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ISKCON’s sanitised version of the caste system does not foster progress of the lower castes

Even while saying that the caste system is based on psycho-physical properties, it propagates the caste system which must be abolished by the roots

21 Jul 2020

Image Courtesy:venugopalacharya.com

The Varnashram system or classification of society as per caste has been a malaise in India for centuries, holding it back from any real social progress or human development. The system that classifies people into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras and categorises them as being eligible for certain types of work based on their birth or qualities, still continues to propel inequality and discrimination in the 21st century. And then there are people it leaves out of its fold... the Dalits, who have been historically oppressed and exploited by the Savarnas.

While some, like the Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati propound that the caste of people and hence their fate is determined by birth, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) says that the Varnashram system recognizes the natural talents and abilities of each person and provides work according to a person’s qualities and work and is not to be confused with the corrupt caste system of India, which decides caste by birth, which they claim has been the destruction of the entire social structure in India.

However, even this explanation by ISKCON is derogatory towards the Shudras. As described on Krishna.org by Madhdvisa Dasa, “The sudras have little intelligence and must therefore be engaged in the service of one of the other three classes.” However, in a bid to perhaps soften the blow, he adds to say that if proper education is provided to the shudras who have the capacity to learn, they can be elevated to higher positions in the social structure. Madhdvisa Dasa says that these perfect laws have been given in the Manu Samhita, by the 'father of mankind', Manu.

ISKCON constantly propounds that these four classes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras are decided as per psycho-physical nature and are required to run the society. What is problematic is that ISKCON has already decided the nature and areas of work of people and cast them into the mold. They say that the class system is prevalent worldwide and employs people according to these psycho-physical qualities.

Not only is this a very narrow outlook, making employment the biggest aspect of the caste system, but also retrogressive in the current era because while it says that shudras can be educated so as to get a higher place in the social structure, it doesn’t destroy the social structure itself.

Below are a few examples by ISKCON where it clarifies the division of labour, even while still propagating that the class system be in place.

In this video, Amogh Lila Prabhu, speaks about assigning work to people based on their proclivities and educating and training people to rise higher into the social structure. He also adds that the reforms brought about by Raja Ram Mohun Roy and others who worked for the upliftment of people, was a distorted version of Indian culture. He adds that prior to this, the class system worked on identifying skills and placing them in the caste best suited for them. Yet, there is no evidence to prove that such a system existed even in the Vedic times.

This pre-set discrimination is also very visible in another lecture by ISKCON’s Radheshyam Das who talks about four different people, with four different qualities to chalk out the distinction between the classes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEIjwxakR4c&feature=youtu.be

In another video, a person, purportedly from ISKCON is seen saying that shudras are an essential part of the class system and according to the division of labour and their qualities, they can, for example, can be seen working as peons in a university serving the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who work as teachers, administrators or people who collect fees.

 

In another video by Amogh Lila Prabhu, he describes beautiful people as descending from heaven and ugly people coming from hell – a twisted version of racism.

Even if ISKCON paints itself to be neo-liberal in its approach by saying that people are to be identified and trained according to their skills, it has translated into nothing on ground for people who have been systematically discriminated against and have been at the mercy of a Brahminical bureaucracy. Everywhere from civil society to state services, Dalits and other backward classes have faced negligent progress with evidence of Dalits still being pushed into manual scavenging due to poverty and ostracisation.

The problem is that not many, including the so-called educated 'upper' castes seek to shed their ignorance about the problem and engage in understanding the problems with Manusmriti that is so rampantly being propagated, albeit in a washed-down manner.

In this way, what ISKCON promotes is a sanitised version of the Manusmriti which must be abolished in the current civilization because while it calls for progress, it still holds in place the shackles that will always prevent people from progressing and achieving their true and fair potential.

Related:

All non-Muslim minorities are Hindus: Puri Shankaracharya wants amendments to Article 25 of Indian Constitution
Hatemonger and Shiv Sena Taksali leader Sudhir Suri allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops
Dalit couple attempt suicide after forceful eviction, police brutality

ISKCON’s sanitised version of the caste system does not foster progress of the lower castes

Even while saying that the caste system is based on psycho-physical properties, it propagates the caste system which must be abolished by the roots

Image Courtesy:venugopalacharya.com

The Varnashram system or classification of society as per caste has been a malaise in India for centuries, holding it back from any real social progress or human development. The system that classifies people into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras and categorises them as being eligible for certain types of work based on their birth or qualities, still continues to propel inequality and discrimination in the 21st century. And then there are people it leaves out of its fold... the Dalits, who have been historically oppressed and exploited by the Savarnas.

While some, like the Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati propound that the caste of people and hence their fate is determined by birth, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) says that the Varnashram system recognizes the natural talents and abilities of each person and provides work according to a person’s qualities and work and is not to be confused with the corrupt caste system of India, which decides caste by birth, which they claim has been the destruction of the entire social structure in India.

However, even this explanation by ISKCON is derogatory towards the Shudras. As described on Krishna.org by Madhdvisa Dasa, “The sudras have little intelligence and must therefore be engaged in the service of one of the other three classes.” However, in a bid to perhaps soften the blow, he adds to say that if proper education is provided to the shudras who have the capacity to learn, they can be elevated to higher positions in the social structure. Madhdvisa Dasa says that these perfect laws have been given in the Manu Samhita, by the 'father of mankind', Manu.

ISKCON constantly propounds that these four classes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras are decided as per psycho-physical nature and are required to run the society. What is problematic is that ISKCON has already decided the nature and areas of work of people and cast them into the mold. They say that the class system is prevalent worldwide and employs people according to these psycho-physical qualities.

Not only is this a very narrow outlook, making employment the biggest aspect of the caste system, but also retrogressive in the current era because while it says that shudras can be educated so as to get a higher place in the social structure, it doesn’t destroy the social structure itself.

Below are a few examples by ISKCON where it clarifies the division of labour, even while still propagating that the class system be in place.

In this video, Amogh Lila Prabhu, speaks about assigning work to people based on their proclivities and educating and training people to rise higher into the social structure. He also adds that the reforms brought about by Raja Ram Mohun Roy and others who worked for the upliftment of people, was a distorted version of Indian culture. He adds that prior to this, the class system worked on identifying skills and placing them in the caste best suited for them. Yet, there is no evidence to prove that such a system existed even in the Vedic times.

This pre-set discrimination is also very visible in another lecture by ISKCON’s Radheshyam Das who talks about four different people, with four different qualities to chalk out the distinction between the classes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEIjwxakR4c&feature=youtu.be

In another video, a person, purportedly from ISKCON is seen saying that shudras are an essential part of the class system and according to the division of labour and their qualities, they can, for example, can be seen working as peons in a university serving the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who work as teachers, administrators or people who collect fees.

 

In another video by Amogh Lila Prabhu, he describes beautiful people as descending from heaven and ugly people coming from hell – a twisted version of racism.

Even if ISKCON paints itself to be neo-liberal in its approach by saying that people are to be identified and trained according to their skills, it has translated into nothing on ground for people who have been systematically discriminated against and have been at the mercy of a Brahminical bureaucracy. Everywhere from civil society to state services, Dalits and other backward classes have faced negligent progress with evidence of Dalits still being pushed into manual scavenging due to poverty and ostracisation.

The problem is that not many, including the so-called educated 'upper' castes seek to shed their ignorance about the problem and engage in understanding the problems with Manusmriti that is so rampantly being propagated, albeit in a washed-down manner.

In this way, what ISKCON promotes is a sanitised version of the Manusmriti which must be abolished in the current civilization because while it calls for progress, it still holds in place the shackles that will always prevent people from progressing and achieving their true and fair potential.

Related:

All non-Muslim minorities are Hindus: Puri Shankaracharya wants amendments to Article 25 of Indian Constitution
Hatemonger and Shiv Sena Taksali leader Sudhir Suri allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops
Dalit couple attempt suicide after forceful eviction, police brutality

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Webinar on rise in Human Rights violations in UP during lockdown

Activists, journalists and human rights defenders talk about what ails the people of UP and how they must be helped

16 Jul 2020

UP

India has seen increasing instances of human rights violations during the lockdown. Of these, glaring incidents of discrimination against minorities and brutal attacks on dissenters have emerged from the state of Uttar Pradesh. To shed light on the nature of these violations and carve a way forward to ensure accountability of state authorities, noted civil activist Teesta Setalvad hosted a webinar, ‘Lockdown in Uttar Pradesh and Human Rights’ where she was joined by noted activists, journalists and human rights defenders like Abdullah Ansari, Father Anand, Sadaf Jafar, Dr. Muniza Khan, former Presidents of the municipal corporations as well as the General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP), Aflatoon among others.

Dedicating the webinar to late Dr. Swati, the co-founder of Samta Sangathan and the Vice-President, SJP, Teesta said that the meeting was to unite affiliates and re-commit to the causes that Dr. Swati always actively fought for. The aim of the virtual meeting, said Teesta, was to understand the current situation of human rights in Uttar Pradesh from different perspectives and convey it to the citizens at large.

The subversion of rights of various communities and sections of society in Uttar Pradesh, be it Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, skilled and daily wagers, etc. has always been questioned. This has become an even more pressing issue post 2017, where the atmosphere in the state has seemed to become more dictatorial than ever.

The meeting touched upon various causes – minority rights, women’s rights, rights of small business owners, atrocities on anti-CAA protestors and the economical atrocities on the people of India.

On-ground reality

Sandeep Pandey, veteran social activist and Magsaysay Award winner who has been batting for communal harmony for decades, said that during the lockdown, the government in UP has shrunk the rights of the citizens, evidence of which can be seen every day. “When the lockdown began on March 22, UP CM Yogi Adityanath took part in a ceremony to shift the idol of Lord Ram to the Ram Janmabhoomi premises. Thereafter there was a mela to be held in Ayodhya, but it was not known if it would be called off. While all other events were stopped from being held, this event did take place and when journalist Siddharth Vardarajan questioned this, the police force which was ready to enforce laws during the lockdown, was made to travel by road to deliver a notice to Vardarajan in Delhi. I don’t understand how the police got so much time to do this. The police have been active all this while, especially against dissenters like those who participated in the anti-CAA protests. The police have been going door-to-door to serve notices to protestors and threatening them to compensate or lose their properties. Even a rickshaw driver was not spared and was sent to jail because he couldn’t pay the amount he was asked to pay up for allegedly participating in the protest. It is astonishing to see that while everyone has been asked to stay home, the police are being made to actively go after all those the regime sees as threats.”

Pandey also spoke about the false claims of the Yogi government when it said that all criminals had either been killed or had taken back their bail pleas and opted to stay in jail. He questioned how someone like Vikas Dubey, who was recently killed in an encounter, was allowed to roam scot-free for all this time given the evidence against him. “Uttar Pradesh can possibly be called ‘Encounter Raj’,” said Pandey, as there is no semblance of law and order in the state.

Speaking about how migrants were treated by the state government during the lockdown, Pandey said, “The Congress said it would arrange for 1,000 buses for migrant workers to get them back home and the UP government asked them for a list of the buses. It was found that some of the vehicles were not buses, but others like taxis or cars and Congress leader Ajay Kumar Lalloo, was sent to jail on the accusation that the Congress furnished false information about the number of buses. Then, CM Yogi said that the government had a repository of 90,000 buses to get migrants back to the state. If that was the case, why did it bother asking the Congress for the list of buses? Instead of ensuring the safety of people and providing them food and other healthcare facilities, the focus of the UP government was to play politics against the Congress party.”

He added, “I conducted a survey and found that out of 89 migrants in Unnao and 36 from Sitapur, only one person received Rs. 1,000 twice in his bank account. The others who didn’t get the money said that they were told they weren’t eligible for it as they didn’t return to the state using government approved means like the Indian Railways or Uttar Pradesh Parivahan Nigam. How could this have been possible when the trains and buses were not being run? On the other hand, the government is paying for those returning from abroad. There are different rules for the rich and the under privileged. Commoners have spent an average of Rs. 2,000 from their own pockets to reach home. Also, out of the 89 people in Unnao only 3 got the promised share of ration from the state government. Another hoax is that of skill mapping. Out of the 125 migrants from Unnao and Sitapur, none has been visited by a government official to ascertain what work they do in order to give them employment. Almost 70% of these migrants are Dalits and have no land in the villages. They now say they have to return to the city for work. People have neither compensation, nor food as promised by the government. The reality is quite contrary to the claim of CM Yogi’s promises that even people without a ration card would get food. Even through MNREGA, people have hardly received any work. Whether it is human rights defenders or the common man down the street, all are equally struggling in UP.”

Police brutality

Activist Sadaf Jafar who was brutally assaulted by the UP police after being arrested for participating in the anti-CAA protests, spoke about the inhumane treatment at the hands of the regime. She said, “The government is using the lockdown not just to target the CAA, NRC protestors, but also anyone who questions the government or expresses dissatisfaction against its workings. The government is blatantly torturing people with impunity. Khalid Saifi was beaten up, questions were raised about Safoora Zargar’s character and talking about myself and people who were arrested around the same time, the worst was the government sending notices to confiscate our properties without proving our crime in the court of law. We were remanded to judicial custody without being produced before a magistrate. After being hit, I was bleeding profusely in jail and all that they gave me was two sheets of newspapers so that their car seat wouldn’t get soiled. In prison, male colleagues were made to strip, while I was still in the vicinity. There is no medical aid or other facilities in jail. It is horrid. This was the height of dehumanizing someone.”

She added, “We were labelled as ‘stone pelters’ and ‘rioters’ by the people in jail and even the media. The police broke CCTV cameras and looted shops, they attacked journalists who were recording the brutality. The police were hand in glove with the administration. Women were kicked in the stomach and knees and the hatred in the eyes of the police and the administration is very visible. Even secular officers can’t do much as they have to keep their jobs. Virtues like secularism have now become abuses. Women in prisons are treated like animals. The quantum of cases are being increased by booking us under different complaints. Hoardings with our names and addresses were put across town without our crimes being proved. This also threatens the safety of my kids. There are daily wagers and small business owners who have been targeted by the government. A rickshaw driver was re-arrested for not paying up compensation for allegedly being part of the anti-CAA and jailed when he tried to start a tea stall during the lockdown. What is the need to arrest someone when crimes are not proved? We are being vilified. My neighbours and employers are being contacted asking them if they knew I was a ‘rioter’. The government is trying to emotionally, physically, morally and mentally break us. If we don’t start a legal fight, what is our option?”

Unite people to fight back legally

Roma Malik, the General Secretary of the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP) started her address with ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ saying the current situation in the country is dreadful and horrifying. She said that she had seen this situation of brutality in the forest areas, but the same had now spilled to the cities. Agreeing with Jafar about the situation in jail, Malik recalled her time in prison stating that the situation of women there was indeed pitiable. She said that the current attacks on dissenters had never been heard of before.

Malik said, “AIUFWP and I support the fight for secularism unconditionally.” Speaking about the effect of the lockdown in forest areas, she said, “People in forest areas like Sonbhadra, Mirzapur, Chandauli have fortunately not faced any problems with regards to food security. There, the problem is that the forest and the police department are trying to evict them from their lands. However, people are resisting this. Recently, the forest department and police assaulted forest dwellers in Lakhimpur Kheri in Dudhwa National Park but for the first time in history, the women registered an FIR against the police and forest officials. I think we need to channelize all our agitations – be it those in forest areas or by CAA protestors, and work unitedly to fight against the oppressors. This is why Adivasis extended their solidarity to the protestors at Shaheen Bagh.”

Pointing out a more pertinent issue, especially of concern today, Malik said, “This government won’t work towards generating employment because it works for the corporates. They want cheap labour for the private companies. This is a big challenge and this is why migrants are being kicked around from state to state. It is important to identify pockets where migrants are suffering and start agitations, streamline the process to fight for rights. For example, the Forest Rights Act, allowed us a democratic space to voice our concerns. Before that all forest dwellers were termed as Maoists. Similarly, we need to start a debate through a political process, to talk about employment, education and healthcare. This government has already sowed the seeds of hate against various communities, hence it is important that it be countered by large agitations and take up the issues that the marginalized are faced with – be it land allotment, NREGA, etc. We’ve learned how to be self-sufficient from women who dwell in forests, from how they have nurtured community forests and generated employment on a small scale. We need to build-up a co-operative movement and speak about making a committee to help those in distress.”

Inter-faith movement

Father Anand Mathew, convener of the Sajha Sanskriti Manch (United forum for cultural diversity) seconded prior speakers, saying that all human rights were being sidelined in the state as the government started cracking down on dissenters. Saluting the spirit of the upholders of secularism, Father Anand said, “On December 19, we protested peacefully and yet 60 of us were arrested. Two of our members Anup Shramik and Jagriti were issued a non-bailable warrant and there was an award of Rs. 25000 to those who report their whereabouts. We helped in getting a stay in their arrest warrant. Even though Jagriti had no role in the protest and wasn’t even present there, she was painted as the ‘mastermind. We can say the lockdown took place in the shadows of the CAA, NRC protest and though the lockdown was a necessity, human rights violations have still been rampant and ongoing. All the advisories issued by the government during the lockdown asked people to stay safe and advised that domestic help, washer men, newspaper vendors should not be allowed in homes or on the premises. This was suggestive that only the rich and the middle class were seen as citizens of the country, but the lower strata were indirectly accused of carrying the virus. ”

He went on to say,  “Even before the lockdown was announced, the UP government had announced a shutdown in the state. That’s when we realized that the working class would be badly affected due to it. For us food security, right to life, right to equality and dignity are all human rights. Hence we partnered with other organizations to provide relief since we knew the government wouldn’t do so. We were also supported by the younger generation who helped amplify the cause and raise funds through social media. Even then, we faced obstacles in our relief efforts and were only advised to stay home. Finally, we received a permit from the CMO to execute our relief plans and helped the marginalized – bunkars, nomadic tribes, daily wagers, etc. at the start of the lockdown. In May, just when we had exhausted our funds, we noticed that migrants had started returning to the state and hence decided to restart our relief efforts. This was an exercise in inter-faith networking. We noticed a lot of discrimination against Muslims during this time. People used to warn us to not go near Muslims, alleging that they were spreading coronavirus. We also conducted a survey in 307 villages and found that all claims of skill mapping are false. A lot of skilled workers are also working in MNREGA and hence it is upto us to raise our voices for the implementation of these promises made by the government.”

Crackdown on farmers

Aflatoon, General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad said that the current situation, with the help of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the CrPC, is worse than the Emergency. He said that it was now, during the lockdown that the government was trying to do away with and change all the laws that protected people.

Shedding light on the farmers and weavers who are most affected by the policies of the government, said, “The Indian Government has said that as many as 80 lakh migrants have returned to their villages during the lockdown. Just like the government has given forest land to private companies and opened up coal mining for corporates, it is now going to privatize agriculture. The government recently announced that India’s farmers could sell their crops anywhere in the country. However, this is very dangerous as this only means that the farmer will not be able to sell the crop, but corporates from India and abroad will come and buy the crop at the prices they deem fit. The mandis also seem to be done away with. The government will encourage contract and corporate farming just like the US where the private companies own the land. Apart from this, the plight of the weavers is unfortunate. Since the advent of powerlooms, the weavers have been at a disadvantage. The economic packages do nothing for the small business owners, but only develop infrastructure to turn villages into cities.”

Uttar Pradesh took the lead in tampering with labour laws during the lockdown calling for long hours of work with nominal pay. Aflatoon added that the reservation of small business owners was taken away in 2015 and that the handloom industry should have been revived during the lockdown. “Instead of learning lessons during the lockdown and spending money on healthcare, they have allowed private hospitals to charge exorbitant amounts of money instead of providing free treatment,” he concluded.

Express solidarity to various causes

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi of the People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVHCR), also spoke about how the Yogi government culled labour laws during the lockdown by asking people to work for long hours almost pushing people into bonded labour. Raghuvanshi said, “When there is corporate fascism, the administration will never work well. UP is a corporate fascist state. It is also somewhere our mistake that we never offered our solidarities to different agitations, which we should now do. The current government is very conspiratorial. It is important to vote them out and establish a secular, democratic government. Currently, there is a UP model on the lines of the Gujarat model. We have to fight on all fronts – in courts and on propaganda and make the basis of our agitation, the enforcement of the Constitution. If not, will democracy survive? We must do humanitarian work that fosters social change.”

Setalvad seconded Raghvanshi’s call, invoking late Justice Hosbet Suresh’s words who always called for the unity of people advocating for different causes to stand for a bigger agitation to bring about change in the society.

Weavers left at a disadvantage

Abdullah Ansari, who works among and for the weavers in Uttar Pradesh too said that the sidelining of weavers had started a long time ago when corporates were given leeway but small weavers were not. This led to them being pushed into poverty. Even now, Ansari said that weavers are exploited by being charged commercial rates for electricity, which is twice the slab rates given to the powerloom.

Ansari said, “Even though we have highlighted the plight of the weavers to the government, there has been no relief. UP has the highest rates of electricity – Rs. 7.35 per unit while in other states it hovers around Rs. 2 or Rs. 3. This begs the question, what does the government want from the weavers. Weaving is shut since March 25 and now weavers have to hunt for jobs in other fields, leaving their talent behind. Neither the state nor the Central government made any arrangement for weavers. If this goes on, the heritage industry will perish. For example, the Benarasi saree is given the tag of luxury goods, due to which the government is not ready to extend any discounts to the weavers. A Benarasi saree only becomes a luxury good when it reaches the middlemen and sells at exorbitant prices. The government doesn’t see how much the weaver gets out of this. Even today, a weaver hardly makes Rs. 300 per day. This is the price of a weaver’s talent. Now the corporates want to take over this heritage industry and push weavers into slavery and bonded labour.”

He also added that weavers learnt their craft through generations. Their kids are being stopped for working in the handloom industry, he said, even though it is not bonded labour by the passing down of the craft in the family. Just like Benarasi sarees, zardosi work is also very renowned in UP and weavers have famously sold their items to people all over the world. However, even this industry is fearing being taken over by corporates. Weavers have been left out of the fold of education and it is up to us to make sure that they receive this and that their rights are preserved, Ansari concluded.

Dissenters must not be scared

Arshad Jamal, Ex-Chairman Mau Nagarpalika speaking about the minorities in the area said that Mau has a population of around 22 lakh, out of which more than 5 lakh are Muslims and there are at least 4 lakh weavers in the region.

He said, “In 2019, the UP government called off the flat rate first provided to weavers. Now adding taxes to the Rs. 7.35 per unit, the price goes up to Rs. 11 per unit. Weavers have to now pay exorbitant bills and not only this, if they can’t afford it, their connections are being stopped. Coming to the minorities, when the CAA, NRC protests were on, even youngsters from Mau joined the protests. Though the protests were peaceful, the police lathi charged at the protestors. As a result, 252 people were booked. There were as many as 6 FIRs filed with at least 24 sections of offences in each. I got to know that even I was one of the accused in one of the complaints. Another FIR was filed against me for spreading communalism for a simple message I posted that if one news channel could stand against sectarian news media, why couldn’t the Muslim community agitate for their rights in a democracy? During the lockdown another case was filed against me for not making public the names of those who attended a funeral of a particular person. This is the situation. In March, when I helped people who had come to Mau in two buses had been treated as criminals and sent to quarantine centers without facilities, my car was seized. In the 6 – 7 cases that were filed during this time, 22 people, most youngsters have been booked under the Gangsters Act. Around 152 people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat were arrested after a raid and booked under Sections 269 and 270 of the IPC. Out of these 42 people were booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and were sent to jail. Even those in quarantine were not let out till at least 50 days after bringing them in. I’ve found that at least 2 of those apprehended were juveniles. When we highlighted the plight of the facilities, we were again booked in a case. The point is that we have to raise our voice. They scare us, but we have to remove the fear of prison from the citizens. We have to encourage people to fight. Now they want councilors to ensure the law and order in hotspots. However, that is the job of the government officials. When I raised my voice, there was a case filed by me. There has been a problem with testing for infections too. In comparison with Delhi, UP is only conducting only 1 percent of tests. The elderly aren’t being tested as they know if they do, the numbers will increase. Whatever problems are coming up, we have to fight and support the people to get their rights.”

Genuine journalists attacked

Ramji Yadav, a journalist and activist from Benaras, expressed sadness at the suffering of the people saying that during the coronavirus the government completely sidetracked the needs of the common man and instead went after dissenters. He said that the atmosphere of fear was such that the people didn’t take to the streets to demand the rights of the marginalized and the minorities. Speaking about the news published in most newspapers he said, “I observe newspapers to see how news changes. 10 days ago there was news that said that the government has tested 10 lakh people, another day the UP CM said that it had tested 90 lakh people. How can this number be true given the testing facilities in the state (UP)? In the same way PM Modi said that the government would give wheat and chana to 80 crore people and at another time he said it would be given to 81 crore people. There has been constant fudging of numbers. We’ve been put in a defensive mode, left to protect our needs. We need to come together at a community level and unite all causes.”

“With regards to journalism, most of the corporate media works as the BJP IT cell, putting forth the fascist ideologies of the regime. However, those genuine journalists working on the ground level like Susheel Manav who conduct fact finding reports are being threatened and attacked. In one incident, children of the Musahar community were seen eating grass and we published that news to show the conditions the people were living in. The next day, in a bid to discredit this claim, a member of the government came to do a photo-op and a case was filed against the journalist. In Sonbhadra, we found that children were fed salt and chapatti in the name of midday meals and when it was reported, the journalist was caught and sent to jail. I’ve seen that journalists who are not in the corporate news media, have been constantly attacked,” Ramji Yadav concluded adding that the government which is pushing people further into poverty and unemployment is scared of the ground reality coming to the fore which is why it incites fear among dissenters and journalists by putting them behind bars.

Fight for women’s rights

Rana Khatoon from Mau, ex-Nagarpalika chairman, a women’s rights activist and gender justice activist shared her experience of the struggles women faced during the lockdown. She said, “During the lockdown, women had to face complex issues, especially those from the middle class and lower sections of the society. Their economic status has been badly hit. Those who worked outside or who had small businesses at home, have been robbed of their income. Women, some who were pregnant, had to walk thousands of kilometers while returning home. Women suffering from ailments or even who were pregnant faced a lot of problems due to hospitals being shut. Due to the lockdown, women had to work from home and this led to an increase in sexual harassment, domestic violence. Women who are working as sex workers have completely been forgotten. They don’t even have ration cards and are completely at the mercy of the public. Women have been badly affected in all ways and it is necessary that women rights organizations should come together to protest and demand rights of women.”

Create a pressure group

Haji Ishtiyaq Ahmed, Secretary of the Sir Syed School and a resident of Varanasi expressed that it was time to hunt for solutions for the myriad of problems that stood before the people. He said, “What is happening is that, in the name of eradicating poverty, the government is eradicating the poor. Due to this, whichever agitations are taking place, all fingers being pointed at the government, are being cut in a bid to induce fear among the people so that no questions are asked. We’ve been seeing this since January and now even activists are somewhere scared to express dissent. We need to make a big pressure group and involve all secular IAS, IPS officers and judges and others who know the system to fight legal battles for the downtrodden who don’t have the legal knowledge and means to fight against the authorities and demand their rights. We have to take up all matters together whether it is of the weavers, farmers, minorities, small businessmen, daily-wagers and lead the agitation. The biggest problem now is that of hunger and people have not been given any help from the government during this time. This is why a pressure group is necessary, people are tired due to the harassment by the authorities and it is important that we stand with them and encourage them and take up their causes. This government is the enemy of humanity, not just one section of society. Hence, we have to do the government’s job and at least start with ensuring food security of the larger population.”

NSA, Goonda Act, Gangster Act ruining the lives of people in UP

Rajeev Yadav of the Rihai Manch highlighted the incarceration of people under the dreaded Gangster Act, National Security Act (NSA) and Goonda Act. Rajeev spoke about the Shabbirpur violence in UP’s Saharanpur in 2017 and the Bharat Bandh in 2018 where the NSA was invoked against the Dalits. “If one sees the pattern of the NSA being invoked, it will be seen that it has been invoked only against the Dalits and Muslims and only these two communities are seen as a threat to the country.” Speaking of the Gangster Act and Goonda Act, he said, “At least 18 people in Qaiserbagh, 15 in Hasanganj and 22 in Mau and 11 in Kanpur have been booked under Gangster Act. At least 68 people were booked under the Goonda Act in Lucknow. In Uttar Pradesh, anti-CAA protests took place in at least 29 areas, out of which 7 areas saw police violence. Now, during the lockdown and the Unlock, the police have started cracking down on protestors. The process which started with Shabbirpur has now reached anti-CAA protestors. Nobody talks much about these stringent acts which are as detrimental as the UAPA or sedition. For rural people, the NSA, Gangster Act and Goonda Act are as big a threat as the NSA.”

He added, “In UP in 2019, at least 16,000 people were booked under Gangster Act and 19,000 people were booked under Goonda Act. Regarding CAA protestors, a multitude of people have been booked under these Acts too. From March 23 to April 13, a PIL by Vikram Singh showed that there were 17,000 cases registered against 48,000 people. This is a huge number for one state. The language of the CM shows a sort of attitude that it is out to get people. In Azamgarh, an SP said that at least 86 people were booked under the Goonda Act and there were chargesheets filed against 200 people. The law and order situation and the encounter politics go to show that the Dalits, OBCs and Muslims are the targets of the government. It is necessary that this discourse reaches a bigger level. The Supreme Court had ordered that jails be decongested during the pandemic, even then Muslim youth are being arrested under false charges of selling cow meat and booked under the Gangster and Goonda Act. During this time, the Court is also not seen standing by the people by allowing recovery notices to anti-CAA protestors and saying that reservation isn’t a fundamental right. We must join law and order with the question of citizenship and take this agitation ahead.”

Ensure food security

Dr. Muniza Khan, researcher and social activist who has worked extensively for women’s rights and other causes like battling communalism said that hunger had emerged as the biggest problem during the lockdown. Conveying the plight of the underprivileged she said, “Recently there was a news which said that at Pachasi Ghat in Benaras, the people who lived at the ghats had nothing to sustain themselves. To survive, they swam to deeper deaths in the Ganga where dead bodies were immersed to gather some jewellery or money they may find on them. This is the level of hunger in the state. We spoke to members of the Dalit community who don’t have anything to eat. The ration that these people got was given to the livestock as they too had to be kept alive.”

She added, “We surveyed 100 homes and found that 30 of those didn’t have ration cards and they hadn’t received any food from the government. We kept speaking to the officials for them, but to no avail. It is sad to see that women from the lower sections of the society lost their jobs as domestic help and also robbed off some nutrition they received by eating meals that their employers gave. The children of these women also go hungry as no one gets regular food from the government. One Shahbaz told me that he had only eaten one meal a day for the past three months. People have had to sell their jewelry and take loans to sustain. Another man, Kamal, said that around 15% of weavers had left their work and started selling vegetables. People roam around looking for work for 2 to 3 days at a time, but to no avail. Rajesh, another associate who spoke of good days, now cries as he has nothing to sustain. Riyaz, a weaver said that due to industries being shut, industries are rotting. Who will pay for that once businesses restart? They all say that before coronavirus, hunger will kill them. I’ve seen instances of this before my own eyes. The situation is abominable. We now need to bring people forward and make a strong network or coordination committee to make this into an agitation for our legal and constitutional rights. This is a fight for human rights.”

The meeting ended with an oath to take this fight forward by incorporating activists fighting for different causes and fighting unitedly for social and economic justice. The activists pledged to make a forum and work towards a plan to document, report and fight legally for the rights of the citizens.

The full webinar may be viewed below.

 

 

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Webinar on rise in Human Rights violations in UP during lockdown

Activists, journalists and human rights defenders talk about what ails the people of UP and how they must be helped

UP

India has seen increasing instances of human rights violations during the lockdown. Of these, glaring incidents of discrimination against minorities and brutal attacks on dissenters have emerged from the state of Uttar Pradesh. To shed light on the nature of these violations and carve a way forward to ensure accountability of state authorities, noted civil activist Teesta Setalvad hosted a webinar, ‘Lockdown in Uttar Pradesh and Human Rights’ where she was joined by noted activists, journalists and human rights defenders like Abdullah Ansari, Father Anand, Sadaf Jafar, Dr. Muniza Khan, former Presidents of the municipal corporations as well as the General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP), Aflatoon among others.

Dedicating the webinar to late Dr. Swati, the co-founder of Samta Sangathan and the Vice-President, SJP, Teesta said that the meeting was to unite affiliates and re-commit to the causes that Dr. Swati always actively fought for. The aim of the virtual meeting, said Teesta, was to understand the current situation of human rights in Uttar Pradesh from different perspectives and convey it to the citizens at large.

The subversion of rights of various communities and sections of society in Uttar Pradesh, be it Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, skilled and daily wagers, etc. has always been questioned. This has become an even more pressing issue post 2017, where the atmosphere in the state has seemed to become more dictatorial than ever.

The meeting touched upon various causes – minority rights, women’s rights, rights of small business owners, atrocities on anti-CAA protestors and the economical atrocities on the people of India.

On-ground reality

Sandeep Pandey, veteran social activist and Magsaysay Award winner who has been batting for communal harmony for decades, said that during the lockdown, the government in UP has shrunk the rights of the citizens, evidence of which can be seen every day. “When the lockdown began on March 22, UP CM Yogi Adityanath took part in a ceremony to shift the idol of Lord Ram to the Ram Janmabhoomi premises. Thereafter there was a mela to be held in Ayodhya, but it was not known if it would be called off. While all other events were stopped from being held, this event did take place and when journalist Siddharth Vardarajan questioned this, the police force which was ready to enforce laws during the lockdown, was made to travel by road to deliver a notice to Vardarajan in Delhi. I don’t understand how the police got so much time to do this. The police have been active all this while, especially against dissenters like those who participated in the anti-CAA protests. The police have been going door-to-door to serve notices to protestors and threatening them to compensate or lose their properties. Even a rickshaw driver was not spared and was sent to jail because he couldn’t pay the amount he was asked to pay up for allegedly participating in the protest. It is astonishing to see that while everyone has been asked to stay home, the police are being made to actively go after all those the regime sees as threats.”

Pandey also spoke about the false claims of the Yogi government when it said that all criminals had either been killed or had taken back their bail pleas and opted to stay in jail. He questioned how someone like Vikas Dubey, who was recently killed in an encounter, was allowed to roam scot-free for all this time given the evidence against him. “Uttar Pradesh can possibly be called ‘Encounter Raj’,” said Pandey, as there is no semblance of law and order in the state.

Speaking about how migrants were treated by the state government during the lockdown, Pandey said, “The Congress said it would arrange for 1,000 buses for migrant workers to get them back home and the UP government asked them for a list of the buses. It was found that some of the vehicles were not buses, but others like taxis or cars and Congress leader Ajay Kumar Lalloo, was sent to jail on the accusation that the Congress furnished false information about the number of buses. Then, CM Yogi said that the government had a repository of 90,000 buses to get migrants back to the state. If that was the case, why did it bother asking the Congress for the list of buses? Instead of ensuring the safety of people and providing them food and other healthcare facilities, the focus of the UP government was to play politics against the Congress party.”

He added, “I conducted a survey and found that out of 89 migrants in Unnao and 36 from Sitapur, only one person received Rs. 1,000 twice in his bank account. The others who didn’t get the money said that they were told they weren’t eligible for it as they didn’t return to the state using government approved means like the Indian Railways or Uttar Pradesh Parivahan Nigam. How could this have been possible when the trains and buses were not being run? On the other hand, the government is paying for those returning from abroad. There are different rules for the rich and the under privileged. Commoners have spent an average of Rs. 2,000 from their own pockets to reach home. Also, out of the 89 people in Unnao only 3 got the promised share of ration from the state government. Another hoax is that of skill mapping. Out of the 125 migrants from Unnao and Sitapur, none has been visited by a government official to ascertain what work they do in order to give them employment. Almost 70% of these migrants are Dalits and have no land in the villages. They now say they have to return to the city for work. People have neither compensation, nor food as promised by the government. The reality is quite contrary to the claim of CM Yogi’s promises that even people without a ration card would get food. Even through MNREGA, people have hardly received any work. Whether it is human rights defenders or the common man down the street, all are equally struggling in UP.”

Police brutality

Activist Sadaf Jafar who was brutally assaulted by the UP police after being arrested for participating in the anti-CAA protests, spoke about the inhumane treatment at the hands of the regime. She said, “The government is using the lockdown not just to target the CAA, NRC protestors, but also anyone who questions the government or expresses dissatisfaction against its workings. The government is blatantly torturing people with impunity. Khalid Saifi was beaten up, questions were raised about Safoora Zargar’s character and talking about myself and people who were arrested around the same time, the worst was the government sending notices to confiscate our properties without proving our crime in the court of law. We were remanded to judicial custody without being produced before a magistrate. After being hit, I was bleeding profusely in jail and all that they gave me was two sheets of newspapers so that their car seat wouldn’t get soiled. In prison, male colleagues were made to strip, while I was still in the vicinity. There is no medical aid or other facilities in jail. It is horrid. This was the height of dehumanizing someone.”

She added, “We were labelled as ‘stone pelters’ and ‘rioters’ by the people in jail and even the media. The police broke CCTV cameras and looted shops, they attacked journalists who were recording the brutality. The police were hand in glove with the administration. Women were kicked in the stomach and knees and the hatred in the eyes of the police and the administration is very visible. Even secular officers can’t do much as they have to keep their jobs. Virtues like secularism have now become abuses. Women in prisons are treated like animals. The quantum of cases are being increased by booking us under different complaints. Hoardings with our names and addresses were put across town without our crimes being proved. This also threatens the safety of my kids. There are daily wagers and small business owners who have been targeted by the government. A rickshaw driver was re-arrested for not paying up compensation for allegedly being part of the anti-CAA and jailed when he tried to start a tea stall during the lockdown. What is the need to arrest someone when crimes are not proved? We are being vilified. My neighbours and employers are being contacted asking them if they knew I was a ‘rioter’. The government is trying to emotionally, physically, morally and mentally break us. If we don’t start a legal fight, what is our option?”

Unite people to fight back legally

Roma Malik, the General Secretary of the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP) started her address with ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ saying the current situation in the country is dreadful and horrifying. She said that she had seen this situation of brutality in the forest areas, but the same had now spilled to the cities. Agreeing with Jafar about the situation in jail, Malik recalled her time in prison stating that the situation of women there was indeed pitiable. She said that the current attacks on dissenters had never been heard of before.

Malik said, “AIUFWP and I support the fight for secularism unconditionally.” Speaking about the effect of the lockdown in forest areas, she said, “People in forest areas like Sonbhadra, Mirzapur, Chandauli have fortunately not faced any problems with regards to food security. There, the problem is that the forest and the police department are trying to evict them from their lands. However, people are resisting this. Recently, the forest department and police assaulted forest dwellers in Lakhimpur Kheri in Dudhwa National Park but for the first time in history, the women registered an FIR against the police and forest officials. I think we need to channelize all our agitations – be it those in forest areas or by CAA protestors, and work unitedly to fight against the oppressors. This is why Adivasis extended their solidarity to the protestors at Shaheen Bagh.”

Pointing out a more pertinent issue, especially of concern today, Malik said, “This government won’t work towards generating employment because it works for the corporates. They want cheap labour for the private companies. This is a big challenge and this is why migrants are being kicked around from state to state. It is important to identify pockets where migrants are suffering and start agitations, streamline the process to fight for rights. For example, the Forest Rights Act, allowed us a democratic space to voice our concerns. Before that all forest dwellers were termed as Maoists. Similarly, we need to start a debate through a political process, to talk about employment, education and healthcare. This government has already sowed the seeds of hate against various communities, hence it is important that it be countered by large agitations and take up the issues that the marginalized are faced with – be it land allotment, NREGA, etc. We’ve learned how to be self-sufficient from women who dwell in forests, from how they have nurtured community forests and generated employment on a small scale. We need to build-up a co-operative movement and speak about making a committee to help those in distress.”

Inter-faith movement

Father Anand Mathew, convener of the Sajha Sanskriti Manch (United forum for cultural diversity) seconded prior speakers, saying that all human rights were being sidelined in the state as the government started cracking down on dissenters. Saluting the spirit of the upholders of secularism, Father Anand said, “On December 19, we protested peacefully and yet 60 of us were arrested. Two of our members Anup Shramik and Jagriti were issued a non-bailable warrant and there was an award of Rs. 25000 to those who report their whereabouts. We helped in getting a stay in their arrest warrant. Even though Jagriti had no role in the protest and wasn’t even present there, she was painted as the ‘mastermind. We can say the lockdown took place in the shadows of the CAA, NRC protest and though the lockdown was a necessity, human rights violations have still been rampant and ongoing. All the advisories issued by the government during the lockdown asked people to stay safe and advised that domestic help, washer men, newspaper vendors should not be allowed in homes or on the premises. This was suggestive that only the rich and the middle class were seen as citizens of the country, but the lower strata were indirectly accused of carrying the virus. ”

He went on to say,  “Even before the lockdown was announced, the UP government had announced a shutdown in the state. That’s when we realized that the working class would be badly affected due to it. For us food security, right to life, right to equality and dignity are all human rights. Hence we partnered with other organizations to provide relief since we knew the government wouldn’t do so. We were also supported by the younger generation who helped amplify the cause and raise funds through social media. Even then, we faced obstacles in our relief efforts and were only advised to stay home. Finally, we received a permit from the CMO to execute our relief plans and helped the marginalized – bunkars, nomadic tribes, daily wagers, etc. at the start of the lockdown. In May, just when we had exhausted our funds, we noticed that migrants had started returning to the state and hence decided to restart our relief efforts. This was an exercise in inter-faith networking. We noticed a lot of discrimination against Muslims during this time. People used to warn us to not go near Muslims, alleging that they were spreading coronavirus. We also conducted a survey in 307 villages and found that all claims of skill mapping are false. A lot of skilled workers are also working in MNREGA and hence it is upto us to raise our voices for the implementation of these promises made by the government.”

Crackdown on farmers

Aflatoon, General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad said that the current situation, with the help of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the CrPC, is worse than the Emergency. He said that it was now, during the lockdown that the government was trying to do away with and change all the laws that protected people.

Shedding light on the farmers and weavers who are most affected by the policies of the government, said, “The Indian Government has said that as many as 80 lakh migrants have returned to their villages during the lockdown. Just like the government has given forest land to private companies and opened up coal mining for corporates, it is now going to privatize agriculture. The government recently announced that India’s farmers could sell their crops anywhere in the country. However, this is very dangerous as this only means that the farmer will not be able to sell the crop, but corporates from India and abroad will come and buy the crop at the prices they deem fit. The mandis also seem to be done away with. The government will encourage contract and corporate farming just like the US where the private companies own the land. Apart from this, the plight of the weavers is unfortunate. Since the advent of powerlooms, the weavers have been at a disadvantage. The economic packages do nothing for the small business owners, but only develop infrastructure to turn villages into cities.”

Uttar Pradesh took the lead in tampering with labour laws during the lockdown calling for long hours of work with nominal pay. Aflatoon added that the reservation of small business owners was taken away in 2015 and that the handloom industry should have been revived during the lockdown. “Instead of learning lessons during the lockdown and spending money on healthcare, they have allowed private hospitals to charge exorbitant amounts of money instead of providing free treatment,” he concluded.

Express solidarity to various causes

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi of the People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVHCR), also spoke about how the Yogi government culled labour laws during the lockdown by asking people to work for long hours almost pushing people into bonded labour. Raghuvanshi said, “When there is corporate fascism, the administration will never work well. UP is a corporate fascist state. It is also somewhere our mistake that we never offered our solidarities to different agitations, which we should now do. The current government is very conspiratorial. It is important to vote them out and establish a secular, democratic government. Currently, there is a UP model on the lines of the Gujarat model. We have to fight on all fronts – in courts and on propaganda and make the basis of our agitation, the enforcement of the Constitution. If not, will democracy survive? We must do humanitarian work that fosters social change.”

Setalvad seconded Raghvanshi’s call, invoking late Justice Hosbet Suresh’s words who always called for the unity of people advocating for different causes to stand for a bigger agitation to bring about change in the society.

Weavers left at a disadvantage

Abdullah Ansari, who works among and for the weavers in Uttar Pradesh too said that the sidelining of weavers had started a long time ago when corporates were given leeway but small weavers were not. This led to them being pushed into poverty. Even now, Ansari said that weavers are exploited by being charged commercial rates for electricity, which is twice the slab rates given to the powerloom.

Ansari said, “Even though we have highlighted the plight of the weavers to the government, there has been no relief. UP has the highest rates of electricity – Rs. 7.35 per unit while in other states it hovers around Rs. 2 or Rs. 3. This begs the question, what does the government want from the weavers. Weaving is shut since March 25 and now weavers have to hunt for jobs in other fields, leaving their talent behind. Neither the state nor the Central government made any arrangement for weavers. If this goes on, the heritage industry will perish. For example, the Benarasi saree is given the tag of luxury goods, due to which the government is not ready to extend any discounts to the weavers. A Benarasi saree only becomes a luxury good when it reaches the middlemen and sells at exorbitant prices. The government doesn’t see how much the weaver gets out of this. Even today, a weaver hardly makes Rs. 300 per day. This is the price of a weaver’s talent. Now the corporates want to take over this heritage industry and push weavers into slavery and bonded labour.”

He also added that weavers learnt their craft through generations. Their kids are being stopped for working in the handloom industry, he said, even though it is not bonded labour by the passing down of the craft in the family. Just like Benarasi sarees, zardosi work is also very renowned in UP and weavers have famously sold their items to people all over the world. However, even this industry is fearing being taken over by corporates. Weavers have been left out of the fold of education and it is up to us to make sure that they receive this and that their rights are preserved, Ansari concluded.

Dissenters must not be scared

Arshad Jamal, Ex-Chairman Mau Nagarpalika speaking about the minorities in the area said that Mau has a population of around 22 lakh, out of which more than 5 lakh are Muslims and there are at least 4 lakh weavers in the region.

He said, “In 2019, the UP government called off the flat rate first provided to weavers. Now adding taxes to the Rs. 7.35 per unit, the price goes up to Rs. 11 per unit. Weavers have to now pay exorbitant bills and not only this, if they can’t afford it, their connections are being stopped. Coming to the minorities, when the CAA, NRC protests were on, even youngsters from Mau joined the protests. Though the protests were peaceful, the police lathi charged at the protestors. As a result, 252 people were booked. There were as many as 6 FIRs filed with at least 24 sections of offences in each. I got to know that even I was one of the accused in one of the complaints. Another FIR was filed against me for spreading communalism for a simple message I posted that if one news channel could stand against sectarian news media, why couldn’t the Muslim community agitate for their rights in a democracy? During the lockdown another case was filed against me for not making public the names of those who attended a funeral of a particular person. This is the situation. In March, when I helped people who had come to Mau in two buses had been treated as criminals and sent to quarantine centers without facilities, my car was seized. In the 6 – 7 cases that were filed during this time, 22 people, most youngsters have been booked under the Gangsters Act. Around 152 people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat were arrested after a raid and booked under Sections 269 and 270 of the IPC. Out of these 42 people were booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and were sent to jail. Even those in quarantine were not let out till at least 50 days after bringing them in. I’ve found that at least 2 of those apprehended were juveniles. When we highlighted the plight of the facilities, we were again booked in a case. The point is that we have to raise our voice. They scare us, but we have to remove the fear of prison from the citizens. We have to encourage people to fight. Now they want councilors to ensure the law and order in hotspots. However, that is the job of the government officials. When I raised my voice, there was a case filed by me. There has been a problem with testing for infections too. In comparison with Delhi, UP is only conducting only 1 percent of tests. The elderly aren’t being tested as they know if they do, the numbers will increase. Whatever problems are coming up, we have to fight and support the people to get their rights.”

Genuine journalists attacked

Ramji Yadav, a journalist and activist from Benaras, expressed sadness at the suffering of the people saying that during the coronavirus the government completely sidetracked the needs of the common man and instead went after dissenters. He said that the atmosphere of fear was such that the people didn’t take to the streets to demand the rights of the marginalized and the minorities. Speaking about the news published in most newspapers he said, “I observe newspapers to see how news changes. 10 days ago there was news that said that the government has tested 10 lakh people, another day the UP CM said that it had tested 90 lakh people. How can this number be true given the testing facilities in the state (UP)? In the same way PM Modi said that the government would give wheat and chana to 80 crore people and at another time he said it would be given to 81 crore people. There has been constant fudging of numbers. We’ve been put in a defensive mode, left to protect our needs. We need to come together at a community level and unite all causes.”

“With regards to journalism, most of the corporate media works as the BJP IT cell, putting forth the fascist ideologies of the regime. However, those genuine journalists working on the ground level like Susheel Manav who conduct fact finding reports are being threatened and attacked. In one incident, children of the Musahar community were seen eating grass and we published that news to show the conditions the people were living in. The next day, in a bid to discredit this claim, a member of the government came to do a photo-op and a case was filed against the journalist. In Sonbhadra, we found that children were fed salt and chapatti in the name of midday meals and when it was reported, the journalist was caught and sent to jail. I’ve seen that journalists who are not in the corporate news media, have been constantly attacked,” Ramji Yadav concluded adding that the government which is pushing people further into poverty and unemployment is scared of the ground reality coming to the fore which is why it incites fear among dissenters and journalists by putting them behind bars.

Fight for women’s rights

Rana Khatoon from Mau, ex-Nagarpalika chairman, a women’s rights activist and gender justice activist shared her experience of the struggles women faced during the lockdown. She said, “During the lockdown, women had to face complex issues, especially those from the middle class and lower sections of the society. Their economic status has been badly hit. Those who worked outside or who had small businesses at home, have been robbed of their income. Women, some who were pregnant, had to walk thousands of kilometers while returning home. Women suffering from ailments or even who were pregnant faced a lot of problems due to hospitals being shut. Due to the lockdown, women had to work from home and this led to an increase in sexual harassment, domestic violence. Women who are working as sex workers have completely been forgotten. They don’t even have ration cards and are completely at the mercy of the public. Women have been badly affected in all ways and it is necessary that women rights organizations should come together to protest and demand rights of women.”

Create a pressure group

Haji Ishtiyaq Ahmed, Secretary of the Sir Syed School and a resident of Varanasi expressed that it was time to hunt for solutions for the myriad of problems that stood before the people. He said, “What is happening is that, in the name of eradicating poverty, the government is eradicating the poor. Due to this, whichever agitations are taking place, all fingers being pointed at the government, are being cut in a bid to induce fear among the people so that no questions are asked. We’ve been seeing this since January and now even activists are somewhere scared to express dissent. We need to make a big pressure group and involve all secular IAS, IPS officers and judges and others who know the system to fight legal battles for the downtrodden who don’t have the legal knowledge and means to fight against the authorities and demand their rights. We have to take up all matters together whether it is of the weavers, farmers, minorities, small businessmen, daily-wagers and lead the agitation. The biggest problem now is that of hunger and people have not been given any help from the government during this time. This is why a pressure group is necessary, people are tired due to the harassment by the authorities and it is important that we stand with them and encourage them and take up their causes. This government is the enemy of humanity, not just one section of society. Hence, we have to do the government’s job and at least start with ensuring food security of the larger population.”

NSA, Goonda Act, Gangster Act ruining the lives of people in UP

Rajeev Yadav of the Rihai Manch highlighted the incarceration of people under the dreaded Gangster Act, National Security Act (NSA) and Goonda Act. Rajeev spoke about the Shabbirpur violence in UP’s Saharanpur in 2017 and the Bharat Bandh in 2018 where the NSA was invoked against the Dalits. “If one sees the pattern of the NSA being invoked, it will be seen that it has been invoked only against the Dalits and Muslims and only these two communities are seen as a threat to the country.” Speaking of the Gangster Act and Goonda Act, he said, “At least 18 people in Qaiserbagh, 15 in Hasanganj and 22 in Mau and 11 in Kanpur have been booked under Gangster Act. At least 68 people were booked under the Goonda Act in Lucknow. In Uttar Pradesh, anti-CAA protests took place in at least 29 areas, out of which 7 areas saw police violence. Now, during the lockdown and the Unlock, the police have started cracking down on protestors. The process which started with Shabbirpur has now reached anti-CAA protestors. Nobody talks much about these stringent acts which are as detrimental as the UAPA or sedition. For rural people, the NSA, Gangster Act and Goonda Act are as big a threat as the NSA.”

He added, “In UP in 2019, at least 16,000 people were booked under Gangster Act and 19,000 people were booked under Goonda Act. Regarding CAA protestors, a multitude of people have been booked under these Acts too. From March 23 to April 13, a PIL by Vikram Singh showed that there were 17,000 cases registered against 48,000 people. This is a huge number for one state. The language of the CM shows a sort of attitude that it is out to get people. In Azamgarh, an SP said that at least 86 people were booked under the Goonda Act and there were chargesheets filed against 200 people. The law and order situation and the encounter politics go to show that the Dalits, OBCs and Muslims are the targets of the government. It is necessary that this discourse reaches a bigger level. The Supreme Court had ordered that jails be decongested during the pandemic, even then Muslim youth are being arrested under false charges of selling cow meat and booked under the Gangster and Goonda Act. During this time, the Court is also not seen standing by the people by allowing recovery notices to anti-CAA protestors and saying that reservation isn’t a fundamental right. We must join law and order with the question of citizenship and take this agitation ahead.”

Ensure food security

Dr. Muniza Khan, researcher and social activist who has worked extensively for women’s rights and other causes like battling communalism said that hunger had emerged as the biggest problem during the lockdown. Conveying the plight of the underprivileged she said, “Recently there was a news which said that at Pachasi Ghat in Benaras, the people who lived at the ghats had nothing to sustain themselves. To survive, they swam to deeper deaths in the Ganga where dead bodies were immersed to gather some jewellery or money they may find on them. This is the level of hunger in the state. We spoke to members of the Dalit community who don’t have anything to eat. The ration that these people got was given to the livestock as they too had to be kept alive.”

She added, “We surveyed 100 homes and found that 30 of those didn’t have ration cards and they hadn’t received any food from the government. We kept speaking to the officials for them, but to no avail. It is sad to see that women from the lower sections of the society lost their jobs as domestic help and also robbed off some nutrition they received by eating meals that their employers gave. The children of these women also go hungry as no one gets regular food from the government. One Shahbaz told me that he had only eaten one meal a day for the past three months. People have had to sell their jewelry and take loans to sustain. Another man, Kamal, said that around 15% of weavers had left their work and started selling vegetables. People roam around looking for work for 2 to 3 days at a time, but to no avail. Rajesh, another associate who spoke of good days, now cries as he has nothing to sustain. Riyaz, a weaver said that due to industries being shut, industries are rotting. Who will pay for that once businesses restart? They all say that before coronavirus, hunger will kill them. I’ve seen instances of this before my own eyes. The situation is abominable. We now need to bring people forward and make a strong network or coordination committee to make this into an agitation for our legal and constitutional rights. This is a fight for human rights.”

The meeting ended with an oath to take this fight forward by incorporating activists fighting for different causes and fighting unitedly for social and economic justice. The activists pledged to make a forum and work towards a plan to document, report and fight legally for the rights of the citizens.

The full webinar may be viewed below.

 

 

Related:

 

Does India uphold Prisoners’ Right to Health?

UP’s 'Name and shame ordinance' against all canons of justice: PIL in Allahabad HC

 

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Three decades on, many Sardar Sarovar Dam affected persons still await rehabilitation

The third and final part of the series on the project is an overview of the shortcomings of the government in providing resettlement and rehabilitation to project affected persons

13 Jul 2020

sARDAR sAROVAR

As a saying goes, “Until the lions have their own histories, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.” This is what has exactly happened in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. As many as 5,00,000 people in the three states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been displaced, more than 50 percent of them being Adivasis or the indigenous people. Their lands, livelihoods and cultures now stand submerged in the dam waters and they still await proper resettlement and rehabilitation, three decades on.

As per a Lok Sabha Reference Note, 2013, Development Displacement Population is the single largest category among all Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs). In India around 50 million people have been displaced due to development projects in over 50 years. Around 21.3 million development-induced IDPs include those displaced by dams (16.4 million),mines (2.55 million), industrial development (1.25 million) and wild life sanctuaries and national parks (0.6 million).

The note stated that according to a report, during the last 50 years, around 3,300 dams had been constructed in the country and most of them had led to large-scale forced eviction of vulnerable groups. It added that the situation of the tribal people was of special concern as they constituted 40 to 50 percent of the displaced population; and this was highlighted during the agitation against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The dam was and is still called ‘India’s most controversial dam project’ and the agitation against it was spearheaded by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). While official figures said that around 42,000 families were to be displaced by the project, the NBA and other non-governmental organizations pegged that number to be around 85,000 families or 5,00,000 people.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDA) which was set up in 1969 to resolve the water sharing dispute between Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, also aimed to set out conditions regarding the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people to be displaced by the dam. It is noteworthy that though the World Bank in 1985 lent the three state governments a total of $200 million and gave them $250 million in credits to finance the dam, even six years later the state governments hadn’t prepared any comprehensive plans for the resettlement of the affected individuals. It then pulled out of the project in 1993 after the Morse Committee recorded the numerous violations that had been done during the project.

Resettlement and Rehabilitation offered by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)

As per the liberalised policy, the Govt. of Maharashtra are now allotting 1 hectare agricultural land free of cost to each landless oustee, and 2 ha agricultural land to major son and unmarried major daughters of all category of oustees besides a subsistence allowance of Rs.4500/- per oustee. Moreover in Maharashtra, compensation of land and house acquired will be paid to Project Affected Families (PAF) and land will be allotted free of cost.

The Government of Gujarat is allotting 2 ha land to landless agricultural labourers, each major son of all category of oustees with January 1, 1987 as cut-off date and free core house/financial assistance of Rs. 45000/- for construction of core house to the oustee families & their major sons.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh (MP) has increased the rehabilitation grant from Rs.11,000/- to Rs.18,700/- for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers/small and marginal farmers and from Rs.5,500 to Rs.9,350/- for other labourers and landless families. Liberalisation has also been made to purchase the productive assets. Accordingly, the amount to purchase the productive assets has been increased from Rs.29,000 to Rs.49,300 for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers and from Rs.19,500/- to Rs.33,150/- for other labourers and landless families. The Supreme Court in its landmark Judgment dated February 8, 2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002 extended compensation to 681 PAFs of MP of Rs. 60 Lakh per family who have not received any compensation and Rs. 15 Lakh per family to 1358 PAFs (now 943 PAFs after scrutiny) of MP who were paid both instalment of Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP) earlier after deducting earlier paid instalments.

In addition, the PAFs, who opt for shifting from submergence villages and wish to construct their houses later on can avail the option of receiving Rs 60,000/- for rental transit accommodation and Rs. 20,000/- for arranging meals/food, etc., for a period of 3 months. These PAFs have also been extended benefit of Pradhan Mantri Aavas Yojna @ Rs. 1.5 Lakh per family (including Rs. 18,000/- towards labour component under MGNREGA).

On-ground issues with Resettlement and Rehabilitation

Writing about ‘The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project: An Overview’, Philippe Cullet explains that the first object of debate, which still stands today, is the number of people displaced by the dam. When the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award was given, it was estimated that only 6,147 families were to be displaced. By the mid-1980s, this number soared to 13,335 families, by the 1990s, it went up to 40,245 families and today the number stands at around 85,000 families who have been displaced.

The reasons for such differences in the human count are explained by earlier estimates not being backed up by actual door-to-door surveys, not all people ousted by the project being recognised as oustees (people displaced by the construction of the canal network not falling under the protection offered by the NWDT) and the debate over the definition of oustees since it was only people who could show that they owned land would get the full benefit of the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package. This proved a major problem for Adivasis who were said to be encroachers on their own land and even fisherfolk, river-bed farmers or boat people who didn’t own land there.

Another issue for many years which has been condemned, has been the attempt to distinguish between temporarily affected (during the monsoon) and permanently affected oustees. One more problem that emerged was the quality of the R&R package. While concerned authorities tend to claim that all is well on this front, various official and independent reports have found major shortcomings with regard to proposed and existing resettlement sites. With regard to resettlement sites in MP, for instance, the Group of Ministers noted that:

Dharampuri had been shown to the GoMs as a success story by the Madhya Pradesh Government and it turned out to be the worst example of not doing anything by way of settlement when there was apparently no difficulty in respect of resources. The people there showed to the GoMs two dry water pumps and a heap of stones that had been dumped there a day before the GoMs’ arrival indicating that roads would be built soon.

An independent team led by Professor Chenoy that visited several resettlement sites later in 2006 gave a similar picture. Earlier, the Daud Committee that surveyed rehabilitation sites in Maharashtra found that:

[e]xcepting the resettlement village of Simamli in Gujarat, which offers a little satisfaction, rest of the resettlement villages from Maharashtra in particular, visited by us, lack almost all the basic facilities required for habitation, especially quality and availability of suitable agricultural land. One cannot ignore the enormous number of complaints that the Committee came to hear from the aggrieved people about having been shifted to the new sites without being provided with compensatory agricultural land. One of the greatest shortcomings is that of non-availability of water even for domestic purposes like cooking and drinking. Even in Simamli, it is not as if everything is as it should be.

A fact-finding report by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HRLN) in 2002 showed the resettlement sites promoted by the three state governments had been generally rejected as unsuitable by the affected people. Many of the villagers were refusing to move to the sites, saying they couldn’t grow anything on the land because it was of such poor quality, of insufficient size, or that there was no access to common property resources such as grazing land which was essential for their livelihood needs.

A villager in Gujarat conveyed the pittance he received in return for his land. He told HRLN, “What is the solution? We have sacrificed our land, our livelihood was taken away and we are given a pittance in return. We are asking only that our standard of living be restored and that has not happened. We have lost food security, grazing land, crop land and livelihood. Here I cannot even dream of having milk.”

An evaluation by MANIT Bhopal which had carried out an extensive survey of 88 R&R sites in MP also found that there were many inequities in provisioning infrastructure – no primary schools, no primary health centres, drinking water amenities, drainage systems, community ponds, street lights, etc.  

In terms of compensation offered, the findings of the Central Fact Finding team which visited the submergence areas in Madhya Pradesh, can tell us that the compensation offered was pitiable. A villager informed the FFT that the monetary compensation was absurdly low, INR 5.58 lakh for 5 acres of land, whereas irrigated land – even in the interiors in this area - was not available for less than INR 15-16 lakh per acre. The FFT also checked with several others only to find that at places close to roads and highways, prices were even higher, anywhere between Rs. 25 lakh and Rs. 70 lakh.

The NCA in 2018 had stated that as per the direction of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 08.02.2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002, the MP government through its Grievance Redressal Authority has made payments of compensation of Rs. 15 Lakh/ Family to 892 PAFs (out of 946 PAFs) and Rs. 60 Lakh/family to 723 PAFs (out of 681 + additional 100 PAFs declared by GRA/ Government of Madhya Pradesh). However, in an article in the same year, the NBA said that while over 700 families received the package, hundreds still remained. It also said that according to the same SC order, the MP government was to provide facilities at all rehabilitation sites, but even 1 percent of that was not done. Post this, the MP government had announced an additional package of Rs. 900 through which each family would receive Rs. 5.8 lakh for the construction of houses at resettlement sites.

In 2019, when IndiaSpend visited villages in MP, it was found that though the Modi government in 2014 claimed that every single family in the dam’s submergence zone had been evacuated, there were at least 6,000 families still living there waiting for their final rehabilitation payments. Apart from this, cases of another 10,000 families were being heard at grievance redressal forums. One of the villagers explained to Indiaspend that though he had received a 5,400 sq. ft. plot, he had only received Rs. 1 lakh as compensation which wasn’t even enough to lay the foundation of the house. He said he was still waiting for the package announced in 2017 and until he received it, he couldn’t leave the village.

Social Activist Shabnam Hashmi who also visited these villages in MP in 2019 stated that over 150 families from Chikhalda village were yet to get the Rs. 5.8 lakhs. In Pichhodi, out of the 55 houses which were submerged, all got the Rs. 5.8 lakhs, but 17 families didn’t get land plots. As many as 17 families which were eligible for the Rs. 60 lakh compensation still hadn’t received it and 15 families eligible for Rs. 15 lakhs were still waiting to be compensated. In Eklabara village, 22 families received only the first instalment from the 5.8 lakh package which 10 families which were available didn’t even see their name on the list. Out of the total 542 affected families there, 276 were yet to get one or the other – compensation or land. 

The NCA website since 2015 says that 32,000 families have been resettled and rehabilitated, but the situation on ground is completely different. If so was the case, why was the government still offering compensation to people right until 2017?

Long before the dam construction had even begun, one could see the glaring loopholes in the R&R plans set up by the government. Ousted tribals who were supposedly resettled returned to their submerged lands as the resettled colonies didn’t have the basic amenities or arable land to support their livelihoods. While some haven’t received land, others haven’t received compensation and most have been ousted by strong-arm measures used by the government. Another issue was that of ex-parte land allotments, which was used as a tactic to show inflated numbers of rehabilitated persons.

The construction of the dam has led to a loss of livelihood by robbing people of their lands and their futures, and this has been done with utter impunity. This goes on today, as the government continues to throw away all requirements for environmental clearances in the bin and overlook the needs of the country’s indigenous population and ignores the tenets of sustainable development.


Related:

Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights

The environmental impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam

 

Three decades on, many Sardar Sarovar Dam affected persons still await rehabilitation

The third and final part of the series on the project is an overview of the shortcomings of the government in providing resettlement and rehabilitation to project affected persons

sARDAR sAROVAR

As a saying goes, “Until the lions have their own histories, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.” This is what has exactly happened in the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. As many as 5,00,000 people in the three states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been displaced, more than 50 percent of them being Adivasis or the indigenous people. Their lands, livelihoods and cultures now stand submerged in the dam waters and they still await proper resettlement and rehabilitation, three decades on.

As per a Lok Sabha Reference Note, 2013, Development Displacement Population is the single largest category among all Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs). In India around 50 million people have been displaced due to development projects in over 50 years. Around 21.3 million development-induced IDPs include those displaced by dams (16.4 million),mines (2.55 million), industrial development (1.25 million) and wild life sanctuaries and national parks (0.6 million).

The note stated that according to a report, during the last 50 years, around 3,300 dams had been constructed in the country and most of them had led to large-scale forced eviction of vulnerable groups. It added that the situation of the tribal people was of special concern as they constituted 40 to 50 percent of the displaced population; and this was highlighted during the agitation against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The dam was and is still called ‘India’s most controversial dam project’ and the agitation against it was spearheaded by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). While official figures said that around 42,000 families were to be displaced by the project, the NBA and other non-governmental organizations pegged that number to be around 85,000 families or 5,00,000 people.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDA) which was set up in 1969 to resolve the water sharing dispute between Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, also aimed to set out conditions regarding the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people to be displaced by the dam. It is noteworthy that though the World Bank in 1985 lent the three state governments a total of $200 million and gave them $250 million in credits to finance the dam, even six years later the state governments hadn’t prepared any comprehensive plans for the resettlement of the affected individuals. It then pulled out of the project in 1993 after the Morse Committee recorded the numerous violations that had been done during the project.

Resettlement and Rehabilitation offered by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)

As per the liberalised policy, the Govt. of Maharashtra are now allotting 1 hectare agricultural land free of cost to each landless oustee, and 2 ha agricultural land to major son and unmarried major daughters of all category of oustees besides a subsistence allowance of Rs.4500/- per oustee. Moreover in Maharashtra, compensation of land and house acquired will be paid to Project Affected Families (PAF) and land will be allotted free of cost.

The Government of Gujarat is allotting 2 ha land to landless agricultural labourers, each major son of all category of oustees with January 1, 1987 as cut-off date and free core house/financial assistance of Rs. 45000/- for construction of core house to the oustee families & their major sons.

The Government of Madhya Pradesh (MP) has increased the rehabilitation grant from Rs.11,000/- to Rs.18,700/- for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers/small and marginal farmers and from Rs.5,500 to Rs.9,350/- for other labourers and landless families. Liberalisation has also been made to purchase the productive assets. Accordingly, the amount to purchase the productive assets has been increased from Rs.29,000 to Rs.49,300 for SC/ST/Landless agricultural labourers and from Rs.19,500/- to Rs.33,150/- for other labourers and landless families. The Supreme Court in its landmark Judgment dated February 8, 2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002 extended compensation to 681 PAFs of MP of Rs. 60 Lakh per family who have not received any compensation and Rs. 15 Lakh per family to 1358 PAFs (now 943 PAFs after scrutiny) of MP who were paid both instalment of Special Rehabilitation Package (SRP) earlier after deducting earlier paid instalments.

In addition, the PAFs, who opt for shifting from submergence villages and wish to construct their houses later on can avail the option of receiving Rs 60,000/- for rental transit accommodation and Rs. 20,000/- for arranging meals/food, etc., for a period of 3 months. These PAFs have also been extended benefit of Pradhan Mantri Aavas Yojna @ Rs. 1.5 Lakh per family (including Rs. 18,000/- towards labour component under MGNREGA).

On-ground issues with Resettlement and Rehabilitation

Writing about ‘The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project: An Overview’, Philippe Cullet explains that the first object of debate, which still stands today, is the number of people displaced by the dam. When the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award was given, it was estimated that only 6,147 families were to be displaced. By the mid-1980s, this number soared to 13,335 families, by the 1990s, it went up to 40,245 families and today the number stands at around 85,000 families who have been displaced.

The reasons for such differences in the human count are explained by earlier estimates not being backed up by actual door-to-door surveys, not all people ousted by the project being recognised as oustees (people displaced by the construction of the canal network not falling under the protection offered by the NWDT) and the debate over the definition of oustees since it was only people who could show that they owned land would get the full benefit of the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) package. This proved a major problem for Adivasis who were said to be encroachers on their own land and even fisherfolk, river-bed farmers or boat people who didn’t own land there.

Another issue for many years which has been condemned, has been the attempt to distinguish between temporarily affected (during the monsoon) and permanently affected oustees. One more problem that emerged was the quality of the R&R package. While concerned authorities tend to claim that all is well on this front, various official and independent reports have found major shortcomings with regard to proposed and existing resettlement sites. With regard to resettlement sites in MP, for instance, the Group of Ministers noted that:

Dharampuri had been shown to the GoMs as a success story by the Madhya Pradesh Government and it turned out to be the worst example of not doing anything by way of settlement when there was apparently no difficulty in respect of resources. The people there showed to the GoMs two dry water pumps and a heap of stones that had been dumped there a day before the GoMs’ arrival indicating that roads would be built soon.

An independent team led by Professor Chenoy that visited several resettlement sites later in 2006 gave a similar picture. Earlier, the Daud Committee that surveyed rehabilitation sites in Maharashtra found that:

[e]xcepting the resettlement village of Simamli in Gujarat, which offers a little satisfaction, rest of the resettlement villages from Maharashtra in particular, visited by us, lack almost all the basic facilities required for habitation, especially quality and availability of suitable agricultural land. One cannot ignore the enormous number of complaints that the Committee came to hear from the aggrieved people about having been shifted to the new sites without being provided with compensatory agricultural land. One of the greatest shortcomings is that of non-availability of water even for domestic purposes like cooking and drinking. Even in Simamli, it is not as if everything is as it should be.

A fact-finding report by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HRLN) in 2002 showed the resettlement sites promoted by the three state governments had been generally rejected as unsuitable by the affected people. Many of the villagers were refusing to move to the sites, saying they couldn’t grow anything on the land because it was of such poor quality, of insufficient size, or that there was no access to common property resources such as grazing land which was essential for their livelihood needs.

A villager in Gujarat conveyed the pittance he received in return for his land. He told HRLN, “What is the solution? We have sacrificed our land, our livelihood was taken away and we are given a pittance in return. We are asking only that our standard of living be restored and that has not happened. We have lost food security, grazing land, crop land and livelihood. Here I cannot even dream of having milk.”

An evaluation by MANIT Bhopal which had carried out an extensive survey of 88 R&R sites in MP also found that there were many inequities in provisioning infrastructure – no primary schools, no primary health centres, drinking water amenities, drainage systems, community ponds, street lights, etc.  

In terms of compensation offered, the findings of the Central Fact Finding team which visited the submergence areas in Madhya Pradesh, can tell us that the compensation offered was pitiable. A villager informed the FFT that the monetary compensation was absurdly low, INR 5.58 lakh for 5 acres of land, whereas irrigated land – even in the interiors in this area - was not available for less than INR 15-16 lakh per acre. The FFT also checked with several others only to find that at places close to roads and highways, prices were even higher, anywhere between Rs. 25 lakh and Rs. 70 lakh.

The NCA in 2018 had stated that as per the direction of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 08.02.2017 in Writ Petition No. 328 of 2002, the MP government through its Grievance Redressal Authority has made payments of compensation of Rs. 15 Lakh/ Family to 892 PAFs (out of 946 PAFs) and Rs. 60 Lakh/family to 723 PAFs (out of 681 + additional 100 PAFs declared by GRA/ Government of Madhya Pradesh). However, in an article in the same year, the NBA said that while over 700 families received the package, hundreds still remained. It also said that according to the same SC order, the MP government was to provide facilities at all rehabilitation sites, but even 1 percent of that was not done. Post this, the MP government had announced an additional package of Rs. 900 through which each family would receive Rs. 5.8 lakh for the construction of houses at resettlement sites.

In 2019, when IndiaSpend visited villages in MP, it was found that though the Modi government in 2014 claimed that every single family in the dam’s submergence zone had been evacuated, there were at least 6,000 families still living there waiting for their final rehabilitation payments. Apart from this, cases of another 10,000 families were being heard at grievance redressal forums. One of the villagers explained to Indiaspend that though he had received a 5,400 sq. ft. plot, he had only received Rs. 1 lakh as compensation which wasn’t even enough to lay the foundation of the house. He said he was still waiting for the package announced in 2017 and until he received it, he couldn’t leave the village.

Social Activist Shabnam Hashmi who also visited these villages in MP in 2019 stated that over 150 families from Chikhalda village were yet to get the Rs. 5.8 lakhs. In Pichhodi, out of the 55 houses which were submerged, all got the Rs. 5.8 lakhs, but 17 families didn’t get land plots. As many as 17 families which were eligible for the Rs. 60 lakh compensation still hadn’t received it and 15 families eligible for Rs. 15 lakhs were still waiting to be compensated. In Eklabara village, 22 families received only the first instalment from the 5.8 lakh package which 10 families which were available didn’t even see their name on the list. Out of the total 542 affected families there, 276 were yet to get one or the other – compensation or land. 

The NCA website since 2015 says that 32,000 families have been resettled and rehabilitated, but the situation on ground is completely different. If so was the case, why was the government still offering compensation to people right until 2017?

Long before the dam construction had even begun, one could see the glaring loopholes in the R&R plans set up by the government. Ousted tribals who were supposedly resettled returned to their submerged lands as the resettled colonies didn’t have the basic amenities or arable land to support their livelihoods. While some haven’t received land, others haven’t received compensation and most have been ousted by strong-arm measures used by the government. Another issue was that of ex-parte land allotments, which was used as a tactic to show inflated numbers of rehabilitated persons.

The construction of the dam has led to a loss of livelihood by robbing people of their lands and their futures, and this has been done with utter impunity. This goes on today, as the government continues to throw away all requirements for environmental clearances in the bin and overlook the needs of the country’s indigenous population and ignores the tenets of sustainable development.


Related:

Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights

The environmental impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam

 

Related Articles


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Hatemonger and Shiv Sena Taksali leader Sudhir Suri allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops

He was recently pulled up for his alleged objectionable remarks for women from the Sikh community

11 Jul 2020

Image Courtesy:indianexpress.com

Even after being accused in six cases, most on charges of making casteist remarks and hurting religious sentiments, serial offender Sudhir Kumar Suri, a self-styled leader of the right-wing Shiv Sena (Taksali) enjoys a security cover that even lawmakers in Punjab can’t avail of, reported The Indian Express.

The serial hatemonger and Hindutva propagator allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops of the Punjab Police. Suri’s spokesperson Ranjit Singh told IE, “He has been given eight gunmen, five constables and two drivers. He has been given only one police pilot Gypsy. The security cover, however, is not enough. We have filed a writ in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking central government security cover for Suri.”

History of hate speech

One of the first cases against Suri, reportedly for hurting religious sentiments, was registered in 2014. In 2017, the Amritsar police took suo moto action against Suri after he allegedly used derogatory and provocative language against the Sikh community. He was booked under Sections 294 (using obscene language and act), 153-A (promoting enmity between two communities) of the IPC and 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, The Tribune India reported.

In 2018, the Civil Lines police had booked Suri for allegedly making casteist remarks and using abusive words against the Dalit community through a WhatsApp audio message, Hindustan Times had reported. With regards to this, a complaint against him was filed under Section 3 of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and 67 of Information Technology Act.

Recently, on the basis of an anonymous complaint, he was also arrested in April 2020 for allegedly making communal remarks against the Tablighi Jamaat members on social media, IE said. In April he was booked under Sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race…), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, 505 (2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) and 115 (Abetment of offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life) of the Indian Penal Code.

However, the case was termed as fabricated by his spokesperson who said that the social media account used was not Suri’s and that he was being targeted by police officers.

This week, on July 8, 2020, the police registered another FIR against Suri under Section 153 A of the IPC, reported IE, for a video where he was allegedly seen using objectionable language for women of the Sikh community.

 

However, Suri posted a video on his Facebook account saying that he was not the person in the video and that his lips and voice had been morphed into it.

It was also said that the chairman of the DSS, Loveleen Luv Mattu, was yet to be provided security cover in spite of repeated requests. He told IE that the alleged reason he hadn’t received security was because of the caste system being in play, alleging that Suri was provided security as he belonged to the general caste while Baba Meghnath, the religious leader of the DSS was only provided a temporary constable for security. Mattu told IE, “At least four cases are registered against Suri under section 295 (a) for hurting religious sentiments and one under the SC/ST Act. Last year, he was also booked for using defamatory words against Bhagwan Valmiki.”

Our take: It is questionable why somebody like Suri has received police protection in the first place. It is also noteworthy that after Suri’s alleged objectionable remarks on women of the Sikh community, a number of Sikhs took to the streets demanding his arrest. They questioned his commitment and contribution to Hinduism and asked why taxpayer money was being spent on his security. But they were made to run from one location to the other and yet their complaint wasn’t registered. The police allegedly said that they would inquire and then register the case. The same police didn’t hesitate once before brutally beating up commoners or arresting dissenters. Is the preferential treatment for Suri and for those of his ilk due to the political patronage they enjoy?

Related:

Hate offender Kapil Mishra accuses renowned journalists for biased reportage of Delhi violence
All non-Muslim minorities are Hindus: Puri Shankaracharya wants amendments to Article 25 of Indian Constitution

Hatemonger and Shiv Sena Taksali leader Sudhir Suri allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops

He was recently pulled up for his alleged objectionable remarks for women from the Sikh community

Image Courtesy:indianexpress.com

Even after being accused in six cases, most on charges of making casteist remarks and hurting religious sentiments, serial offender Sudhir Kumar Suri, a self-styled leader of the right-wing Shiv Sena (Taksali) enjoys a security cover that even lawmakers in Punjab can’t avail of, reported The Indian Express.

The serial hatemonger and Hindutva propagator allegedly enjoys the protection of 15 cops of the Punjab Police. Suri’s spokesperson Ranjit Singh told IE, “He has been given eight gunmen, five constables and two drivers. He has been given only one police pilot Gypsy. The security cover, however, is not enough. We have filed a writ in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking central government security cover for Suri.”

History of hate speech

One of the first cases against Suri, reportedly for hurting religious sentiments, was registered in 2014. In 2017, the Amritsar police took suo moto action against Suri after he allegedly used derogatory and provocative language against the Sikh community. He was booked under Sections 294 (using obscene language and act), 153-A (promoting enmity between two communities) of the IPC and 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, The Tribune India reported.

In 2018, the Civil Lines police had booked Suri for allegedly making casteist remarks and using abusive words against the Dalit community through a WhatsApp audio message, Hindustan Times had reported. With regards to this, a complaint against him was filed under Section 3 of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and 67 of Information Technology Act.

Recently, on the basis of an anonymous complaint, he was also arrested in April 2020 for allegedly making communal remarks against the Tablighi Jamaat members on social media, IE said. In April he was booked under Sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race…), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, 505 (2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) and 115 (Abetment of offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life) of the Indian Penal Code.

However, the case was termed as fabricated by his spokesperson who said that the social media account used was not Suri’s and that he was being targeted by police officers.

This week, on July 8, 2020, the police registered another FIR against Suri under Section 153 A of the IPC, reported IE, for a video where he was allegedly seen using objectionable language for women of the Sikh community.

 

However, Suri posted a video on his Facebook account saying that he was not the person in the video and that his lips and voice had been morphed into it.

It was also said that the chairman of the DSS, Loveleen Luv Mattu, was yet to be provided security cover in spite of repeated requests. He told IE that the alleged reason he hadn’t received security was because of the caste system being in play, alleging that Suri was provided security as he belonged to the general caste while Baba Meghnath, the religious leader of the DSS was only provided a temporary constable for security. Mattu told IE, “At least four cases are registered against Suri under section 295 (a) for hurting religious sentiments and one under the SC/ST Act. Last year, he was also booked for using defamatory words against Bhagwan Valmiki.”

Our take: It is questionable why somebody like Suri has received police protection in the first place. It is also noteworthy that after Suri’s alleged objectionable remarks on women of the Sikh community, a number of Sikhs took to the streets demanding his arrest. They questioned his commitment and contribution to Hinduism and asked why taxpayer money was being spent on his security. But they were made to run from one location to the other and yet their complaint wasn’t registered. The police allegedly said that they would inquire and then register the case. The same police didn’t hesitate once before brutally beating up commoners or arresting dissenters. Is the preferential treatment for Suri and for those of his ilk due to the political patronage they enjoy?

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“Fighting rail privatisation is a battle for universal access to reasonable travel and employment”: NRMU Gen Secy Venu Nair

Speaking to Sabrang India’s PriyankaKavish, Nair explained the manifold problems that will come with the government’s decision of railway privatisation

09 Jul 2020

Indian Railways

Last week, the Indian Railways invited proposals from private companies to run 151 passenger trains on 109 pairs of routes across the country. The project would entail private sector investment of about Rs. 30,000 crore and is said to be done as an initiative to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, reduce demand supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector and provide a world class travel experience to passengers.

 

 

The Union government has said that the private entity shall have the freedom to decide on the fare to be charged from its passengers and it shall be free to procure trains and locomotives from a source of its choice. It has also said that the scheduled maintenance of the trains will take place after a run of 40,000 kms. The project also proposes that no similar train will depart in the same origin two destination route within 60 minutes of the Scheduled Operation of the Concessionaires Train.

This program of the Indian Railways will be executed by 2023 and the proposal has garnered interest from Adani Ports, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Essel Group, Bombardier India and Macquarie Group, Moneycontrol reported. Adani Ports today owns one of the largest private railway lines in India, one which spans 300 km and connects ports and other business hubs for cargo movement. It also set up its own subsidiary to focus on metro rail projects. In 2018, EsselInfraprojects Ltd won the first railway project for Rs 17.06 billion on the Eastern Freight Corridor connecting Howrah and Chennai mainline. In May, Bombardier India won the contract to supply 210 commuter and metro cars for the Delhi-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System.

The announcement of the privatisation of these trains came after the Railway Minister had earlier continued to vehemently deny that the Railwayswould  beprivatised. Chairman of the Railway Board, Vinod Kumar Yadav, put out a video, probably in a bid to pacify passengers and railway unions, saying that 95 percent of the trains will be run by the Indian Railways and all their ticket prices will be fixed by the Indian Railways. He went on to say that private trains would only be an additional facility for passengers and fill in a deficit which is currently not being met by the Indian Railways. Through the video he keeps repeating that the common man will benefit from this and there will be no rise in ticket prices, but instead people will be able to avail better facilities.

 

 

However, there seems to be a discrepancy in this announcement given that the private players will be allowed to fix their own fares. Not just this, the Railway Ministry has also put out a tweet saying that it is not going to surrender any safety category posts required for train operations & maintenance. It had asked for a ‘review’ and freezing of jobs in the non-safety category posts, saying that it was ‘rightsizing’ and not ‘downsizing’.

 

 

However, the non-safety category posts include thousands of employees who work as a peon, account clerk, steno, helpers, teacher, hospital attendant, hospital cleaner, cook, painter, fitter, mason, chowkidar and lab assistants among others. Newsclick reported that following the directive, many zones had started downsizing or holding recruitment, thereby affecting thousands.

Hence, to understand the on-ground ramifications of this announcement, Sabrang India spoke to Venu Nair, General Secretary of the National Railways Mazdoor Union. Nair said, “It has always been noted that Prime Minister Modi and Railway Minister PiyushGoyal have time and again said that privatisation of Indian Railways will not take place. Now that the truth is out, more than the people employed with the Indian Railways, I am concerned about the people from lower sections of the society. If this privatisation takes place, people who are using trains now, will not be able to do so in the future. For example, Mumbai’s local trains run on the harbour line, central line, western line, etc. and we charge nominally, around 18 paise per kilometer for tickets. In the same city, you have Ambani’s Metro Rail which charges almost Rs. 4 per km. Our trains run at 100 kmph while the Metro runs at 60kmph. Nobody can enter the Metro without a ticket or any concession, while Indian Railways offers concessions in more than 100 categories – for the media, senior citizens, army men, cancer patients, HIV patients, the differently abled, for children, for policemen and more. This is because we are Indian Railways. If this is privatised, do you think these concessions will remain? Where will the poor people go and how will they travel? People come from far-flung areas to the city to work as they can rely on trains which are the cheapest, safest and most reliable mode of transport. How will they travel?”

Explaining the precarious implications of the GOI’s decision, he added, “If you remember, the Railway Minister had announced a plan to convert the Central Locomotive Parel Workshop into a terminus. This workshop has been existing since the time of the British and holds assets of about 1,100 crores. Around 3,000 people work there and the government wants to finish it off? Why does Parel need a terminus? Mumbai is so congested. There are already five termini here – LokmanyaTilak Terminus, Bandra Terminus, Dadar Terminus, Bombay Central and Victoria Terminus and they want to make another one? For whom do they want to make it? If it’s for the benefit of IR and people of Maharashtra, we don’t have a problem. Most of the trains coming from the northeast and southeast directions to Mumbai, empty out (almost 60-70 percent) at Kalyan. If the government is so concerned, it should make a terminus there. Who is going to benefit with a terminus at Parel?”

“Nobody wants to listen to us or understand our point. If you remove our good routes and give it to a private entity it will only benefit the corporates. What will happen to the poor? The Tejas train that was run from Lucknow to Delhi is run on the same route that the Indian Railways’ Shatabdi Express runs on. The Shatabdi Express stops at 5 stations, while the Tejas stops at 3 stations. Our Shatabdi train, after stopping at 5 stations, takes just 5 minutes more to reach Delhi and the Tejas train charges twice the amount for lesser service. The profit is earned by the corporates but if the Tejas train is late, there is an arrangement made that the IR will pay passengers Rs. 100 if the train is late for an hour or Rs. 200 if the train is late for 2 hours. Why should the loss be borne by the IR if the profit is enjoyed by the corporates? Even for the Tejas they had said that no train would train 30 minutes before or after the Tejas train arrives and departs – was this to put the trains we’re proud of running, into the bin?” asked Nair.

Talking about unemployment issues, Nair said, “Indian Railways is the biggest employer. Our PM says we have more than 20 crore unemployed youth in the country. Don’t they need jobs? If you kill the Indian Railways, how will these youth get jobs? Even the Class IV employees in the IR get at least Rs. 25,000 as salary. Shouldn’t we give them a chance in such government institutions? The government wants to finish such jobs and employ 3 people for Rs. 8,000 each and say we provided employment. But what other security benefits will such people get? If you give all benefits and ensure that a person can manage their lives in a dignified way, we will understand. But Rs. 8,000 is not enough to survive. I don’t understand why the government is discriminating against the poor and the working class?”

He also pointed out, “Today, during the pandemic, apart from the media, all those working on the ground are government employees – banks, police, trains, frontline workers, etc. Had the unions not protested privatisation from the start, the IR would’ve already been privatised by now. The government is taking all the credit for the return of migrant workers back to their homes. If the trains had been privatised, would these migrants have ever returned home? Today, the IR has made special coaches to treat people in the pandemic. Would the private players do so? This is something to think about.”

“I think the fight we’re going to undertake next, shouldn’t just be for the employees of the IR, but actually ensure that IR lives and exists for the public. If the people fight with us, we will definitely be successful. I am not worried about this generation of employees in the IR, but the next generation. The government has issued circulars to all zones to surrender 50 percent of all non-security related vacancies. What does this mean? It means you’re eating up the jobs of the future generation. For each vacancy lost, one person loses employment,” he added.

Speaking about the safety compromises, Nair said, “Our coaches are maintained after every 4,000 km. But now it is said that with the coming of private entities, the trains will be maintained after a run of 40,000 kms. This is where the safety will be compromised. You will not require people to look after operations there. Sometime ago, a boulder had fallen on one of the tracks in the southeast direction during the rains. The government had removed personnel who used to specifically look at operations on these tracks and replaced them with CCTVs. But a CCTV will tell you that the boulder has already fallen. But those people who have lived their life studying those tracks used to alert us of any disasters. In other countries, technology is upgraded because there’s no manpower there. Here we don’t need privatisation because unlike other countries, we don’t have a shortage of passengers. There’s a shortfall of trains, which we can make too.”

Making a scathing statement against the government, Nair said, “The government sees railway employees as a liability because they have to offer benefits and listen to the unions who fight for the rights of the people. They want people who will just listen to them and exploit them. This is a well-planned strategy. In 1999-2000, during the Vajpayee government, there was a Rakesh Mohan Committee that said that the non-core activities of the Railways should be privatised. As per them, only drivers and operating departments like station masters came under core activities. We had started opposition then itself. Then came the BibekDebroy Committee during PM Modi’s regime that coaches and locomotives too could be privatised to increase competition. What competition are they talking about? Making men and women stand at the entrances of private trains to greet passengers is this what privatisation is about? Are these people even given money or are they treated like contract labourers? This even goes against our ethics, dressing up young women and touting them to be airhostesses just for customers.”

Concluding on a concerned note Nair said, “I fear that in the coming years, the services for the poor and middle class will be eliminated altogether. Maybe the suburban services will be shut. The Metro railway is like an alternative arrangement being set up. If people say we have no way to travel, the government will point out to the Metro and say there is. We can only protest now. I think the Railways should have nominally increased the fare as it would help maintain our infrastructure and other services. If we call for an increase in prices, there’s a protest and I’m sure these protests aren’t done by passengers. This is done by those who want to keep their vote bank. I will keep fighting till I can. Not fighting means you don’t have love for the railways or your country or the future generation.”

While the disparity between what is being said and what is happening on ground is stark, what is of more concern is the cultural divide this decision is going to bring about. Currently, the private entities may only be given 5 percent, it will be no surprise if this number balloons in the future, and this, coupled with exorbitant fares will only further push the underprivileged on the fringes of society.

“Fighting rail privatisation is a battle for universal access to reasonable travel and employment”: NRMU Gen Secy Venu Nair

Speaking to Sabrang India’s PriyankaKavish, Nair explained the manifold problems that will come with the government’s decision of railway privatisation

Indian Railways

Last week, the Indian Railways invited proposals from private companies to run 151 passenger trains on 109 pairs of routes across the country. The project would entail private sector investment of about Rs. 30,000 crore and is said to be done as an initiative to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, reduce demand supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector and provide a world class travel experience to passengers.

 

 

The Union government has said that the private entity shall have the freedom to decide on the fare to be charged from its passengers and it shall be free to procure trains and locomotives from a source of its choice. It has also said that the scheduled maintenance of the trains will take place after a run of 40,000 kms. The project also proposes that no similar train will depart in the same origin two destination route within 60 minutes of the Scheduled Operation of the Concessionaires Train.

This program of the Indian Railways will be executed by 2023 and the proposal has garnered interest from Adani Ports, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Essel Group, Bombardier India and Macquarie Group, Moneycontrol reported. Adani Ports today owns one of the largest private railway lines in India, one which spans 300 km and connects ports and other business hubs for cargo movement. It also set up its own subsidiary to focus on metro rail projects. In 2018, EsselInfraprojects Ltd won the first railway project for Rs 17.06 billion on the Eastern Freight Corridor connecting Howrah and Chennai mainline. In May, Bombardier India won the contract to supply 210 commuter and metro cars for the Delhi-Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System.

The announcement of the privatisation of these trains came after the Railway Minister had earlier continued to vehemently deny that the Railwayswould  beprivatised. Chairman of the Railway Board, Vinod Kumar Yadav, put out a video, probably in a bid to pacify passengers and railway unions, saying that 95 percent of the trains will be run by the Indian Railways and all their ticket prices will be fixed by the Indian Railways. He went on to say that private trains would only be an additional facility for passengers and fill in a deficit which is currently not being met by the Indian Railways. Through the video he keeps repeating that the common man will benefit from this and there will be no rise in ticket prices, but instead people will be able to avail better facilities.

 

 

However, there seems to be a discrepancy in this announcement given that the private players will be allowed to fix their own fares. Not just this, the Railway Ministry has also put out a tweet saying that it is not going to surrender any safety category posts required for train operations & maintenance. It had asked for a ‘review’ and freezing of jobs in the non-safety category posts, saying that it was ‘rightsizing’ and not ‘downsizing’.

 

 

However, the non-safety category posts include thousands of employees who work as a peon, account clerk, steno, helpers, teacher, hospital attendant, hospital cleaner, cook, painter, fitter, mason, chowkidar and lab assistants among others. Newsclick reported that following the directive, many zones had started downsizing or holding recruitment, thereby affecting thousands.

Hence, to understand the on-ground ramifications of this announcement, Sabrang India spoke to Venu Nair, General Secretary of the National Railways Mazdoor Union. Nair said, “It has always been noted that Prime Minister Modi and Railway Minister PiyushGoyal have time and again said that privatisation of Indian Railways will not take place. Now that the truth is out, more than the people employed with the Indian Railways, I am concerned about the people from lower sections of the society. If this privatisation takes place, people who are using trains now, will not be able to do so in the future. For example, Mumbai’s local trains run on the harbour line, central line, western line, etc. and we charge nominally, around 18 paise per kilometer for tickets. In the same city, you have Ambani’s Metro Rail which charges almost Rs. 4 per km. Our trains run at 100 kmph while the Metro runs at 60kmph. Nobody can enter the Metro without a ticket or any concession, while Indian Railways offers concessions in more than 100 categories – for the media, senior citizens, army men, cancer patients, HIV patients, the differently abled, for children, for policemen and more. This is because we are Indian Railways. If this is privatised, do you think these concessions will remain? Where will the poor people go and how will they travel? People come from far-flung areas to the city to work as they can rely on trains which are the cheapest, safest and most reliable mode of transport. How will they travel?”

Explaining the precarious implications of the GOI’s decision, he added, “If you remember, the Railway Minister had announced a plan to convert the Central Locomotive Parel Workshop into a terminus. This workshop has been existing since the time of the British and holds assets of about 1,100 crores. Around 3,000 people work there and the government wants to finish it off? Why does Parel need a terminus? Mumbai is so congested. There are already five termini here – LokmanyaTilak Terminus, Bandra Terminus, Dadar Terminus, Bombay Central and Victoria Terminus and they want to make another one? For whom do they want to make it? If it’s for the benefit of IR and people of Maharashtra, we don’t have a problem. Most of the trains coming from the northeast and southeast directions to Mumbai, empty out (almost 60-70 percent) at Kalyan. If the government is so concerned, it should make a terminus there. Who is going to benefit with a terminus at Parel?”

“Nobody wants to listen to us or understand our point. If you remove our good routes and give it to a private entity it will only benefit the corporates. What will happen to the poor? The Tejas train that was run from Lucknow to Delhi is run on the same route that the Indian Railways’ Shatabdi Express runs on. The Shatabdi Express stops at 5 stations, while the Tejas stops at 3 stations. Our Shatabdi train, after stopping at 5 stations, takes just 5 minutes more to reach Delhi and the Tejas train charges twice the amount for lesser service. The profit is earned by the corporates but if the Tejas train is late, there is an arrangement made that the IR will pay passengers Rs. 100 if the train is late for an hour or Rs. 200 if the train is late for 2 hours. Why should the loss be borne by the IR if the profit is enjoyed by the corporates? Even for the Tejas they had said that no train would train 30 minutes before or after the Tejas train arrives and departs – was this to put the trains we’re proud of running, into the bin?” asked Nair.

Talking about unemployment issues, Nair said, “Indian Railways is the biggest employer. Our PM says we have more than 20 crore unemployed youth in the country. Don’t they need jobs? If you kill the Indian Railways, how will these youth get jobs? Even the Class IV employees in the IR get at least Rs. 25,000 as salary. Shouldn’t we give them a chance in such government institutions? The government wants to finish such jobs and employ 3 people for Rs. 8,000 each and say we provided employment. But what other security benefits will such people get? If you give all benefits and ensure that a person can manage their lives in a dignified way, we will understand. But Rs. 8,000 is not enough to survive. I don’t understand why the government is discriminating against the poor and the working class?”

He also pointed out, “Today, during the pandemic, apart from the media, all those working on the ground are government employees – banks, police, trains, frontline workers, etc. Had the unions not protested privatisation from the start, the IR would’ve already been privatised by now. The government is taking all the credit for the return of migrant workers back to their homes. If the trains had been privatised, would these migrants have ever returned home? Today, the IR has made special coaches to treat people in the pandemic. Would the private players do so? This is something to think about.”

“I think the fight we’re going to undertake next, shouldn’t just be for the employees of the IR, but actually ensure that IR lives and exists for the public. If the people fight with us, we will definitely be successful. I am not worried about this generation of employees in the IR, but the next generation. The government has issued circulars to all zones to surrender 50 percent of all non-security related vacancies. What does this mean? It means you’re eating up the jobs of the future generation. For each vacancy lost, one person loses employment,” he added.

Speaking about the safety compromises, Nair said, “Our coaches are maintained after every 4,000 km. But now it is said that with the coming of private entities, the trains will be maintained after a run of 40,000 kms. This is where the safety will be compromised. You will not require people to look after operations there. Sometime ago, a boulder had fallen on one of the tracks in the southeast direction during the rains. The government had removed personnel who used to specifically look at operations on these tracks and replaced them with CCTVs. But a CCTV will tell you that the boulder has already fallen. But those people who have lived their life studying those tracks used to alert us of any disasters. In other countries, technology is upgraded because there’s no manpower there. Here we don’t need privatisation because unlike other countries, we don’t have a shortage of passengers. There’s a shortfall of trains, which we can make too.”

Making a scathing statement against the government, Nair said, “The government sees railway employees as a liability because they have to offer benefits and listen to the unions who fight for the rights of the people. They want people who will just listen to them and exploit them. This is a well-planned strategy. In 1999-2000, during the Vajpayee government, there was a Rakesh Mohan Committee that said that the non-core activities of the Railways should be privatised. As per them, only drivers and operating departments like station masters came under core activities. We had started opposition then itself. Then came the BibekDebroy Committee during PM Modi’s regime that coaches and locomotives too could be privatised to increase competition. What competition are they talking about? Making men and women stand at the entrances of private trains to greet passengers is this what privatisation is about? Are these people even given money or are they treated like contract labourers? This even goes against our ethics, dressing up young women and touting them to be airhostesses just for customers.”

Concluding on a concerned note Nair said, “I fear that in the coming years, the services for the poor and middle class will be eliminated altogether. Maybe the suburban services will be shut. The Metro railway is like an alternative arrangement being set up. If people say we have no way to travel, the government will point out to the Metro and say there is. We can only protest now. I think the Railways should have nominally increased the fare as it would help maintain our infrastructure and other services. If we call for an increase in prices, there’s a protest and I’m sure these protests aren’t done by passengers. This is done by those who want to keep their vote bank. I will keep fighting till I can. Not fighting means you don’t have love for the railways or your country or the future generation.”

While the disparity between what is being said and what is happening on ground is stark, what is of more concern is the cultural divide this decision is going to bring about. Currently, the private entities may only be given 5 percent, it will be no surprise if this number balloons in the future, and this, coupled with exorbitant fares will only further push the underprivileged on the fringes of society.

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The environmental impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam

In part two of a three-part series, we look at the widespread ecological damage upstream and downstream of the dam and the loss of flora and fauna

06 Jul 2020

sARDAR sAROVAR

All over India, unplanned and non-sustainable ‘development’ is threatening the environment, often causing irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems. In Odisha, traditional forests were burnt down. In Assam, a fire raging from an oil well is causing pollution, seeping oil is contaminating water bodies and covering trees at a national park in oil. In Jharkhand, apart from the ecological damage, unsustainable mining has led to the loss of cultivable land and caused massive air pollution.

In the same vein, the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project has been in the news for the displacement it caused to residents of around 245 villages across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Locals, mostly Adivasis, were ousted from their lands when hundreds of villages were inundated and submerged due to the project, causing lakhs of people to lose their livelihoods. While the social impact of the project has been irreparable, the environmental impact will be difficult to repair.

In part one of the series on the adverse effects of the Sardar Sarovar Project, we had a look at the number of people affected by the dam. In part two, we take a look at the ecological and environmental damage the project has caused.

Land submerged

A fact-finding report by the Delhi Solidarity Group and others published in 2015 stated that the total land in submergence in Madhya Pradesh was 20,822 hectares, in Maharashtra – 9,590 hectares and in Gujarat 7,112 hectares. Over 13,000 hectares of forest cover, 48.5% in Maharashtra, 31% in Gujarat and 20.5% in Madhya Pradesh have been projected to be submerged by the SSP.

A report by social activist Shabnam Hashmi in 2019, from when she visited affected areas in Madhya Pradesh stated that in Chikhalda, a village which was home to Asia’s first farmer, was completely submerged due to the SSP. Over 7,000 hectares of land became islands due to the inundation.

Villages saw partial or complete crop loss. They couldn’t harvest crops and also lost standing crops due to the inundation. Farmers lost banana crops, maize, sugarcane, cotton and wheat crops due to submergence.

Impact of large dams

Explaining the impact of big dams on the environment International Rivers explained that apart from the obvious direct impacts on the biological, chemical and physical properties of rivers, the dam wall blocks fish migrations, traps sediments which are essential for maintaining physical processes and downstream habitats and the changes due to the artificial reservoir habitat are not suitable for the aquatic plants and animals that have evolved with a given river system. 

A 2005 study by Talib N Ellison titled, “The Sardar Sarovar Dam and Ethnic Conflict in India” which stated the environmental impacts of the dam project in detail. It states that apart from the salinization and destruction of plants and fish, waterlogging renders land useless thus bringing about starvation as crops cannot be grown there. Apart from this, salinization reduces the quantity of potable water. It added that the Indian Institute of Science estimated that 40 percent of the command area of the dam would be waterlogged leading to the reduction of the crop yields.

Independent Review by the World Bank

An impact assessment report, “The Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Projects 1991-1992” stated that in addition to 100,000 persons living in the villages in the submergence area, there are likely to be 140,000 families who will be affected by the construction of the canal and irrigation system. Finally, there are the persons living downstream, below the dam, numbering thousands more, whose lives will be significantly affected due to the impact on fisheries and salt-water ingress.

Many reports on the dam project have stated that construction at the site even before the required clearances came in from the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Planning Commission (PC).

When the project was approved by credit from the World Bank in 1985, it had still not received environmental clearance by the MoEF. A report by the World Bank which conducted an Independent Review of the project in 1992 stated, “The Sardar Sarovar has therefore come under scrutiny at a time of global awakening to the consequences of large-scale projects in rural and remote areas, especially those areas inhabited by indigenous or tribal people.” It added, “The Government of India has developed a comprehensive structure of policies for environmental protection and assessment of environmental impact. Despite this structure of policies, the history of the environmental aspects of the Sardar Sarovar is a history of non-compliance. Not until 1987 did India's Ministry of Environment and Forests give a conditional environmental clearance for the dam and canal project. The clearance provided that instead of completing environmental impact studies before approval of the Sardar Sarovar, the studies would be done pati passit, that is, concurrently with construction. This approach undermines the very basis for environmental planning.”

In its report, the World Bank analysed several environmental issues. First, significant discrepancies in the hydrological data and analyses indicated that the Sardar Sarovar would not perform as planned: no realistic operational analysis of the project upon which to base an impact assessment had been done. The backwater effect of sedimentation upstream of the dam had been neglected by the officials. The Independent Review found that the backwater effect could mean a rapid, continuing, and cumulative rise in water level in the river above the reservoir, which could cause flooding to extensive areas of densely populated farmland.

Second, the Independent Review found that no assessment of downstream impact had been done. The implications of the Sardar Sarovar for the geomorphology of the lower reaches of the river and its estuary, and for the fishery and the people living in the region were unknown. The Hilsa fishery, for example, the largest on the west coast and on which thousands of people depended, would suffer severe losses or be eliminated completely. It also noted that the measures at the time proposed mitigate the problem were inadequate.

Thirdly, around the command area, the Independent Review found that there were serious problems with waterlogging and salinity, adding that the environmental consequences of the project had not been properly studied.  

Loss of forests

A critique of the Narmada Valley Project by Kalpavriksh in 1988 mentioned that the “compensatory afforestation” undertaken by the authorities was hardly compensatory because the deciduous forests cut down had developed over a million of years and the plantations to be done could never mimic the original diversity. It questioned, “The afforestation plan in fact includes some exotic commercially useful species. Certainly, there is no conscious attempt on part of either the SSP authorities to replant exactly what is going to be lost. How could they, considering a complete flora listing of the submergence zones has till date not been done?” It stated that the project authorities had initially valued forests only in terms of their timber, firewood and minor forest produce yield, completely ignoring crucial ecological functions like soil preservation, water replenishment, microclimatic stabilization and storage of genetic pools.

Another study, “Uprooting Forests, Planting Trees: Success of Compensatory Afforestation Measures Mitigating the Deforestation for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, India” by Dipti Bhatnagar stated that much of the Compensatory Afforestation (CAF) was planned and executed to be very far away from the original riparian forest that is being submerged near the Narmada River. The wisdom of this is certainly questionable, since it is supposed to compensate the original forest. Including the 27 villages of Kutch, 51% of the plantations were created in regions where the soil and climate is very different from that which is being submerged in the riparian region. The Morse Committee Report noticed the futility of these far away plantations. Talking about the plantations in Kutch, they said, “By placing the Compensatory Afforestation in an entirely different ecological zone, one that is marginal for forest development in any case, Gujarat has ensured that the forest created will have no resemblance to that submerged.”

Loss of wildlife

The critique by Kalpavriksh stated that the SSP authorities told the Department of Environment that at the time, there was no wildlife present in the reservoir area of the proposed dam and in its vicinity. Though there were few large mammals left in the submergence zone, the forests contained insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Given this, the translocation of such animals was impossible and thus, the dam had contributed to the inevitable loss of wildlife. 

In 2018, the Narmada Pradushan Nivaran Samiti and the Bharuch Citizen Council filed a plea with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) complaining that the drying up of the river bed was causing immense damage to agriculture, environment and local industries, with the petitioners claiming that the river had been reduced to a small stream due to less water being released from the dam. The plea stated, “Due to unavailability of surface water, water intensive and heavily polluting industries along the Narmada Estuary withdrew large quantities of water from bore wells, aggravating water crisis and accelerating rate of toxic sea water intrusion into the aquifers of the downstream area.” It added, “Consistent negligence to ensure minimum downstream flow from the Sardar Sarovar dam led to permanent and detrimental changes in the downstream hydro-ecology leading to habitat destruction, increased soil salinity in the agricultural lands, groundwater contamination and changes in the overall environment and was manifested in its worst form during the summer of 2016.”

It is in light of these findings, which are just a snapshot of the mistakes committed by the authorities, one can safely say that the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project was flawed right from the start. It violated laws by not waiting for clearances and did not undertake apt measures to understand the actual damage to the ecology of the area by going about wanton felling of trees and damaging other means of livelihoods. With the current scenario of the environmental regulations being violated in the country, the actions of the SSP authorities only show that it is not new for the government to do so and live with impunity.

Adding to this, the more pressing issue is one of relief and rehabilitation of the Adivasis, which has still not been carried out to its true extent more than three decades later. In part three of the series, we will look at the progress of the relief and rehabilitation efforts or the lack thereof by the authorities.


Related:

Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights
Assam gas -well blowout: 11 days on, threat to humans and animals remains high
Odisha Forest Department cuts down traditional trees, destroys livelihood of forest workers
Raging inferno Jharia treads on hot coals as Centre opens up mining for private sector
Draft environmental impact notification (EIA) doom for natural resources, forests, withdraw it: NAPM

The environmental impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam

In part two of a three-part series, we look at the widespread ecological damage upstream and downstream of the dam and the loss of flora and fauna

sARDAR sAROVAR

All over India, unplanned and non-sustainable ‘development’ is threatening the environment, often causing irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems. In Odisha, traditional forests were burnt down. In Assam, a fire raging from an oil well is causing pollution, seeping oil is contaminating water bodies and covering trees at a national park in oil. In Jharkhand, apart from the ecological damage, unsustainable mining has led to the loss of cultivable land and caused massive air pollution.

In the same vein, the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project has been in the news for the displacement it caused to residents of around 245 villages across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Locals, mostly Adivasis, were ousted from their lands when hundreds of villages were inundated and submerged due to the project, causing lakhs of people to lose their livelihoods. While the social impact of the project has been irreparable, the environmental impact will be difficult to repair.

In part one of the series on the adverse effects of the Sardar Sarovar Project, we had a look at the number of people affected by the dam. In part two, we take a look at the ecological and environmental damage the project has caused.

Land submerged

A fact-finding report by the Delhi Solidarity Group and others published in 2015 stated that the total land in submergence in Madhya Pradesh was 20,822 hectares, in Maharashtra – 9,590 hectares and in Gujarat 7,112 hectares. Over 13,000 hectares of forest cover, 48.5% in Maharashtra, 31% in Gujarat and 20.5% in Madhya Pradesh have been projected to be submerged by the SSP.

A report by social activist Shabnam Hashmi in 2019, from when she visited affected areas in Madhya Pradesh stated that in Chikhalda, a village which was home to Asia’s first farmer, was completely submerged due to the SSP. Over 7,000 hectares of land became islands due to the inundation.

Villages saw partial or complete crop loss. They couldn’t harvest crops and also lost standing crops due to the inundation. Farmers lost banana crops, maize, sugarcane, cotton and wheat crops due to submergence.

Impact of large dams

Explaining the impact of big dams on the environment International Rivers explained that apart from the obvious direct impacts on the biological, chemical and physical properties of rivers, the dam wall blocks fish migrations, traps sediments which are essential for maintaining physical processes and downstream habitats and the changes due to the artificial reservoir habitat are not suitable for the aquatic plants and animals that have evolved with a given river system. 

A 2005 study by Talib N Ellison titled, “The Sardar Sarovar Dam and Ethnic Conflict in India” which stated the environmental impacts of the dam project in detail. It states that apart from the salinization and destruction of plants and fish, waterlogging renders land useless thus bringing about starvation as crops cannot be grown there. Apart from this, salinization reduces the quantity of potable water. It added that the Indian Institute of Science estimated that 40 percent of the command area of the dam would be waterlogged leading to the reduction of the crop yields.

Independent Review by the World Bank

An impact assessment report, “The Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Projects 1991-1992” stated that in addition to 100,000 persons living in the villages in the submergence area, there are likely to be 140,000 families who will be affected by the construction of the canal and irrigation system. Finally, there are the persons living downstream, below the dam, numbering thousands more, whose lives will be significantly affected due to the impact on fisheries and salt-water ingress.

Many reports on the dam project have stated that construction at the site even before the required clearances came in from the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award (NWDTA), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Planning Commission (PC).

When the project was approved by credit from the World Bank in 1985, it had still not received environmental clearance by the MoEF. A report by the World Bank which conducted an Independent Review of the project in 1992 stated, “The Sardar Sarovar has therefore come under scrutiny at a time of global awakening to the consequences of large-scale projects in rural and remote areas, especially those areas inhabited by indigenous or tribal people.” It added, “The Government of India has developed a comprehensive structure of policies for environmental protection and assessment of environmental impact. Despite this structure of policies, the history of the environmental aspects of the Sardar Sarovar is a history of non-compliance. Not until 1987 did India's Ministry of Environment and Forests give a conditional environmental clearance for the dam and canal project. The clearance provided that instead of completing environmental impact studies before approval of the Sardar Sarovar, the studies would be done pati passit, that is, concurrently with construction. This approach undermines the very basis for environmental planning.”

In its report, the World Bank analysed several environmental issues. First, significant discrepancies in the hydrological data and analyses indicated that the Sardar Sarovar would not perform as planned: no realistic operational analysis of the project upon which to base an impact assessment had been done. The backwater effect of sedimentation upstream of the dam had been neglected by the officials. The Independent Review found that the backwater effect could mean a rapid, continuing, and cumulative rise in water level in the river above the reservoir, which could cause flooding to extensive areas of densely populated farmland.

Second, the Independent Review found that no assessment of downstream impact had been done. The implications of the Sardar Sarovar for the geomorphology of the lower reaches of the river and its estuary, and for the fishery and the people living in the region were unknown. The Hilsa fishery, for example, the largest on the west coast and on which thousands of people depended, would suffer severe losses or be eliminated completely. It also noted that the measures at the time proposed mitigate the problem were inadequate.

Thirdly, around the command area, the Independent Review found that there were serious problems with waterlogging and salinity, adding that the environmental consequences of the project had not been properly studied.  

Loss of forests

A critique of the Narmada Valley Project by Kalpavriksh in 1988 mentioned that the “compensatory afforestation” undertaken by the authorities was hardly compensatory because the deciduous forests cut down had developed over a million of years and the plantations to be done could never mimic the original diversity. It questioned, “The afforestation plan in fact includes some exotic commercially useful species. Certainly, there is no conscious attempt on part of either the SSP authorities to replant exactly what is going to be lost. How could they, considering a complete flora listing of the submergence zones has till date not been done?” It stated that the project authorities had initially valued forests only in terms of their timber, firewood and minor forest produce yield, completely ignoring crucial ecological functions like soil preservation, water replenishment, microclimatic stabilization and storage of genetic pools.

Another study, “Uprooting Forests, Planting Trees: Success of Compensatory Afforestation Measures Mitigating the Deforestation for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, India” by Dipti Bhatnagar stated that much of the Compensatory Afforestation (CAF) was planned and executed to be very far away from the original riparian forest that is being submerged near the Narmada River. The wisdom of this is certainly questionable, since it is supposed to compensate the original forest. Including the 27 villages of Kutch, 51% of the plantations were created in regions where the soil and climate is very different from that which is being submerged in the riparian region. The Morse Committee Report noticed the futility of these far away plantations. Talking about the plantations in Kutch, they said, “By placing the Compensatory Afforestation in an entirely different ecological zone, one that is marginal for forest development in any case, Gujarat has ensured that the forest created will have no resemblance to that submerged.”

Loss of wildlife

The critique by Kalpavriksh stated that the SSP authorities told the Department of Environment that at the time, there was no wildlife present in the reservoir area of the proposed dam and in its vicinity. Though there were few large mammals left in the submergence zone, the forests contained insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Given this, the translocation of such animals was impossible and thus, the dam had contributed to the inevitable loss of wildlife. 

In 2018, the Narmada Pradushan Nivaran Samiti and the Bharuch Citizen Council filed a plea with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) complaining that the drying up of the river bed was causing immense damage to agriculture, environment and local industries, with the petitioners claiming that the river had been reduced to a small stream due to less water being released from the dam. The plea stated, “Due to unavailability of surface water, water intensive and heavily polluting industries along the Narmada Estuary withdrew large quantities of water from bore wells, aggravating water crisis and accelerating rate of toxic sea water intrusion into the aquifers of the downstream area.” It added, “Consistent negligence to ensure minimum downstream flow from the Sardar Sarovar dam led to permanent and detrimental changes in the downstream hydro-ecology leading to habitat destruction, increased soil salinity in the agricultural lands, groundwater contamination and changes in the overall environment and was manifested in its worst form during the summer of 2016.”

It is in light of these findings, which are just a snapshot of the mistakes committed by the authorities, one can safely say that the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project was flawed right from the start. It violated laws by not waiting for clearances and did not undertake apt measures to understand the actual damage to the ecology of the area by going about wanton felling of trees and damaging other means of livelihoods. With the current scenario of the environmental regulations being violated in the country, the actions of the SSP authorities only show that it is not new for the government to do so and live with impunity.

Adding to this, the more pressing issue is one of relief and rehabilitation of the Adivasis, which has still not been carried out to its true extent more than three decades later. In part three of the series, we will look at the progress of the relief and rehabilitation efforts or the lack thereof by the authorities.


Related:

Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights
Assam gas -well blowout: 11 days on, threat to humans and animals remains high
Odisha Forest Department cuts down traditional trees, destroys livelihood of forest workers
Raging inferno Jharia treads on hot coals as Centre opens up mining for private sector
Draft environmental impact notification (EIA) doom for natural resources, forests, withdraw it: NAPM

Related Articles


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Madras HC orders Judicial Magistrate to conduct inquiry into alleged custodial deaths in Tuticorin

Father-son duo Jayaraj and Bennicks who were allegedly tortured by the police for violating lockdown norms, died four days after being taken into custody

29 Jun 2020

Custodial Death
Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in
 

The Madras High Court has directed the Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti, to conduct an inquiry into the alleged custodial deaths of P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks in the Thootukudi District of Tamil Nadu, India Legal Live reported.

On June 19 an FIR was filed against Jayaraj and Bennicks at the Sathanukulam Police Station for allegedly violating lockdown restrictions and for misbehaving with police on duty. Both, father and son, were remanded to judicial custody on June 20 at Sub Jail, Kovilpatti, where they breathed their last. On June 24, the bench comprising Justices PN Prakash and P Pugalendhi had taken suo motu cognisance of the case of alleged police brutalities leading to the deaths of Jayaraj and his son.

In wake of the matter, the bench directed the Judicial Magistrate to:

1.       Go to Sathankulam for conducting the enquiry, so that the witnesses will be in a position to appear before him and their statements can be recorded.

2.       Visit the family members of the deceased for the purpose of recording the statements of the womenfolk

3.       Conduct local inspection, visit the Sathankulam Police Station and take photocopies of all the records, including the General Station Diary

4.       Take a photocopy of the case diary and the original case diary shall be handed over to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, for safe custody.

5.       Visit the place of occurrence for better appreciation of the facts, take videographs of the place of occurrence wherever he finds it necessary.

6.       Collect the CCTV footage wherever they are available and have them preserved.

The Madras HC also appealed to the family members of the deceased, local Bar, fourth estate, public & political parties and NGOs to provide a congenial atmosphere for the Magistrate to conduct the enquiry so that ultimately justice is done to the parties.

The Madras HC order may be read below.

What happened in Tuticorin

On June 19, P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks were picked up by the Tamil Nadu Police for questioning for allegedly violating lockdown rules. The police said that the duo had kept their shop open beyond permissible hours on June 19. Various media reports say that the shop was only open for 15 minutes beyond the permissible time. The Tamil Nadu police then filed an FIR against the two on the same day, India Today reported.

The Sathankulam police approached the magistrate B Saravanan to grant them permission to take Jayaraj and Bennicks into remand. The magistrate, allegedly, gave the remand order without seeing the father-son duo. Under Section 167 CrPC, the accused have to be physically produced before a Magistrate to authorize detention. However, other reports say that on June 20, the father and son were taken to the hospital before they were brought to the Magistrate for remand.

It was reported that on Monday, June 22, Bennicks fell ill and was moved to the Kovilpatti General Hospital, where he passed away. A day later, on Tuesday, his father too passed away. It was alleged that both, father and son, were tortured in police custody, which led to their deaths. A report by The Federal also said that Jayaraj and Bennicks were allegedly sodomised in police custody. The publication reported a friend of Bennicks’ as saying, “Between 7 am and 12 pm on June 20, the father and son had changed at least seven lungies (waistcloth) each as they had become wet due to blood oozing from their rectums.” The friend who was present at the police station also told The Federal that for three hours, they only heard screams and cries from the father and son.

Prior directions by the Madras HC

On June 24, the Madras HC had directed Tuticorin Superintendent of Police (SP) Arun Balagopalan to file a status report and submit the post-mortem video to the court on June 26, reported TNIE. The bench which took up the case suo motu through video conferencing was informed by Inspector General (South Zone) KP Shanmuga Rajeswaran that the two sub-inspectors – Balakrishnan and Raghuganesh (Ragu Ganesh) who were allegedly involved in the incided had been suspended and that Inspector Sridhar had been removed from the police station and placed on the waiting list. The judges were also told that departmental proceedings had been initiated against two constables – Muthuraj and Murugan. While the status report submitted by the SP on June 26 had said that Sathanukulam had returned to normalcy, the Additional Advocate General K Chellapandian had informed the postmortem report couldn’t be submitted due to lockdown restrictions. The case was adjourned for hearing on June 30, TNIE said.

The June 24 directions by the Madras HC may be read below.

State government response

TNIE reported that in a joint statement, CM Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy CM said, “The party will not tolerate such incidents. The family has lost its father and son. We convey our deepest condolences to the family.”

As compensation for the family’s loss, Information and Publicity Minister Kadambur C Raju handed over a cheque of Rs. 20 lakhs to the family of Jayaraj and Bennicks on behalf of the state government. Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi also handed over a cheque of Rs 25 lakh on behalf of DMK, TNIE reported.

Kanimozhi also filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission over the matter of the alleged custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks.

Protests and call for action

The family of Jayaraj and Bennicks had first refused to receive their bodies insisting that an FIR be registered against the suspected police officers. However, after the Madras HC took suo motu action in the matter, the family changed their stand and received the bodies from the Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital on June 25, 2020.

The incident that sparked public outrage brought many people to the streets. Trade unions, political outfits and activists and the public at large condemned and protested against the police atrocities on the father and son. Social media too erupted in angst with people decrying the police’s action and demanding a fair inquiry into the incident.

 

 

CPI (M) General Secretary too condemned the incident and asked the state government to take immediate action against the perpetrators.

Abraham Mathai, founder of the Harmony Foundation and former VC of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission issued a statement saying that the alleged custodial death of Jayaraj and Bennicks was worse than the death of George Floyd in the US.

He said, “It is known worldwide that the law enforcement are entrusted with the safety and security of the citizens of their respective nations. However the exact seems to be the opposite lately. The murder of George Flyod at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota last month which sparked of demonstrations globally caused us to doubt if those entrusted with our protection have been given the authority to kill. Does there exist a license to kill that is given to policemen the minute they wear the uniform?"

Expressing dismay over the lax action of the suspension of the police officers, he raised questions about the role of the police authorities. He said, “The brutal torture and murder of this father and son in Tamil Nadu in police custody is terribly shocking and demands for drastic and punitive action to be taken with immediate effect. Should it be inferred that our law enforcement officers are following the example of their counterparts in the United States?”

Live Law reported that according to P.S.Raman, Convener, the Tamil Nadu Senior Advocates Forum has passed a resolution demanding action against the guilty involved in the brutal deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix.

A part of the resolution reads, “We strongly condemn the incident which demonstrates lack of respect for the rule of law and leads to failing public confidence in administration in these trying times. We call for justice to be done by swift meaningful steps in accordance with law and bring the guilty to book. The Magistrate who remanded them to judicial custody, the duty doctor who issued the fitness certificate as well as the jailor have all wholly failed in their duties and contributed to the tragedy.”

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ said 1,606 of the deaths happened in judicial custody and 125 in police custody. Police atrocities in India have exacerbated since the last year starting with the abrogation of Article 370 which saw police firing on protestors and detention and assaults on children, during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests where police assaulted students and protestors with brutal force, the violence in Delhi in February where police allegedly attacked minorities and during the lockdown where police exercised brutal force on citizens during the lockdown.

The alleged custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks are just another reminder of a system that needs fixing but has been ignored putting the lives of innocent citizens at stake.

Related:

Why higher number of Muslims booked for lockdown violations: Telangana HC
Six months since Jamia violence, police brutalities not forgotten
Delhi HC again adjourns petition about police accountability for ‘indiscriminate’ arrests: Justice delayed?

Madras HC orders Judicial Magistrate to conduct inquiry into alleged custodial deaths in Tuticorin

Father-son duo Jayaraj and Bennicks who were allegedly tortured by the police for violating lockdown norms, died four days after being taken into custody

Custodial Death
Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in
 

The Madras High Court has directed the Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti, to conduct an inquiry into the alleged custodial deaths of P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks in the Thootukudi District of Tamil Nadu, India Legal Live reported.

On June 19 an FIR was filed against Jayaraj and Bennicks at the Sathanukulam Police Station for allegedly violating lockdown restrictions and for misbehaving with police on duty. Both, father and son, were remanded to judicial custody on June 20 at Sub Jail, Kovilpatti, where they breathed their last. On June 24, the bench comprising Justices PN Prakash and P Pugalendhi had taken suo motu cognisance of the case of alleged police brutalities leading to the deaths of Jayaraj and his son.

In wake of the matter, the bench directed the Judicial Magistrate to:

1.       Go to Sathankulam for conducting the enquiry, so that the witnesses will be in a position to appear before him and their statements can be recorded.

2.       Visit the family members of the deceased for the purpose of recording the statements of the womenfolk

3.       Conduct local inspection, visit the Sathankulam Police Station and take photocopies of all the records, including the General Station Diary

4.       Take a photocopy of the case diary and the original case diary shall be handed over to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, for safe custody.

5.       Visit the place of occurrence for better appreciation of the facts, take videographs of the place of occurrence wherever he finds it necessary.

6.       Collect the CCTV footage wherever they are available and have them preserved.

The Madras HC also appealed to the family members of the deceased, local Bar, fourth estate, public & political parties and NGOs to provide a congenial atmosphere for the Magistrate to conduct the enquiry so that ultimately justice is done to the parties.

The Madras HC order may be read below.

What happened in Tuticorin

On June 19, P Jayaraj and his son J Bennicks were picked up by the Tamil Nadu Police for questioning for allegedly violating lockdown rules. The police said that the duo had kept their shop open beyond permissible hours on June 19. Various media reports say that the shop was only open for 15 minutes beyond the permissible time. The Tamil Nadu police then filed an FIR against the two on the same day, India Today reported.

The Sathankulam police approached the magistrate B Saravanan to grant them permission to take Jayaraj and Bennicks into remand. The magistrate, allegedly, gave the remand order without seeing the father-son duo. Under Section 167 CrPC, the accused have to be physically produced before a Magistrate to authorize detention. However, other reports say that on June 20, the father and son were taken to the hospital before they were brought to the Magistrate for remand.

It was reported that on Monday, June 22, Bennicks fell ill and was moved to the Kovilpatti General Hospital, where he passed away. A day later, on Tuesday, his father too passed away. It was alleged that both, father and son, were tortured in police custody, which led to their deaths. A report by The Federal also said that Jayaraj and Bennicks were allegedly sodomised in police custody. The publication reported a friend of Bennicks’ as saying, “Between 7 am and 12 pm on June 20, the father and son had changed at least seven lungies (waistcloth) each as they had become wet due to blood oozing from their rectums.” The friend who was present at the police station also told The Federal that for three hours, they only heard screams and cries from the father and son.

Prior directions by the Madras HC

On June 24, the Madras HC had directed Tuticorin Superintendent of Police (SP) Arun Balagopalan to file a status report and submit the post-mortem video to the court on June 26, reported TNIE. The bench which took up the case suo motu through video conferencing was informed by Inspector General (South Zone) KP Shanmuga Rajeswaran that the two sub-inspectors – Balakrishnan and Raghuganesh (Ragu Ganesh) who were allegedly involved in the incided had been suspended and that Inspector Sridhar had been removed from the police station and placed on the waiting list. The judges were also told that departmental proceedings had been initiated against two constables – Muthuraj and Murugan. While the status report submitted by the SP on June 26 had said that Sathanukulam had returned to normalcy, the Additional Advocate General K Chellapandian had informed the postmortem report couldn’t be submitted due to lockdown restrictions. The case was adjourned for hearing on June 30, TNIE said.

The June 24 directions by the Madras HC may be read below.

State government response

TNIE reported that in a joint statement, CM Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy CM said, “The party will not tolerate such incidents. The family has lost its father and son. We convey our deepest condolences to the family.”

As compensation for the family’s loss, Information and Publicity Minister Kadambur C Raju handed over a cheque of Rs. 20 lakhs to the family of Jayaraj and Bennicks on behalf of the state government. Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi also handed over a cheque of Rs 25 lakh on behalf of DMK, TNIE reported.

Kanimozhi also filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission over the matter of the alleged custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks.

Protests and call for action

The family of Jayaraj and Bennicks had first refused to receive their bodies insisting that an FIR be registered against the suspected police officers. However, after the Madras HC took suo motu action in the matter, the family changed their stand and received the bodies from the Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital on June 25, 2020.

The incident that sparked public outrage brought many people to the streets. Trade unions, political outfits and activists and the public at large condemned and protested against the police atrocities on the father and son. Social media too erupted in angst with people decrying the police’s action and demanding a fair inquiry into the incident.

 

 

CPI (M) General Secretary too condemned the incident and asked the state government to take immediate action against the perpetrators.

Abraham Mathai, founder of the Harmony Foundation and former VC of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission issued a statement saying that the alleged custodial death of Jayaraj and Bennicks was worse than the death of George Floyd in the US.

He said, “It is known worldwide that the law enforcement are entrusted with the safety and security of the citizens of their respective nations. However the exact seems to be the opposite lately. The murder of George Flyod at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota last month which sparked of demonstrations globally caused us to doubt if those entrusted with our protection have been given the authority to kill. Does there exist a license to kill that is given to policemen the minute they wear the uniform?"

Expressing dismay over the lax action of the suspension of the police officers, he raised questions about the role of the police authorities. He said, “The brutal torture and murder of this father and son in Tamil Nadu in police custody is terribly shocking and demands for drastic and punitive action to be taken with immediate effect. Should it be inferred that our law enforcement officers are following the example of their counterparts in the United States?”

Live Law reported that according to P.S.Raman, Convener, the Tamil Nadu Senior Advocates Forum has passed a resolution demanding action against the guilty involved in the brutal deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix.

A part of the resolution reads, “We strongly condemn the incident which demonstrates lack of respect for the rule of law and leads to failing public confidence in administration in these trying times. We call for justice to be done by swift meaningful steps in accordance with law and bring the guilty to book. The Magistrate who remanded them to judicial custody, the duty doctor who issued the fitness certificate as well as the jailor have all wholly failed in their duties and contributed to the tragedy.”

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, ‘India: Annual Report on Torture 2019’ said 1,606 of the deaths happened in judicial custody and 125 in police custody. Police atrocities in India have exacerbated since the last year starting with the abrogation of Article 370 which saw police firing on protestors and detention and assaults on children, during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests where police assaulted students and protestors with brutal force, the violence in Delhi in February where police allegedly attacked minorities and during the lockdown where police exercised brutal force on citizens during the lockdown.

The alleged custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennicks are just another reminder of a system that needs fixing but has been ignored putting the lives of innocent citizens at stake.

Related:

Why higher number of Muslims booked for lockdown violations: Telangana HC
Six months since Jamia violence, police brutalities not forgotten
Delhi HC again adjourns petition about police accountability for ‘indiscriminate’ arrests: Justice delayed?

Related Articles


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Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha demands probe into activist Ramji Munda’s murder

The activist had exposed the alleged state and police repression during the Pathalgadi movement in Ghaghara in 2018

27 Jun 2020

ramji munda

Police and State repression of indigenous communities and leaders in India has been going on for decades, and voices of those exposing these ills have consistently been silenced. On June 24, 2020, 27-year-old social and political activist from Jharkhand, Ramji Munda, was murdered near Khunti’s Ghaghra village from where he belonged. He was a part of important fact-finding inquiries conducted by the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) into the alleged state violence during the Pathalgadi movement and the Burugulikera mass-murder incident.

The Pathalgadi movement done in Ghaghara was allegedly a non-violent response to certain policies of the then BJP state government headed by Raghubar Das; primarily its attempts to dilute land laws, failure to respect the worldview of the Adivasis, implementation of schemes without the consent of the Gram Sabha, neglect of PESA and provisions for the fifth scheduled areas and rampant violations of human rights. Reports had found that the Pathalgadi movement had allegedly faced violence and brutal oppression at the hands of the administration and the police and the Raghubar Das government had charged at least 172 named and 10,000 unknown people with sedition in the Pathalgadi villages.

As per JJM, Ramji Munda had played an important role in bringing to light the alleged human rights violations by the police and local administration that took place in Ghaghara in June 2018 during a planned Pathalgadi ceremony. He had also opposed the allegedly increasing influence of the Satipati cult in villages. The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) has now demanded an independent probe into Ramji Munda’s death.

Difference between Pathalgadi movement and the Satipati cult

Pathalgadi is a traditional practice of Munda Adivasis of erecting stone slabs (pathals) in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages or to simply mark the boundary of their villages. Since 2017, pathals painted with Constitutional provisions for Adivasis, judicial orders and their interpretations have been erected in several villages of Jharkhand. The villagers read these provisions and orders to mean the following – 

1) the supremacy of the powers of the traditional Gram Sabha and the traditional Adivasi governance systems, 

2) the rights of Adivasis over land, 

3) the restricted rights of non-adivasis and outsiders in the scheduled areas to settle down and work and 

4) that Adivasis are the original inhabitants and owners of India.

A fight for jal, jungle, zameen, the movement is said to be a non-violent response to the state’s attempts of forceful acquisition of Adivasi land, implementation of schemes without people’s consent, exploitation of Adivasis by non-Adivasis and failure of the government to respect and protect the culture and worldview of Adivasis.

The Satipati Cult (sati means mother and pati means father), allegedly also known as the Ante-Christ Kutumb Parivar, was allegedly founded by Keshari Singh in Gujarat and it essentially denounces the government of India. The current leader of the cult is Keshari’s son, Kunwar Ravindra Sinh. Members of the Satipati cult believe Sinh to be the actual ‘Bharat Sarkaar’ (Indian government) and allegedly do not believe in the Constitution of India. They spread the message that Adivasis must not eat non-vegetarian food, not go to Church or celebrate Sarna festivals. The cult decries the use of government documents and systems like Aadhaar cards, ration cards, PDS system, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, etc. The cult advises the use of its own special ID card and also asks tribals to give up khatiyan (ledger, land related documents).

Fact-finding in Burugulikera killings

On February 21 and 22, 2020, the local newspapers reported that seven men were allegedly beaten up and beheaded in Burugulikera, a predominantly Munda Christian village. According to the news, the dead were all against Pathalgadi, and allegedly the murderers were all supporters of the movement, JJM said.

In order to understand the role of Pathalgadi in the killings, a fact-finding team of various organizations, platforms, social activists, writers and journalists visited Burugulikera on January 27 and January 30, 2020.

The team constituted of representatives from Adivasi Buddhijeevi Manch; Adivasi Mahasabha; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Johar, Chaibasa; Marxist Coordination Committee; alongside organisations associated with Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (Ulgulan Sena, Adivasi Women’s Network, NAPM, Jharkhand, etc.) and some social activists.

Sequence of events

James Budh and others who got murdered opposed the Satipati cult and Ranasi Budh, Jiten Budh and others supported and led the cult. On January 15, James Budh and his companions were celebrating Maghe Parab (a festival celebrated by Adivasis in the Ho region). The next day, they visited Ranasi Budh questioning him why he hadn’t celebrated the festival. It was alleged by the media that James and his companions ransacked Ransi’s home and belongings in the presence of armed People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) men due to which Ranasi couldn’t fight back.

The next day, Ranasi Budh and others called James and his companions from their homes to discuss the ransacking of their homes. According to AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters, a Gram Sabha was convened on 19 January to discuss the issue of ransacking of houses and abduction of two individuals. It was decided in this sabha that the attackers would be beaten up for their mistakes. AC Kutumb Parivar supporters indicated that the decision to kill was taken in that meeting.

Other than earlier friction between the two groups (the cult’s government schemes), another reason behind the ransacking of houses could be the refusal to celebrate Maghe Parab (a cultural practice, an Adivasi Sarna festival), JJM said. However, the exact trigger that led to the ransacking could not be ascertained, the fact-finding team reported.

The team also brought to light the prejudices of the mainstream media against the Pathalgadi movement and Adivasi worldview. Without investigating the matter adequately, media reports held Pathalgadi responsible for these killings since day one. The team alleged that the media reports showed lack of unbiased ground reporting in the matter.

The entire report of the Burugulikera killings by the fact-finding team may be read below.

Fact-finding in violence at the village of Ghaghara on June 26, 2018

In August 2019, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM), a network of several people’s organisations and activists, facilitated a fact-finding inquiry into the motivation behind the Pathalgadi movement in seven villages and the response of the state administration to this movement.

It found that the state responded to the Pathalgadi movement with violence. On June 26 2018, in Ghaghara, a village in Khunti district, a day after the Pathalgadi ceremony, thousands of police personnel allegedly lathi charged at the people. Several people were beaten up with sticks, including the elderly, women and children. One deaf man was beaten as he was unable to hear the instructions given by the police. One woman was stripped and beaten by the mahila police and was unable to move for a week. A pregnant woman, Ashrita Munda, was at home when the police came into her house and beat her with a stick. She reportedly delivered a physically disabled baby. The police vandalised houses, vehicles and livestock.

In addition to using tear gas, the police also allegedly fired at the people. Two people were shot at. One of them, Birsa Munda, died at the spot. Many people ran away from their villages for several months and as a result, also missed the sowing season. The DC denied all the violence unleashed by the police. The violence was not restricted to Ghaghara. People were also beaten in the villages of Uduburu and Jikilata. Several houses were ransacked by the police in ‘kurki jabti’ (impoundment). In Totkara, the police allegedly let their dogs loose on the people. The dogs badly bit a 25-year woman, Mariam Soy.

Apart from this, the police reportedly charged about 100-150 persons and 14000 unnamed people under several charges that include abetment, obstruction to public servants while discharging their duty, creation of public nuisance, criminal intimidation and even sedition. This included 20 people, including activists, writers and journalists, who have been charged with sedition only because they had raised questions, on social media, on the government’s actions in Pathalgadi villages and attack on Adivasi rights. A total of 29 FIRs had been filed against people of Pathalgadi villages, JJM said. There is an apprehension that these FIRs may have charged all the Gram Pradhans of the Pathalgadi villages and about 30,000 unnamed people under various charges, including sedition.

The entire report of the Pathalgadi fact-finding may be read below.

JJM said that Ramji Munda was deeply committed towards protecting and strengthening Adivasi rights. He used to mobilize people on their socio-political rights. It expressed deep anguish on his murder and demanded that the Jharkhand government to ensure an independent and fair investigation into Ramji Munda’s murder (whose findings should be made public) and take legal action against the perpetrators at the earliest.

Given the incident, the JJM also urged that the government ensure the safety and livelihood of Ramji Munda’s wife and seven-day old daughter and talk to the traditional head of Ghaghra village and organise a Gram Sabha at the earliest to assure people of their safety.

Related:

Stop harassment of rights activists in Jharkhand
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommends removal of security forces from schools in Jharkhand
NAPM demands withdrawal of FIR against activist protesting unlawful construction
Farmers stood up for basic rights, were shot at, six died: Mandsaur, MP, 2017

 

Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha demands probe into activist Ramji Munda’s murder

The activist had exposed the alleged state and police repression during the Pathalgadi movement in Ghaghara in 2018

ramji munda

Police and State repression of indigenous communities and leaders in India has been going on for decades, and voices of those exposing these ills have consistently been silenced. On June 24, 2020, 27-year-old social and political activist from Jharkhand, Ramji Munda, was murdered near Khunti’s Ghaghra village from where he belonged. He was a part of important fact-finding inquiries conducted by the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) into the alleged state violence during the Pathalgadi movement and the Burugulikera mass-murder incident.

The Pathalgadi movement done in Ghaghara was allegedly a non-violent response to certain policies of the then BJP state government headed by Raghubar Das; primarily its attempts to dilute land laws, failure to respect the worldview of the Adivasis, implementation of schemes without the consent of the Gram Sabha, neglect of PESA and provisions for the fifth scheduled areas and rampant violations of human rights. Reports had found that the Pathalgadi movement had allegedly faced violence and brutal oppression at the hands of the administration and the police and the Raghubar Das government had charged at least 172 named and 10,000 unknown people with sedition in the Pathalgadi villages.

As per JJM, Ramji Munda had played an important role in bringing to light the alleged human rights violations by the police and local administration that took place in Ghaghara in June 2018 during a planned Pathalgadi ceremony. He had also opposed the allegedly increasing influence of the Satipati cult in villages. The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) has now demanded an independent probe into Ramji Munda’s death.

Difference between Pathalgadi movement and the Satipati cult

Pathalgadi is a traditional practice of Munda Adivasis of erecting stone slabs (pathals) in honour of their ancestors, to announce important decisions regarding their families and villages or to simply mark the boundary of their villages. Since 2017, pathals painted with Constitutional provisions for Adivasis, judicial orders and their interpretations have been erected in several villages of Jharkhand. The villagers read these provisions and orders to mean the following – 

1) the supremacy of the powers of the traditional Gram Sabha and the traditional Adivasi governance systems, 

2) the rights of Adivasis over land, 

3) the restricted rights of non-adivasis and outsiders in the scheduled areas to settle down and work and 

4) that Adivasis are the original inhabitants and owners of India.

A fight for jal, jungle, zameen, the movement is said to be a non-violent response to the state’s attempts of forceful acquisition of Adivasi land, implementation of schemes without people’s consent, exploitation of Adivasis by non-Adivasis and failure of the government to respect and protect the culture and worldview of Adivasis.

The Satipati Cult (sati means mother and pati means father), allegedly also known as the Ante-Christ Kutumb Parivar, was allegedly founded by Keshari Singh in Gujarat and it essentially denounces the government of India. The current leader of the cult is Keshari’s son, Kunwar Ravindra Sinh. Members of the Satipati cult believe Sinh to be the actual ‘Bharat Sarkaar’ (Indian government) and allegedly do not believe in the Constitution of India. They spread the message that Adivasis must not eat non-vegetarian food, not go to Church or celebrate Sarna festivals. The cult decries the use of government documents and systems like Aadhaar cards, ration cards, PDS system, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, etc. The cult advises the use of its own special ID card and also asks tribals to give up khatiyan (ledger, land related documents).

Fact-finding in Burugulikera killings

On February 21 and 22, 2020, the local newspapers reported that seven men were allegedly beaten up and beheaded in Burugulikera, a predominantly Munda Christian village. According to the news, the dead were all against Pathalgadi, and allegedly the murderers were all supporters of the movement, JJM said.

In order to understand the role of Pathalgadi in the killings, a fact-finding team of various organizations, platforms, social activists, writers and journalists visited Burugulikera on January 27 and January 30, 2020.

The team constituted of representatives from Adivasi Buddhijeevi Manch; Adivasi Mahasabha; National Alliance of People’s Movements; Johar, Chaibasa; Marxist Coordination Committee; alongside organisations associated with Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (Ulgulan Sena, Adivasi Women’s Network, NAPM, Jharkhand, etc.) and some social activists.

Sequence of events

James Budh and others who got murdered opposed the Satipati cult and Ranasi Budh, Jiten Budh and others supported and led the cult. On January 15, James Budh and his companions were celebrating Maghe Parab (a festival celebrated by Adivasis in the Ho region). The next day, they visited Ranasi Budh questioning him why he hadn’t celebrated the festival. It was alleged by the media that James and his companions ransacked Ransi’s home and belongings in the presence of armed People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) men due to which Ranasi couldn’t fight back.

The next day, Ranasi Budh and others called James and his companions from their homes to discuss the ransacking of their homes. According to AC Kutumb Parivar cult supporters, a Gram Sabha was convened on 19 January to discuss the issue of ransacking of houses and abduction of two individuals. It was decided in this sabha that the attackers would be beaten up for their mistakes. AC Kutumb Parivar supporters indicated that the decision to kill was taken in that meeting.

Other than earlier friction between the two groups (the cult’s government schemes), another reason behind the ransacking of houses could be the refusal to celebrate Maghe Parab (a cultural practice, an Adivasi Sarna festival), JJM said. However, the exact trigger that led to the ransacking could not be ascertained, the fact-finding team reported.

The team also brought to light the prejudices of the mainstream media against the Pathalgadi movement and Adivasi worldview. Without investigating the matter adequately, media reports held Pathalgadi responsible for these killings since day one. The team alleged that the media reports showed lack of unbiased ground reporting in the matter.

The entire report of the Burugulikera killings by the fact-finding team may be read below.

Fact-finding in violence at the village of Ghaghara on June 26, 2018

In August 2019, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM), a network of several people’s organisations and activists, facilitated a fact-finding inquiry into the motivation behind the Pathalgadi movement in seven villages and the response of the state administration to this movement.

It found that the state responded to the Pathalgadi movement with violence. On June 26 2018, in Ghaghara, a village in Khunti district, a day after the Pathalgadi ceremony, thousands of police personnel allegedly lathi charged at the people. Several people were beaten up with sticks, including the elderly, women and children. One deaf man was beaten as he was unable to hear the instructions given by the police. One woman was stripped and beaten by the mahila police and was unable to move for a week. A pregnant woman, Ashrita Munda, was at home when the police came into her house and beat her with a stick. She reportedly delivered a physically disabled baby. The police vandalised houses, vehicles and livestock.

In addition to using tear gas, the police also allegedly fired at the people. Two people were shot at. One of them, Birsa Munda, died at the spot. Many people ran away from their villages for several months and as a result, also missed the sowing season. The DC denied all the violence unleashed by the police. The violence was not restricted to Ghaghara. People were also beaten in the villages of Uduburu and Jikilata. Several houses were ransacked by the police in ‘kurki jabti’ (impoundment). In Totkara, the police allegedly let their dogs loose on the people. The dogs badly bit a 25-year woman, Mariam Soy.

Apart from this, the police reportedly charged about 100-150 persons and 14000 unnamed people under several charges that include abetment, obstruction to public servants while discharging their duty, creation of public nuisance, criminal intimidation and even sedition. This included 20 people, including activists, writers and journalists, who have been charged with sedition only because they had raised questions, on social media, on the government’s actions in Pathalgadi villages and attack on Adivasi rights. A total of 29 FIRs had been filed against people of Pathalgadi villages, JJM said. There is an apprehension that these FIRs may have charged all the Gram Pradhans of the Pathalgadi villages and about 30,000 unnamed people under various charges, including sedition.

The entire report of the Pathalgadi fact-finding may be read below.

JJM said that Ramji Munda was deeply committed towards protecting and strengthening Adivasi rights. He used to mobilize people on their socio-political rights. It expressed deep anguish on his murder and demanded that the Jharkhand government to ensure an independent and fair investigation into Ramji Munda’s murder (whose findings should be made public) and take legal action against the perpetrators at the earliest.

Given the incident, the JJM also urged that the government ensure the safety and livelihood of Ramji Munda’s wife and seven-day old daughter and talk to the traditional head of Ghaghra village and organise a Gram Sabha at the earliest to assure people of their safety.

Related:

Stop harassment of rights activists in Jharkhand
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommends removal of security forces from schools in Jharkhand
NAPM demands withdrawal of FIR against activist protesting unlawful construction
Farmers stood up for basic rights, were shot at, six died: Mandsaur, MP, 2017

 

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Delhi takes number two position nationwide as coronavirus cases cross 62,000

While five states – Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Assam and WB saw a surge with migrants returning, the number of cases seems to be slowly decreasing now as the peak of this return is over

23 Jun 2020

DelhiImage Courtesy: outlookindia.com

The Covid-19 crisis continues to see an upsurge of cases in India. The total number of cases have reached 441,936 and the current active cases stand at 179,228. While 248,629 patients have recovered, 14,028 people have passed away due to the infection. On June 22, the country saw a total of 2369 active cases and a total of 13,560 cases.

The country is currently in the Unlock 1 phase with certain restrictions in place. However, the disease is seeing a sharp increase in some states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Haryana, West Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh where cases have been growing over the last 10 days, reported the Hindustan Times.

Maharashtra

Maharashtra saw 3,721 cases on June 22, and the total confirmed cases went up to 135,796. Mumbai currently has 67,586 confirmed cases of the virus with 29,720 active cases. The recovery rate of Maharashtra is 49.86 percent and the mortality rate is currently 4.63 percent.

Delhi

Delhi currently has 62,655 confirmed cases of the virus and is poised to take over Mumbai in the coming days. It currently has 23,820 cases. It recorded 2,909 fresh cases of the infection on June 22 and as many as 58 fatalities had been recorded in the past 24 hours. The national capital has consistently been reporting 3,000 cases or more for the past three days and overtook Tamil Nadu to take the second position in the nationwide tally.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu stands third in the nationwide tally of coronavirus cases with 62,087 confirmed cases and 27,181 active cases. The number of active cases are close to those in Mumbai and higher than those in Delhi. The state recorded 2,710 cases on June 22nd. The recovery rate is 54.94% and the mortality rate is 1.28%. In Tamil Nadu, Chennai with 42,752 has the highest number of cases. The resurgence in districts of the state was seen after a lull in May, soon after district borders were unlocked in the first week of June when people started coming in from Maharashtra and Telangana. Intra-state numbers spiked after people in Chennai began returning to Salem, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode and Nilgiris, reported The Times of India. The Tamil Nadu government has also imposed a complete lockdown in Madurai corporation limits, Paravai Town Panchayat and all village Panchayats of Madurai East and Madurai West and Thirupparankundram blocks of Madurai district for seven days starting from June 24 early morning to June 30 in a bid to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases, reported The Indian Express.

Telangana

Telangana witnessed a shocking single-day spike of 872 cases cases on June 22. The state currently has 8,674 confirmed cases and 4,452 cases and only an abysmal amount of 57,054 people have been tested 60,243 cases throughout the lockdown. The largest number of cases, 713 came from the Greater Hyderabad area. The Deccan Chronicle reported Eatala Rajender, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Telangana as saying that the Centre wasn’t helping the states in their fight against Covid-19 and restricted itself to lighting lamps. He also said that the Centre had also diverted the Cobos 8800 to West Bengal which could have helped the state to test 3,500 – 4,000 samples every day.

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh currently has 18,322 confirmed cases of the infection with 6,152 active cases and the highest numbers coming from Gautam Buddha Nagar (1,516), Agra (1,144), Kanpur Nagar (972), Ghaziabad (942) and Lucknow (842). It reported 509 cases on June 22 and had seen the highest single-day spike on June 19 with 809 cases.

The state has begun converting rail coaches into isolation units and has announced that it will start using Rapid Antibody Test in Lucknow, Prayagraj, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Kanpur to be extended to other districts in Western UP later.

Haryana

The state currently has 11,199 confirmed cases of the virus with 5,080 cases of the virus. The highest number of cases have come from Gurugram (4,606) and Faridabad (2,413). The state has a recovery rate of 53.13 percent and a mortality rate of 1.51 percent. To battle the surge in cases, the government has now deployed 1,106 final year MBBS students with the health department to be appointed in various medical facilities, reported Medical Dialogues.

West Bengal

With 410,854 cases having been conducted until June 22nd, the state has 14,358 confirmed cases and 5,102 active cases of the virus. The recovery rate of the virus is 60.5 percent and the mortality rate is 3.96 percent.

The highest cases have come from Kolkata (4,734), Howrah (2,145) and North 24 Parganas (2,046). The state recorded 413 cases on June 22nd. The state government is soon going to hold an all-party meeting to discuss the Covid-19 situation in the state.

Gujarat

The state has 27,880 confirmed cases of the infection with 6,278 active cases. As many as 19,917 people have recovered and 1,685 people have lost their lives due to the infection. The top districts seeing a surge of cases is Ahmedabad (19,151), Surat (3,365) and Vadodara (1,898). The mortality rate of the state is the highest in the country – 6.04 percent, though the recovery rate has climbed up to 71.44 percent. The state recorded 563 new cases on June 22nd and 329,343 tests have been carried out in the state so far.

Bihar

Currently with 7,974 confirmed cases, the state has 1,893 cases with most cases coming in from Patna (451), Madhubani (383) and Bhagalpur (371). The state’s recovery rate is 75.58 percent and mortality rate is 0.68 percent. Till date, the state has conducted 169,401 tests and on June 22nd it recorded 166 new cases. The state has seen an upsurge in cases since migrant workers returned home.  

Assam

The state has 5,853 confirmed cases and 2,275 active cases of the virus. The recovery rate of the state is 60.93 percent and the mortality rate is 0.15 percent. On June 22nd, the state recorded 267 new cases of the virus and has conducted over 3 lakh tests. The Indian Express reported that nearly 150 Guwahati residents without any travel history recently tested positive for Covid-19, sparking fears of community-level transmission and leading authorities to consider locking down the city part-wise as well as turning quarantine camps into makeshift Covid-care hospitals. For this, the CM, Sarbananda Sonowal has said that the state is going to employ rigorous measures like implementing lockdowns in containment zones and ramping up testing.

Jharkhand

While there are only 660 active cases of the infection in the state, with the highest coming in from East Singhbum (325), Simdega (324) and Ranchi (201), the state recorded 42 new cases of the virus on June 22nd. However, The Telegraph reported that the returning migrant workers top the list of Covid-19 patients in Jharkhand according to official figures. The migrant workers who returned to their homes in Jharkhand accounted for around 84 per cent of the positive cases. There were 1,699 migrant workers among the 2,089 who tested positive for Covid-19.

The five states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh account for almost 70 percent of India’s total cases – they account for over 3 lakh of the country’s 4.4 lakh cases, reported Hindustan Times. At the start of June, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam which had a large number of migrant workers returning saw a spike in cases. While these states were contributing 10.5% of total cases in the country on May 1, this number has since increased to almost 12% by June 8. In fact, only 8% of new cases reported across the country in the week between May 1 and May 7 came from these six states. This number has since doubled to 16% in the week between June 2 and June 8.

However, these rates were coming down as state governments were keeping returning workers in quarantine for a period of 7 to 21 days. The number had also declined due to the fall in the number of migrants returning in the second week of June.

Related:

Hundreds of Indian fishermen trapped in Iran for months, may be coming home soon
Covid-19: Over 27,000 cases in Guj, 580 new cases in one day!
SC issues directions to ensure migrants are transported within 15 days: Suo Motu action
Where is the ‘Vande Bharat’ for migrant workers in transit?

Delhi takes number two position nationwide as coronavirus cases cross 62,000

While five states – Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, Assam and WB saw a surge with migrants returning, the number of cases seems to be slowly decreasing now as the peak of this return is over

DelhiImage Courtesy: outlookindia.com

The Covid-19 crisis continues to see an upsurge of cases in India. The total number of cases have reached 441,936 and the current active cases stand at 179,228. While 248,629 patients have recovered, 14,028 people have passed away due to the infection. On June 22, the country saw a total of 2369 active cases and a total of 13,560 cases.

The country is currently in the Unlock 1 phase with certain restrictions in place. However, the disease is seeing a sharp increase in some states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Haryana, West Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh where cases have been growing over the last 10 days, reported the Hindustan Times.

Maharashtra

Maharashtra saw 3,721 cases on June 22, and the total confirmed cases went up to 135,796. Mumbai currently has 67,586 confirmed cases of the virus with 29,720 active cases. The recovery rate of Maharashtra is 49.86 percent and the mortality rate is currently 4.63 percent.

Delhi

Delhi currently has 62,655 confirmed cases of the virus and is poised to take over Mumbai in the coming days. It currently has 23,820 cases. It recorded 2,909 fresh cases of the infection on June 22 and as many as 58 fatalities had been recorded in the past 24 hours. The national capital has consistently been reporting 3,000 cases or more for the past three days and overtook Tamil Nadu to take the second position in the nationwide tally.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu stands third in the nationwide tally of coronavirus cases with 62,087 confirmed cases and 27,181 active cases. The number of active cases are close to those in Mumbai and higher than those in Delhi. The state recorded 2,710 cases on June 22nd. The recovery rate is 54.94% and the mortality rate is 1.28%. In Tamil Nadu, Chennai with 42,752 has the highest number of cases. The resurgence in districts of the state was seen after a lull in May, soon after district borders were unlocked in the first week of June when people started coming in from Maharashtra and Telangana. Intra-state numbers spiked after people in Chennai began returning to Salem, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode and Nilgiris, reported The Times of India. The Tamil Nadu government has also imposed a complete lockdown in Madurai corporation limits, Paravai Town Panchayat and all village Panchayats of Madurai East and Madurai West and Thirupparankundram blocks of Madurai district for seven days starting from June 24 early morning to June 30 in a bid to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases, reported The Indian Express.

Telangana

Telangana witnessed a shocking single-day spike of 872 cases cases on June 22. The state currently has 8,674 confirmed cases and 4,452 cases and only an abysmal amount of 57,054 people have been tested 60,243 cases throughout the lockdown. The largest number of cases, 713 came from the Greater Hyderabad area. The Deccan Chronicle reported Eatala Rajender, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Telangana as saying that the Centre wasn’t helping the states in their fight against Covid-19 and restricted itself to lighting lamps. He also said that the Centre had also diverted the Cobos 8800 to West Bengal which could have helped the state to test 3,500 – 4,000 samples every day.

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh currently has 18,322 confirmed cases of the infection with 6,152 active cases and the highest numbers coming from Gautam Buddha Nagar (1,516), Agra (1,144), Kanpur Nagar (972), Ghaziabad (942) and Lucknow (842). It reported 509 cases on June 22 and had seen the highest single-day spike on June 19 with 809 cases.

The state has begun converting rail coaches into isolation units and has announced that it will start using Rapid Antibody Test in Lucknow, Prayagraj, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Kanpur to be extended to other districts in Western UP later.

Haryana

The state currently has 11,199 confirmed cases of the virus with 5,080 cases of the virus. The highest number of cases have come from Gurugram (4,606) and Faridabad (2,413). The state has a recovery rate of 53.13 percent and a mortality rate of 1.51 percent. To battle the surge in cases, the government has now deployed 1,106 final year MBBS students with the health department to be appointed in various medical facilities, reported Medical Dialogues.

West Bengal

With 410,854 cases having been conducted until June 22nd, the state has 14,358 confirmed cases and 5,102 active cases of the virus. The recovery rate of the virus is 60.5 percent and the mortality rate is 3.96 percent.

The highest cases have come from Kolkata (4,734), Howrah (2,145) and North 24 Parganas (2,046). The state recorded 413 cases on June 22nd. The state government is soon going to hold an all-party meeting to discuss the Covid-19 situation in the state.

Gujarat

The state has 27,880 confirmed cases of the infection with 6,278 active cases. As many as 19,917 people have recovered and 1,685 people have lost their lives due to the infection. The top districts seeing a surge of cases is Ahmedabad (19,151), Surat (3,365) and Vadodara (1,898). The mortality rate of the state is the highest in the country – 6.04 percent, though the recovery rate has climbed up to 71.44 percent. The state recorded 563 new cases on June 22nd and 329,343 tests have been carried out in the state so far.

Bihar

Currently with 7,974 confirmed cases, the state has 1,893 cases with most cases coming in from Patna (451), Madhubani (383) and Bhagalpur (371). The state’s recovery rate is 75.58 percent and mortality rate is 0.68 percent. Till date, the state has conducted 169,401 tests and on June 22nd it recorded 166 new cases. The state has seen an upsurge in cases since migrant workers returned home.  

Assam

The state has 5,853 confirmed cases and 2,275 active cases of the virus. The recovery rate of the state is 60.93 percent and the mortality rate is 0.15 percent. On June 22nd, the state recorded 267 new cases of the virus and has conducted over 3 lakh tests. The Indian Express reported that nearly 150 Guwahati residents without any travel history recently tested positive for Covid-19, sparking fears of community-level transmission and leading authorities to consider locking down the city part-wise as well as turning quarantine camps into makeshift Covid-care hospitals. For this, the CM, Sarbananda Sonowal has said that the state is going to employ rigorous measures like implementing lockdowns in containment zones and ramping up testing.

Jharkhand

While there are only 660 active cases of the infection in the state, with the highest coming in from East Singhbum (325), Simdega (324) and Ranchi (201), the state recorded 42 new cases of the virus on June 22nd. However, The Telegraph reported that the returning migrant workers top the list of Covid-19 patients in Jharkhand according to official figures. The migrant workers who returned to their homes in Jharkhand accounted for around 84 per cent of the positive cases. There were 1,699 migrant workers among the 2,089 who tested positive for Covid-19.

The five states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh account for almost 70 percent of India’s total cases – they account for over 3 lakh of the country’s 4.4 lakh cases, reported Hindustan Times. At the start of June, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam which had a large number of migrant workers returning saw a spike in cases. While these states were contributing 10.5% of total cases in the country on May 1, this number has since increased to almost 12% by June 8. In fact, only 8% of new cases reported across the country in the week between May 1 and May 7 came from these six states. This number has since doubled to 16% in the week between June 2 and June 8.

However, these rates were coming down as state governments were keeping returning workers in quarantine for a period of 7 to 21 days. The number had also declined due to the fall in the number of migrants returning in the second week of June.

Related:

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SC issues directions to ensure migrants are transported within 15 days: Suo Motu action
Where is the ‘Vande Bharat’ for migrant workers in transit?

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Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights

This is the first of a three-part series on the rights of Adivasis affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the deleterious environmental impact of the decades old project, and the failure in proper relief and rehabilitation

12 Jun 2020

Sardar Sarovar

As India reels, third month running under the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, a stealthy attack on the rights of livelihood of Adivasis and forest dwellers has been taking place. With the eyes of the “media” on the Covid-19 pandemic, with some sections giving airtime to hate and blood-letting, little attention is being paid to the spate of these actions.

First, it was Odisha where the homes of tribal families were burnt and a community forest was destroyed by the forest department, then it was Manipur where the forest department demolished homes built in the reserve forest area and later came Madhya Pradesh where the forest department burnt down the home of a tribal couple and threatened to burn down more in the coming days. On May 27, the blowout caused by an ill advised GOI decision to allow drilling by OIL in the ecologically sensitive district of Tinsukia, Assam has had a fire raging for the past 16 days. Few media discussions have highlighted the massive loss of livelihood and environmental damage caused.

Early in May, Karnataka decided to dilute the Land Reforms Act, 1961 by allowing industries to buy land directly from farmers – a move to effectively aid land grabbing by corporates. Then came the news about the Uttar Pradesh government easing regulations by amending the Revenue Code and simplifying land acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013.

And now, there’s Gujarat where even during the Covid-19 lockdown, the government is allegedly trying to forcefully acquire the land of six villages around the Statue of Unity (SoU) to sell to corporates to build hotels.

In light of this, Chhotu Vasava, Gujarat tribal leader and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) MLA from Jhagadia wrote a letter to the Prime Minister to stop the land acquisition of the six villages around the Statue of Unity (SoU) – Limbdi, Kevadia, Vagadiya, Navagam, Kothi which are located in the Narmada district’s Garudeshwar taluka, the Indian Express reported.

Tribals in these six villages have been protesting against the fencing of their land by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) since mid-May 2020 after the company began the process of fencing the land for projects allied with the SoU.

In his 10-point letter, Vasava states that the government had acquired the land in 1961-62 for the Narmada Dam project, but since then, 58 years ago, the location of the project had changed, and the land was lying vacant. He stated that the empty land was now being sold off to corporates to build hotels and this commercial sale of land should be stopped. He also stated that Adivasis were not getting the benefits from the Sardar Sarovar Project – agricultural and industrial workers were not getting financial and other benefits as per their rights. Vasava also demanded that there be a judicial inquiry into the police action against the villagers.

The BTP MLA also made other important points in his communication to the PMO, particularly pointing out Gujarat’s Adivasis couldn’t even avail basic health facilities and had to travel long distances for medical check-ups. He also stated that while, on paper, there was a separate budget to ensure that Adivasis have homes to live in, there were many workers and widows who still didn’t have a place to live in.

 

 

Videos of police assaulting and harassing the villagers are making the rounds on social media. Posting some of the videos, Vasava said that the Gujarat government was taking advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to rob people of their lands, adding that the media was not reporting these incidents at all.

 

 

 

 

On June 1, SSNNL, probably to ease the tension around the protest happening in Kevadiya, issued a public statement on the issue. In this statement, SSNNL mentioned a relocation plan and compensation package for displaced families saying that it would allot commercial shops in a complex of the SoU parking lot to those affected, IE reported. The statement said, “SSNNL is only fencing the land that it has measured as part of its acquisition claim. No other private land has been forcefully fenced or acquired.”

The statement further said that the beneficiaries from the six villages would be relocated to an “Adarsh Vasahat”, a project to be constructed over 16 hectares of land belonging to SSNNL in Gora village. It read, “We will also construct concrete roads, ensure a network of tap water connections in all homes, drainage lines, aanganwadis, primary health centres, toilets in all homes as well as primary schools at an expenditure of Rs 15 crore.”

SSNNL also said it was willing to accommodate the demands of some beneficiaries who had earlier accepted the compensation offered by the government in 1992, but later expressed their displeasure with it and wished to opt for the revised 2013 package. The corporation also stated, “We will allow such 61 beneficiaries and 82 major sons of these beneficiaries to give up their earlier compensation and choose the new package.”

However, while the Statue of Unity remains in the spotlight, with Adivasis and activists making allegations of land grab, with the Gujarat government being accused of acquiring 1,100 acres of the 1,700 acres land without the consent of Adivasis, and putting the lives and livelihoods of around 8,000 Adivasis at risk, the bigger problem remains the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. Even today, hundreds of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project are fighting for rehabilitation and compensation, after being forcefully ousted from their villages. 

The impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project has affected almost 400,000 people across three states, displacing them, snatching their livelihoods and offering pittance for rehabilitation. The repercussions are more than can be imagined. 

In the first part of a three-part series analysis of the damage done to the affected persons, we look at lives of Adivasis affected, their homes submerged and their repression by the state, in the process of being evicted from their lands.

Adivasis affected, villages appropriated

In his article on India’s Narmada River Dams: Sardar Sarovar Under Siege, John R Wood shows how large dams come with large problems – the most obvious being submergence of arable land, forests and wildlife, interruption of a river’s natural flow, harm to downstream agriculture and massive storage of water causing flooding, and salinification of crops.

In 1985, the World Bank approved a loan of $450 million for the Sardar Sarovar dam. However, after resistance from rural and social activists, it was forced to take an independent review on account of the environmental and social impact of the project. The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project that spans across four states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, has been the site for resistance and struggle over the forcible eviction of Adivasis, ecological damage and lack of rehabilitation and compensation. Studies and reports show that the dam displaces more than 41,000 families (approximately over 200,000 people) across 245 villages in the three states, with 56 percent of the population being Adivasis or indigenous populations.

As per the SSNNL, the estimated cost of the SSP was estimated to be over 6,000 crores (1986-87 price level) with four major components of the project being the dam, main canal, hydropower complex and the branches and distribution system. As per the Gujarat Irrigation Department, the reservoir of the dam would submerge over 37,000 hectares of land, out of which 30% would be agricultural land, 36% forest land and the remaining 34% would be the riverbed and wasteland. The Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, 2003 mentioned that state-wise 1,877 hectares in Gujarat, 1,519 in Maharashtra and 7,883 hectares of private cultivated land would be submerged. The forest land, set to be submerged, would be 4,166 hectares in Gujarat, 6,488 hectares in Maharashtra and 2,731 in Madhya Pradesh. Wasteland including the river to be submerged would be 1,069 hectares in Gujarat, 1,592 in Maharashtra and 10,208 in Madhya Pradesh.

A 2005 study by Anupama Jain titled, “Resettlement in the Narmada Valley: Participation, Gender and Sustainable Livelihood” stated that a majority of the Adivasis in Gujarat come from the Tadvi, the Vasava, the Dungri Bhil, the Rathwa, the Naila (or the Nayka) and the Goval tribes. Livelihood activities of the tribes included agriculture, fishing, cattle rearing, selling forest wood and collecting minor forest produce.

A fact-finding report by the Delhi Solidarity Group and others published in 2015 stated that 193 villages were affected in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat. The total numbers of families affected in Madhya Pradesh were 37,729, 4,227 in Maharashtra and 4,500 in Gujarat. The total land in submergence in Madhya Pradesh was 20,822 hectares, in Maharashtra – 9,590 hectares and in Gujarat 7,112 hectares. Over 13,000 hectares of forest cover, 48.5% in Maharashtra, 31% in Gujarat and 20.5% in Madhya Pradesh have been projected to be submerged by the SSP.

An impact assessment report, “The Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Projects 1991-1992” stated that in addition to 100,000 persons living in the villages in the submergence area, there are likely to be 140,000 families who will be affected by the construction of the canal and irrigation system. Finally, there are the persons living downstream, below the dam, numbering thousands more, whose lives will be significantly affected due to the impact on fisheries and salt-water ingress.

Harassment and human rights violations of villagers and activists

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been the primary organisation resisting the construction of the dam, the arbitrary arrests, assaults and detentions, apart from the inhuman attack on the livelihood and environment of the people. Manibeli, the first village to be submerged by the dam, became the epicenter of demonstrations against police abuse and intimidation of villagers. A Human Rights Watch report from 1992 states that because Manibeli, a village on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border with a sizable tribal population was located near the dam site, its residents faced extreme pressure of relocation by the government. While residents of villages in Gujarat were given notices to move out in mid-1991, the residents of Manibeli and surrounding Dhankhedi, Jangthi, Chimalkhedi, Sinduri, Gaman, Bamni, Dandel, Mokhdi and Mandva in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, were not given such notices. On December 31, the residents were given a notice to move out within a month. However, this was resisted as the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) states that notices were to be given 18 months prior to the scheduled submergence.

In March 1992, some 150 villagers and activists in Manibeli, Maharashtra were detained during a government operation to relocate residents of the village, which is scheduled for submergence in mid-1992. According to NBA activists, during protests in Manibeli on April 11, 1992, 20 villagers were arrested, a number of whom were reportedly beaten by police. One activist, Mangleya from the village of Bhadal, suffered a broken nose as a result of the beatings. Over the next several days, police officers accompanied by forest officials returned to mark trees for cutting as part of a planned forest clearance before the submergence. When villagers, many of whom depend on the forest for their livelihood, protested and requested a meeting with the forest officials, the police arrested eight leading activists, including Medha Patkar.

In 2003, a report by Asian Age said that the police arrested 74 people in Chimalkhedi village, including women and children, for protesting displacement due to submergence. In a 2003 interview Chittaroopa Palit, an NBA leader said that the police beat up several activists and destroyed entire tribal villages like Anjanwada. The police destroyed homes and confiscated things of need.

Speaking about not being rehabilitated, Bava Mahare, a resident of the Jalsindhi village in Madhya Pradesh told a fact finding team of the Habitat International Coalition, “When we ask for proper land, we are shown jail cells. I have not done anything wrong, never bribed or anything. I have only been arrested when I’ve organised tribals and asked for things for the tribals. I have been arrested eight or nine times.”

Khiyali Bai from Domkhedi in Maharashtra told the fact finding team that a day after monsoon waters reached their lips on August 21, 2002, 200 police personnel arrived and began arresting the people. She said that the people asked the police, “This exercise of saving us is meaningless. We are asking for alternative land, why are you taking us to jail? How is that a safer place? We are in our own homes, we have not committed any crime, why should we be arrested?" She was transported to three different towns over the course of 24 hours, and was then jailed in Dhulia, Maharashtra, for four days. The submergence waters destroyed her house and her family’s crops and swept away all of their personal belongings.

These are just a handful of accounts of the people who continue to suffer even after more than three decades since the project came into commencement. While this is just an overview of the profile and number of people affected, there is more to talk about the environmental impact of the SSP and the major lacunas in relief and rehabilitation that the villagers and activists continue to fight for even today.

 

Related:

MP Forest Department allegedly burns down tribal family's home

32 tribals homes demolished in Kalahandi Odisha

Odisha govt cancels forest applications of over 6000 tribal families

Cutting the Ground: Human rights impact on forcible eviction

Denying Forest Dwellers Rights, Gauhati HC orders removal of Adivasi “encroachers”

Assam: Fourteen days later massive fire breaks out at oil well in Baghjan oilfield

The price of profit, OIL’s misadventure threatens Tinsukhia’s reserve forests & wild life sanctuaries: Assam

Assam gas -well blowout: 11 days on, threat to humans and animals remains high

Sardar Sarovar Dam and the denial of Adivasi rights

This is the first of a three-part series on the rights of Adivasis affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the deleterious environmental impact of the decades old project, and the failure in proper relief and rehabilitation

Sardar Sarovar

As India reels, third month running under the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, a stealthy attack on the rights of livelihood of Adivasis and forest dwellers has been taking place. With the eyes of the “media” on the Covid-19 pandemic, with some sections giving airtime to hate and blood-letting, little attention is being paid to the spate of these actions.

First, it was Odisha where the homes of tribal families were burnt and a community forest was destroyed by the forest department, then it was Manipur where the forest department demolished homes built in the reserve forest area and later came Madhya Pradesh where the forest department burnt down the home of a tribal couple and threatened to burn down more in the coming days. On May 27, the blowout caused by an ill advised GOI decision to allow drilling by OIL in the ecologically sensitive district of Tinsukia, Assam has had a fire raging for the past 16 days. Few media discussions have highlighted the massive loss of livelihood and environmental damage caused.

Early in May, Karnataka decided to dilute the Land Reforms Act, 1961 by allowing industries to buy land directly from farmers – a move to effectively aid land grabbing by corporates. Then came the news about the Uttar Pradesh government easing regulations by amending the Revenue Code and simplifying land acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013.

And now, there’s Gujarat where even during the Covid-19 lockdown, the government is allegedly trying to forcefully acquire the land of six villages around the Statue of Unity (SoU) to sell to corporates to build hotels.

In light of this, Chhotu Vasava, Gujarat tribal leader and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) MLA from Jhagadia wrote a letter to the Prime Minister to stop the land acquisition of the six villages around the Statue of Unity (SoU) – Limbdi, Kevadia, Vagadiya, Navagam, Kothi which are located in the Narmada district’s Garudeshwar taluka, the Indian Express reported.

Tribals in these six villages have been protesting against the fencing of their land by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) since mid-May 2020 after the company began the process of fencing the land for projects allied with the SoU.

In his 10-point letter, Vasava states that the government had acquired the land in 1961-62 for the Narmada Dam project, but since then, 58 years ago, the location of the project had changed, and the land was lying vacant. He stated that the empty land was now being sold off to corporates to build hotels and this commercial sale of land should be stopped. He also stated that Adivasis were not getting the benefits from the Sardar Sarovar Project – agricultural and industrial workers were not getting financial and other benefits as per their rights. Vasava also demanded that there be a judicial inquiry into the police action against the villagers.

The BTP MLA also made other important points in his communication to the PMO, particularly pointing out Gujarat’s Adivasis couldn’t even avail basic health facilities and had to travel long distances for medical check-ups. He also stated that while, on paper, there was a separate budget to ensure that Adivasis have homes to live in, there were many workers and widows who still didn’t have a place to live in.

 

 

Videos of police assaulting and harassing the villagers are making the rounds on social media. Posting some of the videos, Vasava said that the Gujarat government was taking advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to rob people of their lands, adding that the media was not reporting these incidents at all.

 

 

 

 

On June 1, SSNNL, probably to ease the tension around the protest happening in Kevadiya, issued a public statement on the issue. In this statement, SSNNL mentioned a relocation plan and compensation package for displaced families saying that it would allot commercial shops in a complex of the SoU parking lot to those affected, IE reported. The statement said, “SSNNL is only fencing the land that it has measured as part of its acquisition claim. No other private land has been forcefully fenced or acquired.”

The statement further said that the beneficiaries from the six villages would be relocated to an “Adarsh Vasahat”, a project to be constructed over 16 hectares of land belonging to SSNNL in Gora village. It read, “We will also construct concrete roads, ensure a network of tap water connections in all homes, drainage lines, aanganwadis, primary health centres, toilets in all homes as well as primary schools at an expenditure of Rs 15 crore.”

SSNNL also said it was willing to accommodate the demands of some beneficiaries who had earlier accepted the compensation offered by the government in 1992, but later expressed their displeasure with it and wished to opt for the revised 2013 package. The corporation also stated, “We will allow such 61 beneficiaries and 82 major sons of these beneficiaries to give up their earlier compensation and choose the new package.”

However, while the Statue of Unity remains in the spotlight, with Adivasis and activists making allegations of land grab, with the Gujarat government being accused of acquiring 1,100 acres of the 1,700 acres land without the consent of Adivasis, and putting the lives and livelihoods of around 8,000 Adivasis at risk, the bigger problem remains the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. Even today, hundreds of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project are fighting for rehabilitation and compensation, after being forcefully ousted from their villages. 

The impact of the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project has affected almost 400,000 people across three states, displacing them, snatching their livelihoods and offering pittance for rehabilitation. The repercussions are more than can be imagined. 

In the first part of a three-part series analysis of the damage done to the affected persons, we look at lives of Adivasis affected, their homes submerged and their repression by the state, in the process of being evicted from their lands.

Adivasis affected, villages appropriated

In his article on India’s Narmada River Dams: Sardar Sarovar Under Siege, John R Wood shows how large dams come with large problems – the most obvious being submergence of arable land, forests and wildlife, interruption of a river’s natural flow, harm to downstream agriculture and massive storage of water causing flooding, and salinification of crops.

In 1985, the World Bank approved a loan of $450 million for the Sardar Sarovar dam. However, after resistance from rural and social activists, it was forced to take an independent review on account of the environmental and social impact of the project. The Sardar Sarovar Dam Project that spans across four states – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, has been the site for resistance and struggle over the forcible eviction of Adivasis, ecological damage and lack of rehabilitation and compensation. Studies and reports show that the dam displaces more than 41,000 families (approximately over 200,000 people) across 245 villages in the three states, with 56 percent of the population being Adivasis or indigenous populations.

As per the SSNNL, the estimated cost of the SSP was estimated to be over 6,000 crores (1986-87 price level) with four major components of the project being the dam, main canal, hydropower complex and the branches and distribution system. As per the Gujarat Irrigation Department, the reservoir of the dam would submerge over 37,000 hectares of land, out of which 30% would be agricultural land, 36% forest land and the remaining 34% would be the riverbed and wasteland. The Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, 2003 mentioned that state-wise 1,877 hectares in Gujarat, 1,519 in Maharashtra and 7,883 hectares of private cultivated land would be submerged. The forest land, set to be submerged, would be 4,166 hectares in Gujarat, 6,488 hectares in Maharashtra and 2,731 in Madhya Pradesh. Wasteland including the river to be submerged would be 1,069 hectares in Gujarat, 1,592 in Maharashtra and 10,208 in Madhya Pradesh.

A 2005 study by Anupama Jain titled, “Resettlement in the Narmada Valley: Participation, Gender and Sustainable Livelihood” stated that a majority of the Adivasis in Gujarat come from the Tadvi, the Vasava, the Dungri Bhil, the Rathwa, the Naila (or the Nayka) and the Goval tribes. Livelihood activities of the tribes included agriculture, fishing, cattle rearing, selling forest wood and collecting minor forest produce.

A fact-finding report by the Delhi Solidarity Group and others published in 2015 stated that 193 villages were affected in Madhya Pradesh, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat. The total numbers of families affected in Madhya Pradesh were 37,729, 4,227 in Maharashtra and 4,500 in Gujarat. The total land in submergence in Madhya Pradesh was 20,822 hectares, in Maharashtra – 9,590 hectares and in Gujarat 7,112 hectares. Over 13,000 hectares of forest cover, 48.5% in Maharashtra, 31% in Gujarat and 20.5% in Madhya Pradesh have been projected to be submerged by the SSP.

An impact assessment report, “The Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Projects 1991-1992” stated that in addition to 100,000 persons living in the villages in the submergence area, there are likely to be 140,000 families who will be affected by the construction of the canal and irrigation system. Finally, there are the persons living downstream, below the dam, numbering thousands more, whose lives will be significantly affected due to the impact on fisheries and salt-water ingress.

Harassment and human rights violations of villagers and activists

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been the primary organisation resisting the construction of the dam, the arbitrary arrests, assaults and detentions, apart from the inhuman attack on the livelihood and environment of the people. Manibeli, the first village to be submerged by the dam, became the epicenter of demonstrations against police abuse and intimidation of villagers. A Human Rights Watch report from 1992 states that because Manibeli, a village on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border with a sizable tribal population was located near the dam site, its residents faced extreme pressure of relocation by the government. While residents of villages in Gujarat were given notices to move out in mid-1991, the residents of Manibeli and surrounding Dhankhedi, Jangthi, Chimalkhedi, Sinduri, Gaman, Bamni, Dandel, Mokhdi and Mandva in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, were not given such notices. On December 31, the residents were given a notice to move out within a month. However, this was resisted as the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) states that notices were to be given 18 months prior to the scheduled submergence.

In March 1992, some 150 villagers and activists in Manibeli, Maharashtra were detained during a government operation to relocate residents of the village, which is scheduled for submergence in mid-1992. According to NBA activists, during protests in Manibeli on April 11, 1992, 20 villagers were arrested, a number of whom were reportedly beaten by police. One activist, Mangleya from the village of Bhadal, suffered a broken nose as a result of the beatings. Over the next several days, police officers accompanied by forest officials returned to mark trees for cutting as part of a planned forest clearance before the submergence. When villagers, many of whom depend on the forest for their livelihood, protested and requested a meeting with the forest officials, the police arrested eight leading activists, including Medha Patkar.

In 2003, a report by Asian Age said that the police arrested 74 people in Chimalkhedi village, including women and children, for protesting displacement due to submergence. In a 2003 interview Chittaroopa Palit, an NBA leader said that the police beat up several activists and destroyed entire tribal villages like Anjanwada. The police destroyed homes and confiscated things of need.

Speaking about not being rehabilitated, Bava Mahare, a resident of the Jalsindhi village in Madhya Pradesh told a fact finding team of the Habitat International Coalition, “When we ask for proper land, we are shown jail cells. I have not done anything wrong, never bribed or anything. I have only been arrested when I’ve organised tribals and asked for things for the tribals. I have been arrested eight or nine times.”

Khiyali Bai from Domkhedi in Maharashtra told the fact finding team that a day after monsoon waters reached their lips on August 21, 2002, 200 police personnel arrived and began arresting the people. She said that the people asked the police, “This exercise of saving us is meaningless. We are asking for alternative land, why are you taking us to jail? How is that a safer place? We are in our own homes, we have not committed any crime, why should we be arrested?" She was transported to three different towns over the course of 24 hours, and was then jailed in Dhulia, Maharashtra, for four days. The submergence waters destroyed her house and her family’s crops and swept away all of their personal belongings.

These are just a handful of accounts of the people who continue to suffer even after more than three decades since the project came into commencement. While this is just an overview of the profile and number of people affected, there is more to talk about the environmental impact of the SSP and the major lacunas in relief and rehabilitation that the villagers and activists continue to fight for even today.

 

Related:

MP Forest Department allegedly burns down tribal family's home

32 tribals homes demolished in Kalahandi Odisha

Odisha govt cancels forest applications of over 6000 tribal families

Cutting the Ground: Human rights impact on forcible eviction

Denying Forest Dwellers Rights, Gauhati HC orders removal of Adivasi “encroachers”

Assam: Fourteen days later massive fire breaks out at oil well in Baghjan oilfield

The price of profit, OIL’s misadventure threatens Tinsukhia’s reserve forests & wild life sanctuaries: Assam

Assam gas -well blowout: 11 days on, threat to humans and animals remains high

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