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Anshul is a Political Science graduate and a student of Law at the University of Delhi. He is interested in political developments in India and around the world and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Next Step For LGBTQ Rights In India - Scrap Or Amend Section 377 From The IPC

This was published in Indiatimes

After the unexpected decision of the Supreme Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, where it recriminalised homosexuality, efforts have increased to either amend or scrap Section 377 from the Indian Penal Code. It is conceded even by members of the ruling dispensation that Section 377 violates the right to equality and right not to be discriminated on the basis of sex as well as right to life and liberty as enshrined in the constitution. Some of the steps taken in this regard are enumerated below.

Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014

On April 24, 2015, The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, which provides for reservation in education and jobs, financial aid and social inclusion for transgenders. It is rare for any house of the parliament to pass a private member’s bill, and this particular bill, moved by DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, became the first bill in 45 years to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. The Government has also assured to bring an updated bill in the Lok Sabha after removing some technical anomalies.

Curative Petition on Sec 377 in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is currently hearing oral submissions on a curative petition filed against its judgment recriminalising homosexuality. It is rare for the judges to hear oral submissions on a curative petition, and decisions on such petitions are taken usually after the judges confer with each other. However, this departure from practice is being seen as an acknowledgment by the apex court of the changing social realities. It is to be noted that the curative petition against Sec 377 is the last legal resort for the petitioners to get any relief on this issue.

Medical Opinion

Medical Opinion in India has undergone a radical change since the days when arguments were repeatedly advanced claiming homosexuality to be a disease that can be cured. The Indian Psychiatrists Association, in a statement released in February 2014, said that there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that homosexuality is a mental illness or a disease. Earlier in 2011, in representations before the Supreme Court, the Vice President of the Indian Medical Association submitted that homosexuality is not a disease or mental illness.

Emerging Political Consensus

In view of international developments with regard to the issue of homosexuality, political consensus in India is also slowly building up. From Arun Jaitley of the BJP to P. Chidambaram of the Congress, political leaders have expressed their opinions supporting homosexuality. The RSS too has climbed down from its earlier position of vehement opposition to the decriminalisation of homosexuality to maintaining ambiguity on the issue. The Aam Aadmi Party and the CPI(M) have outrightly demanded the reversal of the Supreme Court Judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation.

Pride Parades and Awareness Building

The most stringent opposition to homosexuality comes not from the legal or political circles, but from the society where it is still frowned upon. However, the LGBT community has taken a number of steps to spread awareness about same-sex couples and homosexual relationships, including the organisation of various pride parades in major Indian cities and constituting LGBT groups in many college campuses. Various internet magazines and radio channels are dedicated to covering LGBT issues and spreading their culture. LGBT issues have featured prominently in Bollywood films such as My Brother Nikhil, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Aligarhleading to a slowly building acceptance of the community.

The Road Ahead

With major developed countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, France etc. legalising gay marriage and homosexuality in general, it would be tough for the Indian government to drag its feet any longer. One can reasonably expect the Supreme Court to either strike down Sec 377 or for the current parliament to pass a bill decriminalising homosexuality in the country. In short, the question is not of “if”, but more of “when”.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About Section 377 Of Indian Penal Code And The Story So Far

This was published in Indiatimes

Section 377 of our constitution, introduced with the Indian Penal Code way back in 1860, criminalises sexual acts “against the order of the nature”. This Victorian era statute was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009 in the famous Naz Foundation case, but the decision was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court in 2013, which reasoned that the matter relating to LGBT rights and decriminalisation of homosexuality should be left to the legislature.

There is widespread support for the scrapping of Section 377 among the enlightened sections of Indian society, including eminent lawyers, jurists, renowned writers, political activists, journalists, doctors, actors, producers, directors, teachers, students etc. The Supreme Court judgment overturning the Naz Foundation case has come in for heavy criticism as it runs against the history of the apex court acting as a champion of the underprivileged. 

What was the Naz Foundation Case?

In Naz Foundation vs Govt. of NCT of Delhi, the issue before the two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court was whether Section 377 of the Constitution violates the fundamental rights of the LGBT community and if so, should it be struck down as unconstitutional? And should homosexual acts between consenting adults be legalised?

The bench of Justices Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar answered in the affirmative and read down Section 377 holding that it violated Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the constitution, which guaranteed the right to equality before law, right not to be discriminated on the grounds of sex and right to life and liberty respectively.

The Appeal – Suresh Kumar Kaushal vs. Naz Foundation

In their appeal in the Supreme Court, the petitioners argued that Section 377 does not classify any particular group or gender and hence is not in violation of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. They also argued that if the High Court judgment was approved by the Supreme Court, “India’s social structure and institution of marriage will be detrimentally affected and it would cause young people to be tempted towards homosexual activities”. They finally submitted that the Supreme Court could not legislate and it should leave the matter of legality or illegality of Section 377 to the Parliament.

Sadly, the Supreme Court accepted the arguments advanced by the appellants and observed that Section 377 is the only law that criminalises pedophilia and crimes like sexual abuse and assault. It also reasoned that if Section 377 was a pre-constitutional statute and if it were in violation of any fundamental right, the framers of the constitution would not have included it in the first place. Based on such observations, the apex court overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court.

Subsequent developments

The decision by the Supreme Court was met with heavy criticism and a general outcry from the intelligentsia, but was welcomed by many religious groups. However, some religious organiaations have begun favoring decriminalisation of homosexuality keeping in view the worldwide trend of acceptance for the practice.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has introduced a private member’s bill twice in the Lok Sabha to decriminalise homosexuality, but has been unsuccessful in getting it passed. Many voices within the government, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, have favored decriminalisation of homosexuality. In February 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to review its decision in the Suresh Kumar Koushal case and referred the curative petitions filed against the decision to a five-judge constitution bench.

The LGBT community in India is no more a minuscule minority as was made out by the apex court in its judgment. It is a thriving community whose members include prominent public figures such as renowned author Vikram Seth, fashion designers Rohit Bal and Manish Arora, film directors Karan Johar and Onir etc. Today, there are various LGBT groups in college campuses across India, which are doing spectacular work in spreading awareness about the LGBT community and in combating homophobia.

As the practice of homosexuality starts getting acceptance worldwide, it is only a matter of time before the Parliament and the Supreme Court in India get rid of the Judeo-Christian morality imposed on the Indian public by Section 377 and give the LGBT community in India their right to lead their lives with dignity.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Modi's Speech to US Congress: Culmination of Bipartisan Effort for Closer Indo-US Ties

As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Washington to address the joint sitting of the US Congress, becoming the fifth Indian Prime Minister to do so, Indo-US ties reached a new high in a saga of deepening cooperation between the two democracies. Banned for about 9 years from travelling to the United States, the Prime Minister must be credited for not holding a personal grudge and instead focusing on the advancement of India's national interest through closer cooperation with the United States, a policy which has been pursued strongly by his predecessors. Indeed, endorsement by the United States, Switzerland and Mexico for India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an elite club of 48 nations governing trade in items used for nuclear technology, is the culmination of a coherent Foreign Policy followed in this regard by Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh even in the face of strong opposition at home.

Hesitations of History 

Prime Minister Modi, in his 45 minute address to US Lawmakers, emphasised that Indo-US relations have overcome the hesitations of history. It is a poignant phrase which wonderfully captures the troubled relationship India and the United States shared at the time of the Cold War. A newly Independent India followed a policy of non-alignment as opposed to its neighbour and rival Pakistan, which opted to become a member of SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) and CENTO (Central Treaty Organization), both military alliances modelled on the lines of NATO and lead by the US, for safeguarding its security interests. As time passed, India increasingly became close to the Soviet Union for its security needs, especially through the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation signed in the backdrop of Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

The ties plummeted to an all time low when India conducted its nuclear test in 1998. Codenamed Operation Smiling Buddha, the covert nature of the tests left the intelligence community in the west red faced and led its failure to detect Indian preparations for an imminent test being known as "intelligence failure of the decade". The United States and other European Nations imposed sanctions, which were lifted by President George W Bush in an effort to stitch together a global alliance against terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. Economic and Strategic cooperation between the two countries began to pick up given the converging geo-political interests and economic reforms at home, but India continued to be a victim of nuclear apartheid by reason of its being excluded from important institutions like the NSG and MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), denying it an opportunity to engage in trade of nuclear technology with other nations.

Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal

What changed the contours of the relationship between the two countries was the hard push given to and the personal leadership shown with regard to the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008. The soft-spoken Prime Minister who was accused of lacking real power and the ability to take decisions on his own, showed uncharacteristic defiance and stuck to his guns in order to support the Agreement with the United States, even risking his own government. The Left Parties famously withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance, and the government was saved through the outside support of several regional parties. 

Manmohan Singh's leadership also benefited Indo-US relationship in the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, when he and President Obama developed personal rapport and a close working relationship. In his own address to the US Congress, Prime Minister Singh called India's non-proliferation track record as "impeccable" and said that the country neither has, nor will, support the proliferation of sensitive nuclear technology to third countries. He also gave a call for the end of nuclear apartheid against India and an early admission of India to NSG. In his speech to the Indian Parliament in 2010, President Barack Obama endorsed India's case for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, thus taking one more step in the direction of strong Indo-US ties. 

Strategic Autonomy to Strategic Alliance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking to build on the progress made by his predecessors, has shifted the focus of Indian Foreign Policy from Strategic Autonomy to that of Strategic Alliance. This is a policy which is mindful of the rapidly changing geo-political realities in the region as evidenced by the strong and deepening partnership between China and Pakistan. Nations cannot change their geographies, but they cannot be tied down by their neighbours either. Modi seeks to develop India into a major manufacturing hub and needs enormous foreign direct investment to make that dream come true. The Indian Economy is a lone bright spot in the current global scenario with a growth rate of 7.5% and a young population with majority of its citizens below the age of 35 years. 

In his speech to the US lawmakers, Modi tried to leverage both these strong points and also made a case for closer economic and strategic cooperation and reiterated his focus on government's flagship initiatives like Skill India, Smart Cities, Digital India and building rail, road and port infrastructure. In agreeing to ratify the Paris Climate Change Deal in exchange for a US led push for India's entry into the NSG, the Prime Minister also displayed the Gujarati characteristic skill of striking a good bargain. His call for greater investment from US Businesses drew serious attention given the slowing down of the economy of China and increasing strains in US-China bilateral ties. 

A Roadblock Named China

One of the strategic objectives of a closer Indo-US relationship is to secure the freedom of navigation in the seas particularly in the Asia Pacific region. China's increasing assertiveness in the South China sea has seriously impacted the security considerations of the countries such as Japan and Australia. The United States has led an effort to check China's activities in the region and prevent a major conflict from taking place. Closer Indo-US ties would go a long way in counterbalancing China's influence in the region and maintaining a balance of power in the South Asian region. 

There are obvious implications. China is leading an effort to block the entry of India in the NSG, demanding that its ally Pakistan also be admitted under a "non-discriminatory approach" if India's entry is to be considered. This is obviously not possible since Pakistan has a horrible proliferation record (Iran and North Korea acquired nuclear technology from A Q Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear program) and its entry into the NSG would render the body meaningless. 

As the United States gets ready to elect a new President, Prime Minister Modi will have to act to make sure that the gains made so far in the Indo-US ties continue to bear their fruits irrespective of the kind of administration that takes charge next. He must improve India's human rights record and continue to protect the interests of India's religious and ethnic minorities while delivering sustainable economic growth. The deepening relations between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies will significantly benefit people of both the countries if allowed to blossom to their maximum potential.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About The KM Nanavati Case - How An Affair Turned Friends Into Foes

This was published in Indiatimes

This is a story involving an extra-marital affair that resulted in a murder. The trial of the murderer generated unprecedented media coverage and the circumstances in which the murder took place resulted in huge public sympathy for him. This is also one of the first cases through which the maverick lawyer, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, came into the limelight for the first time.

Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati was an Indian Naval Officer who had settled in Mumbai with his English wife, Sylvia, and their two children. As his work required him to be away from his family for long periods of time, his wife began an affair with his friend Prem Ahuja. Sylvia wanted to divorce Nanavati and marry Ahuja, but he refused. Distraught by the refusal, she spilled the beans about the affair to Nanavati when he returned to his family.

Nanavati was enraged, but he did not show it. He dropped Sylvia and their two children to a nearby cinema hall, proceeded to the Naval Docks from where he withdrew his pistol and six cartridges on an excuse, finished his shift and went to Ahuja’s office. He did not find him there. He proceeded to Ahuja’s flat and confronted him there asking whether he would marry Sylvia and take in his children.

He refused.

Nanavati shot him dead.

After committing the murder, he proceeded to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command, where he confessed to his crime. The Provost Marshal asked him to surrender before the Deputy Commissioner of Police, which he did. Nanavati was an upright, moral and patriotic officer who did not have any prior history of criminal activity. The jury that heard his trial was sympathetic to his suffering and declared him to ‘not guilty’ by a majority of 8-1.

Ram Jethmalani, a young lawyer at the time, was assisting the prosecution on the request of Ahuja’s sister Mamie Ahuja. The trial court judge found this verdict to be perverse and referred the matter to the High Court.

Throughout the trial, the Bombay Daily Blitz, which folded shop in the 90s, championed the cause of Nanavati. One copy of the magazine, which was usually priced at 25 paisa, was selling at 2 rupees per issue at the height of the trial. The coverage of the trial pitted the Parsi and Sindhi communities in the city against each other. When the matter reached the High Court, a sentence of life imprisonment was read out, upon which Nanavati preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court confirmed the verdict of the High Court in November 1961. Blitz now went into an overdrive. It published a mercy petition in its pages, forcefully conveying the sentiments of the Parsi community which was wholly in favor of pardoning him. The rule of law and the demands of the society had clashed with each other. It was obvious that one had to bend in favor of the other.

Around the same time, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, newly appointed Governor of Bombay and sister of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, received a mercy petition from Bhai Pratap, a prominent Sindhi leader, in March 1962. Bhai Pratap had a business of import-export of sport goods and bureaucrats around her agreed that he could be pardoned. Pandit pounced on the chance. Bhai Pratap could be pardoned, she reasoned, after Nanavati had been pardoned. This way, both the Parsi and the Sindhi communities would get what they want. The proposal was conveyed to Jethmalani, who was asked to convince Mamie Ahuja for the same. She acceded to the government’s request.

Soon after being pardoned by the government, Nanavati left for Canada along with his wife and two children and was never heard of again. He died in 2003. Sylvia is still alive.

The case has inspired several Bollywood movies, plays and books including R K Nayar’s Ye Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963) starring Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu, Gulzar’s Achanak (1973) starring Vinod Khanna and Lily Chakraborty and Indra Sinha’s book The Death of Mr Love (2002). It is also rumored that Akshay Kumar and Neeraj Pandey’s latest offing Rustom, is based on the case. 

Even after 50 years, the Nanavati case continues to have a tremendous recall value among a public infamous for its short memory. The question that animated discussions in countless chai shops of Bombay at the time of the trial remains relevant till today - “What would you have done if you were in his shoes?”

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Darkest Hour In Indian Judicial History - When The Supreme Court Surrendered Its Autonomy During Emergency

This was published in Indiatimes

Today, most Indians have an implicit faith in the Supreme Court righting any wrongs done to any citizen by the government. But there was a dark period during the Emergency (1975-77) when even the Supreme Court bowed down to the diktats of the government and robbed the citizens of the country of their final hope of grievance redressal.

What was the case

ADM Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla, or the Habeas Corpus case as it came to be known, was a blot on the judiciary. No citizen had any right to move to the courts against any arbitrary action by the government, which resulted in the loss of his/her liberty or even life.

Four of the five judges on the Supreme Court bench came to this conclusion at a time when Mrs. Gandhi's emergency regime was rounding up opposition political figures, trade unionists, student leaders, civil society activists etc. and throwing them into jail for their crime of speaking up against the brutal emergency regime. This violated the most fundamental principles of democracy with impunity.

How it led to the making of draconian law

Chief Justice A N Ray, beholden to Mrs. Gandhi for his appointment as the Chief Justice after superseding other senior judges, chose to disregard the unanimous conclusion advanced by all the other high courts of the country on the same question. They all agreed that, even in the darkest period of political turmoil, a citizen could approach the high courts under Art. 226 of the Constitution for appropriate remedy through writ jurisdiction. CJI Ray chose to overrule all those judgments and closed the gate of the courts to the ordinary citizen of the country demanding justice in very unjust times.

The Judge who didn't budge 

Justice H R Khanna, the lone dissenting judge on the Supreme Court bench that decided ADM Jabalpur, paid the price for his dissent when he was superseded by Justice M H Beg for the post of Chief Justice. 

What's Habeas Corpus

The phrase "Habeas Corpus" means "have the body" and is usually used to challenge illegal detention by the government. Its roots can be traced back to the Magna Carta of England in 1215. When the SC decided to rob the citizens of the remedy through Habeas Corpus, it not only dealt a blow to the principles enshrined in our constitution, but also positioned itself against a legal principle dating back more than 750 years and recognised by all civilised democracies around the world.
How the case unfolded

Mr. Shanti Bhushan, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Mr. Soli Sorabjee and Mr. Anil Divan argued for the detainees. The government was represented by Attorney General Mr. Niren De. The Attorney General argued that the detainees had no right to move to the court under a writ of Habeas Corpus as all fundamental rights including Article 21 of the constitution were suspended during the emergency. This lead Justice Khanna to ask, "Article 21 also contains life. Would government arguments extend to it also?"

The Attorney General replied, "Even if life was to be taken illegally during the Emergency, the courts are helpless".

The Attorney General would later justify his outrageous defense of the Emergency with these words, "I wanted the robes to rage against that violent view I propounded and come down on such Emergency inhumanity. But, to my surprise, barring Khanna, the other justices heard but did not furiously resist. I felt sad as a jurist but found success as Counsel." 

The Habeas Corpus case has been dubbed ”the biggest blow to the Supreme Court – by the Supreme Court” by the People's Union for Civil Liberties. Justice V R Krishna Iyer, an eminent jurist, called the judgment a disgrace at par with an American judgment that ruled that Negroes were slaves to be owned, not humans who could own. H M Seervai, another eminent jurist, said that through the judgment, the four Supreme Court justices had propounded the maxim "lawlessness be thou our law". 

As for Justice Khanna and his role during the gloomy days of the Emergency, these words from an editorial by the New York Times are more than enough to sum up the tale of one of the darkest cases in India's judicial history:

If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice H.R. Khanna of the Supreme Court. It was Justice Khanna who spoke out fearlessly and eloquently for freedom this week in dissenting from the Court’s decision upholding the right of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Government to imprison political opponents at will and without court hearings... The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society, and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision appears close to utter surrender.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About Aruna Shanbaug, Whose Case Led To India's Euthanasia Debate

This was published in Indiatimes

At some point in your life, through friends, popular media or your school or college, you must have come across the term "mercy killing". The legal term for mercy killing is euthanasia and the consequences of legalising it, have over time, become a heated debate among India's intellectual, political and legal circles. The case that led to this heated debate was that of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India.

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug was a nurse in the King Edwards Memorial Hospital in Mumbai when she was assaulted by a sweeper of the same hospital while changing her clothes in the hospital basement. During the assault, she was tied with a dog chain around her neck, which cut off oxygen supply from her brain and rendered her in a permanent vegetative state for the next 42 years.

From the day of the assault till the day she died, Aruna could only survive on mashed food. She could not move her hands or legs, could not talk or perform the basic functions of a human being. Journalist-Activist Pinky Virani, who had published a book regarding her case titled Aruna's Story, filed a writ petition under Article 32 before the Supreme Court of India, asking for the legalisation of euthanasia so that Aruna's continued suffering could be terminated by withdrawing medical support. She contended that the patient had been in a permanent vegetative state for the past many years and did not have any chance of recovery at all.

The Supreme Court accepted the petition and constituted a medical board to report back on Aruna's health and medical condition. The medical board, comprising three eminent doctors, reported that the patient was not brain dead and responded to some situations in her own way. They felt that there was no need for euthanasia in the case.

The staff at KEM Hospital and the Bombay Municipal Corporation filed their counter-petitions in the case, opposing euthanasia for Aruna. The nurses at KEM Hospital were quite happy to look after the patient and they had been doing that for years before petitioner Pinky Virani emerged on the scene. 

The court, while delivering its judgment, distinguished between active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia means killing a person through the use of lethal substance or force, and passive euthanasia means withdrawing or discontinuing medical support necessary for the continuation of life. The court rejected the plea for euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug but legalised passive euthanasia in the country.

The reason any debate around euthanasia generates such a heated discussion is because while our constitution recognises the right to life with dignity, it does not recognise the right to die. Therefore, a debate regarding mercy killing is just not a debate regarding the legality of such a wish, but is also a debate about the morality and ethics of such an act. With the concept of euthanasia, law enters that complex territory of medical ethics which has even divided the medical fraternity sharply in the recent past.

Passive euthanasia did not remain legalised for long in India. In Common Cause v. Union of India, it was urged that the judgment of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India was decided based on incorrect interpretation of the constitution bench's judgment in Gian Kaur v State of Punjab, and therefore it was referred to a larger constitutional bench for review and final judgment.

Aruna Shanbaug died in May 2015, but her case helped in shedding light on an extremely complex issue of medical ethics and law. Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States. Will India join the list?

We'll have to wait and watch.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Deaths: Pratyusha Banerjee and Delta Meghwal

Over the last week there has been a lot of hullabaloo over the alleged suicide of former Balika Vadhu lead Pratyusha Benerjee. The 24 year old actress committed suicide in Mumbai over difficulties in her relationship with her boyfriend, depression and lack of work. Her boyfriend Rahul Raj Singh, was hospitalized after being described on the 'verge of madness' by his friends after two days of questioning by the police. 

On the other hand, there has been complete silence in the mainstream media about the rape and institutional murder of the 17 year old student Delta Meghwal in Rajasthan, which exposes deeply entrenched bias against students belonging to lower castes in the country's "cow belt" state as well as in the mainstream media. Delta Meghwal was allegedly raped by her Physical Training instructor and her dead body was found in the water tank of her college. She was studying in a training institute in Bikaner and her artwork had been acknowledged by the state's Chief Minister herself. According to the facts that have come to light so far, it is alleged that the institute that Delta was studying in actively conspired to cover up her rape and harassment by the PT instructor and forced an apology by both of them which stated that they were caught having sex by mutual consent. To rub salt on the wound, Delta's dead body was carried off from the institute in a municipal garbage carrying vehicle. 

The Ladies Finger, a prominent feminist website, has posed five questions to Delta's institute reproduced below:    
Questions activists are now asking, and we should all ask:
1. Why did the principal Eashwar Chand Vaid and the institution  not file a police case against Vijendra Kumar Singh, since Meghwal was a minor?
2. Why was the college’s knee-jerk reaction instead to force Meghwal to write a letter that she had been shamefully caught in consensual sex with her teacher?
3. Why was due process not followed by the police when Meghwal’s body was found? Reports say that even video evidence was not taken before Meghwal’s body was moved from the scene of the crime.
4. Why did the police use a garbage tractor to move her body?
5. What kind of institution was Vaid running where it would be considered ‘normal’ for a teenaged girl student to be sent to clean the room of a teacher?
Caste Consciousness in Mainstream Media

The case of Delta Meghwal comes close on the controversy involving the institutional murder of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad. While Rohith's suicide was taken up in a big manner by JNUSU as well as HCU before coming in the mainstream media, Delta's rape and murder has hardly attracted any mainstream media attention.

This is not to say that Pratyusha Banerjee's suicide was any less tragic. True, depression in young people is a serious issue that should be debated and for which the government should be pressurized to take remedial measures such as providing additional counselling and sensitizing the public about the measures to be taken in such a scenario. However, the complete blackout of the rape and murder of Delta points to the caste bias in the media which considers suicide and murders of upper castes worth its TRPs and those by lower castes as pass overs.

Numerous studies have shown that dalits have gone almost unrepresented in India's mainstream media leading to a very slanted view when it comes to caste. This opinion piece in The Hindu, for example, documented how the representation of dalits in the Indian media had remained static since 1992 and that such static-ness was a violation of the constitutional guarantees of equality and equal opportunity. This opinion piece in Firstpost, written by someone who carried out a three month study of the journalists who passed out of IIMC, country's premier journalism training institute, records the sting of caste discrimination faced by lower caste students even in the supposedly 'progressive' mainstream media. Finally, this opinion piece in the Hindustan Times wondered aloud whether the suicide of Rohith Vemula would alter the caste dynamic and sensitivity in the country's leading newsrooms. Going by the coverage given to Delta Meghwal's death, it clearly hasn't. 

The Absent Legacy

In an opinion piece written for Seminar, NDTV's Ravish Kumar ruminated on the caste relations that are forged between different politicians and journalists and the kind of gratitude he was flooded with after airing an episode on Ambedkar Jayanti. Dr. Ambedkar's seminal role in writing our egalitarian constitution, although applauded by many, has scarcely done much to alter the social attitude towards dalits in India, who continue to be discriminated against in many spheres. Reservations in government jobs and institutes of higher education, have done a lot to empower this downtrodden and exploited section of the Indian society, but at the same time it has fueled negative feelings verging on hateful feelings against the lower castes by the upper castes in the country, as witnessed by numerous caste atrocities still prevalent in the country today.

The coverage given to Pratyusha Banerjee's death, on the other hand, displays a deep sensitivity towards the urban problems faced by youngsters, namely depression, lack of work and difficulties in love life, which figure in the 'safety' and 'love' category of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It is only when an individual reaches these advanced stages that these issues become important. However, if an individual hasn't even progressed or is progressing from the starting point, doesn't his/her struggle assume more importance than the one who has already crossed this level just by the reason of his/her birth?


The stark contrast between the coverage and attention given to Delta Meghwal's death as compared to Pratyusha Banerjee's death is a timely reminder of the discrimination faced by the lower castes both in the employment and coverage of issues with regards to the mainstream media. Before we can move towards the goal of an egalitarian society where everyone is afforded the same level of justice - social, economic and political, we will have to deliberate upon these uncomfortable questions staring our society and polity today.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

As Expected: Pak JIT denies Pathankot Terrorists being Pakistani

This post featured in Blogadda's Tangy Tuesday Picks

NDTV has reported that Pakistan's Joint Investigating team, which came to India to collect evidence in the ongoing Pathankot Airbase Attack probe, has denied that the terrorists were pakistani. More from the Report:
"National Investigation Agency officials had briefed and accompanied the Pakistani team into the Pathankot air base on March 29. The team was also showed the route taken by the terrorists to enter the base.
Pakistani investigators said they could not collect evidence in this limited time, the news report said quoting sources.
The JIT returned yesterday after its five-day visit to India during which all evidence pertaining to the attack was shared with it. This included the DNA samples of four terrorists, their identities as well as call records showing involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammad or JeM terrorists."

What was Modi thinking?

Public opinion in India was overwhelmingly against allowing Pakistani JIT, comprising of officials from Pakistan's Inter services Intelligence (ISI) agency, to visit the attack site. The Indian National Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, both reacted strongly to the development and termed the visit akin to ISI probing itself. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blasted the move in the Delhi Assembly after the assembly had to be adjourned for half an hour due to massive protests by AAP legislators. Congress party volunteers protested outside the Pathankot Air force base against the visit. India has long held the position that it is Pakistani Intelligence, specifically the ISI, that has nurtured and bred Jehadis and terrorists through training camps spread all over their country in order to wage a proxy war against India. Despite the overwhelming negative feedback, the Prime Minister and the National Security Adviser, in a display of amateurish foreign policy bravado, decided to do the unthinkable and host the delegation in the country. As expected, Pakistan has once again played the time tested card of denying any involvement in the terrorist attacks, thus leaving egg on the government's face.

Backstabbing from the very start

Pakistani establishment had begun to show its true colors hours after the Pakistani JIT landed in India, when its officials claimed that they have catched a RAW spy in Baluchistan who was engaged in subversive activities. Inter Services Public Relations Agency (ISPR) made outrageous claims of the man being involved in harming the China Pakistan Economic Corridor with the Gwadar port as its target. The man later turned out to be an ex-navy official who no longer was associated with the Indian forces in any manner. Nevertheless, the relentless brandishing of the arrest as a major achievement by the Pakistani establishment even as the JIT was visiting India exposed the whole exercise as a mere pretence cloaked in a god cop bad cop script. 

Weakening of India's International Position

This blunder has gone beyond the diplomatic one-upmanship common in the bilateral relations of India and Pakistan and has weakened the position of India internationally with regards to the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Till now, India had refused to fall for the smoke screen of state versus non state actors put up by Pakistan to brush away responsibilities for the attacks. India had consistently maintained , especially after the attacks on mumbai in 2008, that the terrorists involved in attacks on India were sufficiently equipped, trained and provided necessary resources for carrying out the deadly operations by elements within the Pakistani state and that therefore the Pakistani government would have to own up responsibility for the same. 

By allowing Pakistani JIT to probe the attack site and then claim the obvious, the Prime Minister has foolishly allowed a precedent to be set where India impliedly seems to agree that non state actors totally divorced from any arm of the Pakistani state may be responsible for the attacks, therefore giving the Pakistani government, military and intelligence a clear chit. This is a blunder that can have wide ramifications in the future because Pakistan can bring up this disastrous decision again and again in the international fora to strongly claim that even the Indian government is unsure about the origins of terrorism wrecking its cities and military establishments.

Total Failure of the NSA

National Security Advisor Ajit doval, hailed as the superman of counter-intelligence in India, has so far monumentally failed to live upto the hype that his appointment had generated. Mr. Doval has so far engaged in empty theatrics when it has come to solving the Gurdaspur and Pathankot terror attacks, besides totally squandering the years of gains made under his able predecessors. His theory of "Offensive Defense", hailed in hawkish circles as the approach needed to tackle Pakistan, has so far remained a lame duck squatting on yellowing parchments in South Block rather than an actual policy implementable on the ground. Even during the pathankot attacks, he was heavily criticized for his decision to send in the NSG, instead of the regular forces better equipped with intelligence to handle the situation, which resulted in the tragic casualty of one brave commando. Of course, the Indian Army had to come to his defense.

Instead of utilizing the decade long diplomatic pressure built on Pakistan through hard work and international efforts, the NSA accompanied the Prime Minister on his cameo visit to Pakistan, thus breaking the draught of PM level visits imposed by India on Pakistan. MP Jyotiraditya scindia, while recently speaking in the Parliament, deplored the attitude of the Prime Minister regarding Foreign Policy which left most of the top level officials in the dark regarding the impromptu visit.

Modi should stop the PR, start being the PM

The Prime Minister's narcissism and vanity are not new found obsessions and have been well documented in the past. It seems that he is still in the election mode and is busy in managing his PR rather than manage affairs like foreign policy seriously as a PM. It seems that for him and his cabal, image building has become more important than nation building. This disastrous move has even silenced all the loud admirers of the PM into shame and has made them question the judgement and skill of their leader when it comes to important matters of diplomacy. It would serve the Prime Minister well if he stops acting like a know-it-all superman on matters galaxies beyond his questionable intelligence and tightens the leash on his National Security Adviser who acts like he is scouting for a role in the next James Bond movie. The Prime Minister should start listening to what his experienced and intelligent advisors advise him on matters of foreign policy rather than turning every bilateral meeting into a hug and selfie festival. If he does not start doing that soon, he may have plenty of followers on social media, but an even larger army of trolls in real life.      

Monday, March 28, 2016

Crisis of Federalism in India: Center on a Warpath

After vowing to promote and strengthen "cooperative federalism" in the country, the much maligned Narendra Modi government at the center has taken another U-turn and has decided to go on a warpath with regards to the states in view of its nosediving popularity day by day and thin chances of getting elected with a majority in the forthcoming assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal.

President's Rule in Uttarakhand

The Center imposed President's rule in Uttarakhand a day before Chief Minister Harish Rawat was to prove his majority on the floor of the house. The decision to impose President's rule was taken by an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by the Prime Minister himself, who cut short his tour to Assam to fly back to Delhi.

Earlier, 9 Congress MLAs had rebelled from the ruling party, sparking the crises in the state. The rebellion occurred when the MLAs demanded vote division on the Appropriation Bill on the floor of the house in writing on March 18. The Speaker rejected their demand and announced the appropriation bill as passed. The decision of the Speaker is final with regards to proceedings in the house and the only way to dismiss the government in the state, as prescribed by the Constitution, is by passing a vote of no-confidence against it. CM Harish Rawat, as duly instructed by the Governor, was to face this no-confidence motion on March 28. The opposition BJP, unable to cobble up a majority of its own, sent SOS signals to the center, which imposed President's Rule on March 27.

Earlier, Center's Rule in Arunachal Pradesh

A similar script played out in Arunachal Pradesh in January when 21 Congress MLAs rebelled against the Chief Minister and were supported by the BJP and Independent MLAs to form their own government after the Center imposed President's Rule.

The role of the Governor was questioned when he allowed the rebel legislators as well as the BJP and independent MLAs to hold an assembly session a month before it was scheduled to take place, that too without consulting the Chief Minister and also implored the assembly to consider a motion for removing the speaker! The Governor also cited cow slaughter, 'threats' and misbehaviour among the reasons for recommending president's rule in the state while forwarding his report to the center.

The Supreme Court lashed out at the decision of the governor to allow the assembly session to be convened outside the assembly premises but expressed its inability to scrutinize the report sent by the Governor recommending president's rule as he enjoyed constitutional immunity. It was only able to fume that it "cannot be a mute spectator while democracy was slaughtered" as the Parliament approved the imposition of Central rule in the state. 

Flagrant Violation of Supreme Court Directives

The exercise of emergency powers under Art 356 of the constitution to remove inconvenient state governments was almost a routine with post-Independence central governments until the landmark case of S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India in 1994 screeched halt on that practice. In that case, briefly, the Supreme Court laid down the following directives, which have been brilliantly summarized by Praveen Swami in a Frontline article here:

1) In all cases where the support of the Ministry is claimed to have been withdrawn by some legislators the proper course for testing the strength of the Ministry is holding the test on the floor of the House.

2) The assessment of the strength of the Ministry is not a matter of private opinion of any individual be he the Governor or the President.

3) Whenever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House. The sole exception to this will be a situation of all-pervasive violence where the Governor comes to the conclusion - and records the same in his report - that for the reasons mentioned by him, a free vote is not possible.

4) It is not each and every non-compliance with a particular provision of the Constitution that calls for the exercise of the power under Article 356(1). The majority in Bommai sanctioned dismissal of a State government only under the most extreme circumstances.

5) Situations which can be remedied or do not create an impasse or do not disable or interfere with the governance of the State according to the Constitution would not merit the issuance of the proclamation under the Article.

None of the five directives were followed by the Central government while imposing President's rule in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, thus violating the constitutional right of the democratically elected governments of these states to continue in office.

It is quite well known that the Prime Minister and his colleagues harbor a dream of Congress Mukt Bharat. It seems that they will let neither the Supreme Court, nor the relentless criticism from the Media or the Civil Society come in the way of achieving this long cherished ambition of theirs.

Himachal Pradesh and Manipur: Next in Line?

Eminent Constitutional and Legal experts have slammed the decision of the Central Government to impose President's Rule in these two states without following the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. However, The Congress High Command is in no mood of taking chances and has sounded high alert to its governments in Himachal Pradesh and Manipur, fearing a similar revolt will be manufactured by the Center in order to justify the imposition of President's Rule in the two states.

One chuckles to recall that the same BJP, when it was in the opposition, used to raise such a hue and cry in the name of "preserving the federal structure" of the country. Sushma Swaraj, as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley as leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had targeted the government many times, accusing it of weakening the federal structure. In fact, it was none other than the current Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi himself who moved the resolution slamming the UPA government for "destabilizing the federal structure" of the country and launching an "attack on federalism" in the BJP National Executive meeting in Lucknow in 2011. The resolution also said that the centre, through its “insidious and colorable attacks on the states”, was usurping their law making powers and was “poaching” on their domain.

Today, Mr. Prime Minister is proactively toppling democratically elected governments, Sushma Swaraj is silent and complicit in the exercise and Mr. Jaitley, known for his legal acumen, is masterfully pretending to have forgotten even the basics of the Constitutional scheme for the center and the states. How far have we come from the halcyon days of "attack on federal structure" to total annihilation of federal structure! 

It is clear that massive opposition from the intelligentsia, counter mobilization across various university campuses, vehement criticism in the press and one failure after another on the policy front have unsettled the nerves of the Prime Minister and his advisors, and they have now become desperate to capture total power in all states in order to quell dissent and to pave the way towards recapturing of power in 2019. The dream of a Congress Free India is not turning out to be so easily achievable as before. The charm of "Modi wave" seems to be fast eroding for the BJP leadership as tides turn against it slowly and steadily. The only option, it seems at the moment, is to wait and watch with baited breath for the next course of events to play themselves out.

P.S: Shortly after this blog was written, the Nainital High Court stayed the President's Rule imposed in Uttarakhand by the Center and ordered Harish Rawat to face the floor test in the assembly on 31st March in the presence of all the MLAs.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bhagat Singh as a Protester in Hyderabad Central University

Yesterday was the Martyrdom day of Sh. Bhagat Singh, Sh. Sukhdev and Sh. Rajguru. Their huge contribution in the freedom struggle of our country will remain alive in the hearts of the people as long as our country exists on the face of the earth. Young men, only 23 years old, challenged the hegemony and imperialism of the mighty British Empire and raised their voice against communalism, sectarianism and the exploitation by man of man and happily went to the gallows for the cause of independence. The independence they desired was not only political, but was also economic and social and bravely demanded an end to the oppression in the name of religion, caste, sex, language etc. As citizens of India, we should be proud that such bold and fearless sons have risen from the soil of our country and have shown us the way forward with their sacrifice.

Yet, sometimes, given the current political, economic and social condition of our country, one is forced to introspect, and then, hang one's head in shame. The question that strikes one's mind, like a thunder bolt, again and again is, have we betrayed the struggle and sacrifice of these freedom fighters? Have we lived upto the standards of democracy that guided their vision and soothed their souls? Have we, as free Indians living in a free country, done justice to the hard work and labor of these revolutionaries, whose blood provided the fuel for our independence?

News announcing the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore. The Tribune, March 25, 1931.

The answer to such a question must not venture into the laborious details of our achievements in our past, for the achievements of the state are not a charity by its politicians but the right of its citizens. Therefore, the true measure of our independence cannot be provided by the well off and the haves; it can only be narrated by the deprived and the marginalized - the have nots. And whenever one tries to listen to the voice of the have nots, the cries of injustice and cruelty ring out in the same manner as they have since the ages.

Who are these have nots to whom we must ask these questions? At least, who were these people in Bhagat's imagination? He had an affinity for the entire Indian society, and one can even say, the entire human society. However, more specifically, peasants, workers, youth and women formed the centerpiece of his vision and ideology. Where do these four sections of our society stand today?

A Broken Peasantry

One can know about the overall condition of the peasantry by glimpsing Maharashtra, where 14,708 villages out of a total of 43,000 villages have been declared drought hit for the second consecutive year. In Latur, authorities had to invoke Sec. 144 in order to prevent mobs from resorting to violence due to acute lack of drinking water. More than 60,000 farmers in Maharashtra and more than 300,000 farmers nationwide have committed suicide since 1995. Just last month, a task force appointed by the Maharashtra government to deal with the agrarian crisis suggested pretty much everything under the sun to bring the situation under control. The Government's very own Attorney General has demanded separate statehood for Marathwada, accusing the government of total failure in curbing farmer suicides.

How has the Government responded?

Firstly, that inconvenient Attorney General has been sacked. Secondly, the data submitted to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) by the state has been fudged to the very end so as to make sure that farmer suicide levels do not cause unnecessary outrage. A BJP Member of Parliament has said that it's fashion among farmers to commit suicides. While the state government of Maharshtra has been trying to pinch the money meant as compensation for the farmers through bureaucratic jugglery, the union government at the same time has written off more than Rs 5,51,000 crores in corporate debt - money that could have significantly expanded the NREGA in a time of great agrarian distress.

Students on the Streets

Even as I write this, students in Hyderabad Central University, protesting the institutional murder of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the reinstatement of the VC Appa Rao, have been brutally lathi charged and denied access to water, food, and electricity. 36 students have gone missing while some of them are battling for their lives in ICU.

This shameful state of affairs comes on the heels of massive protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Film and Television Institute of India, IIT Madras, Osmania University and Jadavpur University against the massive fund cuts in the sphere of education and a contemptuous disregard for the will and opinion of the student community regarding the appointment of University administrators, protests against the curbing of constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech, expression and association as well as the institutional murder of Dalit scholars by the university administration.

Today, the field of education has become a battleground in the name of wresting control of the minds of young students by the people who had no role at all to play in the fight for our freedom. In fact, the RSS actively colluded with the Britishers to break the back of the freedom movement in the country. The government, which is making a great pomp and show out of the matyrdom anniversary of these valiant young men, does not give two hoots for their sacrifice in reality. Is it surprising then, that Bhagat Singh opposed these communal opportunists tooth and nail while he was alive?
Workers and Women in Revolt

Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt famously threw bombs in the Central Assembly to protest against the draconian Trade Dispute Bill being passed by using the Emergency powers of the Viceroy. Interestingly, today independent India's very own government is making changes to labor laws that would have left these young martyrs red faced. According to the proposed changes, it will become tougher to form trade unions and easier to fire workers. What about Child Labor? Forget trying to stop this abhorrent practice, the government is set to make it easier for children aged between 14-18 years to work by diluting the definition of 'hazardous industries'. All this is done in the name of ease of doing business.

At the same time, women protesters cutting across various issues are being brutally lathi charged, molested and threatened with rape. Soni Sori, tribal activist and AAP politician from Chhattisgarh, has been tortured, beaten and attacked with an acid like chemical for speaking out against police atrocities. Now her family is being targeted. Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, has completed more than 14 years of continuous hunger strike against the draconian AFSPA which allows army men to kill without consequences. Several women protesters and public figures, speaking out on social media, are daily targets of constant abuse and vilification. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that women face in India today.


How would Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru respond to these atrocious happenings under a democratic government in India today? For one thing, they would refuse to be a part of the system which lets these atrocities take place with such impunity in the first place. If they were really alive today, they would have sat in protest against the government in each of the universities mentioned, especially JNU and Hyderabad Central University, against the unconstitutional diktats of a casteist and neo-fascist government.

Anybody familiar with the life and works of Bhagat Singh would know that he would have proudly lend his voice to the thousands of voices crying "Lal Salaam!" and "Jai Bheem!" across various campuses today. He would have taken part in marches, participated in sit-ins and morchas and would have hit out against the communal frenzy promoted by this government.

Perhaps it is a hyperbole to compare any protester with Bhagat Singh today. But what cannot be denied that each and every protester fighting for the constitutionally guaranteed rights of his brothers and sisters marching beside him embodies the same spirit of revolution that these martyrs promoted and died for.