Archive for May 24, 2015

Rethinking Disabilty In India

Rethinking-disabilty-in-India

Anita Ghai explores disability as a social, cultural and political phenomenon and marks a fundamental shift from the standard clinical, medical or therapeutic perspectives on the subject. FeministsIndia presents a short write up on the book from the author and an extract from Chapter 7 of the book

Rethinking Disability in India explores disability as a social, cultural and political phenomenon and marks a fundamental shift from standard clinical, medical or therapeutic perspectives on the subject. It interrogates issues such as identification of the disabled and the forms of oppression they face, disability rights and theory, and calls for developing and debating critical disability concerns.

Weaving together cultural, social and psychological themes ranging from cultural conceptions of karma, historical Hindu mythological representations of disability, psycho-emotional aspects of living in a disabling world to gendered relational issues of community life. The book provides much nuanced understandings of fate, charity, giving and recognition. Throughout the use of psychological concepts and ideas are made with a strict adherence to recognizing the dominant cultural imaginary.

As the author writes in this text ‘my contention is that whether it is disability or some other form of marginalization, the significant question is how we accommodate this difference. In the specific historical context of the neoliberalism which attaches value to individualism and not inter-dependence, the disabled person is perceived as having a deficit’.

Writing from an Indian context permits Ghai to recognize the cultural, economic and historical complexities of disability and impairment. As she writes in this book ‘the comprehension and meaning of disability in India has been understood as embedded in multiple cultural discourses that are subtly nuanced’.

This allows Ghai to examine religion and spirituality, tradition and community alongside wider global issues of medicalization, administrative definition and measures of disability and difference. It discusses some complex themes such as the gendered nature of disability, sexuality, mercy killing, prenatal selection of foetuses, cochlear implants as well as the lack of economic support from the state.

Finally, it argues for an interdisciplinary approach to disability studies, bringing together personal, social, cultural, historical, critical, and literary perspectives. This volume also focuses on the politics of identity and engages with the dichotomy of ability/disability.

As she states in the last chapter ‘the previous chapters are a record of the lives of disabled people in India who have lived — and continue to live — a difficult life’. Clearly, she is keenly aware of the terrors of disablism. Simultaneously, Ghai shifts disability studies into an interesting space. As she states in this book ‘my contention is that indeed ‘disability’ as a social category is problematic, though beautiful but extremely complex’. As she writes later in this book ‘my fantasy is that disability is a critical modality which can enlighten the constructed identities in a way that it of course provides possibilities for emancipation of those who are ‘disabled’.

Weaving together personal narratives with academic research, this significant work will interest scholars and students of disability studies, women’s studies, gender studies, psychology, public health, and sociology. It will also appeal to activists and policy-makers concerned with the area.

About the author
Anita Ghai, PhD, is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology,
Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. She is a disability rights
activist in the areas of education, health, sexuality, and gender. She has been a Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum Library, Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi, and also the President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS), New Delhi. She is on the editorial board of Disability and Society, and the Scandinavian Journal of Disability. She has authored two books including (Dis) Embodied Form: Issues of Disabled Women (2003) and The Mentally Handicapped: Prediction of the Work Performance ([1997] Co-author Anima Sen).

EXTRACT:Problematising Identity Politics
As an executive member of Indian association of women studies, it took me some time to highlight the issues of disability. However my identity as a president is contingent on the category of ‘woman’ as it is evident that both the women’s movement as well as women studies is about women largely. And yet, speaking for disabled women in this present scenario epitomizes an entirely new challenge for many of us in India. Elsewhere I have written that the goal of universal sisterhood has resulted in homogenising the very clear differences by resorting to certain core themes that are connected to women’s lives. The very instant the category of women is invoked, as a universal constituency an internal questioning begins over the precise content of that term.

Similarly, politics of disability as an identity has invoked many issues for me. However my affiliation with women sometimes puts me in a self-conscious state as my tokenization as a disabled person becomes evident. What is stressful is the part which feels that can I voice people who are also at margins. Can I claim their issues? I cannot help being conscious that I am not them. Few years back I remember linking disability and water issues in Delhi with the belief that valorising only one identity is problematic for me. On one hand hope of collective action has the power to change the scenario in which disabled people live in India. In the chapter ‘At the Periphery’, I have shared the oppressions as well as resistance that disabled people experience in India. Notwithstanding the critical significance of voicing the disability issues, the question which is impending is whether Identity Politics needs to be problematized. Identifying as a woman with visible impairment has been empowering because the only way to comprehend the disability issues can be positioned only as a marginal disabled woman. A celebrated scholar Wendy Brown (1995, pp. 71–72), argues that identity politics becomes ‘invested in its own subjection,’ feasts on ‘political impotence,’ and descends into a melancholy based on a ‘narcissistic wound.’ ‘Politicized identity thus enunciates itself, makes claims for itself, only by entrenching, restating, dramatizing, and inscribing its pain in politics; it can holdout no future — for itself or others — that triumphs over this pain’(Brown 1995, 74). While I understand that the politics of resentment is premised on the basis of disabilities, but within the Indian framework, have the disabled got their say in the Indian scenario?

It is true that there is diversity in the disability community and in the name of identity and consequent identification, identity politics demands that ‘WE ALL’ can be together. For me one of the peril of identity politics is its coercive potential of ‘WE ALL’. Sometimes it appears that circumstances have changed in the equality terrain. We recognise that the scenes will be different and it is high time that we take a broader, more included approach to equality. There are many scholars who warn that dependence on identity politics give a free rein to a vicious cycle between the minority and majority communities which do not redress the inequities faced by disabled people.

Scholars who consider themselves as progressive and as a result like to articulate the politics through the untouched label of ‘Indian citizen’, rather than an identity such as ‘woman’ or ‘Muslim’ or disabled or ‘Dalit’ or ‘homosexual’. It does provide rather expedient political strategies for majority elites. How are we going to resolve the differences between the disabled? Though my fantasy is that there would be a close association with other marginalized groups and not establish a single identity group. However is it possible? Given the fact that in the current scenario, the spirit of collectivity is not alive, even if we hope for a powerful collective voice, won’t the state respond? Though the momentum for changes come many of us, who have a much stronger identity, a sense of who we are and our right to rights.

However for those whose voices are not heard, the danger is they become more vulnerable, powerless and weak. Uniting with other disenfranchised groups and individuals will hopefully bring benefits to people who live with multiple markers such as disability, poverty gender and less developed areas. My question is whether a category disability is large enough to hold all the different impairments, both visible and invisible like mental illness. It is in these terms that I am reminded of K. Anthony Appiah who worries about the politics of group identity:

Demanding respect for people as blacks and as gays requires that there are some scripts that go with being an African–American or having same-sex desires. There will be proper ways of being black and gay, there will be expectations to be met, demands to be made (cited in Minow,1997, p. 56).

The very instant the category of disability invoked, as a universal constituency an internal questioning begins over the precise content of that term. The possibility of individual autonomy for a disable person depends on securing respect for those groups. At the same time, as a person my specific autonomy is limited by the scripts the of a group such as Disability Rights Group provide. Such an understanding highlights what Martha Minow (1997) has called the dilemma of difference and what I want to think about in terms of politics of identity of disability. For me the significant question is whether we have been self-critical and sensitive to the realisation that the implied homogeneity of the category of disability was working exactly in the same way as the patriarchal society. Have the disabled people who take pride in being a part of the disability movement, been cautious in identifying the genuineness and authenticity of those who were presumably representing the cause of the other. For instance, many individuals such as the large group of people with mental illness do not get represented adequately in the disability movement. Though we are apparently inclusive in disability rights group for instance, we have very rarely understood the issues of mental illness as well as mental health. We need to understand that it is uncomfortable for many groups as many issues are silenced and invisible. For instance, it is intriguing that in a television reality programme ‘India’s Gottalent’ the organisers have gone against the normative hegemonies and has brought forward many disabled people. In one sense inclusion can be celebrated.

However, the problem comes when the construction of disability is a mix of charity, curiosity and sympathy. As a result the disabled have to voice their concerns by saying that, ‘please consider only my talent and not my disability’.

Protect Judge who put Naroda Patiya convicts behind bars

Jyotsna-Yagnik

Even as Judge Jyotsana Yagnick who convicted Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi (both out on bail) for the Naroda Patiya massacre is being intimidated with threatening letters, government delays response on her request to protection which was scaled down from Z-plus to Y category

By Team FI

Following reports of retired Judge Jyotsana Yagnik, receiving threatening letters and blank phone calls, civil society organisations have written an open letter to the Gujarat Government and to the public to take serious note of the intimidation.

Yagnik whose judgement had convicted erstwhile BJP Minister Maya Kodnani and former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi along with 30 others for the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre has so far received 22 threatening letters and a number of blank phone calls. However, pointed out the letter, that though “62 year old judge informed the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigations Team (SIT) about the threats and phone calls, instead of strengthening her protection, the government has scaled down her security cover.”

As per news reports, the security cover was scaled down Y category from the Z-plus she had when she the Principal City Civil and Sessions Judge in Ahmedabad. The intimidation had begun soon after the verdict and Yagnik worried about her family’s safety had informed the SIT. Indian Express quotes SIT Additional Director General of Police Ashish Bhatia “that in the last six- eight months, he had not come across threat letters to any judge, including Yagnik. “I don’t know if she received (the letters) before that,” Bhatia said.” He however said that the Yagnik’s request to step up the protection is pending before the government. It must be noted here that both the main convicts of the case are out on bail. Kodnani was released on bail by the Gujarat High Court in July last year while Bajrangi got out on bail on April 23, 2015, on the claim that he was going blind.

Following is the full text of the letter

OPEN LETTER TO GUJARAT GOVT AND TO PUBLIC

Resist degradation of Indian criminal justice system.

Retired Judge Jyotsana Yagnik threatened; murder convicts out on bail.

The undersigned civil society organizations and concerned citizens have taken serious note of a news report (IE May 11, 2015) about the intimidation of a retired judge, Ms Jyotsana Yagnik, who, in her capacity as special judge had, in August 2012, convicted former Gujarat BJP minister Maya Kodnani, former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others in the 2002 massacre of 97 Muslims in Naroda Patiya. Ms Yagnik has received at least 22 threat letters since the verdict, as well as blank phone calls at her home. The 62 year old judge has informed the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigations Team about the threats and phone calls, but instead of strengthening her protection, the government has scaled down her security cover.

The SIT convenor and Additional DIG of Police has denied knowledge of the letters, according to the news-report. Meanwhile convict Maya Kodnani, condemned to life imprisonment as principal conspirator in a massacre, has been out on bail since mid-2014, and convict Babu Bajrangi, sentenced to imprisonment till death is now about to enjoy three months bail for medical treatment.

The Indian criminal justice system is being politically degraded with every passing day. With regard to the violence in Gujarat in 2002, there have been instances of several encounter-accused policemen being re-instated and cases against them being quietly dropped. Meanwhile in Maharashtra, there is no sign that the murderers of Narendra Dabholkar and Gobind Pansare will ever be caught. In Bihar, the acquittals of those accused of massacring Dalits in Shankarbigha and Bathani-tola show that the justice system is incapable or unwilling to punish those who commit mass crimes. Now we have an upright judge being threatened, whilst murder convicts guilty of heinous crimes are out on bail, and suspended policemen obtain re-instatement

An onslaught on justice is taking place in broad daylight. It is now clear that the Modi-led government finds India’s criminal justice system and independent judiciary to be an obstacle blocking its long-term plans. The incidence of prejudice in the courts is nothing new – the 1984 pogrom inaugurated a new era in the erosion of Indian justice. The NDA government has given impetus to this process. The ideological hooligans of the so-called ‘Sangh parivar’ are convinced they are above the law. Corruption does not merely have monetary implications. The erosion of judicial independence taking place before our eyes is also corruption.

Building trustworthy public institutions is a prolonged process that takes decades. But they can be destroyed very rapidly, especially when state power is used (covertly or
openly), to intimidate judges like Ms Jyotsna Yagnik

Criminals these days feel free to physically intimidate the judiciary, and the police appear to be treating it as a minor matter. Threatening a judge exemplifies a fascist mentality. Politicised justice breeds hatred and despair among its victims. Those who manipulate justice, on the other hand, are announcing their profound contempt for the very value of justice. They are sending all of us a sinister message –justice is whatever we say it is. Let us remind ourselves, therefore, that if justice becomes a device for strengthening one political group at the expense of others, for eliminating enemies and assisting allies, law will have cast off even the mask of neutrality. If judicial decisions become predictable, this can only mean that the judiciary has been compromised and hooliganism has entered the working of the state at the highest levels. Only an alert public can defeat this kind of politics.

By undermining the citizens’ faith in a fearless judiciary, the elimination of law will threaten the very foundations of the democratic state. All elected representatives should remember that the Constitution is the fundamental statute of the Indian Union, which protects us from violent and tyrannical behaviour by criminals and/or persons in power. If they keep silent in the face of the ongoing sabotage of justice, our MP’s and MLA’s shall be betraying their oath of office. We ask all judicial, police & IAS officials to remember their oath of loyalty to the Indian Constitution.

In light of the above, we demand that the Gujarat government take immediate steps to ensure Ms Jyotsana Yagnik’s safety, and investigate the threats she has received. If any harm comes to this judge, the Gujarat government and its patron at the Centre will be held responsible by public opinion.

We call upon all democratic civil society organizations and concerned individuals to launch a campaign to strengthen the criminal justice system and the autonomy of the judiciary. Instances of the perversion of justice by any party, official or civil, should be highlighted and resisted.

PUDR slams Bastar police chief for intimidating human rights activists and Adivasis

bastar IG Kallurri

By Team FI

People’s Union for Democratic Rights, issues a press statement to condemn Bastar IG, SRP Kalluri’s open threat to silence human rights activists and lawyers who work in the tribal region. In a recent press conference, the police chief had threatened the activists and lawyers with severe ‘police action’. His warning comes on the heels of two recent incidents of illegal detention of Adivasis in which some human rights lawyers have actively intervened on behalf of the victims and helped highlight police violations

Here is the full text of the statement:
Stop false arrest of Adivasis and threats to rights’ activists and lawyers in Chattisgarh

PUDR strongly condemns IG Bastar, SRP Kalluri’s threat of taking severe action against certain NGOs in Chhattisgarh for allegedly aiding and abetting the Maoists under the guise of helping Adivasis. At a recent Press Conference he said that many such organisations were already under surveillance. The IG‘s list of suspicious activities included providing legal assistance to ‘Naxalites’ – a thinly veiled reference to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), a small NGO active in Bastar since 2013, that provides legal aid to Adivasis many of whom are falsely implicated in cases of Naxal activities.
This warning comes on the heels of two recent incidents of illegal detention of Adivasis in which the Jagdalpur Legal Aid lawyers have actively intervened on behalf of the victims and helped highlight police violations.

On 17th April police fired on villagers protesting against the arrests of two Adivasi men from Modema village, on allegations of being Maoists. One of the protestors, Bhima Madkam sustained grievous bullet injuries. The fear of the police prevented villagers from getting him to a hospital. It was at Soni Sori and other concerned citizens’ intervention that he was taken to Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur on 21st April. His family lodged a complaint against the police firing, demanding action against the guilty policemen.

While Bhima Madkam has not been arrested, he is virtually under arrest in the hospital. He is constantly surrounded by police, who are preventing people from meeting him, or from availing further, possibly surgical treatment. These are blatant tactics to pressurise the family into withdrawing its police complaint. Nor has he been allowed to consult lawyers. Orders were specifically issued that the “madam log” (as the all women lawyers of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group are popularly known), were not to be allowed to meet him. This despite his mother having signed a vakalatnama appointing them as his lawyers. Finally after being made to run from pillar to post, from the ASP to SP to SDM to ADM to CSP to Nazul officer in what was clearly an orchestrated effort by the authorities to stall proceedings, they were finally allowed to visit him on 25th April. Under heavy police presence, they saw a heavily sedated and seriously injured Bhima and spoke to his father. His father informed them that the police were taking good care of Bhima and his family. However Bhima’s statement had still not been recorded.The police are circulating two mutually contradictory stories- one, supposedly based on medical assessment of his injuries, that he sustained the gunshot wounds about a week before the incident; two, that he is a Naxalite who allegedly attacked relatives of one Hidmu Madkam (a known police informer) on 18th April indicating that he could have then been injured only afterwards. While the police is making up its mind, Bhima’s condition is deteriorating as he is being denied further treatment. Soni Sori who has been raising the issue of Bhima’s illegal detention, has since been threatened that if she persists the police will get her bail revoked and she’ll be rearrested. And the police are still refusing to accept that JagLAG are his lawyers, thus effectively blocking any recourse to legal action by Bhima and his family.

In another recent incident, on 27th April, three minor girls, (one aged 15, the others 17) were picked up by the STF Chhattisgarh and CRPF in Kormagundi village, Sukma district. The girls were going to graze their buffalo and bathe

On seeing about 25 security personnel emerge from the forests they turned around and ran home in fear. The security personnel followed, beat them as well as their family members who tried to stop the girls being taken away. The three minors were forcibly marched to Kukanar thana, 21 km away. On the way the police also picked up a young man, Muda Banjami (25) on suspicion of being a Naxalite. All four were produced before a magistrate on the 28th April. The girls were then then shifted to an observation home in Rajnandgaon, 400 km away. They have been charged with arson, rioting, as well as under the Arms Act. The Station Supervisor argued that the girls running away, their very presence in the forest, where only the “sandigdh log” go, were all signs of guilt. Another official narrative runs that the four were Naxalites as they had been caught fleeing from the site after a skirmish between the police and the Maoists. The villagers have been vociferously protesting the arrests.

The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group helped the girls’ parents file a petition for bail. The group have also publicly pointed out that the police action was a total violation of the Juvenile Justice Act whereby juveniles cannot be detained in police lock up, and handing them over to the Child Welfare Officer delayed. They have to be produced before a Juvenile Board. Here, in clear violation of the Act the police made the girls walk for eight hours, incarcerated them in the thana overnight and produced them before the magistrate only on the 28th of April.

The two incidents illustrate what it means to be an Adivasi in Bastar today. No one – men, women, children- is safe at the hands of the security forces and the police.

For the Indian Government every Adivasi who questions or resists is a rebel, and therefore a Maoist- in other words, the enemy

With the Government waging a dirty war against the Adivasis for daring to resist their policy of forest land grab, and in the relentless pursuit of attracting FDI into mining and setting up of large scale plants, the Adivasis’ very existence is under threat. Basic entitlements – medical help, legal aid, protection of children – instead of being ensured by the state are actually being used to tyrannise civilians.

The worst kept secret in Bastar today is that most of the Adivasis arrested for Maoist activities are victims of the government’s false ‘successes’ and fake ‘surrenders’. The numbers of those arrested and who continue to be in prison as the cases drag on, run into thousands; and more keep getting added daily. The sheer absurdity of the stories the police spins indicates the absolute and terrifying impunity they enjoy. Even rules of war, let alone Rule of Law, is marked by its absence.

It is in this situation – of the war being waged by the state in the interests of large scale industry on the one hand, and the everyday persecution of Adivasis on the other – that organisations like the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group and activists like Soni Sori make their presence felt. Moreover as evident in both incidents, the Adivasis are asserting their fundamental rights through recourse to legal action such as lodging complaints against the police, as well as through dharnas and protests. The state’s reaction of clamping down on all resistance by Adivasis , as well as targetting activists and people’s lawyers in the name of fighting Naxalism, indicates the lengths to which it is prepared to go to silence all constitutional freedoms in Bastar.

So that these don’t become lonely battles, PUDR appeals to all democratic sections to join in demanding:
1. Immediate release of the three minor girls and the boy
2. Removing all restrictions, providing of appropriate medical attention to Bhima Madkam
3. Action against the guilty policemen for violating the Juvenile Justice Act, false arrests and beating of the girls’ family members
4. Investigation into the police firing on 17 April in Mudema village in which Bhima was injured.
5. JagLAG lawyers be recognised as Bhima’s lawyers
6. Stopping threats and surveillance against Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, Soni Sori.
Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Behl
(Secretaries)
www.pudr.org

Protect our right to work and express our views, civil society to Modi

NGOs-Modi

Open letter to Prime Minister draws attention to the deliberate targeting of civil society organisations especially that work on issues that put them into direct conflict with the government – nuclear power plants, acquiring tribal and other lands, upholding Dalit rights, protecting rights of minorities against the scourge of communalism, protecting rights of sexual minorities, or campaigning for the universal right to food

By Team FI
Civil society organisations have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing their concern of on the deliberate targeting of NGO’s and their support system which includes donors. “We expect that Government protect our right to work and express our views. It does not behoove the Government to label any and every conflicting voice on these issues as ‘anti-national’, ‘against national security’ or ‘donor driven’ and seek to create a public atmosphere that justifies “a crack down on NGOs.” These very words shame any society. ‘Watch lists” and “crack-downs” belong in another age and have no place in a modern democracy,” stated the letter.

Drawing attention to the Modi government’s tactic of using Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law governing receipt of foreign donations in India, the letter said, “We state categorically that we stand fully for transparency and accountability in both government and NGO practice, and it is in fact civil society actors who have fought hard for these principles to be enshrined in all areas of public life.” The letter urged the government that the efforts to ensure transparency and legal compliance across the vast NGO sector, should not be “capricious, selective or based on flimsy grounds. At the moment it seems that ‘compliance’ is serving as a garb to actually target those organizations and individuals whose views the government disagrees with, and indeed to monitor and stifle disagreement itself. There is irrefutable documentary evidence that State action against select organizations has been arbitrary, non-transparent, and without any course of administrative redress. The effect has been to harm important work being done by NGOs at the grassroots and send a signal of threat to civil society.”

The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

We write to you today as members and representatives of Indian civil society organizations and, most importantly as Indian citizens, to express our deep concern at how civil society organizations in general and their support systems, including donors, are being labeled and targeted.

Funds are being frozen, intelligence reports are being selectively released to paint NGOs in poor light, disbursal of funds are being subjected to case-by-case clearance, and their activities are reportedly being placed on ‘watch lists.’ As a result several NGO projects have shut down, donors are unable to support work, and there is an overall atmosphere of State coercion and intimidation in India’s civil society space.

Today, standing in solidarity with India’s most marginalized communities, with the NGO sector and donors who support us, affirmed by the guiding principles of our Constitution – justice, equality and liberty – we address you through an open letter.

As you are aware, NGOs work both in the welfare sector and in empowering people to be aware of and enforce their rights as enshrined in our Constitution. Such action may include questioning and protesting decisions taken by government in many areas. This work is both our right and our responsibility as civil society actors in a democratic nation. Indeed the Indian government acknowledged this. At the Universal Periodic Review of India at the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, the Government spoke of ‘…the Government’s active association with civil society and the increasing and important role that civil society and human rights defenders are playing in the area of human rights.’ Government of India further said that, ‘The media, civil society and other activists have helped the Government to be vigilant against transgressions’.

Many of us receive both Indian and foreign donations in compliance with laws and carry out activities intended to help those marginalized in India’s development. Many of us have partnered with Government, both at State and Central levels, towards many goals – achieving universal education, access to health care, women’s empowerment, and providing humanitarian relief in times of tragedy such as the recent earthquake. We have also worked in pilot projects – some over the years have been scaled up, and others have richly contributed to the policy framework of the Government of India. It should be a matter of pride for any government and a sign of robust people-centric engagement that NGOs and citizens have impacted State policy.

On other issues, your government and indeed previous governments may or may not agree with some of our views. These may include the issue of nuclear power plants, acquiring tribal and other lands, upholding Dalit rights, protecting rights of minorities against the scourge of communalism, protecting rights of sexual minorities, or campaigning for the universal right to food. Yet, we expect that Government protect our right to work and express our views. It does not behoove the Government to label any and every conflicting voice on these issues as ‘anti-national’, ‘against national security’ or ‘donor driven’ and seek to create a public atmosphere that justifies “a crack down on NGOs.” These very words shame any society. ‘Watch lists” and “crack-downs” belong in another age and have no place in a modern democracy.

Your government has raised the issue that some NGOs may not have complied with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law governing receipt of foreign donations in India. We state categorically that we stand fully for transparency and accountability in both government and NGO practice, and it is in fact civil society actors who have fought hard for these principles to be enshrined in all areas of public life. So let us constructively ensure transparency and legal compliance across the vast NGO sector, including societies, trusts and a range of public and private institutions. However, such efforts cannot be capricious, selective or based on flimsy grounds. At the moment it seems that ‘compliance’ is serving as a garb to actually target those organizations and individuals whose views the government disagrees with, and indeed to monitor and stifle disagreement itself.

There is irrefutable documentary evidence that State action against select organizations has been arbitrary, non-transparent, and without any course of administrative redress. The effect has been to harm important work being done by NGOs at the grassroots and send a signal of threat to civil society. Our concern includes the manner in which many Indian NGOs and international partners have been targeted for different reasons. Thus, civil society organizations in India today find themselves in a situation where the only avenue of redress appears to be through the judiciary. Mr. Prime Minister, this kind of coercive domestic environment being created under your watch does not augur well for the worlds largest democracy that professes aspirations to being a global leader in promoting freedoms and democratic values.

Further, in an increasingly globalized world, where even business interests freely collaborate across national boundaries, to label any individual or NGO that engages with international forums or any donor who supports such NGOs, as ‘anti-national’ is illogical. India is signatory to international conventions and treaties and seeks to adhere to the highest international standards of democracy, liberty, justice and human rights. The Government of India regularly reports at these forums. It is accepted practice that NGOs and civil society actors also present their views at these forums, often disagreeing with the views of their respective governments. Many of us, signatories to this letter, engage in active advocacy at international forums. This upholds the best traditions of global democratic debate, and the right to seek a more just nation and more just world. It is not anti-national to do so. We do not believe that any government can claim that it alone has the prerogative to define what is ‘national interest’. The citizens of this country, who elect the Government into power, are the ultimate stakeholders, and must be allowed to define, articulate and work towards their idea of ‘national interest’ too, whether or not it concurs with the views of the Government.

Mr. Prime Minister, it does your Government no credit to use its power to stifle the rights of individuals or NGOs to legally and freely associate, to work with communities, to receive donations to do such work, and to express their views on a range of issues that directly affect our country and its people. An atmosphere of hostility against civil society actors in a democracy, and the uncertainty and insecurity created among communities across the country, can only be to the detriment of our society and the Government.

We therefore ask the Government to:

1. Put an end to coercive actions against NGOs and donors, without reasonable cause or due process, or seek to cripple the ability of these organisations to carry on their legitimate and sanctioned work.

2. Urgently review all orders placing restraints on organizations, and revoke such orders where due process has not been followed by the government, no redress mechanism is clearly stated, and grounds are vague, subjective or flimsy. Those we are currently aware of include, among others, INSAF, Peoples Watch, Sabrang Trust, Greenpeace India, Ford Foundation, HIVOS and ICCO.

3. Initiate an immediate dialogue between the NGO sector and Government to address our concerns going forward. Amend the presently opaque FCRA rules and regulations; ensure complete clarity and transparency on provisions and processes, as well as forums and mechanisms of redress; remove all provisions that are amenable to subjective interpretation; ensure their uniform application to all NGOs, trusts, foundations, and societies.

We look forward to your response and action on these vital issues of national interest.

The bogey of ‘Muslim Terrorist’: A note on the Aleru encounter

Aleru-encounter

By branding the Aleru encounter victims as terrorists, the police, the media, the judiciary and even the public seem to be participants in covering up the brutal deaths of five Muslim undertrials who were not even facing terror charges

By Vasudha Nagaraj

On 7th April, the country, witnessed two brutal encounters in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In Seshachalam, in Andhra Pradesh, 20 daily wage labourers belonging to Dalit and tribal communities were killed. In Aleru, in Telangana, five Muslim under-trials, were killed while they were on their way to the court.

In both states, the police predictably claimed firing in self-defence. However, the newspaper pictures of the Muslim under-trials shackled to their seats and the labourers lying among old red sanders logs bespoke a tragedy – clearly pointing to the police taking law into their hands.

The timing of these encounters in two new states, born just ten months ago, is tragic. While the Andhra Pradesh government came up with the idea of development, growth and universal prosperity, the Telangana state was formed on the foundations of a democratic struggle, thereby bound to rule of law and justice for all, especially for those marginalized as women, Muslims, Dalits and tribals.

In the Aleru encounter, the five undertrials – Viqar Ahmed, Syed Amjad, Mohd. Zakir, Dr. Mohd Haneef and Izhar Khan – were being brought in a police van to attend the court proceedings. The very next day the newspapers carried pictures of the five shackled under trials who appeared slumped dead in their seats. The police sought to explain that Viqar Ahmed after a toilet-break, while boarding the van, snatched the rifle from the escort policeman and then tried to overpower the others. In an act of self defense and considering the past history of Viqar Ahmed, the police opened fire and killed all the five prisoners.

The post mortem reports show that each of the five bodies was riddled with more than twenty bullet wounds and that all the wounds were on the chest and the shoulders. None of the policemen even suffered a scratch of an injury

The FIR registered in the offence states that Viqar Ahmed snatched the rifle and tried to kill, while the other four screamed. Even assuming one accepts the police version, the question remains as to how the other four prisoners could have intimidated the 17 armed escort policemen. It is not the case of the police that the other four prisoners also snatched guns and took aim. They merely screamed. And for that they were shot down.

Soon after this incident, Viqar Ahmed’s father recounted about how his son had repeatedly complained to the Session’s Judge that his life was under threat from the policemen. Civil liberties groups and several political organizations have termed the encounter as a retaliation to an earlier incident in which four policemen were killed in the same district. The number of bullet wounds on each body is evidence of the vindictive and disproportionate exercise of force by the police against hapless prisoners.

The Muslim community has expressed outrage that this is a targeted killing whose purport is to create an atmosphere of terror and insecurity among its people. Large scale mobilizations have marked the funerals of the slain people.

The funeral of Dr Haneef Mohammed was attended largely by the Hindu community. It seems he was a medical doctor who was available to the community day and night. In one protest meeting after the other, leaders of the Muslim community have expressed deep anguish about how the new state of Telangana has betrayed their hope, for a better future and for protection of their youth. Except for constituting a Special Investigation Team, the Telangana government has maintained a stony silence on the encounters.

The media and the judiciary
One cannot help notice the biased coverage that has been given to the Aleru encounter in the media. The bias becomes clear when compared to the coverage given to the Seshachalam encounter. In a calculated move, the police version has been given more credence by justifying their actions in killing so called hardened criminals. There has also been a lot of irresponsible coverage in the media about how the slain prisoners were ‘hard core terrorists’ and so on. Though accused of being Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, the slain prisoners were not facing any terror charges, but they were nevertheless branded as terrorists to justify police violence.

NHRC response
What is more tragic is the response of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Soon after the encounter deaths, on 23rd April, 2015, the NHRC conducted a camp hearing to enquire about the Aleru and Seshachalam encounters.

In the Seshachalam encounter, the members of the NHRC interrogated the police officials, expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation conducted so far and even went to the extent of deputing its own team for investigation.

However, when it came to the Aleru encounter, the NHRC did not express the same commitment or zeal in questioning the police officials. They were quick to accept the police statement that there was a judicial enquiry and that a Special Investigation Team was constituted to investigate the deaths. The stage of investigation or the other relevant details were not elicited.

The NHRC did not even object, which it should have, when the police referred to the slain prisoners as fundamentalists

The civil liberties activists and lawyers who participated in the hearing were given just a perfunctory hearing. And finally, the NHRC, except for some nominal reliefs, declined to intervene in the issue on the ground that investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was underway.

Even in the High Court, the fate of the Aleru encounter has been marked by delay and inadequate attention. While the investigation in the Seshachalam encounter is being supervised by the Chief Justice himself, the Aleru encounter has been left to regular course of investigation, albeit by the SIT. The Andhra Pradesh government has registered a case of S 302 in the Seshachalam encounter while a similar demand in the Aleru encounter has been set-aside. The bodies in the Seshachalam encounter were subjected to a re-postmortem whereas the request for exhumation and re-postmortem of the bodies in the Aleru encounter have been rejected.

One is almost envious of the progress, news coverage and empathy in the case of the Seshachalam encounter. It is true that the response to the Seshachalam encounter has been considerably influenced by the Tamilnadu government’s intervention and equally the timely action taken by the civil liberties groups of Tamilnadu. But, this does not completely explain the lukewarm response to the Aleru encounter. We have been told that the Aleru encounter is “different”.

What underscores the Aleru encounter is the branding. Even as the AP state and the media tried to brand the woodcutters of Seshachalam as hardened smugglers, it could not sustain the story or much less erase the stain of an extra judicial killing. But, in the case of the Aleru encounter, one can clearly see how the bogey of the “Muslim terrorist” has been successfully deployed to validate the actions of the police in the name of securing law and order. The media, the judiciary and even public opinion seem to be participants in justifying such a discourse on impunity.

Vasudha Nagaraj is a practising lawyer based in Hyderabad.