Posts Tagged ‘Gujarat’

Behind the ‘hindu growth rate’ of Gujarat, ‘wombs for rent’

January 5, 2008

ANAND: Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.

A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.

The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.

More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond. The women earn more than many would make in 15 years. But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.

Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind Anand’s baby boom, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.

“There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family,” Patel said. “If this female wants to help the other one … why not allow that? … It’s not for any bad cause. They’re helping one another to have a new life in this world.”

Experts say commercial surrogacy _ or what has been called “wombs for rent” _ is growing in India. While no reliable numbers track such pregnancies nationwide, doctors work with surrogates in virtually every major city. The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive on their own.

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.

Critics say the couples are exploiting poor women in India _ a country with an alarmingly high maternal death rate _ by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of labor.

“It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries,” said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Missouri. “It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk.”

Patel’s surrogates are aware of the risks because they’ve watched others go through them. Many of the mothers know one another, or are even related. Three sisters have all borne strangers’ children, and their sister-in-law is pregnant with a second surrogate baby. Nearly half the babies have been born to foreign couples while the rest have gone to Indians.

Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent US$200,000 (euro138,910) trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another US$80,000 (euro55,563) to hire a surrogate mother in the United States.

“We were so desperate,” she said. “It was emotionally and financially exhausting.”

Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Patel’s clinic. After spending about US$20,000 (euro13,890) _ more than many couples because it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive _ Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child.

“Even if it cost $1 million (euro690,000), the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them,” said Sodhi. “They’re godsends to deliver something so special.”

Patel’s center is believed to be unique in offering one-stop service. Other clinics may request that the couple bring in their own surrogate, often a family member or friend, and some place classified ads. But in Anand the couple just provides the egg and sperm and the clinic does the rest, drawing from a waiting list of tested and ready surrogates.

Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list. Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the US$4,500 (euro3,125) she receives from the British couple whose child she’s carrying. It would have taken her 15 years to earn that on her maid’s monthly salary of US$25 (euro17).

Dodia’s own three children were delivered at home and she said she never visited a doctor during those pregnancies.

“It’s very different with medicine,” Dodia said, resting her hands on her hugely pregnant belly. “I’m being more careful now than I was with my own pregnancy.”

Patel said she carefully chooses which couples to help and which women to hire as surrogates. She only accepts couples with serious fertility issues, like survivors of uterine cancer. The surrogate mothers have to be between 18 and 45, have at least one child of their own, and be in good medical shape.

Like some fertility reality show, a rotating cast of surrogate mothers live together in a home rented by the clinic and overseen by a former surrogate mother. They receive their children and husbands as visitors during the day, when they’re not busy with English or computer classes.

“They feel like my family,” said Rubina Mandul, 32, the surrogate house’s den mother. “The first 10 days are hard, but then they don’t want to go home.”

Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa.

“They need a baby more than me,” she said. The surrogate mothers and the parents sign a contract that promises the couple will cover all medical expenses in addition to the woman’s payment, and the surrogate mother will hand over the baby after birth. The couples fly to Anand for the in-vitro fertilization and again for the birth. Most couples end up paying the clinic less than US$10,000 (euro6,945) for the entire procedure, including fertilization, the fee to the mother and medical expenses.

Counseling is a major part of the process and Patel tells the women to think of the pregnancy as “someone’s child comes to stay at your place for nine months.”

Kailas Gheewala, 25, said she doesn’t think of the pregnancy as her own.

“The fetus is theirs, so I’m not sad to give it back,” said Gheewala, who plans to save the US$6,250 (euro4,340) she’s earning for her two daughters’ education. “The child will go to the U.S. and lead a better life and I’ll be happy.”

Patel said none of the surrogate mothers has had especially difficult births or serious medical problems, but risks are inescapable.

“We have to be very careful,” she said. “We overdo all the health investigations. We do not take any chances.”

Health experts expect to see more Indian commercial surrogacy programs in coming years. Dr. Indira Hinduja, a prominent fertility specialist who was behind India’s first test-tube baby two decades ago, receives several surrogacy inquiries a month from couples overseas.

“People are accepting it,” said Hinduja. “Earlier they used to be ashamed but now they are becoming more broadminded.”

But if commercial surrogacy keeps growing, some fear it could change from a medical necessity for infertile women to a convenience for the rich.

“You can picture the wealthy couples of the West deciding that pregnancy is just not worth the trouble anymore and the whole industry will be farmed out,” said Lantos.

Or, Lantos said, competition among clinics could lead to compromised safety measures and “the clinic across the street offers it for 20 percent less and one in Bangladesh undercuts that and pretty soon conditions get bad.”

The industry is not regulated by the government. Health officials have issued nonbinding ethical guidelines and called for legislation to protect the surrogates and the children.

For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents.

“I know this isn’t mine,” said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. “But I’m giving happiness to another couple. And it’s great for me.”

Economic Times

Advertisements

Global Hindutva in support of Gujarat’s super hindu leader

December 3, 2007

A large number of Gujarati NRIs have landed in their native state to lend support to political parties they are backing in the upcoming assembly election, due on December 11 and 16.

Many are supporters of incumbent Narendra Modi, who feel the state has developed under the stewardship of the BJP leader. Opposing them are a considerable number of Congress
supporters, who say Modi has divided the state.

Although they cannot vote in the state assembly polls, the NRIs who have come from places like the UK and US are pumping in huge amounts of money in campaigning, besides trying to woo voters for the party of their choice.

”Though I can’t vote, still I would like to see to it that the right people are voted to power. Even if I can’t vote I would like to make sure that other 100 people at least go and vote. It’s very important,” says 42-year-old Rajen Patel from London, an ardent supporter of Modi.

Patel, who claims he campaigned for former US vice president Al Gore when he was in the presidential race, says about 100 like-minded NRIs in the UK have decided to come to Gujarat to support Modi as they believe he is ushering in growth and development.

”We would like to invest in Gujarat as things have improved a lot here. There is less of corruption now and action is taken on complaints made even over phones,” he says.

Rejecting the claims of development under Modi’s government are Congress supporters, who have also come together based on their political affiliation.

”What development are they talking about? Everything is a hogwash. No state can develop where people are divided. And that’s what BJP has done here,” says Deepak Amin, who has come all the way from Seattle (US) to support Congress.

”To be number one you have to be united first. When you talk about Hindu rastra, you ignore the rest of the people in the country. What about them?” Amin laments.

He says he is in touch with at least 15 other like-minded NRIs from various countries.

”We have held several rounds of meetings in Seattle, New York, New Jersey etc to discuss our agenda before coming to India. We will be reaching out to people to pass on our message,” Amin says.

He said his ‘group’ was opposed to the way BJP is bragging about development in Gujarat, adding ”It’s just like their ‘India Shining’ campaign”.

But the Modi camp would like to differ. ”There’s discipline, peace and harmony now unlike earlier,” says Patel.

On his group’s strategy, Patel says, ”We will place ourselves in different regions of the state. Like five-six people in Vadodara, 10 in Ahmedabad and four in Surat, while one of us will be travelling to meet people and help the party in the electoral process.”

He claims Modi has many fans in the UK and US who want to know what can they do to help their state.

India, Where paradoxes reign supreme

November 26, 2007

It has become a cliché to speak of India as a land of paradoxes. The old joke about our country is that anything you say about India, the opposite is also true. We like to think of ourselves as an ancient civilisation but we are also a young republic; our IT experts stride confidently into the 21st century but much of our population seems to live in each of the other 20 centuries. Quite often the opposites co-exist quite cheerfully.

One of my favourite images of India is from the last Kumbha mela, of a naked sadhu, with matted hair, ash-smeared forehead and scraggly beard, for all the world a picture of timeless other-worldliness, chatting away on a cellphone. I even suggested it to the publishers of my newest book of essays on India as a perfect cover image, but they assured me it was so well-known that it had become a cliché in itself.

And yet, clichés are clichés because they are true, and the paradoxes of India say something painfully real about our society.

How does one come to terms with a country whose population is still nearly 40% illiterate but which has educated the world’s second-largest pool of trained scientists and engineers, many of whom are making a flourishing living in Silicon Valley? How does one explain a land where peasant organisations and suspicious officials once attempted to close down Kentucky Fried Chicken as a threat to the nation, where a former prime minister bitterly criticised the sale of Pepsi-Cola since 250 million of our countrymen and women don’t have access to clean drinking water, and which yet invents more sophisticated software for the world’s computer manufacturers than any other country on the planet? A place where bullock carts are still an indispensable mode of transportation for millions, but whose rocket and satellite programmes are amongst the most advanced on earth?

The paradoxes go well beyond the nature of our entry into the 21st century. Our teeming cities overflow while two out of three Indians still scratch a living from the soil. We have been recognised, for all practical purposes, as a leading nuclear power, but 600 million Indians still have no access to electricity and there are daily power cuts even in the nation’s capital.

Ours is a culture which elevated non-violence to an effective moral principle, but whose freedom was born in blood and whose independence still soaks in it. We are the world’s leading manufacturers of generic medication for illnesses such as AIDS, but we have three million of our own citizens without access to AIDS medication, another two million with TB, and tens of millions with no health centre or clinic within 10 kilometres of their places of residence.

Bollywood makes four times as many movies as Hollywood, but 150 million Indians cannot see them, because they are blind. India holds the world record for the number of cellphones sold (8.5 million last month), but also for the number of farmer suicides (4000 in the Vidarbha district of Maharashtra alone last year).

This month, in mid-November, the prestigious Forbes magazine list of the world’s top billionaires made room for 10 new Indian names. The four richest Indians in the world are collectively worth a staggering $180 billion, greater than the GDP of a majority of member states of the United Nations. Indian papers have reported with undisguised glee that these four (Lakshmi Mittal, the two Ambani brothers, and DLF chief K P Singh) are worth more than the 40 richest Chinese combined.

We seem to find less space in our papers to note that though we have more dollar billionaires than in any country in Asia – even more than Japan, which has been richer longer – we also have 260 million people living below the poverty line. And it’s not the World Bank’s poverty line of $1 a day, but the Indian poverty line of Rs 360 a month, or 30 cents a day – in other words, a line that’s been drawn just this side of the funeral pyre.

Last month, the Bombay Stock Exchange’s Sensex crossed 20,000, just 20 months after it had first hit 10,000; but on the same day, some 25,000 landless people marched to Parliament, clamouring for land reform and justice. We have trained world-class scientists and engineers, but 400 million of our compatriots are illiterate, and we also have more children who have not seen the inside of a school than any other country in the world does.

We have a great demographic advantage in 540 million young people under 25 (which means we should have a dynamic, youthful and productive workforce for the next 40 years when the rest of the world, including China, is ageing) but we also have 60 million child labourers, and 72% of the children in our government schools drop out by the eighth standard. We celebrate India’s IT triumphs, but information technology has employed a grand total of 1 million people in the last five years, while 10 million are entering the workforce each year and we don’t have jobs for them.

Many of our urban youth rightly say with confidence that their future will be better than their parents’ past, but there are Maoist insurgencies violently disturbing the peace in 165 of India’s 602 districts, and these are largely made up of unemployed young men.

So yes, we are a land of paradoxes, and amongst those paradoxes is that so many of us speak about India as a great power of the 21st century when we are not yet able to feed, educate and employ our people. And yet, India is more than the sum of its contradictions. It may be a country rife with despair and disrepair, but it nonetheless moved a Mughal Emperor to declaim, ‘‘if on earth there be paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this…’’ We just have a lot more to do before it can be anything like paradise for the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

25 Nov 2007, 0000 hrs IST,Shashi Tharoor, Times of India

967 Cases of Atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat

July 5, 2007

Dalits in Gujarat eclipsed under Modi: Meira

Claiming that the Dalits were “eclipsed” under the present dispensation in Gujarat, Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar on Monday criticised the Narendra Modi-led government for the “atrocities” meted out against Dalits and other backward sections of the society.

“The present government in Gujarat has a poor track record in tackling crimes against the backward sections of the society,” Kumar said addressing the day-long ‘jan-mitra shibir’ (conference of party workers) organised by the scheduled caste cell of Congress.

She claimed that Dalits were “eclipsed” in Gujarat at present.

“In the year 2005, there were a total of 967 cases of atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat where many were murdered, raped, burnt and seriously injured,” Kumar told the gathering of party workers who had assembled from different parts of the state.

“This year in just six months, there were a total of 412 cases of atrocities registered against backward classes including Dalits,” she said adding the figures she was quoting were sourced from the Social Justice department of Gujarat.

“In many of these cases FIRs are yet to be registered,” Kumar added

Press Trust of India, Gandhinagar, July 3, 2006

Amnesty International’ Full Report on India 2007

May 27, 2007

Amnesty International Press Release, May 25, 2007,

Perpetrators of past human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity. Concerns grew over protection of economic, social and cultural rights of already marginalized communities. Human rights violations were reported in several states where security legislation was used to facilitate arbitrary detention and torture. A new anti-terror law, in place of the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), was being considered in the aftermath of multiple bombings in Mumbai and elsewhere. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), long criticized for widespread abuses in the north-east, was not repealed. Justice and rehabilitation continued to evade most victims of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.
Human rights legislation was amended undermining the powers of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). New laws to prevent violence against women and guarantee rural employment and right to information had not been fully implemented by the end of the year. Socially and economically marginalized groups such as adivasis, dalits, marginal/landless farmers and the urban poor continued to face systemic discrimination and loss of resource base and livelihood because of development projects.

Background

An agreement reached with the USA in March gave India access to strategic nuclear material and equipment for civilian purposes, and signalled closer Indo-US ties.

Hundreds of people were killed in bomb attacks during the year, including 21 in the north Indian city of Varanasi in March, more than 200 in multiple bombings in Mumbai in July, and 37 in Malegaon, Maharashtra state, in September. Concern about such attacks continued to dominate peace talks between India and Pakistan, which made little progress. The two countries agreed to set up an “anti-terror mechanism”, the details of which were not spelled out. Little progress was made in continuing dialogue over Kashmir, Nagaland and Assam.

Rising Maoist activity in some states added to security and human rights concerns. Several states, including Orissa and West Bengal, witnessed protests by people whose livelihoods were threatened by ongoing and proposed fast-tracked development projects. High suicide rates by debt-ridden farmers were recorded in some states, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Following renewed fighting in Sri Lanka, around 10,000 Tamil refugees fled the island by sea and arrived in Tamil Nadu, already home to over 100,000 refugees; about 50,000 of the refugees were reportedly in camps with inadequate facilities.

Security legislation

India continued to play no direct role in the US-led “war on terror”. However, demands for new anti-terror legislation in place of the repealed POTA grew after the bombings in Mumbai and Malegaon.

Following the bomb attacks, hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, were arbitrarily detained for short periods in Maharashtra. Sixteen people were charged under the state Control of Organised Crime Act. Local courts acquitted three of the 16 for lack of evidence.

Implementation of security legislation led to human rights violations in several states. An official panel report acknowledged widespread abuses of the AFSPA in the north-east but drew criticism for ignoring impunity issues and recommending use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Protests demanded repeal of the AFSPA.

At least 400 people remained in jail under the repealed POTA and several continued to face special trials whose proceedings fail to meet fair trial standards. The few convictions related to serious and high-profile cases. Official committees reviewed a majority of pending cases. However, the review process was questioned, with Gujarat and other states rejecting the committees’ key recommendation to drop POTA charges.

Jammu and Kashmir

Politically motivated violence slightly decreased, but torture, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions continued to be reported. Some six deaths in custody, 38 enforced disappearances including several juveniles, and 22 extrajudicial killings were reported in 2006. Identity-based attacks by Islamist fighters continued.

• In May, 35 Hindus were killed in Doda and Udhampur districts. Government officials accused Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based armed Islamist group, of carrying out the killings to derail the peace process.

• In October, 17-year-old Muhammad Maqbool Dar of Pakherpora died in custody after he was questioned by the Rashtriya Rifles, an army counter-insurgency force. A magistrates’ inquiry and an internal army inquiry were ordered.

Impunity for human rights violations by state agents continued, although in a few cases criminal action was initiated after years of delay.

b In April, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicted five army officers for the extrajudicial killing of five villagers at Pathribal in March 2000. The officers were charged with fabricating evidence to support their claim that the men were foreign fighters killed in an “encounter” with security forces. The officers had earlier claimed that the men had killed 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora four days before the “encounter”. When local villagers protested in Brakpora that the five men were innocent villagers, the army opened fire, killing 10 protesters. An inquiry into the Pathribal incident stalled when it was found that DNA samples had been tampered with.

A new report indicated that some 10,000 people had been victims of enforced disappearance since 1989. The Association of the Parents of Disappeared People reported that the authorities failed to provide information to the families of the victims about their whereabouts. Outstanding concerns over the existing powers of the state Human Rights Commission were heightened in August when its chairperson resigned over the “non-serious” attitude of the state government towards human rights violations.

Impunity

Little progress was made in cases relating to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi which followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards and led to a massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs. In 2005 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government promised to reopen the latest of many inquiries following the forced resignations of two leaders of the ruling Congress party, which heads the UPA. A judicial commission had concluded that there was credible evidence of involvement in the attacks against the two leaders who resigned.

In Punjab, a majority of police officers responsible for serious human rights violations during civil unrest between 1984 and 1994 continued to evade justice. In response to 2,097 reported cases of human rights violations during this period, the NHRC ordered Punjab state to provide compensation in 1,051 cases concerning people who died in police custody and appointed a commissioner to decide on compensation for 814 additional cases. CBI findings on these deaths in custody were not made public and the NHRC did not actively pursue with the judiciary the outstanding issues of impunity.

2002 Gujarat violence

Justice continued to evade most victims and survivors of the 2002 violence in Gujarat in which thousands of Muslims were attacked and more than 2,000 were killed. Rehabilitation continued to be slow. Members of the Muslim minority in Gujarat reportedly faced difficulties in accessing housing to rent and public resources. An official panel concluded that over 5,000 displaced families lived in “sub-human” conditions.

There continued to be few successful prosecutions relating to the violence. However, 1,594 cases closed by the state police were reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court and 41 police officials were being prosecuted for their alleged role.

New evidence on the riots emerged, in the form of details of mobile phone calls made between those leading the attacks and politicians belonging to the then ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party. The judicial commission appointed in 2002 by Gujarat’s state government to investigate the attacks had not completed its work by the end of the year.

The Gujarat High Court set aside the Union government order appointing another commission to investigate the cause of the 2002 Godhra train fire which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. The Court said there was no need for a second commission into the fire, which triggered attacks on Muslims and the subsequent violence.

Six key cases relating to killings and sexual assault of Muslim women in which complainants had sought transfer to courts outside Gujarat were still pending before the Supreme Court at the end of the year.

• In March, a Mumbai court sentenced nine people to life imprisonment and acquitted eight others after a retrial in the Best Bakery case, relating to the massacre during the 2002 violence of 14 people in Vadodara city. In 2003, a local court had acquitted all the accused, but the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai. The Mumbai court later convicted Zahira Shaikh, and another female relative of the victims, of perjury after they “turned hostile” and retracted their statements, reportedly under pressure.

The UPA government’s draft bill to prevent communal violence was still pending before parliament. It had been introduced in 2005 following widespread criticism of the BJP-led government for failing to halt the Gujarat violence. Meanwhile, two other states ruled by the BJP – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – passed laws criminalizing religious conversion in certain circumstances, inviting criticism that they were acting against freedom of choice of religion.

Chhattisgarh

There was rising violence in the Dantewada area between Maoists and members of the anti-Maoist Salwa Judum, a militia widely believed to be sponsored by the Chhattisgarh state government. Civilians were routinely targeted by both sides and 45,000 adivasis were forced to live in special camps putting them at increased risk of violence. The Chhattisgarh authorities enacted legislation banning media coverage of certain human rights violations.

• On 28 February, suspected Maoists set off a landmine blowing up a truck; 26 people were killed and 30 injured.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Around 300 million people remained in poverty despite implementation of new legislation guaranteeing minimum annual employment for the rural poor. New legislation on the right to information, seen as a means to empower the poor, was not fully implemented; the Union government and state governments were reluctant to disclose crucial information about their decision-making processes.

Concerns grew over protection of economic, social and cultural rights of already-marginalized communities (including adivasis) amidst fears of unchecked exploitation of their resource base by the government and businesses. Several states witnessed periodic protests against acquisition of land and other resources for mining, irrigation, power and urban infrastructure purposes. Such developments were associated with forced evictions, harassment, arbitrary detentions, excessive police force and denial of access to justice.

• In January, 11 adivasis were killed when police fired into demonstrators protesting against the displacement that would be caused by the proposed Tata Steel project in Orissa.

• In April, police used excessive force against activists staging a protest fast in Delhi against displacement caused by the Narmada dam project; some protesters were detained.

• In July and September/October, activists protesting against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to acquire farmland for the Reliance gas project faced police harassment and detention.

Bhopal

Twenty-two years after the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gases that devastated countless lives and the environment, survivors continued to struggle for adequate compensation, medical aid and rehabilitation. After a sustained campaign, including a survivors’ march from Bhopal to Delhi in April, the government agreed to clean up toxic waste, provide safe drinking water and set up a commission for rehabilitation of the victims. However, there was little progress on the ground on these initiatives by the end of 2006. In August, monsoon rains caused flooding in areas around the UCC plant, raising fears of contamination of groundwater. UCC and Dow Chemicals (which took over UCC in 2001) continued to reiterate that they had no responsibility for the gas leak or its consequences.

Violence against women

Legislation passed in 2005 to ensure comprehensive protection of women from all forms of domestic violence, including dowry deaths, sexual assault and acid attacks, came into effect in October. It was yet to be fully implemented by states.

Traditional preference for boys continued to lead to abortions of female foetuses, despite the ban on pre-natal sex determination since 1993. Only a few people were convicted of violating the ban, a fact criticized by the Supreme Court. Protests were staged in Punjab and Rajasthan over the slow pace of investigation into such cases.

Many of the abuses suffered by Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002 fell outside the definition of rape in national law. This continued to hamper victims’ quest for justice.

Two Supreme Court directives offered advances for victims of rape. The Court directed that lack of medical evidence would no longer be grounds for discounting testimony, and that the identity of victims should remain confidential in court judgments.

Death penalty

At least 40 people were sentenced to death in 2006; no executions took place. Comprehensive information on the number of people on death row was not available.

Anxiety rose over the fate of clemency petitions after the Supreme Court ruled that it could review executive decisions on such petitions. The ruling followed fierce debate triggered by the clemency petition submitted on behalf of Mohammed Afzal, who was sentenced to death on charges relating to the armed attack on India’s parliament in December 2001.

Other issues

There were concerns that amendments to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, would weaken the operating framework of the NHRC which already had no mandate to investigate abuses by armed forces and complaints more than a year old. The amendments also allow for transfer of cases from the NHRC to state-level commissions which continued to be starved of resources; 11 of the 28 states had yet to set up such commissions and five of those operating had no chairpersons.


REPUBLIC OF INDIA

Head of state: APJ Abdul Kalam
Head of government: Manmohan Singh
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not ratified


AI country reports/visitsStatements

• India: Amnesty International condemns multiple bomb attacks in Mumbai (AI Index: ASA 20/017/2006)

• India: Continuing concern over the safety of civilians, including adivasis, caught in escalating conflict in Chhattisgarh (AI Index: ASA 20/018/2006)

• India: Concerns with Protection of Human Rights Act (AI Index: ASA 20/019/2006)

• India: Amnesty International condemns multiple bomb attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra (AI Index: ASA 20/025/2006)

• India: Continued detention two years after the repeal of POTA (AI Index: ASA 20/026/2006)

• India: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) Review Committee takes one step forward and two backwards (AI Index: ASA 20/031/2006)

Visits

AI’s Secretary General and other delegates visited India in February and met government officials and civil society organizations. AI delegates also met officials and activists in May, July and December.

http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Asia-Pacific/India

Betis As Bombs – Exploding The Borders Of Caste And Community

April 14, 2007

In every house there is a live bomb that can erupt at any time. Do you know who that is? Daughters are the honour of the family and the community, and to protect that is our Hindu duty and Hindu culture… . Come, and let’s unite to save bombs… I don’t believe in love marriage. We have to marry within our own community. These girls go to college, make friends with some lafanga [loafer], roam with them on their bikes, fall in love, and then run off and get married…We bring them back and convince them that they are ruining their future. They stay with me for a while and then return to their parents.” – Babu Bajrangi, Frontline, Dec 16-29 2006

Bajrangi is the VHP leader who gained notoriety recently for being the unofficial censor for the film Parzania in Ahmedabad. Less known in the fact that he boasts of having ‘rescued’ (kidnapped) no less than 918 women from his Kadwa Patel community who eloped to marry men outside the community – 70% of whom were Muslim or Christian men, and the rest were from other sub-castes.

The Gujarat genocide was marked by the rape of Muslim women and mutilation of their bodies by the Sangh Parivar. Such rapes were celebrated as acts of nationalism. Bajrangi’s acts of ‘rescue’ of Hindu women from marriages with ‘other’ men are also projected as acts of nationalism. The borders of caste and (religious) community need to be policed for infiltration from the enemy with as much vigilant surveillance as the borders of the nation. In fact, the border of each community (and family within it) is the border of nation in microcosm. The difference is that the borders of the family and community are lined with explosive from within. They are forever vulnerable because the sexuality of their own daughters has the potential to explode those boundaries and call into question the very foundation of racial purity on which the cultural nationalism of the Hindu Rashtra rests.

There are many who hold Hindutva’s violent codes to be a kind of Talibanic aberration and appeal to Hindus to distinguish it from the essentially liberal soul of Hinduism. See for instance Sitaram Yechury’s piece written in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, titled Pseudo-Hinduism Exposed: The Reality of the Saffron Brigade’s Myths. This piece explicitly contrasts liberal Hinduism to the impostor – ‘pseudo-Hinduism’ or Hindutva. Typically, this piece attributes India’s democracy to the choice in favour of secular democracy made by its Hindu majority and contrasts it with intolerant Islamic theocracies (implying that those theocracies are attributable to the choice made by intolerant Islamic majority?). As an extension of this thesis, Yechury observes, “The rabid intolerance of other religions (in Islamic theocracies) is matched by ruthlessly suppressive laws that deny elementary democratic rights especially to women.” The implication is that India in contrast assures those democratic rights to its women.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that this aspect of Hindutva – Bajrangi’s brand of violent policing of women, or the Bajrang Dal’s threat issued a few years back, that Hindu women who married Muslims would have their noses cut off, or its periodic threats against women wearing jeans or couples celebrating Valentine’s Day – marks a rupture with a gentler and more benign Hinduism. Communal fascism of the Hindutva variety draws sustenance from the widely prevailing anxiety of Hindu caste communities about breaching of patriarchal codes, caste and community boundaries – and the resultant threat to property relations and status. These anxieties are not the unique preserve of ‘backward’ rural communities; Prem Chowdhry shows us how modern phenomena like granting of legal inheritance rights to women and the social consequences of urbanisation in Haryana intensify these anxieties and the resultant violence against those who disobey marriage codes. (‘Enforcing Cultural Codes: Gender and Violence in Northern India’, A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, ed. Mary John and Janaki Nair, 1998)

Uma Chakravarti has remarked how brahminical patriarchy has for long regarded women of upper castes as ‘gateways’ or points of breach into the caste system – requiring careful surveillance to preserve upper caste purity – and this “obsessive concern with policing female sexuality” has become a stubborn feature across caste groups (Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens, 2003, pp 35-36). She notes that there is “widespread ‘consent’, in the sense that Gramsci outlines it, within civil society to regard choice, particularly when articulated by a woman as disruptive of the whole social order…and ‘with free choice of partners involving women, the whole social fabric seems to suffer a terrible tear’.” (Chakravarti, pp152-53) It is the existence of such consent for obsessive control of women’s sexual choice, such widespread fear of a ‘terrible’ tear inflicted by women’s free choice, that sustains and ‘naturalises’ Bajrangi’s mass abduction spree as a patriotic act. Bajrangi’s mass abductions are able to masquerade as a grotesque version of a more common ideology and practice of ‘guardianship’ (brother as guardian of sister’s honour) celebrated by popular cinema and serials and normalised by the festival of Raksha Bandhan. Adult women are legally beyond the scope and control of ‘guardianship’. Yet the ideology of guardianship (closely tied up with control of female sexuality, reproduction and labour) and its twin, the ideology that makes women the repositories of izzat or honour of the community/nation is perpetuated. The ‘honour’ killings decreed by caste panchayats for lovers who transgress codes of caste and community and Bajrangi’s abductions thus breathe the same ideological oxygen.

This leads us to ask: can Left movements and women’s movements challenge communal fascist violence against women without also challenging the ideology of guardianship and izzat? In the case of agrarian labour communities, usually dalit or extremely backward, there is tremendous resistance to the sexual exploitation of women by upper caste men, and Chakravarti notes that the “issue of izzat is central to peasant movements in Bihar under various Marxist-Leninist formations and in dalit movements” (Chakravarti, p 169). While resistance to sexual violence will continue to be a powerful mobilisational issue, these movements need to be alert to the dangers of the connotations and implications of izzat. These movements must guard against bearing the baggage of resentment against the upper caste taunts that lower caste women have no izzat to begin with or that lower caste men are ‘unable’ to ‘protect’ ‘their’ women. In other words, such radical political mobilisation must assert the autonomy and freedom of women who are dalit agrarian labourers – and must guard against framing the struggle in terms of asserting the ‘ability’ of lower caste men to ‘protect’ the ‘izzat’ of women and of their community. This means asserting the sexual freedom and autonomy of women within the community as much as against the oppressor without.

We need to recognise the links between Babu Bajrangi’s assaults on women’s freedom, and those structures and practices that we tend to take as normative, natural and acceptable – such as the practice of arranging marriages within one’s caste and community, disapproving of independent relationships forged by one’s sisters or daughters, holding oneself to be the ‘guardian’ of one’s sisters or daughters, and so on. Often, as long as overt coercion or violence is not involved, we tend to view anxiety about controlling sexual behaviour of daughters, as quite natural. Women’s movements and Left movements must confront and challenge the ideology of guardianship and izzat even where overt coercion is not flaunted – as part of their struggle against the structures of class and caste, and against communal fascism.

By Kavita Krishnan, 12 April, 2007, Countercurrents.org