it will prevail over the IPC.

This PIL [public interest litigation] was a serious challenge because while other legislations like the POCSO Act and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) did recognise sexual violence within marriage as an offence, Section 375 specifically exempted it for married minor girls, due to which these other laws were being diluted.

Very few cases have been registered under the POCSO Act where the girls have been married, and even in those cases courts have been taking a very lenient view of giving bail to the accused only because he was the husband, and the IPC did not make rape with minor girls above 15 an offence. Under the POCSO Act, marriage of the parties was being seen by the courts as a mitigating factor to grant bail to the accused when it should have been the other way around.

Under the PWDVA, sexual violence is recognised for obtaining civil remedies of protection orders but does not make it a criminal offence. Hence, this PIL and the judgment of the Supreme Court are extremely significant.

ON CRITICISM OF JUDGMENT

The judgment has attracted the criticism that since the enhancement of the age of consent from 15 to 18 was erroneous, the reading down of the exception to rape is also erroneous as both fail to recognise that adolescents make love and want to experiment, and therefore, their relationships should not be criminalised.

The age of consent for statutory rape both under the POCSO Act and Section 375 of the IPC as being raised from 16 to 18 years has been criticised as criminalising the rights of young persons to have sexual relationships. This is a larger question which cannot be addressed by merely reducing the age of consent and would need to take into account the difference in ages of male and female partners as to what would constitute rape.

If there is any revision of the age of consent, that is to be seen in the future. For now, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 18 and so is the age of marriage, and hence on this front I don’t think there has been any substantive criticism of this judgment.

In fact, it has been welcomed because within marriage all the data from reports and studies carried out nationally and internationally show that minor girls face high levels of sexual violence, deprivation of their reproductive choices and risks to their health.

Muslim personal law permits marriage of girls under 18. How would this judgment affect Muslims?

This judgment would apply to Muslims without doubt, just as it would apply to Hindus, Christians and Parsis as the IPC is a secular law and applies to everyone. It is not just Muslim personal law, but even Hindu law permits marriages of minors as it does not make them void.

Following this judgment, how would the police come to know about the age of the wife in a child marriage so as to prosecute the husband of a minor wife? If the minor wife makes no complaint, can the police act on their own on the basis of information they receive from third parties? What if the husband and the minor wife both say that there has been no sexual relationship between them? Will sexual relationship and therefore, rape, be implied if the wife is a minor?

Under the IPC, the police can only act if they receive a complaint from someone, either from the girl herself or from any third parties, such as her family members or any other concerned person. For the offence of rape to be proved, a full-fledged trial will need to be conducted, just like in the case of any other offence. If the minor wife states that there has been no sexual relationship, then her statement will need to be taken into account.

However, for the purpose of evidence, other circumstantial evidence can be taken, such as whether she had become pregnant any time, statements of other family members.

Does the judgment have the potential of eradicating child marriage as marrying a minor wife will be construed as a criminal offence? Or will the IPC Exception, which has been read down, suffer the same fate as the PCMA?

I think this judgment has great potential for eradicating child marriage. The impact of the offence of rape under Section 375 of the IPC is immense and it will significantly deter child marriages. The PCMA was weak because the punishment for child marriages was so low, and as a special legislation it was not taken seriously even by law enforcement officers and because the IPC exempted child marriages from the offence of rape.

Now that the IPC has been read down, it will guarantee the reduction of child marriages as the offence of rape is serious and there is no escape from criminal charges for a man marrying a minor girl.

Justice Gupta, in his concurring judgment, has drawn attention to Section 198 (6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and has held that it will apply to cases of rape of wives below 18 years and that cognisance can be taken only in accordance with the Section. Now, this provision says a court can take cognisance only within one year of the date of occurrence. Will it not lead to an anomaly of sorts?

No, this will not lead to an anomaly, because Section 198(6) is a provision that was already present in the CrPC. Limitation has been provided under the CrPC for marital rape to be one year, and that would hold. If we are successful in ensuring that this judgment is given wide publicity and that people are made aware that sexual intercourse within child marriages would be rape, then the limitation under Section 198 (6) of the CrPC would not be of any concern as there would be a move towards eradication of child marriages itself and greater awareness in filing complaints.

New artillery thrust

the-nation

THE indigenous weapons system Dhanush is a prong in the troika of 155 mm artillery guns that the Army hopes to induct over the next few years as it seeks to arm itself with multiple combat capabilities across the strategic, tactical and operational spheres. All three guns—Dhanush, the highly mobile U.S.-manufactured 155 mm .39 calibre M777 ultralight howitzer (the first two of the 145 on order, in a deal worth $750 million, arrived in May and are undergoing trials for the preparation of firing tables), and the 155 mm .52 calibre tracked self-propelled K-9 Vajra (Thunder) gun system (100 on order in a $700 million deal), which will be manufactured in India by Larsen & Toubro in collaboration with its Korean technology partner Hanwha Techwin—have ranges varying from 30 kilometres to 40 km. A significant number of the M777s will be assembled in India by BAE Systems in partnership with Mahindra Defence.

The howitzers are expected to increase the Army’s capabilities in high altitude and will be deployed in the northern and eastern sectors. The Army is looking at acquiring more than 400 Dhanush guns. In addition to these three new armaments, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing an ATAGS (advanced towed artillery gun system). It is a 155 mm .52 calibre 40-km target range gun towed by a truck. The gun has cleared engineering trials and will be assembled in collaboration with the Kalyani Group and Tata Power. Giving a fillip to India’s deterrent will be the long-range supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, which has been developed jointly with Russia, and the DRDO-designed and L&T-manufactured Pinaka rocket system.

As part of its 1999 Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, the Army hopes to acquire 2,800 to 3,000, 155 mm .52 calibre towed, wheeled, tracked and mounted guns and 155 mm .39 calibre light-weight howitzers by 2027. The upgrading of the 130 mm M-46 field guns is also part of this exercise.

Ravi Sharma

Defence

Gunning for Dhanush

INDIA’S most controversial defence deal has also been one of its most successful ones. The 155 mm .39 calibre Haubits Falthaubits 77B (Swedish for Field Howitzer 77B), or simply the Bofors artillery gun, has proved to be a versatile and potent weapons system since its induction into the Indian Artillery Regiment in 1986-87.

With its high rate of fire and accuracy, it became the toast of the Army and the nation during the Kargil conflict with Pakistan (1999) when it had extraordinary success at high altitude. But the acquisition of 410 artillery guns worth $1.4 billion from AB Bofors has been mired in controversy chiefly because of the kickbacks amounting to Rs.64 crore allegedly paid to conclude the deal. An upgrade to Bofors, the 155 mm .45 calibre Dhanush (meaning bow), designed and developed by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), threatens to be just as controversial.

Dhanush, which is the flagship indigenous artillery gun, appears to be doomed even before its induction and deployment in the artillery. There have been reports of “cheap” and “fake” Chinese parts (bearings) being used in Dhanush, which the Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into.

There appears to be a move to sabotage the development of Dhanush as arms lobbies are nudging the Army to opt for an East European or Israeli gun. There are serious issues over the quality of the manufacture of the weapons system. The Army has been insisting on a six-gun battery user exploitation trial. There are design deficiencies in the gun, including a faulty loading system. There have been repeated failures: three of the eight guns undergoing user trials have suffered mishaps, including muzzle brake damage.

Defence experts say Dhanush is a wonderful platform. A former Director General of the Artillery Regiment said it had “the range, accuracy, consistency and firepower”, but serious issues concerning the quality of the manufacturing process needed to be addressed. Alok Prasad, Deputy Director General (Weapons), OFB, said: “Issues of quality have occurred mainly because of three categories of items: fasteners, rubber springs and seals. It is difficult to find a source in India that can match the quality levels that we are looking for in these items. It is a problem that exists in Indian industry. If we want the kind of quality we need, we have to look overseas. But our procurement process [with contracts necessarily going to the lowest bidder] currently does not allow that. In order to address this lacuna, the OFB is in the process of tweaking the procurement process.”

But should the quality of category C items hold up the manufacture of Dhanush? Lamented another senior official from the OFB: “The Army has been changing the goal posts. The methodology of trials have been changed. We conceived Dhanush as accepted by the Army, but as in the case of the Arjun tank, since there were no written-down qualitative requirements, the Army kept changing them. In Dhanush, there is a GSQR [General Staff Qualitative Requirements], but it is hardly a few pages and there is plenty of room to read between the lines. Not only do we have to incorporate what senior planners at the Army headquarters perceive the gun should have, but we also have to cater to the preferences of officers in the trial teams. The Army had two trial teams and each of them had different requirements. One wanted the seat of the gun to be high, the other wanted it low. And officers either get posted out or retire, so there is no continuity in thought. Foreign vendors never go beyond the GSQR. They will not follow any changes, and they take you to court.”

The OFB is piqued over the Army’s decision to use a different process of qualification, vis-a-vis foreign manufactured artillery guns, with additional trials (termed as user exploitation) being introduced for the first time in the case of Dhanush. They draw a comparison with the 155 mm .52 calibre tracked self-propelled K-9 Vajra (Thunder) gun system from Korea that was accepted by the Army after just 200 to 250 rounds, a number which, according to OFB officials, is “too low to evaluate a gun system”. Under extensive three-phase user exploitation trials, three Dhanush guns were fired under desert conditions (around 450 rounds at Pokhran, Rajasthan, and Babina in Uttar Pradesh), three guns were fired at high altitude (around 400 rounds in Siachen) and finally they were fired as a battery of six guns. According to officials from the OFB, “over 1,200 rounds have been fired as part of the user exploitation trials”. And over 3,700 rounds have been fired so far in the present campaign to have the gun cleared. But, according to Army sources, the gun is still some way from acceptance and “has not met all the parameters to enable it [OFB] to go ahead with the order for 12 guns [besides the six that are in the user exploitation trials]”.

Said a senior official from the OFB: “The Army’s philosophy is simple: the OFB is to identify all the problems and address them so that there are no issues post induction. The Army is asking for a perfect gun. But, this is unduly prolonging the trial process. Since we are not producing the gun, our [OFB] facilities are lying idle and our suppliers are frustrated with no orders. It would be better if the Army ordered a few guns on the basis of the trials, exploited and evaluated them, devised a maintenance philosophy by using them, and allowed the product to mature. Perfection in stages. Have an Mk1, then an Mk2, Mk3, and so on. Dhanush is a major system development, and we at the OFB are learning a whole new philosophy in artillery gun development. Under user exploitation, you have to maintain and put more guns on a trial, thereby exponentially multiplying the chances of something going wrong. When foreign guns are not put through this, why should Dhanush be?”

The genesis of Dhanush, called the “desi” Bofors, dates back to 2005-06 when the OFB, with help from agencies such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which readied the firing range tables, first developed the gun and fired over 800 rounds in a bid to qualify it. But the Army evinced no interest. The up-gunning of Bofors was revived in 2010 when the OFB once again approached the Army and chiefly suggested a .45 mm (up from .39 mm) calibre barrel, a change in the electronics component of the gun and an increased range. After initial apprehensions, the Army, in 2011, provided the OFB with two Bofors guns from its war reserves, and a detachment of officers and men was placed at the OFB’s disposal at its Jabalpur unit. Aided by technical documents that had been procured from AB Bofors, the OFB stripped the gun, studied it and started manufacturing, one part at a time. It mechanically up-gunned the barrel to .45mm calibre, roped in the Israeli firm Elbit for the electronics suite and included the inertial navigation systems from France’s Sagem.

The Defence Acquisition Council even envisaged a production order of 114 guns. By 2012, the upgraded guns were ready for trials by the Army. But a barrel burst (caused mostly by faulty ammunition) on the very first day of trials soured the programme. Said an Army officer who was at the initial trials: “Among the many shortcomings, the loading system was faulty, and the OFB was not able to give us a gun with fault-free firing. And despite trial officers helping the OFB by even cooking up test figures, it was a lost cause.”

Lt Gen. P.R. Shankar, who retired in October 2016 as the Director General of Artillery and has been closely associated with the Dhanush programme, explained: “There were a number of shortcomings caused primarily by shoddy manufacturing processes such as misalignments, poor finishing and even the poor quality of simple nuts. Importantly, the ammunition was not loading as required, the firing rate was slow due to too many stoppages, and so on. The Army realised that it would be impossible for the OFB to clear user trials in time with the defects involved. The programme would have been stuck in a loop. That is why the Army approached the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, and requested that the OFB produce six guns, which would be sent to artillery units for user exploitation. This way, issues which come up could be resolved and the production process could commence simultaneously. User exploitation was specially facilitated to help the OFB. This is the only way they could have been given an order.”

Lt Gen. Shankar added: “The Army is more than willing to accept the gun but not a substandard gun. It is an upgrade of the time-tested Bofors, the range is better, performance is largely satisfactory, the indigenous content is around 80 per cent. Most importantly, for the first time in our history, we have a modern gun which is Indian. It is a matter of pride to have an indigenous system as your main artillery gun rather than relying on imported systems. But there can be no bulk order or clearance until the gun performs well. In war you need a gun that can fire three rounds in 15 seconds, 50 rounds in an hour. Presently, that is not possible.”

Many in the Army question the OFB’s qualifications to undertake artillery gun design and development (since it is primarily a manufacturing entity) . The OFB maintained that it had 110 highly qualified personnel in gun design, ammunition and military technologies. Recently, it won the deal to upgrade the Army’s 130 mm M-46 gun. The existing 130 mm barrel, muzzle brake and breech block would be replaced/modified to make a 155 mm .45 calibre gun capable of firing the entire family of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] ammunition. Said an official: “We won the 300-gun contract against Bharat Forge which had partnered with Elbit and Punj Lloyd, which had a Yugoslav collaborator.”

Accidents during trials, said the OFB official, could happen to any gun. Why single out accidents in the Dhanush trial, he asked. OFB officials were quick to point out the incident in September when, during a routine field firing drill at the Pokhran range, the barrel of the American M777 lightweight howitzer was partly damaged, with the 155 mm artillery shell misfiring and exploding in it and the OFB-manufactured ammunition allegedly “exiting the barrel in multiple pieces”. Said an OFB official: “It was said that OFB-manufactured ammunition caused the problem. This is both unfair and premature.”

Although the investigating team consisting of personnel from the OFB; the Army, the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA); the United States government; BAE Systems, Sweden; and the United Kingdom is yet to come out conclusively with the reasons for the incident, informed sources told Frontline that there were no indications of any deficiencies in the ammunition. On the contrary, a member of the investigating team explained, the “reasons for the accident could range from deficiencies in the quality of the barrel or the armament, design deficiencies, compatibility between the gun and the ammunition, maintenance issues, firing/maintenance drills not being followed, pre-existing issues, or the barrel not being properly cleaned”. He said that “the most likely cause could be that the BAE Systems crew, who were firing the gun, faced an unfamiliar ammunition system and failed to tweak the gun/ammunition system to achieve compatibility”.

Another artillery gun India plans to induct into the Army is the Korean K-9 Vajra, a self-propelled howitzer, which is to be manufactured by Larsen & Toubro in collaboration with South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin. Two Korean soldiers were killed in an explosion during an artillery training session in Gangwon province in South Korea, raising doubts about the reliability of the gun.

Senior OFB officials are confident that Dhanush will clear user trials. They said many of the problems reported in the user exploitation phase would be surmounted by “a fine-tuning of the gun’s subsystems”. This, they hope, will be achieved during the next phase of the user exploitation trials scheduled for November. This will be followed by a final round of firing trials in 2018, by which time it is hoped Dhanush will meet the Army’s standards for an indigenous 155 mm artillery gun that can replace the Bofors gun. Military experts suggest that a Dhanush Integration Centre, staffed with personnel drawn from the OFB, the Army, the DGQA and the DRDO, could be set up with the best technical and manufacturing expertise. Expertise from BAE Systems, which is selling India the M777, could also be utilised.

Said Lt Gen. Shankar: “The idea is to come up with a centre of excellence of world standards. Also, the entire gun-manufacturing base in the country, including that available in the private sector, could be utilised to enhance capacities. The present capacity of the OFB cannot produce guns in the kind of numbers with the desired quality which the Army needs.”

U.S.-Iran

A deal undone

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

UNITED STATES President Donald Trump finally made his move against the Iran nuclear deal in the second week of October. In a rambling speech on October 13, he virtually repudiated the nuclear deal the Barack Obama administration had painstakingly negotiated with Iran along with five other governments. Trump announced that he would not certify that Iran was complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is called formally.

The deadline for presidential certification was October 15. Trump said he was directing his administration “to work closely with the U.S. Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons”. His action does not mean that the U.S. has formally withdrawn from the nuclear deal, but it is a significant step forward in his professed goal of dismantling it and reintroducing sanctions against Iran.

In his speech, Trump used the kind of jargon he used on the campaign trail to describe the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into”. The Iranian side had made a lot of concessions to make the deal a reality, including the right for intrusive inspection of its nuclear facilities. When the deal was signed in 2015, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the international community barring Israel and the U.S.’ new-found allies in the Arab world such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran is the only important country in West Asia that is supporting Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The U.S. Congress, dominated by the Republican Party, was overwhelmingly against the signing of the nuclear deal but could do little to stymie it. Trump has now given it another opportunity to do so. Many Republicans are in cahoots with the rich and influential pro-Israeli lobby in the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been trying his best to scupper the deal. He met Trump before the recent developments took place. Trump chose Israel and Saudi Arabia as his first port of call after taking over as President in January 2017.

Trump, in his speech, demanded that the nuclear deal be renegotiated in such a way that Iran was permanently barred from testing its missiles and conducting meaningful nuclear research in the future. His speech against Iran, the most belligerent by any U.S. President so far, contained a litany of lies and was littered with calumny against the Iranian people and their leadership. Trump claimed with a straight face that the deal gave Iran “over $100 billion its government could use to fund terrorism”. The money, rightfully belonging to Iran, was frozen in Western banks as the draconian international and unilateral U.S. sanctions came into play. The funds were used by the Iranian government to prop up the faltering economy. Trump claimed that the Obama administration signed the nuclear deal with Iran when the Iranian government was on the verge of collapsing as a result of international sanctions. Iran has never instigated war against any nation. On the other hand, it has been targeted continuously since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. More than a million Iranians perished in the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s that was instigated by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

When the nuclear deal was negotiated, Iran was only a step away from mastering the technology needed to make an atom bomb. It had enough reserves of enriched uranium to make an atomic weapon within weeks. When the newly elected Iranian government of Hassan Rouhani started engaging in serious negotiations with the U.S. and the P5 (Permanent 5)+Germany on the nuclear deal, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and many conservative politicians had warned that the U.S. could not be trusted on the nuclear issue.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), prominent nuclear experts and Western governments have all said that Iran was scrupulously complying with all the aspects of the complicated nuclear deal. “At present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime,” the IAEA’s Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement. Besides, Iran as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) is barred from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Iranian leadership, including Khamenei, has been stressing that Iran has no interest in acquiring a nuclear weapon. The Supreme Leader had gone to the extent of saying that possessing a nuclear weapon is an “un-Islamic” act.

Call to respect deal

The ball is now in the court of the U.S. Congress after Trump refused to “certify” that Iran was in compliance with the deal. Congress now has to decide whether or not to give the deal a burial and reimpose sanctions within 60 days. The governments of Britain, France and Germany, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies of the U.S., were quick to issue a joint statement asking the U.S. to adhere to the agreement that was “the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy”. Germany’s Ambassador to the U.S., Peter Wittig, said that the Trump administration’s decision “would send a signal that diplomacy is not reliable and that you cannot trust diplomatic agreements, and that would affect, I believe, our credibility in the West when we are not honouring an agreement that Iran has not violated”.

The European Union (E.U.) has been pointing out that the JCPOA was codified through a United Nations Security Council Resolution. The Security Council has set up a dispute mechanism to resolve issues of non-performance.

The mechanism was not, however, set up to deal with a case in which one of the signatories, in this case the U.S., is intent on sabotaging the JCPOA. Russia and China have also called on the U.S. to respect the nuclear deal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has questioned the legal right of the U.S. to withdraw from the deal. The JCPOA, he reminded the Trump administration, was approved by the Security Council resolution and “is subject to mandatory implementation”.

Reacting to the U.S. President’s move, President Rouhani said that there was no question of Iran accepting additional amendments to the nuclear deal, such as a ban on the testing of ballistic missiles or an indefinite ban on the country undertaking advanced nuclear research. “The Iranian nation has not and will not bow to any foreign pressure,” Rouhani said in a speech. “Iran and the nuclear deal are stronger than ever.”

U.S. isolated

If the U.S. finally reneges on the deal, then the international community has every right to hold the U.S. responsible for the collapse of the agreement. The Iranian government has said that if the U.S. reintroduces sanctions it will be held responsible for the breach of the JCPOA. The U.S. already finds itself isolated on the issue. All major Western allies of the U.S. have started doing business with Iran. Most experts believe that if the U.S. reimposes sanctions on Iran, its ramifications will have very limited impact this time.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would remain in the deal if the E.U. and other signatories also adhered to it. Zarif said that he had already received assurances from European governments that they would stick to the deal. He said Europeans had conveyed to the Trump administration that they would do their best to stop the nuclear deal from unravelling. Europeans are already angry with the Trump administration on a host of issues, especially with his decision to walk away from the global Paris climate accord. After the signing of the nuclear deal, the E.U. had said that it wanted to be Iran’s biggest trading partner. After the lifting of the sanctions, bilateral trade between the E.U. and Iran has risen substantially. The E.U.’s trade with Iran went up by 55 per cent in 2016 and by 94 per cent in the first half of 2017.

For that matter, Trump’s refusal to recertify the nuclear deal is not really relevant to its sanctity. According to disarmament experts, it is the IAEA that is responsible for certifying whether Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. It was the U.S. Congress that insisted in 2015 on regular certification by the U.S. President on Iranian compliance. The Trump administration certified Iran’s compliance in April and July. Trump was obviously uncomfortable certifying a deal that he has been critical of for a long time.

Many in the region and outside fear that Trump’s actions are a prelude to another war. Israel and Saudi Arabia have been urging the U.S. for a long time to effect regime change in Iran. The pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. was successful in pushing the U.S. to invade Iraq and help in the abortive attempt at regime change in Syria. Syria, Iraq and Iran were the three countries who stood up to Israel and called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

A U.S. Democratic Congressman, Gerry Connolly, criticising the Trump administration’s attempts to “cherry-pick” data to build a false case against Iran, said that the U.S. was “sleepwalking” into another war. “The hidden scandal of the Iraq war—the manipulation of intelligence to support a predetermined outcome—is now an overt political strategy to undermine a multilateral non-proliferation agreement,” Connolly said.

Over breakfast, tea or dinner

books

EXCERPTS from a nine-page essay on diplomacy in general, and on its peculiarities in England, by Ivan Maisky, published in The Maisky Diaries edited by Gabriel Gordetsky.

“...The most important and substantive element in the work of every ambassador is the actual contact he has with people. It is not sufficient to read the newspapers—that can be done in Moscow. It is not enough to work with books and statistical reports—that too, can be done in Moscow. ...An ambassador without excellent personal contacts is not worthy of the name.

“Every country has its peculiarities. The nature and number of the contacts differ in accordance with the varying political, economic and individual conditions of each state. There cannot be a single template in such matters. What is acceptable in Paris may be completely unsuited to Tokyo, and vice versa. ...In the case of England, the creation of these vital personal contacts is extremely difficult and requires a great deal of the ambassador’s time. ...in order to be au courant with what is happening in different areas of English life. It is not enough to know one or two people in each group. ...It is quite simply not enough to have contacts with, for example, the secretary for foreign affairs and his deputy, but also one needs to know the head of the Northern Department of the FO [Foreign Office], for the USSR falls within his sphere of competence. ...It is necessary to maintain contact with around 15-20 people in the FO alone, and of course our work requires us to have business with other Ministries: the Ministry of Trade, of Finance, of the Economy, of Defence and so on.

“Or else, to take another example, consider Parliament and the political parties. This is an extremely important element of English political life. It is most useful to attend the more important sittings of Parliament (which works for about eight months of the year): you get an exceedingly accurate impression of the current mood of the country. But this is not enough. If you wish to be well informed of the different areas of interior and exterior policy, then you need to be in personal contact with a significant number of Members of Parliament. ....

“The press. This is an extremely complex and active group, with an immense number of people belonging to it. The people are capricious and don’t stand on ceremony. They come to you with all manner of questions, surveys and clarifications—personally, or else by telephone, at any hour of the day or night. ...In order to maintain normal contacts with the press, one needs to know about 50 people. ...The sort of contact which can be useful from our point of view must be a much closer contact. This means that you must meet the person more or less regularly, invite him to breakfast or dinner, visit him at home, take him to the theatre from time to time, go when necessary to the wedding of his son or his daughter, wish him many happy returns on his birthday, sympathise with him when he is ill. It is only when the acquaintance has come a little closer to you (and Englishmen need to scrutinise someone for quite some time before they count him among their ‘friends’) that his tongue starts to loosen, and only then may you start to glean things from him, or else start to put the necessary ideas into his head. ...In England, all meetings usually take place at table—over breakfast, at tea, at dinner, etc., to give them the information it is decided to give them, to nudge them in a direction favourable to us. But this work does not have any clear boundaries...”

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Oct 9,2020