This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 26 May 2014 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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- Narendra Modi comes to office drenched in blood
- Protests rise against jailing of G. N. Saibaba
India: Narendra Modi comes to office drenched in blood
26 May 2014. A World to Win News Service. Narendra Modi has always denied any wrongdoing in the 2002 massacre of more than 1,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat, India. Nor has he ever expressed regret for those killed. For years he was considered a pariah by many people and even governments worldwide who held him responsible for genocidal attacks against Muslims.
Today he is the new prime minister of India. Although the UK government had broken contacts with Modi in the previous decade, in 2013 leaders of both the Tory and Labour parties invited him to address the House of Commons. He was also invited to attend the European Parliament in 2013. In February 2014, US ambassador to India Nancy Powell held talks with Modi, ending a decade-long US boycott of him. These moves by foreign powers with powerful influence over Indian affairs signalled that the “international community” had decided that Modi was acceptable, and that signal was meant for Indian consumption. After Modi’s victory, Obama called to congratulate him and invite him to the White House. A few years ago, the US government had refused to even let him enter the country.
Modi, who was once a chai-wala (tea seller), offers a populist rhetoric that combines appeals to Hindu chauvinism and people’s disgust with the corruption permeating the Indian government after the long dynastic rule of the Congress party run by the family of Indira Gandhi. To the rising Indian middle class he promises economic development and efficient administration, and to poor and lower caste Hindus the solace that at least they can be proud to be Hindu (Hinduvata – the superiority of the supposed Hindu “race”.) To India’s Muslim minority, he stands for exclusion and worse.
Whatever his humble origins, Modi has a long and dirty history. At an early age he became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a rightwing Hindu national chauvinist group that considers Hitler’s national socialism a model of how to build a united people and powerful nation. (During World War 2 Indian nationalists were split between those allied with the British colonists and others with the Axis powers.) The RSS’s aspirations to build a Hindu regime and unite India’s majority on the basis of the Hindu religion and tradition has often resulted in violent attacks on other religious communities. For instance, they consider Muslims not “true” Indians and want to get rid of them. The RSS’s ideology has been called Hindu fascism. By 1970 Modi became a full-time propagandist for the RSS and later was assigned to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With the party’s electoral victory in Gujarat, he became the state’s chief minister and ruled for 12 years until the present.
Some Hindus claim that underneath the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the city of Adodhya (built in 1527) lies a Hindu temple that was the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama in the 11th century. Vehement claims and counter-claims over the site went on between various Hindu and Muslim communities for years. In 1992, a rally of 150,000 Hindus was held at the mosque site. The mob was incited to take matters into their own hands and assert the supremacy of Lord Rama by tearing the mosque down to the ground. The resulting riots between Hindus and Muslims engulfed cities all over India, leading to the death of 2,000 people.
A decade later, 59 Hindu pilgrims burned to death when their train caught fire in the Gujarat town of Godha. Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, declared that it was an arson attack by terrorists, a codeword for Muslims. Some accused Pakistan of organizing it with the help of local Muslims. The press printed horrific but false stories of Muslims raping women. Coordinated attacks on the Muslim community began the next day.
According to a Human Rights Watch report issued in April 2002, ”A key state minister is reported to have taken over a police control room in Ahmedabad [Gujarat’s largest city] on the first day of the carnage, issuing directions not to rescue Muslims in danger of being killed…. Voter lists were also reportedly used to identify and target Muslim community members.”
A handful of people were found guilty of the murders that occurred during the riots. In August 2012, the BJP member and elected official Maya Kodnani was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for handing out swords to Hindus and instructing them to attack Muslims. In testimony admitted as part of the court proceedings that eventually led to her conviction, witnesses said, ”We women thought of going to police and telling the police as in the presence of police, the houses of Muslims were burnt, but the police told us ‘to go inside, it is doom’s day for Muslims.” (http://sanhati.com/articles/9734/#sthash.Ry8KQU0Z.dpuf)
In 2007, knowing she was under investigation, Modi made Kodnani a member of his cabinet, appointing her junior minister for women and child development. Modi and the BJP distanced themselves from her only after she was arrested in 2009.
One of Modi’s final acts before becoming prime minister was to make a pilgrimage to Varanasi (Benares), a holy city with great religious significance for Hindus. This was widely understood to
be a message of his continuing commitment to the Hindutva outlook.
The following are excerpts from two Amnesty International reports from 2007 and 2012 on the killings in Gujarat in 2002.
”India: Five years on – the bitter and uphill struggle for justice in Gujarat” (2007)
”Before but particularly after the communal violence in 2002, leaflets circulated by the ruling BJP in collaboration with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) [another Hindutva organization] called for a systematic economic boycott of Muslims. The leaflets circulated by the BJP and VHP urged Hindus not to buy from Muslims or to sell to them, not to use their services of any kind, not to employ them or be employed by them, with the clearly expressed objective to drive them from the state.
”The plight of those internally displaced from their homes as a result of the violence is a continuing one. As many as 5,000 families are living in ‘relief colonies’ without basic amenities or official recognition from the Government of Gujarat. The Government of Gujarat however continues to assert that all those displaced as a result of the violence have been rehabilitated.
”There is an ongoing practice of social and economic boycotting of Muslim communities in the state.
”Amnesty International remains concerned that the Gujarat government has failed to provide full or, in most instances, any, reparations to victims and their families, including restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition, in accordance with international standards.”
”India: Justice, the victim – Gujarat state fails to protect women from violence” (2012)
“A decade on from the Gujarat riots, an overwhelming majority of victims await justice in India
”A decade after the month-long outbreak of violence that resulted in the killing of at least 2,000 women, men and children, mostly Muslims, and the rape of significant numbers of women and girls, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, India’s authorities are yet to bring justice to the majority of victims, Amnesty International said today.
”The fact that more than 2,000 people can be murdered and the lives of thousands of others shattered in Gujarat with only a small number of the perpetrators brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice.
”In fact, investigation and trial processes have made headway only in a handful of cases, including the six major cases of mass killings which are being investigated by a special team under the direction of India’s Supreme Court ensuring protection for the witnesses, Amnesty International pointed out, adding that the Supreme Court should continue to monitor these cases and ensure justice for the victims.
”The special team, which was the only one to have probed allegations that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party played a key role in facilitating the riots, referred to his speeches as ‘sweeping and offensive’, but cited lack of evidence to proceed against him.
”Immediately after the riots, the Gujarat authorities cited lack of evidence to close 2,107 cases without giving the victims an opportunity to depose as per the law. Following this, a Supreme Court-appointed enquiry, in February 2006, directed the state authorities to reopen 1,594 of the cases; the victims lodged 13 fresh complaints and successive probes found that 41 police officials were involved in the riots, naming more than 600 persons as accused in various cases. However, the state authorities appointed members and supporters of extremist Hindu organizations as public prosecutors in an overwhelming number of cases, many of which did not lead to convictions given the communal bias of public prosecutors and members of the lower judiciary in Gujarat.
”Rape and sexual violence was perpetrated against large numbers of women and girls: accurate figures on the extent of gender-based violence including rape and sexual assault do not exist because many cases were not reported to the authorities. Teesta Setalvad of the Centre for Justice and Peace (CJP), who has been fighting several cases on behalf of the victims, informed Amnesty International that many of those victims who did report gender-related violence were yet to receive justice or compensation. A survey conducted by her organization also found that more than 19,000 persons whose houses were either burnt down or demolished during the riots were yet to receive compensation. Moreover, at least 21,000 persons are still in 19 transit relief camps awaiting relocation, but the state authorities were now claiming that the land on which the camps were set up belonged to the government and that they would have to vacate the camps, putting them under risk of forced evictions, she informed Amnesty International.
”For the relatives of the victims and survivors, this has been an excruciating process of being promised justice and watching India’s institutions break their promises again and again, Amnesty International said, adding that all those responsible for the killings and gender-based violence including rape must be brought to justice – whether they are political leaders, police or government officials. Amnesty International calls on the authorities to improve their response to victims of gender-based violence, including witness protection. The authorities should challenge the stigma and stereotyping affecting women and girl survivors of rape. These women and girls, and the family members of those killed, should be provided with full reparation: rehabilitation, restitution, compensation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition…”
From ”India: Five years on – the bitter and uphill struggle for justice in Gujarat,” AI Index: ASA 20/007/2007, 8 March 2007, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA20/007/2007/en
The report, ”India: Justice, the victim – Gujarat state fails to protect women from violence, AI Index: ASA 20/001/2005 can be found on Amnesty International’s website at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA200012005?open&of=ENG-IND
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India: Protests rise against jailing of G. N. Saibaba
26 May 2014. A World to Win News Service.India has seen a rising chorus of protests against the imprisonment of G. N. Saibaba, an associate professor of English at Delhi University and long-time activist in the Indian people’s movement.
A team of police in civilian clothing stopped his car on 9 May, as he was returning to his university residence for lunch after exam duty. Saibaba, 47, is 90 percent disabled and uses a wheelchair. He and his driver were blindfolded and hustled into an unmarked vehicle. He was immediately taken to the airport and flown to Nagpur in the state of Maharashtra, where he was brought before a court the next day.
Saibaba’s wife said that all she knew was that he suddenly disappeared shortly after calling her, and then his phone was turned off. The driver was not released until that evening. In the afternoon his wife received a phone call, but there was no official notification or word about his fate until he was presented in court the next day, after she filed a missing person report and outrage at his apparent disappearance had begun to mount. She accused the authorities of arresting him in this furtive manner to prevent anyone from notifying his lawyers before he could be taken to Nagur, where charges had been filed against him under the Illegal Activities Prevention Act for alleged contacts with a banned organization, the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Nagpur court ordered him held without bail for 14 days. As of 26 May, nothing has been said about his release. While he was in prison the police said in a press statement, “The Maoists have themselves given proof of Professor Saibaba’s Maoist links. They dropped some pamphlets near Jambia (Gatta) village condemning the arrest of the professor.” The District Superintendent of Police claimed that this made his links with the CPI(M) “clear”. According to the Hindustan Times, citing government sources, the police planned to oppose his release on bail because an alleged rural confrontation between police and guerrillas proved that he was “dangerous”, because, they claimed, it was “retaliation” for his arrest.
Many rights organizations, other groups and intellectuals such as Arundhati Roy have pointed out that with “evidence” like this, the Indian government could arrest anyone they want and hold them indefinitely – which has happened to many activists, charged not for their actions but their alleged associations. They consider Saibaba’s arrest an attempt to intimidate free speech, free association and free thought.
Indian and international legal organizations have denounced the Illegal Activities Prevention Act for the vagueness of its definitions of what is illegal and the arbitrariness of the arrests made under its provisions. People have been held for possessing literature of banned organizations. In Saibaba’s case, the authorities are presenting alleged actions by people other than the accused, which even occurred after his arrest, as “evidence” of ties to an organization they decided to outlaw. This whole package of measures makes it legal for the authorities to deny people’s rights whenever they deem it necessary.
Saibaba is the joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front and convener of the Forum against the War on the People, which opposes a government counterinsurgency campaign that has killed thousands of Adavasi (tribal people). He has organized fact-finding missions to look into state violence in rural areas.
He has been interrogated four times in the last year. In September 2013 police from Maharashtra raided his Delhi campus residence and seized computer hard drives, reading materials and electronic devices with the pretext of looking for stolen goods. They came back to his home to interrogate him for four or five hours when the charges first surfaced last January. Since then he notified the Nagpur police that he would be available for further questioning at his home or office.
In jail, Saibaba has threatened to go on hunger strike because the conditions make it impossible to use the toilet or take care of himself properly.
The Delhi Teachers Association released a statement strongly condemning “this arbitrary and illegal action by the police in connivance with the university authorities.” Following the arrest, Saibaba was suspended from his teaching position. Now and on previous occasions when he has faced repression he has had broad support from professors and students.
Demonstrations, meetings and other events in support of Saibaba have taken place in Delhi, Kolkota Bernala, Hyderabad, Maharashtra and New York.