Tag Archive for Anti corruption movement

Why I support Aam Aadmi Party

Aam-Aadmi-Party

Lalita Ramdas, feminist and long time environmental activist discusses her experience of participating in the Aam Aadmi Party’s caller campaign and reflects on the reasons for her support

In the first week of November this year, I decided to do some voluntary work for Aam Aadmi party and made some 200 calls to random numbers on a data base for Delhi Aam Aadmi Campaign.

I understand this does not sound like a big deal – Only 200 in 10 days? Others are managing over 200 calls in one day – and some of our whizz kids have hit over 5000 calls. My own humble effort makes me realise the extent and depth of the time commitment made by so many from across India and abroad.

Looking at the total statistics on the Citizen Call Campaign computer prompt also show that out of a total number of calls made to date, the number of calls not reached/wrong has now overtaken those of the calls made. But even on a conservative count of 50% of those not reached voting for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – we are looking at approximately 60% of those polled actually voting for AAP. Can we dare to hope that the polls and predictions of 40 plus seats in the Delhi assembly will indeed be realised?

Statistics and surveys and demographics and psephology can be seductive and addictive. I would like to share some qualitative reflections and feedback about the actual experience of making these phone calls.

But first – a quick personal introduction. Who am I and Why am I supporting AAP?

I live in a village in the Konkan region of Maharashtra – am in my early seventies – and have been actively engaged with peoples’ movements and developmental issues for over three decades.

I have been an Armed Forces daughter and wife,[my father was the first Indian officer to head the Indian Navy [1958-62] – and I married another Navy man, who also rose to head the Indian Navy [1990-1993] . For the first few decades, like most of us in the services, we were encouraged to stay away from `politics’. I was a `loyal’ and mostly unquestioning supporter of the government of the day. It was only after I got actively involved with questions of poverty, injustice, illiteracy in urban slums in Mumbai and Delhi from the mid seventies, that I began to look at our governance, our leadership, and increasingly, our politics, more closely and critically. And in his final years my father – totally disillusioned by the loss of values and integrity all around him – used to talk to me about how he would have joined politics had he been younger.

I have already written in a recent post that a major turning point in my own political journey was the experience of being in the frontline of action post PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. In an unprecedented, spontaneous coming together of students, activists and hundreds of others over many months we defied curfews, marched for peace in the face of angry mobs wielding trishuls and iron rods, pushed a reluctant police force to register FIRs, and worked days and nights comforting the grieving widows, mothers and children, while also collating testimonies gathered from traumatised victims in the refugee camps at Nanaksar and Farsh Bazaar.

We had seen up close the ugly reality and the true face of communal and divisive politics of the government of the day and yes, of the opposition too. And many of us were part of a three day conclave in 1985 where we struggled seriously with the possibility of creating a new political order which might forswear the cynical exploitation of caste, religion and community and instead, truly live by the ideals laid down in the Indian Constitution and to which we pledged allegiance.

Alas we did not or could not seize the moment – and allowed the three Cs of Corruption, Criminalisation and Communalisation of politics to become rampant in the decades following 1984. The rest as they say, is history, and it has taken another 30 years, and many tragedies and corruption of unprecedented scale –to get us to the point where there is finally a viable political alternative for us to choose and support.

I speak of Arvind Kejriwal and the birth of the Aam Aadmi party which is providing us an opportunity which we need to seize with both hands, if we don’t want to make the same mistake we made in 1984. We are being shown a tantalising prospect of another world – where honesty, and integrity are valued; where the voice of people might be able to prevail with the revival of the Gram or Mohalla Sabhas, and where the calculations of caste and creed and religion will not be a factor in electoral politics. And it is exciting for all the potential it offers.

Yes, I too, like many of my friends and colleagues, have had a few doubts, and some continuing questions and concerns – be it initially about the choice of the name [where was Aam Aurat?!] , how will direct democracy work? Can an obviously Hindi speaking leadership and North Indian urban based constituency build traction in the south? What about economic policies? And yes – what is your political ideology? Whose side are you on? Can an `upstart’ party jump in the fray at such a late stage and hope to gain a following?

My position today, after a year of fairly intensive and sustained engagement with the party leaders and many who are critical and oppose AAP, through discussions on thematic subject areas, in person and over email, is a quiet, confident and unhesitating affirmation that this is indeed a historic opportunity that we should not lose. Both Congress and BJP for many, many good reasons have forfeited the trust and confidence of we the people of India. Yes – no doubt this will only be proven finally– once in December and then again in the general elections next year. They have been given many chances – I am NOT willing to trust them again – but certainly I am putting my energy, my support and my hopes on the leadership and integrity of Arvind Kejriwal, and the ultimate knowledge that the collective wisdom of the people of India, the Aam Insaan, will prevail.

I am excited and delighted by the sheer audacity and creativity of the entire campaign model – as well the refreshing candour and the direct challenge to the big money bags in all other parties. This will be a true test of whether we really need thousands of crores of Rupees to fight elections – or whether indeed people will rally around to support genuine candidates without expecting sops and incentives to do so. This then could herald a true, functional democracy.

The transparency of their fund raising and Donation drives is also refreshing – I love to see the humble donor of Rs 1, sharing the same space and importance as the person who sent 50 Lakhs, on the web site.

How I wish I were twenty years younger – that I could join the volunteers as they go from door to door in Delhi – talking, persuading, convincing the people that they should vote for the “jhadoo “– convincing them that this is our best chance to bring that fresh breath of clean air to Indian politics – and to give voice to the genuine aspirations of the Aam Aadmi and Aurat. But alas I have been unable to do so for a number of reasons.

And so I do the next best thing – which is to sit in my village home and call up random people in Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad as they go about their work and during their leisure hours asking them if they vote in Delhi? Will they vote on Dec 4? And may I ask if they might consider voting for AAP?

This has been one of the most educative experiences in a long series of many experiences over the decades – and there has been times in the phone calls where I have almost blessed the 73 years plus that I can bring to bear as I speak to so many about why their vote for AAP is so important.

I have had a few people who banged down the phone when I announced that I was a volunteer calling on behalf of Aam Aadmi Party —–but they were too few to bother about. By and large many who spoke English – told me that they would vote for the BJP – and Modi in particular because India needs a man like him at the helm. By and large they were also more impatient and certainly less civil.

In contrast about 60 -70% – mainly men, who have answered their cell phones and spoke in Hindi, were courteous, patient, well informed and ready to support AAP – and when they heard I lived in a village far away, they decided to take a few moments longer to tell me more about why they were excited about AAP !!

The women I was able to reach were relatively fewer in number – almost making me wonder if mobile phones were more likely to be owned by men? The women by and large also tended to be much more guarded in their responses and reluctant to divulge their thinking, or to come out openly in support of any party. Clearly the Aam Aurat will need much more engagement if she is to truly feel empowered and confident that she can and must take a political position – either as a voter or as candidate. This is a huge and critical challenge. And only when women are equal and strong members of parties, of parliaments, of assemblies and of Aam Sabhas, can we hope for a truly strong and vibrant functional democracy.

Human Rights Abuse in India: An Unholy War on its People

Medha Patkar

Human rights activists in India are deeply concerned about the shrinking democratic spaces with allegations of police/security forces intimidation, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture multiplying for the past several years

By Ramlath Kavil

On the human rights and civil rights front, things have been going wrong in the most populous democracy of the world for quite some time. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been accusing the Indian State of blatant rights abuses. In May 2012, the Government of India itself declared in its Parliament that human rights violations in the country have increased by over 13,000 in the last three years and in 2011 alone some 94,630 such violations were reported.

The government stands accused in several cases of human rights violations in various courts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, May 2012, made 169 recommendations to India regarding human rights issues, which included the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation in Geneva, chose to play down the recommendations by saying, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

The  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,1967 ( UAPA)  which entitles the police to arrest anybody without warrant on mere suspicion and its 2008 Amendment which allows the authorities to detain the accused upto 180 days of pre charge detention,  has also come under severe criticism. It may be recalled, a widely respected pediatrician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested in 2007 under this act, which prompted several international organizations and individuals including Noam Chomsky to come down heavily on the Indian Government. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 2011.

The arrests and imprisonment of the tribal woman Soni Sori ,civil rights activist Seema Azad and now a young political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi offer yet another glimpse to how one of the fastest growing economies in the world is callous when it comes to checking its human rights record.

Soni Sori

Soni Sori, named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, hails from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest regions where the banned radical left group Maoist (Naxalite) is said to wield considerable clout. Thousands of families have been caught between a deadly war fought by the State and the Maoists, both accused of violent tactics. Soni Sori’s family happened be one of them. According to rights activists, she and her family landed on the wrong side of both the Maoists and the state police, as they refused to operate as informers to either of them.

A warden in a state run girls hostel, Soni Sori’s ordeal with the law began in 2009 when the Chhattisgarh police arrested her 26-year-old nephew, a local journalist, Lingaram Kodopi. Sori and her family had claimed that the young journalist was arrested for speaking up against atrocities of Chhattisgarh police and the exploitations of the tribal people.

On September 9th 2011, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada police charged Soni Sori, and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi of being ‘Naxalite accomplices’. Subsequently, both Kodopi and Sori were arrested.  The police accused them of being a conduit for extortion between the mining company Essar and the Maoist.  Both Sori and Essar have denied the allegation.

After two days in custodial interrogation, when Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October 2011, the 37-year-old was so weak that she could not even get down from the police van.  A court clerk came to the police van, and the court passed an order without seeing her.

Soni Sori wrote to her lawyer about the brutal torture she was subjected to in custody at the orders of the then District Police Superintendent Ankit Garg, the controversial cop who won President’s gallantry award early this year.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered an Independent medical examination to be conducted at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkatta. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside Sori’s private parts and the MRI scan also showed annular tears on her spine.

Ever since the evidence of Sori’s custodial torture surfaced, women’s rights and human rights activists have been campaigning for her release and for an independent probe into the alleged custodial torture, including sexual violence. On March 8th International women’s day Amnesty International launched a campaign to release Soni Sori. As the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition for squashing the cases filed against her by the Chhattisgarh government, Soni Sori, the mother of three, is currently lodged in Raipur central Jail.

Seema Azad

The conviction of Seema Azad in June this year, a 36-year-old human rights activist and the Editor of a bi-monthly magazine adds another chapter to the country’s ongoing chronicle of silencing of dissent. Azad and her husband Vijay were arrested in early 2010 by the Uttar Pradesh Police and were accused of being members of the

From left to right- Soni Sori, Seema Azad and Aseem Trivedi

banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and possessing banned Maoist literature. They were charged under various sections of IPC and also under the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time of the arrest, Seema Azad was the State Secretary of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), a national network of human rights activists.

After 2 years of trial on June 8th, 2012, the activist couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Allahabad Court. Human rights organizations severely criticized the conviction alleging that Azad and her husband were victimized for speaking on behalf of mining workers and farmers in the region. PUCL called the conviction of the couple for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state “a glaring travesty of justice,”, The same court, however, on August 6th granted bail to the couple.

Aseem Trivedi

Aseem Trivedi, an award winning political cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai on 8th September 2012 for sedition under section 129 A of Indian Penal code. He was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act. Trivedi is arrested for drawing Parliament as a commode and showing the national emblem with bloodthirsty wolves instead of lions. Trivedi, well known for his series of anti corruption cartoons, launched Cartoon Against Corruption, a website in order to support the anti corruption movement in India in 2011. However, within 24 hours of its launch, the Mumbai Crime Branch blocked its content. Later in 2012 Trivedi started, Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in the country.  Trivedi has been sent to police custody till September 16.

“Such cases show that civil and human rights in India are in a moment of profound crisis. Many of these arrests and violations have deep connections to the growing corporatization of India’s mineral-rich land and resources.  This expanded development has displaced many hill and village populations and polluted many of their habitats” says Lena Ganesh, a Delhi-based gender and human rights activist.

Since 2005 many big corporations like Mittal, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta etc have signed MOUs for mining activities in the mineral rich Indian states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand etc. These regions have also witnessed extreme opposition from locals against corporatization of the forest land. The Indian government argues that “the rise of extreme leftist outfits in the regions rich in minerals has badly affected investments.” However, rights activists feel the unrest among the locals in these regions is widespread and independent of ‘insurgents’. By attributing the disaffection to ‘motivated parties’, the government and the corporations are walking a tight-rope over a political mine field.

The fact is, as the number of human rights violations grows, the dissent also grows.  In a country where one third of the world’s poor live, silencing the voice of the distress is an absolute impossibility. Threats of arrest and imprisonment would only alienate the vast majority of its 1.2 billion population. Let us not forget, it is the country that gave birth to one of the greatest non violent political movements, a movement that taught the British Empire that no Kingdom can rise above its people’s civil liberties.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI