Irom Sharmila’s 16years’ fast against AFSPA – The many headed struggle against AFSPA will continue

For years the people of J&K, of Manipur and other North eastern states as well as revolutionary, progressive and democratic organizations and individuals throughout India have been fighting for the repeal of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). This is an Act which allows India’s armed forces to legally function virtually as an occupation force in the areas where it operates. There are fully documented cases galore of fake ‘encounters’, mass gang rapes with or without murders thrown in, killing of children, disappearances of thousands of people ‘picked up’ in the midnight knocks for questioning. All these are written off in the name of ‘course of duty’, are legally disallowed from being brought before the criminal courts of the country and no army court has ever admitted any wrong doing. The Supreme Court in a bench headed by the then Chief Justice J.S. Verma upheld the validity of the law. The Army establishment promptly squashes any demand for any reform or repeal from any areas and the Indian ruling classes –politicians, judges, armed forces and even sections of media- have been one in declaring that demanding any accountability will only amount to ‘demoralizing’ the armed forces.

Yet the struggle against AFSPA has burnt bright. There have been powerful movements, for instance, against the mass gang rapes of Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir, against the abduction, brutal gang rape and murder of Manorama in Manipur, in several fake encounters in both Kashmir and Manipur and in scores and scores of other cases. While it is true that the guilty could not be brought to book in even one case, the brutality of the armed forces against the people of this country and the complicity of the different organs of state in them have been well and repeatedly exposed. This entire struggle has borne fruit in other ways- in at least documented lists of ‘disappeared’ persons, in documentations of fake encounters, in forcing the erstwhile UPA Govt. to pretend to review the law, etc. Recently, the documentation has forced a bench of the Supreme Court to take cognizance of such cases in Manipur, to state that crimes under the shelter of AFSPA cannot totally be sheltered from the reach of criminal courts, and to make the all important pronouncement that those perceived as the ‘enemy’ in the AFSPA areas are “citizens with rights under Article 21 of the constitution”. It has refuted the Govt. of India’s contention of a ‘war like’ situation in Manipur and said that the area is merely ‘internally disturbed’. Importantly, it is considering ordering an investigation into some of the cases that have been brought before it. All these are no mean achievements.

This struggle against AFSPA has not been without laborious work, commitment and sacrifice of all those who have fought and are fighting against this brutal law in various ways. A shining spot belongs to Irom Sharmila , the Iron Lady from Manipur, who for 16 long years has been on a fast demanding that AFSPA be repealed. Now 44 years of age, her fight began after she saw 10 people being ‘encountered’ by the Assam Rifles in Imphal. The method of protest she chose involved tremendous personal sacrifice, self torture and discipline. This the Indian state answered with repeated imprisonments, cases under ‘attempted suicide’, repeated court appearances in trials instead of engaging with the very genuine demand of this brave citizen and of respecting her struggle. Sharmila’s struggle has been an inspiration for the fighters against AFSPA. Now she has declared that she has decided to change the form of her fight calling off her indefinite fast. But the struggle for repeal of AFSPA will go on, fought in a hundred different ways as it has been and Irom Sharmila’s years of sacrifice will remain a beacon in this struggle.

( New Democracy News Service)

Supreme Court Moves For Some Accountability Under AFSPA

 

(New Democracy News Service)

The evidence collected so painstakingly is doubtless both gruesome and undeniable. The struggles of civil rights activists countrywide as well as the pressure of democratic movements and people’s growing restlessness with obvious violence of state forces have also had some effect. Thus is it that while earlier Supreme Court judgements did not intervene much in the total flouting of laws by armed forces under cover of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit made some observations on 8th July 2016. Though not focusing on the growing demand for repealing AFSPA, the observations discuss its legal boundaries.

The case under consideration was of 1528 fake encounters in Manipur in a decade upto 2012. A petition had been filed for a SIT (Special Investigation Team) into these by hundreds of families of victims in Manipur under the banner of Extra Judicial Execution Victims’ Families Association. Of the cases mentioned, 62 were earlier investigated by the NHRC (which had concluded that half of the cases were fake encounters) and by a Court appointed Panel headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Santosh Hegde. The Supreme Court Bench has now ordered the processing of the rest of the cases and a presentation of the data of the 62 cases so that it can decide which agency is to investigate them. But despite the massive number of cases as well as the devastating evidence, the Bench did not question the need for a law such as AFSPA. The AFSPA, enacted in 1958, has its origin in a colonial law made by the British to crush the Quit India Movement.

In their observations, the judges have not accepted the Central govt.’s contention that Manipur faced an unconventional war-like situation. The Bench held that the area is ‘internally disturbed’ and the people living there are citizens.

The observations of the Judges extend to several questions that are repeatedly raised by Central govts. over the years, irrespective of the ruling class party or formation in power, whenever the issue of lawlessness of the armed forces in AFSPA areas arises. They were also evidently raised in response to this petition. Thus the Judges have turned down the Central Govt.’s position that every armed person in the disturbed areas breaking prohibitory orders runs the risk of being considered an enemy. Not only can such a person not be branded as an ‘enemy’ or an active member of a banned or unlawful organization, “before a person is branded as a militant or terrorist or insurgent, there must be commission or some semblance of violent, overt act.” Further, even if the enquiry proves that the victim was an enemy, there must be a probe whether the force used by the armed forces was excessive or retaliatory “….killing an enemy is not the only available solution”. The Court has also observed, “There is a qualitative difference between the use of force in an operation and use of such deadly force that is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.” However, in all these utterances, the Bench has paid inadequate heed to the evidence placed before it, even though it has commented on it, noting that the petition says that arms are placed in the hands of dead victims to justify ‘encounter’ claims. The armed forces will definitely make up proofs of the culpability of victims as well as for the quantum of force used from the side of the state. The basic reason is not being addressed, i.e. the state’s own viewpoint that movements of nationalities for the right of self determination and for which the reasons are rooted in the history of the country, need to be crushed by brute force.  It is this basic notion that the Bench has refrained from addressing, bypassing it by simply stating that the AFSPA area in Manipur is only ‘internally disturbed’ and not a war-like zone.

The Supreme Court Bench has struck a blow at the so called ‘immunity’ of the armed forces in AFSPA areas from ‘criminal liability’ and this can be an important method to bring accountability. The Court has observed, “there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court.” To the Central Govt.’s plea of resulting demoralization in the forces, it has been forced by the evidence before it to counter, “… spare a thought for the equally unsettling and demoralizing picture of a citizen living under the fear of the gun in a democracy” and “the alleged enemy is a citizen of our country entitled to all the fundamental rights under article 21.” Again, “It does not matter whether the victim was a common man or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable for both” … “This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties.” It does stretch the imagination to think that the aggressor being a common person or state are ‘equally placed’ when the state stands charged to maintain the rule of law. When the armed forces of the state get away with gang rape after abduction of Manorama, alleged to be a Naga militant, when her body is found with bullet injuries in her private parts but the allegation is that she was shot while escaping and the lie cannot be nailed due to AFSPA, then immediate judicial action is needed and the state cannot be held “equivalent” to an individual aggressor. In the cases before this Bench was one of the 12 year old Manipuri boy dressed to go to school and sitting in the verandah of his home. He was dragged out by the security forces and shot dead in front of his pleading family. Even such cases have not moved any bench of the Supreme Court to review the AFSPA itself.

The Supreme Court Bench has stressed the need for a thorough enquiry into every death caused by armed forces in disturbed areas to assess “Any excessive or retaliatory force beyond the call of duty”. It had before it concrete evidence of 62 cases of which it had examined six in detail.

Under existing practice, the NHRC is supposed to get an enquiry conducted into every encounter death and satisfy itself about the evidence. On the one hand, the NHRC has submitted before this Bench that it does not have the power to force the state to appear before it or provide answers. On the other hand, NHRC and its state bodies, all appointees of the Govts. from amongst retired IPS officers and judges, do little to inspire faith that they would act as defenders of constitutional rights.

Revolutionary and democratic forces and people of Manipur, other parts of North East and of J&K have long been struggling for repeal of AFSPA. There is also the struggle of Irom Sharmila who is on indefinite fast till AFSPA is repealed and whose message is answered by repeated jail terms. There are thousands of “disappeared” persons in J&K as a result of this law. Women of J&K and North East have faced the entire spectrum of sexual violence at the hands of armed forces repeatedly and relentlessly due to the immunity from accountability. The experience of mass gang rape at Kunan Poshpora by 19 Rashtriya Rifles in 1991 and brutalization and murder of Manorama in 2004 by 17 Rashtriya Rifles personnel are only some among the worst. The atrocities under AFSPA pushed Anupam Lumb, the organization of Manipuri mothers, to demonstrate naked before the Army Headquarters in the state. Several children have been ‘encountered’ by the armed forces both in North East and in Kashmir as part of their bravery against an ‘enemy’.

It is only the total brutality of the armed forces in AFSPA areas as well as the pressure of movements that made Justice Verma, who had upheld AFSPA when he was Supreme Court Chief Justice, be party to the recommendation of the three member Verma Commission post 16 December 2012 that AFSPA be ‘amended’. Only a democratic mass movement can force repeal of AFSPA even while judiciary is forced to give concessions on defacto amendments in order to justify continuation of such a law. The observation of this Bench of the Supreme Court are said to be in accordance with 1950 judgement of the Court in the case of the Naga movement. Pressure of the armed forces on the successive Govts. is such that not one provision of AFSPA will be repealed without struggle.

Anger Against the Killing of Burhan Wani Burns in Kashmir Valley

(New Democracy News Service)

21 people have died and hundreds have been injured in police and paramilitary action against protestors in the Kashmir Valley in the 48 hours since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen’s popular leader, 22 year old Burhan Wani. The killing was in an intelligence led police action. No criminal case was registered anywhere in India against Wani. At the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital in Srinagar alone, 87 cases of civilians injured by pellets came in within 24 hours. Of these, 40 had pellet injuries in their eyes and the Head of the Hospital said that 19 of them are likely to go blind. These pellets, incidentally, were supposed to be used by the armed forces to avoid fatalities. Doctors at the Srinagar hospital said that the injuries are to the head and the upper part of the body, i.e. they were not used for deterrence. Though restrictions to movement had been enforced, tens of thousands of people attended the funeral of Wani in Tral, which was totally peaceful as police had been withdrawn from the area. The funeral prayers had to be repeated 40 times to assuage the sorrow of the gathering. Funeral meetings were held in several parts of the Valley and everywhere thousands wept. One meeting was also organized by Independent MLA Engineer in which 5000 people participated while the Valley observed a complete spontaneous shutdown. In the protests, civilians entered police stations, government offices and ‘security installations’ (which may just mean paramilitary camps) in anger to register protest without heeding the armed forces. While the forces maintain that Wani was not the target in the ‘encounter’ and just happened to be present along with another militant, a senior police officer gave the truth away when he stated that a ‘contingency plan’ was in place in violence prone areas to ‘counter the fallout of Wani’s killing’ ( Hindu, 11th July 2016) but protests erupted in other areas.

The sharpest protests, where protestors entered police stations, govt. offices and ‘security installations’ and where some police stations were reportedly set afire, are in South Kashmir, where the National Conference and the PDP have their areas of influence. This is directly relatable to the hated and inflammatory decision of the PDP-BJP Govt. to build segregated Pandit colonies in these areas and to build Sainik colonies here for the families of armed forces in a State where land cannot be bought by non Kashmiris. As in the earlier upsurge against the diabolical plans for land acquisition to build permanent structures for the Amarnath Yatra, this time too, the perceived threat is to the demography of the Valley. Govts. pretend not to be aware of the deep seated insecurity of the Kashmiri people behind the expression of anger at their design. There is also anger against the PDP’s decision to form a govt. along with the BJP, against the BJP’s position on Article 370 and its Hindutva agenda and against the perceived anti Kashmiri conduct of the PDP- BJP Govt. This admixture also makes it necessary for the leaders of the Kashmiri movement to ensure that anger against the PDP-BJP design of segregation of Kashmiri Pandits does not get misused as and certainly does not become a move against the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, legitimately Kashmiri, to their homes in different parts of the Valley. It will help not a little if Kashmiri Pandits also disassociate themselves with the diabolical design of the state Govt. against the Kashmiris.

The Indian ruling classes are not bothered about how out of tune they are with the people of Kashmir, – tens and tens of thousands of the latter are mourning over the killing of one whom the rulers classify as an enemy. The crux of the issue is not only the killing of yet one more member of the cream of Kashmiri youth. It is also in the offering of one more life for the shared aspiration of self determination. The ruling classes have also not taken any lesson from the recent months, when hundreds of Kashmiris intervened in areas where encounters are going on and threw stones to chase away the security forces. It is the demand of the people for the right to self determination and enshrined also in the UN accord signed by both India and Pakistan in 1948. Though over half a century has passed, it is marked by the failure of successive Indian Govts. to integrate the people of J&K. rather than aim to control the area by communal conspiracies, demographic fiddling and army brutalities. When the movement in Kashmir is low, Indian ruling classes congratulate themselves for success in suppression; when it boils over they meet it with repression and communal conspiracies. This is the most militarized area in the world with the Army standing within the state in numbers like 15 per citizen. Over 7000 people have ‘disappeared’ in the Valley, graves bear testimony to army rule, while the markings on the graves with even the names of the villages bear testimony that the so called ‘foreign’ militants are only  Kashmiris- maximally local and a few from  across the border. The Indian army has lived up to the term of an ‘occupation force’ with regard to its conduct towards Kashmiri women. The mass gang rapes of Kunan Poshpora stand unpunished; so too the murders of two women in Spore in the name of ‘drowning’ live on in memory and both are so many of a large number of so many such incidents.

The policies aimed at fingering with demography, the communal conspiracies, must be stopped forthwith, Army withdrawn from civilian areas and AFSPA lifted from the entire state. All political prisoners must be freed, PDA withdrawn. Pandits must be allowed to return to their communities and districts. Democratic rights should be fully restored. Govt. must investigate every killing by forces and ensure that armed forces’ personnel who are guilty of rapes and murders must be brought to book. The right of the people of J&K to self determination must be honoured.

The ruling class Govts. are not going to attend to the wounds they have inflicted on the Kashmiri people. It is upto the people of India to rise to the occasion and support the democratic rights and democratic demands of the people of Kashmir.

Kashmir : ‘Revival of Militancy’

(from New Democracy)

‘Revival of local militancy’ has been the watchword of reporting on Jammu and Kashmir by national English dailies over the last few months. Two comments are worth recounting-‘Militancy has been in a slow revival mode in J&K over the last few months. One of the key reasons is the sudden spurt in the number of local militants joining the ranks. Army sources insist that there was a desperate effort to push in militants into the Valley to push up the militancy related incidents. Until October 2015, 169 militancy related incidents have already taken place against 170 in entire 2014.’ (Hindu, 24th Nov. 2015). In the same paper on the same date there was a central article by M.K. Narayanan, ’The mood in the valley is sullen. Anti India sentiment is growing’. He went on to write that ‘radicalization’ is the new danger, the ‘underestimated’ ‘new threat.’ The Hindustan Times, in an editorial piece on 1st December 2015, was far more forthright, ’Several factors compound the fraught scenario’. It enumerated them- absence of justice for past excesses, military presence fortified by draconian legislation, steady rise of communalization and communal politics, pitting of the regions of Jammu and Kashmir against each other and curbing of democratic freedoms. Yet another newspaper specified that it was the pro independence Hizbul Mujaideen whose ranks the local youth were strengthening. At ground level, a continual series of incidents have been on in which people have poured out to protest the killing of local unarmed youth by the Army- unprovoked and in full daylight- and have closed down areas for days in protest. Interspersed are incidents in which militant teams have engaged the Army by hiding in the dense jungles and displaying that they are locals and know the territory well unlike the Army despite its long occupation of the Valley. Alternatively, the Army has managed to localize them in some local house where an ‘encounter’ goes on for hours and even few days. When all the youth have been killed, they are usually willingly mourned and buried by the local populace and the Army is invariably able to announce both full names and even addresses of those killed- all of which indicates they are Kashmiris even while some may be from across the border.

Thus have passed 68 years and the 69th has arrived without Indian rulers attempting to win over the people of the state, with the state under virtual Army rule no matter what parliamentary party speaks of running a ‘government’ there. What ruling parties of India repeat ad nauseam is a distortion of history, creating a distance between people of the rest of India and those of that state, while themselves further distorting the ground situation.

What is the basis of Article 370?

After the defeat of Punjab by British colonialists, Kashmir was bought from the British by the Dogra King Gulab Singh of Jammu around 1846. The major ethnic groups in this state since then are Kashmiris, Gujjars (Bakarwals), Paharis, Dogras and Ladhakhis. Gulab Singh sided with the British in the 1857 war of Indian Independence.

In 1947, princely states were asked to choose between joining either India or Pakistan. Hari Singh, the Maharaja of J&K, wavered towards independent existence, being the Hindu king of a Muslim majority province while the J&K Assembly veered towards joining Pakistan. However, when Pathan tribals infilterated into Kashmir, he signed the Instrument of Accession on 26th October 1947 so that the Indian Army should help him retain control over his area. This Instrument was accepted the next day by the Govt. of India with the provisio that it would be submitted to a ‘reference to the people’ i.e. a referendum. Thus it was a provisional accession. A referendum to ascertain the will of the people was in fact conducted by the Govt. of India in Junagarh where the Muslim king had a Hindu majority population and thus that state joined India. Hari Singh’s accession was conditional to Indian Govt. legislating for the state only on external affairs, defence and finance. In the Constituent Assembly of India, the representatives from Kashmir stated that the same provision should be maintained. This is the genesis of Article 370 and those who emphasize its ‘temporary’ nature rarely choose to recount the ‘provisional’ nature of the accession accepted by the Govt. of India. Also as a result of the conditions of accession, J&K has its own constitution, flag and till 1974, its own Prime Minister and President (Sheikh Abdullah and Hari Singh respectively were the first incumbents).

Hari Singh’s decision to accede to the Indian Union led to much unease in the valley, mitigated to an extent by Sheikh Abdullah’s support to the accession. National Conference was a bitter critic of Hari Singh, had wide support among the people of the state and had relations with the Congress since 1930. Sheikh Abdullah stated that he was in favour of the Indian option because of its commitment to secularism as opposed to Pakistan’s theocratic state. With the accession, 60%of the old state came with India while 40% comprised “Azad Kashmir” or the part ofJammu & Kashmir under Pakistan.

Communal Conspiracies Against The People

India was divided by plunging the country into a communal bloodbath while transferring power from the British to the ruling classes of divided India and Pakistan.

In the 1941 census, J&K was a Muslim majority state with a 77% Muslim population. 61% of Jammu’s population was Muslim (this figure was quoted as of 1947). Communal disturbances began in West Punjab in March 1947 and spread towards Jammu where a cleansing of Muslims began. The perception was that state troops (Dogra Hindus) participated in the anti Muslim violence. Conservative estimates were that one million Kashmiri Muslims settled in Jammu were uprooted and 2.5 lakh killed between August to October 1947. Horace Alexander, writing in the Spectator (January 16th 1948) put the killings at 2 lakh Muslims and stated that they occurred with ‘the tacit consent of the state’. Kashmiri sources put the number at 5 million. Kathua District reportedly lost 50% of its Muslim population. In October 1947, there was a major bloodbath in Jammu in Poonch District, five days before the entry of tribals into Kashmir and nine days before the accession. Between 1941 to1961 the Muslim population in Jammu fell from 61% to 38%, partly also due to some areas of Jammu going to ‘Azad’ Kashmir.

Quite in line with these communal moves, one of the proposals regarding J&K was advanced by India’s first Home Minister, Patel, who suggested the trifurcation of the state into the Valley, Ladakh and Jammu, with India retaining the latter two and a strip of the Valley to connect Jammu and Ladakh. A similar proposal was advanced by L.K.Advani in the course of the first NDA Govt. It is this vision that colours the communal conspiracies of India’s ruling classes, who are fearful that the entire state may opt for ‘independece’.

The population of J&K according to the 2001 Census, was Kashmir Valley 54,76,970, Jammu 44,30,191 and Ladakh 2,36,539. In 2011 Census, the population recorded is Kashmir Valley 69,07622, Jammu 53,50811 and Ladakh 29,0492. According to the Religious Census of 2011, 68.3% of the population is Muslim, 28.4% Hindu,1.9% Sikhs, 0.9% Buddhist and 0.3% Christian. 97% of the Valley is Muslim. Shias constitute 14% of the state population. In Jammu, 60% of the population now consists of Hindus, 36% of Muslims and 4% of Sikhs. Some of the districts are Muslim dominated. In Ladakh, in Leh 68% of the population is Buddhist while 91% of Kargil’s population are Muslims. Overall, 50% of the population is Muslim, 44% Buddhist and 6% are Hindus. The Indian state is at great pains to convince the Buddhists that they are essentially from the Hindu fold, with even the Census recording them within the bracket of Hindu religion, leave alone the similar push of the Hindutva forces.

Crushing of Democratic Rights

The Accession treaty allowed the entry of the Indian Army and a barrage of intelligence personnel into the state. First Indo Pak war ensued. In the peace brokered by the UN Security Council, both Indian and Pak. Govts signed a resolution promising to conduct a referendum throughout the state to ascertain whether the entire state would go with India or with Pakistan. However, the Indian state and successive Govts. of India had no intention of ever executing that resolution. The Army, which entered the state in 1947, has never moved out or restricted itself to the borders; rather there is no actual civilian life in the Valley and it exists basically under Army rule.

Infact, rather than naturally integrating the people of J&K into the rest of the country, the Indian state has been steady in its understanding of keeping the state ‘captive’. The citizens of the Valley are suspect almost in their entirety because they are Kashmiris and because they are Muslims. The only consistent aspect of India’s governance has been its steady commitment to communalizing the state. The change effected in the demography of Jammu has been noted, effected in the course of Partition. Home Minister Patel articulated the understanding that Jammu and Ladakh can move separately from the rest of Kashmir. Subsequently, many more steps were taken, each bringing the people of the Valley in direct and thorough conflict with the Indian state. All this has changed the ground situation in the state. In the Valley, the choice between India and Pakistan (the latter option represented by powerful and widely followed figures in the Hurriyat) has given way to the demand for an independent J&K. Yet, in the main, the demand for ‘azadi’, whose resounding in the Valley India has provoked fully, is in the main a demand to be free of rule of India’s Army and may not represent so clear a choice between Pakistan and independent existence.

A great variety of draconian measures and laws are the rule in J&K including the AFSPA and the Preventive Detention Act (PDA). The latter has been used to great effect to keep leaders permanently incarcerated by re-slapping charges under one section or the other whenever the person is released by the courts. PDA has even been slapped on children under 15 years caught during stone throwing incidents, children returning from school have been mistakenly encountered by Army in broad daylight even on the streets of Srinagar. Encounters of this nature abound in the rest of the districts, with the Army shooting down a father and son returning with firewood in the early hours of the morning, because it mistook the wood for guns.

The rampant denial of all democratic rights under the virtual Army rule is best depicted by some of its fall outs. There is an Association of relatives of missing persons in Kashmir and their list is of over 7000 people. The people on this list are those whom the Army picked up from their homes at night in infamous ‘search’ operations, or picked up in ‘house to house’ midnight searches in entire villages and who have never been seen or heard of again. There is no proof that they have been killed either. Thousands of unmarked graves dot Kashmir. Recently, one of the older gravediggers in Kashmir passed away. His funeral was attended by thousands of grateful families whom he had helped to locate their killed kin by preserving some belongings of the bodies that the Army made him bury under cover of darkness. Many graves have been thus identified and marked by small flags bearing the name and address of the killed, giving lie in the main to the ‘foreign’ militants charge of the Indian Govt. The fact is that they are usually Kashmiris even if from across the border.

The Army and The Women of Kashmir

The description of what the Indian state has done with the people of J&K is incomplete without recounting the experiences of the women. There is, firstly, a category of women in Kashmir, who are termed ‘half widows’. These are women whose husbands have disappeared, usually after searches or patrolling by the Army. Many of these have aged in wait and recently, the daughter of one of them held the funeral of her unfound father because she could no longer bear the misery of her mother.

The second is the experience of the women with the provisions of AFSPA. Leave alone the scattered complaints coming in hundreds every year, there are two cases which stand out for depravity and underscore how alienation deepens. In the first case in 1990s, a search operation at midnight by Army in the dead of night was used to gang rape the women and girls of Kupwara. Not even children and aged women were spared. To date the Army has not allowed anyone to be held guilty. In another case in this century, two young women in Sopore from an orchard owning family disappeared while out for a stroll and their bodies were found in extremely shallow water. The state insisted they had ‘drowned’; the postmortems were several, did not substantiate the cause of death and the people pointed to the CRPF camp situated adjoining their village. The movement rocked Kashmir for months, with Sopore, the apple growing district, remaining shut down for weeks together. Again, no one was held guilty but the perception of an ‘occupation’ Army and the need for ‘azadi’ has only been strengthened.

In fact, a new feature of protests emerged at about the time of the Clinton visit to India, when Sikhs were gunned down in Kashmir in a fairly obviously staged incident. The Army immediately killed five youth holding them guilty. Kashmir poured out in Intifada style protests seen in Palestine (hundreds of people pouring out in protest and refusing to disperse) shouting that the killed were innocent local youth. This was a case where the Govt. was forced to resort to DNA verification and this substantiated the assertion of the protestors. Not surprisingly, the Army has reserved the right to identify and punish the guilty for itself, and Courts and Govts. are fully compliant.

The wheels of Communalization

From time to time, apart from consistent attempts to communally polarize Jammu and Ladakh in favour of India and away from the Valley, there are also attempts to change the demographic pattern of Kashmir apart from communalizing the Kashmiri identity. One major such fingering was the move to permanently acquire land in the name of facilitating the pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra by the non Kashmiri Amarnath Trust headed by the Governer of the state. This move ofcourse had the blessings of the Centre and the state‘s Congress Govt. of Gulam Nabi Azad. Land and property in J&K is non transferable to outsiders, but the biggest violater and also huge land grabber in the state is the Army. Large swathes of land have been enclosed by it and this is one more source of anger against it.

The move of the Amarnath Board was against the very traditions of the Yatra which for years has been facilitated by the people of Kashmir irrespective of religion. The move to transfer land to the Board for permanent constructions was vehemently opposed as the Valley poured onto the streets in a vehement mass movement raising the slogan of ‘azadi’. The similar type of mass outpouring sustained for weeks as was witnessed after the killing of two young women in Sopore.

A major question stemmed from the sudden near total efflux of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the 1990s after some reported attacks on them and a few provocative pronouncements of a section of the spokespersons of the azadi movement. This migration, in totality, has hurt the question of the right of self determination of the people by allowing a communal twist. The leaders of the Kashmiri people who are the spokespersons of this right, woke up to this injury to their issue somewhat late. The role of Jagmohan, then Governor of the State, in arranging for the Pandits to leave the Valley en mass has always been an issue of interest. Mr. Pradeep Magazine, himself a Kashmiri Pandit and a prominent sports writer, has called his people the ‘most pampered refugees in the world’. Since then, the major leaders of the azadi movement have issued several calls for the properties of the Pandits to be kept secure by their neighbours and also some of them have issued calls for all Kashmiris to return and live in security. However the Modi Govt. has carried forward the RSS understanding of deepening divisions rather than allowing them to heal, by moving to build enclaves in Kashmir Valley where the Pandits would take up residence. In a positive step, many of the Pandit families have defied these moves and returned to their neighbourhoods voluntarily in the recent months and some of them have been featured in stories in English dailies of India.

The forces comprising the Azadi movement are varied in their demand. The Hurriyat is an umbrella organization with this common demand of ‘azadi’ implying freedom from India. Within it are pro Pakistan forces in a time wrap of taking the state to join that country, as well as forces who visualize an independent Jammu and Kashmir. The major party of the latter is the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the Hizbul Mujaideen, in the main, has the same orientation. Viewing the Indian Army as an occupation force which is perfectly substantiated to the people by the behavior of the Army, the people of Kashmir have been conducting armed struggle against it through armed formations of variable outlooks and mostly crossing to and fro from the part of Kashmir under Pakistan. Youth from both sides of the Valley are part of such movements. Pakistan Govt. and ruling classes obviously support, train and equip these fighters, called ‘militants’ in the terminology of India’s press and Govt. but there is a significant section of it which takes the Pakistani support but visualizes an independent J&K; this obviously does not meet the approval of the Pakistan Govt. but whom nevertheless it is forced to aid. The movement to open trade borders between both the parts of the state was vociferously welcomed by Kashmiris on both sides. The state is not an intrinsically poor state despite the impoverishment of the peasantry on both sides of the border. Its orchards produce an abundance of fruits, for instance, whose export can be a flourishing business. It should be noted that J&K is the state where Sheikh Abdullah carried out comprehensive land reforms.

The last major new assault on the sensitivities of the Kashmiri people was the unjustifiable hanging of Afzal Guru, against whom the Supreme Court itself admitted there was no evidence, but who was awarded capital punishment to satisfy a ‘conscience of the nation’ whose keeper the Court chose to become despite so many forces in India decrying this injustice and there being substantial evidence that the nation had more than one conscience. But all voices for democratic rights of Kashmiris in the rest of India are termed ‘anti-national’ and ‘pro-terrorists’. The hanging was carried out in secrecy by the UPA Govt. anxious to prove its majoritarian and ‘nationalistic’ credentials to the RSS backed organizations.

Autonomy Pitted Against Self-Determination

In essence, what the people of J&K were demanding was the implementation of the right to Plebiscite assured to them by the very decision at the time of Accession and also enshrined in the Security Council Resolution of 1949. The Indian state has done its best to ensure deep polarization within the state so that it essentially remained ‘an expression of the democratic right of the Kashmiri people in the Valley’ for self-determination. Thus now, futile but pointed disputes are sought to be raised that ‘Laddakhis’ and ‘people of Jammu’ should also have ‘separate’ rights of self-determination, whereas the issue pertained clearly to the people of the entire state. Even in 1947, in any referendum, there would have been a majority and a minority. However, as time passes and communal polarization within the parts of the state are emphasized repeatedly, this issue is getting further and further distorted. Across the border, the situation of ‘Azad’ Kashmir which is with Pakistan, is not different in terms of poverty. The Pakistan Govt. has taken care to retain the ‘azad’ semblance.

However, in India, the consistent attempts of the Indian state have been to take back as far as possible terms conceded to in the accession. The BJP ofcourse has the demand of scrapping of Article 370 high up on its agenda, appropriating the right to decide what is ‘national’ in Hindutva terms. However the rest of the parliamentary gamut has no different aspiration. The Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1974 after the Sheikh had been incarcerated in prison for well near 20 years, was to convert the designation of the Prime Minister and President (Sadr-e-Riyasat) of J&K to that of the Chief Minister and Governor i.e. one step to make it like ‘any other’ state of the Indian Union. However, whenever the movement for azadi upsurges, there are players from among mainstream parties, like the PDP, as also many intellectuals and civil rights bodies, who emphatically demand democratic rights, but also advocate ‘further autonomy’. Attempts by Hindutva communal forces to attack the ‘separate’ flag and Ariticle 370 are able to sometimes put the entire perspective into defensive outside the state, though the struggle in the Valley never loses the focus on ‘azadi’ rather than simply ensuring democratic rights and some measures for autonomy. Because even the minimum democratic rights are not enforced, the people of Kashmir are further alienated. The Rangarajan Commission set up by the UPA Govt. recommended AFSPA be restricted to certain areas and some other minor changes. The Indian Army was adamant that not a sentence should be diluted. Erstwhile Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Justice J. S. Verma, struck down a petition against AFSPA, and also did not accept the demands of the women’s organizations in December 2012 that AFSPA should be scrapped. Instead a watered down recommendation was made in the Verma Commission Report to allow civilian enquiry into cases of crimes by Army personnel against women.

Elections in J&K mostly face calls of boycott from pro-azadi forces in the Valley and the 1990s to 2000s did see almost total boycotts in major parts of the Valley. Army forced voting in scattered booths and the results were rigged results. Many newspapers have carried photographs of youth tied to poles and being forced to vote. Whatever ‘govt’ took power in the state was mostly standing on the basis of Army backing.

In recent years Kashmiris have participated in local body elections, to some extent in state assembly elections also. In J&K elections this time, the call for boycott was only symbolic and the Valley took to the ballot to keep the BJP away from power.

But these are surface episodes, as are the huge crowd of youth who turn up for rallies of various PMs where false assurances of creation of jobs are made. In Kashmir the Army represents the Indian state, and ‘azadi’ is visualized commonly as azadi from Army rule. Even in devastating floods one year back, while mainstream newspapers in the rest of India made much of Army’s role, people of the Valley were sullen about the discriminatory way the Army sent aid only to the residences of the elite.

In fact the struggle in Kashmir is the struggle for self-determination. The India ruling classes and state have succeeded in making it restricted to a demand of the people of the Valley. This is a commonly propagated restriction.

Even parliamentary ‘left’ parties are confined to stating the question as only of restoration of democratic rights, not extending to referendum. All ruling class parties including the new party, AAP, too see such a demand as anti-national. Surprisingly, those who say they are part of the ML camp, like Liberation, do not uphold this right whereas it was a part of the programme of the CPI(ML) at the time of its formation.

India is a multinational country and the democratic rights of the people of J&K involve self determination. Other nationalities of India may not choose to invoke this right as they have integrated and their ruling classes find sufficient space within the Indian Union.

 

Handing over City Building and Civic Services to MNCs and Corporate

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the Madison Square, NewYork last year that Ajmer, Allahabad and Vishakhapatnam will be rebuilt into three new Smart Cities. His explicit purpose was to attract foreign investments in India for city building and civic services. Barely a few months into power, he was selling a dream for the moneyed middle class of a living in Americanized cities on Indian soil. It was a dream for living ‘smart’, with all necessary amenities and facilities for entertainment and luxuries.

Construction of these cities are part of Mr. Modi’s development plan for India. He has announced 100 new smart cities since then and allocated Rs 48,000 crores for them @ Rs 100 crores per city per year. States have been asked to identify these and stake their claim. Since the announcement there have been protest movements in several cities, especially by a section of lawyers and some other bodies demanding inclusion of their city in the list. For prospective stakeholders 100 crores is an attraction.

Several problems plague city life in India today. The declaration of smart cities itself is an admission of the pathetic condition of civic facilities and the anti people attitude of the care takers, the municipal bodies and development authorities. The electricity supply is erratic and irregular, the voltage varies at will, the billing is arbitrary; the water supply is limited and at odd hours; there is severe paucity of sewage, rain water drainage and waste disposal infrastructure; it is normal for waste dumps to rot in the open and supply flies, mosquitoes and disease; there is overcrowding and shortage of housing with the houses being severely dilapidated; the roads are packed to capacity with huge sized unruly vehicles pushing their way through pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws and crowded wayside kiosks; most roads are broken with innumerable potholes, the side paths being laden with rain water and filth; there is poor organized infrastructure for small traders who outnumber big shops by hundreds; there are parking space problems, public transport shortage; the govt. provided facilities of health and education are in shambles with unscrupulous private sector sharks profiting even by cheating; the trees have been cut, the ponds filled up, the atmosphere is sultry and the air often stinks; the civic authorities are omnipresent only in extracting bribes for correcting the deliberately overinflated bills; hardly ever is a fault repaired efficiently; to make a complaint is often to invite more trouble; etc.

The govt. has propagated this dream of ‘smart city’ without giving exact details, which is where actually the devil resides. Those who can afford to aspire for better facilities, even if it is at higher cost, are charmed, while the rest are confused. It has not been explicitly stated who will provide the better facilities and at what cost. But the govt. will not do so, that is certain. The govt. knows for whom it is building these smart cities and in what manner it will execute it. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley outlined this in his budget speech last year. He stated “as the fruits of development reach an increasingly large number of people the pace of migration from the rural areas to the cities is increasing. A neo middle class is emerging which has the aspiration of better living standards. Unless new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become unlivable. The Prime minister has talked of developing ‘one hundred Smart Cities’ as satellite towns of larger cities and by modernizing the existing mid-sized cities”. So basically these cities are for emerging ‘neo middle class’, which of course, is expected to be able to pay since the ‘fruits of development’ have already reached it.

Who is to develop them? The MOU on Allahabad Smart City outlines this.

Under central guidance the UP govt. has entered into a MOU with the USTDA (US Trade and Development Agency) on the 25th January, 2015. The MOU recognizes that Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi and President of USA, Barack Obama agreed to “find new areas of collaboration and mutual benefit”. The govt. of United States “welcomed India’s offer for US industry to be the lead partner in developing smart cities in Ajmer (Rajasthan), Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh).” The USTDA “… supports infrastructure development in emerging markets and links US businesses to global infrastructure opportunities” while the Govt. of UP is “committed to the development of smart cities within the state of UP”.

Therefore the parties understood that “USTDA intends to contribute funding for feasibility studies/ pilots, study tours, workshops/ trainings, …” and it “intends to invite Smart solutions for Smart Cities Reverse Trade Mission delegation to the United States …”. It will also contribute “funding towards advisory services to support the development of smart city in Allahabad”.

USTDA will collaborate with US govt. agencies “like Dept. of Commerce, the US Export Import Bank and trade and economic agencies” and will call upon “US industry organizations to mobilize private sector expertise and resources to address important aviation and energy related infrastructure connected to developing smart cities”. Its support shall be “subject to the availability of funds and subsequent written agreements with the relevant parties.”

On the other hand the Govt. of UP will provide resources “to include but not be limited to: a. Technical information and data related to smart cities planning; b. Staff, logistical and travel support; and c. State budgetary resources.”

Acting on this, this MOU outlines the following basic aspects:

  1. For the smart city the funds, technical information and data and staff and logistics will be provided by UP govt.
  2. Contracts for such development will be given to US companies which will be mobilized by the USTDA. Important aspects will be of building airports and power plants. There will be no bidding, or at best it will only be between US companies.
  3. Purpose of this project is to provide business opportunities to US companies and to develop ‘smart’ Allahabad. For this the USTDA will fund the pilot studies, seminars, study tours, workshops, training to Indian bureaucrats, political and social activists.

The ‘Draft Concept Note on Smart City Scheme’ along with this note and subsequently the “Smart City Mission” document issued by the Urban Development Ministry explain the logic and objectives of this scheme.

  1. The concept advanced is “development necessitates urbanization”. “Cities are referred to as the engines of economic growth”, the documents say, expecting rapid increase in urban population from 31% at present to 60 to 65%, because “people migrate to cities primarily in search of livelihood and economic activities”. A rapid growth of urban population will only be at the cost of either erosion of village life or it being forcefully uprooted. India’s development needs lie in safeguarding and developing livelihood of the vast peasantry constituting 70% of the population. This is only possible by giving them land to farm on, making agriculture a profitable venture, ensuring infrastructure to develop farming and village life. That is a huge task and it entails several times more manpower and investment than required for 100 smart cities. It will also increase peoples’ income and purchasing capacity and shift the focus of modernization from few islands called ‘smart cities’ to an entire countryside bubbling with advancement and demanding more.
  2. What is a smart city? After referring to various international cities considered smart, it is stated to be one which will “offer economic activities and employment opportunities”. For this it “needs to develop institutional, physical and social and economic infrastructures” and for that it should “attract investors and professionals to take up such activities”. It should also provide a “very high quality of life (comparable with any developed European City), i.e. good quality but affordable housing, cost efficient physical infrastructure such as 24×7 water supply, sanitation, 24×7 electric supply, clean air, quality education, health care, security, entertainment, sports, robust and high speed interconnectivity, fast and efficient urban mobility, etc”. For this it should be an “investor friendly smart city” without “bureaucratic hassles” and with “adequate labour force”. “Investors themselves look for decent living”.
  3. Its Supervisory Structure: Consulting firms will prepare the “Smart City Plan for competing in the Smart City challenge”, after consulting citizens, Residents Welfare Associations, Tax Payers Associations, Senior Citizens and Slum Dwellers Associations. The claims of these cities to qualify will be evaluated by “a panel of national and international experts, organizations and institutions.” Incidentally the Madison square announcement was made by Mr. Modi after consulting Barack Obama, not the peoples’ associations. Each Smart City will have a Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, for its implementation. This will be headed by a full time CEO and have nominees of Central Government, State Government and ULB (Urban Local Body) on its Board. Each potential smart city is to be assisted by a consultant and one of the following “handholding agency” – World Bank, ADB, JICA, USTDA, AFD, KfW, DFID, UN Habitat, UNIDO, etc.
  4. Funding – Increased taxes on people : For the project it is expected that “most of the infrastructure will be taken up either as complete private investment or though PPPs. The contributions from the GOI and States will be largely by way of Viability Gap Support (VAS)”. One may keep in mind that such viability gap support is not granted to Indian farmers who are committing suicides in large numbers.

“The GOI funds and the matching contribution by the States/ULB will meet only a part of the project cost. Balance funds are expected to be mobilized from:

  1. States/ ULBs own resources from collection of user fees, beneficiary charges and impact fees, land monetization, debt, loans, etc.
  2. Additional resources transferred due to acceptance of the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC).
  • Innovative finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds with credit rating of ULBs, Pooled Finance Mechanism, Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
  1. Other Central Government schemes like Swachh Bharat Mission, AMRUT, National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY).
  2. Leverage borrowings from financial institutions, including bilateral and multilateral institutions, both domestic and external sources.
  3. States/UTs may also access the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), which was announced by the Finance Minister in his 2015 Budget Speech, and is likely to be set up this year.
  • Private sector through PPPs.

Paras ‘i’ and ‘iii’ mean more urban taxes, more registry charges, more diversion of ULB funds, more loans on ULBs, all leading to costlier city life. Para ‘iv’ shows that regular funds for govt schemes meant for urban poor will get diverted to building smart cities and from paras ‘ii’ and ‘vi’ that central funds will be provided for them. Para ‘v’ highlights more direct domestic and external borrowings and dependence thereof and ‘vii’ shows that profit making facilities and responsibilities will be handed over to the private sector, the MNCs and Indian corporate.

It has been stated that the tariffs are to be such that “they are affordable for the poor and yet recovers costs at higher levels of use”. Clearly the plan is to recover the profits from the ‘middle class’ and give a short shrift to the poor.

The documents state clearly that “innovative methods of raising revenues will have to be developed by the States and Cities ….”. The principle of justifying high tariffs by private service providers is already in place even now with the concept of ‘independent’ regulators. As in Delhi the regulator for electricity tariff was promoting higher profits while the company was claiming excessive costs and the people were as it is groaning under fast running metres. It is proposed to have independent regulators for smart cities also. It is important that in this regulation there is no provision of peoples’ participation.

5.It will be a fully Privatized City: So in short we are looking at a totally privatized city, with no municipal or govt. facility. Samples of this are available in colonies ‘developed’ by builders or developers as they are called now. They already have issues with floor area/ carpet area as per advertisement, maintenance and overcharging as well as insecurity due to over domination of established private security structures themselves.

Who will provide all the above good quality services and facilities to those who can’t afford them? There is stress on low cost housing being ‘especially for the poor’. Slums are to be better planned, obviously by the MNCs, not the govt. The central govt. has stipulated that at least 15% of the housing should be of the ‘affordable category’. Surely these would be just like the ‘charitable’ patient care clause being implemented by big corporate hospitals.

  1. Labour Force: There is some emphasis on “adequate availability of required skills in the labour force” as a necessary requirement to “make it easy to establish an enterprise and run it efficiently without any bureaucratic hassles”. This is an “essential feature of an investment friendly smart city”. In that sense these cities will be even ‘smarter’ than those in Europe and USA where even domestic labour has to be paid for at a minimum rate and will be without hassles of labour laws! A ‘heaven’ for the rich, and possible ‘hell’ for the poor, that too without any bureaucratic hassles!
  2. Growth and Development Cycle: It is claimed that these smart cities will “set in motion a virtuous cycle of growth and development”. How they will do that is not answered. While it is true that the development of economic infrastructure, institutions, etc for certain services will set in motion some economic development, but still agriculture, manufacturing involve more than 80% of India’s population. The documents advocate “giving an identity to the city — based on its main economic activity, such as local cuisine, health, education, arts and craft, culture, sports goods, furniture, hosiery, textile, dairy, etc”. No mention is there of any manufacturing or big industry. How will the service sectors of city life by themselves set in motion a virtuous cycle of growth with both the primary and secondary sectors being in a quandary is impossible to comprehend. This is being deliberately pushed to misguide the people. One should consider that construction of institutions of this type in large numbers in rural areas has only left empty buildings standing on agricultural fields in large numbers. There are upto 20 to 40 engineering colleges in several cities, several of which have no or very few students. Several cities have ghost colonies of flats which have been purchased but not occupied as the owners live on their other properties. A recent report in the Economic Times said more than 1.7 lakh flats are lying unsold in NCR, Delhi.
  3. Health and Education: On provision of education and health care the documents are obviously silent on govt. institutions providing any of these facilities. But a separate note circulated for the Allahabad Smart City advocates that “the administration needs to set up a single window system for examination and approving the proposals from private sector in setting up educational facilities.” As far as quality of education is concerned, it states “the market is the best way to judge as students and parents prefer quality institutions in taking admissions”. For health services the plan is to develop a “medi city in every smart city” in 50 to 100 acres land and develop PPP models and promote private sector participation in PHC services, community insurance schemes, etc. So private companies will penetrate even ongoing social health schemes like ICDS, Mid Day Meals and use services of Anganwadi, ASHA and primary school staff.
  4. Water Supply and other provisions: The plan to supply water is an example of their plan to provide all 24×7 facilities. It talks of “smart water metres” for “measuring water consumption” providing customers with “data to help them monitor their water usage and reduce costs”. It says “water supply also requires a proper revenue model based on metering of connections and volumetric water supply tariff”. Already in these services a ‘smart’ trend of charging the people through prepaid services has begun. It is there in tele communication with prepaid SIM cards, in water supply with promotion of bottled water and now water ATMs and is being promoted in electricity supply with installation of individual transformers. All are based on volumetric supply concept. So smart meters in water, electricity and other services is a system of prepaid charges, fixed charges, fixed timed charges even if one is unable to use, etc. This smart solution will apply to telephones, internet, drainage, waste management services.
  5. City Structure and Environment: It is claimed the aim is to provide clean and sustainable environment, freer road movement, public transport at different levels. There are comparisons with Barcelona, Singapore, Yokohama, Seoul. Even with their plan to make smart cities with luxurious use of land, it is unlikely to be environment friendly because their main emphasis is on concrete structures. The plan is to change the existing middle level cities and develop satellite townships as new cities. For this they will uproot villages and evict the peasantry on a large scale. Their figures disclose that they wish to urbanize about 40% of the existing rural population and possibly take over that much land. This plan has already been a disaster in several Latin American countries where large section of population lives in big cities. Such a direction has been afloat in govt. circles since UPA rule when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh often stated that people should not expect that agriculture will be able to provide livelihood. Such a plan is certainly not sustainable for a huge population of 1.25 billion living with a population density of 368 per square km as compared to Germany with 229, USA with 33, Brazil with 24 and Argentina with 14 persons per sq.km. Nor can India’s development model be compared with Singapore which is a trading city country with a population density of 7148 per sq.km.
  6. Job Creation: The document claims that each smart city will create 10,000 new jobs per year. Each of these cities will be established after displacing hundreds of villages where they will destroy thousands of livelihood in each village. To promote this as ‘development’, the concept of a ‘job incubator’ to be built in each smart city has been introduced. It is claimed this will be given several incentives and support from the govt. and it will provide for training, live and work, retraining and the likes to people, at a cost. It is a fancy creation to cover up the responsibility of the govt. to do enough to satisfy the needs of employment generation.
  7. Accountability: There is much emphasis on provision of “smart solutions” to every problem and “participatory systems of governance”. What happens if the facilities provided are short of those promised, i.e. in cases of cheating, overcharging, poor supply, etc. This is often the experience with private builders, mobile phone service providers, several fancy so called professional courses, overbilling and unwarranted treatment by private hospitals, fast running electricity metres and several others. These are not off the shelf provisions. Once you are stuck with them, you stay with them for long. And having won the contract, the company/ developer holds a monopoly. Well, one could go to court and seek justice in years. But there is no government to answer for this. So where is the participatory governance? Probably this is the smart solution they are offering.
  8. People’s Participation: The documents state that “new technology has provided a new dimension to this system making it efficient, accountable and transparent”. It is a funny logic which people are expected to swallow that technology will provide for all this even against the wish of the company or contractor. And this is noted as a “Pillar of a Smart City”. It stresses on “involvement of people in decision making process”. But the whole idea of smart cities has been thrust from above, even being declared on foreign land, without asking any section of people. Public participation is to be “through social media” with municipal offices being made “fully automated”.

Further there is discussion on ensuring that there is “no civic indiscipline” through installation of CCTV cameras and “infusion of technology and very strong Service Level Agreements so that human intervention is a bare minimum”. Who will ensure the agreement for the hapless consumer against a big company is not answered. May be the cameras will!

  1. SMART: Smart used as an adjective means to be clever, crafty and one can complement the govt. for having used this word in a ‘smart’ way. Smart does not mean that it will be a good city, with facilities at affordable costs, or security of livelihood, or of environment and ecology. It is a full developmental program, where entire structures and establishments will change, economy will change, life of the people will change and the changed new circumstance will become a compulsion.

The project will actually allow urban and rural rich to outsmart the urban and village poor and peasantry as a whole; the service provider companies and developers will outsmart their customers and the big companies, particularly US MNCs and their allies outsmart Indians by erecting ‘white elephants’ on our farmlands and rivers, our major sources of livelihood.

 

from New Democracy August issue

Casteist and Communal Modi Govternment – Shame! Remove HRD & Labour Ministers. Arrest them for Dalit Scholar’s Suicide! Suspend VC of Hyderabad Central University!

 

On the 17th of January 2016, a Dalit research scholar of Hyderabad Central University committed suicide, his letter making quite clear that he was driven to death because he was a Dalit. This is the reality of ‘developing’ India, ’skill’ India, ‘powerful’ India in the sixty ninth year of self-rule. This is the real India- and it cries for new democratic revolution.

PhD scholar in Humanities and with a Master’s Degree in Science, Rohitha Vemula stated in his suicide note that he aspired to be a ‘science writer’. He was an activist in the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and in that capacity had his brush with the casteist and communal Hindutva forces. On the 3rd of August 2015, he and 4 other Dalit students were accused of beating up the President of the ABVP unit of the University. The issues involved a prayer meeting against the capital punishment to Yakub Memon and a screening of a documentary against the Muzaffarnagar violence which was prevented by ABVP members. ABVP leader Sushil Kumar posted comments against the ASA and students of ASA went to demand an apology from him. The same evening Kumar was admitted to a private hospital for acute appendicitis. A Proctoral enquiry submitted a report on 12th August saying that there was no evidence of Kumar being beaten and severely reprimanded the ABVP leader and 5 dalit students including Rohitha. The ABVP leader approached Central Labour Minister and BJP MP from Telangana, Dattatreya. On 17th August, the Labour Minister wrote to HRD Central Minister Smriti Irani for action against the ‘anti-national’ students. The HRD Minister not only sent the letter to the VC of Hyderabad University, but followed it up with four reminders for action. On 31st August 2015 the Continued Proctoral Enquiry (obviously under the pressure of Union HRD Ministry) recommended suspension of the five dalit students and of course, no action against the ABVP leader. The ASA protested. The five were subsequently barred from all the public spaces within the campus including the hostel and were camping outside the gates of the University since 21st December 2015. On 17th January the students decided to intensify their protest with a hunger strike and the same evening Rohitha committed suicide.

The entire episode raises so many disturbing questions. At the start is the deep hatred of upper caste elements against Dalits who make their way into institutions of higher learning. Second is the continual interference of the Modi Govt. in institutions of higher learning. HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s campaign to communalize and commercialize these is also against Dalit activists and organizations- another case in point being of the Ambedkar Periyar Circle of IIT Madras against which too she had demanded action. Ms. Smriti Irani has been quite useful to RSS to impose its Hindu communal and upper caste vision on the academic institutions. Apart from this the BJP Govt. is going all out to open the doors even wider to foreign universities for commercial exploitation. As is inevitable, the leaders of the Hindutva organizations are also displaying their upper caste biases and hatred for Dalits. The RSS Supremo wants a relook at Reservations, there are the responses of Central Minister V.K. Singh and Haryana’s BJP Chief Minister to the burning alive of two dalit toddlers in Faridabad and the Prime Minister’s total lack of action against these representatives of his Govt. Modi, who talks of everything, has not found the need to utter a word of regret for Rohitha’s suicide.

This brings up another issue raised by the suicide note. Rohitha had not received his fellowship for the past seven months, amounting to an arrear of over a lakh and a half. The terrible odds that Dalit students who are first generation learners beat to get into institutions of higher learning, their dependence, their levels of intelligence which allows them to make the grade against all odds is mocked at by state institutions. Besides discrimination against them, cases of deliberate failing of Dalit students in professional institutions are quite frequent and no attention is paid to them nor steps taken to prevent their recurrence. Tales are pouring out in the daily papers of how Dalit students are facing hostility, casteism, academic discrimination in institutions of learning.

The Vice Chancellor, head of an Institution of learning, refused to even meet the five suspended students- perhaps he had no explanation for his own cowardice. Heads of institutions are appointed for subservience to authority and for having correct castes and religions; not for the spirit of fostering Enquiry that true academic ability brings. It was the height of pandering to powers that be that a large number of heads of academic institutions of the Govt. had gone to RSS headquarters in Delhi to meet the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat.

To purge this country of the ghost of Eklavya, of centuries of untouchability, caste discrimination and hostility, the lamp of learning is not enough. Further powerful forces dominating the state do everything to extinguish this. To remove the base for caste oppression and discrimination, revolutionary transformation of society is needed.

Let us together ensure that the casteist and communal Ministers and the Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University who are jointly responsible for the overtly casteist action against the five students and directly guilty of forcing Rohitha to take his life be removed from office, arrested and punished.

Students and youth, progressive and democratic forces and organizations, Rise to demand punishment to perpetrators of this ghastly crime. Join the struggle for end to caste oppression and discrimination. Launch vigorous campaign to rid society of this poison.

Statement on Bihar Elections

Statement on Bihar Elections

While Bihar assembly elections held recently have delivered a massive defeat to Narendra Modi led RSS-BJP at the Centre, they also showed that the basic issues facing the people did not become the main issues in the elections. It shows the success of the ruling classes and the big media controlled by them in allowing only certain issues to reach the people at large. Despite big increase in the role of corporate media, a large number of people (nearly 24%) did not vote for the candidates fielded by the claimants to power i.e. Grand Alliance of RJD, JD-U and Congress and NDA of BJP, LJP, RLSP and HAM-S. Over 2.5% rejected all the candidates by stamping NOTA and 9.4 percent voted for independent candidates. This shows that disillusion with main claimants to power runs deep despite massive dose of propaganda to make it a direct contest and polarize the voters between main contestants for power.

Bihar assembly election results have given a big blow to the murderous attacks by the RSS-BJP against minorities, particularly Muslims and the murders and intimidation of rationalists and intellectuals opposing the fascist trends by little known fanatical organizations linked to RSS. A large number of intellectuals have come forward to condemn these attacks and their return of awards has focused attention on this danger.

While BJP led NDA’s loss could be attributed to coming together of RJD, JDU and Congress, the important thing is a sharp decline in the vote share of BJP to 24.3% compared to 29.8% in parliamentary elections of 2014. The vote share of NDA also dropped sharply despite inclusion of Jitan Ram Manjhi’s outfit which was not part of NDA during parliamentary elections. It shows growing disillusionment of the people with the performance of BJP Govt. at the Centre. On all promises to the people like controlling the prices of essential commodities, generating a million jobs every month, bringing back black money and curbing corruption etc. the nearly year and a half rule of Modi Govt. has been a dismal failure. People who were hoodwinked by Modi with the help from the corporate media on his slogan of development such as ‘sabka sath sabka vikas” could see the reality of Modi led RSS-BJP govt.’s rule. On the other hand, to distract the people’s attention from these failures and to disrupt the people’s unity against anti-people policies being pursued by their Govt., RSS-BJP hordes have intensified their communal drive, attacking minorities and killing Muslims on different pretexts, killing and intimidating intellectuals opposing superstitions and religious bigotry and packing all the statutory bodies relating to education, historical research, art, cinema & culture, science and scientific research with nominees of RSS who have little calibre and enjoy scant respect among peers. In Bihar sensing its imminent defeat, RSS-BJP tried very hard to communally polarize the electorate. However, the ploy did not work. RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement of the need for a review of ‘reservations’ by experts, which was meant to consolidate upper castes, also backfired with RJD and JDU rallying backwards and dalits against these attacks on reservation.

BJP Govt. is doing everything to attract FDI, further opening up different sectors of economy for foreign capital. Though the Govt. is claiming high growth rate, the conditions of the people, particularly of the workers and peasants, are deteriorating. Corporate media had misled the people of the country into believing that Modi Govt. would improve their conditions but there is no inkling of ache din in its eighteen months of its rule.

The Grand Alliance, which has come to power in these elections, consists mainly of the regional parties which have been in power for last 25 years and Congress as their junior ally. These parties do not represent any change in the policies being pursued by the successive govts. in Bihar. The question of carrying out land reforms and giving land to the landless poor peasants and agricultural labourers is not on their agenda though it is the most important issue in improving the lot of rural poor and even in fighting caste oppression in Bihar. It should not be forgotten that Nitish Kumar Govt. had thrown D. Bandopadhyay Commission report on the land question into the dustbin. Nearly 88% of the people of Bihar live in villages which have witnessed economic stagnation and continue to be backward. There is no programme for developing industries in Bihar. Grand Alliance’s Chief Ministerial candidate Mr. Nitish Kumar has cultivated an image of a ‘man of development’ and good governance, most of it during his alliance with BJP. While his development is limited to construction industry, his ‘good governance’ has involved giving free reins to bureaucracy and strengthening the repressive machinery including police forces.

This election has also put some spring into Congress which had been waiting for long to anoint Rahul Gandhi as its leader. This party had faced large scale rejection due to its anti-people policies and widespread corruption.

Like the earlier assembly elections in 2010, this time also the revisionist parties contested these elections together. While the vote share of three of them, CPI, CPI(ML)-Liberation and CPM, decreased from nearly 4 percent in 2010 (CPI 1.7, Liberation 1.6 and CPM 0.7) to 3.5 percent in 2015 (Liberation 1.5, CPI 1.4 and CPM 0.6), they could secure 3 seats this time (CPI(ML)-Liberation) as compared to one last time (CPI). This election shows continuing electoral marginalization of these parties, particularly of CPI which used to be a significant electoral force in the past.

The corporate media has projected the contest as between the development models of Modi and Nitish. However, both these models are dependent on foreign capital and involve giving largesse to corporate including domestic corporate. In fact there has been continuous attempt by the ruling classes to insulate the economic policies which are mainly responsible for the people’s adverse conditions from the anger of the people which is building up over the effect of these policies. It is to be recalled how the corporate and the media controlled by them had projected Modi led Govt. as an answer to the problems of the people and corruption as the main issue before 2014 elections though it is intimately connected to the economic policies pursued by the successive govts. The same forces are now again trying to sideline the issue of economic policies. However, distress and anger of the people grows but it needs developing of people’s struggles on these issues and strengthening of revolutionary forces to prevent diverting this anger into communal channels and false choices.

Bihar elections once again highlight the importance of developing revolutionary movement and struggles of workers and peasants. It also points out the need to mobilize the people against communalism, particularly majority communalism, and against caste oppression and to make these struggles part of the struggle for new democratic revolutionary transformation of the country.

Central Committee, CPI (ML)-New Democracy

November 11, 2015