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Archive for October 2010

US to review info on Headley shared with India

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Washington/ New Delhi: US intelligence officials will review the information that they shared on terror group Lashker-e-Taiba operative David Coleman Headley with India. The US move comes just a day after Union Home Secretary GK Pillai told CNN-IBN that the American authorities could have shared more information on Headley ahead of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai.

At a special White House briefing on Thursday, Washington-based Indian reporters were told that a top intelligence official would conduct the review of everything that was known related to the Headley case.

The statement comes a day after Home Secretary GK Pillai caused a storm ahead of US President Barack Obama’s maiden visit to India by claiming that the US did not share enough information on Headley with India.

“We could say that we were disappointed that the name of David Headley was not provided, if not pre-26/11 at least post 26/11. So that when he came subsequently in March 2009 to India at least at that time we could have nabbed him here,” Pillai had told CNN-IBN.

However, a few hours later US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer denied Pillai’s charge on information related to Headley but refused to get into a war of words.

“When India asked for access to Headley we gave it, because India is our partner, our friend and someone with whom we share intelligence on a daily basis. So India could sit down with Headley and ask him what happened prior to Mumbai. We weren’t afraid of what he would say. In fact, we provided that opportunity to India with unprecedented access,” claimed Roemer.

What is your caste?

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Anwer Mooraj

Just as this writer has never met anybody who is looking forward to his next appointment with the dentist, he has also not met anybody who doesn’t go a little pale when an envelope arrives from the income tax department. So when this ominous looking sachet turned up a couple of days ago from the Darakshan police station at this writer’s residence, he was greatly relieved to discover that all that the envelope contained was a printed data collection form which asked a resident to provide basic information about a householder and his family which would help the law enforcement agency to act expeditiously in the event of an emergency.

The police didn’t specify just how details on the form would help the flatfoots nab an intruder. However, though one greatly appreciated the gesture, one couldn’t help being a little irked by the inclusion of a word which had been scribbled in, as if as an afterthought. The word not only stuck out like a sore thumb, but also conveyed the impression that the answer to the query might determine the degree of promptness and alacrity with which the police would tackle a problem should it arise. The word, in case the reader hasn’t guessed it after reading this far, was …caste.

What is quite inexplicable is that the word which ought to have been thrown out in 1947 still appears in government forms and applications. One remembers an incident in a sessions court in the late 1990s, when it made an ignominious verbal appearance, and this writer who had kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland to acquire the gift of eloquence, was, for the first time in his life, at a loss for words.

He was appearing as a witness in a case where a student, in a fit of unrequited passion, had emptied the chamber of his pistol on the premises of the cultural centre of which the writer was executive director. The day had apparently started rather badly for the lady judge who had a powerful voice which could be heard in the parking lot. She had a cold and her stenographer had not turned up. This meant she had to record details in long hand. This posed something of a problem as the pen, after recording the witness’ name and family details, refused to cooperate. Suddenly, the judge looked up from her desk and fixing this writer with a cold stare said, “caste?”

This was the moment of truth. There was pin drop silence in the hall and one got the impression that all eyes were turned on the witness who felt that if he gave a derisory answer, he might be banished to the salt mines. For a brief second, he contemplated telling the judge that he believed there were no castes in Islam and if she wanted to find out if somebody was a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra, she should cross the eastern border. But as he had only three seconds to come up with an answer, before he was suspected of being an immigrant from the Transvaal, he took a deep breath and said, “Rajput.”

This seemed to satisfy the judge and everybody else in the courtroom who nodded sagely, and it must have satisfied the police. Regrettably, the caste system is alive and kicking in Pakistan.

Author Arundhati Roy defends Kashmir statements

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NEW DELHI – Indian author Arundhati Roy, facing possible sedition charges over remarks she made about disputed Indian Kashmir, said on Tuesday she had only been calling for “justice” for the region.

The Booker prize winning Indian author, Arundhathi Roy

Roy’s statement came after police in New Delhi said they were weighing whether to bring sedition charges against the Booker prize-winning author over comments she made about Kashmir in recent days.

The author of the novel “The God of Small Things” issued a statement Tuesday saying her remarks urging “azadi” or freedom for Kashmir were “fundamentally a call for justice.”

The region has been beset by anti-India violence, curfews and strikes since early June, when a 17-year-old student was killed by a police teargas shell. Since then, a total of 111 protesters and bystanders have died.

“What I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians,” she said in an emailed statement.

Arundhati, who has emerged in recent years as a prominent social activist, has spoken out on two occasions in recent days on Kashmir, in one instance sharing a stage with hardline separatist Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has objected strongly to Roy’s remarks, calling them “seditious” and accusing the Congress-led government of “looking the other way” by not taking any legal action against Roy.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily said the comments were “most unfortunate”. While there is freedom of speech, “it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people,” Moily said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. India insists that Kashmir is an “integral part” of the country.

The Himalayan region, which has triggered two wars between the nuclear-armed neighbours, has been wracked by a militant insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

Rebel violence has declined sharply since the start of a peace process between India and Pakistan.

Roy said in her statement that she had read in Indian newspapers that she might be arrested on charges of sedition for her remarks supporting freedom for Kashmir.

“I said what millions of people here (in Kashmir) say every day. I said what I as well as other commentators have written and said for years,” she said.

“Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice,” she said.

Geelani also faces the threat of sedition charges for comments he made while sharing the podium with Roy, according to the Indian media.

When told of the possible charges, the elderly separatist leader said 90 such cases had already been filed against him.

“Let this be the 91st,” he declared.

Five hurt as security forces fire on Indian Kashmir protest

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SRINAGAR, India – Five people were wounded Tuesday when Indian security forces opened fire on protesters who attacked their vehicles with stones during a demonstration against Indian rule, police said.

An Indian Central Reserve Police Force serviceman stops a motercyclist during a curfew in Srinagar

“Security forces had to open fire to ward off violent protesters who attacked security force vehicles with stones and bricks,” a police officer said, asking not to be named.

The incident took place in southern Pulwama district.

Four more people, including two policemen, were injured in two separate clashes between police and stone-throwing protesters elsewhere in Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, the officer said.

Since a wave of violent anti-India protests began in June, 111 people have been killed by security forces, mostly when they have opened fire on stone-throwing protesters during some of the biggest pro-freedom demonstrations in two decades.

Indian Kashmir has been under rolling curfews and strikes since the protests began on June 11, when a 17-year old student was killed by a police teargas shell in Srinagar.

On Tuesday, a curfew was imposed in parts of Indian Kashmir summer capital Srinagar to pre-empt a separatist march, police said.

In other parts of Srinagar, where a curfew was not in force, a separatist strike closed down shops and businesses.

The fresh violence came as Indian experts trying to defuse tensions in Kashmir have been holding a series of talks, despite opposition by separatists who have been spearheading the recent protests.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram said last week that the government had selected senior journalist Dilip Padgaonkar and professors M.M. Ansari and Radha Kumar to hold talks with separatists and other people in the troubled state.

The team arrived in Indian Kashmir summer capital Srinagar on Saturday.

They have held talks with jailed militants, university students, pro-India politicians, ordinary citizens and the region’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah.

Conflating Hinduism and Hindutva

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By Subhash Gatade


Mr Mohan Bhagwat, the ‘young’ Supremo of an eighty plus year old exclusively male cultural organisation called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is in high spirits these days.

It is not very difficult to understand the glee on his face which has to do with the latest developments in the cause celibre of Sangh Parivar . One can even notice that every member of this different kind of ‘family’ also seem to be upbeat , whose representatives can be traced on neighbourhood playground in the morning doing drills, playing games or listening to ‘sermons’ of their seniors which they call Baudhik .

The Ayodhya verdict which deliberated on the sixty plus year old legal dispute over the title of a piece of land where a mosque stood for the last five hundred years and which was demolished by hordes of gangs inspired by the ideas which the Sangh Parivar still espouses has in fact come as a blessing in disguise for Mr Bhagwat. While every peace and justice loving person felt betrayed with the judgement which neither mentioned the criminal act of demolition of the Mosque, or the blows it gave to the Indian Constitution and the crude manner in which it rediscoverd virtues of faith, it has emboldened the Parivar which had never felt comfortable with the rule of law enshrined in the constitution. Any cursory glance at the making of the constitution provides details of the manner in which the then leaders of Project Hindutva opposed the whole process and wanted that newly independent nation adopt Manusmriti – the code of conduct of the Hindus scripted by Manu -in its place. From time to time their fascination for Manu’s edicts , which supports hierarchial division of society based on caste and gender which denies basic human rights to wider populace, has been visible in very many ways. It was not for nothing that when BJP, one of the affiliated organisation of RSS came to power at the centre twelve years ago, it did not waste much time in appointing a commission to review the constitution. Although they could not tinker with it as they lacked necessary majority but still they made their intentions clear.

As any neutral observer would be able to tell that apart from the ‘vindication’ of their ideas the verdict has solved many of the immediate problems facing the Parivar. Gone is the talk of disarray in the fraternity with every other affiliated organisation trying to put blame on the other for the dip in their collective fortunes, gone also is the defensive posture which the RSS had to adopt when recently many of its ‘wholetimers’ (called Pracharaks in their lexicon) were found to be involved in terrorist acts, with sleuths of different investigating agencies raiding their houses and parading these Pracharak terrorists hooded like common criminals. In fact the situation seemed so serious that in June the top leadership of RSS assembled for a five day emergency meeting in Jodhpur to deliberate on the whole situation. Anyone can guess that the overall mood within the Parivar was quite gloomy. The verdict has altered the scene completely. Sensing this opportunity when secular-democratic camp has gone on defensive and is contemplating next line of action, like a true general Mr Bhagwat has decided to strike back. Basing himself on the ageold maxim ‘Offence is the Biggest Defence’ he seems to have decided to take the plunge to take the battle to the camp of ‘pseudoseculars’ themselves.

One is reminded of the manner in which Balasaheb Deoras, the third Supremo of RSS went round the country claiming victory ( Jitam Maya – We have won) after the emergency was over (1977) and Janata Party had come to power. The high moral posture adopted by the likes of Deoras about the ‘valiant struggle by the RSS against Emergency’ did not last long when it was disclosed that the same Deoras had written long letters to Indira Gandhi and tried to persuade Vinoba Bhave to mediate so that ban on Sangh is lifted. The Sangh leadership had even directed thousands of its volunteers/activists lodged in different jails to give an undertaking to the jail authorities assuring them ‘good behaviour’ if they are released from jail. ( For details of the correspondence readers may refer to ‘RSS by D.R. Goyal, Rajkamal, Delhi )


Terrorism, Hindus are oxymoron: Mohan Bhagwat

17 October 2010 , press trust of india

Nagpur, 17 OCT: Taking strong exception to the use of the term ‘saffron or Hindu terror’, RSS chief Mr Mohan Bhagwat today said terrorism and Hindus are “oxymoron” and can never be linked to each other.

“There is only one country left in the world on which you can’t put the blame of terrorism and that country is India . Terrorism and Hindus, terrorism and saffron, and terrorism and the Sangh are oxymoron and can never be related to each other.

“This (effort to connect the two) was an attempt to weaken the strength of Hindus in India and, at the same time, to appease Muslims, he said ..addressing the annual Dussehra rally at Reshim Bagh ground here. …”These are sinister conspiracies to mislead the Hindus through a campaign of lies and defame Hindu saints and noble citizens,”

Close watchers of RSS know the long tradition within the organisation wherein the Supremo gives a speech on its foundation day (i.e. Dusshera) which is supposed to be a guideline to all the affiliated organisations – ranging from the parliamentary to the extraparliamentary ones . Newspapers tell us that during his speech on the Reshim bagh ground in Nagpur Mr Bhagwat basically raised three points in his speech: One, he welcomed the Ayodhya verdict and hoped that the day is not far off when they would build a ‘Grand Ram Temple’ at Ayodhya ; two, he talked of deteriorating situation in Kashmir and emphasised that coming months it would on the focus of the Parivar ; thirdly, he said that Hindus and terrorism are oxymorons and whosoever is calling Hindus terrorists is stigmatising the whole community.

Nobody can deny that Ayodhya and Kashmir are important issues and every social-political formation will have to devise its own strategy for intervention. And looking at the difference in world view, any truly democratic and secular intervention would be qualitatively different from what Mr Bhagwat’s boys intend to do as part of their ‘nationalist’ duties. Not some time ago RSS had devised a unique plan to tackle the Kashmir situation by suggesting to trifurcate it on religious lines – Leh for Buddhists, Jammu for Hindus and Kashmir for Muslims. It is a different matter that this divisive plan did not get any support from the rest of the polity despite the Saffron dispensation holding the reins of power at the centre.

It is not much difficult to see that the highlight of the speech is the new wisdom which has dawned on Mr Bhagwat. that Hindus and terrorism are oxymorons. Definitely it would soothe the egos of many among the community who have no qualms in rationalising incidents like Gujarat genocide or Kandhamal riots or attacks on Churches or forcible separation of two adults belonging to different religious communities supposedly to defend community honour.

Coming to this new found thesis which emphasises incompatibility of Hindus with terrorism one wishes to ask Mr Bhagwat whether he or his organisation has made any new discoveries as far as the religious affiliations of the first terrorist of independent India called Nathuram Godse is concerned, whose band of terrorists included Madanlal Pahwa, Karkare, Parchure and several others. The same Nathuram who cut his political teeth in the RSS shakhas only and later focussed on his work on the Hindu Mahasabha front. Interestingly during his trial Nathuram formally said that he had left RSS in 1933, but in an interview to the magazine ‘Frontline’ in late 90 s his younger brother Gopal Godse, who was also part of the conspiracy specifically said that none of the brothers ever left RSS. When the reporter asked him pointedly why Nathuram ‘lied’ about his dissociation, pat came the reply : To save the organisation from harassment.

It has been on record that there were five attempts on Mahatma Gandhi’s life during his life time and the last one proved fatal. It is revealing to know that Hindu fanatics were involved in all these attempts who were eager to eliminate the Mahatma – for many ‘the biggest Hindu of 20 th century’.

Of course, it is possible that for many among the Hindu right who yearn to build a Hindu Rashtra of their dreams the death of the Mahatma was not a terrorist act rather it was a ‘patriotic act’. It is an open secret that every year many from the hindu right do celebrate the day Nathuram was hanged as ‘Martyrs day’? And it is not a Pune specific phenomenon where Nathuram lived. A narco analysis of those involved in the Nanded bomb explosion (April 2006) which saw the deaths of Himanshu Panse and Rajeev Rajkondwar – both activists of RSS/Bajrang Dal – tells us how these ‘patriots of a different kind’ use to organise programmes on this day.

And what about Savarkar the pioneer of the idea of Hindutva who escaped conviction in the case of Mahatma’s assasination only on technical grounds. It is a different matter that the Kapoor commission which was formed in the sixties to look into the conspiracy angle of Mahatma Gandhi’s assasination – where many fresh witnesses to the case appeared – rightly concluded that Savarkar was very much a part of that conspiracy. And why did these fanatics killed him, only because Gandhi was trying to practice Hinduism in his own way. And so when independence came, this frail old man – who was called ‘One Man Boundary Force’ by the then Governor General for singlehandedly bringing peace to strifetorn Calcutta by resorting to fast unto death – did not join the celebrations but rather was touring Noakhali to console, help people affected by riots.

While the role played by Hindu fanatics in Mahatma’s assasination is widely known, not much has been written on the bomb blast in Shikarpur area of Karachi at the time of independence which witnessed deaths of two Sangh Pracharaks namely Vasudev and Prabhu Badlani. Their third accomplice was apprehended by the Pakistani police and had to languish in their jail for quite some time. And how come there was a bomb blast in the residential area in a house owned by one Raibahadur Tolaram which was rented by the RSS people supposedly to run tuitions for kids ? (RSS in Sindh, Economic and Political Weekly, 8 July 2006 ) The plan hatched by a 21 member team of RSS workers was to organise bomb blasts in different places in Karachi and kill as many people as possible. The house served the purpose of storing bombs. Police records reveal that the explosion was so severe that the whole house came literally crumbling down. Anderson and Damle who have penned down a monograph on the Sangh Journey ‘Brotherhood in Saffron’ also provide details of the incident. Perhaps Mr Bhagwat can get few more details of the case from Lal Krishna Advani, who was looking after the work of Sangh in the area. It need to be investigated further whether Mr Advani was in the know of things or not ?

To be very frank, one can quote n number of other examples which can help puncture Mr Bhagwat’s argument that ‘Hindus cannot be terrorists’. The exposure in the Malegaon bomb blast case (Sept 2008) which brought to the fore an elaborate national network of terrorists involving military officers like Lt Col Purohit, religious people like Swami Dayanand Pandey or for that matter Sadhvi Pragya or the likes of Dr R.P Singh, Himani Savarker or RSS activists like Ramji Kalasangra, Aseemanand or Sunil Joshi ( killed by his own people) or the actions by Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samity like putting explosives and bombs in crowded places just goes to show that contrary to popular perceptions Hindus can be found to be equally involved in such anti-human actions.

One need not go into details of every incident but the point worth underlining is that terrorism cannot be the sole preserve of a this or that community. One can find terrorists in every community and also sane elements in every community. Just as there are good people or bad people in every community, there are fanatics or sane elements in every community.

Singling out a particular community for the ills of society or for negative traits reflects what is popularly known as a communal understanding of society. Today’s multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious world where the world seems to becoming a global village such an outlook definitely sound at variance with the growing intermingling of people, communities, cultures.

Nobody can deny that post 9/11 developments have contributed a lot to further strengthen a warped understanding of history. The manner in which US declared ‘War Against Terror’ as a new strategem to further its influence and gain legitimacy for its criminal actions, effectively got reduced to stigmatising and targetting people, formations or countries owning allegiance to Islam. It was a sheer coincidence that BJP an affiliated organisation of RSS was in power at the centre when US rulers unleashed the ‘war against terror’. Looking back one can say that there was deep resonance between what Bush regime wanted and what was on offer for them here.


The ‘thesis of oxymoron’ has shades of the concept of Supreme Hindu Race emanating from it. In fact it can also be interpreted as an indirect admission that whereas Hindus and terrorism are incompatible with each other terrorism easily gels with all non-Hindu communities. Definitely it is a very dangerous statement not only because it tries to denigrate every other community, it tries to pass on blame to others. It can thus be seen as a poor attempt to deflect attention from the n number of crimes committed by Hindu fanatics.

To avoid confusion of any sort when we are discussing crimes of Hindu fanatics then it should in no way construed as one is soft towards the crimes of Islamic fanatics or Christian fanatics or similar faith based fanaticisms. Fanaticism of every kind needs to be condemned in every possible manner. In fact, history is witness to the fact that religion based fanaticism has killed more innocent people than any other social catastrophe.

Surprisingly Mr Bhagwat’s speech also conveys the deliberate conflation of two distinct terms : Hinduism and Hindutva. According to him all those people who talk of Hindu terrorism are trying to denigrate the whole community. It cannot be denied that few people did describe the role of Hindu fanatics in terrorist operation as ‘Hindu terrorism’. But a large majority of the critics avoided describing it in this fashion and instead talked of Hindutva terrorism.which seems to be a more accurate description of the phenomenon.

All those people who are not aware of the debates in the movement would feel that what is the big difference between Hindu terrorism and Hindutva terrorism. Perhaps it would be better to refer to a book by Savarkar, who is considered to be a pioneer of the Hindu Right or ‘Hindu nationalist movement’. This monograph which is named ‘Hindutva’ has reached classic status and lays down the guiding principles of the idea.

What does the monograph say ? Its key contribution is the way in which it differentiates between Hinduism and Hindutva :

Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. Unless it is made clear what is meant by the latter, the first remains unintelligible and vague.Failure to distinguish between these two terms has given rise to much misunderstanding and mutual suspicion between some of those sister communities that have inherited this inestimable and common treasure of Hindu civilisation.[..] Here it is enough to point out that Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By an ‘ism’ it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or system. But when we attempt to investigate into the essential significance of Hindutva, we do not primarily and certainly not mainly concern ourselves with any particular theocratic or religious dogma or creed. Had not linguistic usage stood in our way, then ‘Hinduness’ would have certainly been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva. Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole being our our Hindu race[..] It is imperative to point out that we are by no means attempting a definition or even a description of the more limited, less satisfactory and essentially sectarian term Hinduism.

(V. D. Savarkar, Hindutva ( Delhi : Bharti Sahitya Sadan, 1989 ; sixth edition}, 3-4)

It is imperative that before getting confused with what Mr Bhagwat wants to convey , it would be definitely helpful if one refers to this classic monograph and understand for herself / himself that when we say Hindutva terror then it is does not at all mean all those people who have deep faith in principles of Hinduism. Just as Islam and Political Islam cannot be considered equivalent, Hinduism and Hindutva cannot be measured on the same scale.

Looking at the emphasis on action as opposed to contemplation (which involves reading also) in the whole Hinduva movement, it can easily be presumed that a large majority of those people who today owe their allegiance to the ideas of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar and who want India to usher into Hindu Rashtra must not have bothered to even read Savarkar’s monograph. And this cannot be said to be an exaggeration There have been instances when RSS-BJP people had to withdraw books which were published under their own aegis or withdraw articles from textbooks which they themselves had ratified.

A newsitem is worth taking note of :

Mystery surrounds the sudden withdrawal of one of the 16 volumes of an official account of the Jana Sangh-BJP history, four months after it was released as part of the silver jubilee celebrations in Mumbai. The series, written by historian Makhan Lal under the supervision of senior BJP leader J P Mathur, carry a foreword by Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L K Advani. (Indian Express, 9 th May 2006)

But perhaps the Orissa experience truly shows the mental abilities of the plethora of activists of the Hindutva brigade who needed around five years to notice ‘discrepancy’ in a textbook when the person in charge of education department was a hardcore RSS pracharak called Samir Dey himself. It was the period when BJP was sharing power with Biju Janata Dal.

In its report on its front page captioned ‘In NDA Orissa, a textbook equates BJP with Lashkar’ (Indian Express, Delhi, 2 nd February 2007) the paper gave details about the manner in which a textbook on ‘Indian Polity’ for second-year degree students in Orissa clubbed Lashkar-e-Toiba with BJP. According to the report

The chapter on the ‘Existence of Terrorist Organisation’ says : “Terrorist organisations create tension in the country. Communal parties like the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hurriyat Conference and Lashkar-e-Toiba are responsible for fomenting violence..leading to the killing of hundreds in the country and especially Kashmir .”

It is worth noting that the said textbook – which was written by one Amarendra Mohanty and Shyama Charan Mohanty, teachers of political science was taught since 2003. The matter could come to light only after a BJP worker in Salepur, about 60 KM from the state capital, noticed it and lodged a FIR. And as expected to remove the egg on its face members of the Hindutva brigade did lot of things which can be bracketed as ‘taking law into their hands.’

Mr Bhagwat who is in high spirits these days, would do his organisation a great favour if he could inculcate some reading habits in his people who believe more in action.

I pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice: Arundhati Roy

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Arundhati Roy

“I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Writer-activist Arundhati Roy at Geelani’s convention in Delhi.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’-justice-from India, and now believed that Azadi-freedom- was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.”

India: 400 residents of booming knitwear capital commit suicide this year

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THE KNITWEAR capital of India is getting suicidal by the day. More than 400 people in the booming town of Tirupur and other parts of the district in Tamil Nadu have taken their lives in the first eight months of 2010. Around 215 suicides were reported between June and August.

Life on the edge Maratakavalli, who consumed poison after a family spat, lies in a Tirupur hospital

Located on the banks of the Noyyal river, Tirupur is one of the fastest growing industrial centres in the state. Most of the town’s population consists of uneducated migrant labourers who work in 6,000 garment units scattered all over the district. Girls and boys from impoverished families of southern districts and other states come here in search of jobs.

At a time when the textile export industry in Tirupur is growing phenomenally with an annual turnover of Rs. 12,000 crore, why aren’t the workers enjoying the fruits of the industrial revolution, and instead wallowing in despair?

In search of answers, TEHELKA visited the Tirupur Government Hospital, where most of the people, whose suicide attempts fail, end up. On 2 October, there were three such cases registered on the same day in the women’s ward alone.

“Anything between 5-10 cases of suicide attempts are registered every day in this hospital,” says Dr ASM Samy, who was on duty in the casualty ward. “The victims, both men and women, usually consume rat poison, bleaching powder or a chemical commonly known as cowdung powder, which are cheap and easily available.”

Maratakavalli, 26, is perched on one of the beds. “Why should I stay alive?” asks the textile worker, who was admitted just hours earlier after consuming cowdung powder. “My husband doesn’t want me to live with him. I don’t want to live as a burden to my parents,” she sobs, as her mother, sitting nearby, lets out a sigh.

The district administration, which started functioning from 22 February 2009 after Tirupur was carved out of Coimbatore and Erode districts, is scrambling to stem the tide of suicides. “We are alarmed by the rising number of suicides,” says Collector C Samayamoorthy. “We had a brainstorming session and formed a committee to study the situation and prevent such cases.”

Alcoholism, family disputes, failure in love and extra-marital affairs are cited by experts as the main reasons for the spike in suicides. Inspector Saraswathi at the All Women Police Station in Tirupur confirms this general trend on the basis of the complaints that they record. “We get at least five cases every day with the victim showing high levels of suicidal tendency,” she says. Such cases are often referred to the counselling centres at the YWCA or Mariyalaya, an NGO.

“A lot of women who come here for counselling are at their wits’ end. It is shocking,” says Padmini Visuvasam, former secretary of the YWCA. Interestingly, it isn’t just the women who are embracing death. This year, 252 men have committed suicide, twice the number of women victims. In 2009, of the 482 suicide deaths, 300 were men.

In 2010, 252 men have committed suicide so far, twice the number of women victims

The town has been on the suicide radar after posting figures higher than the state average for the past three years.

“The majority of suicides in Tirupur are reported among the factory workers,” says C Murthi, general secretary of the Banian and General Workers Union. He says the poor living conditions and low wages are the underlying causes for the problems. “Many commit suicide because of debts and high-interest loans taken from moneylenders,” he adds.

Goutam, 33, who started earning his bread at the age of 17, has worked in all sections of the garment industry: stitching, pressing, printing and dyeing. He worked from 8 am to 10 pm and earned Rs. 200 a day. Goutam struggled to meet the financial needs of his family as the cost of living is high in this industrial town.

“Goutam took a loan from a local moneylender at a high interest rate,” says his mother, Ponnamma. “After his son’s birth, he again went through a serious financial crisis and wanted to take another loan. Goutam and his wife quarrelled over the issue a lot. On 13 September, both of them took their lives, abandoning their 18-month-old child.”

In a similar tale, Laxmi, 32, had been working in the industry for 10 years. After migrating from Rameswaram 15 years ago, Laxmi found a co-worker as her life partner. They lived in a rented room with their three kids. Laxmi worked for oneand- a-half shifts, while her husband did two. “However, when Laxmi got a tumour in her stomach, they didn’t have enough money for the surgery. She hanged herself two years ago,” says her father Manova, who also works in the industry. Now, he looks after his three grandkids.

MOST OF the workers and their families live in single rooms or huts that are rented out at exorbitant rates. At the slum in Tirupur’s KVR Nagar, where there are more than 2,000 huts, most of the residents are industry workers. At 8 am, the colony empties out as the residents rush to the factories. “We don’t have time to talk to you. If we talk to the media about our company, we will be threatened,” says Malathi, a worker.

No respite The workers get a pittance despite doing overtime

“Most of us work overtime, but look at our plight,” complains Chentamara, 37. “We are not even provided drinking water here. The pipe water comes once in 10 days.” She and her husband Murukesh, 40, have been working in the industry for the past 20 years. They still live in their rented hut. Now, their two sons have also started working in the same sector.

The textile units in Tirupur and neighbouring districts are infamous for exploiting the workers, especially girls, through a scheme called Sumangali Thittam. Under this scheme, unmarried girls from poor families are brought to the factories through agents, who promise them a lumpsum – in most cases Rs. 30,000 – for a fixed duration of work. It is three years in most cases.

The scheme is nothing but bonded labour,” says Gunasekharan, a research scholar at the Centre for Education and Communication in New Delhi, who has studied the workers’ exploitation in Tamil Nadu’s textile industry. Most of the girls are forced to work overtime, face sexual abuse, and live in ghetto-like conditions. “The number of Sumangali scheme victims are increasing in this region as many companies are adopting this system,” says Gunasekharan.

However, Tirupur Exporters Association president A Saktivel has a different story to tell. “The workers are happy and well-paid. If they are not happy with one company, they are free to work for another as in Tirupur, we have no shortage of textile companies,” he says.

WHEN ASKED whether labour troubles were the main cause for suicides, Tirupur SP A Arun replied: “We don’t have any data on the economic class of the victims. Labour problems and the suicide issue are two separate things.”

Extra-marital affairs, alcoholism and family disputes are often cited as the reasons

Collector Samayamoorthy admits that the authorities are yet to work on a solution that will address the welfare issues faced by the workers. “The spike in suicides have to be addressed after understanding the different aspects,” he says.

Meanwhile, lying limp in her hospital bed, Maratakavalli explains that if her husband hadn’t faced financial problems, and if the couple had enough time to spend together, she might have never contemplated suicide. “But both of us work for different companies from 9 am to 10 in the night,” she says. “By the time we reach our rented room, we are too tired. We were struggling to make both ends meet. My husband ended up torturing me to escape his wretchedness.”

As the town slips into a downward spiral, every household is a potential suicide ticking bomb. If the authorities don’t stem the tide, Tirupur will soon be known as the suicide capital rather than the textile capital of the country.