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October - November 2007


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Creative Freedom & India’s pseudo secularism

The attack on exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has exposed deep-rooted hypocrisy with regard to fundamentalist protests against creative freedom in India.

Political condemnation has been not as vocal against the Muslim political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (MIM) attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.

Though she stays in exile from her country in Kolkata, even the Left government had banned one of her books.

Fundamentalism at its worst, ironically elected representatives of India’s democracy saying they may be MLAs but are Muslims first.

Three months ago a fine arts student in Baroda was jailed and his works vandalized by Sangh Parivar activists for painting what they saw as blasphemous images of Hindu deities.

But here’s the difference. The Baroda incident led a nation wide outpouring of outrage at this moral policing by Hindu fundamentalists, as busloads of human rights activists and celebrities converged at the MS University in Baroda to support the student.

In Taslima’s case the activists are either yet to mobilise support for the beleaguered writer and protest against similar attempts at censorship by Muslim activists or don’t feel as strongly as they did for the Baroda student.

A day after the MIM, an ally of the UPA, has been brazenly unapologetic about its attack and the MLAs have been let out on bail in what seems to be tacit support of the state government.

The Congress has been guarded in its reaction uncertain about how trongly they should condemn the act.

‘’Writers have other subjects to write. Why just religion?’’ asked Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chief Minister, Jammu & Kashmir.

The Samajwadi party has gone a step further saying the MLAs were right, not surprising in a party where a minister announced a Rs 50 crore fatwa against a Danish cartoonist for allegedly blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.

‘’I will ask the government to get her visa revoked. She should be thrown out of the country,’’ said Shahid Aqla, Samajwadi Party.

Many would see this as political doublespeak on issues of freedom of speech and expression but perhaps no one understands the need to clamp down on Muslim radicals better than the Muslim community itself.

‘’Those who think that their action is justified because she vilified Islam have actually done more harm,’’ said actor Shabana Azmi,

Action against perpetrators of such attacks would perhaps set the record straight about secularism, not just lip service to it.




History of Betrayal of India by India’s Left: 1942-2007

A look at the history of Left assertions beyond the sound bites of the immediate political crisis which the Left parties have worked up over the nuclear deal, lies a larger predicament.

This is not the first time that the Indian Left has taken a stand that is eye-catchingly at odds with the national mainstream. This is not the first time it has invited accusations that its tactical or ideological postures are inspired or dictated by national interests of other countries.

This will not be the first time that Left parties will be paying a price for completely misreading the national interest. The only difference is that unlike in the past, Left wrong-footedness will take a higher political toll on it. The Left has more at stake this time, and therefore it has more to lose. A line appears to run through the stances taken by India’s Left in 1942, 1962 and 2007. In 1942, the Communist Party of India officially refused to endorse the impassioned call to ‘Quit India’. The reason was not far to seek.

In 1941, Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union; for Indian communists, the fight against Nazism had become a people’s war, and Britain an ally.

In 1962, a section of Indian communists chose to support China.

It was a position that led to an implosion in the Party; it split into two. But there was no resolution, really.

The consequences of both those choices, in 1942 as well as in 1962 have continued to chase the communist movement in India. They have lingered in the public consciousness as a reminder of the Indian Left’s lack of ease with its own place in the nation-state, defined not merely as a geographical entity but as a bounded way of political and cultural being.

Now the Left’s knee-jerk opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal again suggests a lack of empathy for the national consensus, and a sympathy for China’s position on the issue.

But in another sense, the Left parties of 2007 have come a long way. In 1942 they were still swaggering towards a World Revolution that was never to be. By 1962 the first communist government had already been formed and dismissed. But they were still not real stakeholders in the system. In 2007, however, after the remarkable parliamentary success notched in 2004, and with the UPA critically dependent on Left support,Left parties are very much in the system.

So this time, the price of irresponsibility is much higher.




TWO-CHILD NORM

The Constitution 79th Amendment Bill 1992 disqualifying a person having more than two children to be a member of either house of Parliament and State Legislature (with prospective effect) was introduced in Rajya Sabha in December 1992. The Bill was later referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development. On the recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development the Government convened meetings of leaders of various political parties in Parliament to ensure the passage of the Bill. No consensus emerged in favour of the Bill. As such the Bill is pending in Rajya Sabha due to lack of unanimity on the subject among various political groups/parties.




GOVERNING COUNCIL OF OIFC HOLDS ITS FIRST MEETING

The first meeting of the Governing Council of the Overseas Indian Facilitation Center (OIFC) was held at CII House, New Delhi under the Chairmanship of Mr. Nirmal Singh, Secretary Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. The meeting was attended by trustees. The Governing Council approved the broad policy framework for the programmes and activities of trust in consonance with the objectives of trust. The trust decided that OIFC would play an important role in PBD being organized at New York on 23 September, 2007 and later a PBD to be held on 8-9 January 2008 in India. In addition of providing information across the sectors, initially OIFC will focus on few sectors including providing handholding services. The knowledge partner will ensure the services are provided to the Clients to their satisfaction. OIFC will have a panel of three knowledge partners in each sector. Selection of partner from the panel will be left to the clients. Ministry would be acting as a facilitator. The trust also decided that the OIFC should be promoted and publicized globally through various channels.

Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs also met the trustees at CII house and reiterated that OIFC will serves as a “one stop shop” for the Overseas Indians. He extended full support in to the OIFC from the Ministry and called upon the trustees to infuse the innovative ideas to address issues concerning Overseas Indians and connect them to India.

The trust is chaired by Mr. Nirmal Singh, Secretary Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and Co-Chaired by Mr. Tarun Das, Chief Mentor, CII. Apart from Secretary (DEA), Secretary (DIPP) and Financial Advisor to the Ministry, eminent Overseas Indians like Mr. Yussufali from UAE, Mr. Thomas Abraham & Mr. Sam Pitroda from USA and Mr. Rajaram from Singapore are the trustees. Eminent businessman from India such as Mr. Analjit Singh, Chairman Max India Ltd and Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal Chairman, Hero Corporate Services are also trustees of OIFC.

In recognition of the potential of Overseas Indians to invest in the emerging opportunities in their home country, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has established a not-for-profit trust, in partnership with the Confederation of India Industry and registered under the Indian Trust Act, 1882 under the title ‘Overseas Indian Facilitation Center’. The OIFC serves as a “one stop shop” for the Indian Diaspora. The trust will function with the objective of Promoting Overseas Indian Investment in India and facilitating Business-to-Business partnership between Indian Business and Overseas Indians




South Asia struggles with floods


The authorities in India and Bangladesh are struggling to reach millions of people stranded by floods caused by heavy monsoon rains.

More than 12 million people have been displaced or marooned by the floods in the Indian states of Bihar and Assam.

In neighbouring Bangladesh nearly 40 people have died and some five million people affected by the floods which have inundated a third of the country. They have been described as the worst floods in 10 years in northern India. Vast stretches of fertile countryside are under water damaging farmland and flooding thousands of villages. It has been raining heavily here for more than a week and many of the rivers which flow through northern India and into Bangladesh are overflowing. In some places they have burst their banks.

Army assistance

Many roads and bridges in the states of Bihar and Assam, the worst affected, have been damaged making it harder for the authorities to get relief material to those affected. The army is using helicopters to drop supplies but aid agencies are already warning of shortages of food and drinking water.

In Bangladesh, a country that is predominantly low-lying, hundreds of thousands of people are camping on embankments or on the roofs of their homes waiting for relief. Many are using boats to move around. The country’s military-backed interim government has said it is doing its best to cope.




North-east hunger strikers warned


The government in India’s Himalayan state of Sikkim has threatened to move against tribes people who have been on a hunger strike for 40 days.

The tribes people have been protesting against the proposed construction of a dam for a hydro-electric project.

It is proposed to be located at Dzongu, which is designated as special reserve for indigenous Lepcha tribes people in the state, close to the Chinese border.

The dam will be one of the many to be constructed on the Teesta river.

Large dams have recently become a subject of controversy in India. A Sikkimese organisation, Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), has been sponsoring the hunger strike to oppose the proposed construction of 280mw Panan hydro-electric project at Dzongu in northern Sikkim.

“Either they should withdraw the fast or we will be compelled to move against them,” Sikkim Chief Secretary N Chingapa told local journalists.

The Lepchas and the Bhutias are the indigenous tribes of the erstwhile princely state of Sikkim that was merged into India under controversial circumstances in 1975. But ethnic Nepalis now constitute the majority in the state.

Doctors say the condition of two of those on fast, Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha, has worsened and they have been admitted to a hospital.

The ACT has written to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling asking for an independent quasi-judicial committee to review all hydro-electric projects including those proposed in the Lepcha reserve of Dzongu.

It has also demanded that all activities related to the Panan project in Dzongu, including land acquisition, be kept in abeyance. But the Sikkim government says it will go ahead with the implementation of the mega hydroelectric power projects in North Sikkim, including those proposed in the Lepcha reserve.

“We will not compromise with the development process in North Sikkim. Once the projects are operational, they will meet the power needs of the state and generate a revenue of two billion rupees per annum,” Mr Chamling told journalists. He also claimed that the majority of people from the Dzongu area is in favour of the power projects.

“The good of the community would not be held hostage by a few disgruntled persons,” the chief minister said, alleging that opposition parties were using the innocent Lepchas to further their vested interests.”

Mr Chamling asked the ACT members to withdraw their hunger strike and accept the government’s offer for a dialogue on the issue.

But the ACT has filed an application before the supreme court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), asking for an immediate stay on the environmental clearance granted to the Panan project. The CEC has asked for the Sikkim government’s comments on allegations made by the ACT that the project will destroy the ecology of the Khangchendzonga National Park.




Papers shut in Indian north-east

Journalists in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur refused to bring out their newspapers on Thursday in protest against threats by rebels.

The protest came after the editor of a local newspaper received a grenade shell in his mail recently. The shell, contained in a parcel, did not explode. The parcel was mailed by a faction of the separatist Peoples Revolutionary Army of Kangleipak (Prepak). Kangleipak is the ancient name of Manipur.

“Not one copy of any newspaper, English or in local languages, appeared on the stands today,” said local journalist Yumnam Rupachandra.

The editor of the English language Sangai Express newspaper, who received the parcel, said it also contained a warning.

“The parcel contained a threat by the rebels warning us of dire consequences if we carried the press statements of a rival faction of the Prepak. How can we function in such an atmosphere?” said Khogendra Khomdram.

Members of the All Manipur Journalist Union and the Manipur Editors Forum staged a sit-in demonstration to protest against the rebel threat.

They said no newspaper would be published in the state until the rebels withdrew their threat to the Sangai Express.

“We have met the Manipur chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and demanded adequate security for the media fraternity. Otherwise we feel so insecure,” said S Hemant, president of the All Manipur Journalist Union. Journalists in Manipur has been working under severe threats and pressure for the last few years.

Last year, separatist rebels shot and seriously injured the bureau chief of a Manipuri daily, Ratan Luwangcha.

Later in the year, another rebel group kidnapped six editors of local dailies and released them only after extracting a promise that the rebel statements would be published as it is.

Editors stopped publication of newspapers in protest against the abductions and the threats, only to resume printing after the rebels backed off.

Local language papers in Manipur have also been under threat and pressure from a revivalist organisation, Meelal, which wants Manipuri papers to print their dailies in the ancient Manipuri script, Mayek, and not in the Bengali script that has been in use in Manipur for several centuries.

Manipur is home to a dozen rebel groups - some fighting for the state’s independence, others fighting for autonomous tribal homelands.


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