Monday, February 29, 2016

'What is happening in India today is similar to the McCarthy era': Partha Chatterjee

There is something ominously new in the manner in which the attack against freedom of thought and expression has been launched this time, says the noted political scientist.

Partha Chatterjee · Feb 27, 2016 · 08:58 pm


Full text of the statement titled by the noted professor of political science to his colleagues and students at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata

This is not the first time that freedom of thought and expression has been attacked in the Indian university. But there is something ominously new in the manner in which the attack has been launched this time.

We know that the sedition charge was applied across the board by British colonial rulers against anyone who expressed anti-colonial or nationalist views. Writers, artists, poets, and thousands of students and teachers were arrested for sedition alongside political leaders and agitators. But the British colonial officers, who were themselves among the best students of British universities who sat in a fiercely competitive examination to enter the highest paid civil service in the world, respected the British principle of the self-governing university. The unwritten rule that the police must not enter a university campus was observed in the early decades of independent India when I went to college. Student agitators engaged in a street fight with the police would often run for safety into the college campus, and the police would unfailingly stop at the college gates. The rule began to be violated from the 1970s. In regions of the country rocked by political agitation, the university campus was drawn into partisan conflicts between the government and the opposition. Students and teachers were arrested on charges of participating in violent agitations. Needless to say, in the North-eastern states or Kashmir, where state repression is long-standing and indiscriminate, the university campus was not spared.

Not since the Emergency

But I cannot remember, except for the period of the Emergency in 1975-77, a national campaign that asserts that certain political questions cannot even be talked about in the university. Are we to accept that national loyalty must be so unquestioned that the origins and present status of the nation and its boundaries, the nature of the constitution and the laws, the mutual relations between different regions and cultures, the demands of oppressed peoples and minority groups, cannot even be discussed and debated among students and teachers? One would have thought that such debates were the very essence of a democratic public life. And of all public places, the university campus is the most precious arena where freedom of thought and expression is the foundation of the vibrant intellectual life of a nation. Even in the United States, that paradise of market-controlled capitalism, university professors are protected by tenured appointments on the specific ground that they must not be exposed to victimisation for the content of what they teach or publish. This demand was recognised after the experience of the notorious McCarthy witch hunt against alleged communists in the 1950s.

What is happening in India today is similar to the McCarthy era. Whether the alleged “anti-national” slogans were raised on the campuses of Hyderabad University or JNU by those who have been charged is, of course, important for the future careers of those students – for Rohith Vemula the matter is, tragically, beyond rectification. But as far as the broader issues are concerned, that is beside the point.

What school of jurisprudence is it that claims that a sentence of capital punishment pronounced by the courts and the subsequent political decision to carry out the execution cannot be debated in a democratic public forum, especially in a university?

What is the constitutional theory that says that the existing boundaries of the nation-state or the structure of relations between the constituent units of the Indian Union are not open to question when only the other day the Indian government transferred dozens of hitherto Indian villages to neighbouring Bangladesh through a treaty and the number of constituent states of the Union and their federal relations are regularly changed by constitutional amendments?

Or is it the claim that while grave matters like these might be left to the mature decisions of politicians, impressionable students must not be exposed to such dangerous scepticism? Is the plan then to turn the university into some sort of patriotic seminary designed to produce brainwashed nationalist morons?

A blanket licence

While we may be forgiven for laughing about the farcical quality of the latest campaign, with such gems as the decision to fly national flags from 207-foot high steel poles on every Central university campus, it is actually spine-chilling in its implications. What has now been sanctioned by the highest political authorities of the country is a blanket licence to every Hindu right-wing vigilante group to target individuals belonging to the Left-Dalit-minority fraternity on university campuses. They can be identified as “anti-national” simply on the basis of their political convictions. Charges of sedition brought by the police would help, but it does not matter in the least if they do not hold up in court. The object is to smear and intimidate. The extreme example was set by the murder last year of MM Kalburgi. What we are seeing today in the attack on Kanhaiya Kumar and his friends in the Patiala House court or on Professor Vivek Kumar of JNU in Gwalior may only be the beginning of a long and bloody series.

A great deal is at stake. We must be strong, resilient and united.

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Never mind the Budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed a crucial test

Saffron politics

As long as Modi keeps silent over cases of incitement by his ministers and members of the Sangh Parivar, he fails to be the Prime Minister of all of India.

Anjali Mody · Today · 08:00 am


Narendra Modi likes to say that he is Prime Minister of all India. But this is mere rhetoric. His ministers and members of Parliament from the party he leads have shown with amazing frequency that they represent the partisan interests of a group they call “Hindu”. While they justify acts of communal violence and incite hatred between communities, Modi has never called them to account. He has instead employed the same vocabulary to garner support for his Bharatiya Janata Party.

On Sunday, Modi’s colleagues in the government and party were at it again. Speaking at a meeting in Agra held to mourn VHP worker Arun Mahaur, who was killed last week, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Ram Shankar Katheria said: “We have to make ourselves powerful, we have to launch a struggle” so that “these killers themselves disappear”. The alleged murderer is a Muslim, and there is no doubt that Katheria's “we” referred to what the BJP calls “Hindus”.

According to the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, the minister said that the police should be under no illusion that being a minister had cooled his anger at Mahaur’s murder. He said if the police took action (against him), the lathi (associated with the RSS) would be raised on behalf of society.

So, here is a minister in the Modi government – who has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution – who feels at liberty to threaten violence against the police.

Open season

At the same meeting, BJP member of Parliament from Fatehpur Sikri, Chaudhary Babulal, also issued a threat of violence: “Don’t try to test us… We will not tolerate insults to the community,” he said. “We do not want unrest at any cost, but if you want to test Hindus, then let’s decide a date and take on Muslims.”

Continuing in the same vein, the VHP’s district secretary Ashok Lavania equated Muslims with demons and called for murder. “Revenge for the killing of one brother, demands the killing of ten rakshas,” he said.

According to The Indian Express, Lavania set out how revenge would be taken before the 13th day (a reference to the tehravin or the final day of mourning for Hindus in North India). It would be done exactly how it was done in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and in Ayodhya in 1992, he said.

“Many have approached me asking why we are not doing anything. They are saying do something – arson, murder, shootout. These are common Hindus. We are avoiding this because the organisation (VHP/RSS) is careful about being held responsible… ultimately it becomes an act of the society. Once people are galvanised, no question would be raised at all. In cases like Ram Janmbhoomi, Muzaffarnagar, the party had disappeared. But it is certain that revenge will be taken before the 13th day is over. Blood will revenge blood. Action will obviously be in Mantola area (where Mahaur was killed), but also across Agra. Wherever Hindus are in a majority, it will happen. We are fully prepared. If they retaliate, then it will be a mahasangram.” 

The police has started its investigation into Mahaur’s murder, but this fact seems irrelevant to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

When silence speaks

From Muzaffarnagar to Dadri to Agra, by way of several small episodes that never make it to the national media, there is a clear pattern in the BJP and Sangh Parivar effort to pit community against community through rumour and the escalation of local disputes into major conflicts by redefining them as Muslim attacks on Hindus or on Hindu sentiment. It was love jihad in Muzaffarnagar, beef eating in Dadri and now, in Agra, the issue is cow slaughter (Mahaur’s family has said he was killed because he opposed cow slaughter.)

That Union ministers, members of Parliament and leaders of organisations linked to the Sangh Parivar get away with incitement to religious hatred, communal violence and even murder is clearly because they have the protection of the central government.

On February 28, during his monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat, Modi said that he was sitting for a test the next day and hoped he would pass. He was referring to the Union budget. The prime minister may well have passed that test, but there is another test that Modi has repeatedly failed – the test to be the Prime Minister of all of India. He has remained silent about incitement to communal hatred and violence by his ministers, and members of the BJP and Sangh Parivar. He has himself used the same rhetoric of hurt sentiments as they do. This can only be read as support for an agenda to divide the country between Hindus and Muslims, nationalists and so-called anti-nationals, and those with the Sangh Parivar and those against it.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

How free can free speech be?

Opinion » Comment    February 28, 2016    Updated: February 28, 2016 01:09 IST

    K. Venkataramanan

Illustration: Satwik Gade

A lucid and detailed examination of the law of free speech in India, the book also makes a case for ‘constitutionalising’ all forms of speech.

A decade ago, Tamil Nadu was as agog about a looming threat to freedom of speech and a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance as the entire country is at the moment. Assorted groups of Tamil nationalists, protectors and preservers of Tamil culture were policing the opinions of public figures, especially from the film industry. Open threats, street demonstrations and waving of footwear and broomsticks indicated that supposedly offended Tamil society was out to protect its culture from prurient attacks. Actor Khushboo was one of the main targets after she made some remarks in a magazine interview on the prevalence of premarital sex. Nearly two dozen criminal cases were filed across Tamil Nadu by offended complainants charging her with obscenity. The final outcome in her favour in the Supreme Court five years later was a landmark decision on obscenity law.

Reasonable restrictions

Shortly after the controversy broke out in 2005, a public opinion forum for the free exchange of views and ideas was launched in the State, with a rider that the forum’s promoters themselves would not privilege one view over another, and there was no founding philosophy except a general commitment to freedom of expression. “There is no collective policy for the forum, and it will not even publicly defend freedom of expression, as its users need not necessarily be only those who believe in free speech,” they said. It was quite an interesting way to promote freedom of expression — by acknowledging individual autonomy to the point of not expecting its users to even believe in that very freedom.

Does the state acknowledge such autonomy among its citizens and repose faith in them to make their own choices regarding speeches, writings, works of art, films and plays? Obviously not, given the number of “reasonable restrictions” that are placed on free speech in India, many of them reflecting an official philosophy that believes that the government alone can, or at least has a duty to, decide what is ‘good’ for the people. Hence, the many restrictions on expression based on, among other grounds, public order, decency and morality. Gautam Bhatia would classify such curbs as instances of ‘legal paternalism’ or ‘legal moralism’. For, according to this author of a lucid and detailed examination of the law of free speech in India (Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Free Speech under the Indian Constitution, Oxford University Press, Rs.750), Indian freespeech jurisprudence has two broad approaches — ‘moral-paternalistic’, a view that sees people as inherently corruptible and prone to violence and who cannot be trusted with too much freedom, and ‘liberal-autonomous’, an approach that sees people as individuals capable of making decisions on their own lives and one that allows only limited restrictions on what they can speak, see or hear.

Does not our Constitution guarantee all of us freedom of speech and expression? If both freedom and its curtailment are in an everlasting delicate balance, what exactly is our free speech philosophy? If freedom is related to politics and democracy, does it come under political philosophy? Or is it moral philosophy concerning the individual and the human self? “We need a theory, or theories of free speech,” says Bhatia. The theoretical framework for his analysis of the evolution of free speech jurisprudence covers a vast expanse. Free speech is a means to the truth; a pursuit of individual self-fulfilment and an important means by which democratic self-governance is made possible, he argues. Its role in personal, social and political life inevitably brings it into conflict with the state, with diverse shades of opinions in the marketplace of ideas and the ways in which free expression impacts the established order.

The title may suggest that the author is arguing for an extreme view of free speech: as the right to do all that these three verbs encompass, but in actuality he is doing something far more nuanced. He is arguing for ‘constitutionalising’ all forms of speech; that is, making as much of the law speech-protective as possible, and what little is incapable of protection must be curbed only in a manner allowed by the Constitution. To put it differently, if some restrictions are inevitable, their basis should be sought only within the values of the Constitution, or in ‘constitutional morality’, as he puts it, and not in vague appeals to transient notions of social mores, decency and morality. For instance, a restrictive hate speech law or one that seeks to protect an oppressed community from insult need not derive its constitutionality from a mere content-based view of the ‘feeling of hurt’ caused by some words or images. Rather, it could be rooted in a notion of moral equality among citizens, and with reference to women, from the angle of prohibition of gender subordination.

Historical context

Many will be familiar with the basic formulation of free speech in India as a set of freedoms matched by a set of reasonable restrictions. However, not many may know that this was not the original framework. The early judgments on Article 19(1)(a) were too speech-protective for the rulers’ comfort, and the ‘reasonable restrictions’ were introduced through the first amendment. It is equally interesting to learn that one of the grounds for curbing free speech was ‘sedition’ in an early draft, drawing derisive comments from some members of the Constituent Assembly. Sardar Patel, who chaired the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee, moved for the deletion of the proviso the very next day. However, the word ‘sedition’ made a mysterious comeback in the draft Constitution in 1948. Once again, it required quite a fight from members to get the proviso withdrawn. Thereby hangs a tale of how rulers, colonial or democratic, have always wanted to retain the power to prosecute for sedition.

If one wants to know the working of the law related to dominant free speech issues such as public order, morality, obscenity, film censorship, defamation, sedition, press freedom and Internet curbs, this book will not only provide valuable historical insight, but also the standard tests that courts use to determine the validity of such restrictions. Thus, you can see the shift from the original standard for obscenity of ‘a tendency to deprave or corrupt’ a person susceptible to prurient taste (Ranjit Udeshi, 1965) to more modern ‘contemporary standards that reflect the sensibilities as well as the tolerance level of the average reasonable person’ (Khushboo v. Kanniammal, 2010). “... In the long run, such communication prompts a dialogue within society wherein people can choose to either defend or question the existing social mores,” the Supreme Court said, while quashing all the complaints against Khushboo.

Bhatia suggests that applying some of the recent principles in free speech jurisprudence, there is a clear case to strike down the penal section on sedition to cases, as indeed two high courts had done before the Supreme Court upheld Section 124A in 1962. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had applied the classic test of ‘overbreadth’ (a provision so ‘overbroad’ that promoting disaffection is criminalised both when it would lead to a public order breach — a permissible restriction — and when it would not) and held that it was unconstitutional.

The ‘chilling effect’ of excessive curbs such as the threat of exorbitant awards as damages for defamation, the casual resort to a ‘decency or morality’ standard based on a section of public opinion, or succumbing to the threat of violence by a purported offended section of society — popularly called the ‘heckler’s veto’ — are issues that all citizens should familiarise themselves with. For often, what is at stake is not merely the freedom of political activists, writers and journalists alone, but that of every citizen, voter or resident.

Source: thehindu

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Let’s not fight, Jharkhand tribals say, as they pray to Mahishasur

Sushma is a member of Asur, classified officially as a Primitive Tribe Group (PTG) and who number less than 10,000 in Jharkhand.

Written by Prashant Pandey | Ranchi | Published:February 27, 2016 4:04 am

Mahishasur being worshipped in Purulia, Bengal. (Source: Express file)

Over the last two days, HRD Minister Smriti Irani had angrily objected in Parliament to the alleged depiction of Mahishasur by “some students of JNU” as a “martyr” who was lured to his death by Durga.

But amid all the rhetoric over the JNU sedition controversy, the fact remains that there are tribal groups across the country that believe in the counter-narrative and want “the truth to be presented in an unbiased manner”.

“We are all born from the womb of the same mother earth. There is nothing to fight over. But we believe that Mahishasur was our king and he was killed dishonestly by Durga. Why should a biased picture be presented? As it is, we do not have any idol of Mahishasur. We invoke him in our hearts,” said Sushma Asur from Sakhuapani village in Latehar’s Netarhat.

Sushma is a member of Asur, classified officially as a Primitive Tribe Group (PTG) and who number less than 10,000 in Jharkhand. And according to experts, the counter-narrative of so-called demon kings being worshipped and their slaying mourned exist among tribal groups across Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

“We believe we are the descendants of Mahishasur. We do not celebrate Durga Puja. Our rituals that have been passed on to us through generations tell us that we should take protective measures on the night Mahishasur was killed,” said Sushma.

She added that members of her group “apply oil on their navels, ears and nose, the spots from where blood is seen oozing out of Mahishasur in the popular depiction of Durga piercing her trishul into his body”.

“According to our beliefs, the killing took place in the dark. We don’t want negative energies to overtake us,” said Sushma.

She added that members of her group mourn those nine days when the battle between Mahishasur and Durga is believed to have lasted.

“Not only among Asurs, the narrative exists in Santhals, one of the largest tribal groups. They mourn the deaths of Mahishasur and Ravan,” said Vandana Tete, an activist who has been working on conserving the heritage, history and literature of tribals over the past decade.

Asked whether tribal folklore shows Durga in poor light, Tete said, “We have come across some references in West Bengal, where many tribal groups exist. There are elements in their folk songs indicating the same. But we have to conduct more studies before making a declaration.”

Said Ajit Prasad Hembram from Purulia in West Bengal, who has been organising events to observe Mahishasur Martyrdom Day since 2014, “I don’t understand why it is such an issue with the present government. They have their minds fixed on only one depiction. The tribal people are very much sons of this soil. Their tradition has been handed down through generations.”

Said Ashwini Pankaj of Jharkhand Bhasha Sanskriti Sahitya Akhra, “The problem is that nobody is interested in knowing or conserving the heritage of tribals, which we are losing fast. Their traditions, rituals are part of folklore. We need to record and identify those narratives.”

He said the Akhra, or a meeting place, was trying to come up with a grammar of tribal languages, including the ones spoken by Asurs.

Source: indianexpress


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Totalitarian regimes come to power because good people keep silent: Admiral Ramdas

Student Protests

The former Naval chief speaks up about the crisis triggered by police action in JNU, and the question of nationalism.

L Ramdas
  · Yesterday · 07:45 pm


I have been a proud member of the uniformed fraternity for nearly 45 years, retiring as the head of the Indian Navy in 1993. The present turbulence in our top academic institutions together with continuing manifestations of mob violence, totalitarian behaviour and intolerance, impel me once again, to speak up and share my concerns through this open letter. My two recent letters to the President and Prime Minister have not elicited more than a routine bureaucratic response. I am well aware that I may be one of the few from the fraternity of retired military veterans who continue to take public positions which might not always be in support of government policy. However, I see this is both a right and a duty of a former serviceman and citizen like myself. I am well aware that serving members in uniform cannot express themselves as per the service conduct rules. However, we veterans out of uniform certainly can, and must. If people like myself are quiet today, my grandchildren will ask me, “If not you then who”, “if not now, then when”, Thatha?

I refer to the train of events that began with the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University last month and continues today with the unresolved Jawaharlal Nehru University saga. The unprecedented entry of the police into the campus, the ensuing high-decibel, high-voltage “trial by media”, and subsequent student arrests under serious charges ranging from sedition, anti-nationalism and terrorism, has hit headlines across the country. This has created an avoidable polarisation of views thanks to the entire episode having been handled with a lack of sensitivity. It has been blown into a full-scale crisis where students are being demonised and conspiracy theories abound. Thousands of students, civil society groups as well as journalists have been out on the streets of Delhi taking out some of the biggest, peaceful rallies seen in recent times.

The nation-building effort

Let me briefly rewind to my personal profile to enable you to better understand where I am coming from.

I joined the fledgling Indian Navy in January 1949 – barely 16 months after we gained our Independence. It was a time of great expectations, big dreams and opportunities. The selection for entry into the armed forces of a resurgent India at the end of the sustained struggle against British colonial rule, was heady indeed for a young fifteen year old. Those 45 years in the Navy provided me with a panoramic view of events that have unfolded across the world stage. And I certainly had a ringside view of events in an India that had been traumatised by the unprecedented brutality and slaughter of Partition – the scars of which linger on in my personal, and our collective, consciousness on both sides of our borders.

Brick by brick, step by painful step, leaders and citizens together created and built a vision of a new and a free India. This vision, the product of long and tough debates within the Constituent Assembly, sought to encompass the huge and often conflicting diversities that had to be accommodated within the framework of a path-breaking Constitutional document. Incorporating the often divergent views of an impressive range of thinkers and visionaries, the Indian Constitution firmly rejected a narrow, exclusionary monoculture in favour of a revolutionary definition of nationhood that was inclusive, confident and transformative under the guiding hand of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Armed forces and the Nation

The armed forces of this newly-independent nation were an equal part of this combined effort of nation-building in a variety of ways – trained as we were to conduct ourselves with discipline and professionalism combined with compassion and a sense of our common humanity and purpose.

The unspoken and sacred credo has been that those in the armed forces will remain apolitical. Indeed, we forgo many of the normal rights as citizens enshrined in the Constitution when we join the armed forces. The accepted practice of honouring the principle of political control over the armed forces has been followed without exception since Independence. However, the quid pro quo of this arrangement, unwritten as it is, implies that the government of the day will discharge its responsibilities towards the people [including the military] with honour and integrity.

After retirement, each of us uniformed persons reverts to being a citizen of India, with all the implications of rights, duties and responsibilities that citizenship implies. The Regulations Navy/Army/Airforce are no longer in force. Whether in or out of uniform – we veterans have valued our right to vote – the hallmark of our democratic polity. Exercising our vote does mean that each of us would also choose a particular political position or perspective. The four decades of service in a maturing yet turbulent democracy most certainly impacted my political thinking post-retirement.

Citizens must engage

After my retirement in September 1993, I moved to a village in Alibag, Maharashtra, where I practice organic farming and continue to live till today. Living in rural India has been a total re-education, and one which has given me profound insights. I have shared the ups and downs of the life of an ordinary farmer – influenced by the vagaries of weather and pollution, local politics, threats of being evicted for so-called development under the Special Economic Zone, and much more. My years in uniform and first-hand experience of two wars, together with a closer understanding of the imminent agrarian crisis which affects some 70% of our population, has directly influenced my belief that true liberation or “azadi” from poverty and hunger, will only come when and if the elites of this land demonstrate greater integrity and less greed. Recent disclosures by the Reserve Bank of India in response to an RTI question by the Indian Express revealed that between 2004 and 2015, public sector banks wrote off bad loans amounting to more than Rs 2.11 lakh crore. It has been reported that nearly half of this amount was written off between 2013 and 2015. Surprisingly, neither this information nor its impact on the economy has yet been divulged by the finance ministry. And yet we have heard strong criticism about the petty amounts granted for education of scholars from weaker sections, in JNU and other universities, as examples of taxpayers money being ill spent! We seldom question the fact that loans too come from taxpayers money.

To achieve a more just society based on sustainable development, we must build peace through better neighbourhood management. This means finding political solutions to existing problems. Then alone can we reduce our spending on armaments, regulate consumption, balance energy demands, and provide citizens with food, shelter, education, health and employment. I have led, and been part of, a sustained movement against Special Economic Zones in Raigad, Maharashtra, and continue to push initiatives for renewable energy. Concerns over safety, cost and waste disposal, have contributed to my active engagement with the movement for Nuclear Disarmament and to end nuclear power by finding carbon free and nuclear free solutions. Efforts to strengthen the peace dividend have led me to take on leadership of organisations like the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy and India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace. Both these organisations have promoted people-to-people contact and better relations with Pakistan. I am also totally opposed to capital punishment and the death penalty, as also the continued imposition of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act – about which I have written and spoken publicly in several fora.

In my view, each of the above, constitute areas of engagement which we as citizens not only have a right, but a duty, to address, even if it is against the policy of the government of the day. Does any of the above make me, or anyone else, anti national? Or less patriotic? Or a desh drohi?

I believe not.

My stand on this derives from the principle that political parties and governments alike are bound by the Constitution of the land. Every citizen has the right and the freedom to think and express views without fear of reprisal. The obsolete colonial law of sedition has no place in a modern democracy.

Therefore the question arises: Why are we arraigning a Rohith Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar and an Umar Khalid under charges of being anti-national, seditious or indulging in terrorist activities? From available material it appears that these three young men were only acting to further the objectives outlined in our Constitution and not indulging in any anti-national activity.

Who defines nationalism?

In some ways, it is a good thing that the death of Vemula, the arrest of Kumar and the witch-hunt against Umar Khalid, have actually led to a public debate about the definition of national and anti-national, as also of the deeper and more intractable issues around caste, religion and discrimination in our society. The linked question regarding who, if anyone, has the right to decide on my nationalism or lack of it, is equally vexed and needs a longer, more mature discussion. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been done since Independence. The existing laws and practice on this are largely inherited from the colonial period and were never addressed in a contemporary framework. This is critical for a mature democracy. Jingoism, waving the national flag, and shouting slogans, are not equivalent to a certification of patriotism. Upping the ante and making allegations of seditious behaviour and terrorist ties may not pass judicial scrutiny. Many have publicly disagreed with the sloganeering and forms of protest, but none of this is new or radical. Certainly it is ludicrous to think that a few students can threaten the unity of the country, as is sought to be established by some media houses and their invisible paymasters.

If anything has been a matter of deep concern to someone like me, it is the spectacle of alleged members of the legal profession being allowed to run amok in the courtroom and to both threaten and actually assault scribes, students, teachers and Kanhaiya Kumar. All this, while the large numbers of police personnel present apparently stood by and did nothing from all accounts. This is unacceptable from a uniformed, and a so-called disciplined police force.

I have been through the wide range of written reports, and audio-visual material available in the public domain on the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad Central University imbroglio. The real tragedy to me lies in the fact that this entire exercise of raising the alarm on foreign funded, possibly terrorist and seditious activities, has been orchestrated in order to demand the shutting down and “sanitising” such a prestigious institution. One is forced to conclude that this smacks of a “false flag exercise”. And this is serious. By all means investigate the matter – allow the university officials to handle the students with appropriate disciplinary action. But great discretion and caution must be exercised before calling in the police, and worse, to make serious charges of sedition.

The way ahead

Those who are leading the clamour for shutting down and/or “sanitisation” of JNU seem to have no idea of what this implies, and are exhibiting a frightening tendency to follow the mob blindly.

This might be a good moment to remind ourselves that in addition to being held in high esteem internationally, JNU is also among the few universities in India that recognise the courses run by military institutions like the National Defence Academy, the National Defence College, the Naval Academy and others. Ties between service institutions and university departments have been carefully forged in order that our military personnel continue to benefit from these interactions and remain at the cutting edge of the latest strategic thinking. There are several service personnel who have had the benefit of attending academic courses at JNU and indeed are among the alumni. Civil servants and police officers are also in a similar category. I have intentionally mentioned this so that my band of brothers and sisters amongst ex-service veterans will carefully weigh the consequences of any hasty actions such as returning degrees and awards.

I have outlined at some length the many reasons for why I write this note today. It is imperative that senior public figures like myself and others speak out, to raise an alarm, before it is too late. Recent history has shown us that totalitarian regimes have come to power because good people chose to keep silent. Above all else it is imperative that we must preserve our democratic spaces and the freedom, indeed the right, to question, to dissent and to debate – especially in our institutions of higher learning. JNU has been a frontrunner in producing thinkers and professionals who are not scared to speak out. Frankly, after listening carefully to the speech of the young union leader – Kanhaiya – I was left feeling reassured that if a young man in his twenties can speak with such compassion, intellect and passion about the real challenges and dangers we face in this land, all must be well in this complex and disparity-riddled country.

Far more than saluting a flag (which, of course, I continue to do with honour and respect), it is the thoughts articulated by young idealists like a Rohit Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar, a Shehla Rashid and yes an Umar Khalid all of whom together with the many unnamed and unsung women and men across this country, embody the true spirit of nationalism and patriotism. We must collectively ensure that we not only protect those who have not yet been pushed to take the extreme step like Rohith Vemula, but ensure that justice is promised and done to those presently in custody, or forced into hiding, for fear of their lives.

In the ultimate analysis, human security is the best guarantee for national security.

This article was first published in The Citizen.

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Source: scrollin

Note: The highlights on this article are by this blogger.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

'How can one opinion represent a diverse university?' JNU professor attacked in Gwalior speaks out Vivek Kumar on the idea of Brahmanical merit and the notion of being anti-national.

Dalit issues

Scroll Staff · Yesterday · 12:19 pm


On Sunday, Vivek Kumar, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Social Sciences, was attacked by activists of the Bharatiya Junta Yuva Morcha as he spoke at Gwalior’s Bal Bhavan. Kumar has done extensive research on Dalit assertions and political mobilisations. The BJYM, which is the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, called his speech “provocative and anti-national”. Kumar now recounts what he talked about and asks some questions.

     “I started with arguing that there are cultural and civilisational aspects of people that I respect, but that they should also respect my culture. I mentioned the Buddha, Birsa Munda, Kanshiram, Savitribhai Phule and others. Over the years, this history has been decimated. It is as if it had never happened. You have suppressed it because you did not debate and discuss it.

    I went on to talk about Ambedkar, who said that India was not a nation but a nation in the making. Because it was divided into 6,000 castes. These divides have created animosities.

    The idea of the nation is also tied up with self-representation of people in various institutions ‒ the institutions of governance, production and education. They need to be represented in the judiciary, in legislatures, in industries. I’m talking about women, Dalit, tribes, minorities. Where is that self-representation? All institutions have been monopolised by one group. Some people talk of nation building through the trickle-down effect. I say the other way to build the nation is to give people representation.

    Some people say that caste has refused to disappear because you have reservation. But I ask which came first, caste or reservation? Some say if you have representation then merit goes down. But tell me, is there a constitutional definition of merit? By merit you usually mean scoring high marks in an examination. You are fifth-generation, seventh-generation, tenth-generation learners. You convert your cultural capital into what you call merit. My parents probably never learnt how to read.

    Now they called that 'provocative'. What is provocative here? If there is logical dialogue, you can talk it out. But there is nothing you can say to violence. And that is very dangerous.

    Secondly, this was a programme organised by a Dalit group, the Ambedkar Vichar Manch, it was called Babasaheb Ke Sapno Ka Bhartiya Samaj (Indian society as envisioned by Babasaheb), its speakers were Dalit and its audiences were Dalit. How can you deny them that agency? Is that democratic? There seems to be a larger design in Gwalior and in Madhya Pradesh to wipe out Ambedkarism. This government celebrated Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary this year. But is that based on any deep understanding of Ambedkar or is it just politics?

    As a person of a particular identity, I have a certain duty to my community, to spread knowledge among them. Is that not nation-building?

    You construct your own idea of nationalism and use it to selectively target those who don’t conform to it. You brand people anti-national as it suits you. Sometimes you kill in the name of the cow, sometimes it is because of love jihad, sometimes it is because you have decided to call JNU-ites anti-national. These are dangerous constructions of nationalism.

    How can you brand a university which has so much diversity as any one thing? There are students from so many different places and communities and so many different groups. Is the ABVP [Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad] also anti-national? It has given several student councillors to JNU.

    General [GD] Bakshi keeps saying [during his frequent appearances on the Times Now channel] that we don’t commemorate the deaths of soldiers. But have the jawans themselves ever spoken on television? Who has given General Bakshi the right to speak for them? Is his nationalism representative of them? It is the same for the students. Can any one opinion represent a diverse university?

    We have produced civil servants and academics who are contributing to the production of knowledge, good actors and NGO workers. The former security advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon was our student. We have contributed directly to every sphere of society. What are you gaining internationally by calling us anti-national?”

As told to Ipsita Chakravarty.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

An economist’s radical idea for lowering petty corruption


Former Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu’s suggestion led to instant outrage followed by serious debate.

Kaushik Basu  · Today · 08:30 am


How contentious the law can be, I learned by fire, when I was chief economic adviser in India. Corruption has been a long-standing problem in India that successive regimes and governments have battled or given the impression of battling and mostly failed. One can sense the despair in the classical master of statecraft, Kautilya, when in his magnum opus, Arthashastra, written nearly three centuries before the Christian era, he observed: “Just as it is impossible to know when a fish moving in water is drinking it, so it is impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings misappropriate money.”

Some two thousand three hundred years after those lines were penned the nation was being traumatised by one corruption scandal breaking after another… Anna Hazare’s call to eradicate corruption struck a chord and brought thousands out to protest.

As some well-intentioned individuals in government looked at the vastness of the problem in despair, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we, sitting in the North Block, could do to curb this dreadful menace that inflicts harm on people and, in my view, damages economic development.

A simple idea struck me about one particular kind of corruption, which I went on to call “harassment bribery,” and how it could be reduced. I felt convinced that the idea was morally and theoretically well founded enough to at least merit debate and discussion. Let me present the gist of this idea. In India ordinary citizens and, at times, even large corporations are asked to pay a bribe for something to which they have legal entitlement. I had called these “harassment bribes.”

Say a woman has filed her tax return properly and it turns out that the Income Tax Department owes her some money. It is not uncommon for a critical employee of the department to ask for some money before he releases the reimbursement.

To give another example: a person has imported some cargo, done all the required paper work, and paid the requisite taxes; he is nevertheless asked to pay some money in cash before he can get all the papers that he needs to take the cargo out. These are examples of harassment bribes.

One advantage of getting a senior government job is that one is never asked to pay a harassment bribe.

So it is genuinely easy for those high up in government to forget that the crime of bribery is ubiquitous. Plaintive calls for help from relatives and friends being harassed for bribes act as a reminder that all is well in the underworld and not all is well for the common citizen. This also raises a question: are these ordinary folks who pay bribes culpable given they are virtually compelled to do so?

According to India’s main anti-bribery law, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, bribe-taking and bribe-giving are equally wrong. In the event of conviction, both the taker (usually a public servant) and the giver are equally punishable. As section 12 of the law states, “Whoever abets any offence [pertaining to bribery], whether or not that offence is committed in consequence of the abetment, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than six months but which may extend up to five years and shall also be liable to fine.”

It may be added here that the giving of a bribe is treated under the Indian law as abetment to the crime of bribery, and so bribe-giving is covered under this section. I want to point out that there is, allegedly, an exception to the law on bribe giving in the form of section 24 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, a statement made by a person in any proceeding against a public servant for an offence under sections 7 to 11 or under section 13 or section 15, that he offered or agreed to offer any gratification (other than legal remuneration) or any valuable thing to the public servant, shall not subject such person to a prosecution under section 12.” However, section 24 has a lot of ambiguity. In a 2008 case, Bhupinder Singh Patel v. CBI, 2008 (3) CCR 247 at p. 261 (Del): 2008 Cri LJ 4396, it was ruled that this exemption would apply only if the bribe giver could establish that the bribe was given unwillingly and in order to trap the public servant. The word “unwillingly” is so ambiguous that the use of this judgment as precedence is not easy.

As a consequence, section 24 has effectively become a clause meant exclusively for those wanting to carry out a sting operation to trap a public servant in the act of bribe taking, and seeking protection from the law. Consequently, section 12, which suggests that bribe-giving and -taking should both be treated as equally punishable, has come to dominate the Indian anti-bribery legal system. This, in the case of harassment bribes, seemed to me to be wrong. In situations where a civil servant asks for a bribe from a person who is legally entitled to a particular service, it is important to distinguish between the perpetrator of a crime and the victim.

But over and above this moral position, there is an interesting strategic argument that one can put forward to distinguish between the bribe-giver and -taker.

Note that under the current law, once a bribe has been paid, the interests of the bribe giver and the taker become fully aligned. If this criminal act gets exposed, both will be in trouble. Hence, they tend to collude to keep the act of bribery hidden. And even if they do not actively collude, each has a level of comfort in the knowledge that it is not in the interest of the other to reveal any information.

It is not surprising that while all Indians know of the widespread prevalence of bribery and, behind closed doors, people will tell you how they had to pay a bribe, this is seldom revealed in the courts and a vast majority of bribery incidents go unpunished. It seemed to me that this could be changed by making the following simple amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act.

In all cases of this kind of bribery, declare the act of giving a bribe legal while continuing to hold the act of taking a bribe illegal. If needs be, we could double up the punishment for taking a bribe, so that the total magnitude of punishment remains the same. Further, once the bribery has been proven, the bribe taker will be required to return the bribe to the giver.

Now think of a civil servant trying to take a bribe. He will know that, once he has taken the bribe, he can no longer rely on help from the giver in keeping this fact a secret. Unlike under the existing law, after the bribery, the interests of the giver and the taker are diametrically opposed to each other. Knowing that this will happen, the bribe taker will be much more hesitant to take the bribe in the first place. Hence, if the law were amended, as is being suggested here, the incidence of bribery would drop sharply...

The idea seemed sufficiently compelling and of practical value that I quickly wrote and put it up on the website of the Ministry of Finance as a working paper.

There was a rancorous debate going on in India on corruption at that time. Much of the debate, while founded in genuine passion and concern, generated few practical ideas of what could be done.

Most of the popular talk was of creating a layer of special bureaucracy to catch and punish corruption. Little thought was given to what David Hume recognised some 250 years ago – that with each such layer of bureaucracy, there would be a tendency for a new layer of corruption to arise. This was the fundamental question of who would police the policeman. Indeed, one factor behind the high incidence of corruption in India was the complex layers of laws and inspectorates that we had built up over time in order to curb corruption.

I felt pleased with the idea. I knew I was addressing only a segment of the problem – namely, corruption that took the form of harassment bribery – but this segment was not negligible by any means. If we could bring this down drastically through a small change in the law without adding to the size of the bureaucracy, that seemed to be worthwhile. What I did not anticipate was the level of anger (and misreporting) that my note would generate. It began with small mentions of my paper in the newspapers, followed by lacerating editorials and op-eds. Some of them stemmed from the mistaken view that I was somehow condoning corruption and saying that bribery should be made legal. I may add that I myself would be upset if someone made such an argument (even though I must admit I could never quite follow what making bribery legal means).

Soon there were some Members of Parliament (MPs) writing to various leaders in government protesting against the floating of this idea. Two MPs, members of the Communist Party of India, wrote letters to the prime minister and the finance minister, asking that action be taken against such an immoral idea on a government website and insisting that it be taken down. Then the television channels picked this up and there were some screaming matches debating the idea.

Some individuals, including some prominent industrialists, called me up to support this kind of an amendment to the law. Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys and one of the pivotal figures in India’s takeoff in the information technology sector, publicly stated that it deserved serious consideration and was roundly subjected to criticism himself. I knew that, at least for the next two or three years, my idea was dead. No politician would want to be associated with it. Not openly.

Yet, curiously, it revealed a side of Indian politics which gave me hope. At the peak of this debate, when protest letters were sent to the finance minister and others and the political leaders had to write back and explain the government’s position on this, I thought I would be asked to take the working paper down from the Ministry of Finance website. That did not happen.

Moreover, no politician in the ruling party, not one, asked me either to relent or told me off for causing embarrassment to the government.

On April 23, 2011, a Saturday evening, the prominent TV journalist Barkha Dutt phoned me requesting me to appear on her show We the People the following evening. Having an instinctive taste for such discussions but not knowing whether this would churn up the debate more or dampen it, I decided to do something which I rarely did – ask the finance minister or the prime minister whether I should risk stoking the fires by participating in the debate.

The finance minister was away in Vietnam so I phoned the prime minister at his residence. When he called me back, I told him I enjoyed these debates and, left to myself, I would love to explain my idea to the public, but since I had caused grief enough to the government, I was wondering whether or not I should go on the Barkha Dutt show. This was the first time I was speaking to Prime Minister Singh on this subject. There was a moment’s pause, and then the prime minister said that he had heard about my idea on how to control corruption, but he had to say he did not agree with me on this. Fearing that he had heard one of the many misstatements that were floating around, I explained briefly what my argument was. I doubt I would have succeeded in persuading him so quickly. But anyway, what he went on to say was very heartening to me.

He said he was leaving the decision on whether or not to appear on this particular programme to me, but since it was my job as chief economic adviser to bring ideas to the table, I should feel free to articulate my ideas in public and discuss them. Eventually, I, on my own, decided not to appear on We the People, but I participated in many subsequent debates and felt strangely good about India.

There are not too many developing countries, and not that many industrialised nations either, that would give this kind of space not just to the nation’s writers, intellectuals, and journalists, but also to its professional and technical advisers to air new ideas that may be unpopular and perhaps not even in keeping with the government’s own position, but are potentially useful in the long run.

This strategy creates short-term turbulence, but by enriching the quality of a nation’s public discourse it contributes to a more robust development.

Excerpted with permission from An Economist In The Real World: The Art Of Policymaking In India, Kaushik Basu, Penguin Viking.

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Source: scrollin


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why is menstruation a religious taboo, students ask SC


NEW DELHI, February 15, 2016    Updated: February 15, 2016 08:16 IST

Krishnadas Rajagopal


Students who are a part of the ‘Happy to Bleed’ campaign has asked the Supreme Court why the healthy biological process of menstruation is used in the name of religion to discriminate against women.

A Special Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra, which is hearing the Sabarimala temple entry issue, will consider the intervention application. The students want the apex court to address and decide on whether modern society should continue to bear with “menstrual discrimination” when the Indian Constitution mandates right to equality and health of women to achieve gender justice.

The students, represented by senior advocate Indira Jaising, have asked how a religious “taboo” that prohibits the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to the Sabarimala temple continues to be widely accepted and even justified by the authorities in violation of the rights of women under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.

At a preliminary hearing on Friday, Justice Misra had asked whether the Vedas, Upanishads and scriptures discriminate between men and women. “Is spirituality solely within the domain of men? Are you saying that women are incapable of attaining spirituality within the domain of religion? Can you deprive a mother?” Justice Misra had asked.

Source: thehindu

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gravitational wave discovery: India may play big role in future experiments

Across time and space

The envisaged LIGO-India project aims to make the country part of the global detector network.

Nayantara Narayanan · Today · 11:18 pm

 Photo Credit: LIGO

“This is the first time the universe has spoken to us – through gravitational waves,” said David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory project.

On September 14, 2015 a team of scientists at Livingstone, Louisiana picked up a signal from the far reaches of space. Seven milliseconds later they saw the same signal at Hanford, Washington. After months of checking their data, the team announced on Thursday, February 11, that the two signals came from gravitational waves – a holy grail of astrophysics.The detection of gravitational waves is a direct verification of Albert Einstein’s last prediction from his theory of general relativity. It is also proof that binary black holes exist, LIGO scientists said.

Here’s a short version of how the LIGO team explained the phenomenon they recorded. The wave that LIGO detected was generated 1.3 billion years ago when two massive black holes collided and merged. Each black hole was about 150 kilometers in diameter but packed with 30 times the mass of the sun. As they spun around each other, they accelerated to half the speed of light and then crashed into each other till they finally became one giant black hole. As the two black holes merged there was a burst of gravitational waves that passes through all matter in the universe to finally reach the earth and the interferometer set up to detect it.

The scientists at LIGO also converted the gravitational wave signal they saw into sound waves that allows us to hear what a pair of colliding black holes sounds like.


A hundred years ago, Einstein proposed that the universe is in the form of four-dimensional space-time. Imagine space-time to be a flexible but taut rubber sheet and stars and planets and other celestial bodies are balls dropped onto the rubber sheet. A planet curves the fabric of space-time in the same way that a ball on a rubber sheet would. When a planet moves, it causes a ripple in space-time in the same way that a ball moving in a rubber sheet would cause ripples. These ripples are gravitational waves that expand and contract all matter in the universe as they pass through it.

The LIGO experiment involves splitting a laser beam, projecting the twin beams perpendicular to each other over 4 km, bouncing them off mirrors, merging them and then looking for a signal of a G-wave in the merged beam. The binary balck hole signal was detected before the science run of the upgraded Advanced LIGO system began last year.

The LIGO discovery opens another window to explore the universe apart from using electromagnetic waves, said Anirban Kundu, a particle physicist from the University of Calcutta. “It may also tell us something about the very, very early universe when it expanded exponentially, which we call inflation,” he said. “This will open up a new observational tool of the universe, suited for drastic phenomena. This will also affect the theoretical studies on topics like black hole.”

A lot more expected from where the September 14 signal emerged. “The paper that has just been published contains a very careful statistical analysis of what this means about how often these things may occur. That analysis says we may see more over the coming year,” said Kip Thorne of Caltech, co-founder of LIGO. “Advanced LIGO is at one-third of its ultimate design sensitivity. Over the next few years the noise level will be brought down, LIGO will be three times better and we can see three times farther into the universe.”

India will have a big role to play in future detection of gravitational waves. The envisaged LIGO-India project proposal includes shifting one Advanced LIGO detector from Hanford to India. Studies have shown that adding a detector in India or Australia could increase the sensitivity of a network of detectors to gravitational waves. LIGO-India will be a collaboration between LIGO and three Indian institutions – the Institute of Plasma Research in Gandhinagar, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune and the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology in Indore, which together form the IndIGO consortium. LIGO scientists are also looking to partner with the Virgo project in Italy to expand the g-wave network.

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

శ్రీ కౌముది ఫిబ్రవరి 2016