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Betrayed & Forsaken

December 10, 2014

The survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy try to hold on to their memories and still nurse hopes of securing justice some day. By DIVYA TRIVEDI in Bhopal

THIRTY years on, more than 25,000 are dead and about 1,50,000 continue to suffer from chronic illnesses, marking the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy as not only the world’s worst industrial disaster but also one of the longest ongoing cover-ups in global capitalism under the political-industrial complex.

Former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising expresses the difficulty in properly labelling the affair: “You struggle with words. What do you call it? Industrial genocide? Disaster? I, for one, don’t have labels for Bhopal, just like Gujarat 2002.” Her anxiety stems from the chain of events that led to the disaster and its long aftermath of three decades of collusion among various players in the saga—the American parent Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), its Indian subsidiary Union Carbide (India) Ltd, Dow Chemical Company (acquirer of UCC), Eveready Industries India Ltd (formerly McLeod Russel (India) Ltd, acquirer of UCIL) and the Government of India (which, together with other Indian investors, held 49 per cent of the UCIL shares at the time of the disaster)—which have made a complex travesty of the tragedy.

Closure to the affair seems far away even after three decades. With so much murky water having flowed under the bridge, it is important to revisit the facts. Accounts of survivors, a report by the Union Research Group (URG) in June 1985 (“The Role of Management Practices in the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster”, available online on, and meetings with activists, government officials, lawyers and other players help piece together a more or less accurate sketch of what transpired.

UCC, set up in 1917, came to Bhopal in 1969 to set up a pesticide plant as part of India’s Green Revolution and industrialisation policy. The objective of welcoming the manufacturers was employment generation. N.D. Jayaprakash of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti says that initially the plant did not manufacture methyl isocyanate (MIC)-based pesticides but started doing so after 1978. “The systems were under-designed from the beginning,” he says. In 1981, a plant operator, Mohammad Ashraf Khan, died after having been exposed to a deadly phosgene gas spill four days earlier. In 1982, another phosgene gas leak occurred.

In May that year, a team of experts from UCC’s United States office visited the site and submitted a report on the dangerous situation building up in the plant, stating that it was not operating properly. No action was taken by the management, but some reporters, including Rajkumar Keswani, wrote articles based on the report, warning of imminent danger. The union movement in the plant was fairly active, with workers often raising questions concerning their well-being. The plant management retained exclusive rights in every aspect of factory operations, including efficiency, establishment of quality standards, working hours, transfers, working programmes and production standards. But, the URG report said, it, “instead of modifying unsafe procedures, chose, time and again, to meet job refusals with wage-cuts and charge-sheeting. Standardised, safe procedures laid out in UCIL’s own manuals were more often violated than followed.” It routinely dismissed complaints.

Whereas the U.S. plant was well taken care of, the plant in Bhopal clearly suffered discrimination. As the plant ran into losses, the company cut down maintenance and operating costs, reduced manpower, and took shortcuts that led to widespread and frequent operational lapses. Critical procedures were overstepped as a matter of course and leaks were not unusual. When the deadly MIC leak occurred on the night of December 2/3, the factory was operating at a quarter of its required strength, qualified and efficient operators having already quit or accepted voluntary retirement, either out of frustration or on the management’s urging. The flare tower had been shut for the previous six months, and much water had leaked into the gas tank. The recourse to safety measures was too little and too late.

Deliberate scaling down

Though the disaster was in the making for some time, nobody could have predicted the scale and extent of it. When 41 tonnes of the deadly gas emanated from the factory and engulfed the city that night, thousands were killed in their sleep and a population of six lakh people was affected in various other ways. Many of them continue to reel under the effects of the leak. The most severely affected were people from poor socio-economic backgrounds, living in settlements and shanties near the factory. “Eighty per cent of the dead were Muslims, 75 per cent were slum-dwellers, 40 per cent were children less than one year old. Why will any political party take up their cause? More than 50 per cent households earned less than Rs.150 per head a month. People who escaped on motorised transport were the least affected. The ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research], which mapped the area in the first few days, was forced to ban publication of its reports. Court orders were required to be filed to make these reports public. This episode has exposed the contempt of the Indian ruling class for the downtrodden. Local doctors colluded in scaling down the tragedy,” says Vikas Bajpai of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Shamshad Begum, resident of Galli No.3 in Jaiprakash Nagar opposite the now derelict factory, recalls the night of the tragedy. She, like many others, felt a stinging, burning sensation in the eyes as if somebody was frying red chillies. She later lost a child during delivery.

Rates of miscarriages increased by 530 per cent in the most severely affected areas in the months after the disaster, according to Vikas. On the night of the leak, people ran helter-skelter, vomiting or simply dropping dead. Eyewitnesses recall that the city appeared to be under siege. Ramvilas remembers that on the following morning, entire streets were lined with dead humans, dogs and cattle. Even the trees had died. Around 10,000 pieces of white funereal cloth were sold in the immediate aftermath, says Vikas. Lakshmy Tarafdar, then an MBBS student, recalls that in the days after the leak, people flocked to the Sultania Zanana Hospital like flies waiting to drop dead. Keeping aside her own nausea and irritation of skin, she and other doctors and volunteers did what they could. She now works at the Indira Gandhi Women and Children Hospital for the gas-affected in Bhopal. She herself suffers from back problems and damaged lungs.

The immediate reaction from the UCC management was that the leaked gas was non-lethal tear gas.

The only known antidote to the chemical that leaked, MIC, was sodium thiosulphate. A doctor from Germany, Dr Don Derrera, arrived with hundreds of vials of it and proceeded to inject people with the antidote. But, within days, the local health community colluded with government officials to have him deported.

Several volunteers who came in to help and set up clinics were arrested. Mira Sadgopal and friends from Medico Friend Circle were arrested along with others from 30 different places in the city. The government issued orders that victims should not be injected with this antidote. The Jan Swasthya Clinic in Bhopal was closed and vials were confiscated. Satinath Sarangi and Rachna Dhingra, who continue to advocate and run the Sadbhavna Trust Clinic, were also arrested in a systematic crackdown.

It is understood that the effective use of sodium thiosulphate as an antidote would have established that the leaked gas was hydrogen cyanide, which the company was desperately trying to deny. Cyanide is a well known as a poisonous substance and the evidence would have been incriminating. In January, 500 volunteers came to Bhopal from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to conduct a door-to-door survey. In two months they surveyed 25,000 households, covering one-fourth of the victims. The government stepped in to stop the survey and confiscated the data. The TISS does not yet have access to the data, says N.D. Jayaprakash.

Warren Anderson, chairman of UCC and the prime accused in the case, arrived in Bhopal soon after. He was arrested and kept in a guest house, but soon released as pressure from the U.S. government mounted. He was allowed to flee the country while on bail and requests for his extradition were denied. He died in September this year, without facing trial or appearing even once in Bhopal in connection with the case. The news of his death reached India only after a month. Some people expressed their anger and helplessness by spitting on his photograph outside the factory walls.

Even now, the chemical components of the leaked gas remain undisclosed. UCC refused to reveal it and Dow also refuses to do so, citing protection under trade agreements.

The agencies responsible for the tragedy and its cover-up refuse to accept responsibility and have got away with massacre. Dow Chemical, the present owner of UCC, refuses to accept responsibility. A statement on its website reads: “Dow in India continues to thrive fifty years later with a strong manufacturing and operations presence in ten locations across the country…. We do not believe that Bhopal or the 2010 request for a Curative Petition will have any financial, operational or reputational impact on Dow’s business opportunities in India or elsewhere in the world, and we will continue to oppose efforts to implicate Dow in the Bhopal matter.”

In 2006, it sought legal opinion from Arun Jaitley and Abhishek Manu Singhvi on whether it was liable in any way for legal action in lieu of UCC’s crimes. “Dow cannot be held responsible for UCC as it existed as a separate legal entity. It is also not liable for plant site remediation,” said both the eminent lawyers in their separate opinions on the principles of inviolability of the corporate veil and “Solomon vs Solomon”, which establishes each corporate entity as separate.

It had been suggested that the case be heard in a U.S. court rather than in India, in the hope of an efficient and speedy trial, says Indira Jaising. But UCC did not want it to proceed in the U.S. because it feared stringent punishment and a hefty fine. On behalf of UCC, Nani Palkhivala submitted an affidavit saying that India was capable of handling the case. District Judge John Keenan of the New York Court agreed but said that UCC would have to appear in India as a defendant.

Whose side is the government on?

In 1989, while the case was still being heard, one fine day an announcement was made in court that a settlement had been reached between the Government of India and UCC and a sum of $470 million had been agreed on as full and final settlement of all claims. “On what basis?” asks Indira Jaising. “The numbers of the dead and the injured had not been quantified until then. By settling, they dropped all criminal liability. I had challenged their authority to settle but the government argued that it could do so under parens patriae, protector of the interests of its population. The victims were not heard when the settlement was reached. The government held nearly half the shares of UCIL, so was it protecting itself? There was a clear conflict of interest between the government and the victims. But this point of view was considered backward-looking.” She added that that human rights activists had failed to work out an effective strategy.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal convicted Keshub Mahindra, former chairman of UCIL, and six others under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence) of the Indian Penal Code, inviting the kind of punishment attracted for road accidents. They were all released on bail by the evening of the same day.

The now defunct factory, surrounded by a periphery wall and with its premises thickly wooded, has little to remind one of the tragedy. Buildings have replaced the shanties outside. Children use the abandoned factory grounds as a cricket pitch and buffaloes graze around the boundary walls. In 2012, the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research submitted a report to the Supreme Court confirming that the groundwater in 18 colonies in the area was contaminated with heavy metals such as lead and nickel, their quantities far higher than the permissible limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The Pollution Monitoring Lab of the Centre for Science and Environment found in 2009 that groundwater three kilometres away from the factory was also contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals. The ICMR stopped its study in 1994 and restarted only in 2010 after it was compelled by a court order.

Activists claim that the ICMR and the State government continue to flout court orders with impunity. By the government’s own admission, around 1.1 million tonnes of soil is contaminated in the area.

Pravir Krishn, Principal Secretary, Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, says that under the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, the Supreme Court must take the decisions and the State government has neither the authority nor any responsibility to do anything on its own. As far as the 18,000 tonnes of hazardous waste sitting on the factory site and in the solar evaporation pond is concerned, he said 346 tonnes would be incinerated in Pithampura once Ramki Infrastructure obtained the equipment for it. A Rs.110 crore project is being initiated for plant remediation. “The focus should move from life and death to growth, development and we should look forward with great positive energy. Every calamity has an opportunity inside that we have to seize,” he told Frontline.

Holding on to memories

Survivors and activists are against the idea of a state memorial on factory land and do not want their narratives hijacked by agencies they consider complicit in the injustice meted out to them. Many middle-class Bhopalis do not want to live in the past and want to move on. But people from poorer socio-economic groups cannot move on so easily and their memories are alive in their lived experiences, such as the genetic defects that their offspring carry. The memories are alive in stories of unsung heroes, such as that of the Deputy Station Superintendent Dastaghir, who ensured that no train halted at the station that fateful night, thus saving thousands of lives, before falling down in his office.

In an attempt to keep these stories from getting lost, the Remember Bhopal Museum was opened on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. “Families have given to the museum mementos that were often their last tangible link with relatives they lost in the tragedy. Many others have recounted their harrowing tales of survival and fierce struggle,” says Rama Lakshmi, its curator.

It celebrates the tenacity of people like Abdul Jabbar, who is now 50 per cent blind and has badly affected lungs but continues to fight relentlessly for justice. When you ask him how long he thinks it will take to get justice, he says, “I don’t know. I am entering a dark tunnel. But with the hope there will be light somewhere. Let us see.”


Slavoj Zizek: The Need to Censor Our Dreams

November 25, 2014

Noted philosopher and political activist Slavoj Zizek discusses postcolonialism, Brahminical capitalism, protofascism of Gandhi, the egalitarian tradition of Ambedkar and systematic violence against women amongst other things in a lecture at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Public Affairs on November 11, 2014. Check out his new book Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism.

A Dalit Marxist Manifesto

November 25, 2014

What is the difference between Dalit Marxists and Hindu Leftists in understanding and fighting against Hindu fascism? A Very personal note — by Chittibabu Padavala

Unlike many of my comrades, I have this peculiar problem of leftist trolls, rather than the rightist ones. Since I do not believe in the usefulness of discussing with fascists and their apologists or the deniers, I focus exclusively on those who are supposed to be fighting fascism or who I think belong to potential or real constituencies against fascism.

To dramatize a bit, we Dalit Marxists say: you either smash fascists if you can or be finished by them or at least run for your life. You don’t waste time trying to convince them. Not even for the benefit of those overhearing the conversation. That would give a dangerous impression that fascists are worth talking to. Admittedly, we Dalit Marxists have it a bit easy in this regard. We are most unlikely to be born into or of a family or kin of fanatic Hindu fascists like most Hindu communists are.

However, being a Dalit Marxist is risking a double misunderstanding, and one constant humiliation: you will have to explain always that you’ve got nothing to do with that philistine Anand Teltumbde and other such Dalit agents or imitators of upper-caste leftists.

The double misunderstanding in question needs some background. When a typical upper-caste leftist hears the word Dalit Marxism, s/he would wonder what this crazy thing is. Marxism is Marxism, what is Dalit or Muslim or Marathi about it? It doesn’t matter that upon approaching a leftist-sounding person in India, the typical upper-caste leftist tries to figure out if the comrade is China-type (Naxal) or Russia-type (CPM) or some updated version of the division. You can be assured that this ideal-type upper-caste comrade never asks herself why all Communist parties in India are ‘of India’, while they should be internationalist through and through.

Anyway, the typical comrade doesn’t express this irritation at the contamination of the word Marxism with, of all things, the word Dalit. Most of the upper-caste communists will have nothing to do with Dalit Marxism because the very first word puts them off doubly.

In the second and engaging-Dalits-type, some of them being the indoctrinating enthusiasts, have already learnt that speaking to, even touching, a Dalit doesn’t actually harm them. In fact, it helps to acquire some ‘radicalism capital’– self-righteous edge over other rivals in the academia or in other fields – or to exude a more-multi-cultural-than-thou kind of airs if one can speak of a Dalit friend, preferably in the context of telling ‘others’ (not quite, because they are of same caste/class/color/accent cluster), how they together had beef in a Muslim slum.

There must be one small category of people among these, a theoretical possibility that cannot be ruled out though experience tells us the opposite, who really want to try their persuasion skills, a kind of training in radical argumentation and recruitment.

There is a certain undeniable injustice in subjecting that small upper-caste leftist section which actually tries, for all the ills and ill will of Hindu Communism, to engage with Dalits and Dalit Marxism. Yet, this category of comrades is no less infuriating because of their over-confident stupidity and predictably manipulating behavior from the word go, and till the end. A sample of them, from a much bigger pool of examples we accumulated or put up with, seems to believe that Dalit Marxism is half-Dalit and half-Marxist.

One almost hears a fair-skinned smart sophomore who had already attended two campus or college processions and one wall-poster workshop and innumerable discussions with classmates in the college and hostels, shouting to a Dalit Marxist: ‘Good you have already crossed half-way mark, boy, you will get over with that Dalit bit if you try, no problem, we will only help you!’

My suppressed anger and muted cries to make the upper-caste comrade notice that my ‘full-timer’ experience alone is longer than his entire adult years would not shake an iota of his self-confidence. He would be, in a moment, stretches his hand to me, launching his mission of saving me from the caste and its narrow-mindedness, through ‘Savarnasplaining’  (a la Solnit), expecting me to notice that what matters is class, state, and economics, above everything else. The upper-caste comrade would also patiently point to me why ‘identity politics’ is a bad thing, and why we must think about ‘larger’ and ‘broader’ issues.

The difficulty in accepting so stretched a hand towards me from our upper-caste comrade is that it is not to shake hands with me but to pat on my shoulder and to nudge me to ‘really real’ things than the ones I feel strongly about, owing to my ‘understandable’ experiences which I must as much unlearn as learn from. Grudge, you know, is not revolutionary. ‘Understandable’ here stands for ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘unacceptable’.

The trouble with such ‘me’ here is that the image is exclusively in the eyes of the beholder. The empirical me and real me don’t resemble the picture in the comrade’s imagination. Such attitude is part of growing up upper-caste in India, they just can’t imagine how to look at the world without them being at the center of it, they can’t look at a lower-caste person except from above. Being progressive, radical, revolutionary are not just products of only honest, idealist and painstaking study and analysis of the world but also a resurfacing of the old theme of Higher-hood now denied to them, or they live in denial of, adjusted on a new surface.

The trouble is that the Dalit Marxism is not half-Marxist and half- Dalit. It is fully Marxist and fully Dalit. We are in no way keen on meeting our upper-caste comrade halfway. We are in the business of bringing Marxism back to where it belongs: lowest in stature and biggest in numbers of the Hindu society, the lower castes. This also means releasing Marxism from the shackles of upper-castes. Marxism can and must do better than being monopolized by the upper-castes and be abused as a tool for their upward/forward obsession. Not that upper-caste Communists do not mean to improve the world from what it is now. Some of them surely do. Only that it is easy for them to imagine a communist world than to their marginality in society. It somehow cannot be put into their minds that such pathological self-importance is a direct product and clearest expression of upper-caste privilege and upbringing.

Therefore, for the benefit of such comrades, their thinking, their programs, let us clarify what Dalit Marxists stand for. Unlike you Hindus, we Marxists are committed to a politics of clearly stating what we want to do.

In an Andersonian spirit, we will make our point not merely as a statement of any abstract principle, but through an instructive case that gives the impression of an ideal meeting ground for both of us – Dalit Marxists and Hindu Leftists.…/national-convention-dalit-righ…

Hindu communists start an all-India Dalit organizational network! If the shamelessly slavish performance of one of its constituent organizations is anything to go by, it might be one more of a series of cruel Communist jokes on Dalits, projected on a national scale, or even worse.

It is tempting to assume that the initiative might be a good thing given the Hindu fascists being in power, and that it is better for the guttural and well-entrenched anti-fascism of Dalits and professionalized, iron-fisted discipline of the Communists to come together and even merge.

Aren’t we the ones castigating Hindu upper-caste Communists all these years for neglecting ‘caste problem’, and in their complicity with caste status quo, its continued perpetration in wider society and even charging the communist upper-castes with the crime of reproducing the same old caste hierarchies in their own ranks even more rigorously?

Isn’t it the oft-repeated Dalit Marxist line to say that there are many Hindu temples Dalits can enter in this country but no single politbureau of any communist party that lets Dalits in? Isn’t this all-India confederation of Dalit organizations something to be welcomed? Even if it is too late and too little, don’t we have to support it and strengthen it? Even if this is seen as hypocrisy, isn’t the hypocrisy a tribute paid by the evil to the virtue? Can’t we dare to imagine that the social processes so unleashed and its resultant new political sensibilities can have a life and momentum of their own? Isn’t it cynical to rule out any good coming out of this gesture, by precluding the potential of Dalits making the best of this?

One of the main sources of the vitality, humanity, resilience, responsiveness, endurance and effectiveness of Dalit organizations across India is that most of them are never organizationally affiliated to any political party, let alone to any – invariably Hindu and upper-caste – Communist party. This allows them to keep away the typical problems that come with rigid structures of organization and top-down approaches the Indian communist parties suffer from.

This happy situation doesn’t let any uniform policy, form of struggle or demand, grip the Dalit activism, as in the case with the most work of the most Communist-affliated front organizations that reduces them to become irrelevant and ideological in their local, specific situation.

It is a major part of the explanation for Dalit activism’s superior creativity, humane organizational functioning, freedom from bureaucratization, decency in mostly avoiding and occasionally conducting in-fighting without any communist-style waste of energies in maligning similar and fellow organizations, brainwashing, isolating dissenters, boycotting the recalcitrant and obsessive indoctrination.

Since caste-inspired, caste-inflected oppression and exclusion are always and everywhere very specific – with the activists having to each time, in every case, decide on who are opponents, who are friends or neutral parties, and so to what extent, how much of it can change and how – Dalit activism typically doesn’t easily fall for usual communist infirmities like stupid belief in policy or argumentative uniformities.

Before any postmodernist steps in seeing some potential here, let me clarify that Dalit activism’s basic target of struggle is neither Capitalism nor Indian state but Hinduism and non-Dalit society. In fact, sometimes we find the first two less antagonistic to our lives, goals and politics than the latter and, in some conditions, as useful for us against the first pair. Every Dalit activist in this country knows, unless she is fed excessively on the philistine Teltumbde’s work, or still to get out of the ideological slavery of Hindu communist parties, that our main oppressor is society around us more than the state or globalization.

Communist-style uniform policies, centralized-command structure, half-feudal/half-militaristic hierarchies and abject cadre surrender and slavishness are neither possible nor useful for Dalit activism as we have to use our own minds and grasp of each empirical situation, agitation or mobilization without resorting to handed-down pre-fixes for all situations, and without any exclusive focus on uniform, impersonal, ‘hidden’ structures like class, capitalism, neo-liberalism etc.

Now the potentially pernicious effects of this Hindu communism’s incursions into Dalit activist field are not difficult to discern, it might be impossible later to fight back if we are not alert now. First attack will be on the temperamental autonomy of Dalit Organizations and their constitutive creativity and inbuilt immunity to dogmatism. Second one will take the form of a seduction: Hindu communists offer us unity on a national scale but will only bring in uniformity. This only means training Dalit activists in turning away from empirical realities and possibilities around and learning how to parrot centrally formulated slogans when prompted by higher-ups.

Another predictable danger in this attempted Hindu colonization of Dalit activism through communist bait is, turning our sphere of work from humanizing Hindu society to fighting faceless capitalism/globalization, forfeiting the Dalit-specific rights and concerns, in favor of building the so-called unity of people.

Yet another menace in this stealthy and conspiratorial takeover of our slowly growing representational space in the media is, instrumentalization of our issues for communist blackmailing and embarrassing techniques against governments, used opportunistically.
The biggest and deadliest danger in communist patronage/leadership/usurping of Dalit concerns is the immediate abortion of something absolutely important, the upper-caste communists will surely achieve with disastrous effects, if not counteracted.

When the ongoing genocide of Muslims created conditions and a demand for much-needed coming together of lower castes and Muslims, Upper-Caste communists with their innate incapacity to understand fascism, ineradicable unwillingness to fight it anywhere outside media and legal domains, will keep Muslims and lower-castes separate.

While all the time preaching to lower caste activists broader perspective and prescribing universalism as against our narrow ‘identity politics’, the Hindu communists are specialization-hungry professionalizers. Unlike the Dalit activists who participate in every single struggle for justice in their realms with a broader sense and grasp of social issues and all-round political education and experience, the Hindu communists severely impose specilization on the activists with one-sided expertise, a pathological inability to work without pre-existing structures or models and also without orders and permissions from above. For all their shouting at the top of their voices of the virtues of unity and universalism, their actual training of cadre follows the Taylorism of professionalization with its inevitable fragmentation of the cadres.

Then, isn’t it the time for us to come together, close the ranks and fight fascism? Dalits must reject this communist colonization precisely because of the fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to Hindutva fascism.

Hindu Communists are not against Hinduism but only against Hindutva version of it. We reject both. We consider that Hindutva poses immediate and pressing deadly threat but Hinduism is more pernicious, though a deeper yet long-term problem. This tricky but deadly difference requires us to respond to Hindutva without delay but treat Hinduism as the main and ultimate enemy.

When Hindutva overreach will ultimately spell its doom and open up possibilities for a Post-Hindu India, Hindu communists with their fanatic belief in a good, non-violent, tolerant, even multicultural Hinduism will be our first enemy, something that surely comes in the way of moving towards a post-Hindu India.

For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a problem of Capitalism. For us, it is only one of the many avatars of Hinduism. Hindutva is, from our perspective, a Hinduism that takes its own religious core very seriously. For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a perversion of Hinduism. For us, Hindutva is more honest and authentic version of Hinduism. It represents the extension of what old Hinduism does to Dalits round-the-clock in all walks of life to new victims: Christians and Muslims. While old Hinduism’s killings of Dalits are to set examples, Hindutva’s inexorable dynamic is to eliminate its new victims.

Hindu Communists believe that Hindutva is divisive. We point out that what they are doing is unification of a religion and a nation. We say that unifying, ‘uniforming’ drive of Hindutva can only be combated by inherently divisive, conflictive force of caste. The Hindu Communists reject both caste-based mobilizations and religion-based mobilizations. We charge that they not only fail to stop Hindutva (they helped them come to power in the first place, but that is a different story), they successfully discredit and preclude the only possible opposition, the Muslim and lower-caste combined mobilization against Hindutva, thus helping fascists.

Orgy of Myth-making

November 24, 2014

With a BJP government at the Centre, rewriting history and suppressing alternative points of view seem to be the order of the day. By DIVYA TRIVEDI

HISTORICAL revisionism has attained a certain kind of urgency in the country today. The blurring of the lines between fact and myth is being expedited like never before. Sweeping generalisations about the past are being made publicly and repeatedly, not only by individuals but also by formal organisations. Conferences are being organised to rearrange facts and show “Hindus” as the true inheritors of the land and all “others” as foreigners or invaders. This is to build a narrative of a glorious Hindu Rashtra that negates the contributions of the Mughals, Buddhists, Christians and everybody else.

Interestingly, the favourite whipping boy is the medieval period. This October, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana commemorated the medieval king Hemu, or Hemchandra Vikramaditya, in a grand function in Delhi for having ascended the throne after 350 years of Mughal rule. The fact that throughout his life Hemu worked under the Pashtun/Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri and towards furthering his reign was reduced to a footnote. It was only by defeating other Afghan rebels that Hemu became king. His reign is being glorified as extraordinary, never mind that it did not last for even a month as he lost in battle and died.

At the frontiers of such revisionism are people like Dina Nath Batra, who has made a career out of forcing publishers (legally) not to publish books he disapproves of, and Subramanian Swamy, who threatens television anchors live on air (“The Newshour” with Arnab Goswami, September 17) and calls citizens who ask him questions “demented” (Ram Kumar from Mumbai asked Swamy during a phone-in when the VVIP culture would end, “The Newshour”, September 17). Research institutions and educational bodies are being filled with people who triumph through rhetoric rather than with professionally capable academics.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be in a hurry to consolidate its vote bank further by including the backward castes in the Hindu fold. The fuelling of Dalit-Muslim antagonism, tested in Gujarat 2002 and successfully rejigged in western Uttar Pradesh before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, peaked with the Trilokpuri riots in Delhi, which saw clashes between the low-caste Valmikis and Muslims. While politically the BJP is making great strides in co-opting the lower castes by using groups such as the Valmikis, in the social sphere it is relying on reconversions, or ghar wapsi, and spreading the myth of love jehad.

A 2.45-minute-long audio recording Frontline accessed via WhatsApp has a girl’s voice warning listeners about a Muslim extremist organisation headquartered in Dhaka (Bangladesh) with its Indian centre in Kerala through which “mullahs” and “maulvis” advise [Muslim] Bollywood stars to marry at least two Hindu girls and produce 12 children each. This will inspire the average Muslim man to lure two Hindu girls and produce 12 children each. At this rate, India will be converted to an Islamist state in just 24 years! Apparently reading from a text in Hindi, the girl’s voice says: “Recently, the police have apprehended a Muslim man named Wasim Akram, who created a Facebook profile by the name of Daksh Sharma and lured Hindu women and sexually assaulted them.” The recording begins and ends by advising listeners to circulate it widely. Such propaganda not only undermines a woman’s agency but also strengthens anti-Muslim prejudice, and it aims to disrupt the communal harmony that inter-religious marriages bring to the fabric of any society.

In the academic sphere, revisionism is rapidly taking place through the writing of books with distorted histories. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comments on Ganesha’s elephant head being proof of the existence of cosmetic surgery in ancient India are an indication of the path spin doctors of history are expected to follow. At a Mumbai hospital, he told a gathering of doctors: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.” To support his claim of the use of advanced science in ancient India, Modi said: “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.” No doctor in the audience challenged him.

While delivering the third Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Lecture, titled “To Question or Not to Question, That is the Question”, the historian Romila Thapar raised the issue of academics’ silence in the face of blatant untruths. “When it comes to religious identities and their politics, we witness hate campaigns based on absurd fantasies about specific religions and we no longer confront them frontally. Such questioning means being critical of organisations and institutions that claim a religious intention but use their authority for non-religious purposes,” she said.

The BJP spokesman Vijay Sonkar Shastri recently authored three books—Hindu Charmakar Jati, Hindu Khatik Jati and Hindu Valmiki Jati. The RSS leaders Bhaiyyaji Joshi (general secretary), Suresh Soni and Krishna Gopal wrote the forewords. Released by the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, all three texts claim that Dalits, Indian Muslims and tribal people were “created” by Muslim invasion and subsequent atrocities in medieval times and that Sudras were never untouchables in the Hindu religion.

Joshi said: “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders…, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.” Soni wrote: “Dalits had their genesis during Turk, Muslim and Mughal eras. Today’s castes like Valmikis, Sudarshan, Majhabi Sikhs and their 624 sub-castes came into being as a result of atrocities against Brahmins and Kshatriyas during medieval or Islamic age.”

The ignorance the three RSS leaders exhibit about a religion they publicly espouse is remarkable. They seem not to have read the Rg Veda, the source of numerous Hindu traditions and beliefs. The historian D.D. Kosambi had read it in Sanskrit, and according to The Oxford India Kosambi, compiled, edited and introduced by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, the Rg Veda speaks of four major castes, tribes being outside the then localised caste scheme: “Brahmana was his (the Supreme Being’s) mouth, Kshatriya made of his arms; the Vaisya his thighs, and the Sudra generated from his feet (RV.X.90.12), says the particularly sacred Puru-sasukta hymn. Yet the four-caste system is not described as prevalent outside of India, where the earliest division into Arya and Dasa was known to persist.”

As far as animal sacrifice is concerned, Kosambi had this to say: “The function of Vedic ritual is the celebration of certain animal sacrifices at the fire-altar. The five principal sacrificial animals are in order of importance: man, horse, bull (or cow), ram, he-goat…, and their flesh was to be eaten as is seen from rubrics for the disposal of the carcasses….” Horse sacrifice is particularly significant, given the importance Aryans attached to horses.

Will Subramanian Swamy give a call now to burn Kosambi’s books along with the “Nehruvian books” of Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar?

Michael Witzel, the Harvard University Indologist, and Steve Farmer, a comparative historian, in the article “Horseplay in Harappa” (Frontline, September 30, 2000) proved how a fake seal of a horse was trumped up by a Hindutva propagandist historian and warned against the dangers of inflicting on the present such anti-scientific twisted images of India.

“In the past few decades, a new kind of history has been propagated by a vocal group of Indian writers, few of them trained historians, who lavishly praise and support each other’s works. Their aim is to rewrite Indian history from a nationalistic and religious point of view…. Unquestionably, all sides of Indian history must be repeatedly re-examined. But any massive revisions must arise from the discovery of new evidence, not from desires to boost national or sectarian pride at any cost…. The current ‘revisionist’ models contradict well-known facts: they introduce horse-drawn chariots thousands of years before their invention; imagine massive lost literatures filled with ‘scientific’ knowledge unimaginable anywhere in the ancient world; project the Rigveda into impossibly distant eras, compiled in urban or maritime settings suggested nowhere in the text; and imagine Vedic Sanskrit or even Proto Indo-European rising in the Panjab or elsewhere in northern India, ignoring 150 years of evidence fixing their origins to the northwest.”


In the process of myth making, denying certain myths their space also becomes important as in the case of Mahishasura. The festival of Vijayadashami, which falls on the 10th day of the Hindu festival of Navratri, celebrates the killing of Ravana by Rama. The goddess Durga’s killing of the demon king Mahishasura is also celebrated. These stories depict Rama and Durga as “good” and Ravana and Mahishasura as “evil”. There are 300 versions of the mythological epic Ramayana and as many interpretations of which character in the story stands for what. While upper-caste Hindus pray to Rama and Durga, several communities, including the backward classes, some tribes and some Brahmin sub-sects, consider themselves to be descendants of Mahishasura and Ravana and worship them.

The burning of effigies of Ravana has been carried out in public for many years in a celebratory fashion, and followers of Ravana spend the day in mourning by not stepping outside their houses. For the past four years now, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi has been holding a public meeting on this day, calling it Mahishasura Shahadat Diwas (Mahishasura Martyrdom Day) and inviting speakers to come and share their views. This year, on October 9, the students’ wing of the BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), disrupted the meeting and attacked those present, injuring students who had formed a human chain to ward off the goons. A girl, Sonam Goel, was kicked in the stomach by one in the attacking mob. The previous night, Ivan Kostka, the editor of Forward Press magazine, was arrested and his office raided within hours of a complaint being filed after midnight by an ABVP member at the local police station. The October issue of Forward Press was devoted to the “Bahujan-Shraman tradition” and carried research articles.

“The Bahujan rendition of the story of ‘Mahishasura’ and ‘Durga’ has been presented in words and through sketches and paintings. There is absolutely nothing in the issue that can be described as objectionable under the Indian Constitution. Our objective was not to humiliate or hurt the sentiments of any community or group. We are only trying to identify and rejuvenate the symbols of Bahujan culture and civilisation. Anyway, Bahujan renditions of popular texts have a long tradition, starting from Jyotiba Phule and going up to [B.R.] Ambedkar and Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy],” said Pramod Ranjan, consulting editor.

Although these are two separate incidents, the precision with which the attack in JNU was carried out and the quick police action against Forward Press make them appear coordinated and premeditated. The JNU administration was under pressure from the local police to disallow the holding of the Mahishasura event, according to a source who wishes to remain anonymous. Various students organisations—the All India Bahujan Students’ Parliament, the All India Students’ Association, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), the All India Students Federation, Concerned Students, the Democratic Students’ Front, the Democratic Students’ Union, Janrang, the Krantikari Naujawan Sabha, the Students’ Federation of India, The New Materialists and the United Dalit Students Front—took part in a march on October 12 protesting against the administration’s clampdown on the meeting and the right-wing violence.

JNU is only one of the many places where Shahadat Diwas is celebrated. There are several communities and tribes (primarily Asura) who revere Ravana and mourn on the day he was killed. Protest marches against the incident in JNU were held in several places, including Patna, Nawada and Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Bangalore in the south. Pradeep from Siwan, Bihar, told Frontline over the telephone that close to 150 people gathered on October 5 in Gandhi Chowk, Patna, and around 400 people gathered in Nawada the day before. The event was presided over by former MPs and MLAs of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Mahishasura celebrations in different parts of the country were reported in the press. In Punjab, hundreds of people gathered in the cities of Jalandhar and Ludhiana to hold shok sabhas (condolence meetings). Raj Kumar Atikaye, the head of the Punjab Safai Karamchari Welfare Board, said: “We need to follow his [Ravana’s] ideals. Even his enemies recognised him as a scholar…. When women and minors are being raped in our society, Ravana did not touch the wife of his enemy who was in his custody.”

The Dashanan temple in the Shivala locality of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, built in 1865 and opened once a year on Vijayadashami day, echoed with the chants of “Jai Lankesh” and “Lankapati Naresh ki Jai Ho”. There is a five-foot idol of Ravana at the Chhinnmastika temple, which is near the Dashanan temple. People believe the idol to be the chowkidar (guard) of Maa Chhinnmastika and worship it on Vijayadashami. Ravana is believed to be a devotee of Siva.

At a village called Ravan in Nateran in Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh, Ravana is worshipped by Kanyakubja Brahmins, the sub-sect to which he is believed to have belonged. Effigies of him are never burnt in the village and his blessings are taken on every occasion as they are believed to ward off evil; people even have stickers on their vehicles with the words “Jai Lankesh”. The Mahishasura festival was also celebrated with great enthusiasm this year by people in Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow and Dewariya), Bihar (Buxar and Vaishali), West Bengal (Purulia) and Jharkhand (Giridih and Damodar Gop).

In Delhi’s Titarpur area, most villagers earn money by making Ravana effigies, no matter what their primary profession is, and consider him a blessing. Just as some people have their reasons for worshipping Rama or Jesus or the Buddha, some others worship Ravana for their own reasons. The Bharatiya Dalit Panther Party (BDPP) organised a mela to protest against the burning of effigies of Ravana in Pukhrayan in Kanpur Dehat district, Uttar Pradesh. Pinku Prasad, the party’s district president, reportedly said: “We will not tolerate the practice of burning effigies of Lord Ravana anymore. The government should also ensure that the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad are accorded due respect.” The ceremony was conducted in the spirit of Ambedkar, a Dalit and a follower of the Buddha, who fought against discrimination in society, he added.

Ravana is believed to be a Dravidian king of the Gond tribe who was well versed in the Vedas. Apart from holding a Ravana Mela, the BDPP has also been organising a “Baudh Dikhsha” ceremony every year so that future generations will remember Ravana’s sacrifice and continue the tradition.

In this context, in the article in Forward Press “Why this celebration of death?”, the writer Premkumar Mani asked: “If someone made a festival of the massacre in Gujarat or the massacres of Dalits in Bihar, or say, a celebration of the death of Bhumihars—how would that feel?”

Jitendra Yadav of the All India Backward Students’ Forum, the organiser of the event in JNU, told Frontline that children in backward class homes are told stories of Mahishasura’s valour. “Though the worship of Ravana is not in the form of an organised thought, it is there in our consciousness because of the culture dished out to us as kids. Stories of him are found in folk songs in the Yadav community in the form of Biraha.” Jitendra Yadav added that worshippers of Durga do not fret because the goddess is not the focus of the celebrations and is mentioned only in passing. The objective is to talk about the cultural heritage of the backward classes, which includes Ravana, Mahishasura, Ekalavya, Sambuka and Surpanakha, all of whom are humiliated or killed in the Savarna version of the myths.
Transformation on campus

Gaurav Jogi, a PhD student in JNU who is researching student politics, sees a transformation in campus cultures from debate to violence. He also points out that since 1991 there has been a culture among the Dalit communities on campuses of celebrating their own identity through programmes on Ambedkar and Phule. “While the Dalits were doing this, the ABVP did not have a problem as it was done in an academic fashion. But now that the OBCs [Other Backward Classes] are also celebrating their own identity and reaching out to the masses, the OBC vote bank that the BJP wants to consolidate is being threatened.” Last year, students under the banner of the EFLU Asura Community in the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, celebrated a Narakasura week during which they organised an academic seminar titled “Reinterpreting Indian History: Redefining Secularism in University Spaces”, an open forum titled “Resisting Dominance: Articulating Cultural Resistance” and a face-painting competition with the theme Ravana. Students and artists were extended an open invitation to participate in art installations and public canvas painting. Students, including women, from the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/OBC communities were slapped with criminal charges at the behest of the ABVP. This raises the question, to what extent are educational campuses being Savarna-ised? But these instances point to the cultural transformations taking place on campuses that have to be welcomed. With reference to the clampdowns, students ask the valid question: “If Ganesh Chaturthi can be celebrated on campuses, then why not Asura festivals?”

Anant Prakash Narayan, vice-president of the JNUSU, calls the new government UPA (United Progressive Alliance) III: “Everything that the UPA did, this government is doing at thrice the speed. We do not believe in either Durga or Mahishasura. We believe one can’t destroy a myth by creating a parallel myth, but the right to freedom of expression and dissent has to be defended. It has been JNU’s culture to move forward through discussions, not through censorship. As far as hurt sentiments are concerned, the ABVP is the last group that should talk about it because in reality when they tell women what to wear or not to wear, they are hurting women’s sentiments the most.”

At a public meeting, Sunil Kumar Suman, a former JNU-ite, said: “We have to understand the politics of myth as our country is steeped in superstitions. There are encyclopaedias of gods and goddesses. Rama is not just a myth. Riots take place in his name; people are killed and raped in his name. These myths have to be countered, and myths have to be reinvented.” At the same meeting, Gautam Navlakha, an activist, pointed out that the present government is able to institutionalise communalism thanks to previous governments, which strengthened the state apparatus to an absurd level.

“We are not taking any chances”

November 24, 2014

Interview with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. By DIVYA TRIVEDI

ELECTIONS to the Delhi Legislative Assembly are nearing, but Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief ministerial candidate in the Assembly elections last year in Delhi, says he has more pressing things on his mind, such as Ebola. Handling the portfolio of Health & Family Welfare in the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, Harsh Vardhan wants to set targets that are achievable within the next five years . In an interview to Frontline, he outlined the government’s plans for tackling Ebola and also discussed the other health initiatives in the pipeline.

What precautions is the government taking to tackle Ebola?

In India, there have been no Ebola deaths or even suspected cases. Even if there is the slightest doubt about some kind of direct or indirect contact with an Ebola-affected person or if somebody has come from an Ebola-affected country, then we subject that person to the maximum technical and scientific scrutiny by collecting his/her health history, assessing all the factors, and keeping them under observation or in quarantine. We are tracking every person entering the country through sea or by air right from entry to the his/her final destination in the country. Around 19 airports in 12 States have been covered. India has been highly proactive, doing everything even before the World Health Organisation makes a recommendation. The WHO recommends health history recording and screening at the exit point, that is, when somebody is leaving an Ebola-affected country and not while entering a country.

But we are not taking any chances. We started these precautions much before there was a hue and cry about Ebola, and that’s why we are confident of being able to handle it. All passengers of national and international airlines coming directly or indirectly to this country are being scrutinised with the help of the Civil Aviation Department and the aircraft crew. There are health checks at immigration points, including a thermal scan and blood sample collection if required. A passenger is let off only when the health personnel are fully satisfied about his/her condition. If the person tests positive, then we keep him/her under observation for 20 days. We have trained all the relevant staff, doctors, and nurses; master trainers are created who train others. We have a world-class surveillance system that was endorsed and approved by the WHO during the polio-eradication effort. Blood tests have been done on around 100 persons, and 20,000 to 25,000 people have been screened so far.

The WHO reported that so far 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola and 4,900 have died. At the same time, it released a report stating that three million people with tuberculosis were being “missed” by health systems every year because there was no diagnosis or because the cases went unreported. So exactly how real is the Ebola scare for India?

There have been 20-24 epidemics of Ebola in the past, but the Ebola strain this time in West Africa is very strong. Until now, 10,000 people have been affected, over 5,000 have died and many medical personnel have also died. That way, you cannot afford to take the disease casually. Even if there is a 1 per cent mortality rate, you have to take the disease seriously. The good thing about Ebola is that it is not an airborne disease. The bad thing is the official mortality rate, which is very high—up to 80-90 per cent though it is 55-60 per cent according to the WHO. But the precautions we are taking for Ebola are not at the cost of tuberculosis, which also needs attention in a big way.

What are the other priority areas in the health sector for the government?

We intend to eliminate diseases such as measles, neonatal tetanus, leprosy, filaria and kala azar [leishmaniasis]. We have launched a programme in Bihar and the four States adjoining it to eliminate kala azar by next year. A programme for the elimination of filaria will also be launched in one and a half years. While the WHO has set a target for the elimination of measles by 2020, I want to achieve it by 2018. Then, there are diseases we want to check through early diagnosis such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular ailments by providing treatment at early stages. The National Health Assurance Mission is going to be the biggest activity that will be rolled out in the near future. It will ensure that all people in the country can access a package of services, that essential drugs are assured, that the Indian system of medicine is expanded, and that an insurance mechanism is in place to deal with tertiary-care issues.

We also intend to focus on medical education reforms. There is a need to drastically change the curriculum and add new subjects such as environmental medicine, occupational medicine, and ethics.

Then, we have to asses the deficit in the availability of health workers, doctors, nurses and paramedics.

How prepared is the country to launch a timely response to a disease such as Ebola? What is the government doing to strengthen the health-care system?

We have a fairly good, responsive public health system in the country. We have a very good-quality surveillance mechanism and research laboratories.

One of the early decisions taken by the Modi government was to establish a dozen more AIIMS [All India Institutes of Medical Sciences]. We are in the process of upgrading our medical colleges to superspecialty hospitals, upgrading our district hospitals, opening 60-70 cancer centres and State-level cancer institutes. We are in the process of developing a lot of infrastructure in the near future. We are going to push Ayurveda in the biggest possible way through the Ayush Mission whereby not only Ayurveda but all other Indian health-care systems such as Siddha, Unani, homeopathy, yoga and naturopathy will grow. We will help State governments to develop these in a big way.

We’ll further strengthen the existing dispensaries and research centres of Ayurveda. With our help, State governments can create more institutions and facilities to carry out research on Ayurvedic medicines. We will involve the government and the private and corporate sectors to develop the infrastructure and manpower.

For Globalisation of Compassion

November 24, 2014

Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace laureate, talks about his work, his mission and the award. By DIVYA TRIVEDI

Kailash Satyarthi
AS the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 were announced in Oslo, Norway, many people googled to find out who Kailash Satyarthi was. Satyarthi, a Gandhian who won the prize for his contributions to the global child rights campaign, was himself surprised when a newspaper reporter called him for a comment. He had no idea that the prize was being announced on that day and thought that the journalist was asking him to make an observation on the winner, whoever that was. Only when his people burst into his room and congratulated him did he realise that he had indeed won the prize, along with Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai. He says he was calm and did not display great excitement, much to their amazement. His name had been in the reckoning for the prize for some years, so the prize was not a complete surprise.

The Nobel Committee deemed it important to award a Hindu and a Muslim, especially an Indian and a Pakistani, in a common struggle for education and against extremism. There are 168 million child labourers (in 2000, the figure was 78 million more) around the world today, according to the committee.

Kailash Satyarthi set up Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) in 1980 after giving up a career in electrical engineering and teaching. The BBA says it had rescued more than 82,800 victims of trafficking, slavery and child labour by 2013. But Satyarthi says that these big numbers do not count; the smile that lights up the face of each rescued child is more precious to him. Two of his colleagues were murdered, and he himself was attacked while undertaking independent rescue operations in remote areas of India. The organisation has often taken a confrontational approach, going into quarries and rescuing children with or without the help of the police.

The award has already begun to bring the issues he works on into the limelight, says Satyarthi. More front-page stories on the issue appeared within hours of his winning the award than had appeared in the past 800 years, he says.

To him, the award is welcome but what drives him is an applied spirituality that begins with and may end with children. He thanks those who have given him an award and gives more thanks to those who have not given him any. His concerns remain pedestrian. When the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in New Delhi made him an honorary member after the prize, he asked if they would give him a few PRESS stickers to stick on his car so that he can sail smoothly through the traffic. “This will help keep the police from stopping me at signals,” he said. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

On winning the award:

“It’s a great recognition to millions of children who are deprived of their childhood, freedom, future, present, everything. So it is for the first time that their plight, struggle and the issues concerning them are being recognised at the highest level in one way. Some minutes ago, I was interviewed by a Colombian radio channel and he was asking more about India. But I said I also work in Colombia. I work in 144 countries. Child labour is a global problem. I always believe that no problem on the earth is an isolated one. They are so interwoven that we cannot address the problem in isolation. So the solutions cannot also be found in isolation. We have to work collectively. And that is something that is sometimes missing.

“When we look at the issue of child labour, people think it is an economic issue, a matter of poverty, lack of political will or lack of laws or non-implementation of laws or lack of resources, education, and so on. I see it as a combination of all, it’s a social evil. Many of our traditions and mindsets are responsible for the perpetuation of child labour. It is a crime against humanity and against many of the constitutional provisions and law. And we have to deal with it as a crime. It’s a development disaster because many of the victims are those who were pushed into it owing to the loss of livelihood of their parents, and these vulnerabilities are further manipulated by the traffickers. Trafficking is rampant globally and it is the third single largest illicit trade in the world.

“Slavery Day is being observed in many countries but slavery has not yet been abolished. Millions of children are victims of slavery. In the holistic sense, it is violence, and children are the worst victims of all sorts of violence, especially girl children.

“Illiteracy, poverty and child labour are forms of violence that constitute a vicious circle. So this prize will not only give visibility to the issue but a big boost to hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers like me globally. It has already given their morale a high.

“Many thought that the Nobel Peace Prize was meant only for very well-known and well-connected people, but in the hundreds of mails I am getting now people are saying that people who work silently are also recognised at some point. I know there are many people and organisations doing wonderful work, making bigger sacrifices than I and are more knowledgeable than I.

“Even in the BBA there are devoted people working in remote areas of Jharkhand and the north-eastern region, with no electricity or comfort. They have to walk miles in search of trafficked girls, their parents, and so on. I salute them. This prize goes to them all.”

On winning with Malala:

“I know Malala; she is very courageous. We were together recently in the Netherlands along with her family. So this recognition for two South Asians and one from the other side is quite significant. I cannot read much politically, so I am not going to react politically on what Malala has said —that the two Prime Ministers should come together. I told her that I am a very ordinary person, can’t think of inviting the Prime Minister. These are diplomatic and political issues. But what I can and will do is work with people in both the countries. I have been visiting Pakistan for the past 25 years and have travelled to the remotest areas. When we organised the Global March in 1998, we went across 103 countries and Pakistan was one of them. I know the problems, the people and their love. I think sustainable peace between these two countries will come only when people demand peace, start valuing each others’ concerns, dignity, identity and issues.

“Friendship of people is the foundation for any peace. I have been advocating that globalisation of the market and the economy looks fascinating but cannot be sustained without globalisation of compassion. Let us translate compassion into a social and political agenda.”

On Gandhi and compassion:

“Gandhiji was able to translate very basic virtues and values to social and eventually political movements. He was able to translate truth and non-violence into the freedom struggle. That was his beauty and innovation. I learnt this from him and my journey in all these years was how to translate human compassion into social action.

“Our perspective has become so narrow that we care about our biological children but don’t care about our neighbour’s or the country’s children. Compassion and care for children is there, but we do it only for the sake of our own children. We are materialistic for our children and grandchildren. We have to break that. We have to use our compassion for bigger and better causes.”

On meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

“It was a courtesy meeting but it was a very positive, exciting and encouraging meeting. He was very open in the way he talked and listened on the issues and we shared the view that we have to make India a child-friendly, proud, prosperous and clean country.

“We did not talk on specifics, but he is open to talk on specifics in the future and we hope that the present environment in the country will help us to strengthen the fight against child labour. If the Prime Minister of the country is excited about my work, then what else do I need? Let us see how the officers and the bureaucracy react, but I could see that excitement at the top.”

Solutions at the global level:

“I have worked in the stone quarries of Peru, amongst coco bean producers in Ivory Coast, Ghana and the remotest parts of Africa. The biggest problem is the mindsets of people in all these places. There is a need for geopolitical will. Financing is required. Governments globally should make more budgetary allocations and that has been my fight for so many years.

“I am also the founding president of the Global Campaign for Education and we have been advocating that governments must spend more money. Developing countries must fulfil their promises towards children and the developed countries must put more money for the education of children. What we need is an extra $80 billion to educate all the children in the world and that is less than three days of military expenditure. So the world has been able to produce more guns, weapons and bullets than books and toys that are needed for children. So, we have to introspect as to what is needed in the world. Do we need what people call defence because for me it is basically an offence—if you are going to use bullets and bombs, who is going to be defended? We must give good-quality and free education to children globally. I am not talking of just one country here.”

On Swami Agnivesh under whom he started working but later broke away to form the BBA:

“I am thankful to my teachers and co-workers. Swami Agnivesh and I worked together on bonded labour. We started together in 1981 and I have big respect for him. All of us have flaws and difficulties, he may have some or I may have some, but I have big respect for him. For anyone and everyone with whom I have worked in my life, I am thankful to all of them.”

Unfair Practice

November 24, 2014

rowing corruption and malpractices in the medical field raise the question whether measures like regulation and audit of medical practice will have to be initiated to protect the gullible public. By DIVYA TRIVEDI

AN 82-year-old patient from a middle-class background was admitted to a private hospital in Pune for an appendicitis procedure. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was conducted, though the patient’s relatives had expressed doubts about the need for such a scan for a case of appendicitis that had been clinically diagnosed. Upon the patient’s discharge from the hospital, he was billed Rs.89,000.

A woman was admitted to a multi-specialty hospital for a knee joint ligament operation. Specialists from every department in the hospital examined her, including a gynaecologist. When she objected, doctors said they wanted to rule out possibilities of other illnesses plaguing her.

Almost everybody who has fallen sick and accessed health care in India in recent times has similar stories to share. Overreach in the medical profession has become rampant, like a gnawing itch one learns to live with. Over the years, patients have been conditioned to believe that doctors who do not give lengthy prescriptions are not qualified enough, says Dr Amar Jesani, Editor of Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.

“Over-prescription is popular now but extra medicine can be harmful. Injections are given at the drop of a hat. But if a medication can be taken orally, then why inject, unless there is an emergency?” he says. Antibiotics and tonics are prescribed indiscriminately, and patients have become habituated to these. There are several nutrients that can be absorbed through food, and yet supplements have become a way of life, he adds.

Dr Sanjeev Chhibber, a senior cancer surgeon in Delhi and the president of the Naya Daur Party, says that doctors sometimes prescribe unnecessary investigations because of the kickbacks they receive from pharmacies, laboratories, equipment sellers and sundry other medical “brokers”.

“There are only a handful of doctors in the capital who have never taken commissions in their lives. There exists a strong nexus between hospitals, both private and public, and pathology laboratories. One of the biggest government hospitals in the capital refers all its investigations to fly-by-night laboratories that have set up shop right outside its gates. These depend on the hospital for business and in return offer generous commissions,” he told Frontline.

While the public sector institutions need to be made accountable, doctors feel that the rot in the private sector goes deeper. Doctors in the private sector are given business targets by the corporate owners of hospitals. If they fail to meet the targets, their association with the hospital may even be jeopardised, says Chhibber. If the doctors are able to generate a certain amount of business, they may be rewarded by a percentage of it. The Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai was recently in the news for this. It was proposing a scheme, “Elite Forum for Doctors”, where doctors would be rewarded with money for referring patients to the hospital. When the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) issued a show-cause notice to the hospital, they apologised and withdrew the scheme. That the biggest corporate house in the country apologised to a body that is toothless by its own admission is remarkable. Last year, Dr H.S. Bawaskar, who runs a hospital in Raigad district of Maharashtra, filed a complaint with the MMC with documentary proof of a diagnostic centre sending him a “cut” for referring his patients to it for scanning. There have been instances where gullible people travelling to towns and district centres from villages for treatment have been practically kidnapped from the railway stations or bus terminals by brokers and herded off to hospitals that give them a “commission”.

Agents, brokers and medical representatives have become permanent fixtures in hospitals and doctor’s clinics.

“Go to any hospital, and you will see hordes of medical representatives from pharmaceutical companies hovering around with gifts for the doctors,” says Jesani. Kickbacks are not the only factor that prompts unnecessary prescription, though. Brainwashing by doctors ensures that patients themselves ask for powerful medicines.

“You gave me a 500 mg dose last time which gave me instant relief, please do not give a lower dose,” says Jesani, mimicking a patient.

In order to restore a degree of faith in the doctors, cardiologists at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have come together to form the Society for Less Investigative Medicine (SLIM). It attempts to improve the doctor-patient relationship and sensitise people to unnecessary tests and annual check-ups that only add to the costs and do nothing to improve health. Leading the movement is Dr Balram Bhargava, who completed his medical education at King George’s Medical University in Lucknow and was subsequently trained in the United Kingdom. He has been a faculty member at the AIIMS for about 25 years. For the past eight or 10 years, he has been facing outpatients who come with huge files full of investigation reports and ask to be treated. “This is not the way I have learnt medicine. And no disease, with very few exceptions, can be prevented by screening. Diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity need to be checked. The physician can help the patient manage these by talking about diet and lifestyle. New knowledge says that one needn’t get everything monitored regularly unless one is 40 years old or there is a strong family history of a certain illness. In fact, investigations give a false sense of assurance to the patient,” he explains.

Government hospitals have also started taking the route of over-investigation, feels Dr Bhargava.

The problem of kickbacks is worse in rural areas. Dr Arun Gadre, who had a private gynaecology practice in the small village of Lasalgaon in Maharashtra’s Nashik district for 20 years, refused to succumb to commercialisation. He lost his practice. Several doctors in the city used to refer patients to him in the first 10 years of his practice. Then, gradually, the referrals started drying up. Bribes had become common in the cities and doctors saw no profit in recommending a doctor from the village. They began referring patients had to hospitals in cities for treatment.

Talking of malpractices in the medical profession, Gadre said: “Barring a few, who left the profession altogether, nobody raised an eyebrow.” People in urban areas can be vigilant and avoid getting trapped in such things, they can ask questions. But in rural areas there is unfortunately a herd mentality, which helps the monopoly of the private sector. There is no second opinion to be had. General physicians have become courier centres who refer patients to private specialists. People have so much belief in family physicians that they don’t know they are being cheated.”

Gadre is about to release a book put together by interviewing close to 70 doctors across the country. The English version of the book, A Testimony of the Rational Private Doctors, is expected to look into the influence of the pharmaceutical sector on professionals in the field and questions about insurance, among other things. “It appears as if the rational and conscientious doctors may well become an extinct species soon. In conclusion I can say that blind belief in privatisation is not a good idea at all. PPP [private-public partnership] has become a buzzword in the sector. Private medical colleges are springing up everywhere. Students pay Rs.2 crore to study radiology, what will they do once they are in the field?”

Will audits help?

This leads us to the question whether independent audit of medical practice, on the lines of that in the United States, will be a good idea for India. Just like audit of the accounts of engineering firms, medical audit can be useful to ensure quality of service in the medical field, says Jesani.

“At present, there are no checks and balances in the system, resulting in all sorts of foul play. Self-regulation has simply not worked. Audits can help determine whether investigations have been appropriately advised or not. It also has financial implications. But in order to have audits, there is a need to have good record systems. The full history should be available. Protocols are required, standard of treatment is required. These are sometimes not available in India.”

In a situation where the Medical Council of India (MCI) is ineffective, self-regulation is simply not enough. Though audits cannot stop malpractice, they can expose it and may be the first step in the right direction.

Another way to remove corruption from the medical fraternity would be to sever the link between pharmaceutical companies and doctors, says Jesani. Re-educating doctors on over-medication can also help. He says doctors take umbrage at even the slightest question raised about ethics in the profession. They prefer to dismiss doubts by saying there are a few rotten apples or a few black sheep, like in any fraternity. But Jesani claims that, unfortunately, it is the other way around—one must search hard to find a few good sheep.

Gadre proposes adherence to the Clinical Establishments Act, 2010, but points to its many flaws, especially its bureaucratic approach. He proposes that the law should be made more participative. “Firstly, there should be a district-level multi-stakeholder body with representation from the IMA [Indian Medical Association], civil society and the government, which will have the power to oversee its implementation and haul up sarkari babus for any failure. Secondly, a retired judge should be a part of it for the legal guidance of patients, who can directly approach it for redress. Thirdly, it should be a separate government implementing unit with a four-pronged agenda of registering, monitoring, regulation and redress. Lastly, standards should be decided locally. If only Delhi decides, it will be hijacked by corporate lobbies. Standards should be practical and feasible for all.”
Market logic

In an increasingly privatised health-care system, it is interesting to note how the world perceives the Indian market. According to 2014 Global life sciences outlook “Resilience and reinvention in a changing marketplace” by Deloitte, strong growth is forecast for India, where pharmaceutical sales are expected to more than double by 2016.

This means more pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for penetration in the country.

Dr Balram Bhargava

Even though the U.S. model of private health care is not viable here, India is following the American system rather than the National Health Service of the U.K., which has been voted better than the U.S. system by many international observers. Bhargava points to an article in the British Medical Journal by Michael McCarthy about a comparative study produced by the Commonwealth Fund 2014.

According to the report, the U.K. was voted the best, followed by Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany, New Zealand and Norway, France, Canada and, lastly, the U.S. (for the fifth time in a row).

The report concluded that its findings showed “a consistent relationship between how a country performs in terms of equity and how patients rate other dimensions of performance: the lower the performance score for equity, the lower the performance on other measures. This suggests that, when a country fails to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also fails to meet the needs of the average citizen.” It is a point that India would do well to take note of.

Among the developing nations, Cuba’s universal and free health-care system is noteworthy and replicating it could fetch good dividends.

In Cuba, every community or neighbourhood has a family doctor who resides in the same area and is the first point of contact for an ill person. When required, the general physician will refer a patient to the specialists. The state-run health system has enabled Cuba to spend less on per person annually and get more done.

The average life expectancy in Cuba is 77.5 years and its infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world. This socialist country’s model of health care is worth following.

When an eighty year old male patient comes with appendicitis, it can be a secondary presentation of some malignancy in colon, prostrate etc. Hence a radiological evalation before any invasive procedure can spare trauma for the patient, save life all the while cutting overall costs.
from: Joy MV
Posted on: Oct 23, 2014 at 17:50 IST
Every reader of this objective write up must be a victim or must be a relative of a victim who happened to meet the so called professional doctor, who swear in to uphold the professional ethics of medicine in front of an august audience duly clad in their pure white attire after completing the course, mainly at the cost of the taxpayers. The day when these professionals will concomitantly administer life-threatening drugs to relatively healthy patients , which could impair their internal organs and systems bit by bit in the passing of time ,with an eye to generate an army of hapless prospective patients in his ‘collection area’ cannot be ruled out if not such unscrupulous activities are already in force. As you sow, so shall you reap-the saying goes. One’s own offspring will be reaping the fruits of their parent’s deeds. With an apology to a handful of true doctors who do justice to their noble profession even in the government hospitals.
from: Bose A Panicker
Posted on: Oct 19, 2014 at 01:25 IST

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