Saturday, August 31, 2013

Nadeem Paracha : The Pakistan Ideology: History of a grand concoction

Most school text books that are called ‘Pakistan Studies’ usually begin with the words, ‘Pakistan is an ideological state.’ Pakistan Studies was introduced in the national curriculum as a compulsory subject in 1972 by the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Over the decades, these books, that are regularly taught at all Pakistani schools and colleges, have gradually evolved into becoming one-dimensional manuals of how to become, believe and behave like a ‘true Pakistani.’

Though the content in these books pretends to be of historical nature, it is anything but. It’s a monologue broken into various chapters about how the state of Pakistan sees, understands and explains the country’s history, society and culture - and the students are expected to believe it wholesale. Many detractors have even gone on to call it an indoctrination tool. It was introduced as a compulsory subject (almost in a panic) by the Bhutto regime soon after the country lost a war with India in 1971 and consequently its eastern wing (East Pakistan).
Pakistan had come into being in 1947 on the back of what its founders called the ‘Two Nation Theory.’ The Theory was culled from the 19th Century writings of modernist Muslim reformists in India who, after the collapse of the Muslim Empire in South Asia, began to explain the region’s Muslims as a separate political, cultural, and, of course, religious entity (especially compared to the Hindu majority of India).
This scholarly nuance, inspired by the ideas of the nation-state introduced by the British Colonialists, gradually evolved into becoming a pursuit to prepare a well-educated and resourceful Muslim middle-class in the region. Eventually, with the help from sections of the Muslim landed elite in India, the emerging Muslim middle-classes turned the idea into a movement for a separate Muslim homeland comprised of those areas where the Muslims were in a majority in India.
This is what we, today, understand to be the ‘Pakistan Movement.’
However, when the country’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah - a western-educated lawyer and head of the All India Muslim League (AIML) - navigated the Movement towards finally reaching its main goal of carving out a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia, he was soon faced with an awkward fact: There were more Muslims in India than there were in the newly created Muslim-majority country of Pakistan.
Jinnah was conscious of this fact when he delivered his first major address to the country’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. Though during the Movement some factions of his party had tweaked the Two Nation Theory to also mean that the Muslims of India desired an Islamic State, Jinnah was quick to see the contradiction in this claim, simply because more Muslims had either been left behind in India or refused to migrate to Pakistan. Islam during the Movement was largely used as an ethnic card to furnish and flex the separate nationhood claims of the Muslims. It was never used as a theological roadmap to construct an Islamic State in South Asia.
In his August 11 speech, Jinnah clearly declared that in Pakistan the state will have nothing to do with matters of the faith and Pakistan was supposed to become a democratic Muslim-majority nation state. He went on to add: ‘ … you will find that in course of time (in Pakistan) Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims; not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’
Some extraordinary circumstances (World War II, the receding of British Colonialism and rising tensions between the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities in India) had combined to hand Jinnah a Muslim-majority country that had fewer Muslims compared to those who stayed behind in India. Within this Muslim community were various sects and sub-sects with their own understanding and interpretations of the faith. Then, the country also had multiple ethnicities, cultures and languages - some of them being more ancient than Islam itself! Keeping all this in mind, Jinnah’s speech made good sense and exhibited a remarkable understanding of the complexities that his new country had inherited.
But it seems many of his close colleagues were still in the Movement mode. A number of League members thought that with his August 11 speech, Jinnah was being a bit too hasty in discarding the Islamic factor from the new equation and opting to explain the new country as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Muslim-majority state. So soon after Jinnah’s speech, an attempt was made by these leaders to censor the draft of the speech that was to be published in the newspapers. It was only when the then editor of Dawn newspaper, Altaf Hussain, threatened to take the issue directly to Jinnah that the League leaders relented and the full text of the speech was published.

Jinnah died in 1948 leaving behind a huge leadership vacuum in a country that had apparently appeared on the map a lot sooner than it was anticipated to. The leadership of the founding party, the Muslim League, was mostly made up of Punjab’s landed gentry and Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) bourgeoisie elite... read more:
Vaqar Ahmed: The Ideology of Pakistan: A thorny issue

Obama's deceit and the Crossroads on Syria

The way out of war is always peace. The way out is not limited, well-tailored, well-spoken, discreet, "smart" shots across the bow which you pretend are not acts of war. But peace comes from negotiations: an activity of which this president has always spoken in the warmest terms but at which he has shown few results during five years in office -- not in Afghanistan, not in Iran, not with Russia or China, not on global warming or nuclear proliferation. Why not start with Syria? 

Yesterday, in an interview aired by PBS, President Obama said that the United States must now attack Syria. The reason was the imminent danger that, if we do not, the Assad government will use chemical weapons against Americans on the U.S. mainland. "When you start talking about chemical weapons," the president told Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill,

in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.
This fantastic and hollow pretext comes so close to a statement made by Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war that the two assertions invite a comparison.
What Blair said on September 24, 2002, was that "Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be active within 45 minutes. . .and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability." All this turned out to be based on false reports, forged evidence, outdated sources, and wishful thinking toward war. It precipitated a change in the fame of Tony Blair from "the conscience of the free world" to something a good deal smaller and shabbier.
Compare, once more, President Obama's words yesterday on PBS: "the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world. . .their control over chemical weapons may erode. . .allied to known terrorist organizations. . .target the United States. . .devastating effects." Or to put the new claim in familiar language: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." President Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had a conscience as quick on the trigger as President Obama's adviser Susan Rice. But in the president's own televised claim, the pileup of distortions was entirely worthy of the predecessor who hired the earlier Rice; for the "terrorist organizations" he was speaking of could only have been Hezbollah and its affiliates, the sworn enemies of Israel; and yet those organizations happen never to have attacked the U.S. or any of its assets on the scale of the bombings carried out by al-Qaeda in 2001. In Syria the president is already allied with al-Qaeda's sister sect, the al-Nusra Front, and to the extent that he weakens the Assad government he will strengthen al-Qaeda.
Probably Obama, like Blair, justified the untruth to himself by a mental reservation. "What I mean is the distant 'possibility'; the 'prospect' as I call it; the small (say 1%) remotely projectable chance that chemical weapons might get into the wrong hands in Syria and be transported to the U.S. and be used thereafter not by Bashar al-Assad but by agents of his at three removes to hurt the American people here at home." But will letting those weapons fall into the hands of a successor regime of uncertain allegiance be likely to have effects less disastrous for the U.S.? Some way under the surface, what the president also doubtless intended to say was that "devastating effects" would likely be directed not at the continental United States but at are our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and our security operatives stationed in Libya and elsewhere. But again the question returns: will you lessen or heighten the risk by weakening the hold on those weapons by Syria and bringing them closer to the control of al-Qaeda?
The president spoke in the same place on Wednesday about the need for "limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about."
Well, we are worried, it's true, and more than worried we are apprehensive and angry, because we remember Iraq. We suspect that any soldier who has suffered in a war, and any family that has seen its members decimated among the collateral damages of an American "surgical strike," would grow angrier still at the sound of the anesthetic phrase tailored approaches.
What can one say? The scurry of avowals and reservations and retractions and reassertions over the past three days may represent a tailored approach to the truth, but it doesn't fit the body that the president is trying to hang it on. The body in question is called Syria. Its fate is now in the balance, at the reckoning of a superpower half a world away; and the decision is being made on the basis of videos of people who were horribly killed by chemical weapons of some sort. The president and the president's men have mistaken their reaction to those images for assurance about the persons who caused the suffering. They spoke their reactions early and loud, and without the qualification that others who saw the same evidence have felt necessary to enter. And now they are trapped by the unconditional words they were heard to utter.
John Kerry and Joe Biden set the stage for the president's startlingly dishonest formulation about the danger Assad poses to the American people. They said the evidence that the Assad government had used the chemical weapons was beyond challenge. On the contrary, it was described with lukewarm approval by Mike Rogers of the congressional intelligence committee as "convincing if not compelling."When pressed by Robert Siegel of NPR to say that the evidence "disproved" the alternative theory that the chemical weapons could have been used in a false-flag operation to convict Assad and draw in the U.S., Rogers answered that far from being "inconceivable" (as Siegel had suggested) such a hypothesis of falsification by the rebels was "not improbable." Like others in Congress, Rogers is now urging the president to consult the legislative branch and not to act unilaterally, as he did in Libya with regrettable effects that are still being counted. 
Again, in the past day-and-a-half we have heard that "U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said there were noticeable holes in US intelligence assessments linking Bashar Assad to the use of chemical weapons on 21 August." And further: "A classified assessment by the director of national intelligence said agents could not continuously pinpoint Assad's chemical weapons supplies, according to an AP report. The White House said it would publish an unclassified version of its intelligence assessments."
Why should this atmosphere of political slackness and imprecision matter? The interventionist argument starts by reducing the choice to a calculation of pure morality and brute power. What should matter is that we believe Assad probably did it; and he has committed other atrocities (as have the rebels); and therefore, who cares about the evidence, or for that matter about international law? We feel that punishing the Syrian government by bombing their defenses is right. So what if the Arab League have announcedthey won't go along with it, and Jordan has said the same. It "shocks the conscience" to see the video images, as Secretary of State Kerry said, and that means we must bomb somebody; but we can't bomb the rebels because, even though they are al-Qaeda-linked, the noisiest Americans on the subject such as senators McCain and Graham have closed their eyes to the facts about al-Nusra in Syria. 
Aren't the fanatics provisionally on our side? The president himself has turned against the emphasis of his entire first term, and has thrown away his primary justification of the Afghanistan war, when he now evokes Hezbollah as an organization superior in evil and more dangerous to the U.S. than al-Qaeda.
As Hans Blix recently pointed out, the Obama administration in the panic days we have lately witnessed has also behaved a great deal like the Bush-Cheney group of 2002-2003 in its show of disregard for UN inspectors. The administration said it wanted inspectors. Then it said that the inspectors permitted by Assad came in "too late to be credible." Thus, having accused Assad of reluctance, the state department and the White House tried to call off the UN in order to begin the bombing on schedule. They used the improvised excuse that the sites of chemical harm would have been degraded by shelling by the time that inspectors arrived. This bogus explanation lasted until the chemical experts weighed in and said that there was no truth at all to such an assertion: it had clearly been made up on the spot by a government operative with no knowledge of the weapons. 
And now, word has come that the initial data about who used the chemical weapons was passed to the U.S. by Israeli intelligence; and that American intelligence did not hold so high an opinion of it as Kerry and Biden had let on. So, after all, we are waiting for the results of the inspection, though the French Doctors Without Borders are quite sure that they know who did it, and the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who was equally sure about another such attack five months ago where the evidence didn't hold up, has affirmed that France will back the U.S. in doing whatever we end up doing to Syria.
For Congress, this has become a test of constitutional function. Are they a vestigial limb of the executive branch -- persons who need not be consulted on the most pressing matters of national policy and the commitment of arms, resources, and the fame of the country in defiance of international law? Are the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives less significant than the parliament of Britain, which demanded consultation and debate after David Cameron tried to extract their support without it? Just this evening, parliament rejected Cameron's push for war as a piece of adventurism that worked against the interests of the people of Britain. Both the action and the proceeding were instructive.
Many left-liberals have been silent at this moment, and many right-wing Republicans, with voting records that attest their credentials as lovers of war, have risen to challenge the president... 

The Ghost of Iraq haunts Obama on Syria as British Parliament Defects

Evidence of human settlements in Bolivia date back at least 10,000 years

Archaeologists announced a discovery that has broad implications for the history of the Amazon: evidence of human settlements in Bolivia dating back at least 10,000 years.
International researchers came to this conclusion after discovering remnants of human activity in three mounds examined out of the hundreds that scatter the the Llanos de Moxos region in present-day Bolivia, according to the paper published this week in peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE. Inside some of the mounds was evidence apparently left by human foragers, including ancient sea shells, animal bones and charcoal. Radiocarbon dating of the soil suggests the mounds are the oldest known archaeological sites in the area.
The mounds may help researchers piece together the ancient culture's lifestyle and daily habits, according to Umberto Lombardo, a geographer at the University of Bern in Switzerland and one of the authors of the study. For example, a layer containing traces of burnt clay may indicate a rudimentary cooking process. "My first impression is that it could be made of fragments of hearths, like ovens," Lombardo told LiveScience. "Indigenous people in the region still cook in such ovens made of clay."
While there is a good deal of information about later inhabitants of this area, the "peopling of Amazonia and the adaptive strategies of its early inhabitants are among the least known aspects of the archaeology of the New World," according to the paper.
The region of present-day Bolivia explored by researchers was previously believed to have been environmentally unfriendly to early humans, discouraging habitation. This new research proposes an alternative version of early human history in the area, however.
The researchers' findings may also add important context to an ongoing debate over when humans first arrived in the Americas, according to LiveScience. Scientists originally thought early humans arrived around 13,000 years ago, however some researchers now believe humans have lived in the area for more than 14,00 years.
"Our discovery shows that people occupied the Llanos de Moxos in the Bolivian Amazon at least 10,500 years ago," Lombardo told LiveScience. "To reach this location, people had to travel 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) if they came from the Atlantic coast, or they had to cross the Andes if they came from the Pacific Coast. This suggests that either they moved and adapted to new environments extremely fast or they started their journey quite a long time ago."..

The Anthropocene: Welcome to the Age of Modern Man

We are now faced with some planetary limitations that threaten our survival. If we are going to accommodate 9 billion humans in the next 35 years, and if those people are going to live in comfort, with enough food, water, energy and other important trappings of a liveable existence, then we are going to have to recognise these limitations and come up with innovative ways to overcome them.
In most cases, whether it is about 'peak soil', peak timber', 'peak silver', 'peak fish', 'peak oil' or 'peak freshwater', the problem is that we are using the resource faster than it can be replenished through natural processes – sometimes by a factor of thousands. The solution may be to assist the replenishment or to use less of the resource. Either way, the solution calls for a combination of clever engineering, technology and social tools.
Alien observers monitoring Earth for signs of intelligent life may well have choked on their intergalactic version of tea a few hundred thousand years ago when the first humans stumbled into focus, some 4 billion years after our planet's own emergence. It was obvious that we were a bit special: we could make fire.

As the global climate shifted at the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago, humans put their fire-making skills to great use, blazing a trail across continents to clear trees for grazing and agriculture, enabling societies to develop from hunter-gatherers to rooted civilizations that produced complex technologies. We were even able to improve on our external sources of energy by expanding our range of fuels: rather than relying on what fuel grew in forests and the continual recycling of biomatter, we delved deep into the ground to extract fossil fuels made over geological timescales.
Humans proved so clever and successful that we were able to overcome almost all the environmental limitations that restricted other species to their ecological niches. The Industrial Revolution began a march towards control of the planet and its resources, which, over the past 50 years, has become truly global. Our population soared from around 10,000 individuals at the start of the Holocene, 10,000 years ago, to 7 billion today. It is estimated that it will pass a colossal 9 billion by 2050.
So, any watching aliens are now looking at a radically changed Earth, on which the land surface, oceanic and atmospheric chemistry, ecology and biology have been transformed by humans. (Human) scientists say Earth has entered the Anthropocene epoch – the Age of Man – because we have become the dominant geological force on our planet.
We have changed the composition of the atmosphere – which now contains more carbon dioxide molecules – and the oceans, which are more acidic because more of that carbon dioxide is dissolving into them. And, because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, we are changing the climate by melting glaciers and raising sea levels. Our atmospheric tinkering means that scientists think we have indefinitely delayed the next Ice Age.
We have changed the covering of the planet by chopping down trees (currently we fell 130,000 sq km per year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations), rerouting rivers (we manage more than half of the planet's available freshwater) and constructing highways and cities. More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. At least 75% of the world's land surface has been modified by humansaccording to Erle Ellis, an ecologist at the University of Maryland.
Rock and toll
We are also reshaping the planet's rocky material – mining and other excavation shifts four times the amount moved naturally by glaciers and rivers. We are changing the numbers and abundance of other living species –some believe we are at the start of the world’s sixth great extinction – and the way they are distributed around our planet, by introducing invasive species and favouring some species over others. There are now more trees on farmland than in forests, for example, and if we were to weigh all of Earth’s land vertebrates, 90% of the total would be made up of humans and the animals we have domesticated, according to Prof Vaclav Smil in his book The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change.
Some of our changes are geologically profound – deforestation and the elimination and distribution of species, for example, are scarring the rocks to leave telltale evidence of our human influence for geologists to discover many thousands of years into the future... 
read more:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Social media and the new feminism

Where should a 20-something feminist go when faced with a online barrage of rape and death threats? Unsurprisingly, Laura Bates turned to an anonymous talkboard to ask for help soon after she founded the Everyday Sexism Project 18 months ago. Less predictably, perhaps, the childless campaigner chose to do so on parenting website Mumsnet. Within hours, Bates had almost 100 responses. They ranged from the serious to the scatological, but all of them were supportive. To her concerns that she was being followed online, BasilFoulTea wrote: "Well, if they're stalking this one – hallo, nobbers. I bet you needle-dick wankers can't get a woman to shag you on a voluntary basis because you're all repulsive with halitosis and a total lack of sex appeal and charisma. <Waves>"
"That was the first time I'd laughed since the emails began," says Bates, who is now feted by politicians and companies alike for her work tackling sexism. "I have a real soft spot for Mumsnet."
Much has been written over the past few months about so-called "fourth wave" feminists, young media- and internet-savvy women like Bates, whose online petitions and direct action campaigns – from UK Feminista's campaign against supermarkets displaying lads' mags to No More Page 3, which has so far garnered 116,750 signatories asking the Sun newspaper to scrap its pictures of bare-breasted women – are tackling some longstanding issues.
Far less remarked upon, however, has been a quieter revolution that has been going on for some time, in anonymous forums, about all sorts of subjects, from baking to relationship advice to work crises – and very often, in spite of those who argue that retreating into motherhood is notfeminism as they know it, on sites such as Mumsnet. The website, with its four million users, nearly all of whom are women, is possibly the most mainstream and politically important example of this slow-burn resurgence in feminist thought.
Natasha Walter, the feminist author, was struck by the supportive atmosphere of Mumsnet when she was writing Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, a few years ago. "It was quite a dark time for feminists, before the current campaigns against Twitter and Page 3. It just wasn't mainstream. People weren't challenging everyday sexism. So I was really struck by the conversations on Mumsnet. I'd go on and listen and be heartened by the way women were responding."
The sort of anonymity that has been so problematic on the web has also allowed women to speak out about sometimes appalling abuse. Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts says: "The original We Believe You Campaign[to raise awareness about rape and sexual assault] was a good example of this – a safe, anonymous space for people to post accounts of things that had happened to them, often decades ago, and say: 'I was sexually assaulted and I'd always just shrugged it off/blamed myself.'"
Last month, Mumsnet looked into whether its members regarded themselves as feminist. Roughly twice as many (59%) identify themselves as feminist as those who do not (28%). More importantly, the 2,034 respondents are more likely to self-identify as feminists since joining Mumsnet, with just 47% doing so before joining.. read more:

Taslima Nasreen - ‘Religion Is The Biggest Bane For Any Democracy’

What are your initial reactions to the court’s decision to debar Jamaat from fighting elections?
It is indeed great news for all secularists that a religious organisation that doubled up as a political party, has been finally banned from fighting elections. Although Jamaat is called a right-wing political organisation, it is no less than a terrorist outfit. Dissent had no place in the reign of terror unleashed by Jamaat.
The religious fundamentalists have left the  society bleeding. Allowing them to engage in political activism is thus an insult to the principles on which was founded. Jamaat used foreign funds in brainwashing innocent kids at madrasas, gave them military training and unleashed their brute force on their own countrymen who refused to toe their line. A ban on such an organisation is a welcome step indeed.
Do you think the Awami League government will now reinstate the 1972 Constitution and establish  as a secular nation?
I do not think so. Although this court verdict is a step in the right direction, the society at large is not secular in . If the government suddenly decides to do away with Islam as state religion, the masses might go against them. Sheikh Haseena wouldn’t want to make such a gamble with her poll fortunes. Awami League wouldn’t want to be painted as anti-Islam in the election year.
What do you think will be the possible repercussions of the ban on Jamaat?
The Jamaat was a banned organisation at the birth-hour of . After the 1971 Liberation War, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to power, he banned the organisation that sided with Pakistan against their own brothers and sisters, raped thousands and killed even more. But after the death of Mujib, they were given a new lease of life by a few military men, solely for political motives. Thus began the process of Islamisation of a secular nation, which is on till now. To return to the Constitution of 1972, we need a societal change, for which this ban was necessary.
Do you hope this verdict will pave the way for your return to your motherland?
Several parties have come to power since I was exiled. Faces change, but the nature of the ruler doesn’t. Be it Awami League, or the  Nationalist Party, everyone needs the support of Islamists to stay in power. The state machinery in  is afraid to stand up for freedom of expression; they lack the conviction to take on the fundamentalist forces in the country. We cannot expect the society to change overnight. The Islamisation that has happened for decades in the country cannot be undone by just one verdict.
The Awami League government may be more secular than other parties, but we must not forget that the same government arrested atheist bloggers during the Shahbag protests. Hence, I don’t see any hopes for my return to my homeland anytime soon.
The  may hit the streets to protest against the court decision. Do you feel that the secular masses will rise again, like in Shahbag, to facilitate the process of formation of a secular state?
When Hefazat-e-Islami had unleashed terror on the streets with over five lakh people taking law into their hands during an anti-government demonstration, the administration had dealt with them with an iron hand. If the government is ready to take the Islamic fundamentalists head-on, there is no need for the people to take to the streets. I have faith that the government will once again assume an unbiased role, for the cause of the nation.

JAY MAZOOMDAAR - Asaram Bapu: The Saint And His Taint // Father of the girl reveals their story

Once his name is mentioned, almost everybody seems to have an  story. A popular Bollywood director known for his comedies with a message recalls how Asaram’s men were after him to get him to popularise the idea of celebrating Matri Pitri pujan diwas, Bapu’s brainwave to counter Valentine’s Day, even offering to fly him to “locations” in the ashram’s chartered planes.
A prominent foreign tour operator recalls how a group of clients insisted on making a payment of several lakhs through Dubai and confided, after a sundowner too many, that the hawala transaction was done through “Asaram’s ashram channel”, only to laugh away the conversation in the morning.
One of 400-odd shopkeepers of Revdi Bazaar, an Ahmedabad market originally meant for Sindhi refugees from Pakistan, whispers that “Asaram’s crores” keep circulating in loans to businessmen, at interest rates ranging from 1.5-4 percent a month, depending on the amount and the paying capacity of the borrower.
Then, of course, there are the devout and the renegade. Neelam Dubey, Asaram’s PRO in Delhi, gushes that Bapu freed her from “the habit of drinking 35 cups of tea daily”. Virendra Mehta of Rohtak memorised all 80,000 words of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary along with their page numbers to find a mention in the Limca Records after “receiving mantra-initiation” from Asaram. If these seem like minor miracles, a paralysed OP Mall, chairman of Howrah ( jute) Mills, apparently walked out of an Indore nursing home to attend Asaram’s discourse.
Shantibhai and Praful Vaghela, who admitted a son each at Asaram’s Sabarmati ashram only to recover their hollowed corpses by the river, accuse the godman, his son Narayan Sai and the ashram management of conducting black magic. Amrut Prajapati, Asaram’s personal physician of 10 years, accuses him of sexually exploiting women. Raju Chandok, Asaram’s secretary who fell apart with him, accuses Bapu of plotting the assassination attempt he survived. Mahendra Chawla, who looked after Narayan’s accounts, accuses him of forgery in land deals.
But even as charges piled up, nothing seemed to hamper Asaram’s phenomenal rise as one of India’s foremost gurus with millions of devotees and the biggest landholdings. “For us who have followed his activities from time to time, it is very difficult to escape a sense of something sinister about his operations,” says a veteran journalist in Ahmedabad. “This time, he seems to be somewhat vulnerable. But then, you never know.”
Indeed, few seem to know enough about Asaram, the guru, or his past. Those who do are either his own men careful not to reveal anything beyond his public persona, or people who know better than to offend the man they know so well.
THE LEGAL cell at the Motera ashram was working overtime. Minutes ago, Asaram had left for the airport to shift base to Indore. The day before — three days after a 15-year-old girl accused the “self-realised saint” of raping her — he had held a brief satsang to dub the charge a conspiracy. But his key aides in white robes were feeling the heat of an unrelenting media.
On the other side of the phone, Asaram’s chief media manager Dr Sunil Wankhade had sounded reluctant, wondering if he could trust the press not to hurt the ashram’s interests. Face to face, he asked me if I would “do sting” on the ashram. Soon, his obvious scepticism gave way to desperation and he called for help from the legal cell.
“He will do a big magazine story, cover story,” Dr Wankhade informed Vikas Khemka who had just joined us with an incessantly ringing mobile phone. “We do not give time to the sold-out media. Bapuji doesn’t care what they write or show. You will not distort our words, will you?”.. read more:
‘If My Wife And I Had Not Been Present There, We Would Never Have Believed Our Own Daughter’ The father of the girl who alleged sexual assault against Asaram Bapu reveals the story behind the assault and the trauma faced by his family

NAPM Press release - New Land Acquisition Bill will further land acquisition and conflict

New Land Acquisition Bill in name of public purpose and inclusive growth will further land acquisition and conflict
Historic opportunity lost to address historical injustice
Justice denied to 10 Crores displaced at the altar of development since 1947

New Delhi, August 29 : Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 was discussed and debated today, with many members of Parliament appreciating the fact that colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will be replaced. NAPM welcomes the introduction of a comprehensive bill and recognition of resettlement and rehabilitation as right but is disappointed at the neglect of ground realities and legitimacy of acquisition for 'private profit' in the name of public purpose. Members of many political Parties during the debate echoed the sentiments prevailing in the country amongst farmers and those dependent on land but those alligned with UPA advocated the agenda of inclusive growth and PPP. UPA is hiding behind the poor and this brazen push for the land acquisition for the private companies will threaten food security and livelihood of millions.

Lok Sabha passed the 'National Food Security Bill' early this week but the new land bill will divert more agricultural land. For decades people's movements have been struggling against the forced land acquisition, without any recourse to satisfactory R&R. Today, in an atmosphere, where everything from roads, hospital to tourism, mining, electricity developed by public or private corporations, is considered as public good, we feel that Bill will continue to betray the faith of people in development process. Since 1947, millions of hectares of land have been acquired in the name of development, displacing nearly 100 million people and leaving them to fend for themselves.

The attempt to repeal the 1894 Act was initiated in the context of the killings and land conflict in Nandigram and Singur, but today the whole debate is centred only around the growth and industrialisation. Political and elite class of this country is driving this hype at the cost of alienating large section of population, who will only have the option to resist and challenge forced acquisition of their land and natural resources by corporations in name of development and growth.

We welcome some provisions like Social Impact Assessment, Concurrent Environmental impact Assessment, but are concerned that historical justice has not been done. Nation expects Parliament to tend for majority of the people, for whom this development is planned and not worry about industrial houses alone. As we send this the amendments are being voted in the parliament but our concerns, expressed to political parties and Parliament remain unanswered, see details below.

Medha Patkar - Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Dr. Sunilam, Aradhna Bhargava - Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, MP; Prafulla Samantara - Lok Shakti Abhiyan, NAPM, Odisha; Gautam Bandopadhyay – Nadi Ghati Morcha, NAPM, Chhattisgarh; Ulka Mahajan, Suniti SR, Prasad Bagwe - SEZ Virodhi Manch and NAPM, Maharashtra; Gabriel Dietrich, Geetha Ramakrishnan – Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN; Rajendra Ravi, Anita Kapoor – NAPM, Delhi; Akhil Gogoi - Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, NAPM, Assam; Arundhati Dhuru, Sandeep Pandey - NAPM, UP; Sister Celia - Domestic Workers Union, NAPM, Karnataka; Sumit Wanjale, Madhuri Shivkar, Simpreet Singh – Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan, NAPM, Mumbai; Dr.Rupesh Verma - Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, UP; Manish Gupta - Jan Kalyan Upbhokta Samiti, NAPM, UP; Vimal Bhai - Matu Jan sangathan, NAPM, Uttarakhand; Vilas Bhongade - Gosikhurd Prakalpgrast Sangharsh Samiti, NAPM, Maharashtra; Ramashray Singh - Ghatwar Adivasi Mahasabha, Jharkhand; Anand Mazhgaonkar, Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat
 For details contact : Madhuresh Kumar 9818905316 |

Concerns on the
Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011
NAPM, August 2013
The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 is being discussed in Lok Sabha right now. There has not been any consensus on the Bill yet the UPA government is bringing the Bill. In some cases the new Bill is worse than the colonial 1894 Act, by expanding the definition of public purpose, legitimising the acquisition for private corporations and excluding all other laws used for land acquisition for highways, industrial corridors and others. The proposed amendments introduced by the Ministry of Rural Development earlier this year was to further take away the rights of the people in planning process and the principle of prior informed consent. The Bill in its current form has refused to accept the key recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, something which Chairperson fails to see but, a concern shared by many other members of the Committee.

The Bill has now been renamed “Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, with a claim to better reflect Government’s Commitment towards securing a legal guarantee for the rights of project affected, and ensuring greater transparency in the land acquisition process. It is also claimed that the Bill will ensure, in concert with local institutions of self-government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution, a humane, participative, informed, consultative and transparent process for land acquisition.

However, we feel that the Parliament should not pass the proposed Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, in its current form. It needs to be debated democratically debated by all and take those in account, rather than succumb to the private corporations interests and pursue undemocratic growth. Untill then put a moratorium on all ongoing land acquisitions in the country. We oppose all such undemocratic, attempts legislative or otherwise.

In public domain we have the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report (on Rural Development) on the Bill as well as the amendments introduced by the Ministry of Rural Development, we, the people's movements, have taken serious cognizance of the fact that the strong position taken by the Standing Committee on certain critical issues are either diluted or rejected by the Ministry of Rural Development, which is shocking. The Ministry that is supposed to protect the rights and powers of the rural communities has not accepted some of the standing committee recommendations, towards that end, which are presented with our comments, herewith:

Definition of Public Purpose and Infrastructure
  1. The Committee had suggested a restrictive definition of Public Purpose, something which didn't leave any discretionary power to the government and also development of infrastructure by the public agencies with the public funds only.
Ministry has proposed an expansive definition of public purpose and infrastructure and also a clause which leaves the discretionary power to declare anything as infrastructure and of public purpose. The Committee to decide upon the nature of the public purpose all consists of bureaucrats and representation of the democratically elected local self government institutions is wanting. Gram Sabha and Basti Sabha in consonance with the Art 243 provisions have every right to the planning and hence the power to decide the nature of public purpose must rest with them, which will also democratise the development planning. It is ironical that while food processing and other agriculture related secondary and tertiary sector industries have been brought in the public purpose definition but agriculture itself has not been considered a public purpose, something which would have meant no acquisition of agricultural land.
Acquisition for Private and PPP Projects
  1. No forcible acquisition for private projects, or for PPP, which can not to be categorized as public purpose projects.
  • Ministry has rejected this and justified this with a provision that consent of 70-80% of project affected farmers alone will be sought before acquisition for any private projects
In this era of neo-liberal economic reforms, private projects with corporate investment and interests are taking a much larger toll of land and other rich natural resources as also uprooting by killing communities which are generations old. This must come to an end and the same can happen only with stopping the State playing a role of facilitator and land dealer. At the cost of the livelihood of the nature based sections and working class section of society, the state can't transfer the most valuable livelihood resources such as land, water to the profiteering bodies in the garb of 'public interest' and 'public purpose'.

Food Security and Agricultural Land Acquisition
  1. No forcible acquisition of agricultural land, for non-agricultural purpose including single crop and multi crop land.
  • The proposed Bill leaves this to the state governments to decide, rather than take a clear stand on it. It makes provisions for acquisition of common property resources too.
How can the in-between farms that may be unirrigated, rain fed, single crop be left out, we ask. India has 75% of the agricultural land as rain fed and most of it single cropped. Such land is mostly held by Dalits, Adivasis and marginal farms. Protecting them and all farm land for food security, which comes not from PDS but self sufficient agriculture, is a must!

Bringing 16 Central Acts Under Purview of this Bill
  1. The standing committee has recommended that all 16 central acts should be brought under the purview of the new act, to make all equal before law (Article 14 of the Constitution).
  • Ministry of Rural Development wants to exclude 13 out of 16 Acts including Industrial Development Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, National Highways Act and others from the purview of the new act. This means that 90% of the land acquired as on today will continue with injustice and force used, with no change at all.
The standing committee recommendations must be upheld to end brutal unjust acquisition for all projects under various state and central laws.

Role and Consent of Gram and Basti Sabha
  1. The Committee asks that all studies - SIA, EIA, expert committee appraisal be done in consultation with the gram sabhas and the corresponding reports be made available to the gram sabhas.
  • Ministry emphasises that 80% consent of land loosers is there in case of acquisition for private sector projects and 70% for public private partnership projects.
Consent and direct involvement of majority of the Gram Sabhas must be there in each and every project, including public projects for public purpose. 80% and 70% consent of the land losers for the private and public - private projects, respectively, alone is not sufficient. Also, why should the linear projects be left out? If it’s consent of 80% affected, there are to be a number of manipulations that people will have to face. Experiences of 70% consent in Slum Rehabilitation Scheme in Mumbai are quite telling.

Return of Unutilised Land to farmers and Land Bank
  1. The Committee recommended that the land, if not used till 5 years, should be returned after 5 years from the date of possession to the land owners.
  • Ministry accepts the reduced five years time period and also its return to the landowner or its legal heirs but retains the provisions for State Land Bank.
The ownership over the land is of those who till it and if not used and unutilized then it must be returned to the owners or distributed amongst the project affected people. We oppose any such feature which will promote land bank, since it has promoted large scale acquisition in the past and later illegally transferred the same land to corporations for real estate and other purposes.

Retrospective Application of the Law and Repeal of Land Acquisition Act
  1. On the question of retrospective application of the R&R provisions Committee has suggested to Ministry to re-examine the issue and incorporate necessary provisions
  • Ministry has partially brought in the retrospective application of the R&R provisions of the Bill in cases where the award under Section 11 of the LAA 1894, has not been made or where award has been made but the possession not taken.
It needs to be noted that nearly 100 million people have been displaced since independence and with a dismal 17-20 percent rate of resettlement and rehabilitation we had suggested that not only the retrospective application of the provisions of the new act but a National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission be established to deal with the claims of the projected affected people from various projects. Also the Land Acquisition Act 1894 need to be repealed completely, two acts dealing with the land acquisition will bring in legal challenges and also negate the whole purpose of bringing in a new legislation.

Resettlement and Rehabilitation Benefits
In terms of the resettlement and rehabilitation benefits Committee apart from suggesting some cosmetic changes have accepted the provisions of the Bill, we think this is unfortunate since provisions don't stand up to livelihood based R&R, it merely promotes the principle of cash compensation. It will be a retrogressive step since it negates the land and employment based R&R as mandated in the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award, and various other projects. The proposed provisions of compensating employment with money and high rates for land acquired will only lead to speculative land market and will destroy the fragile economy of the rural hinterland which will lead to further urban migration.

Urban Eviction
The Bill and the comments by both, Standing Committee as well as MoRD almost totally excludes and have unaddressed the situation in the urban areas, where there is no land acquisition, but eviction, brutal and unjust, for any and every elitist real estate development to infrastructure without guaranteeing right to shelter, right to life and livelihood. The only provision is to compensate with 20% of developed land for land owning families in urbanisation projects, which is not with regard to the cases where land belongs to the government or private entities but people are evicted. We demand a separate section or a separate act for the millions of the urban persons and urban land from getting misappropriated. The Bill with the presently proposed content need to be called only “Rural Bill”.
The rapacious use of Land Acquisition Act 1894 by the government to secure land for ‘development’ projects has caused over 100 million people to be displaced from their land, livelihoods and shelters. The country is dotted with communities resisting State sponsored land grab which resonate the demand for a just law to ensure that there is no forced acquisition of land and resources, including minerals and ground water. The government must respond to the voices from movements across places such as Narmada, Koel Karo, Singur, Nandigram, Sonbhadra, Chindwara, Bhavnagarm, Kalinga Nagar, Kashipur, Raigarh, Srikakulam and mining areas in central India with genuine efforts to address the longstanding crisis concerning land Acquisition and resettlement & rehabilitation.

If the UPA government is serious about addressing the conflicts over the land and other natural resources then it must listen to the voices of those struggling or else it will only aggravate these conflicts all across the country. The need of growth, infrastructure and urbanisation can’t be fulfilled on the graveyard of millions. A pro-people Development Planning Bill with complete participation of the Gram Sabha will go a long way in stopping the massive corporate corruption and lead to decentralization of power havingan overall impact on the politics of the country.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sandeep Bhushan - Digitisation and Dumbing Down, or Why the Indian broadcast news industry is staring at an abyss

The recent sacking of 300-odd employees by the TV18 Group has again triggered panic in India’s TV broadcast industry. The fear being: ‘What next?’ And ‘Will it be me?’ From cameramen and video editors to producers (in charge of both news features and shows) and journalists, all have been shown the door by the media behemoth. Those in the know say they saw it coming. A senior editor who protested against the presence of certain names on the retrenchment list was asked to either lump it or leave. At least two prominent primetime anchors have saved their jobs by settling for a 30-40 per cent salary cut. A senior cameraman tasked with forwarding a list of people to be retrenched chose to step down instead of succumbing to the whims of an axe-wielding management.
This is not the first time it has happened. In 2009, an identical number of people had been sacked in the wake of the crippling blow of the financial meltdown. The significance this time round is that ‘load shedding’ has come close on the heels of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group ploughing nearly Rs 4,800 crore into the beleaguered company. The move to downsize was initiated by Reliance, and Ernst & Young was appointed to advise the company on restructuring itself.
But the TV18 group is not alone. NDTV, which has been intermittently chopping and changing its staff over the past few years, went through a similar exercise last year when nearly 50 of its Mumbai bureau employees were laid off. Around the same time, the India Today Group also retrenched a large number of people in Mail Today and Headlines Today. In the former, there were a large number of sackings, right from the editor downwards. In the latter, virtually all senior desk hands and reporters were fired—some of whom had served the channel since its inception.
The carnage in this industry, which has been underway in fits and starts since 2009, is explained broadly by two factors. Its existence at the cutting edge of an emerging—digital—technology, coupled with the continuing aftershocks of the global meltdown, both feeding each other. While the latter forces companies to ‘shed flab’, the former is making it happen. In a classic replay of Luddism, people watch in horror as technology replaces labour—though it is a far cry from the sweep already experienced by the Western media.
However, unlike that nineteenth century phase of technology adoption, which ushered in superior technology and productivity in its wake, today’s digitisation at best remains a mixed blessing for the news industry since almost everybody concurs that ‘news’ is simply not just another product.
‘Integrated Newsroom’
The latest elephant in the TV newsroom is the ‘integrated newsroom’, a concept which is in an advanced stage of implementation in Europe and the US. In India, it is still taking baby steps. As Ashish Pherwani of Ernst & Young told The Economic Times on the TV18 Group’s downsizing measures, “There will be a common newsroom to make the processes more efficient. Focus will be on increasing the width of news coverage.”
What an ‘integrated newsroom’ does is flatten the newsroom hierarchy by putting every single operation online, which in turn makes it possible to measure output per head.
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