Editorial 1 / Virus check
Editorial 2 /Trapped in misrule
Murky side of war
Fifth Column / Peace is a long way off in manipur
The link no one would miss
Document / When the marauders came calling
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / VIRUS CHECK 
 
 
 
 
The Centre has taken more than a decade and a half to frame a coherent policy on HIV/AIDS. The first case of HIV in India was discovered in the mid-Eighties, and a national AIDS control programme was launched in 1987. The National AIDS Control Organization was then established in 1992, and the health ministry drafted a policy of sorts in 1997. What the government has set in motion now is the final version of this draft. The cabinet also hedged around admitting, in so many words, that NACO has not only taken a dangerously long time to formulate its guidelines, but also that these have been generally inadequate. The slow years of denial, evasion, prejudice, bureaucracy and mismanagement have now produced some frightening figures.

The Indian HIV/AIDS count is close to four million. Out of this, 85 per cent of the infection has been sexually transmitted. Such numbers usually stand for larger, complicated actualities. In this case, the national picture is determined as much by such fundamentals as overpopulation, poverty, illiteracy and brutally unequal access to healthcare, as by a range of deeply entrenched social attitudes and patterns of behaviour. Everything from what a society considers sexually permissible to what it could confront and talk about freely is implicated in what HIV/AIDS has come to signify. A “national policy” on such a phenomenon will therefore have to deal with the difficult relationships between health and human rights, liberty and surveillance, privacy and bureaucracy. At the level of implementation, it will have to bridge the divide between a centralized programme and the specific scenario in each Indian state.

There are three crucial areas in this policy, all of which indicate an expansive approach to the AIDS epidemiology. First, it has attempted a convergence with the 1996 national blood policy through a decision to phase out all private blood banks. This also furthers the Supreme Court’s earlier efforts to disallow unlicensed blood banks and professional donors, and to enforce the proper testing of donated blood. This takes prevention and control of HIV beyond sexual transmission, but will require a regulatory infrastructure to make it work. Second, the abuse of human rights which is endemic to the HIV/AIDS scenario in India has also been considered by the policy. This includes not only the rights to proper healthcare, education and employment of the patient or the infected, but also the right to privacy and confidentiality of a person being tested for HIV. The policy also spells out that no individual should be made to undergo the test mandatorily. This is another area of brutal ignorance among medical personnel as well as ordinary people. Third, the perennial area of education and awareness. Here again, not only the rural women of the most backward states, but also urban middle India, with its myriad sexual evasions, must be equally part of the policy’s reach. Thanks to the work of the nongovernmental sector, NACO and the Centre also seem to have acknowledged the importance of breaking the silence regarding men who have sex with men. It is the paradox of AIDS in India that the fear of death could have started an entirely desirable sexual revolution.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 /TRAPPED IN MISRULE 
 
 
 
 
The rule of law is an essential condition for civil society. The recent rebellion of the inmates of a prison in Bihar’s Chhapra district shows how deep the malaise of misrule has gone in that state. It would be superficial to view it as an isolated incident of prison revolt that had to be crushed by the military police. Obviously, the jail administration found its task difficult because the number of prisoners far outstripped the prison’s capacity. But the problem of overcrowding in jails, to which Bihar’s jail minister, Mr Ashoke Chowdhary, attributed the violence, is not uncommon elsewhere in India. Even the fact that there were only 30-odd warders to stand guard over almost 1,300 prisoners does not quite explain the complete abdication of authority by the jail administration. The official argument that five “notorious” criminals, who were eventually killed in the police firing, incited the rebellion is a pathetic admission of failure. More to the point perhaps was the remark of the inspector-general of prisons, Ms Harjit Kaur, who admitted that the state government had little control over the jail employees who were guided more by politicians than by statute books. Any effort by the government to bring erring jail staff to book would be opposed — and, more often than not, scuttled — by self-seeking politicians. It is no secret that corruption, inefficient administration and crippling political interference afflict most of Bihar’s jails.

Unless the government moves quickly to address these problems, the sordid story of Chhapra may be repeated in many other jails in Bihar. It is therefore not enough for the departmental inquiry committee, set up by the government, to find out why the district administration failed to act promptly to quell the prison revolt. It should seize the opportunity to examine the more important issue of the shortcomings of the jail administration and expose the nexus between errant jail staff and politicians. A broader guideline for jail reforms may not be part of the committee’s terms of reference; but its recommendations for improving the jail administration should help the government tackle similar problems in other jails. Unless this is done, the lesson of Chhapra will be lost on Bihar.

   

 
 
MURKY SIDE OF WAR 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
The United States of America-led war on global terrorism may not have run out of steam. Yet, it has to contend with a cloud of uncertainty which has begun to shadow it even before its first phase is half over. That differences on both strategy and goals have surfaced in the war coalition and also in the American establishment, which has been running the show from the very start, is no surprise. After all, many European nations joined the war merely to keep up the façade of Western unity and some others, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, under duress.

Far from producing any anguish, wide cracks in the façade have only provoked derisive comments in the European media about the US conduct of the war. Indeed nothing of late has evoked more widespread fears than US talk of Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituting “an axis of evil”. It has brought home to the Europeans not any palpable danger emanating from this implausible troika whose members have little in common and no means to threaten the US, but the surreality of America’s fixations.

In any case, the very possibility of the US’s trying to launch a war to displace the demonized figure of Saddam Hussein has made the entire Arab world, already hard-pressed to control its rage over the way Israel is humiliating Yasser Arafat, throw a fit. A war against Iraq, all Arab states know, is apt to create a convulsion in their part of the world and, amidst the rising tide of anti-American feelings, sweep away the regimes close to the US. That is why both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, though they have most reason to fear Iraq, are stoutly opposing any such venture.

It is ironical that the US administration should have misjudged the prevailing climate of opinion in a region with which it had been so familiar for long and where it had many client states whose allergy to democracy, dismal human rights record, appropriation of a large part of government revenues by a large assortment of sheikhs and princes to maintain an outrageously extravagant lifestyle and the alienation of the still small but growing class of middle class intelligentsia, never bothered it.

What has all this to do with the war on global terrorism? It should not be too difficult for George Bush, Colin Powell & Co to answer this question. They do not have to be reminded that it was US military presence in Saudi Arabia which first turned Osama bin Laden against the ruling family there, and led to the forfeiture of his citizenship and his conversion to a psychopathic form of Islamic fundamentalism. And it was the feeling of insecurity afflicting the Saudi regime, despite all its oil wealth and reckless purchases of hi-tech weaponry, which made it panicky at the thought of what this fanatic — now turned the leader of a terrorist outfit with its network extending to 50 states — might do to it.

This impelled it to buy protection by funding al Qaida liberally. It was only after the trauma of September 11 that a columnist in America’s leading paper plucked up the nerve to reveal how cynical US policy had been in dealing with Saudi Arabia. Though the US administration knew that large sums from Saudi charity trusts were being used to finance global terrorism, it not only kept quiet but did nothing to put a stop to it. This disclosure is most pertinent in the context of the current war on global terrorism, for there is enough reason to wonder whether America’s policy even today, despite the routine practice of its leaders talking to the rest of the world from a high moral perch, has been entirely rid of the taint of cynicism of which all its neighbours in the south have had first-hand experience at one time or another.

This may be a harsh thing to say at this juncture when America is fighting a new kind of war. What can hi-tech weaponry do against persons who are all too willing to turn themselves into human bombs and die a martyr’s death, convinced that this will get them a ticket to Paradise? What is more, the US administration has to take into account the conflicting interests of its allies in determining its strategy. Even so, there is something unsavoury about patting on the back a man like Pervez Musharraf time and again just because he yields to American pressure and complies with some of its wishes only to neutralize to a large extent the effect of his actions on one pretext or another.

Though the US administration said quite early that its campaign covered not only terrorist groups but also their sponsors, it took quite long to ask the Pakistan president to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, despite the close links of both with al Qaida. It was quick to congratulate Musharraf when he put 2,000 men belonging to these outfits under arrest. Yet, it has not thought it discreet to question the propriety of releasing 1,300 of them within a few weeks. It takes a good deal of cynicism to accept the freedom of a judiciary which had no qualms in legitimizing the seizure of power by force from a duly elected government or in swearing loyalty to a military regime.

Of course, Musharraf can always find alibis for his all too frequent failures to deliver on his promises. Didn’t he run big risks in helping to oust a protégé regime in Afghanistan and in silencing critics in his half-talibanized army and in the Inter-Services Intelligence which had worked for long in cahoots with al Qaida? And was it hard to understand why he had to move warily in dealing with powerful religious groups at home and with the terrorist oufits he had used as tools of his policy in Kashmir even before he seized power and hailed them as freedom fighters?

The Americans are not so gullible as to take such reasoning at face value. Nevertheless, they have their own fears and inhibitions. They cannot risk putting the heat on Musharraf beyond a point, not being too sure whether the general replacing him would be even half as pliant. They have to make concessions to expediency. They are not so daft as to fail to see that Musharraf often outsmarts them to save what he can from the wreckage of his Afghan policy and meet the new challenges to his Indian policy. Even so, they cannot afford to put their larger objective at risk, particularly in the light of their own experience. They know that global terrorism would not have become the kind of menace it has but for their cynical indifference for years to the woes of the victims of terrorism in many places and unwitting help in financing a complex of madrasahs to nurture a new brood of young jihadis infected with the virus of martyrdom.

An American columnist has disclosed that “when US commanders talked of going into Pakistan to find the al Qaida and taliban forces which escaped from American operation”, they were told by the Pakistani spokesman, Major Amir Uppal, that there was no need since “Pakistan forces had sealed the border so efficiently that there was no possibility of escapees being in Pakistan”. And yet a few days later, with a tip-off from US intelligence, 25 al Qaida men including Abu Zubaydah, chief of operations in bin Laden’s set-up, and five taliban, were seized from two sites in Faisalabad and Lahore. It is safe to assume that there are hundreds of others belonging to the same outfits hiding in other cities, particularly in the part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control.

Apparently, all these foreign terrorists did not arrive at their hideouts riding invisibly on Gabriel’s wings. They all came with the collusion of Pakistani military intelligence. But why make a hue and cry about this, say US policymakers to themselves, in effect. “At least we have 25 more al Qaida operatives in our hands, including the biggest catch we have made so far.” As the columnist comments ruefully, the Americans knew that the sealing of the border was a lie but they pretended to swallow it. He further goes on to say, “They also know that Pakistan has resumed helping guerilla groups to infiltrate into Kashmir and India despite Musharraf’s promise to Powell” but seem to be in no hurry to make sure that the general keeps his part of the bargain.

There is a dark side to every new technology, they say. There is also a murky side to every war which, in any case, is always a dirty business. Even those engaged in fighting a global menace should know that the pretence of clean hands has worn too thin to deceive anyone. Let the US thank Musharraf for his “cooperation” a hundred times. But that does not alter the fact that until September 11 his regime was the one closest to both al Qaida and the taliban and that even today the most likely sanctuary for the forces of these two organizations is Pakistan. Indeed both these outfits will be the ones most active in stoking the fires of anti-American feeling throughout the Islamic world in the months to come, and in destabilizing whatever government in Kabul tries to recast the Afghan society in a half-modern mould.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / PEACE IS A LONG WAY OFF IN MANIPUR 
 
 
BY ANUPAM BORDOLOI
 
 
There are lessons to be learnt from the latest developments in Manipur. The quiet — and “unconditional” — release of the Chandel deputy commissioner by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) came about not because the rebel outfit had no use for him but because the people of Nagaland wanted it that way. The desire for peace has become such an over-riding a passion in the strife-torn state that no group can afford to ignore the popular sentiment. Not the rebels. And certainly not the Indian government.

But there is a flip side to the story as well. When the Manipur assembly building went up in flames in June 2001 — in a massive public uprising against the Centre’s decision to extend the area of ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) to all “contiguous Naga-inhabitated areas” — it left behind embers of discontent and suspicion in the minds of people in the state.

Ever since the killing of 11 NSCN (I-M) cadre at Pallel on March 16, 2002, events unfolded at a pace which took both the Manipur government and the Centre by surprise. The impunity with which the rebel group managed to abduct the Chandel deputy commissioner, Yambem Thamkishwor, with the help of its ally, the United Kuki Liberation Front, alarmed the state’s populace.

Roll-back fears

That the NSCN (I-M) weilds considerable clout within Manipur’s boundaries is not unknown. But what is of concern to the state is the overt reaction of the Naga rebel group to the killings. Of greater concern is the Naga outfit’s demand that the authorities return the 15 pieces of weapons seized from the slain cadre.

The abrupt roll-back of the move to extend the ceasefire area by the Centre last year, in the wake of violent protests, had surprised even the most fierce opponents of the decision. Though welcome, the people were sceptical of the decision — they speculated that there might have been a secret understanding between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) over the “extended ceasefire area”. Recent events have all but confirmed the people’s suspicions.

On what basis did the NSCN (I-M) ask the Centre for an “explanation” for the killing of its 11 cadre? On what basis did the rebel group demand the return of the 15 arms seized from the slain cadre? These questions have worried the people of Manipur.

Many NSCN (I-M) cadres have been killed by security forces elsewhere in the Northeast, including Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. But the outfit had never reacted in the manner it did over the Pallel killings. Areas of these two states too fall within the NSCN (I-M)’s contiguous Naga-inhabited map.

The fall out

But then, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh did not erupt in protests when the ceasefire area was extended. Only Manipur did, and not just because of the Centre’s “unilateral” decision -— years of suspicion and mistrust between the Nagas and Meiteis fuelled the crisis into almost unmanageable proportions.

The reactions of Naga groups, including the NSCN (I-M), to the Pallel killings have been on familiar lines. The killings were termed as “cold blooded murder” — discounting claims that the deaths were the result of an encounter with security forces. Another point raised was the so-called “wrong interpretation” of the ceasefire.

Was the NSCN (I-M) given to understand by the Centre that though the ceasefire area extension had been revoked officially, unofficially it remained extended? After all, the Centre’s rollback announcement did not prompt an angry response from the group like the Pallel killings did.

The Centre is in a tricky situation. Though the NSCN (I-M) has said that the time has come for “bold decisions” from both sides in the peace talks, New Delhi cannot afford to appease one group and antagonize the other.

The Centre had burnt its fingers once already in Manipur. New Delhi can do without any ambiguity when its emissary meets the Naga leaders next time. Bold decisions must be taken but only after ensuring that they do not douse one fire only to start off another.

   

 
 
THE LINK NO ONE WOULD MISS 
 
 
BY GAJINDER SINGH
 
 
When on April 1, the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, expressed his unwillingness to adopt a new policy at the national water resources council meeting in New Delhi, he was not being unduly rigid. He was merely trying to make his stand clear on a highly emotive issue in his state. The no-holds-barred spat between Singh and the Haryana chief minister, Om Prakash Chauthala, on the contentious Sutlej-Yamuna link canal does not look like a good omen and could strain relations between the two states. Especially since Chauthala mentioned that the people of Haryana knew how to take their rights, a statement that has not gone down well with the people of Punjab.

Water is an issue which agitates Punjabis more than the transfer of Chandigarh or the other territorial disputes with Haryana. They are especially infuriated by the Centre’s allocation of the state’s water to Punjab’s non-riparian neighbour states under section 78 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1966. This not only has a direct bearing on the future of agriculture in Punjab — the occupation of more than 70 per cent of its population — but it also evokes a nostalgic feeling about the history of a land that stood at the confluence of five rivers.

The genesis of the river waters problems between Punjab and Haryana can be traced back to the hurried estimates of the 1955 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan. Indian Punjab was supposed to require 7.2 million acre feet of water and Rajasthan apparently required 8 MAF. Jammu and Kashmir’s share was 0.65 MAF. The Punjab Reorganization Act stipulated that the waters of the Punjab rivers, excluding the Yamuna from which Punjab till then had been drawing water, were to be divided between Punjab and Haryana on a mutually agreed basis. If they failed to agree, the Centre would decide for them.

In 1976, however, Indira Gandhi accepted an estimate which said that the surplus waters of Punjab were 15.58 MAF. She allocated 3.5 MAF each to Punjab and Haryana, 8 MAF to Rajasthan, 0.65 MAF to Jammu and Kashmir and 0.2 MAF to Delhi. Zail Singh, then chief minister of Punjab, did not approve of what he felt to be the patent injustice to Punjab. He was given the choice of handing in his resignation, but preferred to stay in office.

After Emergency the Akali Dal came to power in Punjab and the Janata Party at the Centre. The Akalis took up the issue with the prime minister, Morarji Desai. The prime minister was prepared to pass a verdict on the water sharing between Punjab and Haryana, but only if his verdict was considered as final.

When the Akali Dal suggested they take the issue to the Supreme Court, Desai did not object. The suit filed at the apex court was still pending before it when Indira Gandhi met Akali leaders on November 16, 1981. She assured them that Punjab would be provided more water and energy once scientific exploration of water resources in Rajasthan bore fruit. She made it clear that she was not in favour of revising earlier decisions till the Rajasthan underwater board submited its report. But within five weeks, Indira Gandhi went back on her words. She gave a unilateral decision. The available water was now estimated at 17.17 MAF. Out of the surplus 0.72 MAF was given to Punjab. At the same time she told the Akalis that she did not believe in their argument about Rajasthan being a non-riparian state. Even though Rajasthan was not using the water already allocated to it, the state was given the remaining 0.6 MAF of the estimated additional waters. She also decided to construct the SYL canal in two years so that water could be carried away from Punjab to benefit Haryana.

Indira Gandhi’s decision gave the Akalis an opportunity to mobilize the people of Punjab against the Centre. On April 24, 1982, with the support of the communist parties, the Akalis organized an agitation at Kapuri from where the waters of the Sutlej were to be diverted to Haryana. On August 4, 1982 they launched their dharam yudh with Parkash Singh Badal courting arrest with a large number of supporters. Later Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined the agitation. The rest is history.

It would not be wrong to mention that the seeds of terrorism in Punjab were sown by the decision to construct the SYL canal. Bhindranwale would have remained confined to his spiritual headquarters at Damdami Taksal had the Akalis not launched their nahar roko agitation.

The Supreme Court has given its verdict in favour of Haryana. But the dispute on how much water is to be given to Haryana has not yet been resolved. Whatever has been provided to Haryana is not based on riparian principles or the rules of allocating water to basin states. Punjab has rightly objected to the creation of a river basin organization to manage water resorces of a particular basin among different states.

That Haryana should be given its due share of the river waters is understandable, but this should not be at the cost of Punjab. After the breakup of erstwhile Punjab, all assets in reorganized Punjab and Haryana were shared in a 60:40 ratio. Water from the Bhakra-Beas management board was also shared in the stipulated ratio, although this did not happen in the case of sharing the waters of the Yamuna. Punjab with 105 lakh acres of cultivable land got 12.6 MAF, while Haryana with 80 lakh acres got 14.08 MAF. Chauthala is silent on the Yamuna waters issue as its allocation is being used by western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Haryana could rightly demand its allocation from the Yamuna and get UP to divert water from the Ganga to irrigate its western part. But in order to establish a political foothold in western UP, Chauthala seems prepared to forego his state’s share of the Yamuna waters.

If Rajasthan foregoes half the water it receives from Punjab and wastes on account of seepage and evaporation, the river waters dispute between Punjab and Haryana would be solved overnight. But Rajasthan has done nothing to exploit its own water resources and make use of the irrigation potential of its own rivers. If Rajasthan does nothing to exploit its own water resources, the obvious question is why should it then be allowed to drain Punjab’s rivers? Punjab is the only state where the Centre has intervened in the strictly state subject of the river waters. Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganization Act were included only to ferry a large quantity of water to non-riparian Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. As per international riparian principles, the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas are Punjab’s rivers.

Rajasthan and Haryana are non-riparian states in their relation to Punjab. Sections 78 to 80 of the Punjab Reorganization Act, which empowers the Centre to control and administer the multipurpose projects of these three rivers, goes against the spirit of the Constitution. They tend to violate the executive rights of the state government which are conferred to it by articles 162 and 246(3) of the Constitution, read along with item 17 of the state list. They also contravene the equality provisions of Article 14. The decision of the Narmada tribunal against Rajasthan’s claims of the Narmada waters is worth quoting: “The state of Rajasthan is not entitled to any portion of the waters of Narmada on the ground that the state of Rajasthan is not a co-riparian state or that no portion of its territory is situated in the basin of the Narmada.”

A solution, however, must be reached to solve the water dispute between Haryana and Punjab. Rajasthan could also be persuaded to forego at least half its claim on Punjab’s waters. Eastern Rajasthan is comparatively fertile. The Chambal flows through its southeastern part. The Banas flows through the plains in the northeast to converge with the Chambal. These water resources, if adequately used, can irrigate more than one-third of the state’s cultivable land. Rajasthan is also better equipped so far as hydro-geographical resources are concerned. Large underground water resources have been identified. With will and enterprise, they can be exploited to meet the state’s requirements.

It is amazing that the water dispute in Punjab is being allowed to drag on indefinitely. Addressing the matter more seriously will go a long way in setting right a wrong. It would also take the wind out of the sails of any future secessionist movement in the state.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / WHEN THE MARAUDERS CAME CALLING 
 
 
 
 
At Navayard Cabin D Area, Zahir Khan Bissimillah Khan Pathan, age approximately 18, killed on the spot; the mob continues to pelt stones; 10 goats stolen; PSI Rabari injured; the police then direct their firing on the mob; 1 killed (Manish, aged 19, who was not part of the mob, but was watching); police arrest 48 Muslims of Roshannagar ... mostly dragged from their houses; many injured and beaten during arrest; taken to Fatehgunj police station, released on bail the following day; local Hindus arrested for “rioting”; released on bail the following day.

...The first attack on Roshannagar was at 9.30 am on March 1. Primarily women and children were only present in the area...since most of the men had been arrested the previous night itself. Two mobs attacked simultaneously. The first mob came from the general direction of Amarnagar, the second through the large ditch in front of Roshannagar. The first mob was around 500 strong; the second...around 400 strong. Both the mobs were constituted mostly of outsiders; some locals were also part of it. A few women as well as policemen were also involved. They were all armed with swords (talwar), knives (dharia), spears (bhale), iron rods and sticks.

The second attack on Roshannagar was attempted at 1.30 pm on the same day when a mob of at least 2,000, including outsiders, gathered in the open fields at Navayard Cabin D area. In the resultant police firing 2 youths died. The mobs involved were definitely well organized and led, going by the well-planned nature of the attacks. VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres, wearing saffron bands, seem to have directed the attacks...

... Two youths lost their lives. The amount of damage to property, even at a cursory survey, is huge. Five houses were burnt; other houses were looted; 1 tempo van burnt; 1 motorbike burnt; nearly 30 larris burnt/looted; 1 autorickshaw burnt; 2 autorickshaws damaged; 1 chappal shop was burnt and looted; one...cloth shop cum vegetable godown was looted; chemicals for making detergents, bleach and blue spilled and the storage room completely destroyed.

...There had been ten- sion prevailing over the area under survey from February 27. The situation had worsened by the 28th with mobs returning from a special 86 Village Samiti meeting held expressly in the wake of Godhra... When the alarmed Muslims used loudspeakers to warn the community, a complaint was lodged. Police responded to this complaint with alacrity and 21 Muslims were arrested from their homes on February 28. They were taken to Fatehgunj police station and mercilessly beaten up while in the lockup. Welts and other marks were visible to us even after more than a week on March 7. Two (Ali Nabi Bholey Khan, aged 40, and Mohhamed Umar Abdul Latif, aged 35), were beaten so badly that they needed to be taken to the jail hospital. When they cried out loud in pain, they were warned not to scream. When they refused to chant “Sabse bada Hanuman”, they were beaten up more and made to sit cross-legged with policemen jumping on their thighs. They were told to go to Pakistan, to go back to Uttar Pradesh and their Mulayam or to their Sonia-ammi. For 24 hours they were not given either food or adequate water. They were not allowed to urinate, and when they asked for water, they were told to drink urine. Bearded men, including Maulana Mohhamed Yusuf and Abdul Sattar, had their beards pulled and police threatened to cut them off... They were not produced at the Circuit House, but were shut up in the police van outside the Circuit House before being remanded to the Central Jail. They were charged under sections 137, 143, 144, 153, and 188 in contrast to Hindus arrested the next day who were charged with section 188. The latter were released on bail the very next day, while the former were released on bail only on March 5, 2002.

The police who successfully thwarted the mob from moving towards Roshannagar at around 1.30 pm on March 1, proceeded to systematically arrest 48 Muslims of Roshannagar. They were gharpakad since they were literally dragged out of their homes. From our interviews we gather that this process of arresting was violent: they broke doors and furniture, beat people indiscriminately, used abusive language, loaded with sexual and religious overtones. In fact, a 65-year-old man was beaten senseless and his hand was fractured. The lockup story of these 48 arrestees also is much too similar...Revolvers were pointed at them with the threat that they will become a part of the statistics of “encounters.

In contrast to such alacrity on the part of the police personnel, during “riots” their procedure was one of studied inaction that only aided and abetted the mob violence. We gathered that, as of today, no FIRs have been filed against any of the parties concerned in this area.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Unsafe custody

None to save them Sir — The revolt by the inmates of the Chhapra jail in Bihar may well have been crushed by the Bihar military police, but the incident throws up some interesting questions (“5 inmates die as forces crush revolt”, March 31). When the inmates took control of the jail, it lead to a three-day siege which could have claimed many more lives. This is an indication that security in Indian prisons continues to be lax. It is also interesting that the commando operation should result in the death of those five prisoners, concerns over whose safety had led to the rebellion in the first place. While there could be a plausible explanation for what happened, the allegations of the inmates cannot be dismissed. After all, all five of them were killed in judicial custody, and the percentage of custodial deaths in India continues to be high. Given that political leaders in Bihar and elsewhere continue to patronize criminals and try to ensure special treatment to them by interfering in the working of jails, it is not surprising that the human rights of prisoners continue to be violated.

Yours faithfully,
Chandra Sheel, Goa

Blinkered visions

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “Shall nobody save us?” (March 28), is a painful reminder of the meteoric rise of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the control it exercises over a large section of Indians. However, Indians have no one else to blame but themselves for the present situation. This is not the first time that the VHP has fanned communal passions. Yet successive governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have turned a blind eye to the growing aggression of the outfit.

That neither the prime minister, nor the chief minister of Gujarat has apologized to the people of the state or the country for failing to contain the VHP “thugs” is hardly surprising given the Bharatiya Janata Party’s endorsement of the sangh parivar agenda. Ironically the VHP’s xenophobia against Muslims resembles most the treatment meted out to minorities by the taliban regime in Afghanistan, which the VHP and the BJP had condemned.

Yours faithfully,
Praveen Gupta, New Delhi

Sir — Ashok Mitra has rightly stated that the contents of the leaflet distributed by the VHP “would have done the Nazis proud in Germany 70 years ago”. One is not sure whether India will be lucky enough to escape a holocaust similar to the one that took place in Europe. What is most disturbing for the secular, peace-loving Indian is the fact that the events in Gujarat are by no means isolated incidents.

Not only does the leaflet urge Hindus to boycott the establishments of Muslims and to deny them work, thus advocating the severance of relations between the two communities, but it also describes them as “anti-national elements”. The circulation of this leaflet has been followed by another spate of stabbings and arson. This portends that the VHP will continue to foment trouble in Gujarat. The Vajpayee government’s saffron loyalties make the possibility of action against the VHP more remote than ever.

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — It is unfortunate that Ashok Mitra, like most politicians, could not resist the temptation of using his column to attack the prime minister of India for not taking action against the VHP and the other factions of the sangh parivar. He seems to have deliberately overlooked the fact that banning the VHP will invite further violence and bloodshed.

The problem with politicians like Mitra is that they tend to forget that they too must shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that communal harmony is maintained. By drawing a parallel between the VHP’s actions and that of the Nazis, Mitra runs the risk of arousing and aggravating the ill feelings that already exist between certain members of both the communities in different parts of the country. Instead, Mitra should have used his connections as a veteran politician and tried to reason with the VHP, especially since the so-called secular parties like the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have done very little other than paralyzing the Parliament on this issue. Ironically enough, Mitra reiterates the need to respect the “democratic mandate”, forgetting that both the governments at the Centre and in Gujarat are backed by popular mandate. The author’s remark about the chief justice of India being able to read the original leaflet in Gujarati is flippant and entirely unnecessary.

Yours faithfully,
Pabitra Kumar Das, Calcutta

Sir — Without condoning the actions of the VHP in Gujarat, it must be pointed out that few people had protested when Congress supporters went on a rampage against the Sikhs in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Instead, an overwhelming majority of people in this country voted for Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress in the next general elections, which were held only a few months later. Was any action taken against the Congress leaders who were responsible for the riots? Perhaps the deaths were ignored because the Sikh community does not constitute a substantial enough portion of the vote-bank, which is all that most politicians care about.

When 13 Ananda Margis were burnt alive, in broad daylight, in West Bengal, intellectuals like Mitra chose to remain silent. Could their deaths have been less significant than those of the 58 kar sevaks killed in Godhra?

Yours faithfully,
Manu Bhattacharya, Midnapur

Parting shot

Sir — The Central Adoption Resource Agency, under the cabinet ministry of social justice and empowerment, has given out the names of certain recognized placement agencies who have been given the authority to process the applications of foreign nationals interested in adopting Indian children.

The caution is not surprising given that illegal trade in children is still rampant in India, despite the busting of a huge adoption racket by the Andhra Pradesh police recently. That a number of these agencies are run by Christian missionaries has provoked allegations of forced proselytization. Moreover, the ministry has failed to ensure that official procedures are followed properly nor has it been able to prevent the exploitation of poor parents by touts and criminals.

Yours faithfully,
E. Mastan Rao, Hyderabad

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