Archive for November 29, 2014

Surinder Koli execution: Activists write to President for mercy

Surinder- Koli-petition

Petition seeks commutation of death sentence or delay till all cases involving Koli are completed, pointing out the lack of evidence implicating him in the murders

By Team FI
Following the Allahabad high court’s order to delay Surinder Koli’s execution till December 1st, activists are seeking endorsements for the plea for mercy petition which will be submitted to the President of India.

Surinder Koli accused of killing several children in Nithari, Noida, in 2005 and 2006, was sentenced to death on four cases of murder by various courts. Earlier this month the Supreme Court had rejected a petition that sought a review of his death sentence. The mercy petition requests that the death sentence be commuted or at the least delayed till all the cases involving Nithari victims in which is accused is completed. The petition opines that “there is no evidence whatsoever that Koli was actually the killer of the 18 women and children. Koli’s ‘confession’ – the only basis for his conviction – itself declares that it was obtained under torture and tutoring by the police.”

Full text of the letter:
To,
The President of India,
Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi,
India – 110 004.

Subject: Execution of Surinder Koli Would be a Travesty of Justice

Plea for Mercy from Women’s Groups, Lawyers, Academics, Students and Activists, and our Supporters

As women who have been engaged in the struggles for women’s rights and justice, we appeal to you to commute Koli’s death sentence or at least to stay his execution till the completion of the other cases involving other Nithari victims in which he is an accused.

Surinder Koli accused of murdering 18 women and children residing in Nithari village, NOIDA is facing imminent execution after his Review Petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 28 October 2014.

While there is no doubt that justice needs to be served in the gruesome Nithari case, that is precisely the reason why executing Koli would be an injustice – not only to him, but to the families whose children were slaughtered at Nithari.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Koli was actually the killer of the 18 women and children. Koli’s ‘confession’ – the only basis for his conviction – itself declares that it was obtained under torture and tutoring by the police.

The phenomenon of abnormally high disappearances of children from Nithari was present from 2003 – before Koli came to Pandher’s house as a domestic servant in 2004. And the phenomenon continues till date – even after Koli’s arrest and conviction.

The autopsy surgeon who examined bodies of the victims discounted cannibalism and suggested organ trade as an explanation for the murders.

The expert committee set up by the Ministry of Women & Child Development (WCD), in its report, concluded that the police had fixed on Koli as the culprit, and had not investigated the possibility of organ trade as the motive for the offence.

The autopsy surgeon opined to the Committee that the bodies had been severed with surgical precision, whereas it was the CBI’s case that Koli had used an axe to hack the bodies to pieces.

The lawyers in this case have pointed out that the evidence of the autopsy surgeon was suppressed by the police. He was neither examined as a witness during the trial nor was his statement included in the chargesheet.

Another suspect, a doctor who was previously charged in a case of organ trade, was simply not probed by the police.

The committee also stressed the need to investigate whether some of Koli’s supposed victims were actually alive and trafficked elsewhere.

The DNA report also contradicts Koli’s ‘confession’. Koli supposedly confessed to killing 16 persons in his employer’s living room, but DNA evidence showed body parts of 19 victims. 11 of those bodies remain unidentified. Clearly, the story of those murders is full of loose ends, and Koli’s confession simply does not fit all the facts.

Koli’s death sentence has been upheld in the Rimpa Haldar case by the Supreme Court. But there is still no evidence that Rimpa Haldar is dead – in fact, there is a letter by her to her parents saying she eloped and is living with her husband in Nepal. There is no evidence that any attempt was made to establish if this was indeed a fact.

Why have these facts have been ignored by the courts and the police? Why the hurry to pin the crimes solely on Koli?

It is relevant to point out that Koli is Dalit, poor, and had access only to very poorly paid legal aid. These facts placed him in a very poor position to challenge the way in which the media and the police portrayed him as a cannibal and a depraved killer. Koli’s case underlines how in most cases it is the economically and socially vulnerable who tend to be awarded the death penalty, because they are in no position to influence public opinion.

The poverty of the accused, poor trial representation, lacunae in investigation, torture and tutoring and glaring gaps in forensic examination furnish strong grounds for this petition for mercy.

The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. As women staunchly opposed to the death penalty in principle, we stood firm against this form of retributive punishment, under the pretext of ‘justice’. Many independently conducted surveys from across the globe have been unsuccessful in establishing that executions thwart crime. On the contrary, an American survey reported by the New York Times in the year 2000 stated that in the last 20 years, homicide rates of states with the death penalty were 48 to 100 per cent higher than in those without the death penalty. Even the much-hailed Justice Verma Committee report was unequivocally against the death penalty, even in the rarest of the rare of rape cases.

Hence, we appeal to you to commute Koli’s death sentence, or at least to begin with, stay his execution till the completion of the other cases involving other Nithari victims in which he is an accused.

Please send your endorsements by Sunday, 30th November to saheliwomen(at)gmail(dot)com or kavitakrish73(at)gmail(dot)com

Adulterated antibiotics caused Bilaspur tragedy?

sterilization-deaths-India

After the revelation of gross negligence, unhygienic conditions and money making sterilization camps in news reports and by activists, Chhattisgarh Health Department point the finger at contaminated medicines as the cause of deaths of 13 tribal women in Bilaspur

By Team FI

The preliminary enquiry conducted by the Chhattisgarh Health Department into the death of 13 women after undergoing sterilization procedure at a camp in the Bilaspur district of Chattisgarh has revealed the presence of zinc phosphide in the medicines given to the women.

The Health department sources said autopsy reports of victims support claims by inquiry committee members that contaminated medicines might have been the cause of deaths, mainly painkiller Brufen and antibiotic Ciprofloxacin. Sources said toxin traces, which led to organ failure, were found in blood samples of the victims. However, no one from the health department or the hospital was willing to comment on record. The Chhattisgarh government on Wednesday banned sale of six medicines that were used in health camps.

On November 8th, at a government run medical camp in Nemi-Chand Hospital, Pendari, Dr R K Gupta performed 83 tubectomy operations in an hour. This number was probably added to doctor’s spectacular record of having performed 50,000 surgeries in his career, a feat that earned him a Republic Day award this year by the Health Minister Amar Agarwal. Within a day, reports of women falling sick had begun to come in. Even as deaths were being reported, a second camp was held on Monday where similar operations were performed. By the end of the week, 13 women had died from operations conducted at Pendari, Takhtapur and Marwahi and 138 women were ailing.

Though Dr R K Gupta was arrested on Wednesday following reports of gross negligence and unhygienic conditions, the Chhattisgarh Health Department’s inquiry committee had begun to point the finger at contaminated medicines. As per news reports, the blame was laid on the medicines prescribed to the women post treatment namely prescribed Brufen and the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin and the government had banned the sale of all the medicines that were being used at these camps.

A number of inquiries have been directed at the incident with the Chattisgarh High Court has issued notices to the Medical Council of India, and the Centre and State authorities asking them to respond within 10 days; the NHRC has issued notice to the state government and the state government itself has appointed a one-member judicial commission to investigate the tragedy.

The denials have also begun. Dr Bhange, the Chief Medical Officer of Bilaspur, who has been suspended since, claims to have no notion about the family planning camp in Pendari. The IMA has laid the blame squarely on the ‘defective’ medicines and stated that the doctors involved were being made the scapegoats. The pharmaceutical company, Mahavar Pharma Limited, which supplied the antibiotics, is also under investigation. The Chhattisgarh government has also denied involvement in the second camp that was held, dubbing it as a ‘money making’ racket, according to news reports.

Botched sterilization procedures conducted by the government have resulted in 675 deaths between 2008 and March 2012, as according to a news report, a figure submitted by the Ministry of Health to the Lok Sabha in 2012.

Health activists issue statement on sterilisation deaths in Chhattisgarh

sterilisation- deaths-Chattisgarh

Full text of the statement;

The Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Commonhealth and National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights are shocked at the death of 11 women and the critical condition of 50 other women due to the callous negligence of the Health Department, Government of Chhattisgarh.

The deaths and morbidities are a result of a botched-up sterilization operation camp organized by a private hospital under the National Family Planning Programme in Takhatpur Block of Bilaspur District on 8 November 2014. Horrifically, during this camp, 83 women were subject to surgeries in a short span of 5 to 6 hours. Amongst those who have died are Dalits, tribals and Other Backward Classes, leaving behind shattered families and young children. This has resulted in gross violation of the reproductive and health rights of the women.

This tragedy raises grave questions about the unsafe, unhygienic conditions and the slipshod attitude under which these operations were conducted. Moreover, the women who are presently critical continue to get treatment in dismal conditions exposing them to further risks and danger.

The surgeries were conducted in complete violation of the Supreme Court orders (Ramakant Rai Vs Govt. of India, 2005 and Devika Biswas Vs Govt. of India, 2012). These orders instruct that a maximum of 30 operations can be conducted in a day with 2 separate laparoscopes only in government facilities. Also, one doctor cannot do more than 10 sterilizations in one day. Despite this, the surgeon in Chhattisgarh performed about three times the permissible number of surgeries (83) in less than 6 hours in a private hospital which has reportedly remained closed for 15 years. This is evidence of how these operations were not done under standard protocols.

The announcement of Rs 4 lakh compensation and suspension of officials (Director–Health Services; State Family Planning Nodal Officer; BMO,Takhatpur; the operating Surgeon; and Bilaspur CMHO) are not adequate to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. The systemic failures which led to this incident need to be addressed.

While understanding the specific lapses in the way the sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh was organized, one should not forget the role played by the wrong policies and practices of the governments in the area of family planning services. Such ‘Camps’ keep getting routinely organized everywhere in the country in an irresponsible manner. Health providers in many parts of India, universally confess that they are under pressure to fulfil unwritten targets coming from the top. The state still focuses on permanent methods of family planning rather than temporary methods. In addition to this the two-child norm significantly contributes to the pressures for sterilization. All this despite the Government of India’s promises of ‘Repositioning Family Planning’ – to move away from permanent methods to spacing methods, to increasing access to safe and effective contraceptives.

At the London Summit on Family Planning (2012), the Government of India committed to additionally providing 48 million women and girls with access to contraceptives by 2020. However, around 1 in 5 women of reproductive age do not have access to contraception such as condoms and OC pills. India’s promises at the Family Planning 2012 Global Summit will reinforce the pressures of meeting ‘targets’, which has dangerous and long-term implications for the health of the people.

This incident must be declared a disaster/emergency, and we demand that:
• Immediate responsibility needs to be fixed in terms of criminal negligence not only on the medical team which performed the operations, but also in identifying higher officials of the state who sanctioned this particular camp.

• A proper epidemiologically-sound investigation into this incident should be carried out. A three-member probe team has been constituted but these members are a part of the state, which signals a serious conflict of interest and thus, there should be an independent inquiry committee.

• Further deaths and damage should be minimized. It must be ensured that technically the most competent medical care is provided to the women to avoid further deaths.

• The ‘camp method’ of sterilization needs to be stopped with immediate effect as quality of care is seriously compromised in mass sterilization programme to meet earmarked targets.

• Women, adolescents and men need to be provided with safe choices for contraception. Emphasis should also be placed on male sterilization such as vasectomy, which involves comparatively lesser health risks.

• Quality of contraceptive services, including counseling, has to be monitored both from within the system and from outside through community monitoring.

• The family planning programme needs upheaval and a re-analysis, in order to protect the reproductive and health rights of women.

Oh Darling…Kiss is India!

India-kiss-words

Parodevi Pictures has created a map of Indian kiss words, expressing solidarity with the Kiss of Love protest that took place in Kerala last Sunday. Kiss of love India Map

link to Parodevi Pictures

Kerala’s Kiss of Love protest goes viral

Kiss-of-love-protest-kerala

Kiss of Love Community calls for similar campaigns across universities, public spaces and cultural arenas to protest against the criminal activity of moral policing and cultural fascism

By Team FI

Even as right wing protestors and the Kerala police prevented the Kiss of Love campaigners to hold their ground in Marine Drive, Kochi, the idea behind it has snowballed beyond the state’s borders and Facebook boundaries with protests happening in Hyderabad, in IIT Bombay and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkatta. A similar scene to that of Kochi took place in University of Hyderabad where the Kiss of Love supporters were set upon by the police who ignored the right wing Hindu protestors on the scene. In IIT- Bombay, the Progressive and Democratic Students collective organised a march in solidarity with the Kiss of Love campaign.

Expressing solidarity with the Kerala protesters, the students of Jadavpur University are holding a Kiss of love protest in South Kolkata today. According to a press invite, students will form a human chain and march from the university premises with protest actions like “kissing, hugging, showering affection on each other” in public

Kiss of Love protest in Kerala
Last Sunday in Kochi, Kerala, two buffaloes in blond wigs, two Muslim right wing organisations, four Hindu right wing organisations, bunches of Kerala police and a large number of men hoping for a sight of kissing couples congregated on Marine Drive, The slogan shouting protestors, the buffaloes and the lathi wielding police were present; to prevent a youth campaign called the Kiss of Love – where participants would kiss, hug each other publicly as a protest against moral policing in Kerala.

The Kiss of Love event was planned and organised by the Kiss of Love community which was set up in October this year on the social media network Facebook through the efforts of an existing group on the network called the Freethinkers. The event was to take place on Marine Drive, Kochi, Kerala where the participants would express their love by kissing their partner or friend, to protest against ‘cultural fascism and moral policing’.

Moral policing in Kerala
The Facebook campaign came as a reaction to the various incidents of moral policing in the state of Kerala, which has the unique claim of being nearly hundred percent literate. In 2011, a 26-year-old youth was killed by a mob in a village in Kozhikode district for allegedly having an affair with a married woman. In the same year, a young software techie and her male friend were attacked by a group of goons while standing near a tea shop in Kochi. An event that caused much discussion in social media earlier this year, in June, was the case of a theatre artist and her male friend who were accosted by the police and held at the police station for the crime of travelling together on a motorcycle late at night.

In October, 2014, a Malayalam TV Channel, JaiHind TV, reported on Downtown Café in Kozhikode, pronouncing the café’s parking space as a ground of immoral activity. The footage showed a young couple who kissed and hugged each other. Following this, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha – the BJP youth wing, trounced the café, broke glass and the furniture. Filming the vandalism were television cameras (including that of JaiHind Tv who has at its helm, chief of the Kerala Congress V M Sudheeran) who were already on the spot, as per the police.

The Kiss of Love campaign was to protest such moral policing, which, as they stated (and corroborated by police circular put up on the Kiss of Love facebook page), is illegal and constitute a criminal activity. The campaign snowballed on Facebook and a huge media response was generated before the event itself.
On the day of the event, even as the members arrived on the scene of the protest,

Hindu and Muslim right wing organisations found common ground in defending their love for ‘cultural values’. Amongst those present were the Shiva Sena who turned out in huge numbers saying that the event was against Indian culture, would create ‘sexual anarchy’ and that it was a conspiracy of ‘love Jihad’.

Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists unite
The Hindu protestors included the usual suspects or defenders of Hindu culture – the ABVP, Bharatiya Yuva Morcha, the Bajrang Dal while the Muslim voices were that of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and Sunni Yuva Jana Sangham.

The Kiss of Love participants could barely manage to hold ground for some time and raise slogans before the violence began. The Kerala police decided to take in about 50 odd members in “preventive custody” while the Hindu and Muslim right wing organisations ran amok. There were also on the scene two buffaloes with blond wigs, which apparently represented western culture and immoral activities (brought by SDPI) but the police ignored them as well as the violent protestors or rather defenders of Indian culture.

The members of the Kiss of Love community managed to a few behind-the-bars kisses in the police van before they were whisked away. While some press reports have termed the event a failure, it has not failed to elicit sympathetic responses from students from across the country.

Facebook’s response
Both the Kiss of Love community and the Freethinkers Group on Facebook had their pages taken down by the Facebook administration because of mass reporting against it. As per Facebook admin, the Freethinkers Group was taken down because it violated certain community standards. The resurgent Group however continues its presence on the social media network.

The Kiss of Love Community put forward a press release stating the event to be successful, and expressing their gratitude to various sections of society that helped and supported them in the “movement against the fundamentalist and reactionary elements of this country who indulge in moral policing, which has been a major hindrance to peaceful living and individual freedom in India.”

The press release emphasized that the Kiss of Love community is not an organisation but a campaign which was joined by people from all walks of life and ideologies. “We are a group of people who respect the Indian Constitution and we only want to protest against injustices by being a part of the same Constitution, reads the press release. Wishing to decentralize its campaign, the Community has called for, “…the millennial generation to come forward and takeover our ideas and spread it in our Universities, cities, public spaces and in the cultural arena and make a difference.”

Featured photo by Mithun Vinod