Thursday, October 27, 2016

Regina Kreide - The silence of political liberalism

Europe is convulsed by terrorist attacks and surrounded by theatres of war. Refugees are dying at the external borders of the continent or being herded together in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, or – and this applies only to the very few – in countries in Europe. The financial crisis seems harmless in comparison: annoying but transient, like a cold.

The beautiful, peaceful world in which we have arranged our lives so comfortably is showing its repressed, violent side. Yet established political theory is silent – perplexed, incredulous, and helpless – in the face of these problems. Is this because the circumstances are beyond explanation? Or is there a problem with political theory itself? What has happened to the discipline that claims to be able to tell us about the legitimacy of political systems? To paraphrase Kant, is it dreaming the sweet dream of perpetual peace? In the following, I develop three theses in order to explain this silence. Before doing so, however, I will offer a brief sketch of recent key developments in political theory.

The end of history?

The history of political theory over the last three decades has been shaped in decisive ways by variants of liberal theory. It is no exaggeration to say that liberal theory, which draws in one way or another on classical predecessors, still sets the tone. Here, central importance is accorded to the foundation of civil liberties, whose function is to protect life, security and property. For example, the seventeenth-century liberalism of John Locke is shaped by the idea that human beings by nature find themselves in a condition of perfect freedom in which they do not depend on the will of others. Almost two centuries later, John Stuart Mill added the condition that, if freedom is restricted, then the burden of proof lies with those restricting, rather than those whose rights are being curtailed. 

Contemporary liberal thinkers such as Joel Feinberg, Stanley Benn and John Rawls also affirm – notwithstanding all other disagreements – a 'basic liberal principle': the freedom of all or, more precisely, the negative freedom of all, to exist without interference by other individuals or the state. This is the key normative premise of all liberal theories. The protection of life, property and freedom of opinion (Mill) are central; deviations from these fundamental principles, for example state coercion (taxes, conscription), must be justified. A main question for liberalism is thus whether and how it is possible to legitimize coercive and freedom-curtailing rule.

After the end of the Cold War, when many things pointed to a single world-order for all under the triumphant banner of liberal constitutionalism, democracy and a politically domesticated capitalism, liberalism seemed to have reached its goal. The concept of society of Soviet-style socialism had imploded without alternatives and from its ruins one could dimly see democratic societies taking shape that were already breathing the freedom of borderless capitalist exchange and cheap production.

Political theory was not unaffected by these historical developments. In 1999, Otfried Höffe wrote a widely acclaimed book on the transnationalization of democracy, while in the same John Rawls year extended his Theory of Justice(1971) from the national to the global level. Seldom had liberal theory and politics been so closely aligned. Even if some 'peoples' needed a bit more time and would have to be met halfway by the 'West' when it came to ideas about democracy and justice, it was assumed that all societies would in the long run develop in line with a liberal concept of freedom, rule of law and justice. Kant's dream of 'eternal peace', in which an interplay between national democracies and international law backed up by force would give rise to a process of democratic constitutionalization under the auspices of the United Nations, seemed on the brink of realization. Francis Fukuyama spoke of the 'end of history' while not long ago Samuel Moyn argued for a repoliticization of human rights as 'last utopia'.

In the meantime, however, the theoretical tools of liberalism appear hopelessly inadequate. Liberal values no longer count as desirable without qualification – far from it… read more:

Andrey Arkhangelsky - Murder in Moscow: Anna's legacy

On 7 October 2006, journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow. Ten years on, the battle to publish investigative journalism in Russia is still being lost.

When Polikovskaya died, there was speculation of government involvement, an international outcry and various posthumous awards for her investigative work. Yet in Russia there was no scandal, no mass protests. She was mostly deemed a "crazy loner", one of a very rare breed of reporters who believed in press independence.

A decade later, we have a better understanding of Politkovskaya's significance for Russian journalism. Like many of her generation, she was a product of the perestroika years of 1985-91, and remained faithful to its ideals in the years that followed, when a majority of her colleagues "tired of freedom". In the twenty-five years after perestroika, neither freedom of speech nor other political freedoms have been much prized by the majority of citizens of this new Russia.

In the 2000s, Politkovskaya's stance was regarded as extreme. Who was there to fight against anyway? For what? The years of plenty were at their peak. Sooner or later economics would win and everything would sort itself out. Even liberals believed that.

It is important to understand the tradition to which Anna belonged. For her, being a journalist meant serving society, a tradition of self-sacrifice dating back to the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia. In the Soviet period, this tradition was inherited by dissidents. In Russia, the line between journalism and social activism remains blurred, and not because Russian journalists are unprofessional, but because independence of the press has remained the ideal of rare characters such as Politkovskaya. There is no long-standing tradition of media independence. Each generation of journalists instinctively chooses between fusing completely with the state, which means producing propaganda and giving loyal support, or remaining steadfastly professional and inwardly dissident. Working as a journalist in Russia is not so much pursuing a profession as living an ethical, existential choice.

Politkovskaya worked as an investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta. Founded in 1994, Novaya Gazeta is probably the only publication that has consistently practised investigative journalism from the outset. Since 2000, more journalists and staff from Novaya Gazeta have been murdered than from any other publication: Yury Schekochikhin, Igor Domnikov, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov, Natalia Estemirova and others. The Russian-language New Times magazine, edited by Yevgenia Albats, also remains true to the investigative genre, as did, until recently, the media group RBC. From 2014, RBC published a succession of high-profile investigations into the activities of major companies, top-ranking Kremlin officials and their relatives. But, on 13 May 2016, the group's editor Yelizaveta Osetinskaya and others were fired after reports of Kremlin pressure on the group's holding company Onexim and RBC's management.

Investigative journalism had already disappeared from other publications. It is expensive as well as dangerous. Investigation is labour-intensive, it calls for a large team and takes a lot of time. The speed of modern media obliges editors to churn out instant copy. That, however, is not the main reason why there are so few investigations in the Russian media. And the disbanding of the top team at RBC after it launched a series of investigations into senior state officials sent a signal to other media.

However, most resonant investigations of recent years have not been the work of journalists, but of politicians of one kind or another. The flagship of investigative journalism in Russia remains the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), a non-profit organization created in 2011 by the opposition activist Alexey Navalny. It conducts the most high-profile investigations of corrupt senior officials, and they are carried out by a highly professional investigative team of 20 to 30 lawyers, specialists and volunteers.

Similarly, the first person to write in 2014 about the secret funerals of Russian paratroopers when the military conflict in the Donbass region was escalating was Lev Shlosberg. Although Shlosberg publishes Pskovskaya Gazeta, he is primarily a politician. We can also classify as journalistic investigative reporting, the 2008 document, "Putin: The Results – An Independent Expert Report" written by opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov. The report described President Putin's abuse of power and widespread corruption in government.

The paradox is that, in Russia today, no amount of scandalous revelations of corruption at the highest level sways public opinion. For most people, the findings remain unknown, because 80 per cent of the population get their news only from television. TV aside, the most popular form of journalism in Russia today is the topical opinion column… 
read more: 

MARIA POPOVA - How Lise Meitner Discovered Nuclear Fission, Paved the Way for Women in Science, and Was Denied the Nobel Prize

How Pioneering Physicist Lise Meitner Discovered Nuclear Fission, Paved the Way for Women in Science, and Was Denied the Nobel Prize

As her career was taking off, the Nazis began usurping Europe... In 1938, just as the three scientists were performing their most visionary experiments, Nazi troops marched into Austria. Meitner refused to hide her Jewish heritage. Her only remaining option was to leave, but the Nazis had already put anti-Semitic laws in place prohibiting university professors from exiting the country. On July 13, with the help of Hahn and a few other scientist friends, Meitner made a narrow escape across the Dutch border. From Holland, she migrated to Denmark, where she stayed with her friend Niels Bohr. She finally found a permanent home at the Nobel Institute for Physics in Sweden. (Three centuries earlier, Descartes, supreme champion of reason, had also fled to Sweden to avoid the Inquisition after witnessing the trial of Galileo.)

In the fall of 1946, a South African little girl aspiring to be a scientist wrote to Einstein and ended her letter with a self-conscious entreatment: “I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!” Einstein responded with words of assuring wisdom that resonate to this day: “I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.”
And yet reasons don’t always come from reason. The history of science, like the history of the world itself, is the history of unreasonable asymmetries of power, the suppressive consequences of which have meant that the comparatively few women who rose to the top of their respective field did so due to inordinate brilliance and tenacity.

Among the most outstanding yet under-celebrated of these pioneering women is the Austrian physicist Lise Meitner (November 7, 1878–October 27, 1968), who led the team that discovered nuclear fission but was excluded from the Nobel Prize for the discovery, and whose story I first encountered in Alan Lightman’s illuminating 1990 book The Discoveries. This diminutive Jewish woman, who had barely saved her own life from the Nazis, was heralded by Einstein as the Marie Curie of the German-speaking world. She is the subject of the excellent biography Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (public library) by chemist, science historian, and Guggenheim fellow Ruth Lewin Sime.

In in Vienna a little more than a year after pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science across the Atlantic, admonished the first class of female astronomers: “No woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be?” Although Meitner showed a gift for mathematics from an early age, there was little correlation between aptitude and opportunity for women in 19th-century Europe. At the end of her long life, she would recount, not bitterly but wistfully:

Thinking back to … the time of my youth, one realizes with some astonishment how many problems then existed in the lives of ordinary young girls, which now seem almost unimaginable. Among the most difficult of these problems was the possibility of normal intellectual training.

Sime herself, who spent decades as the only woman at her university department, captures the broader cultural necessity of telling Meitner’s story: “I was known as the woman the all-male chemistry department did not want to hire; under such circumstances one becomes, and remains, a feminist.” She writes of Meitner’s Sisyphean rise to stature:

Her schooling in Vienna ended when she was fourteen, but a few years later, the university admitted women, and she studied physics under the charismatic Ludwig Boltzmann. As a young woman she went to Berlin without the slightest prospects for a future in physics, but again she was fortunate, finding a mentor and friend in Max Planck and a collaborator in Otto Hahn, a chemist just her age. Together Meitner and Hahn made names for themselves in radioactivity, and then in the 1920s Meitner went on, independent of Hahn, into nuclear physics, an emerging field in which she was a pioneer. In the Berlin physics community she was, as Einstein liked to say, “our Marie Curie”; among physicists everywhere, she was regarded as one of the great experimentalists of her day… The painfully shy young woman had become an assertive professor — “short, dark, and bossy,” her nephew would tease — and although at times she was haunted by the insecurity of her youth, she never doubted that physics was worth it…read more:
More on nuclear issues

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cold war 2.0: how Russia and the west reheated a historic struggle

Warnings of a return to cold war politics have been a staple of European debate for three years, but in recent weeks many western diplomats, politicians and analysts have come to believe the spring has indeed been released. Russia is being reassessed across western capitals. The talk is no longer of transition to a liberal democracy, but regression.
The post-cold war era is over, and a new era has begun. Cold war 2.0, different in character, but potentially as menacing and founded not just on competing interests but competing values. The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said: “The reality is that behind the appearance of consensus … a form of world disorder took hold. We are now paying the price for that error of assessment that gave westerners a feeling of comfort for two decades”....

...the former head of MI6, warned: “We are moving into an era that is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, as the cold war because we do not have that focus on a strategic relationship between Moscow and Washington.” But unlike the cold war, there are now “no clear rules of the road” between the two countries.The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an advocate of dialogue, made the same point: “It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the cold war. The current times are different and more dangerous.”

The reasons for all this anxiety are not hard to find. The accumulation of recent Russian provocations is daunting. The hybrid frozen war in Ukraine and the bombardment of Aleppo in Syria, revealing a determination to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, top the list.

Add to that Putin’s sudden scrapping of a 20-year-old US-Russian agreement to reprocess excess plutonium to prevent its use in nuclear weapons. He also deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in eastern Europe, unnerving Nato members Poland and Lithuania. He moved advanced S-300 and S-400 ground-to-air missiles, and radar into Syria in a sign that he now regards the country as his preserve, and can see off any plan for a Turkish or American no-fly zone. In a display of military reach he dispatched the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, and its taskforce, to the waters off Syria so its SU-30s and MiG-29 aircrafts can drop yet more bombs on Syria.

He even raised the spectre of the Cuban missile crisis by saying he was considering reopening military bases in Cuba and Vietnam, a move calculated to unnerve US public opinion. At the same time, Putin is trying to challenge western diplomatic alliances – notably with Turkey, Egypt, China and Libya. All the while he experiments with new techniques – the unprecedented use of cyber warfare, including the hacking of Democratic politicians’ emails, and wider use of information wars to destabilise the Baltics or fund parties of the right in eastern Europe. The only common factor, apart from the aggression, is his unpredictability, adding to Putin’s self-image as a master of political intrigue.

.... Many acknowledge the west must take its share of the blame for the collapse of relations. The mistakes are real, notably the scale of Nato expansion to the east and in the Baltics. Russia also feels deeply that it was duped into accepting a UN resolution criticising Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, only to find it was used as cover for regime change. Hillary Clinton, then at the State Department, did little to mange the Russians. Russia has not voted for humanitarian action at the UN since.... read more:

Monday, October 24, 2016

MOEED YUSUF - Sri Lanka realises that ending a war doesn’t equal peace

OF late, I have been studying Sri Lanka’s war experience. The country has fascinated students of comparative politics like me as it defies virtually all conventional wisdom about peace and conflict within societies.

Unlike the rest of South Asia, it checks several boxes typically associated with relatively peaceful outcomes for nations. It boasts a 90-plus per cent literacy rate. It is now formally a middle-income country — even when it wasn’t, it didn’t suffer from the kind of abject poverty typical of South Asia. Also, Sri Lanka has an aging population. The worry about scores of youth floating idly and turning to bad things wasn’t as pertinent, at least on paper.

Finally, the country’s majority is Buddhist — a pacifist religion at its core. Yet, it experienced brutal violence lasting decades. The LTTE-inspired insurgency introduced suicide bombing to the modern world and killed thousands. Less known but equally violent insurrections took place in the south of the country.

Sri Lanka’s experience throws out any number of lessons for peer countries, including Pakistan.
First, as significant as the conversation about quantity and quality of education is, Sri Lanka’s experience highlights a slightly different dimension: the bureaucracy and management of the education sector. The Sri Lankan education sector has produced three siloed youth cohorts by running parallel school systems catering to Sinhala, Tamil, and English-speaking kids. This represents both a linguistic and an ethnic faultline: the majority-Buddhist Sinhala who have ruled Sri Lanka since its independence vs the Tamil minority (mostly Hindus) who feel discriminated against by the Sinhala vs the English-speaking urban (mostly Colombo) elite.

The result is that most of Sri Lanka’s young are mono-lingual and have grown up within their respective echo chambers. The literacy rate is combined with inherently polarised mindsets that live off stereotypes about the ‘other’, with no opportunity to form more informed opinions by interacting across these divides.

Second, hardly any other case provides a more obvious correlation between the politicisation of religion and its direct effect on societal discord and violence. As if Buddhism’s pacifist nature didn’t matter, Sri Lankan governments linked Sinhala nationalist chauvinism with a ‘Buddhism under siege’ mentality. Soon, it was none other than the Buddhist clergy leading the charge, justifying an anti-minority rhetoric, even violence, through scripture. Political violence was made holy, in a way not much different than much of the Muslim world.

Third, Sri Lanka provides an interesting insight into the socioeconomics and violence connection. Literature on the link between poverty and extremist violence is split, with most prominent voices still holding out on accepting a strong correlation. Yet, when one interacts with policy practitioners involved in counterterrorism in developing countries, one recognises their conviction that poverty is the number one driver of extremist violence.

In Sri Lanka’s case, absolute deprivation was lower than several other peer counties. But the island had serious disparities across its geographical regions, and its minority Tamil and Muslim communities harboured a sense of collective deprivation compared to the Sinhala-majority parts. It wasn’t as much about individual poverty and helplessness as it was about young men and women from minority communities feeling relatively deprived vis-à-vis the majority on behalf of their communities.

Finally, Sri Lanka is realising that ending a war doesn’t equal peace. It only represents a window of opportunity to begin to address the above-mentioned and many other deeper structural problems that caused the war in the first place.

Here is another fascinating reality. As I exa­mine comparable cases, these trends quickly emerge as common themes across countries, including in South Asia. Pakistan is no exception. Our debates and solutions on education still tend to be more conventional than not. Lost amidst all the worries about extremist mindsets is the stratification of the education system and the acute disdain youth from across the elite private vs public vs madressah schools tend to have for each other.

Never do children from across these systems interact constructively with one another. The focus is on Islam’s role in statecraft rather than on calling out the gross misuse of religious dialect for an ultra-nationalist agenda. The question is how to get the majority to stop using faith as a tool to impose its will on the minority. It’s the same for us, the same for Sri Lanka, and the same for any other country with this problem.

Next, we need to examine the sense of collective deprivation across societal fault lines rather than only seeing these as anti-patriotic, externally inspired law-and-order problems. Finally, we must recognise that while we have done fairly well in terms of cutting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan to size militarily, it is the performance on the non-kinetic aspects of the National Action Plan that will determine whether or not Pakistan can achieve sustainable peace.

Terror and confusion by KHURRAM HUSAIN

.... And this story, of confusion and colliding narratives and asinine interventions to try and hijack the visceral sentiments unleashed by such a tragedy towards overtly political purposes, has been continuing for well over a decade now. After every strike, the same litany of statements pours forth  - ‘we will not allow terrorists to succeed’ and ‘all institutions of the state will give a coordinated response’ etc.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things first before connecting any dots. The terrorists are not asking anyone’s permission to proceed. The state should have awakened to its obligations to secure the population more than a decade ago. And if any external agencies are using the terrorists to attack Pakistan, they are spoiled for choice when it comes to militant groups to use for the purpose, given that the state in Pakistan has been in the business of creating and harbouring militant groups for many years now.

It is natural for confusion to prevail in the aftermath of such an attack. But instead of connecting dots that don’t exist and pointing fingers in every direction, the first order of business should be to study the site of the attack and find out, empirically and verifiably, who exactly sent the attackers and who 
ordered the hit. Those who do not have the evidence on this front should refrain from surmising.

But here’s the biggest thing: to win this war we have to stop lying to ourselves about why we are in it in the first place. The Americans were told a big lie by their leadership in the aftermath of 9/11 when they asked ‘why do they hate us?’ They were told that the terrorists hate American values and freedom. That wasn’t true. What the American public were never told was all the things their military and intelligence agencies had been up to in their name over the decades. And that lie ate out their mission from day one, initially by making them arrogant, and later by sapping their morale.

Likewise, the Pakistani public is unaware of what all has been done by their own state in their name, and so long as that lie relating to the nexus between the security establishment and the militant underground is left unacknowledged, they will continue to flock to ignorant and sham narratives following each attack. The terrorist threat is distilled reality. It exists independent of our will and volition, and cannot be wished away nor can it be defeated with delusions and lies. A decade into this war, and we’re still scratching our heads… read the full article:

For dignity in life and death - JAWED NAQVI

Liberal ideologues were bound hand and foot as the states pursued their faith-based route to social control.

A NEWS story from Sweden has rekindled what was a mere fading hope for fair play. This may interest atheists in the subcontinent as elsewhere. According to the story highlighted in leading British newspapers, a graveyard free of any religious symbols has been opened in Sweden to cater to the country’s growing number of atheists. In a world brought to its knees by its religious preferences it is a bold step. For the reviled tribe of cynics, it should be a welcome departure from the daily setbacks.

Earlier, I wrote about a rare TV channel that opened in the United States. Atheists run it and propagate their creed. Among other issues they discuss the possibility without ramming it down anyone’s throat that we may have evolved from apes. However, both sides eventually benefit from debating faith and doubt. The fact is that modern atheists have evolved from major or minor religions although Hinduism claims the oldest tradition as questioners. In India, charavakas questioned the Vedic order thousands of years ago. This would not be very different today, but state-backed religious revivalism in India and Pakistan browbeats discussion into forced submission.

In the United States where McCarthyism hunted communists, they didn’t spare atheists either though not all of them are Marxists. The wheel has turned full circle, or thereabout. ‘In God we trust’ still continues to be the legend on the dollar bill as advocated by the founding fathers but the constitution resolutely protects everyone’s right to free speech and belief. It offers equal protection to America’s atheists, be they Jews or Gentiles in origin, and that’s laudable.

By contrast, similar clusters in India and Pakistan live in a state of mortal threat. A group of atheists from different corners of India planned a conclave in Mathura the other day. Hindutva groups loyal to the right-wing government together with members of the Muslim clergy opposed the meeting. This the two often do to jointly throttle debate.

India’s constitution, drafted by an entrenched critic of organised religion, however, gives MPs the choice to take their oath of office in the name of God or to ‘solemnly pledge’ allegiance to their new office. I am not exactly familiar with the larger provisions for atheists in India but my surmise is that they have equal rights with those with beliefs. Things are changing, however.

On what grounds was the Mathura conclave subverted? Apparently the police threw up their hands citing threats from the muscular religious opponents. But isn’t this how the various Senas and Lashkars are shored up on both sides of the border, in a not-so-secret pact with the state? The police told the Mathura organisers to hold their meeting but not come for help if they were attacked

Consider the flip side. In India, the army protects an annual Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir. Anyone who opposes the Amarnath pilgrimage — even though the annual melee of devotees takes a toll on the fragile Himalayan ecology — must confront the best-trained coercive arm of the Indian state.

To keep a balance of social control, the Indian state runs the only system in the world that subsidises Muslim citizens who go to Haj. Also the foreign ministry fetches Chinese visas for the pilgrimage to Lord Shiva in Tibet. And when the fruits of religious fervour turn toxic, as they did in Punjab, the state strains the limits of its secular army to destroy religious aberrations it foisted for political gain. 

A million dubious apologies follow but there’s no such luck for the sceptics. From the little that I know there does not appear to be a Haj subsidy in Pakistan. The official airline arranges to fly out pilgrims for a fee and brings them back.

Lofty liberal promises the two countries made to their people on independence were bartered away to religious groups, sooner in Pakistan and slowly but steadily in India. Liberal ideologues were bound hand and foot as the states pursued their faith-based route to social control.

The state of play overrides the fact that undivided India inherited a tradition of atheism, older than most other civilisations. The charavakas or nastiks, as Brahmins called them with derision thousands of years ago, confronted a stubborn clergy with logic and reason. (They would convince Prime Minister Modi that ancient India did not discover plastic surgery.)

Three shining stars of this Indian tradition of questioning and debate were murdered in a deliberately violent campaign in recent years by Hindutva partisans. Many others have been silenced or marginalised by the state and its religiously inspired mobs. Atheists in Pakistan — they exist and I have met a few — lead an equally precarious life. The clergy keeps them in a state of fear not without help from dubious leaders who started out as liberals.

The late Jaun Eliya, in the tradition of fine Urdu poets, including those fighting pitched battles in Pakistan, poured acid on the state of affairs. Hum wo hain jo khuda ko bhool gae/Tu meri jaan kis gumaan mein hai? (True, we are those that forgot God/So what is the illusion that you applaud?)

We do not know if Jaun Eliya was an atheist or a polemicist. For his verses, according to the orthodoxy, he should burn in hell. Let’s assume he was prepared for that. Can we let him be? Safdar Hashmi and Zohra Sehgal among others asked to be cremated, not buried. It helped them dodge religious ritual in death as they had done in life.

Sweden’s idea of a cemetery, bereft of religious or nationalist symbols, thus extends the choice for everyone to go with the dignity with which they had lived. Whatever happens in the hereafter, if anything should happen, should be no one else’s business.

see also
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Appeal to Friends of Himalaya - "National River Now a National Guilt" - a film on the upstream path of the Ganga // Antibiotic waste is polluting India and China's rivers; big pharma must act

Dear All Friends of Himalaya,
This good morning brought me the film on Ganga sent by Mallika Bhanot. Thanks to her and Congratulations to the team who made this film. Any body who uses eyes and mind will support this
cause. Politicians are all alike. They can sell anything and everything belonging to people of India. But the associated cultural organisations, who are supporting the cruel and criminal politics in India are equally responsible for this. This is not the question of Ganga only, this is the question of all resources of the land.

A small fact can be revised. The length of the Tehri reservoir may be more than 70 kms in Bhagirathi and Bhilangana valleys. You can also give the circumference of the lake and total weight of the water. The 'RIS' and 'Siesmic Gap' factors can be mentioned. The 2013 calamity also needs to be clarified that it was pan Uttarakhandi and even beyond the rivers of this state as the far far west Nepal and eastern Himachal- Baspa and Sutlaj valleys- were also destroyed in 2013.

I am forwarding the film to you all and you can further forward it to friends,

Shekhar Pathak
Formerly Professor of History, Kumaon University, Nainital;
Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi;
Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and Editor, PAHAR,
Village Pathqura (Nakud)
Post Office- Gangolihat
District Pithoragarh

Namaskaar Sir,
Hope you are well. I am participating in this campaign for the conservation of the upstream path of the Ganga and her tributaries. I am sharing the details so that you can also participate and get others to register their protest as well. These are the links to a  documentary called "National River Now a National Guilt".

Hindi :

On one hand tall claims are being made where Ganga is referred to as our cultural and civilizational identity while on the other hand, systematic destruction of the river in the origin valley is being
promoted by subverting the truth and suppressing the reports. This documentary is unraveling the truth behind the systematic destruction of what little remains of the Ganga and is an appeal to protest
against this in order to protect and preserve the last pristine stretches of our heritage.

In the documentary, there is a last section on "Concerned citizens" where names have to be added of whoever wishes to participate in this expose campaign which brings about the falsehood of the current government with regards to conservation of the Ganga.

Please share this documentary privately with your friends or show it to groups of people and motivate people to participate in this campaign and they can either give their names to you or email the same
to: The same email address can be used in case more information or details are required by anyone.

We need to register our protest or else Ganga - now National River will soon be an extinct river.
I sincerely hope that you will participate and help in the campaign.

Many thanks

Ganga Ahvaan

Antibiotic waste is polluting India and China's rivers; big pharma must act
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are a fundamental threat to global health, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon recently told a general assembly meeting. Failure to address the problem, he said, would make it “difficult if not impossible” to provide universal healthcare, “and it will put the sustainable development goals in jeopardy”. 

For pharmaceutical companies the attention on antimicrobial resistance has also brought a focus on one of its key drivers: the unabated environmental pollution of drug factories in developing countries.
In India and China, where a large proportion of antibiotics are produced, the poorly regulated discharge of untreated wastewater into soils and rivers is causing the spread of antibiotic ingredients which cause bacteria to develop immunity to antibiotics, creating superbugs.

study of drug factories in China found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding. For every bacterium that entered one waste treatment plant, four or five antibiotic-resistant bacteria were released into the water system, tainting water, livestock and communities. Superbugs are able to travel quickly through air and water, aboard airplanes and through global food supply chains. By 2050, the total death toll worldwide as the result of contracting an infection that proves resistant to treatment is expected to reach 10 million people (pdf).

Environmental pollution is now a material issue for the pharmaceuticals sector. Global investors such as Nordea and BNP Paribas have raised concern about the potential damage to global health and environment, and are worried that a local factory pollution scandal in India could affect the value of a global pharma company in their portfolio. As the world goes on a global quest to combat antimicrobial resistance, the focus on industry pollution will continue grow.

Last month 13 pharmaceutical companies signed a declaration (pdf) calling for collective action on antimicrobial resistance… Read more

Apoorvanand - The surgical strikes on Teesta Setalvad continue with the Bari report, and we should all be ashamed

NB: A vindictive dispensation that - as recently as the Bihar elections last year - was pulled up by the Election Commission for objectionable propaganda, is now threatening anti-communal activists for spreading disharmony. This is enough to make George Orwell turn in his grave. The fabricators of these wild allegations have gone overboard in their desire to please the Sangh Parivar. All of us have not lost our minds, nor has the Union of India become a fiefdom of the RSS with one election. Lovers of democracy should resist this travesty of justice and truth - DS
Teesta Setalvad is under attack again. This time, it has come in the form of a report by a committee set up in March by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development to look into allegations that Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand misused a grant given to the Sabrang Trust, which they run, under the central government’s flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, an education programme.
The report should alarm and shame all of us, especially those in academia, because the committee that wrote the report was headed by Professor Syed A Bari, Vice Chancellor of the Central University of Gujarat.

The committee holds Setalvad “culpable for hatred-filled, disharmony-spreading, ill-will generating, enmity-creating explosive writings”, and says that there is a case against her under Sections 153 A and 153 B of the Indian Penal Code. These sections relate to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, indulging in acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, and making imputations or assertions prejudicial to national integration – and are punishable with jail terms and fines. The committee was formed to look into how the Sabrang Trust utilised a nearly Rs 2 crore grant released by the Manmohan Singh-led government.

Promoting secular values: Setalvad, who has achieved national prominence for helping victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots pursue their legal quest for justice, heads the Sabrang Trust, whose main activity is to prepare and publish educational material. The Trust publishes a monthly magazine, Communalism Combat, which has been an important source of information for secular activists, and also runs a creative educational programme called Khoj.

One of the main objectives of school education in a diverse country like India is to help its young inculcate a secular outlook. This necessarily involves critically examining our country’s past and present and making an informed decision about our role in forming an active, secular citizenship. All India’s policy documents related to school education, ranging from the Radhakrishnan Commission (1948) to the Mudaliar Commission (1952-’53), Kothari Commission (1964-’66) and the National Policy on Education of 1986 state this explicitly. The latest document is the National Curriculum Framework (2005), which this government still adheres to if we go by its statements in Parliament. The 2005 document also reiterates what its predecessors have set forth.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development made a grant to the Sabrang Trust to prepare educational material to promote secular values, especially in slum areas. Promotion of secularism also means combating communal prejudices and ideas. It was this work by the Sabrang Trust that the Bari Committee examined. The learned members of the committee concluded that what the Trust was doing could not be called education. On the contrary, the committee concluded that Setalvad, through her work, was creating and spreading hate.

Doing Gandhi's work: Setalvad spreading hate is akin to Mahatma Gandhi asking Indians to take up arms. For Setalvad’s mission is only a continuation of what Gandhi was busy doing, especially in the last phase of his life – creating a secular India by assuring its minorities that they would have dignified equal status in a nation where Hindus comprise the largest religious group.

However, a section of Hindus did not like what Gandhi was doing. Gandhi sought from them not only empathy for Muslims but also justice. Since Gandhi would not stop in his audacious endeavour, he had to be killed. It is this mindset that also believes that Teesta Setalvad must be stopped.

To disable Setalvad, the government of Gujarat, headed by the man who now heads the central government, filed criminal cases against her, charging her with misuse and embezzlement of funds collected for the victims of the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat. It has been a vicious campaign. When the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre in 2014, it became ferocious. Central government agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation were used to raid her office in Mumbai. The Sabrang Trust's bank accounts were frozen. A malicious media campaign was unleashed to defame Setalvad. The intent was to somehow get her arrested. Fortunately, the courts have not allowed that.

Justice must be paramount: A free Setalvad is dangerous for those who oppose the idea of a secular India. She was at the forefront of efforts that encouraged several victims of the 2002 violence to come out and stand firm in court despite a hostile government. The courts were persuaded to move some of the crucial cases outside Gujarat.

It's all very well to speak about communal harmony, but to make it substantive, the element of justice has to be foregrounded. Political parties and local administrations have the ability to hold peace marches after each incident of communal violence. But in such incidents, people get killed, their property is destroyed and they are displaced from their habitats. Rarely do these institutions ensure that justice is done in such cases.

Gandhi was faced with this question in the bloody days of 1946 and 1947. He was not ambiguous. He did not say that we should forget and forgive and move on. He said that the law must take its course in such matters and there was no question of general amnesty for the perpetrators of violence – criminal cases should not be closed and justice must be done.

It was his insistence on justice that became the cause of Gandhi’s death. It is Setalvad’s intervention to secure justice for wronged Muslims that has made her an object of hate for those who have pursued the culture and politics of majoritarianism. For them, what makes her dangerous is her consistency, perseverance and rigour. She has not lost her focus in her fight against communalism.

Friend of minorities: When reporting on Setalvad, the media describes her as an activist and the head of a Non-Governmental Organisation, both entities that are generally viewed with suspicion in our society. People like Teesta Setalvad are viewed with suspicion because they keep the state and society constantly aware of the unfinished task of secularising the nation. It involves reminding us of the rights of the minorities. Setalvad and people like her do what our state and educational institutions should be doing. She tries to record and document each case of the lapse of the state in matters related to the principle of secularism.

We are living in times when Muslims in India feel deserted by the political class in general. They feel friendless. The ruling party wants this feeling to spread. Many members of minority communities, especially Muslims, see an unwavering friend in Setalvad. As a consequence, proponents of majoritarianism see her as somebody who needs to be neutralised through some surgical action. The Bari report appears to be part of this plan.

It is sad that Setalvad has been left to fend for herself in this unequal fight against a state machinery that has scant regard for our foundational constitutional principles. These are not ordinary times. We need constant vigil and extraordinary courage to keep secularism alive. Setalvad is doing exactly that. She is facing the consequences. But what future generations will remember is the silence of the elite – who have benefited most from our secular Constitution – when one of them was being persecuted for not letting institutions of the state forget the Constitution’s promises to minorities.

see also
In the centre of the counter revolution stood the judiciary. Unlike administrative acts, which rest on considerations of convenience and expediency, judicial decisions rest on law, that is on right and wrong, and they always enjoy the limelight of publicity. Law is perhaps the most pernicious of all weapons in political struggles, precisely because of the halo that surrounds the concepts of right and justice.. Franz Neumann, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism  p 27
The law of killing: a brief history of Indian fascism
The full, 11,350-word text of Neha Dixit's five-part investigation "Operation #BabyLift" on how the Sangh Parivar flouted every Indian and international law on child right to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Deeptiman Tiwary - IAS officers gather to discuss the ‘changing environment’ at work

AN estimated 80 IAS officers Saturday expressed concern over the “changing environment” in governance — from the focus on quicker decision-making but no safeguards for those making the decisions, to scrutiny by the CBI and CVC, and a sense of insecurity among officers.

In the backdrop of the suspension of Home Ministry Joint Secretary G K Dwivedi, and former coal secretary H C Gupta expressing his willingness to go to jail rather than defend himself in the coal scam case, the IAS officers held a round-table meeting here to discuss various issues.

The meeting, which was attended by IAS officers from across the country, batches and cadres, saw serving and retired bureaucrats express concern over the “changing environment”, although, according to sources, it was not clear what change was being referred to.

According to sources present at the meeting, during discussions on ensuring decisions are free, fair and taken without any pressure, one serving officer said every bureaucrat is forced to think about how the CBI and CVC may view the decisions in future. This was seen as an impediment to quick decision-making, which was another issue of discussion.

Another officer said that while the focus is on quicker decision-making, there are no safeguards to protect bureaucrats. An officer pointed out that there was a lot of uncertainty and insecurity among bureaucrats, and many don’t know how to deal with the situation. Some others voiced their fears and highlighted the challenges under the new regime and the changing contours of governance in the country.

“Issues related to Prevention of Corruption Act and sanction for prosecution were discussed. The point was how to ensure bold decision-making. It is important to protect bureaucrats who have taken a decision in good faith. Section 13 of PCA was discussed in this context. It is the only Act in which mens rea is not applicable. It is a pre-liberalisation Act where private sector had little role. Today, every decision by a bureaucrat is going to benefit some private firm. By that logic, all bureaucrats will be in jail,” IAS Association (Central) Secretary Sanjay Bhoosreddy told The Sunday Express.

Section 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) makes any civil servant criminally liable if his act leads to pecuniary benefit to anyone and is deemed to be not in “public interest”.
Bureaucrats had raised this issue last year at a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had assured them that the government was looking at the Law Commission’s recommendations on amendments to PCA.

Following the suspension of G K Dwivedi, after the renewal of FCRA licence of an NGO run by controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, all joint secretaries in the Home Ministry met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to register their protest, even as IAS officers made a representation to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) seeking immediate revocation of the suspension. The suspension has now been revoked, and Dwivedi is awaiting his posting.

In the case of former coal secretary H C Gupta, IAS officers argued that corruption trial should not be opened against a bureaucrat unless there is clear evidence of pecuniary gain. The meeting today discussed four key issues: “Evolving role of the IAS in the context of changing governance requirements”, “ensuring bold and proactive, free and fair decision-making by officers”, “leadership of the IAS in the governance structure”, and “developing human capital in the IAS”.

Under these heads, sources said, issues related to state governments stalling the career growth of IAS officers by not issuing NOCs for central deputation, and a pan-India service like IAS serving as a state service was also discussed.

The meeting also discussed the relationship between the IAS and other services. “It was discussed and we decided that we are the premier service and we have leadership. But this means carrying along everyone. We have to behave like an elder brother and not like father,” said Bhoosreddy.

Interestingly, IPS officers, who had locked horns with the IAS officers on issues of parity in service, also held their general body meeting on Saturday. This meeting again raised the issue of parity in empanelment, posting and pay scale with IAS. “The elder brother-younger brother relationship has turned into master-servant relationship. That is why we are seeking parity,” said a UP cadre officer who attended the meeting.

The IAS meeting, Bhoosreddy said, also agreed to be in favour of lateral entry into the service. However, the officers insisted that there should be a proper procedure laid down for inducting experts from the private sector, and it should not be discretionary. The bureaucrats also decided to develop a database, based on which they would rank all states on governance and administrative parameters every year to ensure accountability of both the political and bureaucratic dispensation in every state.
Other topics that were discussed included the “need for safety nets and redressal mechanisms”, “ensuring stability of tenure and preventing witch-hunting”, “need for balancing generalist with specialised skills”, “safeguarding apex level positions (CS, DM etc)”, “retaining the edge of the IAS” and “performance-based incentives and disincentives”.

Army uneasy with politics over KJo film, officers say forced donations not okay / Former Air Vice Marshal slams Raj Thackeray’s 5 Cr ‘penalty

NB : The MNS and its clones want to make the armed forces as well as society at large complicit in their mafia-like activities. Its a good sign that senior retired officers have called their bluff - DS

“If something is wrong, it is wrong. How can a forced donation of Rs 5 crore make it right? But the bottom line is the army’s name should not be misused for political gain.." “If the producers have been arm-twisted into paying the money, there’s no way the army will accept it” 

The army is not comfortable with being dragged into the politics surrounding the release of Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) demanded that producers of films employing Pakistanis have to pay Rs 5 core to an army welfare fund as “penance”.
Several serving and retired officers Hindustan Times spoke to said the army was an “apolitical and secular” organisation and attempts should not be made to exploit its name for scoring political brownie points.

Former northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal said, “The army doesn’t go around begging for funds. If a film producer wants to donate, he can do it like any other Indian citizen. But it’s unacceptable in such a manner.” Jaswal added that the government should have the last word if the matter is too sensitive. “Let’s keep the army out of politics. We have stayed that way and would like to stay that way.”

Karan Johar’s movie is finally set for a Diwali release after MNS president Raj Thackeray rolled back his threat to block the film. The climbdown came after the assurance that a share of the film’s profits would be donated for the welfare of army personnel. The MNS also demanded that producers of movies employing Pakistanis pay Rs 5 crore each while the Producers Guild of India promised not to hire Pakistanis any longer.

The Sena began its protests more than three weeks ago after 19 soldiers were killed in a militant attack in Jammu and Kashmir last month. India blames Pakistan for sheltering these militants and even used diplomatic avenues to isolate the country over the matter. The MNS’ conditions, which were agreed upon in a meeting between filmmaker Karan Johar, Producers Guild of India president Mukesh Bhatt and Maharshtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday, went viral on social media with people comparing it to extortion.

“Anyone can contribute to the fund but it has to be voluntary. You can’t force people to make donations and the army wouldn’t like to accept such money,” said a senior officer at the army headquarters. Kargil war hero Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retd) said national sentiments should not be exploited like this. “If something is wrong, it is wrong. How can a forced donation of Rs 5 crore make it right? But the bottom line is the army’s name should not be misused for political gain,” he said. Echoing similar views, another officer said films release every Friday and it’s best to resist the temptation of playing politics under the pretext of supporting the army.

“If the producers have been arm-twisted into paying the money, there’s no way the army will accept it,” he said. The army recently opened an Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties bank account for families of battle casualties after several organisations and individuals approached the defence ministry with contributions. In a release issued on October 17, the defence ministry said, “The contribution to the fund is purely voluntary in nature.”

Former Air Vice Marshal slams Raj Thackeray’s 5 Cr ‘penalty
former Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur slammed Thackeray’s decision. “I served four decades in uniform- and never did I live on extorted money. What’s this happening in my country???? Indian Armed Forces cannot, and SHUD NOT, become crutches

अपूर्वानंद - हमें मानवीय बनाने का काम हमारे निजामों का भी है

कुछ निजाम ऐसे होते हैं जो हमारे भीतर के उजले पक्ष को उभारते हैं और कुछ ऐसे जो हमारे भीतर जो घटिया है उसके लिए ज़मीन मुहैया कराते हैं
प्रेमचंद ने हुकूमतों और निजामों के बारे में लिखते हुए कहा कि कुछ निजाम ऐसे होते हैं जो हमारे भीतर के उजले पक्ष को उभारते हैं और कुछ ऐसे जो हमारे भीतर जो क्षुद्र और घटिया है उसके लिए ज़मीन मुहैया कराते हैं. सरकारों और जनता के मनोविज्ञान के बीच का रिश्ता इतना सीधा भी नहीं होता. लेकिन क्या प्रेमचंद की बात में कोई दम नहीं है?

आत्म रक्षा की प्रवृत्ति सबसे बुनियादी है. वह किसी भी प्रजाति के बने रहने और बढ़ते रहने के लिए आवश्यक है. इसलिए जब हम हिंसक स्थितियों में लोगों की प्रतिक्रियाओं पर विचार करते हैं तो उन पर कोई नैतिक रुख अपनाते हुए दुविधा में पड़ जाते हैं. हिटलर या स्टालिन के शिविरों में रहने वाले रोजाना ही अपनों को मारे जाते हुए देखने को बाध्य थे. उनमें से कुछ बच गए.

उस वक्त उन्होंने अपने साथियों के साथ जान देना क्यों तय किया? उसी तरह भारत में सांप्रदायिक हिंसा के किस्सों में हमने अक्सर मां या भाई को यह बताते सुना है कि उनके सामने उनके परिजनों या पड़ोसियों की हत्या की गई या उनके साथ बलात्कार किया गया, वे लाचार देखते रहे. एक मां अपने बच्चे को मारे जाते हुए कैसे देख सकती है?

लेकिन अपने जीवन के बचाव के लिए लिया गया निर्णय और जीवन स्तर में बदलाव के लिए लिया गया निर्णय दो अलग बातें हैं. इसके अलावा मनुष्य में चेतना और नैतिकता का प्रवेश उसकी आत्म रक्षा को लेकर समझ का दायरा विस्तृत करने की प्रेरणा देता है. यह उसे बताता है कि मेरा बचा रहना सिर्फ मेरे अकेले का बचा रहना नहीं और दूसरे की परवाह किए बिना या दूसरे की कीमत पर बचा रहना तो निकृष्ट है.

नैतिकता का प्रवेश मुझमें और दूसरों में किस प्रकार का संबंध होना चाहिए, यह तय करने का कार्य करता है. मेरा जीवन उस समय श्रेष्ठ या उत्तम नहीं है जब मैं अपने बारे में निर्णय करने के लिए स्वतंत्र अनुभव करता हूं, बल्कि वह उत्तम या श्रेष्ठ तभी होगा जब मैं उसकी आज़ादी की गारंटी भी कर सकूं जिससे मेरा कोई हित जुड़ा हो. अगर कोई मेरे लिए उपयोगी है, तभी मैं उसकी फिक्र करता हूं, यह मानवीय संबंध का निम्नतम स्तर है.

प्रेमचंद सरकारों को मानवीयता को उभारने और अमानवीयता को दबाने का एक ऐसा पैमाना दे रहे हैं जो आर्थिक विकास, वृद्धि, आदि से अलग है

इराक, सीरिया और अन्य देशों से युद्ध और हिंसा के कारण घर छोड़ने को मजबूर लोगों के लिए जर्मनी का अपनी सीमा खोल देना एक उदाहरण है. इस सन्दर्भ में जर्मनी के खुलेपन और ब्रिटेन की संकीर्णता से हम मानवीयता के बारे में अपनी समझ विकसित कर सकते हैं.

पाकिस्तान में गवर्नर सलमान तासीर ईश निंदा की आरोपी आसिया बीबी से मिलने गए जिसके लिए उनपर कोई दबाव था. इसकी कीमत उन्हें अपनी जान देकर चुकानी पड़ी. सलमान तासीर की जिंदगी का मोल उनके मुकाबले कहीं ज्यादा है जो खामोश रहे.

वैसी परिस्थितियां जो हमें निरंतर दबाती हैं कि हम सिर्फ और सिर्फ अपने आप तक सिकुड़ जाएं या जिनमें हमारा आत्म का दायरा संकुचित होता जाए, अमानवीय कहलाती हैं. जो परिस्थितियां हमें खुद से बाहर जाकर करने-सोचने की प्रेरणा देती हैं मानवीय होती हैं.

व्यक्तियों में नैतिकता बहाल करना राज्य या सरकार का काम नहीं, यह एक समझ हो सकती है. लेकिन प्रेमचंद इसके ठीक उलट बात कर रहे हैं. वे सरकारों को मानवीयता को उभारने और अमानवीयता को दबाने का एक ऐसा पैमाना दे रहे हैं जो आर्थिक विकास, कूटनीतिक सफलता आदि से अलग है.

निगाह दौड़ाएं और देखने की कोशिश करें कि दुनिया में ऐसे देश और निजाम कौन से हैं जो प्रेमचंद की मांग को पूरा करते हैं और कौन से निजाम ऐसे हैं जो उनकी कसौटी पर खरे नहीं उतरते. हम खुद अपने देश को भी देखें.