Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What's so special about Bengal? - Amartya Sen

It is the receptivity to outside ideas and cultural influences, as much as the distinctive culture that it has forged from these influences that gives Bengal its unique character, argues Amartya Sen

If you are looking for ancient history, Bengal's achievements are clearly limited. The Indus Valley Civilization that immensely enriched the sub-continent in the third and second millennia BC hardly reached Bengal. No part of the Vedas and the Upanishads is known to have been composed in Bengal.

The great advances of mathematics in the first millennium that came from the works of Aryabhata and his successors covered a huge span of the country -- from Kerala to Bihar -- but Bengal was out of it all. When al-Beruni, the great Iranian mathematician, roamed around the sub-continent in the early eleventh century in pursuit of the current state of Indian mathematics, he did not bother to visit Bengal.

There is nothing in Bengal's history to match the ancient glory of Patna or Ujjain or Benares, or the medieval splendour of Agra or Delhi or Jaipur.

Yet it is possible that being somewhat left behind over a long stretch of history has made it that much easier for Bengal to develop its peculiar combination of open-minded receptivity and cultural pride. To cut a long story short, the pride that is taken in Bengali culture, which is very strong -- sometimes distressingly so -- is like that of a cook about the excellence of what she has cooked, not at all about the indigenous origin of every element of the cooking style or ingredient.

Rabindranath Tagore presented a spirited defence of receptivity in a letter to Charlie Andrews:

"Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin. I am proud of my humanity when I can acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all the great glories of man are mine."

The Hindutva movement that stormed over a huge part of India over the last couple of decades (the storm now seems to have, happily, subsided) did not get any serious popular response at all in West Bengal. There are many different reasons for this (including the burying of the sectarian hatchet by the force of contemporary -- intensely secular -- Bengali politics), but the Hindutva movement's "localist" passion for claiming and glorifying indigenous roots of all Indian achievements had no significant resonance in Bengal.

Catholicity in this sense also has a bearing on the acceptance of people of many faiths, with varying backgrounds, some with religious ancestry in other countries. When Rabindranath Tagore told his Oxford audience, with some evident pride, at his Hibbert Lectures in the early 1930s that he came from "a confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan, and British," this was both an explicit negation of any sectarian identification, and an implicit celebration of the dignity of being broad-based, rather than narrowly confined.

A similar catholicity can, of course, be seen, among other traditions, in the history of the entire sub-continent, as I have discussed in my book The Argumentative Indian. Plural tendencies have been widely present everywhere in the sub-continent. And yet the relative force and the propensity to use the respective tendencies have varied between different regions.

When Buddhism disappeared as a practice from much of India after a thousand years of dominance, it continued to flourish in Bengal up to the late eleventh century, with the Buddhist Pala kings representing the last bastion of Buddhist regal power in India. Between the end of the Buddhist rule and the Muslim conquest of Bengal -- by the Pathans and the Turks -- in the early thirteenth century there is only a thin slice of revivalist Hindu rule for less than two centuries.

As it happens, the early Muslim kings of Bengal, who had learned Bengali despite coming from elsewhere, were sufficiently impressed by the multi-cultural history of the region to commission good Bengali translations of the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This was in the fourteenth century.

There are moving accounts of how one of these Muslim kings wanted to hear those old Sanskrit stories again and again every evening. They were not, of course, abandoning Islam in any way whatever, but they were also establishing non-religious affiliations in addition to their own religiosity, showing -- seven hundred years ago -- that a person's religious identity need not squeeze out every other aspect of a person's life and attachments.

The issue of multiple identity is quite central to understanding contemporary Bengal -- on both sides of the border. Bengal did have its own share of terrible communal violence between Hindus and Muslims during the 1940s immediately before the partition. But within very few years of separation, Bangladesh, with its overwhelmingly Muslim population, burst into the celebration of Bengali language and culture, which would unite Muslims and Hindus, rather than putting them in warring camps.

If one reads the large circulation newspapers in Bangladesh today, like Prothom Alo or The Daily Star or Sangbad, one can see how the concerns of the ordinary Bangladeshis go far beyond religion into language, politics, secularism, and also embrace a kind of affirmation of borderless global identities that live side by side with Bengali, Muslim, and Bangladeshi identities.

In West Bengal in India, too, the recognition of multiple identities has been strong, but given the dominance there of parties on the left (West Bengal has the longest history of democratically
elected communist government in the world), class and inequality have played the leading part in making religious politics look oddly dilapidated and medieval.

When Bengal's history is discussed, it is possible to point both to great records of multi-cultural tolerance and pride and to outbursts of bigotry and sectarianism. But the invoking of history is never quite independent of its contemporary relevance. The modern European or American looks for sources of the "Western tradition" in, for example, ancient Greece and Rome, and rather than searching "Western" ancient in the much longer history and larger spatial coverage of the rules of Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vikings, and others.

The choice from history is, in this sense, always selective, when the focus is on its contemporary relevance (rather than attempting to portray some kind of an aggregate picture of "what is was like then," or, for that matter, what would emerge from random selections from history).1 What is relevant, therefore, is to see what was there that is of interest today, and this is the way the present secularist and tolerant culture in Bengal, on both sides of the border, has tended to draw on Bengal's long history. And that history does indeed offer a huge store of multi-identity interactions and creativity.

Before I end, let me refer quickly to one particular evidence of living multi-cultural integration, which is largely forgotten now, but has, in fact, a remarkably long history, in the form of the Bengali calendar, called the "San." It is the only extant calendar in India in which a remnant influence of Emperor Akbar's abortive attempt at establishing an all-India non-denominational calendar, the Tarikh-Ilahi, survives.

As the end of the first millennium in the lunar Muslim calendar, Hijri, approached in the late sixteenth century, Akbar wanted a multi-cultural calendar for India, that would be solar, like the Hindu or Jain or Parsee calendars, combined with some features of the Hijri in it. The zero year was fixed at 1556 (the year of Akbar's ascendance to the throne), which corresponded to 1478 in Hindu Saka calendar and to 963 in the Muslim Hijri.

The Tarikh-Ilahi never caught on, despite its use in Akbar's own court. But it influenced the traditional Bengali calendar which got renumbered at the zero year of Akbar's Tarikh-Ilahi, putting the clock back from the Hindu 1478 to the Muslim 963. However it remained solar as in the earlier Bengali calendar, so in the years since that time, the slow-moving Bengali San (as slow as the Hindu Saka calendar and the Christian Gregorian calendar) has moved rather less forward than the Muslim lunar Hijri calendar (with its year of 354 days, 8 hours, and 45 minutes in solar reckoning).2

It is year 1413 in Bengali San now. How do we interpret it, then? The answer is that it commemorates, in effect, Prophet Mohammad's move from Mecca to Medina, the origin of the Hijri calendar, in a mixed lunar-solar system of counting -- Muslim lunar until 963 and Hindu solar since then to 1413 today.

A religious Hindu may or may not be aware of this link with the Prophet when he or she invokes this date in a Hindu ceremony (the San is important inter alia for these ceremonies as well), but this is inescapable given the integrated nature of Bengali traditions, going back many centuries.

I leave the large community of followers of Samuel Huntington's thesis of "the Clash of Civilizations" to figure out whether the Bengali San is a part of what he calls the "Hindu civilization" or of the "Muslim civilization," between which such a sharp dissonance is seen. History is, often enough, not as confrontational as it looks to cultural separatists.

1 I have discussed this methodological point in "Our Past and Our Present," Economic and Political Weekly, November 2006.

2 On this, see my The Argumentative Indian (Delhi and London: Penguin Books, 2005).

Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and is one of the world's foremost public intellectuals and scholars.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From Singur to Nandigram and beyond or DEVELOPMENT AS DISPOSSESSION

Kashmir Times
29 January 2007
From Singur to Nandigram and beyond

by Praful Bidwai

If and when ordinary mortals like you and me buy land, we search high and low for an affordable piece, hire brokers, make several trips to different sites, and borrow bank loans, which we must repay through our nose over 10 or 15 years.
Besides these high transaction costs in time and money, we also pay stamp duty to the government, which is usually a good eight percent of the land's value. None of this applies to India's biggest business house (and one of its oldest industrial families), namely, the Tatas-at least as far as the Singur car project is concerned. The Tatas are no ordinary mortals. In fact so special are they that West Bengal's Left Front woos them with the choice of six different sites, besides the Uttarakhand and Orissa governments. They choose one at Singur, next to an expressway, in one of Bengal's most fertile tracts, just 45 km from Kolkata. But they do so after stipulating a series of conditions.
• The government must procure the land for them. This will cost it Rs 140 crores. But the Tatas will pay only Rs 20 crores, after five years.
• They will pay no stamp duty.
• They must have a contiguous plot of 997 acres (almost 400 hectares, or 40 lakh square metres). No Indian car factory has anything approaching this area. (Even Tata Motors's giant Pune factory has only 188 acres, including housing for employees.)
• The factory proper, say the Tatas, will have a built-up area of only 1.5 lakh sq m, or under 4 percent of the land acquired.
• The land must be fenced off and protests suppressed. The Tatas mendaciously accused their "competitors" of fomenting the protests, but couldn't name them when challenged.

That's not all.
• The Tatas demanded "compensation" for "sacrificing" the 16 percent excise duty exemption offered by Uttarakhand for locating the car factory.
• This means "upfront infrastructural assistance" worth Rs 160 crore on a Rs 1,000-crore project. Besides, the hyped-up "Rs 1 lakh car" will probably cost a fair bit more. It be must be "cross- subsidised."
• So, says The Statesman, the Left Front government has gifted 50 acres of prime land to the Tatas in Rajarhat New Town
• and another 200 acres in the Bhangar-Rajarhat Area Development Authority for building IT and residential townships.
This is an obnoxious "sweetheart deal".
• The Left Front government isn't promoting healthy development or even straightforward risk-taking capitalism. It's the most detestable form of risk-free investment which dispossesses people to generate super-profits.

The Tatas claim:
• the project will directly generate 2,000 jobs
• and indirectly, 8,000.

But noted economist Amit Bhaduri estimates:
• it will produce just about 300,
• besides indirect employment for 1,000.

In the process, Singur's flourishing economy, where two-thirds of land is multi-cropped with vegetables and paddy, will be devastated, along with the livelihoods-of landowners, sharecroppers (bargadars), but of landless workers and rural artisans.
Singur will witness counter-reform, a reversal of the most successful land reform ever undertaken in West Bengal. Even the bargadars' share in the land (75 percent, against the absentee landlord's 25 percent) will be reversed in the land compensation formula. No wonder, the West Bengal government had to resort to repression, including mass arrests, Sec 144 and physical attacks, to enforce the "sweetheart deal".
Singur's injustice was soon compounded by the government's ham-handed attempt to take over an even larger 10,000 acres at Nandigram for a Special Economic Zone for Indonesia's unsavoury Selim Group. Here, the resistance was even more fierce. It came not from the Trinamool Congress, but from the Left, including the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Far Left. Nandigram, at the heart of the Tebhaga movement of the 1940s, is a CPI stronghold.
Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee had to admit that Nandigram was a mistake. But he blamed the Haldia Development Authority for it: for issuing the land acquisition notification without "authorisation". This won't wash. The involvement of Communist Party (Marxist) cadres, the police, and the very composition of the Authority, militate against the explanation.
Nandigram is part of the larger SEZ syndrome which afflicts India. SEZs have become the main instrument of dispossession of peasant farmers. They are a despicable combination of private greed and state collusion. SEZs, as this Column argued in mid-September, are costly ways of promoting enclave-style elitist export-oriented industrialisation. They'll grant wholly undeserved tax cuts to promoters and inflict a loss upon the exchequer, estimated by the Finance Ministry, at a horrifying Rs 160,000 crores. Yet, the government has approved 237 SEZs with 34,509 hectares and notified 63 of them. Another 165 SEZs have been approved in principle, for which another 148,663 hectares is to be acquired. Applications for another 300 are pending.
SEZs have not proved a success in most countries, including China. In fact, Shenzhen, China's best-known SEZ, has turned out a nightmare for workers. The mere loss of an identity card can turn them into destitute overnight. Above all, SEZs are a gigantic real estate scam. Most are meant to grab land close to the big cities and extract monopoly profits. SEZs also put the cart before the horse: displacement without prior rehabilitation, with potentially disastrous social, cultural and political consequences. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself acknowledged this by calling for a "humane" approach to resettlement. The government is now redrafting the National Policy for Resettlement and Rehabilitation.
Its Group of Ministers has temporarily put the SEZ land acquisition process on hold. It knows pushing acquisition could cost the United Progressive Alliance dearly in the coming elections. The Congress party has made an internal assessment of SEZs in a 16-page document prepared by Mr N Veerappa Moily. This says that SEZs will create conflict due to "dispossession and displacement", including urban conflicts through infrastructure bottlenecks. "They (SEZs) have the potential to cause embarrassment to the government of the day."
The publication of a story quoting this assessment has certainly embarrassed the UPA! Although Mr Moily has publicly dissociated himself from it, the judgment is basically sound. But the UPA is fighting shy of radically revising its SEZ policy. It has only called for a cap on the number of SEZs. What is needed is the scrapping of SEZs altogether because they are economically irrational, socially divisive, and thoroughly inequitable.
This is not to argue against industrial projects per se. We must vigorously promote industry, but with a balanced, reasoned approach. We must make it mandatory for the government to consult the people likely to be affected in advance, and establish institutional norms for compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation. Equally crucial is thorough socio-economic examination of the consequences of industrial projects and strict environment regulation.
It won't do to commandeer land first and then look for ways of compensating the affected people. It's especially inadvisable to offer them equity shares in companies related to the projects that take away their land. This will, in most cases, transfer risks to vulnerable groups who are least capable of making decisions about stocks and shares. The number of shareholders in India is a minuscule 30 million; most people don't understand share markets.
Offering shares could be an option in rare cases, where organised cooperatives exist, which are run by financially literate volunteers accountable to the gram sabha, and who have a proven commitment to collective welfare. That concept includes not just landowners, but also the landless and other economic actors, from the sanitation worker to the mechanic, and from the ironsmith to the barber, whose livelihood depends on the rural economy.
However, supporters of industrialisation-at-any-cost, including Mr Bhattacharjee, contend that very little fallow land is available in India (in West Bengal, only one percent of the total), and hence cultivable land must be "sacrificed" to industry. Historically, they say, industrialisation has never been painless. It has always extracted a price from peasants-even in the USSR and China. India follows that model of expropriation.
This argument is profoundly mistaken-not only because it imposes pain disproportionately on the weak. Industrialisation in much of the West did expropriate the peasantry through "enclosures", systematic impoverishment, and mass-scale human rights violations. The same happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin. But we should not imitate and repeat the blunders of a period when democracy was non-existent and human rights unknown.
In India, we have launched a Grand Endeavour-based on the aspiration to modernize society and develop the economy in balanced, equitable ways within a robustly democratic and inclusive framework which respects human rights and social justice. We have a unique opportunity to create a shining example of inclusive industrialisation for the world. We must not turn our face against the Grand Endeavour.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Does a bug in our gut make us fat? - Los Angeles Times

Does a bug in our gut make us fat? - Los Angeles Times

Does a bug in our gut make us fat?

The obese have higher levels of bacteria that free up more calories.
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer
December 21, 2006

Obese people have higher levels of unusually efficient bacteria in their guts than lean people do, offering a possible explanation for why they get fat, researchers reported today.

Humans need bacteria in their guts to help convert otherwise indigestible foods into a form that is digestible, and the bacteria in obese people are better at the process, a team from Washington University in St. Louis reported in two papers published in the journal Nature.

In effect, obese people obtain more energy than lean people do from the same amount of food, and those extra calories are deposited on their waists.

The same disparity was found in mice, and giving lean mice the bacteria from fat animals caused them to gain weight, the researchers said.

If the findings hold up, they could lead to new ways to induce weight loss or to prevent weight gain from happening in the first place.

"This is a potentially revolutionary idea that could change our views of what causes obesity and how we depend on the bacteria that inhabit our gut," wrote Matej Bajzer and Randy J. Seeley of the University of Cincinnati in an accompanying editorial. "But a great deal remains poorly understood."

Experts cautioned that it was too soon to manipulate gut bacteria in the hopes of becoming slimmer.

The proliferation of the efficient bacteria may be the result of obesity and not its cause, said Dr. Richard Atkinson of the Obetech Obesity Research Center in Richmond, Va., who was not involved in the research.

"If they are right, this could really be a significant advance," he said. "But I am not sure they are interpreting their data right. Correlation is not causation."

Neurobiologist Hans-Rudolf Berthoud of Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, who was not involved in the research, agreed.

"This doesn't show that the bacteria cause obesity, absolutely not," he said.

More likely, he said, is that hormonal changes in the gut caused by weight loss alter the distribution of bacteria.

"I am a strong believer that the obesity crisis is caused by the rapid changes in environment and lifestyle," Berthoud said. "This is another excuse you give people to get obese, and that is really the wrong signal to send."

An estimated 65% of American adults are overweight, and half of those are considered obese. The proportion of children who are overweight has gone from 7% to 15% over the last 20 years, and the proportion of overweight adolescents has risen from 5% to almost 16%.

Most experts attribute those increases to growing consumption of fast food and less exercise. And scientists have been stymied in finding an easy way to slim down waistlines.

Human intestines contain trillions of bacteria, perhaps 10 of them for every cell in the body. Almost 90% of the bacteria fall into two major divisions, or phyla: the Firmicutes and the Bacteroidetes.

Dr. Jeffrey Gordon and his colleagues at Washington University had previously shown that obese mice had a higher proportion of Firmicutes and correspondingly smaller proportion of Bacteroidetes than their lean littermates.

In one of the two papers, Gordon and graduate student Peter Turnbaugh analyzed the genes in the two phyla of bacteria. They concluded the Firmicutes were more efficient at digesting food that the body can't, such as the complex sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables, breaking them down into simple sugars that can be used by the body.

They then took young mice that had been raised in a sterile environment and transferred in bacterial communities from either obese or lean adult mice.

The mice that received the bacteria from obese adults gained significantly more weight than those that received bacteria from the lean animals.

In the second study, Gordon and microbial ecologist Ruth Ley studied 12 obese people who lost weight over the course of a year.

They reported that the proportions of bacteria in their digestive system — initially similar to that of the obese mice — changed as the subjects lost weight, with the number of Firmicutes decreasing and the number of Bacteroidetes increasing.

The results raise many questions, Gordon said: "Are some adults predisposed to obesity because they start out with fewer Bacteroidetes and more Firmicutes in their guts? Can we intentionally manipulate our gut microbial communities in safe and beneficial ways to regulate energy balance?"

Atkinson questioned whether the small difference in efficiency between the two types of bacteria was sufficient to explain weight gain.

Gordon thinks they are.

"The differences don't have to be great, but over the course of a year, the effects can add up," he said.

The two studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health and the W.M. Keck Foundation.


Twice-bit Bengal may shy from land buys

Twice-bit Bengal may shy from land buys

West Bengal’s bitter experience of acquiring farmland for industry in the name of public interest could prompt the state government to consider playing the role of facilitator instead of acquirer]

Financial Express
Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 0020 hours IST

Twice-bit Bengal may shy from land buys

KOLKATA, JAN 17: West Bengal’s bitter experience of acquiring farmland for industry in the name of public interest could prompt the state government to consider playing the role of facilitator instead of acquirer.
State commerce secretary Sabyasachi Sen hinted that the government could merely help industrialists and affected farmers reach a consensus, instead of using the law to acquire land.

“In future, we might restrict our role to that of a facilitator and move away from direct acquisition of farmland. The government could bring together industrialists wishing to set up plants and the landowners and help the process of building consensus among the farmers to part with their land. This is one of the models we could follow,”Sen said, adding that this was his personal view.

“Such a model was effectively used to acquire about 300 acre in Barjora and in Sankrail. We have also recently told the Jindals to directly acquire about 500 acre in Salboni,”he said after announcing details of a trade fair being organised by the state and Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The commerce secretary, however, said the government could not shy away from the acquisition process completely. “In Singur, we had to deal with more than 17,000 scattered land owners to acquire 997 acre. It would have taken ages for a private party to deal with so many,” said Sen.

CM Buddhadev Bhattacharjee rebuts Sumit Sircar

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote to eminent Left historian Sumit Sarkar on January 11, 2007 in response to his statement on the Singur and Nandigram developments. The full text:

Financial Express
Friday, January 19, 2007 at 0045 hours IST

I have seen the statement made by you and some other distinguished intellectuals and activists on the Singur and Nandigram problems. I would like to apprise you of the state government’s position in regard to West Bengal industrialisation.

In 1977, the Left Front government came to power in West Bengal. Earlier in 1967 and 1968, two United Front governments were formed in West Bengal but they lasted 90 and 13 months respectively.
But during these two short periods the land reform movement in the state rose to a high pitch and the zamindari system faced a very big challenge movement helped mobilise the peasants of West Bengal on a massive scale under the leadership of the left forces.

In the 1970s, the political scene in West Bengal passed through many changes bringing about a major shift in the situation with the installation of the Left Front government in 1977.

Because of the land reform measures of our government, 78 per cent of the state's land now belongs to the marginal and poor peasants. This is unprecedented in the entire country. Owing to the land reform programme of the state government and pro-people activities of Panchayats, important changes have taken place in the rural sector of West Bengal. The purchasing power of the rural people has gone up and the state has achieved a massive increase in its agricultural production in recent years. West Bengal is now regarded as a leader in the production of rice and vegetables.

It is time to assess the present situation of the state realistically and objectively. The fragmentation of land has become inevitable with the division of property among the children after the death of father in a rural family. The prices of agricultural inputs are now increasing. The rise in the agricultural production has led to a situation in which the peasants do not get the remunerative prices. At present, 68 per cent of the people are engaged in agricultural work. The number of landless people has started increasing. In the current turn of the situation there is reason to doubt whether our success in the agricultural sector can be maintained if we follow the same agenda. Faced with this situation, it is imperative for us to accelerate the pace of industrial development in the state while sustaining our success on the agricultural front.In West Bengal, the contributions of agriculture, industry and service sectors are 26 per cent, 24 per cent, and 50 per cent respectively to SDP. We should create more favourable conditions for generating employment through industrialisation. It is incumbent on us to move ahead, otherwise there would be the end of history. The process of economic development evolves from agriculture to industry. The journey is from villages to cities. The process of change is true for the Marxists also.

For setting up new industries West Bengal needs more land. But in our state farmland constitutes 62 per cent of the total land, while the fallow land is only 1 per cent and the forestland is 13 per cent. The urban and industrial sectors constitute 24 per cent of the total land. These figures show the constraint under which we are working to pursue our objective of industrialisation in the state. Under the circumstances, the farmland, in some measure, has to be utilised for industrialisation. We are earnestly endeavouring to make the least use of fertile land for the purpose of setting up industries.Much is being talked about the land acquisition for the proposed project at Singur. The economic benefit to be accrued from this project will be much higher than that obtained now from several plots of land used for agricultural purposes at Singur. We are giving adequate compensation to the landowners for the acquisition of land. It is our firm belief that the economically backward people of Singur will be greatly benefited after the setting up of the proposed project. An elaborate scheme for rehabilitation has been drawn up. Besides the motor factory, a large number of ancillary units will be set up. As a result, employment opportunities will be created there on a vast scale. The move is on to employ a good number of villagers to the projects after imparting technical training to them. It is the moral responsibility of the state government to see to it that all land-losers in Singur get direct and indirect employment.

To quicken the economic development of West Bengal we are making efforts to set up SEZs in some areas of the state. Our priority is to earmark 50 per cent of each SEZ for setting up industries. The SEZ cannot primarily be meant for the real estate business. But in various other parts of India, more than 300 SEZs are being set up with the thrust on promoting the real estate business. We are opposed to this move. In West Bengal, we have already received some proposals for establishing Special Economic Zones. One chemical hub will be set up at Nandigram in Southern Bengal and we are contemplating to set up an electronics hub at Siliguri in North Bengal.I have already made clear our stand regarding the Nandigram issue. We seek cooperation from all concerned to sort out the problem. The state government pays full respect to the democratic process. At present, West Bengal needs more manufacturing industries. We are attaching importance to such sectors as iron and steel, chemicals, petrochemicals, engineering, leather, cement and food processing. Emphasis is also being laid on promoting the labour intensive small scale and medium industries. We are also according priority to the setting up of knowledge-based industries (IT, bio-technology). It is necessary to utilise our human and material resources in ample measure. Our government is stepping up efforts to develop the infrastructure sector. West Bengal is a power surplus state. We are proceeding with our plans for creating significant capacity addition to the power sector. Three new satellite townships, world-class expressways, ports, a sea-port, a logistics hub, construction of roads and bridges are some of the important initiatives undertaken by us. Thousands of young people are seeking jobs. They will shape the future of our country. We cannot fail them. We must try our best to live up to the people's expectations.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whither Democracy? :

Whither Democracy? :

AP File

Whither Democracy?
India has faced and bettered many challenges. The immediate challenge to restore a beleaguered rule of law—gasping to survive in the dust and din of Indian 'populocracy'— to its rightful place is much simpler. ......
Harish Salve

As the sun burns through the fog of 2007, some fading images daunt the mind. Images of candles lit by those seeking justice for Jessica Lall, an angry Ram Jethmalani chastising the media, a "starving" Mamata Banerjee being wooed by politicians of all hues, a citizenry wondering who runs this country as parliamentarians feign alarm at excessive judicial activism.

These images— apparently disparate, have a common black thread—that of a beleaguered rule of law gasping to survive in the dust and din of Indian ‘populocracy’.

The rule of law is the bedrock of all liberties—an unamendable basic feature of our constitution. John Finnis (Professor of law and legal philosophy at the Oxford University) describes the rule of law as "…the name commonly given to the state of affairs in which a legal system is legally in good shape". Our legal system is, plainly speaking, in appalling shape. The Jessica Lall verdict was, for us lawyers, therefore an unsurprising product of a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The constitutional guarantees of life and liberties include the right to a "fair trial". A delayed trial is not a fair trial—neither to the victims and their relatives waiting endlessly for justice, nor to the accused who languish in overcrowded jails.

The Jessica Lall verdict caused visible outrage when the articulate section of society felt that the rot in the system had touched their life. Their anger was reflected in the media interest, and media coverage fed their anger. The result was a build up of pressure that led the court to hear the case on a day to day basis— its "side effect" was a fuming Ram Jethmalani. His angst too was more than justified—this dysfunctional system may just lead us to the emulate the French Revolution where "public opinion" was sufficient to send someone to the guillotine. And this is not being alarmist—remember the women in Nagpur who clobbered an accused rapist to death because they were sure that the courts would let him off?

A system in which there are over 3 million plus cases pending in the High Courts and around 20 million plus in the trial courts can be fairly described as having collapsed. Successive governments have done virtually nothing to address the causes—lack of judge strength and lack of infrastructure. The political system no longer appears to be on the same side—of late there is visible antipathy towards the rule of law and courts—except where it can be used to embarrass political rivals. This attitude is prompted, at least in some measure, by increasing criminalization of politics, and by the perception that the courts are a let and a hindrance in achieving populist measures (e.g . reservations) or using populist tactics (e.g. strikes, bandhs

Populist causes, in a fractured polity, tend to have a face off with the law. Populist methods seriously threaten the foundations of the rule law. Mamata Banerjee’s cause is a case in point. Didi did not assist the aggrieved farmers (if they are truly aggrieved) to resort to legal remedies to vindicate their grievances. The Courts have not only the power but the duty to deal with violation of the rights of the downtrodden—but they are not a vehicle to achieve a political agenda.

A hunger strike until death is demanding a result at the threat of a criminal act (i.e. suicide)—which is blackmail. If political blackmail gains legitimacy, it will be a sure step towards anarchy. It is blasphemous to compare these to Gandhiji’s satyagraha which was directed against a foreign monarch who ruled India. Besides, nobody could question the "satya" of the "satyagraha"!

The courts are duty bound to enforce the law even if it has unpopular consequences.
If the Supreme Court has to enforce the town planning law on a street by street basis, it is not excessive activism but a testimony to an abysmal failure of those whose primary duty it is to enforce the law. The argument that the courts are neither meant nor equipped to run the country, though true, is a mere attempt to obfuscate the real issues.

The real issue is the gradual decline in the credibility of the other institutions of governance. Egregious corruption has eroded public confidence in the other institutions— the elected representatives, the civil service and the police. The judiciary— and in particular the Supreme Court—is seen as the only surviving hope.

The recent criticism of the Supreme Court, though, is not so much out of concern for institutional comity and separation of powers, but out of concern over judicial review of "sensitive" matters.

The Congress government of Late Narsimha Rao found no "activism" in the Supreme Court overseeing the shilanayas in December 1991— a little known fact is that the then Attorney General told the court that the Armed forces were ready— awaiting the court's directions. If the army was to fire upon the Kar Sevaks, it would be expedient if their deployment was ordered by the Supreme Court.

The list of judgments that have caused alarm speak their own story—two of the most criticised sum it up. These are the "sealing case"—a direction to adhere to the town planning laws in Delhi (notwithstanding its unpopular consequences—not to mention its consequences on properties of those in office, as exposed in various newspapers, particularly the Indian Express), and the latest judgment holding that no sanction from the government is required to prosecute a minister on the grounds that he has received a bribe—since receiving bribes are no part of their official duties .

No critic has been able to point out as to how the Court went beyond the established parameters of judicial review—the objection clearly is to the court directing the government. to place the law above populism or political interest. The attempts of the Supreme Court to ensure that the Forest Advisory Committee includes established environmentalists prompted an Additional Solicitor General to suggest that the Court does not respect other institutions. He is partly right— corruption and abuse of power have become institutional—that one institution, the court, mercifully, does not respect.

India’s survival as a democracy has been in itself a great achievement—unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the institutions have "lost their savor". We have faced and bettered many challenges. The challenge to restore rule of law to its rightful place is much simpler. The remedy is threefold.

  • Firstly, re-establishing the credibility of the civil services and the police—by ensuring that they run the country in accordance with the law and policies (not diktats) made by the elected representatives.

  • Secondly, all populist methods incompatible with the rule of law must be eschewed—let's follow Gandhiji’s "means justify the ends" philosophy. Populist methods/agendas must be within the framework of the law, and populist laws must be within the framework of the constitution.

  • Thirdly we need an allocation of sufficient resources to the justice delivery system.

The media did yeomen service in the Jessica Lall case—this momentum must not be lost. The media can create sufficient public awareness that would ultimately force the pace of these reforms.

All this sounds unreal in the day light— but dreams at dawn are what the new year is all about.Besides, some day we must wake up and ask as to what would we have gained if we can rival the U.S. or the Chinese economy but lose democracy itself?

We can only forget at our peril the warning by the great jurist John Locke who said, "Wherever law ends, tyranny begins"

Senior lawyer Harish Salve is a former solicitor-general of India. A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Indian Express

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Development or Developmental Terrorism?* - *By Prof Amit Bhaduri***

*It has become a cliche, even a politically correct cliche these days, to say that there are two Indias: the India that shines with its fancy apartments and houses in rich neighbour hoods, corporate houses of breath taking size, glittering shopping malls, and high-tech flyovers over which flows a procession of new model cars. These are the images from a globalized India on the verge of entering the first world. And then there is the other India. India of helpless peasants committing suicides, dalits lynched regularly in not- so- distant villages, tribals dispossessed of their forest land and livelihood, and children too small to walk properly, yet begging on the streets of shining cities. Something stalks the air. The rage of the poor from this other India is palpable; it has engulfed some 120-160 out of 607 districts of this country in the so called extremist Naxalite movements. The India of glitter and privilege, it seems is bent on turning its back, and seceding fast from the other India of despair, rage and inhuman poverty. This is not just a matter of growing relative inequality between the two Indias. A more brutal process is at work, with the connivance of governments at the Central and at the state level which is not only widening this divide between the two Indias, it is deepening consciously the absolute poverty and misery of poor India.

The unprecedented high economic growth on which privileged India prides itself is a measure of the high speed at which India of privilege is distancing itself from the India of crushing poverty. The higher the rate of economic growth along this pattern becomes, the greater would be the underdevelopment of India. We first need to understand this paradox which counter-poses growth against development, and challenge this dangerous
obsession with growth. Globalisation is the context in which growth is taking place. The accompanying processes of economic liberalization and privatization are tilting the balance in favour of the market against the nation state. However, the game is no longer what it used to be. Nineteenth century capitalism developed through a complex process of conflict and cooperation between the state and the market. The state furthered the interest of the market, but at times also regulated it. For instance, it regulated the hours of work, abolished child labour or legalised trade unionism at different points in time. Karl Polyani, the perceptive commentator on the nineteenth century capitalism described this as a process of "great transformation" driven by the "double movement" of the market and the state, a process in which the rules for the market were set mostly by the state. When the state fails to play this role, the result is not a freer market and more freedom, but growing desperate rage of the poor, which must engulf all sooner or later.

It is a badly kept secret of economic theory that it cannot explain how the market gets organized and rules get set. The reason is the free market metaphor which avoids assigning the state an explicit economic role. For instance economists talk of prices rising or falling in response to excess of demand or supply in the market, but are at a loss to explain who sets the price in a market of many players, if no one has the power to dictate
price? Like Voltaire's god they then invent 'the auctioneer', the metaphor of the invisible hand of the price mechanism and other tales, trying to pretend that the market operates in isolation like a self- regulating system. High theory verges on idiocy by rejecting history. What is left unsaid is that, the situation is far worse when the rules of the market are set by the state on behalf of the large corporations. This indeed is what is being carried
out under globalization, also in India. The conventional Left is willingly or unwillingly as much a party to it as the neo-liberal Right. Increasingly rhetoric and not substance divides them. We are living in barren times The Left is left without any sense of economic direction, any ideas, and ends up following the Right which is not right. As a result a many pronged merciless onslaught has been let loose on the poor of India in the name of faster economic growth.
A massive land grab by large corporations is going on in various guises, aided and abated by the land acquisition policies of both the federal and state governments. Destruction of livelihoods and displacement of the poor in the name of industrialization, big dams for power generation and irrigation, corporatization of agriculture despite farmers' suicides, modernization and beautification of our cities by demolishing slums are showing everyday how development can turn perverse. Until September, 2006, the Board of Approvals committee of the Ministry of Commerce had approved 267 Special Economic Zones(SEZ) projects all over India. Land area for each of these projects 'deemed foreign territories' ranges from 1000 to 14,000 hectares. So far for only 67 multipruduct Sez 1,34,000 hectares have been acquired mostly by State Industrial Development Corporations. Similarly, mining rights are being granted to the corporations mostly over tribal lands. State governments, aided and emboldened by federal government policies, are acquiring land to give away to corporations. Recall that the year 2006 had begun with the shooting down in cold blood by the police of twelve tribals in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa, when they resisted their land being handed over to the Tatas for mining. The year is about to end as the Marxist chief minister in neighbouring west Bengal is prepared to unleash state terror on behalf of the Tatas. The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas or PESA Act of 1996 requires Gram Sabhas to be consulted for land acquisition.
And yet, in Jharkhand, in Orissa this has either been ignored systematically or, as a recent field report documents, the police surrounds threateningly the ordinary members in the Gram Sabha meetings, forcing them to agree to the proposals of giving up their lands at throw away prices(Down to Earth, 31 October, 2006). Land acquisition in Singur in west Bengal for the Tatas, or for Anil Ambani in Dadri in UP repeat a pattern that is becoming menacingly familiar. We are told 'trade secrets' about land use can not be revealed to the public under the right to information act. Yet a local TV channel reported, uncontested so far by the government, that west Bengal government gave Rs.140 crores in compensation, while the Tata will give only 20 crores after five years for the land according to the deal, without stamp duty and with provision of free water. The fact that public money worth 120 crore or more is handed over to a corporation must indeed remain a trade secret. Another report claims on May 31, 2006 the west Bengal state cabinet gave the nod for acquisition of 36,325 acre of land for various similar national and multinational corporate led projects. With more proposals coming in, the figure might have crossed 70,000 acres with Howrah marked for the Salem group, and Barasat also to be handed over to the same group for Barasat Raichowk Express Way.

What we are witnessing is deliberate connivance on the part of the conventional Left in West Bengal with the interests of large corporations against the poor, perhaps in the hope that the corporations will bring about a miraculous transformation of the State, which they are incapable of doing with sate power. It is an *abject surrender to the conventional wisdom of our time *that *There Is No Alternative to corporate led capitalism*, and the type of globalization it signifies, in short the *TINA syndrome in the development discourse*.
This TINA syndrome maintains that the corporations will deliver us from poverty by raising the rate of economic growth. The IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank propagate tirelessly this ideology in various guises. Now we have a group of Marxist politicians propagating the same. And yet, this model of development that is so widely agreed upon, is fatally flawed. The model has already been rejected in the last general election in 2004, especially in Andhra. Even earlier economic reforms won neither the Congress Party nor its chief architect Dr. Monmohan Singh personally a favorable verdict in the election in 1996. There is no reason to believe that this corporate-led growth ideology will not be rejected again by our democratic polity either in west Bengal or elsewhere.

There are two variants of this ideology relevant for India. In the first variant massive commercial borrowing from international banks is done by our willing national government for development, encouraged and coordinated by the IMF and the World Bank by engaging multinational corporations leading to various expensive, ambitious giant projects especially in the area of infrastructure. Typically rules of consultancy and contract are fixed by the World Bank. Almost inevitably the country subsequently gets caught in a debt trap. Most countries of Central and Latin America were examples of this variant of the development model until recently. Now country after country in a rising wave, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Equators, Venezuela, have rejected this path of debt-dependent (non-) development. Our Left has nothing to learn from them?

The other variant is characterized by a strong presence of the state. State-led or state- sponsored corporations are created and nurtured to compete with multinationals under active government support especially in the world market, while the government tries also to attract direct foreign investment especially in areas where, for some reason the government corporations are not the preferred option. Nevertheless, the government becomes a ruthless promoter of the corporate entities in search of higher growth, irrespective of how it affects the interests of the ordinary people. This is a case of state-led corporatism, and today's China seems to fit reasonably well this description, while South Korea, despite the obvious differences in the political and geo-political situations and debt dependence at an earlier stage might have traversed a similar path. Not only our one time China hater Rightists, but our Marxists, who not so long ago ridiculed the slogan" China's path is our path', seem to have turned the full circle in admiration of the Chinese way of corporate- led development. The case of China is particularly misleading in this respect in two ways. First, because the nature and extent of support the Chinese government can give to its state-sponsored corporations or to particular foreign investors, and differentiate among them, if necessary even in terms of a malleable legal system, is not possible for a government, particularly when it intends following the path of borrowing heavily under IMF World Bank supervision. They have to comply largely with the interests of those agencies. Second, the single minded ruthlessness with which the Chinese system can follow its objective of corporate led growth, at times by changing laws or suppressing the rights of the ordinary people, is fortunately not yet possible in our system.

However, what China or any other country does is no justification. The reliance *on developmental terrorism by the state on behalf of the corporations against the poor is unacceptable *anywhere, no matter what political label is attached. The Indian case could have been restrained by the political compulsions of coalition governments in the centre as well as in several states. However, this has not happened because of a remarkable degree of political convergence on the model of development between the Right and the Left. The challenge facing us is twofold. *We must oppose high growth that justifies developmental terrorism by the state on behalf of the corporations*. This is the significance of Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar. At the same time we must *chart out an* *alternative path of development*. Although limited, possibilities exist even in the present situation , and we must exploit them fully. The potentials of the National Employment Guarantee Act, strengthening of Panchayats through their financial autonomy for implementing it, and full control by Gram Sabhas of the use of their land, and transparency and accountability in governance at all level through the Right to Information need to be pushed as far as possible. Pro- people growth in India has to be employment driven, and energized by a genuinely decentralized structure of governance. With that vision of development, it is time we judge the actions of political parties and governments in power by
this criterion, and not by their fiery rhetoric.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Time to say goodbye to passport delays

Time to say goodbye to passport delays

Time to say goodbye to passport delays

December 25, 2006 18:22 IST

Acquiring of passports will be easier from Tuesday with the government revising guidelines, which includes doing away with the requirement of police verification in case of reissue of the document.

An applicant will now be required to furnish only three out of 14 documents as proof, including one with a photograph, as per the new guidelines aimed at reducing the delays in issuance of passports.

The eligibility criterion for Emigration Check Not Required stamping will hereafter be matriculation rather than graduation as present.

The government has also relaxed rules for obtaining certificate for waiver of police verification by extending the authorisation powers to Under Secretaries, Tehsildars and SHOs, official sources told PTI in New Delhi on Monday.

For re-issue of passports, no police verification would be necessary either before or after issuance unless there is any negative information concerning an applicant, they said.

The passports will be required to be re-issued within four days, the sources said.

Changes have also been effected with regard to Tatkal scheme, under which a passport will have to be issued within 14 days, rather than 20 days as per the existing rules. A

Tatkal passport may also be issued within seven days, if an applicant shells out Rs 500 extra.

Re-issue of passport under the Tatkal scheme will have to be done within three days. As per the changes, an applicant will not be required to cite reasons for applying for a Tatkal passport.

The MEA's intention of doing away with the requirement of address verification of a passport applicant and depending only on individual's identity has failed to take off because of opposition from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The MEA also intends to do away with the requirement of five-year address proof for people born in Jammu and Kashmir and residing outside the state. However, this proposal has also been shot down by the MHA.

While easing procedures for applying for passport, the government is also examining suitable amendments to the Passports Act to provide for stricter penalties for those obtaining passports by fraudulent means.

The scheme allows an applicant to submit three out of a list of 14 stipulated documents along with his application. The 14 stipulated documents include Electors Photo Identity Card, Service Identity cards, ration cards, driving licences and PAN cards.

The government is also working on the introduction of biometric passports, which will have a micro-processor based digital storage device embedded in them containing biometric features like fingerprints of the holder besides the general information concerning the document and the person concerned.

The scheme, to be introduced next year as a pilot project, will be introduced in the categories of diplomatic and official passports initially. Others will be covered later, based on the experience of the pilot project.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Let's Burn The Burqa :

Let's Burn The Burqa :

Let's Burn The Burqa
The Quran does prescribe purdah. That doesn't mean women should obey it.

My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother's house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah. And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn't wear the burqa.

Women too have sexual urges. So why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, He treated them on unequal terms.

She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.

As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don't you suffocate in this veil? Don't you feel
all dark inside? Don't you feel breathless? Don't you feel angry? Don't you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn't do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away.

The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.

A couple of months ago, at the height of the purdah controversy, Shabana Azmi asserted that the Quran doesn't say anything about wearing the burqa. She's mistaken. This is what the Quran says:

"Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed." (Sura Al Noor 24:31)

"Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind." (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)

Even the Hadis�a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him�talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.

There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that Prophet Mohammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert and plains for relieving themselves and even their sexual needs. The Prophet's wives too had to do the same. He had told his wives that "I give you permission to go out and carry out your natural work". (Bukhari Hadis first volume book 4 No. 149). And this is what his wives started doing accordingly. One day, Prophet Mohammed's disciple Uman complained to him that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognisable while relieving themselves.
Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Mohammed ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down the Ayat (33:59) (Bukhari Hadis Book 026 No. 5397).

This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadis. But the question is: since Arab men too relieved themselves in the open, why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, Allah doesn't treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both! Men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons and men can remain free birds.

Another view is that the purdah was introduced to separate women from servants. This originates from stories in the Hadis. One story in the Bukhari Hadis goes thus: After winning the Khyber War, Prophet Mohammed took over all the properties of the enemy, including their women. One of these women was called Safia. One of the Prophet's disciples sought to know her status. He replied: "If tomorrow you see that Safia is going around covered, under purdah, then she is going to be a wife. If you see her uncovered, that means I've decided to make her my servant."

The third view comes from this story. Prophet Mohammed's wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an Ayat that says, "Oh friends of the prophet or holy men, never go to your friend's house without an invitation. And if you do go, don't go and ask anything of their wives". It is to resist the greedy eyes of friends, disciples or male guests that the purdah system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the holy men, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Purdah means covering the entire body except for the eyes, wrist and feet. Nowadays, some women practise the purdah by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Hadis Quran. Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.

In the early Islamic period, Prophet Mohammed started the practice of covering the feet of women. Within 100 years of his death, purdah spread across the entire Middle East. Women were covered by an extra layer of clothing. They were forbidden to go out of the house, or in front of unknown men. Their lives were hemmed into a tight regime: stay at home, cook, clean the house, bear children and bring them up. In this way, one section of the people was separated by purdah, quarantined and covered.

Why are women covered? Because they are sex objects. Because when men see them, they are roused. Why should women have to be penalised for men's sexual problems? Even women have sexual urges. But men are not covered for that. In no religion formulated by men are women considered to have a separate existence, or as human beings having desires and opinions separate from men's. The purdah rules humiliate not only women but men too. If women walk about without purdah, it's as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do they lose all their senses when they see any woman without burqa?

My question to Shabana and her supporters, who argue that the Quran says nothing about purdah is: If the Quran advises women to use purdah, should they do so? My answer is, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women's oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact.So that they cannot stand on their own two feet and live with their head held high and their spine strong and erect.

Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual's personal reasons that women should have purdah and since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not purdah. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman's head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn't work. If women's brains worked properly, they'd have long ago thrown off these veils and burqas imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.

What should women do? They should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.

How Warren Buffet made his billions

How Warren Buffet made his billions

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Surya Sen or Master da...The Fiery Freedom Fighter..

Lest We Forget
Surya Sen -- the fiery freedom fighter
Prem Ranjan Dev

The history of the Indian sub-continent's struggle for freedom will remain incomplete if it leaves unexamined an episode like the Chittagong uprising of 1930.

Hence the searching question: What was behind this unique phenomenon? The mere existence of common factors of colonial oppression was not enough. Had it been so, we would have witnessed similar resistances and similar instances of martyrdom all over the subcontinent.

The Chittagong Uprising did leave an enduring mark of our freedom struggle. The report of the Civil Disobedience Exquiry Committee set up by the British government noted: "The news of this coup, unprecedented in the annals of terrorism, gave fillip to the younger section of the revolutionaries who were already fired with enthusiasm to drive the British from India by force of arms. Recruits poured into the various terrorist groups in a steady stream and these included women and young girls".

Let us, therefore, try to find out the roots of this unique phenomenon in Bengal. Thanks to the emergence of mighty thought currents generated by the literature of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rangalal Banerjee, Dinabandhu Mitra, Vivekananda, DL Roy, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam and others -- in terms of patriotism, human dignity and sensitivity -- massive formations filled the spiritual and intellectual firmament of Bengal awaiting a precipitating agent to transform them into a phenomenal downpour of patriotic outbursts to secure freedom.

Surya Sen and others like him played a significant role in that precipitating process.

Coming back to the Chittagong Uprising of 1930, what were the circumstances surrounding us at that time? This historical event in the subcontinent's eastern port city of Chittagong overtook the whole country by surprise.

A bewildered public heard how a band of determined youths had launched an armed rebellion against their colonial overlords! Their lightning attack immobilized all the centres of administration in Chittagong -- all the armories were in their hands -- all telegraph and telephone connections severed, railway lines uprooted -- the whole city was in the hands of the freedom fighters whom the British called insurgents.

The happening hit the headlines of newspapers. Was this a reenactment of the famous Irish Easter rebellion on Indian soil? This generated imaginary news.

The number of insurgents were imagined by some as "500" or at least "100" while the real number of participants was about 65 only, of whom 70 per cent were teenagers.

On his mission, Surya Sen, who was popularly known as "Master-da," said in an interview: "Ours is not an easy life. Our primary emphasis is quality. The role of maximum sacrifice and dedication must not be underrated. You need not rush into any decision as to whether you want to join or not. If after serious self-searching there is least hesitation, then it is far better to part company. There will be no ill feeling on our side. It is not our aim to swell our numbers by indiscriminate recruiting. The party must be strong enough to match the challenge facing us: The fight for freedom is going to be a long and exacting struggle. There is only one way: A dedicated band of youths must show the path of all-out organized struggle in place of individual terrorism. Most of us, perhaps, will have to die in the process but our sacrifice for such a noble cause will not go in vain. Whoever dreams of a push button revolution on one fine morning on a national scale in a vast country like ours, with varied cultures and languages, is a worthless dreamer."

Owing to the determination and organizational skill of Surya Sen and his lieutenants, Chittagong witnessed what could be truly described as an iron brigade of dedicated patriots whose motto was "one for all and all for one."

It was, indeed, a unique organization, which almost emerged as a parallel local authority. There have been instances when the notorious goons and thugs were not only punished with utmost severity but the leading ones were even put to trial in their "swadeshi adalat!"

On the one hand the patriotic army of Surya Sen earned the gratitude of the victimized public at large and on the other, struck terror in the underworld gangs of goons.

Surya Sen was born in 1894. His political life started somewhere around 1916 when he was a student of Baharampur College (West Bengal) preparing for his graduation.

The police raided the college hostel and few of his fellow resident students were searched. These suspect students attracted his keen attention and gradually he was drawn into radical politics, the aim of which was to liberate the motherland by all possible means.

By then all his heart searching was over and he was determined to dedicate his life for the cause of freedom.

So he joined the Chittagong branch of the Indian National Congress and soon became the leading organizer of the local youth movement.

His all out participation in the first non-cooperation movement left its mark on the people of Chittagong. He effectively led the movement for the boycott of the official schools and colleges and courts and took a leading part in organizing "swadeshi" schools known as "mational schools" of which he was the most popular "Master" hence the endearing name "Master-da."

His involvement in the non-cooperation movement was extended to the field of mass movements. He and his lieutenants successfully led the Seamen's strike against the Bullock Brothers Co. and he also left his mark in successfully organizing the Assam Bengal Railway Strike in support of the national movement.

In due course, the inevitable difference cropped up between him and the leadership and officials of the congress party to whom the constraints of non-violence were inviolable even after the events of chouri chora.

Surya Sen and his radical colleagues insisted that any successful anti-colonial liberation movement must not be fettered by any inhabiting conditions. His next task was the formation of a radical wing inside the Congress with the help of the like-minded patriots -- a highly disciplined and dedicated band of youths.

He was arrested and detained as a state prisoner in 1926 and released in 1928. At last came the most memorable chapter of his life, namely, the Chittagong uprising of 1930.

The first (short-lived) free provisional government was formed in Chittagong and he was declared its president. Then came the most exacting period of his revolutionary career when he led a series of guerilla resistances, of which the pride of place belongs to the famous Jalalabad battle against overwhelming odds, thereby revealing the calibre of his leadership and stamina.

Months later, no less a person than Sarat Chandra Bose (elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) offered his help to arrange for his safe transit to somewhere out of the country for his safety. His answer was: "My place is right here in Chittagong -- here I will fight and die".

He was, ultimately, arrested in 1933 and was brutally tortured and eventually tried by a Special Tribunal. The final stage of his life was reached on 12 January, 1934 when he was hanged with his lieutenant Tarakeswer Dastidar at Chittagong.

His last letter to his comrades, written on 11th January, will remain enshrined in history as the most eloquent testimony of the excellence of his manhood.

"Death is knocking at my door. My mind is flying away towards infinity ... this is the moment to prepare myself to embrace death as the dearest of friends. In this happy, sacred and crucial moment, what am I leaving for you all? Only one thing, my dream, a golden dream, the dream of a Free India. Dear comrades, march ahead; never retrace your step. Days of servitude are receding. Freedom's illuminating ray is visible over there. Arise and never give way to despair. Success is sure to come."


27th, 2006

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The peculiarity of human society everywhere in the world is that it is
ruled over by a person or a group. The ruling person or group is called a
Government where rule of Law prevails. Where rape of Law continues, the land
is held to be ruled by the Satan. Keradagarh in Orissa's Kendrapada district
cries to know as to who rules over the land.

Before going to that intricate issue, let us first see why there is the need
to know of this.

Had there been no rape of Law, the need to know this would never have

Hence which Law has been raped?

The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and The Orissa Temple Entry Act,
1948, have been raped under patronage of the government, allege deputy
director S.K. Naskar and research officer D.N. Palchaudhury of The National
Commission for Scheduled Castes after concluding a spot survey in Keradagarh
where Scheduled Caste people have been subjected to atrocities by members of
the upper Castes like the Uchha Jaati Vikash Parisad (Council for
development of Upper Castes) and the Priests of a Jagannath temple standing
there as a citadel of caste apartheid.

But we will concentrate on the Special Law made to stop such atrocities.

"Despite various measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they remain vulnerable", with this
official admission begins the Statement of Objects and Reasons of this
Special Legislation namely The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989, hereinafter called the Atrocities Act.

The Statement goes on confessing,

"They are denied number of civil rights. They are subjected to various
offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several
brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Serious crimes
are committed against them for various historical, social and economic

"When they assert their rights and resist practice of untouchability against
them or demand statutory minimum wages or refuse to do any bonded or forced
labor the vested interest try to cow them down and terrorize them".

Depicting practice of much such oppression, the Statement confesses that the
existing Laws "like Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the normal
provisions of the Indian Penal Code have been found to be inadequate to
check these crimes. A special legislation to check and deter crimes against
them committed by non-Scheduled Castes and non-Scheduled Tribes has,
therefore become necessary".

Therefore this Special Legislation makes it mandatory under Section 3
thereof that

"whoever not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe,
intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a
Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view"
(Sec3(1)(x) or "denies a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe
any customary right of passage to a place of public resort or obstruct such
member so as to prevent him from using or having access to a place of public
resort to which other members of the public or any section thereof have a
right to use or access to" (Sec.3(1)(xiv), "shall be punishable with
imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which
may extend to five years and with fine".

But at Keradagarh these atrocities are perpetrated on the members of the
Scheduled Castes by non-Scheduled Caste people and the Government of Orissa
is not implementing this Law specifically framed to prevent such atrocities.
Therefore the question arises as to who now rules over Orissa.

The perpetrators of these atrocities have not only raped the Law there, but
also have raped Jagannathism in the guise of worshiping Jagannath.

Of course raping Jagannathism in the guise of worshiping Jagannath is an old
practice of the priests who act as stooges of the perpetrators of social
slavery designed by Aryan imperialism.

*Aryan assault on Jagannath*

When our Motherland was subjugated by invading Aryas, those exploiters, as a
class, had reduced the overpowered Indian Tribes to slavery and had designed
a caste structure wherein they were designated as impure persons
(untouchables) to whom salvation was shown attainable only through total
surrender to the commands of their masters described in scriptures as Dwijas
i.e. the members of the Upper castes. This system of exploitation was made
perpetual by denial of right to read scriptures, to perform penance, to
enter into temples or to observe asceticism, which, according to the
scriptures that they had contrived, were the gateways to salvation. So
acceptance of these denial-commands of the Upper Caste people without any
question was the only way to salvation granted to the untouchables.

Buddha, born in Orissa's Kapilavastu, presently known as Kapileswar,
(wrongfully depicted as in Nepal) was the first scientific revolutionary to
have organized the untouchables to form Samghas of their own on the basis of
democratic centralism and collectively defeat caste exploitation. He, eager
to save Orissa's Tosala democratic culture from Aryan autocratic invasion,
rushed from Orissa to Magadha and organized the tribes there to resist the
expanding Aryan Autocracy. Under his guidance the Tribes organized their own
Democracies against Aryan Autocracy and clipped its spread in its heartland.
Ajatasattu,s failure in overpowering Bajjian Tribes as recorded in history
testifies this matchless political phenomenon. Till finally the Kalinga war
gave the Magaddhan Asok a chance to hoodwink the tribal democracies, Aryan
Autocracy had been kept clipped by the Bouddha Samghas and Orissa's original
culture of complacence and peaceful pursuit of democratic way of life was
kept in tact. So the grateful people of Orissa through their Buddhist guides
like the Siddhacharyas of Chaurashi (famous as Caurasi Siddhacharyas) had
equated the Tribal Jaganta-tha, meaning the torso of the mother that stood
for the universal force of productivity and protection with Buddha, the
philosopher and the protector and eventually Orissa's king Indrabhuti
christened Buddha as Jagannath deriving the word from the said
Jaya Devanka Baisi Pahacha, Subhas Chandra Pattanayak, Bharata Bharati,
2005)*. So Jagannath being Buddha became the ultimate leader of Orissa.
Aryan Autocracy that thrived on Caste apartheid could not be stable in
Orissa because of the impact of Jagannath Buddha on the people. Aryan
Autocrats were non-Oriyas and they were attacking and capturing portions of
Orissa and trying to establish dynasties. But the people being Buddhists,
their caste culture had no acceptability and this is why there were so many
dynasties replacing one after another in Orissa. Then attempts were made to
transform Jagannath from Buddha to Bishnu, specifically to non-Oriya
Krushna. And to execute this design as many as 10,000 Brahmins who were
non-Oriyas were imported from out side Orissa by a non-Oriya king of Keshari
dynasty. They were allotted freehold lands at different parts of Orissa and
their settlements were styled as Shasana that stood for administration and
they were imposed on the subjects as the priests who were the only ones
entitled to worship the deities and the feudatory kings were instigated to
establish Jagannath temples in their respective estates and engage these
priests to worship Jagannath not as Buddha, the beloved son of Orissa soil,
but as Krushna of Dwaraka and thereby to destroy the casteless character of

History of Jagannathism is a history of battle between Aryan attempt to
promulgate caste apartheid in Jagannath temple and Oriya endeavor to defeat
that design. The story of defeat of the caste supremacist Balaram and his
obedient follower and younger brother Krushna of Dwaraka origin in the
episode of the untouchable woman Sriya is an Oriya way of proving the
unacceptability of caste culture.

Many Vedic preachers, who basically were caste supremacists like the
Samkaracharya had camped in Puri and tried to sow seeds of caste apartheid
in the guise of philosophical sermons. Even the Adi Samkaracharya and his
disciple Padmapada's statues were arbitrarily kept on the Ratna-Simhasana of
Sri Jagannath, the Brahmins worshiping them along with the Deity, forcing
the people to accept Jagannath as Bishnu. People of Orissa, history has
witnessed, threw away those statues of Samkara and Padmapada and dismantled
all his authorities in the matter of Sri Mandira. And till date
Samkaracharyas have no control over Jagannath system. Having thus failed to
usurp Sri Mandira of Puri for the caste supremacists, the exploiters as a
class have established Jagannath temples in different parts of Orissa
through Feudatory Kings and Zamidars with a motive to dilute its casteless
culture and thereby have succeeded in bonding innocent people to social
slavery by promulgating caste apartheid.

Keradagarh was no exception. Construction of a temple there and consecration
of Jagannath statue therein was a part of the caste supremacist design.

When the Country was under foreign yoke and the Zamidar of Kanika comprising
Keradagarh was hand-in-glove with the powers that had subjugated our
Motherland, it had flourished. The exploited people, declared as untouchable
by the exploiter class, were made to accept that they are inferior creatures
born only to serve the Upper Caste Masters and to inscribe this in their
psyche permanently, they were banned to enter into the temple proper and to
remain satisfied with the permission to see the temple through peep-holes
made on the surrounding wall for that specific purpose.

Like in Kanika, everywhere the untouchable people had by experience gathered
that as long as they are not free from the autocratic rulers and their
foreign patrons, this social humiliation would not end.

*Freedom fight was against caste supremacy*

In order to end this humiliation they had joined the freedom movement.
Therefore we find majority of martyrs of our freedom struggle belonged to
the lower Castes.

Their contributions to our freedom movement were so massively immense and
incomparable that after independence their mouthpiece Babasaheb Ambedkar was
the Nation's natural choice for drafting the Constitution of our Country
notwithstanding presence of many legal luminaries in the Constituent

So our freedom was a contribution of the people who had wanted caste
apartheid to end.

But there was no dearth of caste supremacists in the Constituent Assembly.
The caste supremacists have a common creed. They support private property.
Lest this creed be opposed to, the first Prime Minister of free India,
Jawaharlal Nehru, who was adamant to be addressed as Pundit Nehru or
Punditji in consonance with his Kashmir Pundit linage and in whose cabinet
caste supremacists were the heavyweights, had ensured that the Constituent
Assembly remained free from presence of the Communists by banning the
Communist Party of India, the party that had led the country into
independence after all the Congress leaders had gone into British prisons
after 1942 and had made the highest sacrifice in heroic battles against the
British. In absence of the protectors of proletariat interest, i.e. the
Communists, Indian Constitution could not be saved from the trap of private
property and right to property became a fundamental right. This has provided
the most congenial climate to spread of all sorts of corruption in the
country and has helped public money looters becoming awe inspiring rich and
has eventually, but unnoticed, transformed our democracy to a plutocracy.

So the country has become a citadel of caste supremacists. As has been shown
supra, caste supremacists thrive on scriptural fundamentalism and
monopolistic handling of religious holdings. To them, assertion of lower
caste people to have access to religious places or temples is anathema.
Therefore whenever any member of the communities held by them as
untouchable, enters or wants to enter into a temple, the caste supremacists
subject him/her to various indignities. Giving an account of to what brutal
extent these indignities are devised, the Atrocities Act in its Statement of
Objects & Reasons even admits, that,

"there has been an increase in the disturbing trend of commission of certain
atrocities like making the Scheduled Caste persons eat inedible substances
like human excreta and attacks on and mass killings of helpless Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribes and rape of women belonging to Schedule Castes
and Scheduled Tribes".

All these atrocities are being perpetrated on Scheduled Caste people in
Keradagarh under the umbrage of Orissa Government.

*Women tortured.*

Two years ago, in November 2004, four Dalit women were brutalized for having
entered the temple. Orissa administration has failed to act on the
Atrocities Act.

Their constitutional rights to equality so inhumanly trampled and their
protests against the atrocities not paid attention to by the Government, the
Dalits of Keradagarh decided en masse to enter into the Jagannath temple in
November last year. The caste supremacists instantly organized to obstruct
the Dalits.

An advocate, Akhya Kumar Mallik, filed a public interest petition in the
Orissa High Court seeking protection for Dalits when they enter the temple.

But to use the Court for prolongation of upper caste hegemony, a Brahmin by
caste Raghunath Padhy filed a petition in the high court seeking maintenance
of status quo.

In response, a division bench comprising Justice I M Quddusi and Justice N
Prusty, put a ban on the entry of people into the temple, barring the
priests and the staff, pending final verdict. This was meant to eliminate a
climate of immediate confrontation. Dalits, honoring the interim order,
shifted their entry schedule from November 09 to November 26, 2006. But the
caste supremacists continued their design to cow down the Dalits by
declaring through Sheshadev Nanda, the Brahmin leader of Uccha Jaati Vikash
Parisad, that notwithstanding what the High Court says, they will never
allow the Dalits to enter into the temple and in his support upper caste
leaders from outside the area also started camping in Keradagarh.

It is surprising that instead of taking the caste supremacist provocateurs
to task under the Atrocities Act, the Police Chief of the District,
Shatrughna Parida lost no time in airing his intent to have a compromise. A
compromise on Fundamental Rights? In whose interest Mr. S.P.?

However, the High Court ruled that the Hindus had the right to enter any
temple, irrespective of caste. The administration, afraid of the powers of
the Court, could not dare to help the caste supremacists when strengthened
by the High Court verdict, hundreds of Dalits entered the temple on December
14, 2006.

But rape of Law became most savage immediately thereafter as the head priest
of the temple Madan Mohan Panda locked up its gate and stopped worshipping
the deity declaring that they have been desecrated by the entrance of the
untouchables into the temple. The impasse continued for 60 hours and the
caste supremacists cultivated emotional wrath amongst non-scheduled caste
people of the locality against the untouchables by instigating the upper
caste people to observe fasting as a penance against lost of purity of the
temple by the dalits' entry.

This is a clear instance of offences categorized under Sub-Section (1)(x)
and (1)(xiv) of the Atrocities Act as quoted supra. The offenders are known.
The Law has made it mandatory that a minimum punishment of six months
imprisonment with fine is an unavoidable must under the Atrocities Act,
which is a special legislation promulgated to prevent these specific
offences. But administration of this Act rests with the State Government. On
the other hand, the Act, making the punishment mandatory, has given no scope
for non-prosecution. So it is a must for the Government of Orissa to
prosecute the persons who tortured four Dalit women over their entry into
the temple in 2004 and who in 2006 closed the door of the temple and stopped
the rituals there asserting that entry of the Dalits into the temple
following the High Court verdict desecrated the Deities. The state is also
bound to prosecute the Upper Caste leaders who organized caste supremacists
against the Dalits in Keradagarh. The Act has not left any option open for
the Government to desist from prosecution. Therefore, if the Government
fails to prosecute the offenders, who are known fellows, the concerned
functionaries must be held as abettors in the crime and prosecuted against

*Responsibility of the High Court *

The neo Nazi-Raj in Orissa seems to be siding with the caste supremacists
who have unleashed atrocities on the Dalits of Keradagarh. By arranging that
the Dalits can at best view the deities from a corridor constructed for that
purpose in stead of the nine holes available to them earlier, the
administration has tried to kill the spirit of the High Court verdict. If
this corridor arrangement is not nullified, it will go on making a mockery
of the High Court ruling and also go on reminding the victims that they are
untouchables and destined to stay so for ever. To this the High Court should
not stay a mute witness. Eyes and ears of the judiciary must not always
remain closed to what is happening in the locality. Therefore, Orissa High
Court should take up the matter under Article 226 of the Constitution of
India and ensure that the Atrocities Act is administered against the caste
supremacists of Keradagarh and there abettors in Orissa administration.

Otherwise the cry of the victims of Keradagarh caste apartheid to know as to
who is or are at the helm of affairs in Orissa � The Government or the
Satan? � would go on unabated and that would not be congenial to whatever
semblance of democracy we still feel existing.

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.