Monday, December 28, 2009

Life beneath an aged dam

Gulf Today

Long-running agitations are part of Kerala's everyday experience. Some agitations succeed, some fail and some linger on with no end in sight.

Among the success stories are the closure of the Birlas' rayon factory at Mavoor, near Kozhikode, and Coca Cola's plant at Plachimada, near Palakkad, which had by polluted air and water and sown death and destruction. These stories remain sources of inspiration for small and vulnerable groups fighting polluting businesses.

On Friday, villagers living under the shadow of the aged Mullaperiyar dam in the Idukki district marked the third anniversary of their agitation demanding decommissioning of the dam. It was on Christmas Day 2006 that the Mullaperiyar Samara Samithi, led by Fr Joy Nirappel and CP Roy, launched the agitation.

The Mullaperiyar dam, commissioned in 1895, was built in pursuance of an agreement of 1886 between the British-ruled Madras Presidency and the princely state of Travancore, for diversion of an agreed quantity of water from the Periyar to irrigate arid regions in Madurai and adjoining districts.

The dam was constructed by Madras on land given on long lease by Travancore. As successor governments, Tamil Nadu now controls the dam and Kerala has ownership of the land.

The estimated life-span of the lime-and-mortar dam was only 50 years. Since 1970 Kerala has maintained that in view of the age of the dam it is unsafe to store water in the reservoir up to a height of 46.3 metres, as originally envisaged, and that the level should not exceed 41.45 metres. It is pointed out that a dam burst could endanger up to four million lives in Kerala.

In 1979, the Central Water Commission (CWC), after inspecting the dam, directed Tamil Nadu to lower the water level to 41.45 metres as a cautionary measure and take steps to strengthen the structure. Tamil Nadu accepted the directive.

In the 1990s, there was a spate of petitions in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala high courts on the Mullaperiyar issue. While Tamil Nadu petitioners asked for a higher water level, Kerala petitioners opposed it. In 1998 all the petitions were transferred to the Supreme Court.

At the court's instance, the Centre initiated talks with the Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments but no solution emerged.

In 2001, a committee headed by the CWC chairman proposed that after taking steps to strengthen the dam the reservoir level might be raised first to 43.28 metres and then to the originally envisaged 46.6 metres.

The Kerala government opposed the proposal. It pointed out that the suggestion was based on a stress analysis study which covered only the baby dam, and not the main dam.

However, in February 2006, the Supreme Court directed Tamil Nadu to carry out the strengthening measures suggested by the CWC and asked Kerala not to obstruct the work.

These developments caused considerable anxiety in Kerala, especially in the context of a 2003 study by the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, which warned that an earthquake could cause tensile cracks in the main dam.

People also entered the battleground. In Kerala, those living under the shadow of a possible catastrophe demanded that their safety to ensured. In Tamil Nadu, workers of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam stopped trucks carrying goods to Kerala, which depends on outside sources for most of its requirements.

The Kerala government responded by enlarging the scope of a law it had enacted in 2003 to create an authority charged with the task of ensuring the safety of all dams in the state. It vested in the authority the power to advise the government to suspend the function of a dam or even decommission it.

The amending measure statutorily determined 41.45 metres as the safe height of the Mullaperiyar dam.

The state also commissioned a survey as the first step towards the construction of a new dam.

The Tamil Nadu government approached the Supreme Court once again. The court constituted a constitution bench to decide the matter. Hearing is set to begin early in 2010.

To the court, the issue is one of dispensing justice. To the state governments, it is a power game.

But to large sections of people in the two states -- to Keralites living under the shadow of the aged dam and to Tamils who depend upon Mullaperiyar waters for agriculture -- the issue is one of life and death, which needs to be resolved in a spirit of goodwill. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 28, 2009.

Monday, December 21, 2009

History repeats itself -- with a small change

Gulf Today

History repeated itself last week -- with a small but significant change.

Eighteen years ago the Kerala police arrested People's Democratic Party chairman Abdul Naser Madani in connection with some allegedly incendiary speeches he had made years ago. He remained in a Coimbatore jail for nearly 10 years thereafter as an undertrial prisoner.

The Tamil Nadu police alleged that he was a party to the conspiracy that resulted in a series of blasts in Coimbatore shortly before the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani arrived there. Since the charge was one of terrorism he was denied bail and parole.

The wanton denial of Madani's human rights generated a certain measure of sympathy for him in all those who did not put narrow political interests above basic human values. At one point the State Assembly unanimously passed a resolution voicing sympathy for him.

The main political formations sent their emissaries to jail to seek his support in the elections. It was the Left Democratic Front government headed by EK Nayanar which arrested Madani and handed him over to Tamil Nadu to stand trial in the bomb blast.

Initially, therefore, he asked his supporters to back the United Democratic Front in the elections. Later he felt that the UDF was not doing enough for him and he switched his support to the LDF.

On his return from jail the LDF gave him a hero's welcome. To ensure his support in the last Lok Sabha elections, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) accepted his suggestion to give the Ponnani seat to an independent candidate. He appeared on the dais with CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

After the elections, the CPI-M central leadership concluded that the camaraderie with the PDP had not done the party any good. However, the state party leadership continued to maintain good relationship with Madani and his party.

Last week the LDF government arrested Madani's wife Soofia in connection with the burning of a Tamil Nadu bus near Kochi when Madani was still in jail. The bus was burnt ostensibly to press the demand for his release.

The case had been under investigation for many years. At the time of the Lok Sabha elections, the media carried many reports implicating Soofia Madani in the case based on statements given to the police by some persons arrested in the case.

After the elections were over, the police questioned Soofia Madani. However, there was no further action. The state government became active following the arrest of Thadiyantavida Naseer of Kannur, whom the intelligence agencies describe as Pakistan-based Laksar-e-Taiba's commander in south India, in Bangladesh.

As Karnataka police obtained his custody for questioning in connection with a terror case in Bangalore, the state police deputed Inspector General of Police (Northern Range) Tomin J Thachankari to Bangalore to join in the interrogation.

Thachankari is said to be close to the CPI-M leadership. UDF leaders alleged that he had been sent to Bangalore to protect the interests of the party. As Karnataka police arrived in the state with Naseer to gather evidence, there was an abrupt change in the official attitude.

Apprehending arrest, Soofia Madani approached the high court for anticipatory bail, which was refused. She was taken into custody immediately.

After Madani's arrest, the Nayanar government had listed it as one of its achievements. After Soofia's arrest Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan claimed it had improved the image of the government.

Will Soofia Madani get a fair trial? Some citizens' groups have voiced concern over the matter. The concern is based on two factors. One is the politicisation of the case. The other is the malicious media coverage based on selective leak by the police. Newspapers have been full of reports about telephone calls Soofia made or received before and after the burning of the bus. Undeterred by the fact that the contents of the conversations are unknown they have been conveying the impression that they are clinching evidence of her complicity in the bus burning conspiracy.

To begin with, Madani had said the PDP would face the matter legally. Now he is said to be planning a fast unto death with his children demanding justice for his wife. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 21, 2009.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dalit Solidarity team on tour of Thiruvananthapuram district

A team of the Dali Solidarity Group is now touring Thiruvananthapuram district to apprise the people of the situation in Varkala and educate them about the conspiracy behind the branding of Dalit Human Rights Movement as a terrorist organization by the local police.

On September 23 police had said DHRM was responsible for the murder of Sivaprasad, an innocent stroller, on that day. Nearly three months later police have still not filed a charge-sheet in court although ot is holding many DHRM in custody

The campaign, which began from Vengannur, birthplace of 20th century Dalit revolutionary Ayyankali, on Thursday, will end at Varkala on Sunday afternoon.

Former Gujarat Director General of Police R.B.Sreekumar IPS (Retd), who played a key role in exposing the role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the anti-Muslim pogrom in the state, has accepted the group’s invitation to attend the concluding function.

Various human rights organizations and movements are represented in the Solidarity Group, of which I am the chairman.

The final report of the fact-finding team which visited Varkala under the auspices of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties is now in the press. It will be released shortly. The team, during its visit to Varkala, had unearthed a lot of information which the media had willfully suppressed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Commission proposes, government disposes

Gulf Today

The fate of a set of proposals sent to the Kerala government by the State Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission illustrates how the political establishment scuttles efforts to address the problems of the weaker sections.

The commission, headed by PK Sivanandan, a former IAS officer, received on Oct.6 a complaint from VV Selvaraj, chairman of Dalit Human Rights Movement, alleging police atrocities against the organisation's supporters in Varkala. It also received a petition signed by 536 Dalit women containing the same allegation.

The commission forwarded the complaints to the Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police and the Secretaries to the Home and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare departments. It received no response from any of them.

Varkala was the scene of a dastardly murder on Sept.23. The victim was a person named Sivaprasad with no known affiliation. Within hours of the murder, the police said DHRM members had killed him to proclaim the organisation's strength.

Police swooped on Dalit colonies and arrested many DHRM workers. However, it has still not filed a charge-sheet in the murder case.

On Oct.21, the commission visited Varkala and gathered evidence directly from all concerned. It went to the Dalit colonies and spoke to both supporters and opponents of DHRM. It found the police version of events suspect and the testimony of DHRM supporters credible.

In the report, approved on Oct.29, the commission specially drew attention to the evidence of two women. One of them was a pregnant woman, who said police had taken her in a jeep and abandoned her on the roadside. The other was the mother of Das, DHRM organising secretary. She said the deputy superintended of police (DySP), Attingal, had taken her son to the police station and tortured him after a magistrate had remanded him to judicial custody.

The commission referred to the high-handed action of the circle inspector in locking the house of an arrested person and walking away with the key, denying his mother and sister access to their dwelling.

The key was returned to the family a day before the commission's visit after the chairman took up the case with the superintendent of police.

During the visit to the Thoduve colony, noting the prevailing tension, the commission's chairman directed the police superintendent to set up a picket there to prevent anti-social elements from taking advantage of the situation.

The report pointed out that if the police had taken adequate security measures, the clash on Oct.27 in which several women were injured could have been averted.

To put an end to the continuing strife, the commission suggested a visit to the colony by a high-powered government team, preferably under the leadership of the Chief Minister. It also proposed the formation of a committee comprising officials and elected representatives at the local level to maintain constant vigil.

The commission asked the government to order an impartial inquiry into the charges against the police, keeping the DySP and the Circle Inspector and Sub-Inspector of Varkala away.

The commission noted that many residents of Thoduve were living in tenements put up on government land. It proposed that they be given preferential treatment under the EMS housing scheme and rehabilitated.

Seven weeks have passed since the report was sent to AK Balan, Minister for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare, with copies to the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and a host of officials. So far there has been no action on the basis of its recommendations.

Inquiries have revealed that Balan, who is himself a Dalit, turned down the proposal for a visit to Thoduve by a team headed by the chief minister, saying it was impractical. He termed the proposal for rehabilitation of the colony residents also as impractical. He effectively killed the proposal for an impartial inquiry into the police conduct by referred it to the DGP.

The government's inaction reflects the ruling establishment's callous attitude towards the problems of the Dalits, who have been victims of discrimination for centuries. Since DHRM has been propagating the view that all established parties have betrayed the Dalits, it has invited the enmity of the entire political spectrum.

A campaign waged by DHRM has weaned away a large number of Dalits away from liquor and drugs. It has endeared the organisation to Dalit women but earned it the wrath of the drug mafia and those in its pay.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 14, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Politicking amid price rise

Gulf Today

Prices of food grains and other essential items have risen sharply in Kerala in recent weeks, imposing a heavy burden on the people. Vegetable prices have gone up by about 30 per cent in six months.

Kerala depends on other states for most of its requirements. Tamil Nadu is the main source of supply of vegetables. Trade sources attribute the spurt in vegetable prices to the damage to crops by rain in that state.

To help the people tide over the situation, the government decided last week to distribute vegetables through the state-owned Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) in the urban centres.

In the five cities, Supplyco will make available kits with two and a half kilograms of vegetables for Rs25. This will involve a state subsidy of Rs7.50 per kit as the cost of procuring the vegetables is estimated at Rs32.50.

In the municipal towns, vegetables will be distributed through fair price shops at 15 to 30 per cent below the market rates. Mobile shops will also be commissioned to sell vegetables.

Will the plan work? Doubts prevail in view of the failure of the scheme the state government launched three months ago to set up a chain of far price hotels.

The scheme envisaged setting up of 140 hotels, 10 each in the 14 districts. They were to supply tea and snacks for Rs3 and meals for Rs12.

Only about 50 persons came forward to run hotels under the scheme. And only18 of them actually opened hotels. Five of the hotels have already closed down.

The scheme failed because the authorities did not do the necessary homework before taking it up. Supplyco could not provide grains to the hotels at low rates, as promised.

The ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front are trying to derive political mileage out of the price rise by laying the blame at the doors of different governments.

The UDF has announced plans to stage protests outside state government offices. The Kerala Congress (Mani), a constituent of the UDF, has already held some demonstrations on its own.

Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan said that if the opposition is sincere it should stage protests outside the offices of the central government, which was responsible for the price rise.

He also claimed that Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had commended the state government's efforts to hold the price line and held it out as a model for others. UDF spokesmen questioned the claim.

Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy put the ball back in the chief minister's court. He asked the state government to make good the LDF promise to commit Rs400 million to hold the price line with the help of 40,000 cooperatives.

Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac used the opportunity to press the LDF government's long-standing demand for restoration of universal coverage under the public distribution system. The UDF countered the demand by pointing out that the state had failed to lift 20,000 tonnes of rice allotted by the centre.

As a state with chronic food shortage, Kerala developed decades ago a public distribution system capable of serving the entire population. After the centre decided to limit subsidy to persons below the poverty line, those above the poverty line stopped using the PDS outlets as they can get good quality rice in the open market at comparable prices.

Many ration shops started diverting unsold grain stocks to rice mills. The state government turned a blind eye to this clandestine trade.

The centre, taking note of the decline in the requirements of the public distribution system, slashed the state's grains quota. The LDF routinely cites this as proof of discrimination against the state.

As the people reel under the impact of the price rise, the state government is promoting crass consumerism under the banner of the Grand Kerala Shopping Festival.

About 5,000 shops spread all over the state are participating in the 45-day shopping festival, which was formally inaugurated on December 1.

According to the government, the festival aims at linking trade and tourism. It claims that the festival will help find markets for the state's traditional products like spices, handlooms, cashew, coir, handmade mirror and bamboo items.

However, the government's partners in the venture are commercial houses with no interest in traditional products. They include a jewellery, a private sector bank, a super bazaar, a home appliance manufacturer, an automobile firm and a soap manufacturer. The bank and the jewellery are the only institutions from the state. -- Gulf Today, December 7, 2009.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A felicitation volume

The Law Department of the University of Kerala has brought out a souvenir to felicitate its former head, Dr. N. K. Jayakumar, who is now Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi.

I released this publication at a function held at the Press Club of Thiruvananthapuram this evening by handing over the first copy to Dr. G. Rajasekharan Nair, Principal, Government Law College.

The Souvenir contains three research articles -- one by Dr. T. R. Subramanya, Dean and Chairman, Department of Post-graduate Studies in Law, College of Law, Bangalore University, another by Dr. A. David Ambrose, Professor, Department of Legal Studies, University of Madras, and the third by C. Sobha Jacob, Lecturer, State Council for Educational Research and Training, Government of Kerala and Dr. K. C. Sunny, Head of the Department of Law, University of Kerala.

It also contains a number of articles on each of the following subjects:
Object and curriculum changes for legal education reforms.
Reforms in teaching methods and examinations.
Objects and methods of PG studies and research in law.
Restructuring management and control of legal education.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The poor find Kerala's educational system wanting

While Kerala’s educational system appears to meet the needs of the mainstream, there is grave deficiency, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, in the facilities available to the poor.

This was the conclusion of the three-member panel which heard the testimony of five persons – four children and one parent – belonging to the marginalized sections, including Adivasis, Dalits and the fishing community.

The panel was appalled to note that Dalit students were being subjected to discrimination.

The panel endorsed three demands of CRY:

1. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, should be amended to cover children aged below six years and in the age group 15-18 years.
2. There must be a school with adequate facilities and qualified teachers within s kilometer of any habitation.
3. The Government of India must allot 10 per cent of the GDP to education.

The panel consisted of Mr. Justice P.K.Shamsuddin, Ms. Rekha Raj and myself.

The public hearing was held at the initiative of CRY (Child Rights and You), a non-profit organization, which is marking its 30th anniversary with a nationwide campaign to spread the message “Do What Is Right—Equal Rights for Every Child.”

One element of the programme is collection of signatures on a charter of demands on Right to Education. The charter will be submitted to decision-makers at the Centre and in the States.

The hearing, held at Jawahar Bal Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram, was intended to create and spread public awareness about the right of every child for equal education.

The testimony

Suresh, 12-year-old Kurumba boy of Thazhethudikki village in Attapadi block of Palakkad district, was studying at the model Residential School in Munnar. He said he had dropped out because the family could not afford the travel expenses. Adivasi children have to hire a jeep, which charges Rs. 3,000 for the trip to Munnar.

Chandran, 32, of Agali, who belongs to the Muduka tribe, said two of his children, studying in Standard 4 and Standard 1 are attending a school five km from the hamlet. They are in the hostel. The nearest anganvadi where he can put his youngest child, Kannan, aged 4, is more than a kilometer away. He wants an anganvadi in the hamlet. Of the 32 families there, at least 10 have children of anganvadi age, he said.

Teresa, who belongs to the fishing community, is studying in Standard 7 in a Government school at Valiyathura. She complained of lack of drinking water, poor sanitation, inadequacy of teachers and corporal punishment.

Haritha, studying in Standard 8 at a school in tsunami-hit Alappad area of Alappuzha district, said while Rs 50 lakhs was needed to rebuild the school the authorities had spent only Rs 5 lakhs. On the second anniversary of the tsunami the Chief Minister said the local UP school would be upgraded to high school but the necessary infrastructure or teachers were not there.

Albin, 13, a Dalit belonging to Sooranad in Kollam district, who is attending an aided school, said Dalit students were asked to clean the school toilets.

CRY website:
CRY on Facebook:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Varkala: Reception outside Secretariat for Dalits released on bail

Ten young men from different Dalit colonies of Varkala, who were released from the Poojappura jail today, following grant of bail by a court, were given a rousing reception by the Dalit Aikyadardya Samiti outside the Secretariat.

They were arrested when the police swooped on the colonies in the wake of the murder of Sivaprasad, a morning walker, on September 23.

Police have alleged that the murder was committed by members of the Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM) to demonstrate the organization’s strength.

The youths, who came out of prison today, are not among the accused in the murder case. However, the police have registered cases against them for some petty crimes.

Speakers at the reception said the police had falsely implicated the youths, who are DHRM activists, to break up the organization.

A number of Dalits, mostly women, whp came to the city from Varkala, waited outside the Secretariat since morning to greet the released youths. It was only in the afternoon that they could come out of the prison after completing all formalities.

The young men said they were subjected to torture while in custody.
From the Secretariat they went to the Government General Hospital seeking medical attention.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kerala fails to deliver


For the third successive year, Kerala is falling behind in Plan spending and the state government is seeking to cover up its failure with specious arguments.

The state has had a poor record in financial discipline for a long time. Officials generally waste the early part of the financial year and go on a spending spree at the fag end to use up as much of the sanctioned money as possible.

After the state government devolved powers on local self-government institutions, the situation deteriorated. These institutions have to spend 40 per cent of the annual budget. They have not measured up to the task.

One reason for the hectic last-minute activity has been the panchayats' inability to begin work on schemes early in the year because of delay in obtaining governmental sanctions.

To overcome this problem, the government permitted spillover of a part of the sanctioned expenditure into the next financial year. This encouraged officials to remain lax.

Last year the finance minister decided to prevent bunching of Plan expenditure at the close of the year as it affected the quality of spending and created difficulties to the government by raising the demand for funds in the last months.

Accordingly the government directed all departments and local self-government institutions to spend at least 10 per cent of the Plan funds in the first quarter (April to June) and to raise the expenditure progressively to 30 per cent by the end of the second quarter (July-September) and 60 per cent by the end of the third quarter (October-December), leaving 40 per cent to be spent in the last quarter (January-March). .

The administrative departments and their heads were requested to prepare action plans sufficiently in advance, specifying various activities such as formulation of schemes, issue of sanctions and monitoring of output, so as to achieve these expenditure targets.

The strategy did not succeed. At the end of the year, only about half of the Plan allocation of Rs77 billion had been spent.

The government thought of salvaging the situation by resorting to the old practice of allowing carry-over of 40 per cent of the unspent money to the next financial year. Before it could pass the necessary orders, the Election Commission announced the schedule for the Lok Sabha poll. The model code of conduct came in the way of the contemplated action.

In June this year, the Finance Department reissued the circular, modifying the spending schedule slightly. While retaining the expenditure target of 10 per cent for the first quarter, it fixed a uniform target of 30 per cent for each of the remaining quarters.

Last week Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan revealed that Plan expenditure till the end of September this year was only a little over 20 per cent, as against the target of 40 per cent. He attributed the shortfall in expenditure to the restrictions on account of the three Assembly by-elections.

The argument that elections come in the way of Plan spending is disingenuous. It is being advanced to cover up the government's failure to prepare action plans in time.

The model code of conduct, which comes into force as soon as the Election Commission announces the poll schedule, only forbids start of work on a scheme. Work which has started can go on. The model code is in operation for only about two months. In the case of the Lok Sabha elections, it came into force only in the last month of the financial year. In the case of the Assembly by-elections, the restrictions were in force only for five weeks.

An efficient administration can easily make up the loss by speeding up work when the electoral process is over. No other state has pleaded inability to fulfil Plan targets because of elections.

Panchayat, Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the state now fall in different years. If elections are a major hindrance it will be impossible to achieve the targets in three out of the five years of the Plan period.

For a state experiencing paucity of funds, Kerala's laxity in financial matters is appalling. According to media reports, the state has so far spent only about Rs7 billion out of Rs14.33 billion sanctioned by the Centre under the tsunami relief programme and about Rs3.7 billion out of Rs 7.7 billion granted to provide relief to farmers in distress. –Gulf Today, November 23, 2009.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Investigative journalist re-visits Varkala – this time to protest

Tehelka’s Editor-at-Large Ajit Sahi was the first – and so far the only -- media person to visit Varkala and provide a first-hand account of the activities of the Dalit Human Rights Movement, which the local police has accused of complicity in a murder.

While the entire Kerala media, including local editions of The Hindu and New Indian Express of Chennai, have been lapping up police handouts about DHRM’s alleged links with terrorism, Ajit Sahi had made a quick visit to the state in October and gathered information at first hand and presented it to his readers. (His report, which appeared in Tehelka’s edition dated October 24, 2009, can be read here: “Ambedkar’s Lost Boys? A Dalit organization is accused of terrorist links.”)

Sahi, who has been crisscrossing the country and bringing to light material which the mainstream media suppresses, was back in Varkala on Tuesday, this time to raise his voice against the atrocities against Dalits there.
He came at the invitation of the Solidarity Youth Front and delivered the keynote address at the protest meeting organized by it.

Sahi mentioned how a brief report, which he saw on the Internet, had persuaded him to fly from New Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram to investigate police allegations about the terrorist links of Dalit Human Rights Movement.

Drawing from his experience as an investigative journalist, he spoke of the gross human rights violations taking place in different parts of the country in the name of suppressing terrorism. He pointed out that the victims of such atrocities were minorities and marginalized sections like Dalits and Adivasis.

With my knowledge of the working of the Malayalam media, I am not at all surprised that they are not interested in going beyond what the police has to say on the Varkala developments. The two fronts which alternate in power in the state appear to have reached a consensus that DHRM, which has been asking Dalits to stop being chattel of the mainline political parties, deserves no mercy.

In Kerala, all journalistic curiosity ends when the two fronts are on the same side. From the Silent Valley campaign to the ISRO espionage case, there are many issues on which the local media became a willing accomplice of the Establishment. Now the local editions of the Chennai newspapers also have joined this consortium. (I am deliberately avoiding the much abused term ‘syndicate’).

Thirty years ago, when I was working in Chennai as regional manager of United News of India, a massive police hunt was in North Arcot and Salem districts of Tamil Nadu where Naxalites were active. The police regularly reported killing of Naxalites in encounters, and information reaching Chennai indicated that some of them were probably fake encounters. The Chennai newspapers which have wide network of correspondents were silent on the subject.

Three of us, S. Rajappa of The Statesman, V.G.Prasada Rao of the Times of India and I, decided to go to the spot. Information we gathered confirmed that there had been fake encounters. On our return to Chennai, we filed reports to that effect.

The next day almost the entire country knew of the fake encounters—readers of The Statesman and the Times of India from the reports of their special correspondents and readers of other newspapers from the UNI report. I said “almost” because one big newspaper had no report on the subject. That newspaper was The Hindu. It did not carry the UNI report presumably because it was not willing to trust a news agency on a sensitive subject like fake encounters. However, two weeks later it made up by carrying long reports from its own correspondents in Salem and Vellore, which said there had been fake encounters.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ruling front under the shadow of poll defeats

Gulf Today

The ruling Left Democratic Front's defeat in the three Assembly by-elections in Kerala was not entirely unexpected but the failure of the zealous bid by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to snatch at least one seat has left the rank and file demoralised.

The by-elections were necessitated by the resignation of three Congress legislators following their election to the Lok Sabha this year.

The CPI-M attached great importance to the by-elections. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who was demoted from the Politburo as a disciplinary measure, was made the chief campaigner to benefit from the popular support which he still enjoys.

Both Achuthanandan and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan declared that the by-election results would be a verdict on the LDF government. It was an act of political daredevilry, considering that the seats were held by the Congress.

Kannur district is a CPI-M fortress. As the home district of Pinarayi Vijayan and his chief lieutenants it now has greater clout than before. However, Kannur city has been out of its hands since long. The Congress flung a direct challenge to the CPI-M by fielding AP Abdullakutty, whom it had expelled, there.

The CPI-M has backed several Congress defectors in the past but this was the first time an ex-Marxist was fighting an election on the Congress ticket. It deputed MV Jayarajan, a close aide of Pinarayi Vijayan, to take on Abdullakutty.

Determined to snatch Kannur at any cost, the CPI-M enrolled a large number of its supporters from neighbouring areas as voters in that constituency in advance of the by-election. Some of them gave buildings under the party's control as place of residence. Some others used non-existent addresses.

A quick review of the electoral rolls ordered by the Election Commission, at the instance of the Congress, resulted in the removal of a few thousand fake voters.

Taking note of the partisanship of sections of state government employees, the Commission drafted a large number of Central government officials and Central police personnel for election duty in the state.

CPI-M leaders raised a ruckus alleging the Election Commission had sent the army at the behest of the Congress. The chief minister drew loud applause by declaring at public meetings that the state government would confine the troops to the barracks. However, the Commission saw to it that Central police personnel were deployed inside polling stations.

Apparently the CPI-M strategy was to enroll enough new voters in Kannur to neutralise the Congress's winning margin of 8,613 in 2006. But the Congress won the seat by an increased margin of 12,043 votes.

At Ernakulam, the CPI-M candidate, PN Sinulal, was defeated by Dominic Presentation of the Congress by a margin of 8,620 votes. In 2006 the Congress had won by a margin of only 5,800 votes.

The only LDF candidate to buck the trend was G Krishna Prasad of the CPI, who, while losing to AA Shukoor at Alappuzha, reduced the Congress party's winning margin from 16,933 in 2006 to 4,745 this time.

The CPI's performance is noteworthy as it did not have the support of Abdul Naser Mahdani's People's Democratic Party, which had backed the CPI-M at Kannur and Ernakulam.

As soon as the results became known, the CPI-M said it had fared better than in 2006. The claim was based on a small increase in the number of votes polled by its candidates in Kannur and Ernakulam.

It was a ludicrous claim. The small increase has to be seen in the context of the growth of the electorate and the increased polling percentage. Actually the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party had made greater gains than the CPI-M.

Subsequently the party modified the claim slightly. It said the voting figures showed the party still retained the popular support it had when it was swept to power in 2006.

The CPI-M had made inroads in Kannur and Ernakulam in the past by fielding candidates belonging to minority communities. It tried a new tack this time, presumably in the light of the experience of the Lok Sabha elections. But it does not seem to have helped.

Some observers believe the CPI's improved performance in Alappuzha was the result of a pro-LDF swing by the Nair Service Society, which has been critical of the Congress for allegedly neglecting the Nair community's interests.--Gulf Today, November 16, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Projects ignore people's wish

Gulf Today

With only one and a half years left to complete its term, Kerala's Left Democratic Front government is under pressure to go ahead with controversial projects with a view to improving its image.

Non-governmental organisations which have objected to certain projects on the ground that they will disturb the state's delicate ecological balance are concerned over the government's attempt to implement them without even fulfilling statutory obligations.

Recently the state committee of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the government, directed the government to grant speedy clearance to projects which have been awaiting sanction since long.

The directive was intended to overcome the resistance of Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who has frustrated Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem's plans to sanction the controversial projects.

The Smart City at Kochi and the Vizhinjam deep-sea port near Thiruvananthapuram, two prestigious projects which were on the anvil when the LDF took office are still to take off.

On the eve of its first anniversary the LDF government signed an agreement with the Dubai Internet City authorities for setting up Smart City. Its terms were more favourable than those negotiated by the previous United Democratic Front government.

Work on the project has been held up by a dispute between the state government and the Dubai authorities over registration of land allotted for it. The delay has resulted in dissipation of the enormous amount of goodwill that had accrued to the LDF as a result of the Smart City agreement.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan indicated recently that the government is willing to go in for a new partner. This has cast doubts on the future of the project.

The global tender launched for the Vizhinjam project led to protracted legal proceedings. Since no collaborator is in sight at present, the LDF government may not be able to carry the project forward in the limited time at its disposal.

Among the projects caught up in the tussle within the CPI-M between Achuthanandan and state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan is one promoted by Sobha Developers, a real estate group with interests outside Kerala.

In August 2007 the company had informed stock exchanges that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government to set up Sobha Hitech City on 400 acres of land with an investment of Rs50 billion.

The project envisages the construction of a township with 38 million square feet of accommodation in the form of commercial space with hospitality, amusement and entertainment facilities and residential complexes. It will include a knowledge park spread over seven million sq ft and a marina of international standards.

Also caught up in controversy is the real estate group Salarpuria's proposal to set up another knowledge city.

Achuthanandan's opposition to these projects stems from his assessment that these are real estate projects, and not industrial projects. After the CPI-M leadership neutralised his opposition, Revenue Minister KP Rajendran and Forest Minister Benoy Viswam, both of the CPI, have come forward with objections.

Like the CPI-M leadership, the state CPI leadership has thrown its weight behind these projects. Following this, Rajendran and Benoy Viswam have sought the intervention of the party's national leadership.

The site identified by Sobha and Salarpuria for their projects are the small islands of Valanthakad and Thanthonnithuruth. These islands are ecologically important as they have a rich treasure of mangroves.

The promoters have already acquired much of the land in the islands either directly or through agents. They probably reckoned that since only a few families live there it may not be difficult to obtain vacant possession. However, when they started destroying the mangroves, people came forward to protest.

Critics have alleged that the industries minister is trying to give clearance to the controversial projects through the single-window system, short-circuiting the process of obtaining sanction under various laws.

The single-window law, as it now stands, applies only to manufacturing industries. The industries minister wants to amend it to cover the service sector also.

Another step the government has taken under party pressure to help real estate interests relates to grant of permission to take sand from river beds, relaxing the rules which were framed in the wake of study reports which pointed to the damage caused by unregulated sand mining.

Builders have been complaining that the high price of sand, resulting from shortage, was hampering construction activity. The CPI-M set the stage for relaxation of rules by organising a series of demonstrations under the auspices of trade unions. One of the demonstrations was inaugurated by the party state secretary himself.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 9, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

‘Love Jihad’ reports point to polarisation in society


An allegation that a campaign is on to lure young women into romance with a view to converting them to Islam has brought various Hindu and Christian organisations in Kerala on a common platform.

The first to take up cudgels against the campaign, dubbed Love Jihad by the media, was Vellappalli Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharmaparipalana Yogam, an organisation of the Ezhava community.

On Saturday PK Narayana Panicker, general secretary of the Nair Service Society, said it was the government’s duty to check Love Jihad. If it failed to act, the people would take up the task, he added.

The NSS, which champions the cause of the ‘forward’ Nair community, and the Yogam, which speaks in the name of the ‘backward’ Ezhava community, are Kerala’s largest caste formations.

Some Christian organisations have also come out against Love Jihad. The powerful Catholic Church has alerted parents and teachers against attempts to convert young faithful through marriage.

What could have been dismissed as media sensation acquired a serious dimension when the Kerala high court asked the state police chief to file an affidavit stating whether an outfit called Love Jihad was trying to entrap and convert young women.

The allegation about conversion through romance originated a year ago. The first to talk about it was the Maharashtra-based Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), which claims to be a global platform of Hindus. The HJS was promoted in 2002 by the Sanatan Sansta, founded 12 years earlier.

Some members of Sanatan Sansta are now in custody in connection with the blasts that occurred in Goa on Diwali eve this year.

In a report from Sambhajinagar, Maharashtra, HJS said in December 2008 that an arrested Muslim youth had told the police that there was an “ordinance” asking young men to charm Hindu girls and convert them to Islam. Each person volunteering for such service was paid Rs 200 a day, it added.

The HJS quoted an unnamed Marathwada daily as saying similar “ordinances” had been issued in Parbhani, Nanded, Beed and Latur as well.

In the report, posted at the organisation’s website, the editor made two interpolations reeking with communal venom. In one of them he asks Hindus to decide whether or not “to keep contact with Muslims any more”.

The term Love Jihad probably appeared in print for the first time when a Malayalam daily reported that an organisation by that name was trapping non-Muslim girls in a web of love and converting them.

It claimed Jihadi Romeos had converted more than 4,000 women in six months. It raised their compensation package from a daily wage of Rs 200 to a lump sum grant of Rs 100,000.

The Haindava Keralam website picked up the story. It pointed out that Kerala Kaumudi, which published the report, is a secular daily.

Love Jihad caught headlines nationally when the Kerala and Karnataka high courts, while hearing two cases, referred to it. The Kerala court asked the Central and state governments to investigate all reported Love Jihad marriages of the past three years. .

Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose’s affidavit in response to the high court’s directive did not help clarify the situation. He said there was no evidence of an organisation called Love Jihad but there were unconfirmed reports about some groups actively working among youths encouraging conversions feigning love.

The Bharatiya Janata Party quickly joined the campaign against Love Jihad. The Viswa Hindu Parishad expressed readiness to join hands with the Church in the fight against it. ,

Initially the state’s major parties said nothing on the subject for fear of offending one religious group or another. The silence of the secular forces, especially the Left, invited taunts.

Last week the Congress and the Democratic Youth Federation of India, an affiliate of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, publicly rejected the Love Jihad theory for the first time.

Young people in Kerala generally find partners from their own castes and religions through marriages arranged by the family. Matrimonial advertisements appearing in newspapers bear this out.

When individuals break with this tradition, usually there is opposition from their families and sometimes the bride’s parents seek the intervention of the police or the courts. Elevation of such complaints from the level of individual or family disputes to that of caste and religious disputes points to growing polarisation in the society.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 2, 2009.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cucumber City Bulletin/October 29, 2009

In today’s editions, the leading newspapers of Kerala made no mention of the discharge of three injured Dalit women from the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital yesterday under pressure from the police and the Shiv Sena.

The newspapers had reported in yesterday’s editions that seven women were admitted to various hospitals after a sword attack in Thoduve colony of Varkala the previous night.

The three women whom the Shiv Sena took out of the Medical College Hospital and dumped in Thoduve colony last night were able to move out this morning to seek treatment. They are now in a hospital at Vamanapuram.

When they showed the discharge certificate issued at Thiruvananthapuram, the doctor at Vamanapuram asked why they had refused treatment at the Medical College hospital which was better equipped.

They told him that they were discharged forcibly from the Medical College Hospital. He informed them that the certificate says they were discharged as they did not want to be treated there.

Malayala Manorama, in a report from Thiruvananthapuram, said the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes Coordination Committee demanded a comprehensive inquiry into the continuing violence in the Dalit colonies after the recent murders in Varkala.

The meeting, presided over by P. K. Sukumaran, demanded tracing of the anti-social elements responsible for stripping and assaulting two innocent Dalit women after B. R. P. Bhaskar’s visit to Thoduve colony and for the sword attack on about eight women who had participated in the dharna organized by the Dalit Janadhipathya Munnani outside the Varkala police station.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shiv Sena spirits away injured Dalit women from Medical College Hospital

Under pressure from police and Shiv Sena, Thiruvananthapuram Medical College authorities today discharged three of the four women who were brought there with injuries following last night’s attack on Dalit residents of Thoduve colony in Varkala.

According to reports published this morning, eight Dalit women were injured in the attack by Shiv Sena men. The police and the media, following the practice of the past five weeks, scrupulously kept the Shiv Sena's name out of the reports.

According to the police story, the attack in which swords were used, was a clash between two groups over drawing water from the spring.

From early today the Medical Collehe Hospital came under pressure from the police to send out the four women who were admitted there, apparently to lighten the gravity of the case that has been registered. The pressure became intense after Shiv Sena men converged on the hospital.

Initially the doctors resisted the pressure but eventually they buckled. They said one woman was not in a fit condition to be moved but agreed to discharge the others.

The Shiv Sena men took the women away in a hired vehicle. They told friends and relatives of the injured that they would be admitted to the Chirayinkeezh hospital. This was a matter of some relief inasmuch as it meant that they would not go without treatment. However it turned out to be a false hope. Instead of taking the women to the taluk hospital, the Shiv Sena men dumped them in their Thoduve colony homes.

When the women tried to leave for the hospital on their own late in the evening, the police, who have been posted in the colony after yesterday’s attack, stopped them, saying it was unsafe for them to go out of the colony. They are now hoping to be able to move out in the morning.

This report is based on information conveyed by Dalits of Thoduve as well as human rights defenders who are in touch with them. Bits of information were posted in network sites as and when received.

Concerned over Varkala developments?

Some Facebook friends and Twitter followers, responding to my accounts of Varkala developments, have voiced their concern on those social networks.

I wish to inform them that voicing their concern in these forums may not serve any useful purpose since those who have the power to curb the atrocities are not among our friends in these networks. They must convey their concern to those who the power to act You may take your pick from the following:

The Chief Minister: fax 91-471-2333489

The Home Minister: fax 91-471-2327016

The Director General of Police:

CPI-M State Secretary:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dalits stage peaceful, orderly protest outside Varkala police station

About 1,000 Dalits, mostly women, staged a dharna outside the Varkala police station this afternoon to protest against the police-Shiv Sena assault on Dalit colonies.

The dharna was under the auspices of an umbrella organization called Dalit Janaadhipathya Aikyamunnani (Dalit Democratic United Front).

The protestors marched through the main road, raising slogans, before converging in front of the police station. Both the march and the dharna were peaceful and orderly.

The preponderance of women in the demonstration is easily explained. The Dalit men are hiding fearing arrest and torture.

A notice distributed by Aikyamunnani says, “Sivaprasad, an ordinary person, was killed while on a morning walk in Varkala. Whoever committed this inhuman murder, democratic society has to condemn it. Also, the culprits must be brought before the law and punished. But following the murder the leaders and workers of Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM) have been jailed. They have even been refused bail. Besides, under cover of the Varkala incident, the entire Dalit community is being portrayed as terrorists. They have even coined a term Dalit Terrorism. What are the facts that prompt them to do this? It is nothing else. All across Kerala today the message is spreading that Dalits are no longer willing to drink the bitter juice of neglect and remain as slaves. The stamp of terrorism is put on Dalits in order to nip these awakenings in the bud. The Savarna strategy of mobilizing the entire society against Dalits is also behind it. The ruling establishment had earlier fabricated the false equation Muslim equals Terrorism. Today, through the Varkala incident, it is being extended to the Dalits.”

I inaugurated the dharna. PUCL state secretary Advocate P. A. Pauran and several Dalit leaders addressed the meeting. Pauran and I took the opportunity to reassure the Dalits that in the state and the country there is a civil society which understands their problem and is with them in their struggle for equality and equal opportunity.

During the weekend the Aikyamunnani had put up posters announcing the dharna. The posters had said I would be inaugurating the dharna. This provoked the Shiv Sena to launch a poster campaign of its own. Its posters called for investigation of my links with “NDF extremists”, the sources of my finances and the presence of “an ISI spy” during my visit to Dalit colonies as a member of a fact-finding team on October 18. I was for ignoring the Shiv Sena’s silly campaign but some young activists thought the vicious campaign needed to be countered. It was their effort that resulted in a joint statement by some prominent persons deploring the campaign of communal fascists.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Political contamination of state service is showing

Gulf Today

TWO controversies that rocked Kerala last week provide fresh evidence of political contamination of the official machinery, affecting its ability to discharge its functions impartially.

One controversy related to the enrolment of bogus voters in advance of the Assembly by-elections scheduled for Nov.7. The other related to the inclusion of a question that betrays political bias of teachers.

The first controversy grew into a messy affair before the Election Commission of India intervened and provided partial relief. The possibility of its erupting again after the polling cannot be ruled out.

The second controversy ended quickly with Education Minister MA Baby graciously acknowledging the mistake.

The Assembly by-elections in Kannur, Ernakulam and Alappuzha were necessitated by the election of their representatives to the Lok Sabha. All the three seats were held by the Congress, which heads the opposition United Democratic Front.

The outcome of the by-elections will not affect the stability of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, which has a comfortable majority in the Assembly. However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the coalition, is eager to grab at least one seat to boost its sagging image.

The party considers Kannur its best bet. Although Kannur town has been out of its hands for more than three decades, Kannur district is its stronghold. It also happens to be the home district of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

The Congress's decision to put up AP Abdullakutty, a former CPI-M member of the Lok Sabha, as its candidate in Kannur was a taunt which the party could not ignore. It fielded MV Jayarajan, a close lieutenant of Pinarayi Vijayan and architect of many successful electoral strategies.

K. Sudhakaran had won the seat in 2006 by a margin of 8,376 votes over his CPI-M rival KP Sahadevan. The Congress party alleged that the CPI-M had enrolled about 10,000 new voters with the help of pliant officials to offset its winning margin. It also charged that several hundred Congress voters had been dropped from the electoral rolls.

The CPI-M claimed it was the Congress which was guilty of enrolling bogus voters. It said the party, sensing defeat, was levelling false charges.

Media reports highlighted several instances of irregular enrolment. They pointed out that some of the addresses given by the new voters were non-existent.

The CPI-M may not be the only party which resorted to illegal enrolment but its involvement is clear from the fact that scores of newly registered voters are shown as living in premises under its control.

The revised rolls published last Wednesday shows an increase of 9,357 in the electorate. According to the electoral rolls officer, a total of 12,631 applications had been received.

The Congress took its complaints against the revised voters list to the Election Commission. The party asked that District Collector VK Balakrishnan, who was acting in collusion with the CPI-M, be removed.

The Commission directed the state government to replace the Collector but rejected the Congress demand that the by-election be postponed or held on the basis of the earlier voters' list.

The Commission's inability to ensure the elimination of all ineligible voters points to its limitations in the context of widespread political contamination of the official machinery.

The controversial question set for the half-yearly higher secondary examination cited a newspaper report on the death of Mercy Ravi, wife of Union Minister Vayalar Ravi, as an instance of the media giving undue importance to rich and influential persons and asked the students to write protest letters to the editor against the excessive coverage.

A former legislator and nationAl level leader of the Mahila Congress and the Indian National Trade Union Congress, Mercy Ravi was a public figure in her own right.

When the LDF is in power the task of setting question papers is entrusted to the pro-CPI-M Kerala State Teachers Association.

After the minister conceded that the question was inappropriate, KSTA general secretary C. Usman claimed the organisation was not aware of the contents of the question papers, prepared by the academic councils constituted by it.

Over the last decade several instances of government employees holding membership of the CPI-M in violation of the service rules have come to light.
The posts they occupy range from those of college professors and executive engineers to those of policemen.

It is almost certain that other political parties, too, have attracted government employees through service organisations under their control.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Varkala: a month later, political links are coming in the open

Responding to a YouTube video on the atrocities committed against Dalits in Varkala in the wake of a murder, a young Facebook friend asked, “but, why did they kill him?”

Sivaprasad, a senior citizen with no known political affiliation, was killed while on a stroll on the morning of September 23, 2009. The local police quickly pinned the crime on Dalit Human Rights Movement, an organization which was working among Dalits in the state for a few years but had attracted little public attention. It said DHRM had committed the murder to proclaim its strength.

The Facebook friend’s question did not surprise me. It is a question decent human beings have been asking one another since the media reported the police theory and embellished it with insinuations of Dalit extremism. After I visited Varkala as a member of a fact-finding team and wrote in my Malayalam blog about facts suppressed by the police and the media, a veteran journalist and good friend asked me the same question, “but, why did they kill him?”

Another senior journalist and friend, commenting on the collusion between the police and Shiv Sena, to which I had referred in the blog post, said it was difficult to believe that all media would knowingly spread the same lie. In response, I reminded him that all media had joined hands to spread the same lie in the ISRO espeionage case. The primary source for that lie, too, was the police, which was ably assisted by two Central intelligence agencies.

Another friend put his finger right on the middle class mind. “We may have differences about the perpetrators of the crime, the plotters, abettors, police, politicians and media. But what about the victim -- that middle class malayali, guilty of enjoying the leisure of a morning walk? All the inquiries should start from him --because he is you and me.”

The real question, indeed, is how safe are you and me amidst plotters, abettors, police, politicians and pliant media persons.

One FB friend found my reference to collusion between police and Shiv Sena not very convincing. He asked, “Do you mean there was not one single cop available to reveal the foul-play or the nexus? Do you mean all the cops in this state are hopeless? I am sorry sir, … I have seen enough number of cops with strong spine, regardless of innumerable punishment transfers.”

I presume this good friend believes Varghese was not killed in the Wayanad forest, Rajan was not tortured to death in the Kakkayam camp and Udayakumar did not die in the Fort police station, because no cop with strong spine revealed the foul play.

I am not overlooking Ramachandran Nair, the cop who spilled the beans about the fake encounter in Wayanad. He did confess to having pulled the trigger on Varghese. That was years after the event. He is no more. A case registered on the basis of his confession is still pending, with the prosecutors apparently waiting for the surviving accused also to die so that they can close the case and live happily ever after.

This FB friend voiced two other criticisms about the video, which was taken by a member of the fact-finding team. One is that there are no men in sight. The other is that the women refer to RSS, not Shiv Sena. The answer is simple. No men are in the video because they are all in police custody or hiding to avoid arrest and torture. The women mention RSS because they lack the sophistication needed to distinguish between different elements of Hindutva.

One month after the murder, political interests which were not visible until now have started surfacing. What has prompted them to come out is the intervention of the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a body which has a mandate to look into the problems of Dalits and Adivasis.

On Wednesday, October 21, the Commission’s Chairman, Dr. P. K. Sivanandan, went to Varkala with some other members to study the situation in the Dalit colonies. They visited the Thoduve colony and the Ambedkar colony at Vadasserikonam and took evidence from a number of Dalits.

The next day, the Chairman of the Varkala Municipality, K. R. Biju, in a statement, accused Dr. Sivanandan of adopting a stance helpful to murderers. He said Dr. Sivanandan had visited the house of the accused and taken evidence in a partisan manner which was not consistent with the Chairman’s status. The other members of the Commission did not act in the same manner, he added.

Biju, who is an advocate, has either a poor understanding of the law and the mandate of the SC/ST Commission or his partisanship overruns his legal knowledge. The Commission is charged with the task of bettering the lot of Dalits and Adivasis. It visited Varkala not to investigate the murder but to look into complaints of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis. Registration of a murder case against Dalits does not cut out the Commission’s jurisdiction over Dalit affairs.

Biju’s attempt to put the Chairman and members of the Commission on different planes is significant. The Chairman is a former IAS officer. The members' posts are political sinecures.

The State Committee of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Aikyavedi (united front), in a statement issued in Thiruvananthapuram, demanded the Dr. Sivanandan's removal from the chairmanship of the Commission. It alleged that he had visited the houses of murder case accused. It further accused him of scolding police officers in the presence of criminals.

The major media institutions did not cover the Commission’s visit to Varkala, although they had prior knowledge about it. That, however, did not inhibit them from playing up the statements critical of the Commission’s visit. There was nothing to indicate that they had sought the Commission’s response to the allegations.

Incidentally, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi which have consistently ignored the police’s month-long Dalit hunt, found time to pursue the appearance of mysterious white drawings at the site of Sivaprasad’s cremation. The latest police theory is that it is the work of a person of unsound mind.

The statements against the Commission’s visit and the personal attack on the Chairman reveal the convergence of various vested interests in Varkala. The Municipal Chairman belongs to the CPI-M. The SC ST Aikyavedi is an outfit of the Hindutva camp. Their statements bear out their common interest in protecting the police which has let loose a reign of terror in the Dalit colonies.

Dr. P. K.Sivanandan, who is a trained engineer, holds a Master’s degree from the University of Sussex, M. Phil from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Political riff-raff may be forgiven for not being able to appreciate his credentials.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kerala's lukewarm approach towards rural employment scheme

Gulf Today

KERALA's political establishment, particularly the Left, has demonstrated considerable skill in adapting various centrally-funded projects to local needs, often giving them an indigenous look and enhancing their usefulness.

The Kudumbashree project is an example of such adaptation. It was conceived by the Centre as a micro-finance venture to help the weaker sections, especially women, and organised on self-help basis with institutional support from commercial banks.

Kerala transformed it into a multifaceted poverty alleviation programme, wider in scope than the Self-Help Group (SHG) schemes in other states.

With many Kudumbashree units in the state coming under the sway of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which dominates the panchayat scene, the Congress party launched an SHG network of its own, styled as Janashree, early this year. Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac recently voiced the state government's annoyance at the Centre's support to Janashree as a micro-finance venture.

Strangely, the state government has not evinced due interest in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which has emerged as the country's main poverty alleviation programme, although the CPI-M constantly reminds the public that the Centre had taken it up under pressure from the Left while it was supporting the United Progressive Alliance government from outside.

Launched in February 2006, NREGA initially covered only Palakkad and Wayanad districts in the state. Both the districts had witnessed deep agrarian distress. Indebtedness had driven a large number of farmers in Wayanad to suicide.

Palakkad is important as it accounts for the bulk of the areas still under paddy in the state.

Officials said 616,309 rural households in the two districts, including 57,810 below- poverty-line (BPL) families were eligible for assistance under the scheme. As many as 2,27,057 persons sought registration and 2,25,615 of them were given job cards.

Under NREGA, every eligible person is entitled to 100 days of work in the year at wages fixed by the government.

In October 2006 the Centre called for information from the states on employment provided under the scheme. Kerala did not reply.
Meghalaya was the only other state which defaulted.

The Centre had released Rs 217.9 million to the state by that time. As the government failed to provide the relevant figures, it was not known how much money was actually spent and how many families had benefited.

Kerala faces certain difficulties in the implementation of the scheme. One stems from the different yardsticks adopted by the Central and state governments to identify BPL families. Another arises from the fact that the wages fixed by the Centre are far below the minimum wages prevailing in the state.

Early assessment of the progress of the scheme showed that in several of the 200 districts across the country, where it was introduced in the first instance, its implementation was marked by corruption and leakages. There is room to suspect that Kerala withheld data to hide the shortcomings in its implementation.

NREGA now applies throughout the country. Data released by the Centre indicates that last year members of 3,57,252 families in the state were provided 8,141,429 person-days of employment under NREGA. The expenditure incurred was Rs764.1 million.

The state government's lackadaisical approach to the scheme is borne out by its failure to make effective use of the funds allocated by the Centre. It did not spend even one-third of the sum of Rs2.4 billion made available by the Centre under the scheme.

Figures released last month show that members of about 396,000.families have been provided 6.41 million person-days of employment so far this year. The amount spent was Rs987 million. This indicates that this year, too, much of the funds may remain unspent.

A harsh fact emerging from the data is that employment provided under NREGA falls far short of the promised 100 days of work in a year.

The data reveals the extent of feminisation of poverty in Kerala, especially at the bottom of the social heirarchy. Women constituted 85 per cent of the NREGA beneficiaries. In no other state did women form such a large proportion of the beneficiaries.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, who constitute 10 per cent and one per cent respectively of the state's population, accounted for 21 per cent and seven per cent respectively of the beneficiaries.

At the instance of the Centre, the state government is now planning a social audit of the scheme and considering the appointment of an ombudsman to ensure transparency. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 18, 2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Higher women's quota in local bodies may benefit CPI-M

Gulf Today

THE Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which has enjoyed an edge over the other political parties in the elections to local bodies since long, is well set to improve its position by reaping the benefit of increased representation for women.

Women have had one-third reservation in local bodies throughout India under the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution, passed in 1993. President Pratibha Patil, in her address to parliament in June, announced the Central government plans to raise women's quota in local bodies to 50 per cent.

Even before the Centre initiated legislation for the purpose, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), headed by the CPI-M, directed the Kerala government to set the ball rolling.

The state assembly, at a special session last month, enacted legislation providing for 50 per cent reservation for women not only in the local bodies but also in the elective posts under them.

Currently there are more than 20,000 elected representatives in the three levels of local self-government in the state, about 7,000 of them women. The number of women members will go up by about 4,000 when elections are held next year.

In the elections of 2005, the LDF secured control of more than 700 out of 981 gram panchayats, 118 out of 152 block panchayats, 11 out of 14 district panchayats, 34 out of 52 municipalities and all of five city corporations. The CPI-M dominated at all levels.

The number of LDF-controlled went up from about 540 in 2005 to more than 700 mainly because the CPI-M bagged a number of reserved seats by fielding young, educated women, who had come close to the party through its student, youth and women's affiliates.

Thanks to the increased quota, 496 out of 991 gram panchayats, 70 out of 152 block panchayats, seven out of 14 district panchayats, 26 out of 52 municipalities and three out of five city corporations will now be headed by women.

A demand for one-third reservation for women in Parliament and the state assemblies has been discussed at the national level for several years.

While there is a consensus in favour of it parties which want separate reservation for women belonging to the backward classes have blocked the constitutional amendment necessary to implement the proposal.

What prompted the Central government to increase the women's quota in local bodies was the perception that one-third reservation has helped to empower women and needs to be carried forward.

While announcing the decision in this regard, a Union minister said, "Enhancing reservation for women in panchayats will facilitate more women to enter public sphere. This will lead to further empowerment of women and make panchayats more inclusive institutions, and improve governance and public service delivery".

Academic studies do not fully endorse the government's appraisal.

MS John, a researcher of the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, who interviewed 27 members of the Vaikom block panchayat in 2000, said in a report that while women members had acquired the knowledge and skills needed to perform their duties many felt frustrated as they were not able function independently or in a non-partisan manner.

He stressed the need for a woman-friendly political environment, especially in cadre-based parties "who, in the name of party discipline, tend to adopt means of patriarchal domination to control women panchayat members".

Patriarchal domination was actually easy as most of the women drafted for public service were wives and daughters or other close relatives of party leaders.

However, there were instances of women who took their role as elected representatives seriously and faced the wrath of party bigwigs.

In 1997, CPI-M leaders at Puthige in Kasergode district destroyed the house of panchayat president Fathima Suhra who had refused to bow to their diktats.

Fathima Suhra, a teacher by profession, held out bravely for six months, saying her first loyalty was to the people of the panchayat. Eventually, however, she succumbed to pressure and resigned.

Many young women were waiting for jobs when they were persuaded to contest the elections and became members of local bodies. Most of them quit when they got the jobs they had applied for.

One woman gave up the insecure elective post of president to take up the job of sweeper in the same panchayat. That certainly is a sad commentary on women's empowerment.--Gulf Today, October 12, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dalit militancy reports raise disturbing questions

Gulf Today

WHEN India's political parties were ready to make a Dalit the president of the republic, Kerala offered an eminently qualified candidate in KR Narayanan. More recently, the state provided the country its first Dalit chief justice.

But the emergence of a president and a chief justice from the Dalit ranks does not mean oppression and discrimination are things of the past. The long drawn out agitations of Dalits and Adivasis for land are stark reminders that their struggle for the right to live is not over.

Last week the police reported that Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM), a militant group, was responsible for a murder and an attempted murder at Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district.

A section of the media, weary of the Muthoot murder case, found the police account of Dalit militancy a good diversion. Its formal denial by DHRM received little attention.

Soon there was a debate on whether Dalits were forsaking mainstream political parties and taking to the path of extremism.

Sivaprasad, a senior citizen, was killed on Sept.23 while on a morning walk in Varkala. Asokan, a tea stall owner, was attacked not far from the site of murder a little later.

The police, who took up investigation, said the next day both the attacks were the handiwork of DHRM activists. The assailants, who had no personal enmity towards the victims, had committed the violent acts to demonstrate the organisation's strength and create scare, it added.

The police said many DHRM activists were involved in the murder conspiracy. It also dropped hints about some extremist elements helping the group.

Director-General of Police Jacob Punnose, who visited Varkala and reviewed the progress of the investigation, was more circumspect than the local officials. He said whether DHRM as an organisation was involved in the murder and whether it was receiving assistance from extremists were matters under investigation.

Even as the police raids were continuing, young DHRM activists, men and women, wearing black T-shirts and blue trousers, staged a peaceful protest outside the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.

The quick swoop on Dalit colonies across the state suggests the police had prior information about the DHRM network. The quick convergence of uniformed protestors in the state capital suggests DHRM has disciplined cadres.

The material made available by the police and other sources so far is insufficient to form any judgment about DHRM beyond that.

DHRM chairman Selvaraj and legal adviser Asokan are among the seven persons taken into custody in connection with the murder.

Reacting to reports of Dalit militancy, Electricity Minister AK Balan urged political parties to summon the will to address the problems of the community. In a subsequent comment, he said some people were trying to wean Dalits away from the mainstream.

Dalit disenchantment with the political parties in which they had placed their faith stems from the realisation that they were giving them a raw deal. During land reform, farms were transferred from landlords to tenants, bypassing the tillers, most of them Dalits.

While KR Narayanan and KG Balakrishnan exemplify the community's ability to progress through education, instances of discrimination persist.

M. Kunhaman, a Dalit professor with Left leanings, quit after being repeatedly bypassed by the Left-dominated bodies of Kerala University.

Official statistics show that Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) lag behind the rest. Only 19.52 per cent of the state's population depends upon agriculture for livelihood. The corresponding figures for Dalits and Adivasis, most of them landless, are 31.09 per cent and 54.79 per cent respectively.

According to the findings of the National Sample Survey, Dalits and Adivasis, who constitute 10 per cent and one per cent of the population respectively, account for 19 per cent and three per cent respectively of those below the poverty line.

The Planning Board's latest annual economic review says, "The incidence of deprivation among SCs and STs is 45.5 and 57.9 respectively while that for the total population is only 29.5."

Thiruvananthapuram is among the four districts where the SC population has a deprivation index of above 50. The Dalit colonies where the police is hunting for militants are miserable islands of poverty.

Clearly the problem is not that the Dalits are moving away from the mainstream but that they are yet to be brought into it. It is well known that political intermediaries siphon off much of the funds earmarked for the welfare of the poor. -- Gulf Today, October 5, 2009.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kerala's dubious plan to become shopping destination

Gulf Today

THE Grand Kerala Shopping Festival (GKSF), which began on a quiet note three years ago, has become a major official effort to boost local consumer spending under cover of making the state an international shopping destination.

The inspiration behind GKSF, billed flamboyantly as Asia's biggest shopping extravaganza, is the Dubai Shipping Festival (DSF). Its seeds were sown when DSF organised its first show in India at Kochi in 2006.

The Malabar Shopping Festival, held at Kozhikode the same year, helped the state to fetch additional sales tax revenue of Rs50 million. That convinced the government that consumerism is in its interest.

DSF came to Kochi after its organisers found that families of many Keralites working in Dubai visited the Emirates for shopping at festival time.

They reckoned that the Kochi show would help them reach out to about five million Keralites who had direct association with Dubai through family members working there.

DSF did not come to Kerala a second time. But since 2007 the state has been organising GKSF with the co-operation of various commercial interests who benefit directly from it.

GKSF coincides with the worldwide shopping season covering the Christmas and New Year holidays. The entire state is supposed to become one huge shopping mall during the 46-day festival period -- from Dec.1 to Jan.15.

Kerala has three shopping seasons. The main one coincides with Onam, when Keralites traditionally acquire new clothes. In recent years, manufacturers have been aggressively promoting the sale of a wide variety of products including automobiles and home appliances during this period.

With Muslims constituting 25 per cent of the state's population, Eid time is also a major shopping season. Thanks to the extensive use of the European calendar, the popularity of the Christmas-New Year period as a shopping season extends beyond the 19 per cent Christian population.

There is no reliable data to ascertain the extent to which GKSF, now in the third year, has contributed to the growth of the Christmas-New Year shopping season.

The government had made a budgetary allocation of Rs150 million for the first GKSF in 2007 and commissioned a Dubai-based advertising group to promote it abroad. About 8,000 foreign business houses reportedly showed interest in it but only about 2,100 participated and most of them were local enterprises.

Initially, taking the cue from DSF's Kochi experiment, the state government targetted non-resident Keralites and their families.It sought to convey to the NRKs the message that they could come home and make purchases for the family here.

Since that message did not yield expected results, in the second year the government shifted the emphasis from NRKs to tourists.

Domestic arrivals had grown by 40 per cent and foreign arrivals by 25 per cent in the previous year, raising the turnover of the state's hospitality industry to Rs100 billion.

It also decided to turn GKSF into an occasion to showcase Kerala's traditional items like handicrafts, handloom fabric, marine products, coir, jewellery, cashew and spices. Spice fairs were held in Idukki and Wayanad, a cashew fair was held at Kollam, a coir fair at Alappuzha and a handloom fair at Kannur.

The budgetary allocation was hiked to Rs200 million that year. An outfit of the Malayala Manorama group was brought on board as media partner. With the help of commercial houses, the newspaper organised promotions and contests.

Jewellers joined the GKSF campaign in a big way. They added 40 kilograms of gold to the prizes on offer through devices such as lucky draws and scratch-and-win cards.

Annual gold sales in India are estimated at 800 tonnes. About 45 per cent of all gold transactions take place in Kerala, although the state accounts for only 3.5 per cent of the population.

As part of the bid to attract domestic tourists, a road show was held at Chandigarh, with an eye on Punjab, the state which is ahead of Kerala in both per capita income and expenditure. There is no precise information on Punjab's response to the marketing effort.

Although there is talk of making Kerala an international shopping destination, the government's real objective is to boost local consumer spending. Principal industries secretary

T. Balakrishnan, one of the prime movers behind GKSF, let the cat out of the bag when he said recently in a newspaper interview that the aim was to raise the Keralite's shopping bill, now estimated at a mere five per cent, to 30 per cent.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Indus motif found at Edakkal throws a little light on Kerala’s past

The Mathrubhumi, in its editions dated September 22, reported that signs and characters which point to links with the Indus Valley Civilization have been found in the Edakkal Cave in the Wayanad district.

The reporter, Vimal Kottakkal, said they were found during excavations by the Kerala government’s department of archaeology. Similar signs had been found in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka earlier, but this was the first time they had been found in Kerala.

He also said Dr. M. R. Raghava Varier, who had studied the Edakkal find, had confirmed the presence of Indus motif

Evidently the find is important because it throws a little light on our past, which has been obliterated with cock-and-bull stories built around mythological characters like Parasurama and Vamana. But it does not seem to have evoked much interest in the State.

The Hindu followed up the Mathrubhumi story. “Sign akin to Indus Valley found in Kerala”, said a Malappuram report in the paper yesterday. To day it carried a report from T.S. Subramaniam in Chenna under the headline “Edakkal engraving a unique find”.

Subramaniam, who talked to Iravatham Mahadevan, a scholar on the Indus seals and the ancient Tamil Brahmi script, said he had congratulated Dr. Varier and his colleagues on this ‘major discovery’.

The Edakkal Cave has been attracting tourists in recent years. A write-up in the Bloggerbase website says the cave was discovered by Fred Fawcett, a police superintendent, who was a pre-history enthusiast.

According to Vimal Kottakkal, Faucett studied the cave drawings in 1901. With all his enthusiasm for pre-history, he could not have linked them to the Indus Valley Civilization, for that glorious chapter of the subcontinent’s past was unknown at the time. Englishmen, recreating India’s past with the help of followers of the Vedic tradition, had decided that there was nothing worthwhile outside the Rig Veda.

Since the middle of the 19th century Englishmen had been pulling down ancient structures to find material for laying rail tracks without bothering about history or archaeology. A British army officer, Alexander Cunningham, who was interested in archaeology, found a Harappan seal. He assessed rightly that it belonged to an ancient period but presumed wrongly that it was Brahmi writing. The discovery of more Harappan seals in the early part of the 20th century led the authorities to undertake extensive excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. It was not until 1930 that John Marshall unveiled the picture of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Fawcett suggested the Edakkal carvings might be the handiwork of the Kurumbar tribe of Wayanad. He wrote, "The curious reluctance of the Kurumbars to approach the Cave, combined with the simultaneous want of reverence for it both on the part of the Paniyas and the local Hindus, who are very small in numbers and not long resident in the Wayanad, might tempt one to hazard the theory as to the carvings being the handiwork of Kurumbars of a bygone day".

Some of the tribes of Kerala are among the oldest inhabitants of the subcontinent. The Paniyas find mention in the Rig Veda as one of the prosperous communities whose cows the Vedic tribes coveted. The Hindu establishment, dominated by followers of the Vedic tradition, is now trying to convince us that the hostile tribes quietly surrendered to the Vedic community and voluntarily accepted bondage.

Genome studies going on in India and abroad are yielding valuable information about the movement of people from the African continent to the far corners of the world over tens of thousands of years. They may not reveal much about the ancient tribes of Kerala, who appear to be part of a chain extending from Africa to Australia and the Pacific Islands because they do not figure much in them. The studies appear to cover only one tribe, the Kurichiyars.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Political rivals point to each other’s links with goons

Gulf Today

How many goons are there in Kerala? This was a question which Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was to answer in the State Assembly last week. He evaded it with a written reply saying information was being collected.

The day the question came up in the house the minister was in New Delhi to receive an award from a media company which had adjudged Kerala as the state with the best record in the maintenance of law and order.

As he was receiving the award, the Opposition was flaying the government alleging collapse of law and order in the state.

According to information provided by the government in the Assembly on another occasion, there are 374 goons in the state and 43 of them are in jails. Citing these figures in a newspaper article, Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy asked: are the remaining 331 goons the ones who were terrorising Kerala?

Oommen Chandy was the chief minister when the state promulgated an anti-goon ordinance for the first time in 2006. According to him, there were 817 persons from Thiruvananthapuram district, 433 from Kollam district and 428 from Kochi in the list of goons prepared at that time.

Joining issue with Oommen Chandy, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked why the United Democratic Front government had not arrested even one goon during the five years it was in power.

The exchanges between the two leaders made it clear that the difference between the UDF and the LDF was limited to the estimated number of goons. When it comes to action, both are equally unenthusiastic.

The UDF government, which enacted the anti-goon law at the fag end of its term, did not take action against any one under it. The LDF scrapped the law as soon as it came to power and brought in another.

According to Oommen Chandy, the law was changed to get supporters of the Communist Party of India-Marxist out of its ambit.

A redeeming feature of the LDF law is that it has limited the scope for misuse. Only the district magistrate is empowered to order detention under it. Under the UDF law, apart from the district magistrate, police officers authorised by the government for the purpose could also order detention.

The LDF law altered the definition of the goon. The term now applies only to persons found guilty by a court or by the police in three different cases based on private complaints. Since members of the public do not ordinarily have the courage to lodge complaints against criminals who enjoy political patronage most of the persons in the list of 2006 ceased to be goons.

In the newspaper article, Oommen Chandy accused the LDF of throwing the door open for political interference in the administration of the law. Under the UDF law, the detention orders were to be reviewed by a committee comprising three high court judges.

The LDF law provides for political nominees in the review committee. The committee constituted by the present government includes two persons who had contested the local bodies elections as CPI-M candidates.

In his response to Oommen Chandy’s charges, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan referred to the alleged links between some Congress leaders and the goons who were convicted in the sensational Kanichukulangara murder case.

He sought to contrast the LDF government’s record with that of the LDF government, which had arrested Santosh Madhavan on charges of rape and Omprakash and Rajesh on charges of concealment of evidence in the Paul M. George murder case.

He, of course, glossed over the fact that these dubious characters were arrested in the wake of a barrage of media reports alleging they were under the protection of political leaders.

The arguments and counter-arguments of the Home Minister and the Opposition leader over the law and order situation are devoid of merit as the state has received awards for good performance in this area under both LDF rule and UDF rule.

Kerala was first chosen for the law-and-order award early in this decade. When the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative organised an interaction between police personnel and human rights defenders at Thiruvananthapuram in 2003 an officer proudly cited this award as a testimonial for the state police.

CM Radhakrishnan Nair, an Indian Police Service officer who had served as Additional Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, told him that the award only meant that Kerala was better off than Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 21, 2009.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religious columns of newspapers

A journalism student, working on a paper on religious columns in Malayalam newspapers, recently sought my answers to a questionnaire. Below are the answers I gave.

The appearance of religious columns in the daily newspapers is a recent phenomenon. The Malayalam media appear to have borrowed the concept from elsewhere. The Hindu has been a pioneer in this respect in India. Reports based on Hindu religious discourses started appearing regularly in that newspaper more than 50 years ago. The daily feature was introduced at the instance of Kasturi Gopalan, who was its Publisher in the 1950s and his brother, Kasturi Srinivasan, its Editor. Later on the newspaper started publishing write-ups relating to Islam and Christianity to coincide with festivals observed by followers of these religions.

Many Malayalam newspapers have now a set pattern of religious coverage. The Ramayana figures prominently in the mass circulation papers during the Malayalam month of Karkkadakam and discourses on Islam appear during the month of Ramadan. They also take note of the birth and death anniversaries of persons revered by large caste groups.

It cannot be said that the newspapers are devoting space to religions at the expense of hard news. Now some television channels have also started taking interest in religious material. They also run serials based on Hindu and Christian religious themes. Prohibition of representation of the Prophets appears to stand in the way of Islamic serials. Some years ago Doordarshan was forced to abandon a serial based on Biblical stories since an Islamic group objected to the portrayal of Jewish and Christian prophets who are Islam’s prophets too.

I suspect that, while the columns may be popular with devout people belonging to the religions concerned, not many readers may be taking an interest in writings about other religions. The television serials are probably able to transcend the religious lines. The media’s interest in religion must be seen as a part of its marketing strategy.

The columns convey ethical messages but there is nothing to suggest that they make a beneficial impact on the public.

The religious columns do not pose any threat to communal harmony. However, they seem to weaken the secular fabric to the extent that they strengthen fundamentalist ideas. Some studies have pointed to a clear link between Doordarshan’s Hindi serials based on the Hindu epics and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in the north. The problem lies not in the themes that the media picks up from the religious texts and traditions but in the way it treats them. Instead of interpreting the stories in a manner suitable to the present times the media unthinkingly revives and reinforces antediluvian ideas.