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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Kangaroo Courts Must Go!

This first appeared in Daily News and Analysis

The recent gang rape of a 20 year old woman in West Bengal on village council orders highlights the need to stamp out such extra judicial kangaroo courts in compliance with the previous Supreme Court orders.

In West Bengal’s Birbhum district, a village council ordered a 20 year old girl to be gang raped in front of the entire village on the accusation that she was having an affair with a married man from another village. The accusation wasn’t proved, but the girl had “visited Delhi and spoke Hindi” and that was enough for the village council to order such brutality on her.

Such incidents are not new. In Mushahari district in Bihar, a rape victim was offered Rs. 10,000 as compensation by the village council and her family was threatened not to report the incidence to anyone. Another famous case is that of Siya Dulari of Bhawanipur, who was burnt to death just because her son eloped with a girl belonging to an upper caste family. The incidence sparked widespread condemnation and was later the inspiration for a Bollywood film called ‘Lajja‘.

One can go on with a list of such incidences which were ordered by village councils and dutifully carried out without a hint of shame or remorse. These village councils do not exercise any power to mete out criminal punishment under any law and yet, there are frequent cases in which these councils not only order gang rapes, illegal confinements and social boycotts, but go to the extent of ordering killings, a phenomena which has come to be known as ‘honor killings’.

The Supreme Court has time and again delivered judgments against such village councils, asking them to be stamped out from the country. In Lata Singh v. State of UP and Another (2006), the apex court observed:

We sometimes hear of ‘honour’ killings of such persons who undergo inter-caste or inter-religious marriage of their own free will. There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism. The police at all the concerned places should ensure that neither the petitioner nor her husband nor any relatives of the petitioner’s husband are harassed or threatened nor any acts of violence are committed against them. If anybody is found doing so, he should be proceeded against sternly in accordance with law, by the authorities concerned.

In Fiaz Ahmed Ahanger and Ors. V. State of J& K (2009), the court held that:

“In such cases of inter-caste or inter religion marriage the Court has only to be satisfied about two things:

(1) That the girl is above 18 yeas of age, in which case, the law regards her as a major vide Section 3 of the Indian Majority Act, 1875. A major is deemed by the law to know what is in his or her welfare.
(2) The wish of the girl.

In the circumstances, we direct that nobody will harass, threaten or commit any acts of violence or other unlawful act on the petitioner, Chanchali Devi/Mehvesh Anjum and the petitioner’ family members and they shall not be arrested till further orders in connection with the case in question. If they feel insecure, they can apply to the police and, in such event, the police shall grant protection to them.”

In Arumugam Servai v. State of Tamil Nadu (2011), the apex court ruled that:

We have in recent years heard of ‘Khap Panchayats’ (known as katta panchayats in Tamil Nadu) which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an institutionalized way on boys and girls of different castes and religion, who wish to get married or have been married, or interfere with the personal lives of people. We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. As already stated in Lata Singh’s case (supra), there is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal.

In the Manoj Babli case (2011), the Punjab and Haryana High Court remarked:

"Even in the 21st century such a shameful act of hollow honor killing is perpetrated in our society. We feel that it is really a slur on the fine fabric of the Indian society. Abduction is really cruel and that too murder of the abductees is barbaric."

In addition to constituting a crime, any political justification of the acts of these village councils cannot stand the test of law as their actions are violative of Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right of life and liberty to everyone in the country.

Failure of the state authorities to curb such crimes which are primarily directed against women also runs afoul of India’s international commitments as India is a party to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1981) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Law Commission of India in its 242nd report titled “Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework” has suggested a draft bill to penalize these honor killings and other crimes committed in the name of preserving one’s honor. The proposed bill prescribes strict punishment for unlawful assemblies of the panchayats, objectionable behavior towards any couple, criminal intimidation etc. and empowers the district magistrate or the SDM to take preventive measures against the same (salient features here).

It is high time that the state governments took note of the rising incidences of crimes committed on the orders of these Kangaroo courts and ruthlessly stamped them out to rid the society of their evil influence. The sooner such stringent measures are taken, the better it will be.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Diplomacy of Language

First Published in Youth Ki Awaaz

While the more broad minded and vernacular oriented people in India whose preferred domestic language happens not to be Hindi might take offense, the fact is that encouraging the usage of Hindi in other nations has long been on the agenda of India’s foreign policy. With its ideal of projecting its soft power of culture, customs and the way of life, India’s foreign policy places an unusual amount of importance on encouraging the usage of Hindi in other nations.

India is not alone in this move. In fact, encouraging the usage of their respective vernaculars in foreign countries has for long been on the to-do lists of nations with a strong vernacular culture. The westerners did not need it, as the necessity of the same was fulfilled by the forceful colonization and subjugation of countries across the globe. In India, to be particular, the famous minute of Lord MaCaulay heralded the arrival of English as the sole medium of imparting education and consequently, as the de facto official language for the rest of her life under the British. However, for the nations which did not have the luxury of expansionist programs or large swathes of colonies under their rule, the process of language diplomacy started only after the process of decolonization had been accomplished to a significant degree in the latter part of the twentieth century.

A Cold War Equation

Nehruvian vision and a particular tilt towards Russia in the cold war and non aligned years ensured that Russian Universities were the first to take up the teaching of Hindi as an optional language. The banning of Hollywood films in the cold war era resulted in Soviet Russia turning to Bollywood films for their entertainment, a phenomenon which made actor Raj Kapoor an instant celebrity in that country. The warm response to such films provided both the countries with an opportunity to further their people to people ties, as a means of furthering their national interest, making the exchange of their respective vernacular languages inevitable.

Indian governments which succeeded Nehru were quick to realize the pragmatism of “exporting” domestic culture to other countries as well as familiarizing themselves with the culture of their counterparts. Jawaharlal Nehru University (which was established in 1969) was one of the first universities to take up the task of dissemination of foreign languages in the country. Following the grand success of festival of India in Soviet Russia in 1988, the Indian Embassy in Moscow embarked on an aggressive program of showcasing the country’s culture through the Jawaharlal Nehru Cultural Centre which was established in 1989.

Apart from Nehru’s experiments of cultural ideas in the laboratory of International relations, India’s reluctance to engage in any kind of third party military adventurism has over the years, strengthened the case for its projection of soft power. In this larger scheme of things, language, undoubtedly, plays the largest role.

In a Globalized World

While a more muscular Cold War age may not have been particularly receptive to such ideas, choosing instead to gain allies with the show off of its arsenal, the case is certainly not so in a globalized and inter connected post cold war era. The immediate agenda now is to shift the study of their respective languages from the drowsy seminar rooms of a few odd universities in a friendly country to a larger audience in the primary and secondary schools with a long term view of creating a fertile field for realizing their goals and interests in foreign relations.

In June this year, China decided to introduce Hindi in South China by setting up a Hindi chair in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou. Several schools and universities in other parts of China are already teaching Hindi as an optional language. This month, India decided to reciprocate this gesture by announcing that Mandarin would be introduced in over a hundred schools as an optional language.

While Sino-Indian reciprocity can be seen in the light of two nations trying to shake off the shackles of their past scarred by a bitter war in 1962, other nations which are warming up to the idea of introducing foreign languages in their school and university curriculum, see it as a result of the fast paced growth of Asia.

Last Monday, Australian Prime Minister Ms. Julia Gillard introduced a white paper on the “Asian Century” which included, among other proposals, a proposal to introduce Hindi, Bhasa Indonesia, Japanese and Mandarin in the country’s primary and secondary schools, with the primary focus being on Hindi. Aimed at maximizing the links with the fast growing economies of Asia, the proposal has already been lauded by various sections of the Australian civil and political society.

A Policy of Necessity

Although the diplomacy of language remains the central scheme of things in India’s soft power, so dear to its foreign policy, it can also not be denied that this is a policy that India badly needs in order to create more jobs for its young population in order to realize the maximum potential of its demographic dividend. India is expected to surpass China in population terms by 2025 with the majority of its population being in the working age category. In order to provide employment to such a large proportion of population, India cannot depend entirely on the public sector. New and unconventional avenues will have to be explored which is only possible if the youth of the country are equipped with the right set of employable skills.

A continuing familiarization with the languages of different countries can not only boost India’s tourism industry and provide it with more translators, interpreters and teachers, but it can also help in adding more value to the already strong Diaspora of Indians which exists abroad.

It is in India’s interest to continue to experiment and explore new avenues in addition to its diplomacy of language, that can not only further its interests abroad, but can also prove beneficial in domestic terms in the long run.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Victory for Thangjam Manorama

This first appeared on Daily News and Analysis

The Justice Verma Committee recommendations regarding sexual violence against women in conflict areas by the armed personnel are a victory for its many forgotten victims like Thangjam Manorama and Soni Sori.

Patriotism mixed with mass hysteria of our mainstream media often pushes the silent screams of the countless victims of sexual brutality at the hands of armed personnel, into a dark corner. Punished by those who were tasked with protecting them, these victims' endless cries for justice eventually get lost in the labyrinthine corridors of power. They find themselves repeatedly driven back in the long queue of the aggrieved waiting for redressal of their wrongs; a queue that is conveniently jumped by those with money in their hands and power in their heads. Brutalized by the army, ostracized by the society and regularly denied justice, the lives of these women either become fodder for bleeding hearts like me or are reduced to obscurity. That is, if they come out of the ordeal alive.

Thangjam Manorma was lucky. She didn't survive the ordeal at the hands of the Indian Army Personnel. In the wee hours of 11 July, 2004, the 32 year old was dragged out of her house by the personnel of 17 Assam Rifles on charges of being a PLA agent. No incriminating evidence was found during her arrest as recorded in the memo of the arrest (This was not-so-subtly denied by the official spokesperson of the Assam Rifles who later said that a hand grenade, a wireless radio and plenty of incriminating evidence were "seized" from her house). However, after much searching, her body was found four kilometres away from her house. Although there were barely any clothes on her body, there were plenty of bullets in her vagina.

Not so lucky was Soni Sori. The (now) 38 Year old adivasi primary school teacher and human rights activist was arrested in October 2011 on charges of being a courier between the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Essar Group as a part of the Naxalites' extortion scheme. The Essar Group, the Naxalites as well as Soni herself have denied the charges. Despite her protests, she was remanded in the custody of Chhattisgarh state police in Dantewada where she was stripped naked and given electric shocks. When she was finally hospitalized on the orders of the Supreme Court, stones were extracted out of her rectum and her vagina.

What happened to the offenders? The army personnel of 17 Assam Rifles still roam free after a court ruling termed the inquiry against them constituted by the Manipur Government as 'Illegitimate'. Manorma's body still lies in the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal as her family alleged that the post mortem was not carried out according to the guidelines set by National Human Rights Commission. As for Soni Sori, the principal accused in her case, SP Ankit Garg was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry last year by the President (This same President also pardoned many prisoners who had been sentenced to death for various crimes of rape and murder). Soni Sori still languishes in the Raipur Central Jail.

These are just a representative sample of the cases that have managed to grab the limelight. There are still others who are missing, whose dead body was never found or if they escaped alive, their story was never picked up by any news outlet.

So, it is with a sense of relief that one reads the Justice Verma Committee's report where unlike other various committee's, they have not glossed over this grotesque reality of Indian Armed Forces. Starting from Page 149 of the 631 page report, the committee notes that India is a signatory to the International Convention for the protection of all persons from Enforced Disappearance and also recognizes that like most other countries, our country too flouts the norms laid in this convention with impunity. They go on to recommend that "Sexual violence against women by members of the armed forces or uniformed personnel must be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law" and that "There is an imminent need to review the continuance of AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible."

The Prime Minister has often reiterated his "comittment" to replace AFSPA with a more "humane law". But unfortunately, he lives in a world where everything is "theek hai". For countless victims like Thangjam Manorma and Soni Sori, who have been fighting their lonely battle against the brutalizing machinery of the state for too long, one hopes that the recommendations of these reports finally bring them closer to achieving justice. The ball is in the court of the government now, and despite the banal and robotic monotone of Dr. Singh's address, I would be all ears tomorrow morning to see how his government moves forward in implementing the recommendations of the report.