Thursday, June 14, 2012

Human Rights activist Seema Azad's wrongful sentence.

Miscarriage of Justice
Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Human Rights Activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishvavijay have been awarded life imprisonment by a lower court in Allahabad on charges of sedition, waging war against nation under the provision of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The district judge Sunil Kumar Singh also slapped a fine of Rs 70,000 on the couple. It has to be noted that both Seema and Vishwavijay were shown arrested in police record at the Allahabad Railway station when they were returning from Delhi after participating in the World Book Fair on February 6th, 2010 by the Special Task Force. The police had ‘recovered’ ‘offensive’ literature of Mao, Che-Guevara and Lenin from them. According to police they were associated with Communist Party of India (Maoist) which is banned in the country. Since then, all the efforts to get the release by the human rights organizations have failed. Now, this judgment by a lower court has shocked the nation as they are again questioning whether any association if it is with any one makes you criminal. Whether possession of so called ‘banned’ literature is crime? Can the government of India come out clearly what is a ‘banned’ literature?

Hundreds of activists, theatre artists are facing police torture in different jails of India for promoting ‘banned’ literature. They are being charged with ‘war against state’. Even writing an article or doing a fact finding in the forest areas where big companies have ravaged our beautiful forests and suppressed innocent tribal are act of ‘war on nation’. Any protest against the current mode of governance is a war on nation. Seema and Vishwvijay had been scholars at Allahabad University. Both of them were sensitive to the human rights issues of the poor particularly the Dalits and farmers. Seema Azad was the editor of bimonthly magazine ‘Dastak’ which has been publishing reports about land acquisition as well as terror of mining mafia in the Bundelkhand regions particularly adjacent to Allahabad such as Koshambi and Shankargarh. In both these regions, Dalits and the Kol Adivasis are exploited by the stone and quarry mafia and any effort to organize them is met with the severe terror by these mafias. As reported, Vishwavijaya was active in the University politics and ideologically closure to the marginalized communities and their efforts to get justice against exploitation. They investigated many cases and published their fact finding reports. As members of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) they were part of many human rights investigations and protest movements all across the country. They brought out report against the malpractices in the Ganga Express Highway which was displacing thousands of farmers and poor people in Uttar-Pradesh. We all know Ganga is the latest victim of not just mining mafia but ‘developmental terrorists’ too. ‘Dastak’ reported how the Muslim youths in Azamgarh were being branded as ‘terrorist’ by the investigating agencies and their parents were facing allegation and humiliation in public.

The arrest itself was dramatic from the railway station. They were charged for being member of CPI (Maoist) and shown to have possessed Maoist literature. Now the court has found them guilty and pronounced a harsh verdict of life imprisonment and a fine of Rs seventy thousand. The two sensitive souls who dare to write against the state terror are now declared ‘terrorists’ by the court. It is shocking how the lower courts do not even follow the preceding verdict of similar nature in the Binayak Sen Case when the apex court actually suggested that reading any kind of literature is not a crime. The court has also said that even being member of a banned organization does not amount to a crime unless somebody is directly linked with any kind of terror activities. It is unfortunate that the lower courts did not question the police version and went on for harsher punishment without really hearing the other side of the story.

The time for human rights activist is tough as the courts which have always upheld fundamental rights of individuals in the past through their historic judgments are unable to carry the same legacy. Why are the authorities so much worried on our writings even when all of us are expressing nonviolently and arguing for the human rights of the people? Our assemblies and Parliament have number of people who have criminal cases of serious nature against them. They are not simply political cases but related to heinous crime like rapes and murders and yet they become our law makers. In Uttar-Pradesh, Mafias are still enjoying their day as most of them have greater stake in mining, quarrying and other government programmes which are meant to serve the poor. The courts have not covered them with great glory and we have seen person who should have been in the Jail are now ruling the state. It is deeply dissatisfying moments that scholars who defy the popular myths have to face the people’s terror but those who defy the stated position of the state are being targeted in such a way that it would be difficult for ideologically strong people to join the people’s movement. It is shocking that bright young scholars who could have got fanciful job elsewhere decided to devote their lives for the cause of the people and the outcome is disappointing. Rather than appreciating their contribution for the cause of human rights and dignity of the people, an issue which Indian state should have done it long back, and the state apparatus is terrorizing them and branding them with different names.

Can Indian state really challenge the power of ideas? A country where literacy rate is dismal and where the gender discrimination is growing and showing negative growth, sending ideologues to jail will only prove that we are afraid of ideas. The state can accommodate the goons to become political leaders. It can accommodate all kind of people who are not a ‘threat’ to the stated anti people position of the state. All those are in the good books of the state as ‘people’ have ‘elected’ them but ‘writer’ or an ‘activist’ is not ‘elected’ hence you are free to arrest them and humiliate them. It is a great sign of depression. Nothing much will happen if we do not attain 9% growth but more and more writers, activists, film makers face threat from the Indian state for loving freedom and expressing solidarity with those who are victim of ‘developmental terrorism’ and such a situation will send India into real depression. We faced the state repression during emergency in 1975 but what is being seen today is much larger as State is not alone in its activities against people. It is using mass media and ‘developmental’ agencies against ‘people’s voices. It is justifying its misdeeds in the name of ‘democracy’ where ‘majoritarian’ voices even if they are wrong, have to be ‘respected. That is why, despite cry of Bastar’s tribal or Kudankulan’s people to save their lives, the Indian state and its middle classes still talk about ‘nation building’ even when the cost of human lives is too high in the affected regions.

A few months ago, we all showed our solidarity with Salman Rushdie when he was wrongly denied visit to Jaipur Book Festival as his visit would cause ‘law and order problem’. We all know why Rushdie is an unwanted man in India despite being citizen of this country. We felt that as a writer he has a right to speak and his freedom of expression must be respected. Our media and their loudspeakers continued for days for the freedom of expression hounding Muslims as if all other religious minds respect that freedom. People like us supported Rushdie’s right to express his views despite our differences of his depiction of Islam. But what is most unfortunate is that this freedom of expression is reserved for the power elite of this country and therefore there would not be such special shows on our mainstream programmes and newspapers which condemn the illegal arrest and detention of Seema Azad. How can you deny me my write to read something? Should the state has the power what I should read and what not? If reading Maoist literature is a crime then this crime is being committed by millions of Indians and let the government send all of them to jail. Government must act on the things where it is wanted to work and not to decide about our choices to read or write.

The threat to freedom of expression in India is real particularly if you are speaking against the stated policies of the state which have a near ‘unanimity’ among political parties. Of course, we will have to think whether Indian people are only represented by political parties or are there other elements also who represent people. But as a writer and activist and not claiming to speak on anybody’s behalf, I would like to state that has not freedom to read and write come with my fundamental right and it is not necessary for me to justify my writing and speeches as how many people read it or like it. It is time for us to respect international covenants and human rights laws so that we really become a society which respects freedom to read and write despite political and ideological differences. Let the government of India respect of fundamental rights and not afraid of our ideas to serve our people. The essence of a true democracy is in respecting the dissenting voices and trying to integrate them by accepting their viewpoints too. All those dissenters who are writing are not asking anything for themselves. They too have worked tirelessly for the people and it would not bring any glory to Indian democracy if we continue to treat our dissenters as terrorists. We hope the higher courts will rectify the error committed by the lower court by releasing Seema and Vishwavijay unconditionally as well as honorably.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Greatest Indian'...

The Politics of the ‘greatest’ Indian

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Indian’s have always been fascinated in comparing people and using the best available adjectives for their favorite leaders and sports stars. It is unknown to us to respect the diversity of these people and understand that each one of the leaders had their own qualities which influenced us. It is also important to understand that different political leaders and sports persons were born in different era and had different sets of challenges before them hence a comparison cannot be made. Of course, it is important that when we do such surveys, we keep in mind growing realities of the time and their relationships with the people. The fact is that, you would find it difficult to vote for a writer or a philosopher as the ‘greatest Indian in this age when Saas Bahu serial are so powerful that an Smriti Irani could find way for the ‘greatest’ Indian slot than a writer who might have influenced our thoughts. It might also be possible that a Cricket Star or a Film star may get more votes than many of the personalities who dedicated their lives for the nation building.

There is no problem in organizing such contests as they help the TV channels linked with various sections of people and at the end work towards increasing their TRPs. However, the manner in which some of these channels have done their surveys makes everything laughable. We have to also understand, can we make people ‘greatest’ by just a few votes online. For example, a recent survey on greatest Indian Bollywood Star reveal that Shahrukh khan was the ‘greatest’ Indian film star of the film Industry at No 1, followed by Amir Khan and then Salman Khan. Amitabh Bachchan came at no 4, while Dilip Kumar at No 5. The greatest showman of India and arguably the first Indian International Star Raj Kapoor fell at no 14. Now, anyone who knows films in India will laugh at this whole drama of greatest Indian film star. Is Shahrukh Khan the best and most popular Indian film star even today leave aside the claims of the ‘greatest’ in last one hundred years. For voting on these things impartially, one will have to understand the work of all the people who have been posted for the slot. If you do not know about the era of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Devanand then how would one comment on their film making. Can anyone speak of Indian cinema if does not know about Guru Dutt, Kamal Amrohi or Sanjeev Kumar? Why do our channels make joke of themselves. If cricketers are to be voted, then definitely Sachin Tendulkar will get such a support that none will come close to him but after 5 years, when Sachin would be out of the game, one should not be surprised hearing Virendra Sehwag, the greatest Indian. Not long ago when Virendra Sehwag broke record of Pankaj Roy in the first class cricket and he was informed about the same, he was not amused as he did not ever hear of Pankaj Roy. The greatest problems with Indians are their understanding of history which is very limited. So, the present day boys would not even know in what circumstances Tiger Pataudi played or how wonderful was to see Gundappa Vishwnath in full flow or how Chandrashekhar used to bowl. This generation, clearly cut from the past, end up with the latest players and their best revolve round them. We, as a nation, have no sense of history in any stream. That is why these polls are farcical and cannot decide about the greatness. You cannot decide who is great and who is not based on these surveys. The problem with such a poll is that they are unscientific and are meant to promote certain individuals and provide legitimacy to them for fixing the agendas of the nation.

Now, we are hearing about the ‘greatest’ Indian and that include people from different streams. So, you have so many people in the list including businessmen, cricketers, film stars, and off course, political leaders of different variety except for Mahatma Gandhi who we have already anointed as ‘greatest’ Indian. Why and how come Gandhi has been declared as India’s ‘greatest’. Which survey or referendum is making Gandhi the ‘greatest’. When you are putting Gandhi’s contemporaries on the poll, why Gandhi was left aside? Was it a fear that Gandhi might be defeated in the online survey and that would expose all the hollowness of Gandhian greatness? It is a very smart move by the channel to save them from the wrath of the government who might feel offended with any reference to Gandhi.

The interesting part of the online poll is the hollowness of the idea itself. Now among Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and Mahatma Gandhi the poll is easier and undoubtedly Gandhi will be the greatest Indian and you can always claim who is the next one after Gandhi if we have to discuss among ourselves. But when there are diverse issues and history is being reevaluated with Gandhi and Congress party’s role being scrutinized in a more scientific way then it was done earlier, a poll who is greatest Indian after Gandhi is a betrayal of the sentiments of the country as we would like to ask when was the survey for ‘greatest’ Indian ever done and who got what? The greatest Indian need contemporariness and cannot be found which look like a match fixing event. Definitely, it could be the person who influenced India or maximum number of Indians. Now, if we say, Gandhi influenced our psyche the most, then we must analyze what is that point of Gandhi that influenced us and where do we stand. Just by voting who is the ‘greatest’ by random online voting will not change the realities of our life.

Our question is not that channel should not do it. They should do it and sit and analyze it. But why who is greatest Indian after Gandhi when we are talking about the contemporaries of Gandhi himself. During his life time, Gandhi was projected to be the greatest among the upper caste Hindus. Definitely, any poll would have left Jinnah on the support of the Muslim votes only and Ambedkar did not have a possibility of winning the poll that time as the Dalits had not come to the age as middle classes. If you opt for a referendum today in India about the greatest Indian, Gandhi may not get that walk over as our people think and Ambedkar may easily push him down. The editors can depute their reporters on four important days and find how people celebrate them. Yes, depute your reporter on October 2nd or January 30th which are Gandhi’s birthday and the day he was shot by Nathu Ram Godse. Find, how many people attended the programme and whether these programmes were government sponsored or self sponsored. Let us also depute our reporters on April 14th and December 6th, the day of Ambedkar’s birth and when he passed away respectively. And you will realize who influenced India the most and who is the greatest.

Let us not forget that this is growing Ambedkar era with rising Dalits sentiments which were never ever accepted and respected during Congress lead freedom movement when Gandhi was at the helm of affairs. That time, the Dalits were just marginalized and their voices were drowned in the upper caste hatred, contempt and anger. Today, things have changed. Despite efforts by the power elite to deny Dalits their history and glory, they have traced their history and did not depend on what the upper caste intellectuals have been projecting them about the greatness of others. Ambedkar remained the tallest and unquestionable the greatest icon for the Dalits who changed their lives. There is no other thought and no second person who can come near him. That is why the Dalits feel hurt when the poll suggests the ‘greatest’ Indian after Gandhi. None of them would ever accept Gandhi as ‘greatest’ Indian.

It is a very questionable motive to start the online poll as who is the ‘greatest’ Indian after Gandhi. Perhaps, they had feared it in advance that Ambedkar can easily over take Gandhi in these voting as with growing number of Dalit middle classes online users whose life was vastly influenced by Dr Ambedkar will never settle for anything less than the greatest. India is a subcontinent and it would be difficult to decide about such things as the ‘greatest’. The greatest of the upper castes may not be the greatest for the Dalits and other marginalized communities. If ‘greatest’ has to be done through the referendum then the government must come out with a referendum as who are the greatest. Let these TV channels not play politics with people’s sentiments. India cannot have ‘greatest’ Indian after Gandhi when we have engaged contemporaries of Gandhi who differed with him sharply and never ever called him a Mahatma leave alone the ‘greatest’. It is time when we evaluate our people impartially and agree that there were weaknesses in them and they too made mistakes. The business of ‘greatest’ Indian must stop as it exploit the sentiments of the people and do not allow them to think rationally that all these ‘greatest’ people were human being and acted according to situation that time and made mistakes too.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Civil Laws verses Personal Laws
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Delhi High Court has held that a marriage of minor (Muslim) is valid even if she is under age but has attained puberty. A bench of Justice Ravindra Bhatt and Justice S.P.Garg said that ‘according to Mohamadan Law, a girl can marry without the consent of her parents once she attains the age of puberty and she has the right to reside with her husband even if she is below the age of 18.’ The girl in question was 15 years of age and had married to a person of her choice. Her parents filed a case in the Delhi High Court citing that the girl was minor and parents were still the legal guardian of her. The court has rejected the parent’s petition and allowed the girl to stay with her husband.

The judgment can be interpreted in many ways including right to privacy and freedom of choice. The court has respected girl’s right to choice. It has accepted albeit indirectly that age for consensual sex could be below 18 if the girl attained puberty. In other way, the judges suggest that a Muslim girl attaining puberty can have consensual sex even if she is below 18 which is legally defined age for consensual sex in our laws. It is clear that the court have accepted the supremacy of the Personal Laws and used it to give protection to the girl. Problem is that the same yard stick may not be applied to a girl from other religion. What will happen if the lovers are from two different religions and have gone for civil marriage and the age of the girl is 15. Will the ‘consensual sex’ not become rape even if she has attained puberty?

The Parliament has recently passed The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 which defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children under the age of 18 years from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. Accordingly, the Act has strengthened our resolve to fight against Child Sexual Abuse.
Punishments for Offences covered in the Act are:
• Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 3) – Not less than seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 4)
• Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 5) –¬ Not less than ten years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 6)
• Sexual Assault (Section 7) – Not less than three years which may extend to five years, and fine (Section 8)
• Aggravated Sexual Assault (Section 9) – Not less than five years which may extend to seven years, and fine (Section 10)
• Sexual Harassment of the Child (Section 11) – Three years and fine (Section 12)
• Use of Child for Pornographic Purposes (Section 13) – Five years and fine and in the event of subsequent conviction, seven years and fine (Section 14 (1))

Now the question is why the civil courts are using personal laws in their jurisdiction when their duty is to interpret the constitutional laws. If we accept the supremacy of our constitutional provisions then all other laws of the country including personal laws, must be subordinate to our civil laws. And this must come strongly in the judgments. Unfortunately, the Judges have been using these religious moralities to explain or strengthen their arguments which seem to be quite dangerous. The Court’s should not ignore the historic judgment that Supreme Court had given in the Shabano case about 25 years back which virtually challenged the supremacy of the Muslim Personal Laws which were adamant against a divorce woman getting any alimony. It is a landmark judgment with an equally retrogressive move by Indian Parliament to undo it when Rajiv Gandhi was compelled by the Muslim fundamentalists to do so. According to them, no law of the land is above the Muslim Personal Law and hence the government must respect these personal laws.

Over the years, we have seen that Sharia Courts have been established in different parts of the country which provide instant justice to Muslim families who go there. They are primitive in nature and their judgments mostly are absurd to say the least. These Sharia Courts give the clergy a leverage to control and direct the community and decide about their fate. Deeply rooted in traditional prejudices, these courts are openly anti women and have always justified their act in the religious terms. Muslim women who are victim of these courts are now challenging them and approaching the civil courts where they have often got justice.

There is no doubt that Delhi High Court has rescued the girl who might have married to her lover out of her own choice. That that a teenage girl is capable of making her choice related to her partner must be respected. It is also a fact that most of the parents who are unhappy with their children’s love relationships actually file cases of abduction and kidnapping on the boy. Most of the time, the police use this tool brutally to exploit both the families. If the boys’ family is unable to pay to the police then he is tortured and the family faces the wrath of all. Hence, as a judgment it need to be respected but the point of danger is that it is a communal judgment as it is applicable to one community only. The courts should not give judgments which are communal in nature. Their judgments should be useful for all the citizens of the country irrespective of their caste, color, religion and region as people look forward to these judgments for their benefit. Unfortunately, the Delhi High Court’s judgment is bound to create disharmony among people and will strengthen the supremacy of religious values. It is the duty of the court to encourage the values of the modern democratic traditions of equality, liberty and fraternity on which our constitution has been founded. Our constitutional provision and civil laws must supersede all the existing religious laws in the country so that each one of its citizen get justice according to our modern laws. It is the duty of the Court’s to see whether the interpretation of religious texts violate of the constitutional provisions in our laws. The court will have to stand up for our secular constitution which should be equal for all. Our laws cannot be interpreted in different ways for different communities particularly in an issue like sex and marriages. The Judgment will virtually make Child Protection Act 2012 invalid for the Muslim Children in the country who face a lot of victimization and sexual abuse like children for other communities and need strong legal protection.