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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Manipur. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Manipur. Sort by date Show all posts

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the cross fire between security and insurgency

By M H Ahssan

Plenty of criticism has been levelled at excess use of force and abuse of human rights by the Army in Manipur. And yet, with much infighting and corruption, insurgents themselves have lost the moral high ground.

As we are driven out of Imphal for sight-seeing to Loktak Lake (one of the largest fresh water lakes in northeast India) or to Moreh (a town at Manipur’s border with Burma), we are stopped a couple of times by the security forces to check us up. The vehicle stops almost equal number of times and the driver goes down to a shop or in some alley, comes back and we drive on. Later we learn that driver has to go to pay the ‘tax’!

In Manipur, a ten-sitter vehicle pays Rs.100 and a truck pays Rs.500-1000 as ‘tax’ to the local underground groups. And there are many along the route! Drivers quietly pay up as they factor it in as cost which is charged to us – clients. No wonder then, vehicle-hire in Manipur is an expensive part of the tour! A three hour drive from Imphal to Kohima (147 kms) costs Rs.6000-8000 for a non-AC ten-sitter. The same would cost at the most Rs.1500 for a ride along the Mumbai-Pune super express highway.

Sons of soil turning extortionists
This is just a miniscule glimpse into the extortions by underground groups – UG as they are labeled even in Manipur’s print media. And counting the number of insurgents is like counting stars, says Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert in Imphal. According to the reply to a recent Legislative Assembly question, the number of armed insurgents is 12000. The highest insurgent to civilian ratio is in Manipur, not Afghanistan or Iraq, says Babloo. The armed forces personnel strength in the state is 55000, which translates to 4-5 armed security personnel for every armed rebel.

And yet, these insurgents are literally holding entire state to ransom demanding ‘tax’ at every walk of life and resorting to violence. There is an organised racket of taking a share from government spending under every head – be it for road construction or water scheme or even salaries of government employees. Some people reckon, as high as 70 per cent of funds allocated for any development project go in distributing ‘cuts’ to underground groups. What work can be done in the balance 30 per cent is anybody’s guess!

It is not surprising then that the infrastructural set up in Manipur is in dire state with just four hours of power every day and roads are in broken condition soon after laying. Any resistance to extortions is met with the grave consequences as in case of Dr Kishen Singh Thingam. He was an upright civil servant who refused to the demands of an underground group, and was brutally killed in February this year in Ukhrul district.

Media in the line of fire
Even media in Manipur is not spared with UGs dictating their terms. A senior media person from a leading daily from Imphal who survived insurgents’ bullet injuries, says “if we print something criticizing a particular UG, they force us to retract the statement and threaten with dire consequences. They dictate what we write and what we don’t.” Another media person narrated how his newspaper was caught in the conflict between two warring UGs. One group ordered writing against the other and the other ordered an apology for doing that, he says.

“These terrorists think they are the sons of soil, then why they make their mothers and sisters suffer in their business of extortions”, says a wellknown member of the local elite in Imphal, requesting anonymity.

In the meantime, tales after tales circulate of atrocities inflicted upon common people by security personnel and also by insurgents. Villagers in Manipur come in the line of fire between insurgents and security forces – each suspecting them to be informers or accomplices.

Civil society groups do protest. The protests that are loud and clear are against the establishment – the security forces -- and not so loud against the umpteen insurgent groups. It is easy to identify the state repressors – the security forces who have unlimited power under the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). But excesses have been committed not only by the armed forces but so also by the countless insurgent groups who are fighting each other.

Distrust, apprehension about outsiders
The situation is so complex and appears hopeless to the outsiders. There is a general atmosphere of distrust and everyone is eyed with suspicion. Given this state of affairs in Manipur, there is no tourism worth the name.

All the same time, the people of Manipur look up to the people from mainland, especially media to carry home the message from them about the grim situation and to understand their predicament. The 7th annual meet of Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) during March 5-7, 09 was an opportunity for both – media from the mainland India and people of Manipur to establish channels of communication. The meet was organised by Manipur chapter of NWMI led by Anjulika Thingam in the face of personal tragedy of loss of her brother Dr Kishen Singh Thingam. About 60 women journalists from all over India got first hand exposure to the grueling issues of the state and also witnessed on March 7th, the release and re-arrest of Sharmila – the iron lady on the fast unto death for last eight years demanding end of AFSPA.

Armed Forced Special Powers Act
The Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) has been in force in many parts of the Northeast and J&K for decades. But nowhere is it protested like in Manipur. Using the provisions in this Act, some security personnel misuse the power to search, destroy any structure and arrest, shoot, kill any suspect without the fear of any prosecution for gross violation of human rights. In 2000, Irom Sharmila witnessed Assam Rifle men shooting down 10 civilians at a bus stand in a town near Imphal in retaliation to insurgents attacking their convoy. Already she had witnessed Manipuri women raped and killed by the armed forces and she decided to go on fast unto death since then demanding repealing of AFSPA. She is arrested and is being force fed through nasal tubes in the custody. But one cannot be detained for more than a year for this ‘crime’, so she is released every year. Since she does not touch water or food, she is rearrested next day.

Sharmila has become an icon of Manipur women’s protest against armed forces with Meira Paibi (meaning Women Torch Bearers) rallying behind her. In 2004, Manorama was raped and killed by Assam Rifles which led to histrionic stripping down by 12 Imas (mothers) from Meira Paibi in front of Kangla – then the head quarters of Assam Rifles in the sprawling erstwhile royal fort. This sent shock waves across the region and the demand for AFSPA repeal was intensified with civil society groups and human rights activists joining the protest.

This moved the Centre too and the Assam Rifles was shifted out of the fort. A committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy was appointed to examine the demand for AFSPA repeal. However, while recommending AFSPA repeal, the Jeevan Reddy committee has not looked into the alternative solution to the state’s insurgency.

I spoke to a cross section of Manipuri society and experts and got a mixed response to the issue of AFSPA and insurgency. True, despite AFSPA and 4-5 security persons for each insurgent (going by available data), the insurgency still goes unabated. What will happen if armed forces are withdrawn? Will it not give insurgents a free playing field?

Says Babloo Loitongbam, “The armed forces should be above the law and not under the law, they have to be answerable to the system.” This argument is supported by a woman journalist narrating her experience of high-handedness by the security forces. Traveling in the northeast for a photo feature assignment, she reached a town in Assam late in the evening and had her camera around her neck. Just then, an armed police was beating up a person pulling down the shop shutter. This policeman pulls off the camera from her neck though she had not taken any photos and takes her to the police station where they exposed her film destroying all her painstakingly done work. All they could have done is to develop the film and remove only those they suspected. And there is no recourse for such acts of the security forces under AFSPA as it allows them to destroy anything on suspicion.

As Babloo suggests, if the armed forces were above law then this journalist at least could have sought justice. Yes, police can interrogate her on suspicion but cannot destroy her work! They cannot take law into their own hands, torture, rape and kill civilians.

In response, an army officer on condition of anonymity, says, “During a riot like situation is there time to attest a suspect’s bona fide? Again, is there enough time to get official order to take action against the suspects, if we are not armed with AFSPA? Insurgents are hiding in a structure but we await orders and fall prey to their bullets? Civilians have little knowledge about armed forces operations. On one hand they call for tying our hands and then also have unrealistic expectations from us to finish insurgency. Just for few cases of rape and violence, entire armed force is branded as villain, which irks and demoralizes our men. You must have seen soldiers with rifles keeping a roving eye on the streets of Imphal but have you noticed anyone looking straight at you or any other indication of misbehaviour?”

Most of the elite in Imphal tow the popular line of criticising AFSPA, but in private say that end of Army rule means uncontrolled extortions and a new rein of terror in the state.

But Padmashri A M Gokhale, former chief secretary of Nagaland vehemently opposes AFSPA saying “There is absolutely no need for such a law. You win people through friendship and not through confrontation”. Gokhale made his mark in Nagaland during equally bad situation winning over people’s confidence through his projects ‘Village Development Board – VDB’ and ‘Nagaland Empowerment of People through Economic Development – NEPED’.

Experts, observers and also civil servants accept that a lot of wrong was done in the Northeast states especially because of AFSPA, which gave rise to the current strife.

Genesis of the insurgency
Manipur is like a bowl - valley surrounded by hills. While valley of Imphal was ruled by Vaishnavite Meitei, the surrounding hills were ancestral domain of Nagas and Kukis. Manipur kingdom came under British Rule in 1891. After British left in 1947, Manipur King signed letter of accession and Manipur was merged with India.

However, Manipur, an ancient kingdom with a 2000-year-old recorded history and a magnificent culture, was made a Union Territory and Manipuri, an ancient language spoken and written by all the Meiteis and tribals, was not included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution then. It was granted Statehood only in 1972. This had irked the people in Manipur and insurgency in Manipur first started in sixties.

Add to this ferment the Naga-Kuki conflict and Nagas not accepting their hill districts going to the Manipur state. In fact, the seeds of over four-decade old insurgency first started with Nagas resisting Indian government taking over Naga hills from the British Empire and later distributing some Naga hill districts to Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The situation was very complex and the Centre failed to handle it carefully.

In his report “Manipur: Blue Print for Counterinsurgency”, E N Rammohan, Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF) and advisor to the Governor of Manipur analyses of the bungling:

“The bureaucrats who came from Delhi and other states in 1949 were by and large not sympathetic to the Meiteis and the tribals. With a few exceptions, they did not win the confidence of the Manipuris. The worst was the policy of the party in power at Delhi, as a result of which the Northeast was flooded with funds, indirectly encouraging corruption, on the premise that this would make the people soft and finish off insurgency. On the contrary, it had just the opposite effect. ‘Delhi Durbar’ - a coterie of contractors, all followers of the party in power at Delhi - secured most of the government contracts in the North eastern states. This infamous band of contractors took 95 per cent of the development funds allocated by Delhi back to private coffers in Delhi. Hundreds of kilometers of roads were built on paper and even annually maintained on paper. Food grains from the public distribution system were siphoned off wholesale into the black market. The politicians and bureaucrats of Manipur quickly adapted to this system.”

Unemployed educated youth
With spread of Christianity in Naga Hills especially, education was available in the state. As a result, Manipuri youth are well educated but there are no job opportunities. Each year, some 5000 graduates roll out of the colleges, but there are hardly 50 new jobs in the government. Heavy bribes up to Rs.12 lakhs are paid for these jobs. In the meantime, of you join an underground group, there is a salary of Rs.500 per month!

‘If you don’t want your son to get into that, you sell your ancestral property to raise Rs.12 lakh!’ says Babloo. The ideology with which the insurgency started is dead and now it is a way of survival for thousands of educated unemployed youth, she adds.

Whither peace? The possibilities
Peace has eluded this beautiful state over last four decades. The central government’s solution has been, by far, to send money and armed forces. Per capita annual central grants for Manipur at around Rs.12000 is one of the highest among all states and nearly ten times all states average of Rs.1300. This does not include defence and security expenditure.

In his blueprint for counterinsurgency, Rammohan suggests:

“The first step in the kind of situation we are faced with in Manipur, where there is an undercurrent of secession, rampant corruption led by the politicians and tamely abetted by the bureaucrats, and a complete failure by the state to protect the few upright government servants, is to list out the local civil, judicial and police officers and identify the few who have not been tainted by corruption and who, if protected, are likely to stand up against intimidation. The second step is to post these officials in all crucial posts….The third step is to ensure that reliable judicial officers are posted….”

Perhaps, the first step would be to pacify people by repealing AFSPA and thereafter using existing civil laws more stringently to deal with insurgents. As Rammohan suggests, identify and appoint upright officials who should have knack of developing friendship with the people like Padmashri Gokhale (quoted above). Simultaneously, post-AFSPA, the same brigade of Meira Paibis along with civil society groups should carry on similar pressure on their own sons and brothers to quit extortionist way of making money under the guise of the cause. Alongside, the government, administration and people should work towards economic development generate work opportunities.

One such opportunity is already knocking at the door in Manipur with proposed road link from west of India through Imphal and Burma to South Asia. This will open the corridors for various business activities. But if Manipur’s ‘sons of soils’ keep a myopic view and turn this into another chance of ‘tax’ on vehicular traffic, the caravan will go away with outsiders taking the pie.

Monday, April 15, 2013

GUEST COLUMN: Manipur And Its Demand For Internal Autonomy

By Rangja Samerkez (Guest Writer)

Reviewing the fraught political situation in Manipur with the diverging demands for autonomy, which revived after apparent progress and near closure of the talks with the Nagas, this article assesses those demands and traces their origins. Arguing that the government has now an opportunity to force a compromise solution on all parties, it calls for a proactive role of the government to bring about lasting peace in the region.

Recent days have seen much commentary on the festering turmoil in Manipur where different ethnic groups are making competing autonomy demands. These demands were always there, but they were given a fresh lease of life by the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks. The Indo-Naga talks are actually more about Manipur than about Nagaland, as the issues discussed impinge directly on Manipur and its territorial integrity. The proverbial sword of Damocles hangs over Manipur’s head. These talks have meandered for the last 15 years, still with no solution in sight. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

India's forgotten fast for years!

By M H Ahssan

Activists from India's northeast are up in arms against the "discriminatory treatment" being meted out to them by the Indian government, the mainstream media and the "mainland" public.

While a 13-day fast by anti-corruption crusader and social activist Anna Hazare got the Indian government to begin acting on his demand for setting up of a lokpal (ombudsman) institution mandated to independently probe corrupt public officials, an 11-year fast by Irom Sharmila, an activist from the northeastern state of Manipur, has evoked no response from Delhi.

"The Indian government responded to Hazare's 13-day-fast by discussing his demands in parliament but not once in the 11 years since Sharmila began her fast has the Indian parliament her demand for repeal of the AFSPA [Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958], Irom Singhajit, Sharmila's elder brother who heads the Just Peace Foundation, told Newsindia.

"This is evidence of India's racial discrimination against the people of the northeast," he said.

Thirty-nine-year old Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since November 4, 2000, to press for the repeal of the AFSPA. Two days earlier, she had witnessed the gunning down of 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop near Imphal in Manipur by personnel of the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary counter-insurgency force in the northeast.

Convinced, like millions of others in the northeast that it is the AFSPA that enables and empowers the security forces to kill innocent civilians, she began a fast to draw attention to its draconian content and press for its repeal.

Within days of her embarking on the fast, Sharmila was arrested by police on charges of attempting suicide, an act that is illegal under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. In the 120 months since she began her protest, Sharmila has not eaten. A nasal drip administered to her by the Indian armed forces in a prison hospital keeps her alive.

In sharp contrast to the 24/7 coverage that India's television channels provided of Hazare's fast in Delhi's Ramlila Grounds, Irom's protest has been rarely covered in India's mainstream media over the past decade.

While tens of thousands of people from across the country participated and expressed solidarity with Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, few Indians living outside the country's conflict zones know that Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. Few outside the insurgency-wracked northeast and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), where AFSPA is in force, are aware of this legislation or of the cause Sharmila so passionately champions.

First imposed in Nagaland in 1958 - the legislation comes into force once an area is declared "disturbed" by the federal or state government - AFSPA was supposed to be in operation for a year only. But 53 years on, the geographic area over which AFSPA's writ runs has grown exponentially. It was first imposed in parts of Manipur in 1961 and extended to the entire state in 1980. It is in effect in "disturbed areas" across all seven northeastern states. It has been in force in Kashmir since July 1990.

AFSPA confers wide powers to the armed forces to shoot at sight on mere suspicion or arrest people on flimsy grounds, conduct searches without warrants and demolish property where suspects are thought to be hiding. It provides the armed forces with immunity from prosecution. Section 6 says "no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted ... against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this act."

Human rights activists have pointed out that AFSPA is responsible for the killing and ‘disappearance' of thousands of innocent civilians in the northeast and J&K. If the aim of AFSPA was to curb insurgency, it has clearly failed. Not only have the number of insurgent groups multiplied manifold since the legislation was first introduced but also the geographic spread of armed conflict has grown. While the armed forces claim they need special powers like those in AFSPA to combat insurgency, it would not be an exaggeration to say that AFSPA has fueled insurgency and unrest in the northeast.

The campaign calling for AFSPA's repeal goes back several decades. It is spearheaded in Manipur by the Apunba Lup, an umbrella grouping of around 32 organizations, the Meira Paibi - a grassroots movement of Manipuri village women - and rights activists. When a person goes missing, the Meira Paibi, flaming torches in their hands, gather outside the camp of the security forces to protest the AFSPA. They have rallied behind Sharmila's fast as have thousands of others in the region.

But outside the Northeast, the campaign for AFSPA's repeal has little support. Few outside the northeast know of AFSPA, let alone its negative fallout or even of Sharmila's heroic protest. This isn't surprising given the Indian media's disinterest in issues in the distant troubled region.

Moreover, since AFSPA does not apply to "mainland" India, few here empathize with the northeast's suffering.

Not that the northeast hasn't tried to draw India's attention to the AFSPA. It has adopted dramatic strategies to shock India into stirring out of its slumber.

In July 2004, for instance, when 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi was raped and then shot dead by personnel of the Assam Rifles, 12 imas (mothers) of the Meira Paibi movement stripped in front of the Kangla Fort, then headquarters of the Assam Rifles, to demand the repeal of the AFSPA.

"Indian army come and rape us all," shouted the 12 naked women outside the Kangla Fort gate. Their dramatic protest was aimed at capturing the attention of the rest of India, indeed the world, regarding the brazen abuse of AFSPA by Indian security forces in the northeast.

In the face of mounting protests in Manipur, the Indian government appointed the Justice B P Jeevan Reddy Committee in 2004 to review the AFSPA. The committee recommended the AFSPA's repeal. Yet the AFSPA remains in force in Manipur and other "disturbed areas".

In the wake of Hazare's protest and the mass support Indians extended it, Manipuris have expressed distress over India's lack of response to their suffering and demands. "The people of the northeast have always been neglected and ignored by the rest of India," says Singhajit.

Indeed, the northeast rarely figures in India's history books, its media discourse or even national imagination.

The sharp contrast between the response of the Indian public and media to Hazare's fast and the government's ceding of several of his demands has underscored to the people of the northeast their existence at the periphery of India's consciousness and the low importance they are accorded by India's political class.

The contrast in India's treatment of Hazare and Sharmila was poignantly captured by an editorial in The Sangai Express, an English daily from Manipur, a week into Hazare's fast. Hazare "has managed to grab the attention of the country, send the political establishment into a huddle whenever he announces his intention to stop eating and he has been on a fast for the last seven days or so," it said. In contrast, Sharmila "has been on a fast since November 2000 without creating so much of a flutter in the corridors of power."

Unlike Anna's fast, which took place under the full glare of the media spotlight, with celebrities and high-profile activists flocking to the venue of his fast, Sharmila is not allowed to be with her family. "Even her family members are kept away from her," Singhajit said, pointing out that they need to get government permission to meet her at the prison hospital.

Indians are familiar with fasts and hunger strikes. Mahatma Gandhi undertook 17 fasts, of which three were major fasts-unto-death. Independent India has seen scores of hunger strikes by activists and politicians to press for demands. While some fasts are genuine, several are a farce, as was the post-breakfast, pre-lunch fast in 2009 by Tamil Nadu's former chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi to demand a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Fasting as conceived by Gandhi was an alternative to violence. Gandhi resorted to fasts to unite people against violence rather than to force concessions out of the British colonial rulers. In the words of his grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, author of Mohandas, Gandhi's fasts "were to stir consciences, not create convulsions".

This is not the case with most present-day hunger strikers in India. There is an unmistakable coercive element to their fasts, with the threat of violence lurking behind their protests should their demands not be conceded. Sadly, it is to these violent fasts that the Indian government has responded.

Hazare's campaign - contrary to the non-violent Gandhian image it was given in the media - had a coercive element to it. His demands were framed in terms that reeked of intolerance, threat and blackmail.

Hazare's campaign drew on several resources. Indian corporate houses are reported to have bankrolled the latter's country-wide campaign. The country's increasingly powerful middle-class and the influential mainstream media stood by Hazare. Besides, his protest reportedly enjoyed the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fount of the Hindu right-wing Sangh Parivar.

It was the size of the crowds with Hazare, the powerful interests backing him and the possibility of his death triggering mass violence and unrest that pushed the government to pay attention to his protest and concede his demands.

India remains unshaken and unmoved by Sharmila's decade-long hunger strike because the cause she champions is too distant to strike a chord with India's upwardly mobile middle class. Her attempt to stir India's conscience goes unheard because the media denies her a voice.

Thus Delhi finds it expedient to violently keep her alive by force-feeding her through painful nasal drip.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In Manipur 'Migrants' Are Soft Targets Of Terror Groups

Manipur has been a state plagued by insurgency for decades. People here still live on razor's edge, sandwiched between the insurgent and the security forces and often become prey of violence and get hit in cross fire in counter insurgency operation.

Manipur’s capital Imphal is once again in news for violence. In the latest violence, three daily-wage labourers were killed, while four others were injured seriously when a very powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off in  a bus stand in the heart of Imphal city.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

IN LAKSHADWEEP, PETROL IS SELLING AT 200 PER LITRE!

By CJ Rajendran in Lakshdweep

At Lakshadweep Islands, which is not quite the paradise you would have imagined. Muhammad Basheer is the only and well-known Cameramen in the island of Kavarati, to whom islanders are used to reach for the video coverage of wedding ceremonies. He is roaming besides the sea by carrying his camera on the left shoulder. As all other youngster in islands he was studied in Kerala and successfully attained graduation in Arabic language.

During his Kerala days he was being dreamt about to own a Motor cycle. Five years ago his dream accomplished with unlimited pain and sorrows.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Has The NHRC Failed Its Mandate To Protect And Promote Human Rights In India?

By LIKHAVEER | INNLIVE

The Supreme Court's interim AFSPA judgement suggests that it may examine the role of the 'toothless tiger'.

In an interim judgement on extra-judicial killings of alleged “terrorists, militants or insurgents” by the police and the armed forces in Manipur, the Supreme Court has once again reiterated its commitment to the rule of law and human rights.

The division bench comprising of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, meticulously examined various contentious issues, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, and upheld citizens’ basic fundamental rights, even in territories experiencing internal disturbances.

While lamenting the existing situation, which has fostered an environment of impunity especially in “disturbed areas” and failed to provide effective remedies for the families of fake encounter victims, the court also placed the spotlight on the National Human Rights Commission’s role as a statutory body mandated to protect and promote human rights in India. Indeed, NHRC as an independent watchdog is envisaged to take appropriate steps in such cases with vigour and enthusiasm. However, the opposite seems to be true.

'Toothless tiger'
The NHRC being a “toothless tiger” was a refrain that echoed throughout the judgment, an expression which the Commission appears to have become accustomed to, and one which has even been accepted by it with the acknowledgement of its present Chairperson.

However, the question persists: Has the NHRC failed to maximise its strengths and come up with novel manners of countering systematic rights violations such as in Manipur?

Further, does the lack of support on the part of governments at the Centre and State level justify the seemingly half-hearted measures on the part of the NHRC?

In the present case, in addition to underscoring its statutory limitations, the NHRC took the stage before the Court to place the blame on the Central and the State Governments who were criticised for not taking it seriously.

The Central government has been ignoring its requests to recruit more staff which is leading to long delays and inability to follow up on steps undertaken, said the NHRC, while also insisting that it has released specific guidelines in 1997 to act as safeguards in instances of deaths due to encounters by the police. These guidelines have since been amended twice owing to experiences of States who were either not following the guidelines in their “true spirit” or dismissing them altogether as being merely recommendatory, leading to a compromised procedural safety net against illegal extra-judicial killings.

Valid criticism
The arguments of the NHRC did not impress the Supreme Court which criticised it mainly on two grounds.

First, the Court pointed to an affidavit filed by the NHRC in relation to the alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur which it described as “extremely vague”. In its affidavit, the NHRC only stated that it had held a 3-days camp in Imphal, Manipur, in October 2013 to “consider pending complaints of extra-judicial killings by the armed forces/police”. It had awarded monetary relief in five cases in this camp, the NHRC said, but the documents presented to the Court only contained proceedings relating to one of those cases, while no information was given on any other matters considered.

Second, on a perusal of the cases closed by the NHRC which were also the subject-matter before the Court, the Court observed that some of these complaints had “been closed without any application of mind and simply because of the conclusion arrived at in the Magisterial Enquiry report, which is really an administrative report”. This exclusive reliance on the magisterial enquiry reports suggested a worrisome aspect, the Court said, as it was also the NHRC own contention that these reports in most cases were of “poor quality” which did not even examine the victims’ families or independent witnesses. Eventually, the Court decided not to consider the Magisterial Enquiry reports altogether, which practically quashed the pet recommendation of the NHRC in its guidelines with respect to such enquiries acting as a critical procedural safeguard in matters of extra-judicial deaths.

In this way, the Court may have highlighted the half-hearted efforts of the NHRC both in terms of its actual proceedings as also its guidelines. Also, the Court’s adverse observations may also have endorsed the view of the first Director General (Investigation) of the NHRC who recently said:

“Instead of bemoaning its lack of powers, NHRC has to play a more proactive and transformative role for the advancement of human rights in the country”.

However, that is not to say that the NHRC hasn’t faced its own share of problems and obstacles. In fact, most of its grievances, specifically, pertaining to its infirmity in taking actions against members of the armed forces and the unwillingness of the States to adhere to its non-binding directions, are genuine. Nonetheless, whether it has done enough till now or whether it is prepared to step up once provided with more “teeth to bite” are issues which it must genuinely introspect at the earliest.

Perhaps, the Court’s intention to consider the critical issue of the NHRC being a “toothless tiger” in its final judgment may finally resolve the issue and fast track the Commission’s intended relevant contribution to the fundamental human rights and rule of law in India. Until then, even the Supreme Court couldn’t hide its sarcasm when it said,

“….it is pointed out (perhaps with a tinge of frustration) that the petitioners might not be very wrong in describing the NHRC as a toothless tiger!”.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will This Election See Higher Turnout After 'Poll Tamasha'?

By M H Ahssan | INNLIVE

ANALYSIS While an increased turnout in Assembly elections is not an indicator of the same in Lok Sabha elections, aggressive campaigning points toward a higher turnout in this poll.

If the pattern of turnout in the Assembly elections held over the last couple of years are of any indication, the turnout in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections should significantly increase. Almost all the Assembly elections held in different States between 2012-13 witnessed a higher turnout compared to those held in previous years. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

WISHING YOU A 'HAPPY UGADI, A TELUGU NEW YEAR 2013'

Ugadi or Yugadi, the festival reserved to celebrate the commencement of New Year, is a day especially celebrated with huge fun and fervor in Deccan regions of India. It is assumed that Lord Brahma, the creator of the world began His creation on this day. The first day of bright half of the lunar month Chaitra is considered to be the day for Ugadi celebration, which generally falls in the months of March - April of the English calendar. The festival of Ugadi also welcomes the spring season when nature seem to be immersed in the festive mood and new leaves and new buds along with fresh breeze of spring manifold the Ugadi spirit. Scroll down the article to learn how the festivity is honored and rejoiced in several parts of India. 

Andhra Pradesh
The day is dedicated to Lord Brahma, the great creator of the world who began creation on this very day. It is also a belief among Hindus that Lord Vishnu incarnated in Matsya avatar on this day. As one of the major festivals of Andhra Pradesh, it gathers huge attention of public as well as the media. Celebration includes cleaning of house and surrounding, decorating entrances with green mango leaves, buying new clothes for family and various other rituals. They wake up early morning and use Sesame oil to massage their head and body, post which they take head wash and visit temples to offer their prayers. People make delicious dishes on this day which they share with their loved ones. Some places like Telangana celebrate the festival for three days. 

Karnataka

The day marks the beginning of the New Year and is considered to bring new hopes and happiness in life. At this auspicious occasion of commencement of spring, people make garlands of sweet scented Jasmine and offer them to God. They visit temples and offer prayers with sincerity while priests chant various mantras, developing spiritual aroma in surroundings. People whitewash their homes and decorate them with fresh mango leaves and flowers and they also practice the ritual of placing Kalasha beside their doors with coconut leave on it. For peace and harmony of their homes, they sprinkle cow dung water in front of their homes and make attractive Rangolis. Delicious dishes including Ugadi Pachchadi, Puliogure and Holidge are prepared for this occasion. At many places Bhakti songs and Kavi Sammelan are also held to give a platform to new blood so that they can reflect their literature and culture. 

Maharashtra
Ugadi is famous as Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, where it is believed that new ventures started on this day or purchases made give fruitful results. In Maharashtra, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is remembered on this day, so the day is seen as one depicting valiant Marathas who return home after a glorious victory in war. They raise swastika marked metal pot tied with a silk cloth which exhibits their victory and joy after successful expeditions in war.
On this day, after washing and cleaning their home, people decorate it with fresh green mango leaves and rangolis. They visit temples to offer prayers and distribute bitter Neem leaves as Prasad.

Sindhis
The day is known as 'Cheti Chand' among Sindhi people and it is seen as the birthday of Water God, (Varun devta) Sai Uderolal or Jhulelal. He is considered to appear on material earth to protect Sindhis from dictatorship of a ruler and saved Sindhi culture and Hinduism. The day is celebrated by worshipping water gods - Lord Jhulelal and Behrano Sahib; Chej, the folk dance of Sindhis is also performed on this day. 

Manipur
Manipur knows Ugadi by 'Sajibu Cheiraoba', where 'Sajibu' refers to first of all the six seasons that make a year and 'Cheiraoba' means end of a year leading to beginning of another. Hence, the spirit and motive behind the celebration is same in Manipur as in other states, only the way of celebration and the name of festival differ.

On the day of Sajibu Cheiraoba, Manipuri people start rituals very early in the morning. Women of the house prepare Athelpot with the help of fine whole rice, raw vegetables, flowers and fruits of new season which is meant for offering to Lainingthou Sanamahi and Leimarel Ima Sidabi placed on southwest and middle north corner of the house respectively. Post prayers, food is cooked and offered to God spirits Hanu-Kokchao and Hanu Leikham with a prayer to protect the well-being of their house. At the fire place, Emoinu Ima is offered food in round-cut plantain leaves to defend the family from sorrows in the coming year. After rituals and prayers, whole family dines together, while married people visit their parents; this way the festival serves in strengthening the bonds in family.

All About Ugadi Festival
The New year festival or Ugadi comes close on the heels of Holi. While the strong colors of Holi start fading away, the freshness of spring lingers on with sprightliness all around. The flame of the forest (trees with bright red flowers that blossom during holi) are in full bloom signifying an affluent season.It is believed that the creator of the Hindu pantheon Lord Brahma started creation on this day - Chaitra suddha padhyami or the Ugadi day. Also the great Indian Mathematician Bhaskaracharya's calculations proclaimed the Ugadi day from the sunrise on as the beginning of the new year, new month and new day. The onset of spring also marks a beginning of new life with plants (barren until now) acquiring new life, shoots and leaves. Spring is considered the first season of the year hence also heralding a new year and a new beginning. The vibrancy of life and verdent fields, meadows full of colorful blossoms signifies growth, prosperity and well-being.

With the coming of Ugadi, the naturally perfumed jasmines (mallepulu) spread a sweet fragrance which is perhaps unmatched by any other in nature's own creation! While large garlands of jasmine are offered to Gods in homes and temples, jasmine flowers woven in clusters adorn the braids of women.

Predictions of the Year
Ugadi marks the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar with a change in the moon's orbit. It is a day when mantras are chanted and predictions made for the new year. Traditionally, the panchangasravanam or listening to the yearly calendar was done at the temples or at the Town square but with the onset of modern technology, one can get to hear the priest-scholar on television sets right in one's living room.

It is a season for raw mangoes spreading its aroma in the air and the fully blossomed neem tree that makes the air healthy. Also, jaggery made with fresh crop of sugarcane adds a renewed flavor to the typical dishes associated with Ugadi. "Ugadi pachchadi" is one such dish that has become synonymous with Ugadi. It is made of new jaggery, raw mango pieces and neem flowers and new tanarind which truly reflect life - a combination of sweet, sour and bitter tastes!

Preparing for the Occasion
Preparations for the festival begin a week ahead. Houses are given a thorough wash. Shopping for new clothes and buying other items that go with the requirements of the festival are done with a lot of excitement.

Ugadi is celebrated with festive fervor in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. While it is called Ugadi in A.P. and Karnataka, in Maharashtra it is known as "Gudipadava". On Ugadi day, people wake up before the break of dawn and take a head bath after which they decorate the entrance of their houses with fresh mango leaves. The significance of tying mango leaves relates to a legend. It is said that Kartik (or Subramanya or Kumara Swamy) and Ganesha, the two sons of Lord Siva and Parvathi were very fond of mangoes. As the legend goes Kartik exhorted people to tie green mango leaves to the doorway signifying a good crop and general well-being.

It is noteworthy that we use mango leaves and coconuts (as in a Kalasam, to initiate any pooja) only on auspicious occasions to propitiate gods. People also splash fresh cow dung water on the ground in front of their house and draw colorful floral designs. This is a common sight in every household. People perform the ritualistic worship to God invoking his blessings before they start off with the new year. They pray for their health, wealth and prosperity and success in business too. Ugadi is also the most auspicious time to start new ventures.

The celebration of Ugadi is marked by religious zeal and social merriment. Special dishes are prepared for the occasion. In Andhra Pradesh, eatables such as "pulihora", "bobbatlu" and preparations made with raw mango go well with the occasion. In Karnataka too, similar preparations are made but called "puliogure" and "holige". The Maharashtrians make "puran poli" or sweet rotis.

Season For Pickles
With the raw mango available in abundance only during the two months (of April/May), people in Andhra Pradesh make good use of mangoes to last them until the next season. They pickle the mangoes with salt, powdered mustard and powdered dry red chilli and a lot of oil to float over the mangoes. This preparation is called "avakai" and lasts for a whole year.

Mangoes and summer season go hand in hand. Ugadi thus marks the beginning of the hot season which coincides with the school vacations. For the young ones, therefore, Ugadi is characterised by new clothes, sumptuous food and revelling. The air is filled with joy, enthusiasm and gaiety. Some people participate in social community gatherings and enjoy a tranquil evening with devotional songs (bhajans).

Kavi Sammelanam
Kavi Sammelanam (poetry recitation) is a typical Telugu Ugadi feature. Ugadi is also a time when people look forward to a literary feast in the form of Kavi Sammelanam. Many poets come up with new poems written on subjects ranging - from Ugadi - to politics to modern trends and lifestyles.

Ugadi Kavi Sammelanam is also a launch pad for new and budding poets. It is generally carried live on All India Radio's Hyderabad "A" station and the Doordarshan,(TV) Hyderabad following "panchanga sravanam" (New year calendar) narrating the way the new year would shape up in the lives of people and the State in general. Kavis (poets) of many hues - political, comic, satirical reformist, literary and melancholic - make an appearance on the Ugadi stage. Ugadi is thus a festival of many shades. It ushers in the new year, brings a rich bounce of flora and fills the hearts of people with joy and contentment.

Special Delicacies
It is a season for raw mangoes spreading its aroma in the air and the fully blossomed Neem tree that makes the air healthy. Also, jaggery made with fresh crop of sugarcane adds a renewed flavour to the typical dishes associated with Ugadi.

"Ugadi Pachchadi" is one such dish that has become synonymous with Ugadi. It is made of new jaggery, raw mango pieces, Neem flowers and new tamarind. The inner significance of this preparation is to indicate that life is a mixture of good and bad, joy and sorrow and all of them have to be treated alike.

All experiences have to be treated with equanimity. Every one should make a resolve that he will face calmly whatever happens in this year, accepting it with good grace and welcoming everything. Consider everything as for one's own good. Men should rise above sorrow and happiness, success and failure. This is the primary message of the Ugadi festival.

In Andhra Pradesh, eatables such as "Pulihora", "Bobbatlu" and preparations made with raw mango go well with the occasion. In Karnataka too, similar preparations are made but called "Puliogure" and "Holige". The Maharashtrians make "Puran Poli" or sweet 'Rotis'.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Women join hands for a better media

By Meenakshi Sahu

In an increasingly market-driven media climate, a network that nurtures value-driven journalism among women has proved to be a lifeline for professionals who believe that there's more to the media than news brands. HNN reports.

The Seventh National Conference of the Network of Women in Media - India (NWMI) had just ended in Vishakhapatnam. A young journalist from Mumbai was asked how she had liked her first NWMI meet. "My colleagues in Mumbai say I'm too idealistic because I want to write about rural child education for my newspaper. After this conference I know that there is scope for my kind of journalism," she said, smiling brightly.

This 23-year-old is not the only journalist who's been energised by the NWMI to follow her chosen path. Many women journalists have found their voice - individually and collectively - and many 'kinds of journalism' have got a boost since the NWMI came into being in 2002. In a few years, this collective seems to have facilitated a positive media movement across the country. And it has greatly strengthened the way its members - women media professionals from diverse backgrounds - view themselves and their work.

Despite great diversity in their backgrounds and jobs, NWMI members vouch for the effects that 'a sense of belonging to a community' has had on their work. The network has created a unique space where women journalists meet, online or at local and national meetings, to discuss issues specific to women and the media. Information about opportunities - professional and research oriented - is posted, contacts and friendships are forged.

Not everyone agrees with everyone else on everything, but the door to learning is always open because listening is as important as speaking, if not more, at national and local meetings of the NWMI. While consensus usually emerges on issues at the nucleus of the network, diverse opinions are respected. Besides the exchange of ideas, the network supports an in informal system of mentoring that should have been available at the workplace but, for various reasons, is not.

An NWMI member since its inception, Laxmi Murthy (Associate Editor, Himal Southasian), says journalism, "by its very nature, can be rather isolating, especially for women, who do not belong in the 'old boys club' and hang out at the Press Club. The NWMI provides a platform (at the local and national level) to move beyond isolation - professional as well as personal. Freelancers working out of home, as well as women in a male-dominated media house, seek out like-minded peers - and that is what NWMI is all about."

Susheela Nair, Bangalore based freelance photographer and travel writer, affirms. "I've bonded with more women journalists after joining the Network. As freelancers we tend to work in isolation. We started going to the press club for meetings only because of the network. So much learning happens through the network and we get to know about many opportunities."

Senior journalist and columnist, Kalpana Sharma, who's well known to readers of India Together, says a network like this can improve the quality of work going around "as it gives journalists access to other perspectives, resources and mentors. Ordinarily, these should be available at the workplace. But increasingly, in the highly competitive environment in which we work, there is little cooperation and most journalists have to fend for themselves."

Speaking of issues specific to women in the media, Sharma says, "Problems ... vary greatly depending on the media. For instance, in English print media, women have done well although there is still a glass ceiling at the very top. There are also issues of sexual harassment but on the whole, compared to a couple of decades ago, women face fewer problems. The situation in the Indian language press is different. Here, women have to fight for fair wages, for the right to cover different beats and face some of the same problems as women in the English press. Television journalists have greater opportunities but there have been sporadic reports about sexual harassment."

The background
While researching her book Making News: Women in Journalism, Ammu Joseph, a founder member of the NWMI and also a long-time regular on India Together, met and spoke to over 200 women journalists across languages and locations. There seemed to be a need for a common platform to discuss problems specific to women in the media. To debate on these problems and a possible network, regional workshops were held in Bangalore, Shillong and Jaipur. Women journalists from several towns and cities as also English and other language newspapers, were involved in the network building process, through these workshops.

"... The workshops obviously addressed a felt need. I had scheduled discussions on whether or not there was a need for a national network on the last day of the meeting but in all three regional workshops, participants articulated the need on the very first day!" recalls Joseph. "The workshops went well because they were designed to generate conversations among equals… Each session addressed certain key questions and everyone got an opportunity to share their experiences, thoughts and opinions. This really helped create a sense of collective ownership right from the beginning."

The regional workshops led to the first national meet in Delhi, where the NWMI was born amidst clamorous debates on its name, structure, charter, etc. While some felt that it should be a formal network with office bearers, etc. others favoured "a more egalitarian, collective approach." The rationale behind the latter possibly "emerged from the ideas and ideals of feminism, which questioned structures based on hierarchies of various kinds," says Joseph. The decision taken favoured an informal, hierarchy-free structure, "where responsibility and accountability could be shared and decision-making be based on consensus." "This is not always the most efficient form of organisation but I personally think the benefits outweigh the deficits," she opines.

Laxmi Murthy points out that "the Network does not seek to replace unions," but seeks to complement them. "For instance, the Pune group works closely with the Pune Patrakar Sangh and also has a room in the union office. Working with unions, especially plant unions which tend to be male-dominated is not easy, and women, especially young women, can hardly ever make a breakthrough. Yet, it is crucial to…try to make dents in the overall chauvinism and pressurize unions to take up issues specifically relevant to women journalists (maternity leave, separate toilets, crèches, night-drops, sexual harassment at the workplace etc). But this is…very exhausting! It is for this reason that women, who are also members of the union, find the informal NWMI style of functioning much more conducive to participation".

The collective gains
Ammu Joseph thinks that the greatest gain from a network "is the sense of collective ownership." Though "a few people do have to put in that extra effort (in the background, with not too many members really aware of the individual contribution of considerable time and energy towards the collective endeavour) to get and keep things going. And there are naturally some who enjoy the benefits accruing from the network without giving much in return -- even in terms of regular communication. But I think it's remarkable that so many do take initiative, take on responsibility, etc., on a purely voluntary basis. And I think that's evidence of the feeling that this is something that belongs to everyone, which everyone can help shape and strengthen."

"It's ... wonderful to belong to a supportive community of professional media women - to be able to discuss issues, to be on a similar wavelength, to be outraged by the same events, be able to laugh about the same things (that's vital!)," says Murthy, adding, "Professionally, it's good to be in touch with what's happening, with regard to gender and media. As an editor, I have been able to get in touch with a wide variety of writers through the network. The NWMI is also a unique collaborative space, in a highly competitive field."

Independent journalist, Anjulika Thingnam from Manipur was in the middle of a serious personal and professional crisis when she heard about the NWMI. She came to the 5th national meet in Bangalore, "searching for myself in the midst of all the women there. And I found it in NWMI," she says. Meeting a mixed crowd of journalists from urban and rural areas and interacting with senior members left her feeling, "so energised… My self-esteem was healed". Contacts made and the frequent news and information got through the e-group helped her "be in touch with a larger support group".

"In my opinion, women journalists ... in a small place like Manipur, under the burden of patriarchy, with little knowledge and awareness of the world outside us, need such a support group. In January 2007, I managed to get four of us organised into a small local group," says Thingnam. The Manipur network has offered to host the next national meet "to inspire local women journalists to join the network and come forward without fear." She sees it as a "good opportunity to highlight some of the issues that women, women journalists and the people of Manipur are grappling with everyday - issues of patriarchy, development, conflict, identity ..."

A development media professional and member of NWMI's Bangalore chapter, Shamanathaka Mani says she joined the network as she thought it would help her professionally. "I had expected too much from our group both at the professional and emotional level, but our group is, I think, more heterogeneous than homogeneous." The process of planning activities at the local level is complicated by the presence of "too many decision makers," according to her.

Many others count diversity as the strength of the network, however. Each of the annual meets that has followed the one in Delhi, "... has provided a glimpse of the 'unity in diversity' that characterises the network" opines Ammu Joseph. "Each host network has put its own stamp on the event in terms of collaborations, fund-raising, content, etc. So each meeting has had a slightly different flavour but every one of them has been exciting, stimulating and fulfilling to almost all the participants. Similarly, e-group discussions often reflect divergent opinions on various issues but there has been amazing consensus on vital matters to do with the media, including those to do with gender."

Vidhulata, Editor of monthly magazine Aurath says, "From the day I joined NWMI, my confidence has increased. Being a Hindi journalist, I do have some communication problems but I am sure this can be overcome. I am going to hold a one-day workshop for senior journalists in May or June this year Bhopal so that more women journalists from MP can join the NWMI."

During national meetings, the language barrier is bridged by continual translation, done by members who know the languages concerned. A group of rural journalists from Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh are conversant only with Telugu. They have been an inspiration to the rest of the network and the subject of many newspaper stories across several languages after each network meeting they've attended. Mostly from marginalised communities, these women handle all aspects of the production and distribution of a magazine, Navodayam. They conduct surveys and report on crime and child marriages. "Ever since we became part of the NWMI, our motivation to do better stories for our magazine has become stronger. We understand the importance of educating our girl children" says Bharathi, from the Navodayam group.

Senior columnist and writer, Sakuntala Narasimhan, says, "Such a collective ... gives women journalists' viewpoints (on sexist reporting, for instance) a stronger voice while protesting sexism in reporting. I got to know about the World Summit at Johannesburg in 2002, through the local network. I was chosen as one of the 4 journalists from India to be sponsored for covering the three-week summit. I filed 9 stories, and it was a great experience gathering so much information on a variety of subjects for use in my columns, interviewing global leaders etc."

Laxmi Murthy points out, "The Network has regularly raised the issue of press freedom and freedom of expression and issued statements. Local chapters have organized activities around the issue - be it the Official Secrets Act, attacks on journalists or writers. The point is ... to give voice in the public domain, to protest against gender-insensitive, casteist, communal activities/statements."

In an increasingly market-driven media climate, the NWMI supports value-driven, gender-balanced journalism. It has proved to be a lifeline for journalists who believe that there's more to the media than news brands.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Through the eyes of women filmmakers

"Women, Media and Transformations" was the leitmotif of a festival of documentary and short films for South Asian women filmmakers that concluded in Calcutta earlier this month. Shoma Chatterji was there and writes that the films offered a wide spectrum of subjects from ethnographic investigation to introspective, abstract journeys.

"Creative treatment of actuality" was John Grierson's definition of the documentary. "The essence of cinema is its ability to transport the viewer to a different plane. The genius of cinema is contained in the process of cinema: the act of filming itself is what contains the potential to create art, for it is here that one can articulate this relation of the maker to the subject and to the spectator," said Dennis O'Rourke, the noted Australian documentary maker, about the non-fiction film. The act of creating a documentary film is one of synthesis upon synthesis, in the same way that, for a novelist, writing is re-writing. The 26 films screened at the recently concluded (1-3 April) festival of films in Calcutta substantiate this statement from the point of view of women filmmakers from South Asia.

"Women, Media and Transformations" was the leitmotif of this festival, which began in Delhi, moved on to Ahmedabad and from there to Calcutta. The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) presented the festival in Calcutta in collaboration with Nandan, the cultural complex owned by the state government of West Bengal. Of the 26 films, 18 were made by Indian filmmakers based in India whereas the rest were from Malaysia, Canada, UK - made by Indian women based abroad. Complementing the film festival was a poster exhibition on violence against women, and three workshops on different aspects of cinema and television, organised by Swayam, a Calcutta-based NGO.

"The personal is political" appears to be the underpinning layer for celluloid statements by women filmmakers across the world. While the festival offered a wide spectrum of subjects from ethnographic investigation to introspective, abstract journeys, most of the films chosen reflected an inclination for nostalgia, memories, relationships and the schisms within. Few, one must confess, ventured into broad-based narratives addressing larger issues, which, interestingly, instead of narrowing the focus, led to the raising of larger questions. Short fiction rubbed shoulders with the documentary.

If the festival were to be competitive, which, thankfully, it was not, the prize would have unquestionably gone to Gitanjali Rao's animation film Printed Rainbow. It is a beautiful story of a lonely old woman's life with her cat and the old man living opposite her home. The old lady finds escape in a colourful world of daydreams through flights of fantasy into adventure from her collection of matchbox labels. The next best film in the festival was Parvinder Kaur's Will Think of Food a personal statement by the director who faces a mental block while being commissioned to make a commercial on food without money, of course! It is a hilarious take on the entire process of filmmaking itself, and on the struggles of the lay filmmaker desperately trying to strike out on her own.

Beyond the Wheel, by Rajula Shah, is a documentary that fluidly encapsulates the interaction between and among three noted, contemporary women potters distanced by region, language, religion and culture. The film offers interesting light on how the conventional taboo on the woman not permitted to touch the potter's wheel is circumvented by the two older women, one from Gujarat and the other from Manipur. The easy camaraderie creates a bonding that is articulated without being stated. She Write, by Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayshankar journeys through the works and struggles of four Tamil women poets, Salma, Kuttirevathi, Malathy Maitri and Sukirtharani. They are constantly the target of attack by men script writers in Tamil for their generous use of four-letter words and what these men term 'vulgar' imagery. But they refuse to be bogged down by these attacks and continue to write how they will, what they will.

Altar, by Leena Manimekalai sheds light on the rigid mindset of the Kambalathu Naicker community in Tamil Nadu. It is an ethnographic investigation with metaphorical interventions of the famous cattle fair in the area. The Naickers follow strange customs of child marriage for both boys and girls. Girls are often married to brothers of the same family and are permitted to sleep with any of them. It never occurs to the girls to question these age-old customs that do not have the sanction of law. The narrative however, tends to get diluted with too many interventions of the cattle fair.

Monisha Baldawa's Lemon Yellow Afternoons explores an evolving relationship between an ageing Tamil housewife and Chinu, a little Maharastrian girl, her neighbour in a Pune chawl, and how the older woman draws the energy to go on with the dreary routine of being a housewife from the little girl's vibrancy and innocence. Paromita Vohra's Where's Sandra is a light-hearted look at the Bandra-ka-Sandra motif Mumbaiyites are very familiar with. Vohra interviews a cross-section of women all of whom are named Sandra. They laugh at the jokes about their predecessors' mode of dressing and hold over Mumbai's secretarial jobs. Celebrity Bandraites scoff at arbitrary value judgements made on the morals of the girls. (In earlier times, secretarial jobs in Mumbai were mostly filled by Christian women in general and from Bandra in particular, because Bandra had a large Christian pocket.)

Kavitha Joshi's presentation, Untitled: Three Films from Manipur essays three stories of the strife of civilians, especially women of Manipur, hanging on the last dredges of life, thanks to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. She also captures the deep-seated resentment among women leading to unceasing protest, including images of the valiant Sharmila who has been on a fast for about five years. The governments at the Centre and State levels have remained unmoved by Sharmila's fast.

Walking On A Moonbeam directed by Madhureeta Anand is a fictionalised account of a woman whose sleepless nights continue to be haunted by memories of sexual abuse as a little girl, resulting in bed-wetting. But the film fails to come across lucidly because of a rather confused and convoluted narrative aided by the same actress playing the role of mother and daughter. Reena Mohan, whose films earlier bagged international awards, fails to do justice to herself and to the medium of her choice through On an Express Highway, tracing the journey of a 33-year-old woman who voluntarily gave up the material world to become a Jain sadhvi.

For Maya, Vasudha Joshi's directorial debut, is her perspective on gender, as reflected through the personal histories of her mother, sister, daughter and herself. The rich tapestry of Ranjan Palit's brilliant cinematography that effectively captures chiaroscuro* in colour enriches the narrative.

A number of films screened are too personal to appeal to a larger audience and do not either inform, or educate, much less, entertain: Dipti M Panesar's Biji: A Documentary on My Grandmother, Samina Mishra's The House on Gulmohar Avenue and Rita Chandel's The Journey. Those films apart, Our Own Eyes (Ranu Sharma) and Trans (Tejal Shah) are abstractions that are commendable for the filmmakers' daring to experiment and explore new forms within the documentary and short-fiction format.

The common element that binds these women filmmakers is that they try to place their emotional perspective within a social process, which sometimes evolves into a strong political statement and sometimes does not. Wigan & Leigh, Drik-India, NEXGEN School of Management and Technology and Swayam supported the festival as co-sponsors.

About the writer: Shoma Chatterji is a freelance writer based in Kolkata, and a member of NWMI. She is the author of 16 books, including 'Kali - The Goddess of Kolkota' and 'Gender and Conflict', which were both released at this year's Calcutta Book Fair.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

'Public Money, Private Agenda - Same Road, Same Ditch'

By M H Ahssan / INN Bureau

Projects that don’t exist, repeat expenditure on ones that do. MPLADS is a free fund for our MPs. Over the years, Indian MPs have become a pampered lot. Although the need for an enforceable code of conduct for MPs was felt six decades ago, Parliament never got down to drafting and enforcing such a code and to lay down an ethical framework for the conduct of parliamentarians. However, there was no such lethargy when it came to expanding the privileges of MPs.

Anxious to keep MPs happy, every government has done its bit to widen their perks and privileges. The launch of MPLADS and the increase in the annual allocation per MP from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore is probably the most obvious example of how MPs are pampered.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Frank Opinion: When Did Civil Service Become Synonymous With Self-Service?

By NAMRATA GOSWAMI | INNLIVE

In 2008, I was in Chandel district of Manipur on field work. As I went about listening to local people's stories about their lives and aspirations, most of them kept praising this particular woman administrator, an IAS officer. She was from South India, they said, and yet she was able to blend in with local people and was very responsive to their needs. As I walked towards the office of the Block Development Officer (BDO), 

I understood what they meant. It was an office with an open door, and there were no "middle men" to stop people from meeting the officer. The people waiting outside did not have the look of being intimidated by power.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The World's 'Spiciest & Strong Chilli' Grows In India!

By Hemanshu Rai in Imphal
One of the many things that puzzle people about those from the Northeast is their obsession for bhut jalokia. A fiery chilli that makes them teary eyed. It's so hot that some even cry! But these are only tears of joy. To stop the tears, they quickly take a mouthful of raw sugar! All is well again and they continue eating.

A meal in some parts of the region is hardly complete unless it is laced with hot and sizzling bhut jalokia. The scary-sounding name "bhut jalokia" is a vermilion-coloured chilli pepper which is famed as the world's hottest chilli. In 2007, it was certified by the Guinness World Records as the 'hottest chilli pepper in the world'. In fact, in 2010 the Indian military decided to use this chilli in hand grenades for crowd control.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fair edge: Women voters outnumber men in 6 states

By Kajol Singh

More Women Show Up At Booths But Remain Under-Represented In Parliament

Political parties may be chary of agreeing on 33% reservation for women and they might still be under-represented in Parliament, but they form an influential votebank that netas can ill afford to ignore as there now are about 33 crore registered women voters, only marginally less than 36 crore male voters.

According to the 2009 electoral rolls, women voters are in a majority in six states — Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry. While Andhra has 2.86 crore women voters as opposed to 2.80 crore men, in Kerala the ratio is 1.11 crore women to 1.03 crore men and Manipur has 8.97 lakh women compared to 8.29 lakh men.

While Meghalaya has 6.48 lakh registered female voters and 6.28 lakh men, Mizoram accounts for 3.17 lakh women in comparison to 3.08 lakh men. The state of Puducherry boasts of 3.91 lakh women to 3.63 lakh men on its voters’ list.

It is no surprise that even in states where women do not outnumber men as voters, governments have made it a point to announce women-oriented schemes, with Madhya Pradesh being a good example. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced several schemes for women and girl children. Even the Delhi government has a ‘ladli’ scheme and the poll manifestoes of parties are bound to devote more than a few paragraphs to this important constituency.

According to records, while the total number of registered female voters has increased from 32.19 crore in 2004 to 33.75 crore in 2009, the number of women-majority states has come down from seven to six.

There is a slight departure from the 2004 poll data where Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Daman and Diu had more registered women voters than men. But in the 2009 rolls, the number of registered male voters has overtaken women in both TN and Daman and Diu. However, Meghalaya made an entry as a state with a higher women voter registration. This is unlikely to stop the ruling DMK from announcing schemes like free stoves and gas connections.

Incidentally, turnout of women has been around 60% in the last two general elections (1999 and 2004) with Lakshadweep recording the largest number of women voters.

Participation of female voters has been traditionally 10% lower compared to male voters.

There has been an upward trend in participation of female voters. In 1962 elections, only 46.6% female voters made their way to the booths which increased to 57.86% in 1998.

The highest poll turnout was in 1984 during which 59.2% women cast their votes.

This has, however, not reflected in the representation of women in Parliament which is about 8%. In over 50 years of Independence, the percentage of women in the Lok Sabha has increased from 4.4 to 9.02%, a figure that continues to be lower than the 15% average for countries with elected legislatures.

Neighbouring countries have already implemented a quota for women — such as Nepal with 33%, Pakistan with 22%. Even Bangladesh has a 14% quota.

Encouragingly, during the last four elections, large but relatively backward states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elected a higher number of women MPs compared to more developed and urbanised states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Women MPs from these states accounted for more than 40% of the total number of female representatives in the three successive Lok Sabhas since 1991.

On the contrary, the four relatively developed states accounted for only around 30% of the total women MPs in 1991 elections and less than 20% in 1996 and 1998 and about 25% in the 1999 elections.

Monday, March 02, 2009

INDIA GENERAL ELECTIONS 2009 NOTIFICATION ANNOUNCED

By Kajol Singh

Lok Sabha polls will be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13, the Election Commission announced on Monday.

The five phased polls will be held in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh while Bihar will have four-phased elections, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami told a press conference in New Delhi.

Maharashtra and West Bengal will witness three phased polls while Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Punjab will have elections in two phases.

Remaining 15 states and seven union territories will have one-day polling.

The counting of votes will take place on May 16 and the 15th Lok Sabha will be constituted by June two.

In the first phase, 124 constituencies will go to polls on April 16. 141 constituencies will witness balloting in the second phase on April 23, 107 seats in third phase on April 30, 85 seats in fourth phase on May 7 and 86 constituencies in the last phase on May 13.

Elections to Assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

Photo electoral rolls will be used for the first time in 522 out of the 543 constituencies, Gopalaswami said.

499 constituencies have been redrawn in the delimitation exercise.

Delimitation could not be undertaken in Andhra, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland, Gopalaswami said.

At least 71.4 crore will be the number of eligible voters, an increase of 4.3 crore over the 2004 figure of 67.1

The Commission will be using around 11 lakh electronic voting machines for the exercise to be held in eight lakh polling stations.

Around 40 lakh civil staff and 21 lakh security personnel will be deployed for the smooth conduct of elections, Gopalaswami said.

The dates were finalised taking into account aspects like school board examinations, local holidays, festivals and harvest, said Gopalaswami, who was flanked by Election Commissioners Naveen Chawla, whose removal he had sought for alleged "misconduct", and MY Qureishi.

On government's advice, President Pratibha Patil rejected the CEC's recommendation paving the way for Chawla to become the next head of the poll panel. Gopalaswami retires on April 20.

The poll schedule was worked out after series of meetings with political parties, Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police and Railway Board officials starting from February three, the CEC said.

INDIA GENERAL ELECTIONS 2009 NOTIFICATION ANNOUNCED

By Kajol Singh

Lok Sabha polls will be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13, the Election Commission announced on Monday.

The five phased polls will be held in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh while Bihar will have four-phased elections, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami told a press conference in New Delhi.

Maharashtra and West Bengal will witness three phased polls while Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Punjab will have elections in two phases.

Remaining 15 states and seven union territories will have one-day polling.

The counting of votes will take place on May 16 and the 15th Lok Sabha will be constituted by June two.

In the first phase, 124 constituencies will go to polls on April 16. 141 constituencies will witness balloting in the second phase on April 23, 107 seats in third phase on April 30, 85 seats in fourth phase on May 7 and 86 constituencies in the last phase on May 13.

Elections to Assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

Photo electoral rolls will be used for the first time in 522 out of the 543 constituencies, Gopalaswami said.

499 constituencies have been redrawn in the delimitation exercise.

Delimitation could not be undertaken in Andhra, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland, Gopalaswami said.

At least 71.4 crore will be the number of eligible voters, an increase of 4.3 crore over the 2004 figure of 67.1

The Commission will be using around 11 lakh electronic voting machines for the exercise to be held in eight lakh polling stations.

Around 40 lakh civil staff and 21 lakh security personnel will be deployed for the smooth conduct of elections, Gopalaswami said.

The dates were finalised taking into account aspects like school board examinations, local holidays, festivals and harvest, said Gopalaswami, who was flanked by Election Commissioners Naveen Chawla, whose removal he had sought for alleged "misconduct", and MY Qureishi.

On government's advice, President Pratibha Patil rejected the CEC's recommendation paving the way for Chawla to become the next head of the poll panel. Gopalaswami retires on April 20.

The poll schedule was worked out after series of meetings with political parties, Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police and Railway Board officials starting from February three, the CEC said.

INDIA GENERAL ELECTIONS 2009 NOTIFICATION ANNOUNCED

By Kajol Singh

Lok Sabha polls will be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13, the Election Commission announced on Monday.

The five phased polls will be held in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh while Bihar will have four-phased elections, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami told a press conference in New Delhi.

Maharashtra and West Bengal will witness three phased polls while Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Punjab will have elections in two phases.

Remaining 15 states and seven union territories will have one-day polling.

The counting of votes will take place on May 16 and the 15th Lok Sabha will be constituted by June two.

In the first phase, 124 constituencies will go to polls on April 16. 141 constituencies will witness balloting in the second phase on April 23, 107 seats in third phase on April 30, 85 seats in fourth phase on May 7 and 86 constituencies in the last phase on May 13.

Elections to Assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

Photo electoral rolls will be used for the first time in 522 out of the 543 constituencies, Gopalaswami said.

499 constituencies have been redrawn in the delimitation exercise.

Delimitation could not be undertaken in Andhra, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland, Gopalaswami said.

At least 71.4 crore will be the number of eligible voters, an increase of 4.3 crore over the 2004 figure of 67.1

The Commission will be using around 11 lakh electronic voting machines for the exercise to be held in eight lakh polling stations.

Around 40 lakh civil staff and 21 lakh security personnel will be deployed for the smooth conduct of elections, Gopalaswami said.

The dates were finalised taking into account aspects like school board examinations, local holidays, festivals and harvest, said Gopalaswami, who was flanked by Election Commissioners Naveen Chawla, whose removal he had sought for alleged "misconduct", and MY Qureishi.

On government's advice, President Pratibha Patil rejected the CEC's recommendation paving the way for Chawla to become the next head of the poll panel. Gopalaswami retires on April 20.

The poll schedule was worked out after series of meetings with political parties, Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police and Railway Board officials starting from February three, the CEC said.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Pooja got 'mad'?

By Aeman Nishat

Behind the entire media cacophony over Pooja Chauhan is a real story and a real person. The story is a familiar one. Of women, thousands of them, who are harassed over dowry or over the gender of the child they birth, particularly if she turns out to be a girl.

The Pooja Chauhan story has now become familiar to most people in India with access to the media — print or electronic. Virtually all newspapers flashed the photograph of this 22-year-old woman, walking in her underwear, in 'conservative' Rajkot city in Gujarat. She carried a baseball bat in one hand and bangles in the other. Her destination was the office of the Commissioner of Police. She walked for one hour. On the way, people gawked at her. Some laughed. The photographs showed men riding by on scooters, craning their necks to get a better look, laughing at her. No one, it seemed, stopped her, or tried to find out why she was doing what she was doing.

For the media, this was a great story. When they finally did speak to her, Pooja told them that she had decided to resort to this form of protest because she was fed up with the police not taking her complaints about harassment and violence seriously. She said she was being nagged by her husband’s family to bring more dowry and that they made her life even more difficult because she gave birth to a girl child. She accused her parents-in-law of getting a neighbour to beat her up. A week before this incident, Pooja had allegedly tried to immolate herself in front of the police commissioner’s office.

Media cacophony
What a story! All the elements of a Hindi movie. Yet, although the first stories did report the reasons that provoked Pooja to act in this manner, later reports took a different turn. Pooja's parents were accosted by the local media and asked whether their daughter was sane. "Is she mad?" they apparently asked. Others reported that the story was complicated, that her husband’s family had also registered complaints against Pooja. It was also reported that the girl did not live with her husband anymore and was on her own, with her infant daughter.

Behind this entire media cacophony is a real story and a real person. The story is a familiar one. Of women, thousands of them even if you go by official statistics, who are harassed over dowry or over the gender of the child they birth, particularly if she turns out to be a girl. Pooja survived such harassment. Thousands of women each year do not. At a time when India boasts of becoming an international economic giant, its women are being pushed to the brink for dowry, the giving and taking of which was banned in 1961 and is against the law. They also continue to be blamed for producing female children, something over which they can have no control. Yes, this is the same country where we celebrate a woman of Indian descent having been on a space mission — even if she is an American.

At the time of writing, Pooja was in a shelter. Although the court had ruled, after a network of women's groups working on issues of violence against women filed a case under the Domestic Violence Act on her behalf, that she was entitled to continue staying in the rented house where she had taken shelter to get away from her abusive marital home, she found she could not in fact go back there as the landlord refused to accept her as a tenant. To prevent her from facing further violence, these women's groups got together and arranged temporary shelter for her. They were moving her to a government-recognised women's shelter so that she would be free to meet people, including members of the National Commission on Women.

In some ways, Pooja is lucky. Despite extreme provocation, she is still alive. Her parents have been supportive. As a result, she was able to move out of her husband’s house and into independent rented accommodation. Her strategy of doing something outrageous did work. It got her the attention she desperately sought. Perhaps some positive conclusion will arise from this. And hopefully she will survive the negative side of media attention, that which has spawned blogs where men blow off steam about women who are allegedly misusing anti-violence laws, and the repeated use of her photograph on many sites. One hopes she will not be too badly affected by the unsubtle hints in media reports that she was “mad” and slightly unbalanced for having resorted to what is popularly being called “a semi-nude protest”.

Missing the point
The point that the media has missed completely is that the issue they ought to investigate more thoroughly is not the state of Pooja’s mental health, but what her protest represents. They should remember the naked protest by middle-aged women in Manipur against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Because it took place in distant Manipur, which only springs into the news when something affecting hundreds of people occurs, the actual protest went largely unreported. There were no TV cameras to telecast that image, or to talk to the women, or to ask others whether they were collectively 'mad'. They surely were. Not insane, but mad and angry at a system that refuses to hear the voices of ordinary people, or ordinary women.

Pooja is also mad at the system. Her protest symbolises that. Regardless of the specific details of her story, her protest reminds us again that dowry is alive and flourishing and that women face as much danger to their lives within their homes as they do out in the public space.