10 October 2012

Factory fire in Pakistan: Subcontinent of Apathy

(We reproduce here an article by Indo-Pak journalist Sonya Fatah, which appeared in the Times of India, September 17) Bangladesh, India and Pakistan may well be separate nations with independent flags, anthems and identities but the kind of human tragedy they offer the world is distinctly South Asian. There must be some deep-rooted web somewhere under the surface that reveals how wonderfully we treat our own citizens, especially if they happen to be struggling to survive. Take for instance, the recent news out of Karachi that a clothing factory in the industrial part of town was engulfed in fire. The manager on duty, fearing the worst from his team of X hundred workers (we don’t know exactly how many), decided that it was in the best interest of his bosses to lock up the steel doors, just in case the fire gave anyone an idea to loot piles of stone-washed jeans ready for shipment to Europe, where the orders obtained would earn our manager’s sensible owners, a lucrative pile of Euros. Oh well, it was not to be. The manager, while ensuring his bosses’ safety and security, didn’t realize that there was a human pen inside that would have to die to protect inflammable material. Trapped inside – some three hundred people (or who knows) died, most of them of asphyxiation. Only one news report casually – at its...

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Countrywide protests against Price Hike and Anti-People Measures

In response to the CPI(ML)’s central call, CPI(ML) units all over the country implemented a Bharat Bandh strike on 20 September. The unprecedentedly steep hike in the price of diesel and the move to limit subsidised cooking gas cylinders to six per family per year, as well as introduction of FDI in multi-brand retail and civil aviation are body blows to the common people’s livelihood and survival. The limiting of cooking gas cylinders will mean that families will be forced to buy cooking fuel at market rates, imposing a severe burden on their already constrained circumstances. The hike in diesel prices will inevitably result in a hike in transport costs which, in turn, will impact on food prices. The UPA Government’s claim that the hikes are justified in the light of losses suffered by oil companies is a shameless falsehood, since all the oil and gas companies have recorded substantial net profits. The UPA Government has arrogantly gone ahead with notification of FDI in multi-brand retail, claiming that this will bring down prices and create jobs. Ironically, at a time when India is rolling out the red carpet for retail MNC giants like Walmart and TESCO, they are facing unprecedentedly massive protest in the countries of their origin! In the largest-ever protest against Walmart in U.S. history, thousands of Walmart workers and local resident in Los Angeles (especially the...

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Chicago Schoolteachers’ Strike

We hope Kapil Sibal is watching the schoolteachers’ strike in Obama’s home constituency of Chicago. Sibal, as India’s HRD Minister, is pushing for an education system that is increasingly more privatised, and he is doing so based on the wisdom peddled by the US-backed World Bank and IMF. In the US itself, school teachers and students are beginning to protest privatisation and ‘reforms’. The US itself has traditionally enjoyed a strong publicly funded school system. But increasingly, in the US too, schooling is facing huge subsidy cuts, rendering students and teachers both vulnerable and deprived. The Chicago strike highlighted some of the major issues of struggling schools in the US. In Chicago, the public school teachers’ union took on the powerful Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly Obama’s White House Chief of Staff and with well known right-wing positions on war and Palestine. Emanuel had pushed education ‘reforms’ calling for teacher evaluation based on standardised tests for students. Schools in which students performed poorly would be closed and reopened with new staff, or converted to ‘charter’ schools that are ‘non-union’ and run by private groups. Protesting this move, teachers demanded more resources for the neighborhood public schools. They pointed out that many of their students come from poor and crime-ridden areas; circumstances that affect their performance in school. More than 80 percent of public school students qualify for free meals based...

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Islamophobia and Ignorance

(Excerpted from Counterpunch, September 18) ‘Koran discovered with coffee cup stain on the front cover, US marines deployed to all Starbucks franchises.’ The quip, retweeted by celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, exemplifies the belligerent incomprehension with which so many, including self-proclaimed liberals, have responded to protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims. Rioting over a YouTube clip that offends the Muslim sky fairy? How tremendously foolish! How childish; how superstitious; how very, very silly! Well, we’ve certainly seen ignorance paraded over the last few days but it’s as much by smug progressives as anyone else. Consider a historical analogy. In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as ‘sepoys’) shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions. Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in...

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Violence on Women in W Bengal

In the year 2011, West Bengal with 7.5% share of country’s population has accounted for nearly 12.7% of total crime against women by reporting 29,133 cases. Torture cases in the country have increased by 5.4% over the previous year. 19.9% of these were reported from West Bengal (19,772 cases). The highest crime rate of 21.6 was also reported from West Bengal as compared to the National rate at 8.2. West Bengal recorded 2,363 incidents of rape in 2011, over the previous year’s 2,311. This constitutes 9.7% of the total number of registered cases of rape (24,206) across the nation. [Data published by National Crime Records Bureau] In West Bengal, the almost-daily incidents of molestation, harassment, rape, as well as longer term statistics published by the NCRB, are as much a result of lumpenisation of political forces as of a vicious cycle of denials by the Mamata government coupled with gross apathy and inaction of her police forces. AIPWA Convention In the backdrop of rising violence, AIPWA held a mass-convention on 12th September, in a packed auditorium at Moulali Yuva Kendra in Kolkata. AIPWA state secretary Chaitali Sen conducted the meeting. Serina Khatun, sister of the victim of rape at Jagachha, shared the harrowing experience at the police station. She stressed the need for women to organize and collectively combat the ongoing sexual violence. Other notable speakers included poet and...

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Sivakasi Blast

Punish the Culprits, Rehabilitate the Victims! A seven member fact finding team of CPI(ML) and AICCTU visited Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu on 7th September, where more than 50 workers have already died and several are critical in a massive blast in a fire-crackers’ factory. The team found that blatant violations of safety norms and regulations are the reason for recurring incidents at Sivakasi fire crackers every now and then. What is shocking is that only a few days prior to this horrific incident the factory was ordered to be closed for its violations. Yet the factory remained in full operation, with the strength of more than 480 workers, most of them women, children and a considerable number of migrant workers from West Bengal. The owners of the fireworks and Government officials in collusion were running this death factory in total disregard of all norms and regulations. In no way this could be termed as an accident. It is a clear case of deliberate crime. The officials are manufacturing a story that only 12 of the dead were the workers inside the factory, others were passers-by who were hit by flying rubble due to explosion. Seeeing the intensity and extent of damage, the team also raised a doubt about explosives being stockpiled on the factory premises for quarrying purposes. In the face of such a tragic incident...

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Special Reoprt : AILC Jail Bharo Call

Lakhs of people court arrest Demanding resignation of UPA Govt. over Coalgate Scam Protesting Corruption, Price Rise, Social Oppression, State Repression Lakhs of people responded enthusiastically to the call of the All India Left Coordination (AILC) and courted arrest all over the country on 31st August, as part of an all-India ‘Jail Bharo’ protest, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister who has been caught red-handed in the Coalgate scam, and of the entire scam-ridden UPA Government. They protested the privatization policies that promote corporate plunder of natural resources and public assets, unrelenting price rise, crackdown on the right to dissent and protest, and growing social oppression on dalits, women and minorities. Protests were held at 173 centres, and a total of 1, 40,000 people all over the country, under the banner of CPI(ML), CPM Punjab, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist), CPRM, and Left Coordination Committee (Kerala), were taken into custody in the course of the Jail Bharo protest. In the national capital Delhi, CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya led the protestors in courting arrest, along with CPI(ML) Politburo member Swadesh Bhattacharya, Central Committee members Prabhat Kumar, Kavita Krishnan, and Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma. Scores of protestors marched to Parliament Street, blocked a street crossing, and broke police barricades before being taken into custody. In Bihar, a total of 50,000 courted arrest across the state, in protest actions that...

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Article : The Myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam

(The Bodo-Muslim violence in Kokrajhar (Assam) has since set off a spiral of fear, disinformation, violence, and an exodus of people from the North East from cities across the country. On the one hand, there has been a malicious campaign to ignore the social, historical, and political specificities of the conflict in Kokrajhar, and instead brand all those from the North East as perpetrators of atrocities on Muslims. On the other hand, there is a deliberate and organised communal campaign, spearheaded by the BJP and RSS, to hold ‘illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh’ as responsible for the conflict. The BJP, otherwise the most virulently opposed to the democratic aspirations and self-determination of the peoples of the North East, and the most chauvinistic defender of AFSPA and draconian militarism in the name of counter-insurgency, has been posing as a defender of the North East in order to make communal capital of the situation. In this context, we reproduce excerpts from a detailed write-up by Nilim Dutta, exposing the myth of ‘Bangladeshi immigration’ in Assam. The entire article can be read at http://kafila.org/2012/08/16/the-myth-of-the-bangladeshi-and-violence-in-assam-nilim-dutta/). The recent spate of violence that began in the Kokrajhar district of Assam in the month of July 2012 and then spread to the adjoining districts of the Bodoland Territorial Council, primarily between the Bodos and the Muslim community of immigrant origin settled in these districts, has once...

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Cover Feature : In Solidarity With Maruti Workers

Convention Demands Industrial Democracy and Upholding of Labour Laws The AICCTU and AISA held a Convention on September 7th at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi, in solidarity with Maruti workers. The Convention was on the theme, ‘Intensified Assault on the Working Class: Challenges Before Democracy.’ It was attended by workers from the Delhi-NCR area, students, as well as concerned citizens and activists. Several Maruti workers addressed the Convention, describing the exploitative conditions of work at the Manesar plant, in which they were given just 7 minutes to have tea and use the toilet, where pay was cut for every leave taken, and where the bulk of workers are employed on contract and paid less than permanent workers for the same work, in violation of labour laws. They described the incident of 18th July, pointing out that the Maruti management had introduced bouncers into the factory in order to intimidate the negotiating union leaders. They alleged that the violence was unleashed by the bouncers, who were responsible for the fire in which a manager lost his life due to asphyxiation. The workers asked, “We are being described as criminals and killers. But can we ask – was it not illegal and provocative of the management to suspend an innocent worker and then introduce bouncers in the factory?” Comrade Matthew, former President of the Maruti’s Plant I Union who was terminated...

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Cover Feature : Sedition Law: Weapon to Suppress Dissent

The jailing of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on charges of sedition, for his political cartoons on corruption, attracted countrywide outrage. Undoubtedly, the arrest of this young cartoonist is one of the most blatant attacks on freedom of expression and the right to dissent. Trivedi declared he would not seek bail, and went to jail declaring that if telling the truth was sedition, then so be it! Eventually he was released on bail. But the outrageous charges against him are yet to be withdrawn. Trivedi, who has been making cartoons supporting the Anna-led anti-corruption stir, received a fair amount of public support. Dr. Binayak Sen, too, eventually drew public attention. There are countless others, however, jailed under Section 124 A (Sedition) and other draconian laws that criminalise dissent, but do not make it to the newspaper headlines. 8000 protestors at Koodankulam have been charged with sedition! These include 4 teenage boys, arrested after the recent stir at the shoreline. Their protest is equated with sedition because questioning the rationale for nuclear power is equated with seeking to overthrow the State. What a mockery of the ‘world’s largest democracy’! The hypocrisy and double standards of the communal fascists is most glaringly exposed in their attitude to the sedition law. BJP leader LK Advani, writing in his blog, lamented the arrest of Aseem Trivedi, asking, “Is today’s political set up worse even than...

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Cover Feature : Jal Satyagraha in MP

Villagers protesting imminent forced eviction by the Omkareshwar Dam in Ghogalgaon village of Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh, achieved a hard-won victory on 10 September. After standing in rising waters for 17 days, they forced the MP Government to agree to lower the water level in the Omkareshwar reservoir from 190.5 meters to 189 meters, to abandon its plan to increase the water level to 193 meters, and to announce that it would comply with the Supreme Court judgment of 11th May 2011, requiring allotment of a minimum of 2 hectares of land to each displaced cultivator family. This is how Chittaroopa Palit of the Narmada Bachao Andolan described the protest: “On 11th May 2011, the Supreme Court directed allotment of a minimum of 2 ha. of alternative land to each cultivator family affected by the Omkareshwar dam. The Apex Court has repeatedly held that this should be done before submergence. After the judgment, 2500 cultivator families affected by the Omkareshwar dam filed land applications. However the project authorities decided to submerge the area and flood out the people without allotting them land, so that there would be no one left to rehabilitate. Thus, on 23rd and 24th of August the authorities raised the Omkareshwar reservoir beyond 189 meters, submerging around 1000 acres of crop lands and standing crops of mirchi, soyabean, cotton, painstakingly planted by the farmers, in many...

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Cover Feature : Waves of Resistance Defy Repression

Koodankulam Agitation The past few weeks have been seeing a heroic protest by the desperate villagers of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages, against the commissioning of the Koodankulam nuclear plant and loading of the VVER reactors. Thousands of people defied the police encirclement of their villages, and took the sea route to arrive at the coastline near the plant site. There, they camped peacefully to obstruct the loading of fuel at the plant. Large numbers of women and children were among the protestors facing the huge police force on one side and the sea on the other. Indeed, these people were caught between the Devil (of nuclear devastation and police terror) and the Deep Sea! The huge police force unleashed a brutal and unprovoked lathi charge, lobbing tear gas shells and beating up people who had nowhere to run but into the sea. The police entered the villages and wreaked terror, their bullets claiming the life of one man. Countless villagers and even some of the leading activists are said to be untraced, suspected arrested and detained at some hidden location. The protestors offered ‘Sagar Satyagraha,’ standing in the ocean waves, and then buried themselves neck deep in sand on the beach. On September 11, following the police crackdown, the main leaders decided to court arrest. But in an emotionally charged meeting, the protesting women and men would not allow...

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AISA Wins Majority in JNUSU Polls Third in DUSU

The JNUSU and DUSU elections were held on the same day – September 14 – and the results have been encouraging for the Left forces. In JNU, it was an overwhelming mandate for the Left. AISA once again won a majority in the Union, with 3 out of 4 office-bearer posts and 12 councillor posts. The SF-JNU candidate won the President post, while the other three posts of Vice President, General Secretary and Joint Secretary were won by the AISA candidates. Piyush Raj, AISA’s joint secretary candidate polled 1566 votes and defeated Ruchira Sen who polled 1427 votes by a margin of 139 votes. AISA’s general secretary candidate Shakeel Anjum won by a margin of 980 votes – he polled 1719 votes, while the SFI JNU-AISF candidate on that post polled 739 votes. AISA’s Vice Presidential candidate Minakshi Buragohain won by a margin of 920 votes, polling 1816 votes against the SFI JNU-AISF candidate. On the post of President, SFI-JNU’s Lenin polled 1446 votes and defeated AISA’s Omprasad who polled 1233 votes. In addition, AISA has won the convenorship of the five schools (International Studies; Social Sciences; Language, Literature and Culture Studies; Arts and Aesthetics; and Law and Governance) – and a total of 12 councillors from AISA have been elected. This mandate is a defeat of the right-wing forces – whose only agenda is to spread communal hatred...

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Promoting Social Justice

In the wake of the introduction of the Constitution (117th Amendment Bill) 2012, a fierce ‘debate’ was sought to be manufactured in the media over the merit of allowing reservations in promotions for SCs and STs. It was projected as though the constitutional amendment sought to introduce the principle of reservations in promotions for SCs and STs, for the first time. The fact of the matter is that reservations in promotions for SCs and STs have been constitutionally recognized since 1955, and further strengthened by the Constitution (Seventy-seventh Amendment) Act, 1995. The constitutional validity of reservations in promotions for SCs and STs has been upheld by the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench in the Nagaraj case in 2006. The constitutional validity of reservations in promotions for SCs and STs is therefore beyond dispute. What the Nagaraj verdict did while upholding the Constitutional validity of reservations in promotions, was to lay down certain tests that State Governments would have to satisfy in order to provide reservations in promotions. The verdict’s interpretation of the Constitution with regard to reservation would make reservation more elusive and difficult to avail of, for the SCs and STs. The verdict held that beneficiaries of reservation cannot claim reservation as a ‘fundamental right.’ State Governments would have to show proof of ‘compelling reasons; backwardness; and inadequate representation in the services’; and would also have to fulfill the...

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CPI(Maoist)’s Left Adventurism : Questions from Within

The recent expulsion of Sabyasachi Panda, former secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee (OSOC) of the CPI(Maoist), has once again fore-grounded tensions within the Maoist party, and serious questions about its praxis. In two letters [one addressed to cadres and another longer letter addressed to the General Secretary of the CPI(Maoist)] and an audio message, Panda has laid out at length his differences with the party. He has claimed that the expulsion was redundant since he had already resigned and formed the Odisha Maowadi Party (OMP). Panda’s future political trajectory is far from clear. But certain aspects of his debate with the Maoist leadership are notable, since they point to many persistent debates within the Maoist party, which recur time and again in one form or another. It is apparent from Panda’s letter to the Maoist GS that there is a considerable rift between leaders hailing from the erstwhile CPI(ML) Party Unity (PU), and those hailing from CPI(ML) PWG and MCC. Panda, himself from the PU stream, alleges that PWG comrades tend to be dominant, and give preference to ex-MCC cadres over the ex-PU cadres. Panda also raises a variety of grievances alleging ‘cultural’ domination over Odisha cadres by the Andhra Odisha Border (AOB) Committee cadres. These allegations tend to descend to a fairly petty level (for instance the question of Margo soap versus Lifebuoy soap!). But Panda...

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