The Gulabi Gang – The Fearless Women in Pink


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang members  (Source: i.facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi)

Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang members (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi)

These women dressed in pink and with laathi (bamboo stick) in their hands are fearless!

Their leader Sampat Pal Devi is a mother of five children and a former government health worker. She has a long list of criminal charges against her: unlawful assembly, rioting, attacking government employees, obstructing officers in the discharge of duty, beating a policeman for abusing her, and so on. Once she even went underground to hide from the law. However, her actions have secured notable victories for the community.

Sampat Pal Devi (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi

Sampat Pal Devi (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi

Sampat Pal Devi (born 1960) is a tough woman with a commanding personality. She hails from the Bundelkhand area in the state of Uttar Pradesh - one of the poorest region in India and notorious for its rebels-turned-armed bandits. Sampat is a vigilante and activist fighting for the rights of women in the villages.

She was given in marriage to an ice-cream vendor at the tender age of 12. She bore her first child, a girl, at 15.

In 2006, responding to widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women, Sampat Pal Devi formed the Gulabi Gang (Hindi गुलाबी gulabī, “pink”), a group of Indian women vigilantes. Most Gulabi members dress in pink and carry laathis in their hand.

Despite being born into a traditional family and married off early, Sampat evolved into a charismatic leader who acts as judge and jury for girls and women who are being abused by outlawed patriarchal traditions and the caste system.

Sampat and her gang are constantly on the move fighting causes for the betterment of the community. They crusade against child marriages, dowry, and female illiteracy.

To demand their rights, the rebellious women gang submits petitions and verbally attacks corrupt officials, sneering policemen and complaisant bureaucrats. They visit abusive husbands and beat them up with laathis and warn them to stop abusing their wives in the future.

They usually travel by cart and tractor. At times, they undertake long journeys by bus and train, to fight for justice for women and dalits and other untouchable people.

In 2008, when her village was deprived of electricity because the officials of the department expected to extract bribes and sexual favours from the women, she and her stick-wielding Gulabi Gang stormed the premises of the electricity department, locked the concerned officials in a room until they cried for mercy. An hour after they left the premises, the power was on in their village.

In 2008, the group was reported to have 20,000 members as well as a chapter in Paris, France. Now, the Gulabi Gang has taken root in Banda, Mahoba, Chitrakot, Fatehpur, Farrukhabad, Kanpur, Allahabad, Etawah and Bijnore and has about 300,000 women members.

The Gulabi gang is the subject of the 2010 movie Pink Saris by Kim Longinotto as is the 2012 documentary Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain.

Initially, it was reported that the Bollywood film, Gulaab Gang, starring Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla as leads, is based on Sampat Pal’s life, but the director denied this, saying that he recognizes the work done by Sampat, but his movie is not based on her life.

Gulabi Gang's esrtwhile leader Sampat Pal (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)

Gulabi Gang’s esrtwhile leader Sampat Pal (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)

Now, the all-women Gulabi Gang is heading for a split as there is a tussle in leadership. On Sunday, March 2, 2014, six years after its inception, the group’s founder commander Sampat Pal Devi was dethroned by the Maharashtra based national convener of Gulabi gang Jayprakash Shivhare at a meeting in Banda following allegations of financial irregularities - “taking money for resolving the problems of poor and suffering women,” and “involvement in self promotion” at the cost of the organization’s mission.

The national convener of Gulabi Gang, Jayprakash Shivhare said:

“There is huge resentment in the organization against Pal. She had been playing in the hands of the Congress party… She had stopped holding meetings of the group and used to take decisions autocratically. She contested Assembly elections on
Congress ticket without taking any suggestion from other members of the group… Later, she decided to visit Rae Bareli along with other members and campaign in support of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and against Aam Aadmi Party.”

“She also went to TV reality show Bigg Boss without consulting the working committee of the group. She had gradually become extremely selfish and minting money at the cost of the organization… Removing her from all posts was the only option left with us. Since she has been defying decisions of the group, it was decided that she would no longer be its primary member.”

Suman Singh Chauhan, commander of Mahoba unit has been appointed as interim commander of the group and a seven-member committee has been constituted to run the organization as of now. A meeting of the group has been convened on March 23 to elect a full-time commander.

However, Sampat Pal Devi, asserted her authority saying she was still the leader of the Gulabi Gang.

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Modern Day Slavery in Brick Kilns in India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A Child Brick worker in India (Source: BBC)

A Child Brick worker in India (Source: bbc.co.uk)

A century ago only 10% of India’s population lived in urban areas and now expected to increase to 40% by 2030.

The outcome of India’s economic growth has transformed small trading towns into bustling business centres with multinational enterprises, setting up factories, call centres, software development units, etc., eager to capitalize on high skill labour at low pay.

This stupendous metropolitan and rural boom need factories, offices, apartments, shopping malls, etc., constructed with bricks made of clay burnt in a kiln, as one of the needed primary building material. Bricks are used as filler materials for framework structures as well as to build load bearing structures.

Making the Brick

The process of making a brick has not changed over the centuries or across geographies. Traditionally the main steps followed to make a brick are:

1. Procuring the materials: Clay, the main raw material after mining is stored in the open to make the clay soft and remove unwanted embedded oxides.

Brick field labourer in India.

Brick field labourer in India.

2. Tempering: Clay is mixed with water to the right consistency for moulding. It is then kneaded manually with hands and feet. In certain regions, animal driven pug mills are used.

Brick Making - Tempering (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Tempering (Source: ecobrick.in)

3. Moulding: The kneaded clay after rolling in sand is filled into wooden or metal moulds. Sand is used to prevent the brick from sticking to the mould.

Brick Making - Moulding (Sourc: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Moulding (Sourc: ecobrick.in)

4. Drying: The moulded clay arranged in a herring bone pattern are placed in the drying area to dry in the sun. To speed up uniform drying and to prevent warping the green bricks are turned over every two days. After two weeks, the green bricks will dry enough ready for firing.

Brick Making - Drying (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Drying (Source: ecobrick.in)

5. Firing: The green bricks are arranged in a kiln. Insulation is provided by packing with mud. Fire holes used to ignite the kiln are sealed to prevent heat from escaping. The heat is maintained for a week.

Brick Making -Firing (Source: indianjourneys.wordpress.com)

Brick Making -Firing (Source: indianjourneys.wordpress.com)

6. Sorting: On disassembling, the bricks are sorted according to colour. Colour indicates the level of burning. Over-burnt bricks are used for paving or covering the kiln. The under-burnt bricks are burned once again, or used for building the inner walls of the next  kiln.

Brick Making - Sorting (Source: ecobrick.in)

Brick Making – Sorting (Source: ecobrick.in)

India’s Brick Industry

India’s brick industry – the second largest in the world after China, has more than 150,000 brick production units employing an estimated 10 million workers. The brick kilns that feed the booming construction sector of India are a crucial part of India’s growing economy that contributes around र300 billion to the country’s economy every year. However, the brick workers do not get to benefit much from that amount since brick kilns use forced labour.

Millions of men, women, young boys, young girls, and children get paid meagre amounts that allow them to merely subsist. In many brick kilns in India, bonded labourers working in near-slavery conditions, are on average paid around र150 to produce over 1,500 bricks during a 12-hour-workday. They are paid in advance and are allowed to leave, along with their children suffering from severe respiratory problems, only after six months.

The trade unions, NGOs, and local people do organize and mobilize thousands of workers to fight for increased wages, combat child labour and sexual exploitation. However, these efforts have not achieved much for the welfare of the workers.

Union_Solidarity_International_logo

Over the last two years, Union Solidarity International (USI), a UK-based NGO has been campaigning to improve the conditions of the brick labourers. Andrew Brady of the USI says:

“It’s modern-day slavery. Entire families of men, women and children are working for a pittance, up to 16 hours a day, in terrible conditions. There are horrific abuses of minimum wage rates and health and safety regulations, and it’s often bonded labour, so they can’t escape.”

Prayas logo

To capture international attention on this issue the USI in partnership with the Indian human rights group, Prayas, will launch the Blood Bricks campaign next week. USI and Prayas have been working to organize brick kiln workers into unions. This initiative has already seen 70% wage increase in some areas.

The campaign comes after the Observer’s recent revelations of horrific labour abuses on Abu Dhabi’s new pleasure island of Saadiyat, where new outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are under construction. The investigation discovered thousands of foreign workers living in squalid conditions, their passports confiscated and trapped until they paid back hefty recruitment fees. Brady says:

“It’s a worldwide issue. We’re merely using India as the example, but we’ve seen the same abuses with projects in Qatar and Brazil for the World Cup and Olympics – iconic projects built on the back of the blood and sweat of bonded labour. It’s time to put an end to this trade in blood bricks.”

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November 19, is World Toilet Day!


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“Sanitation is more important than independence.”
Mahatma Gandhi (in 1925).

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World Toilet Day

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If you find the images used in this article nauseating, then I have made my point. For us, Indians and other Asians, this is life. We have to live with it.

In 2001, World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared November 19 as World Toilet Day (WTD). Today, over 19 countries observe WTD with events hosted by various
water and sanitation advocates.

In developing countries in Asia and Africa, poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually.

India has more mobiles than toilets

Though a majority of the world’s population has access to mobile phones, one third of humanity do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines, affecting the environment, human health, dignity and security, and social and economic development.

We all like food. We spend most of our income on food. We look forward eagerly to what we would eat today for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, do we ever give thought to what happens as a result of all that food we consume?

In our society and community, it is a taboo and not polite to talk about toilets. We do not want others to see the cleaning and sanitation products we use. So, we hide them. We even hide the sewer system beneath the ground.

Why?

Because one third of humanity (2.5 billion people), or one in three people living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean, safe, and functioning hygienic toilets. Therefore, they do not bother to discuss the problem of sanitation. As such, sanitation remains a neglected issue with meager financial investments in water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.

In the developing countries, the cost of inaction on sanitation is high. Due to lack of toilets, men, women, the young, the sick and the elderly have to defecate in the open, in fields, in vacant lots, and even by the roadside during the day and at night. Almost 1 billion people continue to defecate in the open.

Excreting in India

Lack of access to clean bathrooms in schools deters many girls from pursuing their education after they reach puberty. In some regions, due to lack of toilets, girls do not go to school when they are menstruating. Improved sanitation facilities can have a particularly positive impact on the education opportunities of young girls, affected by the lack of privacy and cleanliness during their menstrual period. Also, lack of toilets in schools affect all learners from concentrating in the classrooms, as they have to wait for longer periods before being able to relieve themselves in privacy in a dignified manner.

Without toilets and proper sanitation the environment around homes, workplaces, markets, and hospitals, become sources of infection and diarrhoeal diseases due to millions of tonnes of human excretion.

Due to lack of improved sanitation almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, the second leading cause of child deaths in the world. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and unhygienic conditions put children at multiple risks leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high morbidity, malnutrition, stunted growth and death. Every year 0.85 million children die from diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and unimproved water cause 88% of these deaths. Studies reveal that improved sanitation can help reduce diarrhoeal diseases by about 33%.

Despite the scale of the crisis, sanitation remains a low priority for many governments.

How can we mitigate this situation?

Now, many organisations have started to discuss toilets. Investment in sanitation is becoming a priority in many international communities. Yet, because the topic of sanitation has until now been neglected to a vast extent, they wait for good solutions to the problem. New solutions and approaches to sanitation that should have been tried and tested a long time back, are starting to find support only now.

Progress depends on adequate investment and collaborative action by civil societies, multilateral agencies, academia and the private sector in developing countries by supporting national efforts to improve sanitation for all strata of their society.

To address these issues, in July 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Sanitation for All” Resolution (A/RES/67/291) designating November 19 as World Toilet Day, aims to change both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from ending open-air defection (which 1.1 billion people practice worldwide) to enhancing water management.

 Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

On July 24, 2013, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a statement on adoption of the General Assembly resolution ‘Sanitation for All.’

I am delighted and grateful that Member States have adopted a resolution officially designating November 19th as World Toilet Day. I thank the Government of Singapore for its leadership on a crucially important global issue. This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.

Despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, one in three people do not have a basic toilet. Almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. Poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually in developing countries.

Proper sanitation is also a question of basic dignity. It is unacceptable that women have to risk being the victims of rape and abuse, just to do something that most of us take for granted. It is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities.

This new resolution builds on the General Assembly’s “Sustainable sanitation: the drive to 2015”, agreed in 2010, and adds momentum to the Call to Action on Sanitation that I, on behalf of the Secretary-General, launched in March this year.

I urge every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights. I look forward to working with all partners to make Sanitation for All a reality.

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The lack of access to decent toilet is no joke for a third of the world’s people, but a matter of life and death. No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Without access to toilets, many women and girls are too embarrassed to go in the open to defecate during daytime and so deny themselves relief until darkness sets in. But, trips to fields or roadside at night, however, puts them at risk of physical attack and sexual violence. So, having a toilet in or near the home lowers the risk of women and girls getting subjected to violence and rape.

Toilets mean safety.

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State Bank of India Names and Shames Defaulters of Student Loans


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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P. Chidambaram, Union Finance Minister

P. Chidambaram, Union Finance Minister

On July 3, 2013, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told a press conference, after a meeting with heads of public sector banks and financial institutions, that he had asked the banks to focus on the top 30 non-performing accounts and take action against defaulters.

Earlier this year, banks, mostly public sector lenders, decided to tighten their noose on wilful loan defaulters by resorting to the tactic of ‘name and shame’. They began publishing the names and photographs of the defaulters and their guarantors in newspapers, on notice boards of bank branches and community centres, and around their residences.

The move represents a fresh crackdown to recover loans by inducing wilful defaulters to pay up and avoid further embarrassments.

In early July, 2013, Allahabad Bank published in newspapers a public notice for the sale of two properties – one in Haryana and the other in Mumbai – mortgaged to it. This notice named the borrower – a group corporate entity, that had a total outstanding amount at over Rs 365 crore, and featured photographs of its two guarantors.

UCO Bank has also gone public with the name, photograph and other details of a well- known industrialist for non-payment of loans by his company.

State Bank of India began publishing the pictures of its loan defaulters in March, 2013. It went a step ahead by displaying on a large notice board the names, photographs and other details of many defaulters of student loans along with their guarantors. This move by SBI has enraged the student population of Tamilnadu.

The notice board with pictures of students kept outside the bank branch in Bodinayakanur. — Photo:  Deccan Chronicle

The notice board with pictures of students kept outside the bank branch in Bodinayakanur. — Photo: Deccan Chronicle

The above poster on display outside the SBI branch manager’s cabin in Bodinayakanur, Theni district, Tamilnadu, is now being shared by students on Facebook and has unleashed a campaign that questions the “ethics”of SBI in targeting poor defaulters but letting wilful defaulting millionaires off their noose.

According to RBI guidelines, willful defaulters are mostly borrowers who deliberately avoid payment of dues despite having an adequate cash flow and high net worth. Essentially, they have the funds to pay back the loan but refuse to do so even as they lead a lavish lifestyle and enjoy a false social status.

The Students Federation of India (SFI), MPs Tamaraiselvan (DMK) and Thol. Thirumavalavan (VCK ) have taken up the grievance of students.

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“For I was hungry and you gave me food … ” (Matthew 25:35)


Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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The dirty old beggar was shivering, seated there on snow. A middle-aged woman walked up to him and said: “Good morning!”

The beggar leisurely looked up at the smiling woman who looked as if she had never missed a meal in her life. Her coat was new signifying that she was accustomed to the finer things in life. His first thought was that she too wanted to make fun of him, like so many others had done before.

“Are you hungry?” she asked gently.

“No,” the beggar answered sneeringly. “I just came after dining with the President … Now go away.”

The woman did not budge an inch. She continued standing there. Her smile became even broader as she bent towards him and placed her right hand gently under his arm.

“What are you doing, lady?” the man asked angrily. “I told you to leave me alone.”

Just then a police officer appeared from nowhere.

“Madam, that’s old Jack. Is there any problem?” the police officer inquired.

“No. No problem here, officer,” the woman answered. “I am just trying to get this gentleman on to his feet.”

“Will you help me?” she asked.

The officer hesitated. “What do you want with him?” he asked.

She pointed at the hotel a few yards away and said: “I want to take him there and get him out of the cold for a while and then get something for him to eat.”

“Are you out of your mind, lady?” Jack, the beggar asked as he felt the strong hands of the police officer grab his other arm and lift him up. “I will not go in there!” he yelled.

“Let me go, officer. I did not do anything,” Jack pleaded.

Eventually, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria, and seated him at a table in a remote corner.

The hotel manager saw the trio and strode across the cafeteria and stood beside their table.

“Is this beggar here to create trouble?” the manager asked asked the police officer.

“Sir, this lady brought this man in here,” the officer answered.

“No. No. No. Not in here!” the manager shouted angrily. “Admitting a beggar in a prestigious establishment like this is bad for our business.”

Toothless old Jack grinned at the woman sarcastically. “See, lady. Did not I tell you that I did not want to come here in the first place? Now can I get out of here? “

The woman turned to the restaurant manager and smiled.

“Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?” she asked.

“Of course I am,” the manager answered irritatingly. “Their weekly meetings are held in one of our conference rooms.”

“And you make enough of money at these weekly meetings by renting the conference room and catering food?”

“What business is that of yours?” the manager snorted.

“I, Sir, am the president and CEO of that company. My name is Penelope Eddy.”

“Oh,” the manager gasped.

Penelope Eddy smiled again. “I thought that might make a difference.”

She glanced at the police officer stifling a giggle and said, “Would you like to join us and have something to eat, officer?”

“No thanks,” the officer replied. “I’m on duty.”

“Then, perhaps, a cup of coffee?” Penelope asked.

“Yes. That would be very nice,” replied the officer.

The manager turned on his heel. “I will get your coffee for you right away, officer.”

As they watched the manager hurrying away, the police officer said: “You certainly put him in his place.”

“That was not my intent,” she smiled. “Believe it or not, I have a reason for all this.”

Penelope stared intently at the bemused Jack and asked him: “Sir, do you remember me?”

Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. “I think so .. I mean … You do look familiar.”

“I am a little older perhaps,” she said. “Maybe I have even filled out more than in my younger days when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry.”

The police officer could not believe that such a magnificently turned out woman could ever have been hungry.

“I was just out of college,” the woman began. “I had come to the city looking for a job, but I could not find anything. Finally, I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment. I walked the streets for hours. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off chance that I could get something to eat.”

Jack lit up with a smile.

“Now I remember,” he said. “I was behind the serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy.”

“Then you made me the biggest roast beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble. Then, when I looked over, I saw you put the cash for my food in the cash register. I knew then that everything would be alright.”

“So you started your own business?” Old Jack said.

“I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up. Eventually, I started my own business. With the help of God, I prospered.”

She opened her purse and pulled out a business card and gave it to Jack.

“When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Lyons. He is the personnel director of my company. I’ will talk to him now and I am certain he will find something for you to do around the office.” She smiled. “I think he might even find the funds to give you a little advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet. If you ever need anything, my door is always opened to you.”

Tears welled in the old man’s eyes. “How can I ever thank you?” he asked.

“Don’t thank me,” the Penelope answered. “To God goes the glory. He led me to you.”

Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the Penelope Eddy paused at the entrance before going their separate ways. “Thank you for all your help, officer,” she said.

“On the contrary, Ms. Eddy,” he answered. “Thank you. I saw a miracle today madam, something that I will never forget. And … And thank you for the coffee.”

MATTHEW 25:34-40

Then the king will say to those on his right,

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say,

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

And the king will say to them in reply,

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

P.S.: There are many versions of this story circulating on the Internet. This is my version adapted from some of them. The 2008 book “Reminisces of Happy Times” by Robert Wiley, is a collection of humorous and inspirational pieces, many of which are known to be fictional, compiled by the author from other sources. This story appeared under the title “The Lifestyle of a Street Man.” So, that book it is not the original source of this tale. To be frank, I do not know where this story originated and whether Ms. Penelope Eddy, and her banking firm Eddy and Associates really existed.

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India – She Has High Scores in Plus Two Exams but No Money to Realize Her Dream


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By M.K. ANANTH

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Gayathri has 197/200 cut off marks for medicine, but poverty has forced her to work in agricultural fields as a daily wager.

S. Gayathri

S. Gayathri

S. Gayathri (17) of Chinnamaruthur in Pilikalpalayam panchayat, Paramathi Velur taluk, about 35 km from Namakkal town, has scored 1,129 (94 per cent) in the recent Plus Two exams. She aspires to become a doctor and she has 197/200 cut off for medicine. As she belongs to Scheduled Caste (Arunthathiyar) community, she has brighter chance to realise her dream.

But poverty has forced her to work in agricultural fields as a daily wager so that she can earn Rs. 100 a day to support her family.

When she came to know that she scored 199 in biology, 198 in chemistry, 197 in maths, 192 in physics, 179 in Tamil and 164 in English she hardly had time to celebrate as her father asked her to discontinue her studies as it would not be possible for him to support her higher education. Her mother, however, wanted the girl to pursue some degree course in a nearby government aided arts and science college.

Her parents K. Selvaraj (42) and S. Sumathi (35) have never been to school and are daily wage farm labourers. Gayathri is the eldest child and has two sisters and a brother.

The family always had trouble meeting their day to day needs as her father often fell sick and on many occasions Sumathi was the sole breadwinner of the family.

Becoming a doctor was Gayathri’s childhood dream. “I suffered from breathing difficulty and chest pain from the age of one and was badly affected till I was 13. I know the pain of living as a patient from a poor family and so I want to treat poor patients if I become a doctor. I want to specialise in gynaecology,” she adds.

She studied in the Aanangur Government High School and scored 470/500 in the Class X examination.

Her teacher Ranganathan took her to Malar Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Paramathi where she was enrolled for higher secondary. Her tuition fee was fully waived.

Teachers, who saw the girl’s interest in studies, pooled in money to pay the transportation fees.

“In 2012, the lowest cut off score for a candidate from the SC (A) community to get a medical seat in a government medical college was 188.25. With a much better cut off, Gayathri has a better chance. The school will extend support to her, but she would need more financial assistance to pursue her higher education,” M. Palaniappan , president of Malar school, said.

Persons interested in helping Gayathri can contact her father at +91 98436 87990.

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Re-posted from THE HINDU

 

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An email from an Indian father: I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone…


This a re-post of the original article posted on May 13, 2012
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The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker.

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Sharing an email from a father of an Indian daughter.

Dear Indian Homemaker,

After stumbling upon your blog accidentally, I read with interest your post created on May 10, countering the so-called advantages of arranged marriage.

Although I have been happily married for nearly thirty years now, I have seen my own daughter suffer terribly in the arranged marriage system. While some might say that it is our culture, and love marriages are a Western import, I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone who might be considering the idea of simply going along with what everyone is saying, and isn’t following his or her own heart just because he doesn’t want ill to be spoken of his family in society. It is painful for me to write this, but I thought that I must use the internet forum to let people know how the system works.

I am retired with two daughters and a son.

It is my older daughter who has gone through hell on account of this horrible system of in-laws and dowry, and it is her that I want to write about.

About three years ago, my daughter graduated with her masters degree. She has always been extremely hard-working and being from a top college, she secured a well-paying job. Like any father, I was very proud of her and was happy that she was on-track to do very well in life without any help from me at all. The only thing left was to find a good groom for her, we thought, and after that she would be completely settled.

As my daughter had not selected any boy herself, the search began. We went all out. We published ads in papers, asked family friends, looked on matrimonial websites. Eventually, we found a boy, in the same city where my daughter worked a that time. He was from a good, well-settled family which owned a chain of businesses. He was well-spoken, confident and seemed quite modern in his ideas. We were forthright about my daughter being career-oriented and told the boy’s family categorically that she would not leave her job after marriage. We were assured that it was not a problem as the other daughter-in-law was also working and most of the housework was done by maids in any case.

My daughter, docile as always, simply went along and said okay to the proposal after only a few visits.

Within one month, the marriage was finalized and the ceremony was held in 2010.

At this point, we made the mistake of paying out a hefty dowry. It sounds very naive now, but I am being candid with you; I thought this might making things a little easier for our daughter . How could I have known what monstrous characters these people were hiding behind their smiles and laughter?

From the moment my daughter entered the house, these people began plotting to get more. At first, they were nice and gentle, but soon they began to show their true colours. It started with small hints, then moved on to broad hints, taunts, fights and finally, physical assaults.

I had no idea all this was going on. My daughter never told me; I used to call up every week and she told me that all was fine. Then one day, she said that she did not want me to call her anymore. She gave absolutely no reason for this request. It was completely out of character, and I was a little hurt, but reluctantly agreed. In Jun 2011, on her wedding anniversary, to my utter shock, the ceremony was held without us even being invited! By then, I had come to the conclusion that something was definitely very wrong.

I made a surprise visit to my son-in-law’s place. I told their family that I was there on business and had decided to pay them a visit. What I saw at their place made my blood boil over. My confident, beautiful daughter was treated like she was little more than a servant. When I entered, she was rudely told to get some tea, and the same people who had been so bubbly and smiley treated me as if I was a social inferior. I called out to my daughter, refused the tea, and simply stated that I was taking her out to lunch. They tried to protest, but I ignored them. It was only in the car that the whole story came out.

I have already told you the broad incidents, I won’t bore you with gory details. This fiend who called himself a husband not only hit my daughter, but he actually forced himself on her sexually. Imagine! My daughter, who I have NEVER hit till date. My daughter, who I brought up as the apple of my eye. How could this man have the gall to lay his dirty hands on her? How dare this rapist, this creature of filth, force her to bow to his perverted whims and fancies? The poor girl was so traumatized that she could not even cry! It was like talking to a shell, a dry husk of a person. It broke my heart to hear her speak like that.

I took her back to her marital home, told her to pack all essential documents and objects in a bag and come back with me immediately. The boy’s family created a scene of course, but at this time, I was so angry that I did not even look at them, let alone respond to their nonsense.

To cut a long story short, I got my daughter home and helped her file divorce papers and supplementary charges against the boy’s family. Although this terrible chapter is over, I am committed to personally ensuring that this man goes to jail, and isn’t just let off with a fine. I will make sure that he faces the consequences of his sins.

The points raised by the newspaper article (discussed in that post) seem so very shallow to me! It was written by someone who has no idea of ground reality and is floating in the dreams of a yesterday that does not exist.

Let me consider each point:

1. in a negotiated marriage, family support is a given.

What decent parent would not support their own child? And if this parent does not want to support a daughter who had a love marriage, would he support her if her arranged marriage ran into trouble? What is the guarantee?

2.  If the marriage demands the girl to stay with her in-laws, it is more likely that they will make her feel comfortable as they have already ‘approved’ of her.

As you can judge from my story, the ‘approval’ is only skin-deep. There is no guarantee that these in-laws will ‘approve’ afterwards too. And because enough time is not usually provided, who knows what the in-laws are actually like? Serial killers can also seem very pleasant under normal circumstances, but they will show their true colours only after a certain time.

3. The process … involves understanding each other’s cultural interests apart from individual views and opinions about life in general.

Complete rubbish. The process only involves ticking off certain features, as if one was buying a car. This is not a feature of arranged marriage at all.

4.  Unlike a love marriage where financial security of the groom is not always a priority, in an arranged marriage, it is imperative that the bride’s family ensure that their would-be son-in-law is career-oriented and has a steady flow of income.

If financial security is not a priority for the couple, then how is it important in any case? If it is a priority, then the couple will ensure it.

5.  Each day is a surprise wherein the couple learn about the nitty gritty of the relationship and also take an effort to nurture it.

But are all surprises pleasant? Some things should not be a surprise. There are things that one must know well about one’s husband beforehand.

6. Once the alliance is arranged, the boy and girl are officially allowed to meet and know more about each other

I do not understand what this means. Are the girl and boy not allowed to meet otherwise? If not, then how will they get married in any case?

7. Ever heard of Swayamvar, an ancient Indian practice of choosing a husband from among a list of suitors?

Do all ‘Swayamvars’ turn out blissfully?

8. Since both the parties are way too involved in finding the right match and also the actual activity of marriage, it takes the load off the bride-to-be and gives her time to get comfortable in her new surroundings.

I can only laugh at this, seeing how things have gone with my own daughter.

I hope I’ve not made this overly long. I really wanted to share it, and I hope your find it useful.

Regards,

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Re-posted from The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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The Roots of Rape in India


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Kancha Ilaiah

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By Kancha Ilaiah

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Raped wife

Rape has, of late, become an acute disease in the Indian society. Prima facie, this is a problem arising out of a mental disorder, but there is also a larger cultural context that, to an extent, explains how the Indian male became so brutal.

Our cultural upbringing conditions male minds to behave in a cruel fashion with women. Family upbringing, societal conditioning, religious sagas and political animus, all construct our men and women into being what they are — men as aggressive and women as submissive. Which is why men here, in India, are different from men in other countries.

Their cultural milieu is different. Their spiritual systems train them differently. It’s not that only Indian men rape and kill children aged three or five. This happens in other countries too, but they are the rarest of rare cases. Daily reports of infants being raped across the length and breadth of a country is a phenomenon unique to India, a society that’s otherwise highly conservative. Clearly, the institutional upbringing, including that in family, needs to undergo change.

Every time a gruesome rape gets reported, we all are ashamed and angry. That’s one thing; but working out ways and means to eradicate such evil is another thing. We cannot leave it entirely to the police or the judiciary to tackle such heinous acts. For, rape is also a cultural problem; and it is a more serious problem because of the extermination of the victim. We need to treat the malaise from its very roots.

We are a society that derives its sense of good and bad from our mythologies and spiritual ethics. Our gods and goddesses are not only worshipped but also adored. And it is our lifelong endeavour to emulate them. This is the cultural environment that shapes the lives of most people in India. So it’s natural that what gods do influences us much more than the moral lesson at the end. Now consider this: we have gods who, for instance, have cut the nose and ear lobes of a woman who approached them professing her love (Lakshman is depicted as having done this to Shurpanakha), and yet we adore him and see him as a symbol of loyalty, sacrifice and righteous indignation.

Lord Krishna stole the clothes of women while they were bathing in the Yamuna river. He did so to tease them and for the pleasure of watching the beauty of their naked bodies. We hang miniature paintings of the same act in our homes proudly. The young men who grow up seeing this, or listening to the story told in an amused tone are bound to not find such an act abhorrent.

We also have a god, Shiva, who insisted on entering the bathing arena of Goddess Parvati and did so by eliminating a child who was keeping guard at the open door. Lord Ganesha is said to have emerged out of such a union. Is this right or wrong? Our mythology tells us that what a husband does is right, that his will is greater than the woman’s. If a mythological hero is praised for his acts of killing, drinking and fornicating with multiple women (like Indra did with Rambha, Urvashi, Menaka, Tilottama and so on), it is glorification of such behaviour.

When such stories are a part of the mythological texts, they should, at least, be critically evaluated and given a more contemporary, political reading which is rooted in the concept of equality. Instead, the tendency is to not question what our gods did, but simply admire such acts.

Barring a few exceptions, there is no appreciation, per se, of a healthy man-woman relationship which is rooted in the concept of equality. Indian women are shown as lathangi (a person of delicate body), never strong enough to resist her dehumanisation. Though Durga and Kali are shown as strong, in real life such militancy is not seen as feminine.

Now let us turn to the political spectrum. We have had many great men — Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan etc — who got married at a young age with girls of much younger age, went abroad for higher studies, leaving their wives at home totally illiterate or semi-literate. We do not know how these men, or Gokhale and Tilak, treated their wives.

But we know that they were all devotees of the deities mentioned above. The only man who treated his wife as a friend and educated her right from the first day of his marriage, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, is not taught as an example to be emulated in our texts.  Somehow, in our patriarchal cultural milieu, unkind and inhuman treatment of women has never been a matter of concern. It’s considered sacrilegious, for example, to question Lord Ram for leaving his dutiful wife on the random outburst of a dhobi.

And Sita’s action, in turn, to not question, but to commit suicide, is considered the epitome of all that is pious. Even Gautam Buddha left his young wife, with an infant child. Questioning such acts has never been part of our public discourse.

Or, look at our cinemas. Ever since the industry came into being, silent or talkie, it has used woman’s body as a money-making object. The song and dance sequence that it has adopted as an art form falls into a common pattern — every hero is licensed to misuse the body of the heroine. The romance in our film industry is not romance; it is vulgarity bordering on the criminal.

So is it a surprise that men of this country see it as their right to violate women in all spheres of life?

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

Re-posted from DECCAN Chronicle (May 10, 2013)

Kancha Ilaiah (5 October 1952) is an Indian activist and writer. His books include Why I am not a HinduGod As Political Philosopher: Budha’s challenge to BrahminismA Hollow ShellThe State and Repressive CultureManatatwam (in Telugu), and Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism.

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On Modi’s Social Engineering


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Subhash Gatade

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By Subhash Gatade

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The system of untouchability has been a goldmine for the Hindus. This system affords 60 millions of untouchables to do the dirty work of scavenging and sweeping to the 240 million Hindus who are debarred by their religion to do such dirty work. But the work must be done for the Hindus and who else than the untouchables? - Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Manual scavenging - 04

Whether Shit Collection or cleaning of gutters – which has condemned lakhs of people to a life of indignity since ages – could be considered a ‘Spiritual Experience.’ Definitely not. Everybody would yell. Well, Mr Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, has a different take on this, which he mentions in the book ‘Karmayog’ (Publication year 2007).

The said book is basically a collection of his speeches to high profile IAS officials. Herein he discusses the age old caste-based vocation of the Valmikis as “experience in spirituality’. He writes: “I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation….At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”

Looking at the fact that a section of the dalits themselves -especially its upwardly mobile and more articulate section – has joined with the Hindutva bandwagon, it was expected that there were no angry reaction to his utterances within the state. A section of the Ambedkarite Dalits and many human rights activists did protest but their voices got drowned in the cacophony of voices of Modi supporters. It is a different matter that when Modi’s remark got published in the Times of India in mid-November 2007, which was later translated in few Tamil newspapers, it resulted in a massive reaction of Dalits in Tamilnadu. Not only they staged protests for calling their menial job “spiritual experience” but Modi’s effigies were burnt in different parts of the state. Sensing trouble Modi immediately withdrew 5,000 copies of the book, but still sticked to his opinion. Two years later, addressing 9,000-odd safai karmacharis , (cleanliness workers) he likened the safai karmacharis’ job of cleaning up others dirt’ to that of a temple priest. He told them, “A priest cleans a temple every day before prayers, you also clean the city like a temple. You and the temple priest work alike.”

One was reminded of these ideas of Mr Modi, when news came in that the budget for the coming year passed by the Gujarat state assembly, has allocated a sum of Rs 22.5 lakhs for giving training in Karmkand (rituals) to Safai Kamdars themselves. The idea is to train them in scriptures so that they can perform pujas (organise worships). It is clear that the ‘new scheme’ as it was presented before the people was just a revised version of its earlier scheme wherein members of the scheduled communities were given training to become ‘Gurubrahmins’ so that they could also perform pujas . Insiders can also share with you that the said scheme has miserably failed and people who were trained to perform pujas   are still searching for jobs.

It could be asked if Modi values safai karmacharis so highly, why is it that he has begun outsourcing all the menial jobs for a very low pay, between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500 per month per worker. Why they are not being employed on a permanent basis? A leading Dalit poet raised an altogether different question “Why didn’t it occur to Modi that the spirituality involved in doing menial jobs hasn’t ever been experienced by the upper castes?”

It is worth emphasising that the day when Gujarat government declared its intention to train safai kamdars in Karmkand , supposedly to integrate them closely in the mainstream of Hindu society, also happened to be the period when the anti-dalit stance of the people in power was very much evident in two clear examples. The manner in which state officials tried to cover up social boycott of dalits in a village and the way they tried to save guilty police officials involved in dalit killings had already reached headlines.

Not very many people would have heard about village Galsana, Dhanduka tehsil, Ahmedabad district, which is around 100 kms from the city. The dalits in the village who are about 500 in numbers, are not allowed entry into any of the five temples in the village. The younger generation of dalits protested this ban which resulted in their social boycott. When the news last came in, the boycott was already few months old. Incidentally when officers from the social justice department visited the village, they even did not acknowledge that dalits are facing social boycott, forget asking the police to take action against the guilty.

The other news concerned the arrest of guilty police officials involved in the gruesome killings of Dalits at Thangarh.(Sep 2012) After four months cop Jadeja and other two accused police officials in Thangadh dalit massacre case were arrested on February 23 2013. It is reported that the killings at Thangarh were fallout of a minor clash between Dalits and Bharwads over auctioning of stalls at an annual fair organised by the Thangarh municipality. When the dalits filed a complaint against the Bharwads at the police station, the police refused to take any action ; the anger of the dalits spilled over onto the streets next day which saw participation of dalits in large numbers and police’s resorting to strong arm tactics resulting in the killings. Despite knowing the fact that the infamous police officer, had on earlier occasion also fired upon the dalits, without any provocation, the administration tried every trick in the kitty to save him and his colleagues. It was only because of judicial intervention that they were ordered to be arrested.

Galsana and Thangarh can be said to be tip of the iceberg as far as dalit deprivation and denial of justice is concerned. In fact much has been written about the way the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Atrocities prevention) act, 1989 is implemented in the state. One finds that the rate of of conviction of cases under the Prevention of Atrocity Act against SC/ST in Gujarat is mere 2.5 per cent while rate of acquittal is 97.5 per cent. A 23 page confidential report submitted by the state Social Justice Department to the State Chief Secretary and legal departments provides glaring examples of ‘mishandling of cases registered under Prevention of Atrocities Act against SC/ST. (Express, Sep 15, 2006).

The report provides details of how cases are not investigated properly by the police and the hostile role played by public prosecutors during time of trials.

- Act clearly stipulates that offences which are registered under this act cannot be investigated by an officer below the rank of DySP but more than 4,000 such cases have been investigated by Police Inspector or Police Sub Inspector.

- Acquittal of the perpetrator because victim not identified as member of SC or ST community. Reason, not attaching caste certificate of the victim with the case papers

- Public prosecutors false claims before the courts that act has been modified by the state government altough it is known that it is a central act

- Granting of anticipatory bails although there is no such provision in the act. Interestingly the Parliamentary Committee on SC and ST affairs had also expressed concern over such anticipatory bails granted ‘in atrocity cases in the state of Gujarat’.

In this backdrop it is worth underlining what little did Mr Modi knew about this important law and its implications. One could rather say that in Gujarat chief minister is directly responsible for the non-implementation of the Atrocity Act. As Raju Solanki, famous poet and dalit rights activists writes in his blog :

It was on 16 April, 2004, that a question was asked to chief minister Modi in Gujarat legislative assembly: “Honorable chief minister [Home] may oblige us to tell, is it true that the DSP is responsible for the appointment of an officer not below the rank of DySP as investigating officer in the offenses under atrocities act? The answer of our chief minister was shocking. He said: “No, but there is a provision under rule 7 (1) of SC/ST act, 1995 to appoint officers not above the rank of DySP to inquire into all cases booked under atrocities act. It is not the responsibility of DSP.”

In the end, one would like to put on record the way the presence of dalits in record is obliterated without any fuss. During panchayat elections, Nathu Vadla, a small village of Gujarat with hardly 1000 population had suddenly reached headlines. The panchayat election in this village was to be conducted on the basis of 2001 data. The village has at least 100 Scheduled Castes people and one seat was to be reserved as per law, but the census data has not been modified and in 2001 the population of SC was nil in the village, the election in 2013 was to be conducted on the basis of 2001 census. Here also courts had to intervene to stay elections in the village. Gujarat High Court stayed elections in the village saying that it would be ‘mockery of democracy’.

Subhash Gatade is a Writer and social activist based in New delhi. Subhash also edits a Hindi Journal Sandhan. His most recent book is “Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India” Email. : subhash.gatade@gmail.com

Re-posted from COUNTERCURRENTS.org

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Koodankulam: A Court in the Supreme Contempt of its People


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P K Sundaram

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By P. K. Sundaram

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The Supreme Court’s verdict on Koodankulam rests on three hugely contested premises: the judges’ belief in the necessity of the nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the country’s nuclear establishment to perform its role, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest and the apprehensions of small sections which should make way for the country’s progress. Not only have the judges given judicial sanctity to these contestable propositions, but have also completely overlooked the Koodankulam-specific brazen violations of the government’s own norms, raised by the petitioners.

Broken justice

The Supreme Court’s judgement on Koodankulam would go in India’s history in line with the Narmada Dam verdict and other judicial pronouncement reflecting the inability of our post-independence democratic institutions to overcome the narrowly defined confines of ‘larger public interest’, ‘development/growth’ and ‘national conscience’.

Whose interests are larger?

While the petition filed by the Chennai-based environmentalist group Poovulagin Nanbargal presented specific concerns of safety hazards and violations of the government’s own norms in implementing the project, India’s growth and the assumed indispensability of nuclear energy for it is a recurring rationale in the Supreme Court’s final verdict. The judges have gone beyond the scope of the prayer and have extolled nuclear energy as essential for India’s growth, terming the ‘fears’ of people as misplaced. The judgement goes on to prescribe that ‘minor inconveniences’ must be tolerated in the larger interest of the nation.

People’s Movement is Emotional fear, Nuclear Establishment has the Expertise

The second paragraph of the judgement itself calls the people’s massive agitation in Koodankulam an “emotional reaction” to the setting up of the reactor. It almost mocks the people’s concern saying the “fears and unrest” might not have been thought of by Enrico Fermi who set up the first nuclear power plant. Since then, the judgement says, people have reacted emotionally when every new reactor is commissioned. The judgement goes on to add that the people’s concern was mooted even the constituent assembly when the Constitution was being drafted. Does this imply that nuclear energy in India should be regarded a fait accompli?

The judgement accepts the establishment’s narrative on nuclear energy in India unquestioningly.

  • The judgement extols the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as the repository of final authority on everything nuclear and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) as a competent regulator, glossing over its dependence on the AEC for funds and human resources and its being obliged to report to the AEC whose activities it is essentially mandated to regulate.
  • The verdict also reposes complete faith in the national policy on nuclear energy and the existing framework to control and regulate all radioactivity-related activities in India.
  • Under the title ‘National Policy’ (page 9) the judges narrate the evolution of India’s 20 nuclear power stations built over last four decades producing 4780 MWs today with a rare clinical coldness, without questioning the nuclear establishment’s claims and its performances in the same period, while under the same title on page 10, it mentions that renewable sources provide “small share” of our total electricity – 15%, which is actually 6 times more than the share of nuclear energy. 
  • In its overview of the global status of nuclear energy, the rapid downward trend of the industry post-Fukushima doesn’t find a mention – France produces 74.6%, US has 104 reactors, world had 439 reactors in 2007 producing 13-14% of total energy. The reality is, nuclear power produced just 11% in In 2011 and thedownward trend is expected to continue due to larger number of reactors ageing and lesser numbers being built today.
  • It doesn’t even question the NPCIL’s claims of producing 20,000 MW by the year 2020 and 63,000 MW by 2030.
  • Transgressing the scope of the petition, the judges have mentioned that “one of the reasons for preferring nuclear energy as an alternative source of energy is that it is a clean, safe, reliable and competitive energy source which can replace a significance of the fossil fuel like coal, oil, gas etc.” The judges have not bothered to see that each of these adjectives have been questioned and have led to review of national policies, including in France where a national energy transformation law is underway.

As the questions raised in the petition involved technical problems plaguing the Koodankulam project, the Court consulted the government’s experts – officials from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Unfortunately, no independent institutionalised expertise on nuclear issues exists in India outside the confines of the Department of Atomic Energy.  This led to a situation in which the Judges have no option than to believe the same official experts against whose refusal to acknowledge the risks was the petition filed. While this made the entire proceeding lop-sided in the first place, there was still scope for the judges to look into the glaring violations and specific risks in Koodakulam which do not fall strictly under nuclear expert issues.

The crucial issues of supply of sub-standard equipments by ZiO-Podolsk, violation of Coastal Regulatory Zone stipulations and Environmental Impact Assessment norms, lack of clarity on the crucial issue of spent fuel storage, non-compliance with proper mock evacuation drill required by the AERB norms, much larger population in the vicinity than stipulated etc. have either been glossed over or have been legalized post-facto.

Court validating a political deal?

The judgement mentions India’s civil nuclear agreement with the US in 2005 and then with France and UK in 2008 and 2010, and explains them as the govt’s effort give effect to the “National Policy for development” for which “India has entered into various bilateral treaties and arrangements with countries which have considerable expertise and experience”. It is a well known fact that the nuclear deal came from the US side and the energy justification was a later concoction to justify it. The integrated energy policy of 2006 came one year after the Indo-US nuclear deal. In fact, it was the nuclear establishment in India which was the first one to get surprised with the news of Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005. The deal was essentially about the US manoeuvring internationals institutions norms of the  NSG and the IAEA to legitimise India’s nuclear weapons and ensure its entry into global international commerce. India’s compulsory purchase of the French, American and Russian reactors was a price it paid to achieve this. Former AEC Chairman Anil kakodkar himself has admitted in the past that importing foreign reactors, with an embarrassingly low liability cap,  had to do with accommodating these countries’ interests.

 Nuclear Energy and National Policy

After enthusiastically elaborating India’s national policy on nuclear energy, the judges say, “it is not for Courts to determine whether a particular policy or a particular decision taken in fulfilment of a policy, is fair” (page 13). Precisely. The petition before the court nowhere sought to discuss the rationale or desirability of the nuclear policy, if at all India has one. The petition raised concrete questions about safety norms and their violations. Then why the judges have went on to declare nuclear energy is green, clean and essential for India’s development? The judges quote an old case in Lodon to undermine that its “only duty is to expand the language of the Act in accordance with the settled rules of construction”, and hence “we cannot sit in judgment over the decision…for setting up of KKNPP in Kudankulam in view of the Indo-Russia agreement”. Fine, but what about ensuring that the inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia is made public and the liability provisions within it be made compliant to the law of the land?

After the aforementioned introductory part, the SC verdict has two parts – the first deals with safety and security of NPP, International COnventiions and Treaties, KKNPP Project, NSF and its management and transportation, DGR, Civil Liabilities, DMA, CSA and other related issues. Part II deals with environmental issues, CRZ, desalination plant, impact of radiation on eco-system, expert opinions, etc.

In part I, the verdict seeks to find out whether the project has adequate safety measures. In doing so, it starts with elaborating the Safety Codes of the AERB (in 12 full pages), without questioning its institutional autonomy or making mention of the CAG’s report on the AERB in which it strips down the myth of AERB’s independence and its efficacy. Details of India’s international obligations and its adherence with IAEA safety norms, based on the AERB’s submission, take several pages more.

IAEA’s 2008 report emphasizing tripling of electricity supply by 2050 is highlighted by the judges. The IAEA’s contested claim of nuclear energy being a low-carbon electricity is adopted unquestioningly.

The verdict reposes its complete faith in “the safety and security code of practices laid down by the AERB, the IAEA and its supports so as to allay the fears expressed from various quarters on the safety and security of KKNPP”

The judges mention PUCL vs Union of India and others case of 2004, where the court upheld that the AEC deals with a sensitive subject. The veil of secrecy remains intact in 2013 even if the civilian and military nuclear facilities are separated as per the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Safety Issues:

Reading the Supreme Court verdict’s sections on Koodankulam’s safety is not much different than reading AERB’s or NPCIL’s stated policies on nuclear safety. Elaborate claims of safety standards and practices, but very little about whether these guidelines sufficiently address the specific questions raised by the protests, even less on how efficient and democratic these procedures are.

In the section under part-II titled “KKNPP  Project” the judges have looked into site selection procedures and site-specific vulnerabilities of Koodankulam. The judges come out convinced that Koodankulam is totally safe for the reactor project – having absolutely no potential of earthquake, Tsunami or other geological disturbances. The evidences presented by the petitioners about the area being geologically unstable and having a history of earthquakes, volcanism and karst have gone completely unheard.

Much attention has been given to the questions of safely storing Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) and finding a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for KKNPP. These are generic issues plaguing nuclear reactors everywhere and globally the nuclear industry has been struggling to find the answers for several decades. Not surprisingly, there are ready-made and extremely tentative solutions: the NPCIL has agreed to find a repository to store nuclear waste and has given details of its long-term pursuits in this direction, and it has assured the court to safely story the SNF. The AERB’s code of “Management of Radioactive Waste” has been discussed at length, to be found sufficient to address the problem. Typically, Indian nuclear establishment does not acknowledge nuclear waste as waste, because it claims it will reprocess most of it for the second phase of its 3-phase  nuclear programme, to which even the judges have shown admiration. Lost of course is the fact that reprocessing leads to more harmful and long-term wastes and India’s phased nuclear program has been too far from becoming a reality. The judges note : “the experts feel that setting up of a DGR is not much of a technological challenge…but more of a socio-political issue”. The massive  disapproval of proposed waste repositories in the US and elsewhere was based on independent expert opinion is lost again. The verdict mentions a proposed DGR in the abandoned Kolar mines of Karnataka. Of course on this and other several important issues, the NPCIL retracting publicly from its position taken in affidavits filed in the SC had its own trail over last 6 months.

The judges have noted that the Koodankulam reactor has its Spent Fuel Pool inside the primary containment, with a capacity to store fuel equivalent to 7 years of full power operation of  the reactor. That the presence of SFP close to the reactor core complicated the accident in Fukushima and is a concern even today in Japan finds no mention, of course.

Fukushima never happened !

While the judges mention the post-Fukushima safety review ordered by the Prime Minister, they have failed to take into account the critiques of the whole process and the serious risks of relying on such an internal safety review without any independent supervision or assessment. On the 17 Koodankulam-specific recommendations, the court is assured by the AERB that the NPCIL will implement them satisfactorily. In the subsequent paragraphs, the verdict rhymes the nuclear establishment’s lullaby on radiation: We are exposed to radiation in our daily lives, cosmic radiation, radiation from earth’s crust, air travel, X0ray, CT-Scan, angiography, angioplasty etc etc.

In the section titled ‘Response to People’s Resistance’, the Supreme Court gives a sanitized, government version of the dialogue with people. It makes no mention of the fact that the 15-member expert committee appointed by the government did not even bother to meet the protesting people in Idinthakarai, declined from sharing essential safety-related documents with people and completely failed to address the questions raised by the movement. While this sham of a dialogue was on, the state government kept on piling false police charges, the local congress goons kept beating the protesters, the local media kept provoking against the movement leaders and none other than the PM indulged in maligning the people’s genuine struggle. The judgement quotes the government experts group’s conclusion at length and feels satisfied. It also takes no notice that the fact that the Ex-AEC Chief’s appointment as the head of expert committee constituted by the Tamil Nadu State Government subsequently reflected a seriosu conflict of interests.

Under the heading ‘Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage’, the judges in principle agree to the importance of strict liability in nuclear sector, but fail to address the Koodankulam-specific problem of opacity on liability issue. The Russian officials have been claiming they have an exemption from liability under the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA)

Discussion on Disaster Management Plan (DMP), the SC verdict elaborates about the guidelines of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on radiological emergencies and has pressed for better coordination between the NDMA, the DAE, and the state administration to ensure swift evacuation and management in case of a disaster. Much emphasis has been given on the need to spread awareness among the people about nuclear accidents, however, the brazen violation and bluffing by the NPCIL on disaster management receives no attention.

Although the Supreme Court quotes AERB’s norms on population near a reactor sites and specifically mentions that no public habitation should be there within 1.5 km radius of the reactor, it has failed to take into account the Tsunami Colony in Koodankulam where more than 2500 people reside at a distance of just 700- metres from the reactor. Also, the judges have held that the emergency preparedness plan (EPP) for KKNPP is adequate for around 24000 people in the 5 km radius called ‘sterilised zone’ while the norms stipulate not more than 20000 people. The catch here is, the even the 24000 figure used by the SC is taken from 2001 census, not the 2011 census!

The judges admit the importance of the mock-drills and off-site emergency exercises, but strangely caution that ‘such mock-drills are conducted to educate the public not to scare them away, but make them understand that the project is part of the national policy, participatory in nature, and hence we cannot remain as a nuclear-isolated nation’. This would only ensure that the nuclear establishment remains insulated from public scrutiny. The judges’ faith in the affidavit filed by the district administration on off-site emergency exercises flies in the face of reality.

In the last paragraphs of part-I, the Supreme Court judges have iterated their faith in NPCIL’s promise to fulfill its corporate social responsibility (CSR) – millions of rupees allotted for building schools, hospitals, roads and so on. From Tarapur to Rawatbhata to nearby Kalpakkam, local people have seen the realities of such promises.

The second part of the verdict, focused on environmental impacts, again starts with the need to look at environmental issues in the perspective of indispensability of nuclear power in the ‘national policy’ – nuclear energy has a unique position in the emerging economics in India, it is a viable source of energy and it is necessary to increase country’s economic growth !

The judgement in this part dwells elaborately upon the arguments presented by the both sides, but only to concur with the government that Koodankulam project does not violate environmental impact assessment guidelines as the project was notified in 1988, prior to enactment of EIA requirements in 1994! The flimsy affidavits filed by the NPCIL and the MoEF have found better audience with the Supreme Court judges. The court has elaborated upon the rather general and very lenient attempt of taking of environmental impacts in Koodankulam as per a letter written by the then Prime Minister, quotes the 1989 memorandum of the MoEF, the 1989 stipulations by the AERB for clearance, and finally with the MoEF’s letter dated 6 September 2001 in which it legalised the violations in the wake of 377.30 crores already spent on the project, feels confident that the environmental impacts have been taken care of and no violation of EIA stipulations have happened. In case of Coastal Regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance, it again validates the 1994 exemption given to the Koodankulam project.

The EIA reports for the proposed 4 other reactors in Koodankulam have used the EIA studies for Koodankulam 1 and 2 as base-line, which were prepared without a public hearing. Supreme Courts doesn’t find it worthy of objection.

Modifying the initial plan to take water from two nearby dams, construction of a desalination plant was started in 2006 in Koodankuiam. The petitioners had pointed out that the desalination unit would have its own hazardous environmental impacts and will also add to the overall pollution and hence had demanded a fresh EIA clearance. The court has said that desalination units are not listed under the 1994 EIA stipulations, so absence of such an EIA in Koodankulam is not a violation. Of course, the cumulative impacts also do not need any re-assessment then!

Similarly, the Supreme Court has brushed aside significant objections on CRZ clearance and post-factto legalization by TNPCB of the increased temperature of affluent water in Koodankulam. Under the heading ‘Sustainable Development and Impact on the Eco-System’, the verdict quotes elaborately from the Rolay Commission on Environment Pollution (UK, 1971), Stockholm Conference (1972), UNGA’s World Charter for Nature (1982), Rio Summit (1992), the UN MIllenium Declaration of 2000, UN Conference on Sustainable Development (June 2012) and so on, but only to conclude that “we have already found on facts that the KKNPP has been set up and is made functional on the touchstone of sustainable development and its impact on ecology has been taken care of following all national and international environmental principles” !

Larger Public Interests

Then the judges take it upon themselves to decide whether the claims of “smaller violations” of nearby population’s right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution should take precedence over production of energy, which is “of extreme importance for the economic growth of our country..to alleviate poverty, generate employment etc.” The judgement looks into various earlier cases of objections to ‘development’ projects on environmental and right to life grounds, and concludes that a balance between “economic scientific benefits” and “minor radiological detriments” has to be found. The pre-conceived notions of ‘development’ take over the judicial rigour and objectivity and in their hurry, the judges have done a grammatical faux pas: “Larger public interest of the community should give way to individual apprehension of violation of human rights and right to life guaranteed under Article 21″! We can over look the grammatical blunder of our judges, but what about terming the massive protests by thousands of people in Koodankulam, run for over 25 years in a thoroughly peaceful manner, as ‘individual apprehension’? Who is the ‘larger community’? Do the interests of the farmers, fishermen and poor people of India do not form the ‘larger public interest’?

The judges have gone ahead to claim that apprehensions of far reaching consequences of radioactive effects has “no basis”! The say: “Nobody on the earth can predict what would happen in future and to a larger extent we have to leave it to the destiny….Apprehension is something we anticipate with anxiety or fear, a fearful anticipation, which may vary from person to person.” The Court goes by the “expert opinions” of MoEF, EAC, TNPCB, Report of IOM, Report of Engineers India Limited, NEERI’s EIA etc and concludes that all expert bodies are unanimous that in their opinion KKNPP has fully satisfied all safety norms.

Justice Dipak Misra in his prologue emphasizes the need to “march ahead with life allaying all apprehensions with a scientific mindset accepting the nature’s unpredictability to survive on the planet earth on the bedrock of the doctrine – survival of the fittest”. He again goes on to describe how elaborate the DAE’s guidelines on nuclear safety are, and concludes that ‘all possible measures have been taken to avoid any kind of calamity’. He goes on to quote extensively from the IAEA’s 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent FUel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management 1997, to which India is not even a signatory, to appreciate the “world wide concern for public safety”. He again quotes in extenso from the AERB’s post-Fukushima Safety Review of KKNPP. However, an unquestioned faith in the nuclear establishment about adequacy of these recommendations and the establishment’s sincerity to implement leads to plain judicial reassurances.

Justice Misra looks into proportionality of safety vis-a-vis the necessity of nuclear energy development. While accepting the need for ensuring safety for present and future generations, he holds that ‘generation of nuclear energy is a necessity in a progressive modern state’ and ‘promotion of development and protection of the environment have to be harmonized’. Besides other cases, Justice Misra cites the Narmada case and quotes that “In a democracy, welfare of the people at large, and not merely of a small section of the society, has tobe the concern of a responsible Government.”

In the final judicial directions, the judges have asked the NPCIL to file a report before the Supreme Court before the final commissioning, certifying that each and every aspect of safety including environmental impacts, have been taken care of. For the periodical safety maintenance and reviews, safety of the spent nuclear fuel during transport, radioactive discharge to the atmosphere, compliance with the 17 post-Fukushima recommendations, and adherence to the NDMA guidelines, the court has directed the NPCIL, AERB, MoEF, TNPCB and other concerned bodies ensure strict compliance, but has essentially reposed faith in their efficacy and sincerity. The Supreme Court has ordered that a Deep Geological Repository should be set up at the earliest so that SNF can be transported from the nuclear plant to the DGR.

Withdraw Criminal Cases Against Protesters: The Supreme Court has directed to withdraw al criminal cases filed against the agitators in Koodankulam and to restore normalcy and peace.

The Supreme Court’s verdict rests on three major premises: the judges’ belief in the necessity of the nuclear energy for India’s progress, their faith in the country’s nuclear establishment to perform this role, and the judges’ notion of the larger public interest and the apprehensions of small sections which should make way for the country’s progress. All three of these are immensely contested propositions. But not only have the judges given judicial sanctity to these contestable claims, but have also completely overlooked the Koodankulam-specific brazen violations of the government’s own norms, raised by the petitioners.

In retrospect, the struggling people of India would find approaching to the Supreme Court in such matters pointless, and counter-productive, as the courts themselves are part of the system which has failed to address the widening gap between the aspirations and lives of the deprived masses and the mainstream notions of ‘larger public interest’. Prayers before the judiciary on such matters ends up legitimising the same ‘experts’ and disastrous notions of progress that the people have been fighting against.

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Re-posted from DiaNuke.org

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