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Archives for : January2018

Documenting Violence Against the Rohingyas Firsthand: Evidence That Can’t Be Ignored


PHR documented the wounds of this Rohingya man at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh.
He was shot from behind by the Myanmar military while fleeing his village. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed for Physicians for Human Rights

I’ve never met so many survivors of gunshots in a single place before. They’re not hard to find in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, which shelter nearly 650,000 Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar since the government there instituted a ruthless campaign of violence against them. Military leaders in Myanmar falsely claim they have mounted this brutal attack on civilians, many of them children, because they are “terrorists.” They have even stated that Rohingyas have set their own homes on fire.

The forensic evidence in these cases tells a vastly different story — the truth.

I traveled this month to Bangladesh with a team of doctors from Physicians for Human Rights to document the evidence and listen to survivors’ horrific accounts of physical and sexual violence.

We conducted careful forensic documentation following internationally accepted protocols to corroborate their stories, supported by physical examinations and x-rays.

PHR’s Dr. Homer Venters examines an X-ray of a Rohingya man

PHR’s Dr. Homer Venters examines an X-ray of a Rohingya man who was shot from behind by the Myanmar military. The X-ray shows a bullet lodged in the knee. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed for Physicians for Human Rights

One survivor, Tamir*, told me he was shot while fleeing his village. Like many, Tamir reported that his village in Rakhine state in Myanmar came under a coordinated attack by soldiers and civilian militias, who entered the village, opened fire on houses with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and set the homes aflame. As Tamir ran from his home, he reported, he was shot from behind. When I saw him in the hospital, physical examination of his leg revealed a bullet entry wound on the back of his lower leg, and I was able to feel the bullet still lodged in the front of his knee. Tamir’s x-ray revealed that both bones in his lower leg had been completely shattered and, despite surgery, he will likely never walk again without assistance. The medical evidence is highly consistent with Tamir’s account of events.

Another survivor, Amirah*, a young woman from a different village, recounted the horror of her entire community being attacked in their homes, and then being driven toward a second group of soldiers at a river bank. There, hundreds of women were separated from the men and boys and taken back to the homes in the village, where they were raped by both soldiers and civilian militias before being cut down with machetes. Then their homes were set on fire. The villagers who remained at the river were mowed down with rifle fire as they fled into the water. Amirah said that once she and other women were taken to the houses, she was struck on the head with a machete and knocked unconscious. Left for dead, she awoke to the pain and smell of her body on fire. She crawled out to escape the fire and made her way toward Bangladesh. Physical examination of Amirah revealed healing third degree burns on her hands and feet as well as a large healing laceration on her scalp, all highly consistent with her account of events.

Rohingya burn victim

A Rohingya woman at a refugee camp outside of Cox’s Bazar incurred serious burns following a Myanmar government attack on her village. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed for Physicians for Human Rights

The violence inflicted on Tamir, Amirah, and the many other Rohingya refugees we have spoken with, is criminal. And yet the military leaders who ordered it and the soldiers who carried it out are unlikely to ever face justice within Myanmar: Experience shows that if criminal investigations happen at all, they will be inadequate and evidence will be shoddy and scarce. This is particularly alarming, because history has also taught us that internal conflicts are unlikely to come to an end without some form of accountability for atrocities committed — especially if the atrocities are ethnically charged.

The need for justice and accountability was painfully clear to us in Cox’s Bazar. The survivors we spoke with deserve justice, and so do all the other victims of this coordinated campaign of violence. Justice and accountability was also the focus of the recommendations made by the United Nations’ highest human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, when he asked UN member states earlier this month to authorize investigationsinto the crimes committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. The evidence I gathered this month with my colleagues will be crucial to such investigations, which is why we take such care to forensically document and preserve our findings.

But in the more immediate future, urgent action is needed to ensure the safety, security, and health of Rohingya refugees. In an agreement negotiated behind closed doors in November, the Bangladeshi government agreed to send the Rohingyas back to Myanmar over the next two months. International law requires any return of refugees to be voluntary, and prohibits the return of anyone to potential violence or persecution. Nothing I saw or heard in the refugee camps indicates that the Rohingyas are safe in Myanmar, and few people I have spoken to would go back voluntarily.

This is also a form of accountability: believing the survivors of unspeakable violence when they say they cannot safely go home. Justice must start now.

*Names have been changed to protect patients’ privacy.

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Delhi Union Of Journalists Defend the Right to Report

Wearing Black Badges ……..

Journos Defend  the Right to Report

A remarkable speech defending the freedom of expression by Tribune Editor Harish Khare kicked off Delhi Union of Journalists’s meeting on “The Right to Investigate – UIDAI vs The Tribune” held on January 10 at the Gandhi Peace Foundation.  The speech was in the context of the filing of an FIR by the UIDAI against the newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira for exposing leaks in the Aadhar system.  Chandigarh based Khare’s speech was read out by Delhi bureau chief Prasad to an appreciative audience.

Khare’s ironic address says that The Tribune was only doing  “a spot of old honest, legitimate investigative reporting”, “a bit of old fashioned journalism”.  “We need to be thankful to the authorities for throwing the harsh provisions of the law at us because suddenly it was evident to one and all – from the most pro-government to the most professionally detached media outlets – that the sub-inspector can come calling on anyone of us, whatever be the colour of our partisanship,” he says. (see the DUJ Facebook page for the entire speech).

Welcoming DUJ members and honoured guests, DUJ President S.K. Pande said the union had felt impelled to call a protest meeting at short notice on this urgent matter. He called upon all journalists to unite to defend ourselves from such attacks on our right to investigate and report freely and fearlessly and to be on guard against increasing shadows of Emergency and unity busters. We demand withdrawal of FIR against the investigative journalist and phased action on common issues.

Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of ‘The Wire’, observed that India is witnessing an all out assault on the media freedom and the Constitution itself. He said as journalists we are custodians of the citizens’right to know; it is our responsibility to defend this right.  He cited the many recent attacks on journalists like Gauri Lankesh and Santanu Bhowmik  among others and the arrests and driving out of journalists from Chhattisgarh, particularly Dantewada. He said while governments are abusing various laws to target journalists, private corporations are misusing the civil defamation law to file frivolous cases. The use of SLAPP suits is becoming routine, e.g. the 500 crore defamation suit against Josy Joseph. He referred to the misuse of the CBI as in the raid on the home of Prannoy and Radhika Roy of NDTV. He said while the Supreme Court rightly struck down S. 66 A of the IT Act to prevent arrest for social media posts, others sections of the Act such as S. 67 are being widely misused by the police.

Varadarajan called the action against The Tribune vindictive and asked why numerous leaks of Aadhaar data by government websites have gone unpunished.  He pointed out that a vast array of business persons is using this data but none of them have been investigated.

Advocate Mehmood Pracha said the Tribune reporter has done a commendable job in reporting the leaks and the charges against her cannot be sustained in any court of law. He said the way the Aadhar scheme is being implemented  is in direct contravention of the provisions of the Aadhaar Act itself. The preamble of the Aadhar Act makes it clear that it is meant only for government’s beneficial schemes, he pointed out. He cited sections of the Act including S.3 which says a citizen is ‘entitled to obtain’ an identity card but does not make it mandatory, as the government insists. He said the Aadhaar process is illegal and a fraud on the people, a money spinning scheme with Rs one lakh crore of tax payers’ money already milked through it and more money being made.  He said while today the government is insisting on biometric data, tomorrow it may demand more, even ask for our genome!  The entire Aadhaar Act must go, he declared.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, former editor of the Economic & Political Weekly, put the issue in the global context saying that Aadhar is a mass surveillance tool. Globally, technology is being misused for such purposes as there is today enough server space in the world today to record details of every individual on the planet as well as their activities. Orwell’s Big Brother is real, he warned. He pointed out that drones flying overhead have the capacity to snoop on all activity even in closed rooms!  He said our dependence on technology is growing rapidly, with reports that soon Facebook alone may have 40 percent of the planet’s people on it! Civil society has to find ways to protect itself, methods to protect our children and their children from such surveillance, he observed.

Veteran journalist Sukumar Muralidharan said we are witnessing an enormous crackdown on the public’s right to know and on creative expression. He cited numerous examples of attacks on writers like M.M.Kalburgi, the censorship of many films including a documentary on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and a Gujarat ban on an Amir Khan film as examples of the policing of public dialogue and discourse.  He referred to a Supreme Court judgement in the Rangarajan vs Jagjivan Ram case which clearly says that there can only be reasonable restrictions on free speech and outlined what such reasonable restrictions could be. Despite these safeguards, he warned, we are rapidly going into a zone of darkness, he warned. The optimism about the democratizing aspects of the social media may be unwarranted, he said, pointing out the rampant misuse of WhatsAp e.g. to incite lynchings in Jharkhand and ‘showcase’ the gruesome killing of a Muslim man in Rajasthan.

Commending the Tribune reporter’s story, the Editor of Hard News Sanjay Kapur said it is amazing how much traction a district reporter’s story can get if it is a real expose. He said the the sanctity of such reporting has to be protected, particularly as there is too much analysis and not enough reporting today. He regretted that in the current political climate every policy of the state has to be supported and those who question it are labeled anti-national. He called upon unions like the DUJ to rebuild solidarity among journalists and defend the right to write and report freely.

Veteran journalist Dr. Satish Mishra said the FIR against The Tribune was one incident but there is a pattern to it. The numerous attacks on the media, starting with the use of an abusive term like ‘presstitute’ by a minister, shows that the government wants to completely control the media and crumble all resistance to its policies. He urged all those present in the Gandhi Peace Foundation hall to follow the example of Gandhi who, he pointed out, was an excellent reporter and journalist! We must all stand collectively and resist wherever we can, he urged.

Masoom Moradabadi, veteran Urdu journalist, echoing the need to dissent, read out a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz on the citizen and the poet’s right to speak up against all oppression.

  1. Chandrakant of the National Alliance of Journalists warned that there could be many more attacks on media in the future and said there is an urgent need to build solidarity among journalists. He said the NAJ has already organised several states and over 5000 journalists to come together and defend ourselves.

Sujata Madhok, General Secretary of the DUJ made the concluding remarks. She said that the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” in its ‘clean up’ of the nation has included a crackdown on small newspapers and the withdrawal of government advertising to them, forcing many to close down.  This has rendered a large number of journalists unemployed. She warned that according to a recent speech by minister Rajyavardhan Rathore,  the government’s next focus is persons carrying press IDs, as many people are misusing such cards. If this is done, she pointed out, many more journalists particularly freelancers and stringers and those working for websites, will lose access to their sources and to their work. She called for solidarity to oppose such measures that will add to the growing pool of unemployed media workers.

The meeting received solidarity messages from the president of  All India Newspaper Employees Federation(AINEF) SD Thakur and called for withdrawal of FIR against The Tribune journalist. Solidarity action pledges were received from the National Alliance of Journalists units in Andhra, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh.

Even as the meeting was in progress the Centre of Trade Union’s general secretary Tapan Sen sent a press release of solidarity. He denounced the vindictive action on the journalist for bravely exposing systemic fault in Aadhar. Similar messages were received from the All India Lawyers  Union and a brief condemnation of the vindictive action against the Tribune reporter by senior Supreme Court advocate Rajeev Dhavan.

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Calling Mumbai- Stop #Aadhaar before it Destroys you #BreakAadhaarChains

Join us on January 12, from 4-6pm at the Mumbai Press Club as we respond to the government in one voice that we do not support this Aadhaar-enabled coercion!



  • Rachna Khaira of the Tribune, Chandigarh, broke the story of admin logins to the UIDAI official site being sold for Rs. 500, giving access to billions of Aadhaar details! The UIDAI responded by filing an FIR against her and the Tribune!
  • The UIDAI announces the creation of temporary “Virtual IDs” which, in the view of tech experts, will not work unless all existing Aadhaars – already publicly available – are revoked and reissued!
  • The Justice B.N, Srikrishna Committee has put out a white paper calling for a public consultation on a data protection framework, and is currently holding public meetings.
  • “If people do not have Aadhaar cards, do they not exist for the government?” the Supreme Court asked on January 10, in a hearing on night shelters requiring the homeless to show Aadhaar as proof of identity.


Aadhaar, the supposedly unique identity, involves the largest collection of personal information anywhere in the world. No other democracy subjects its citizens to such a lifelong risk. Today, Aadhaar is required for a host of services from birth certificates to death certificates, school admissions, scholarships, PDS rations, NREGA job cards, bank accounts, mobile services – the list is endless. This expansion has happened despite the growing number of exclusions and denial of welfare benefits, subsidies, and other services for want of an Aadhaar number, and data security breaches.


Multiple #AadhaarLeaks and #AadhaarScams have repeatedly exposed how every facet of Aadhaar security, including biometrics, are prone to being hacked. Foreign companies with dubious origins have been contracted to ‘store, transfer and process’ our personal information, posing a threat to national security. With the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench set to decide the validity of Aadhaar in hearings starting January 17, we may have just one last chance to stop Aadhaar – before it alters our lives completely.


#BreakAadhaarChains is a campaign to stop the government from treating us like criminals out to loot the state.

Join us on January 12, from 4-6pm at the Mumbai Press Club as we respond to the government in one voice that we do not support this Aadhaar-enabled coercion!

Participants include JT D’Souza (Biometrics Expert), Sakina Dhorajiwala (Welfare Researcher), Vickram Crishna, Dr. G Nagarjuna, Kamayani Bali Mahabal (petitioners), Krishnakant Mane (Free Software Activist), Mithun (Activist), The Banned (Protest Musicians)


SVP (WhatsApp preferred): Raghu/ godavar (Member, Rethink Aadhaar), +91-97177-49998




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India – Maternity entitlements on hold: How the govt has undermined women’s and children’s rights

One year ago, on 31December 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the government would soon provide for maternity benefits of Rs 6,000 per child. He announced this as if it were a new initiative, possibly aimed at sweetening the demonetisation pill. What he did not mention is that maternity entitlements of Rs 6,000 per child had been a legal right of all Indian women since 2013 under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), and that his government had done nothing about it until then.

Nevertheless things started moving after the PM spoke, or so it seemed. The finance ministry made a modest allocation of Rs 2,700 crore for maternity benefits in the 2017-18 Budget – a fraction of what is required for universal coverage as per NFSA norms, but better than nothing. The women and child development ministry designed a new scheme for this purpose, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY). Workshops were organised, guidelines prepared and software developed.

One year down the line, however, things have moved backward rather than forward. On the one hand PMMVY’s predecessor, the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) has been discontinued. On the other, PMMVY has been held up by a series of delays. According to a recent statement of the ministry of women and child development, only 10,000 women have received maternity benefits under PMMVY so far. This is barely 1% of IGMSY coverage before it was discontinued.

But there is worse. PMMVY involves a blatantly illegal dilution of women’s rights under NFSA. Not only are the benefits conditional, as with IGMSY, they are also restricted to one child per woman. In fact, they are restricted to the first living child. This means that any woman who already has a child today is excluded from PMMVY.

This is illegal, because NFSA clearly says that “every pregnant and lactating mother” is entitled to maternity benefits of Rs 6,000. Admittedly, the Act also states that maternity benefits are “subject to such schemes as may be framed by the Central Government”, but surely that is not a licence to dilute the legal rights enshrined in the Act – it is just an acknowledgement that some modalities are required to provide maternity benefits.

The central government itself had clearly accepted this interpretation of the Act in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on 3 April 2017. Here the government “respectfully submitted” that “all the pregnant women and lactating mothers would be given Rs 6,000 in instalments” (except those already covered in the formal sector), with retrospective effect from 1January 2017. Nothing of the sort is happening under PMMVY.

For good measure, in an extraordinary gesture of stinginess, PMMVY also reduces the benefits – illegally again – from Rs 6,000 to Rs 5,000 per child. Further, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), under which pregnant women currently receive cash incentives for institutional deliveries, is due to be phased out. And of course Aadhaar is mandatory at every step – not only the mother’s Aadhaar, but also her husband’s (every mother is presumed to have one).

The bottom line is that the government is comprehensively undermining women’s right to maternity entitlements, under the guise of promoting it. At every step, the main concern seems to be to save money. With benefits restricted to the first living child, reduced to Rs 5,000, contingent on Aadhaar, and subject to a host of conditionalities, the government is all set to minimise the cost of PMMVY. Mothers and children, for their part, will continue to be deprived of the barest economic support in their time of need.

It remains to be seen whether something will be done, in the forthcoming Union Budget, to make up for this demolition job. Not only must financial allocations for maternity benefits be raised, the entire scheme needs to be brought in line with NFSA norms. Two years ago the finance ministry itself wisely recognised, in its annual Economic Survey, that maternity entitlements “would have lasting benefits for health and human capital”. The time to act on this insight is long overdue.

The writer is Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University

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Jailed DU professor G N Saibaba“I am on a Month’s Lease of Life. Justice or Death, Which Will Win?”

His Partner, Vasantha Kumari  wants him shifted to Hyderabad jail, says his life is in danger in Nagpur

Saibaba was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged ties to Maoists. He is 90% disabled and his internal organs are failing. But he is not getting any medical attention.
Vasantha Kumari

Professor GN Saibaba, who was given a life imprisonment for alleged ties to Maoists, continues to suffer in solitary confinement in prison despite absence of any credible evidence against him. Saibaba’s partner , Vasantha Kumari, addressed a press conference on Wednesday, held by the Delhi Chapter of Bastar Solidarity Network. She spoke about her recent meeting with Saibaba in prison, his deteriorating health condition, and how the state is denying him basic human rights which are granted to prisoners.

Saibaba is 90% disabled and his internal organs are failing. But he is not getting any medical attention. In his last letter to Vasantha, the DU professor wrote, “I am on a month’s lease of life. Justice or death, which will win?” Vasantha says the state wants Saibaba to die in prison to serve as an example to those who raise their voices for human rights and against state-sponsored oppression.

Vasantha demanded that Saibaba be shifted to a jail in Hyderabad, where his family lives, so he can be treated at good government hospitals. “He goes for many days without any medicine, and three to four times, he lost unconsciousness and bled from the ears and nose,” Kumari said in New Delhi. “There is no attention being paid to his health, the doctors don’t visit.”

Vasantha said, “I met Saibaba on 21st December. But in Nagpur Central Jail the jail mulaqaat is such that I can’t even see him properly. There are two layers of fiber glass and a layer of steel bars between us, such that I can only see a hazy vision. After lot of coaxing I could just squeeze out 20minutes from the guards. In this circumstances it is difficult to understand how he actually is. If I want not give him blanket or books, I have to make a list and give it to authorities. Similarly, if Saibaba requires something, he needs to give list. The superintendent ticks whatever he likes and only those things reach Sai. Even blankets are not given to him.”
“…When I took a sweater for him, they rejected it and asked me to give a white sweater! Among magazines EPW and many others were not allowed. Even from my letters pages go missing by the time they reach Sai. My daughter’s letters were not even given to him…”
“…The anda cell doesn’t have a proper roof, so sunlight, rain and cold everything affects him directly. With only one arm functioning and with the immediate need for an operation as directed by the doctor, he is in an alarming state of health…”
 “Sai is suffering from 19 medical problems. He is still taking medicines for Pancreatis. He has stones in his gall bladder. He has hypertension and cardiac problems too, and he is not being given life-saving medicines. He is frequently bleeding and also falling unconscious. With the denial of proper medical care, the state clearly wants to finish him off him in jail itself.  Now, either Justice will win or death will win. Saibaba is walking a tightrope.”
Vasantha further added, “This punishment is not only for Saibaba, it is for all the others, without an iota of evidence. So the fight is against the entire judgement, not just for Saibaba. Such cases have just become a tool to suppress the voice of dissent.”
The state of course claims that the war on adivasis id for “development”. But it is a model of development that is built on the displacement, distress, and death of millions of adivasis. It is in fact a model of corporate loot that aims at crushing the struggle of the tribals for their jal-jangal-jameen so as to extract and export trillions of dollars worth of minerals.
Any voice, like that of Saibaba, who have been vocal against this model of death and destruction in fact have been branded as “anti-development”, as “Maoists”.
Vasantha says, “Where is the development in Gadhchiroli? Just by putting Sai in jail have you done development there? People are dying there. Have you made public hospitals and schools there? Where are your roads? You made roads only for tankers and artillery to move to villages while people still die on the way to school or hospital. The few school building which stand, you have converted them into police posts. People are asking these questions and that is why state is killing everyone and branding them as naxals.”



She urged human rights groups to come together to demand the release of Saibaba and other people who have been incarcerated under false charges.

Nandita Narain, Ex DUTA president , FEDCUTA, said “On the one hand Yogi has forgiven 22000 cases on politicians, even convicted ones have been forgiven and given bail. While on the other hand, those who raise issues of the oppressed in a country where inequality is 2nd highest in the world, they are put behind bars.”
“Even on Chandrashekar Azad there are no charges because you just don’t want Dalit leaders to emerge.” She said, “They can’t kill him like this, he has not been given a death sentence. Hyderabad jail has a nearby government hospital, so he should immediately be shifted there.”
“…In this country people like Sai should be a hero, how many of us can be like him? What will the youth learn from this fiasco? To just be afraid, to mind their own business.” She appealed to all to fight for his release.”
Anil Chamadia, Senior Journalist, said “Chandrashekhar got bail and then NSA was slapped on him. When govt. has decided to gag someone, they won’t let them go. Vasantha’s tale shows how barbaric our state is.
“…The state creates a ruckus on how Indian families like those of jadhav’s are misbehaved with in jails of Pakistan but what about a wife here who is not being allowed to meet her 90% disabled husband languishing in an anda cell”.
Sudha Bharadwaj, Advocate, PUCL: “What is happening to Sai in the Nagpur jail is torture if we go by the Mandela rules recognised by the UN, especially  rules for disabled prisoners. Sentencing and judgement should be debated separately. Given his physical condition,he can’t abscond, he cant move freely, then how can bail be denied? People are arrested in Ballarshah, produced in Aheri, and there is no explanation about where they were  for two days. Evidence is taken arbitrarily, without seal and pamphlets on democratic rights and movements are claimed to be incriminating! Even Amnesty has taken a position on Sai.”
Gautam Navlakha, PUDR, said, “When you brand an organisation as illegal, no matter what your involvement in it is or is not, state will pounce on you. This goes against 3 constituitonal rights: right to assembly, association, right to profess, all in the name of security. They know they cant torture people like Sai, but they want to make an example. They criminalise the organsiation and all attached. Thereby rules of evidence can be overlooked by state machinery. Police don’t even have to look for proof. Suspicion is enough in case of sedition. Jharkhand has even criminalised labour unions to such n extent that people can be jailed and punished. How do you know prove one’s membership?  The possession of a pamphlet? But reading or distributing literature is legal, only inciting violence is not. The families of the many adivasis languishing in jail can’t even afford a mulaqat in the Nagpur jail as it would cost them a lot to travel till nagpur. The rights and release of Political prisoners have to be fought for in a concerted manner as it amounts to a punishment for entire communities.”
Biswajit Mohanty, Faculty, DU, “We need to fight against all undemocratic tendencies. We must converse with new forces unleashed. Even religious freedom is being denied to people, let us form alliances with them. Sai stood with the struggling masses and hence is being prosecuted..”
Sanjay Kak, Documentary Film-maker, said “We must remember that Bastar has faded from our memory, when just 5 years ago Green Hunt was in mainstream discourse, thanks to people like Saibaba. We are up against so much. But we have seen impossible goals through.  Let’s keep talking about what Saibaba spoke of.”
Nandita and Vasantha spoke about how a delegation met Home Minister in July 2017 wherein they demanded Saibaba’s bail on health grounds. Both of them reiterated the demand to immediately shift him to Hyderabad as the Nagpur hospital is not equipped enough to treat Saibaba’s ailments and the to and fro repeatedly from jail to hospital is bad for him too. Vasantha also spoke  of the endless adjournments demanded by prosecution to prolong the incarceration of Saibaba for which she had handed over a letter to the Parliament Standing Committee in November 2017.


The case against Saibaba

The  case began in 2013, with a police raid at Saibaba’s Delhi University quarters. The police alleged he was “an urban contact” for the Maoists and that he was named by Hem Mishra, then a Jawaharlal Nehru University student who was arrested in Gadchiroli.

He was first arrested in May 2014. In late June 2015, the Bombay High Court granted him bail on medical grounds, and he was released in July 2015. He went back to jail in December 2017 and was released again in April 2016, after the Supreme Court granted him bail.

Saibaba had extensively campaigned against the Salwa Judum militia and the human rights violations that accompanied Operation Green Hunt against Maoists launched under the United Progressive Alliance government.Saibaba used to actively raise the issue of Adivasis and their rights to live in forests. He also advocated against Operation Green Hunt at international platforms.

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Unique Question: Will We Have a Life After #Aadhaar?

If you are of a certain age, and not one of the millennial Indians who will turn 18 this year and be eligible to vote, you might remember watching The Net, the 1995 thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a cybersecurity expert who gets into a whole lot of trouble with cyberterrorists, who erase her identity and cut her off from her home, job and credit cards.

Or you might remember the 1998 movie Enemy of the State, in which Will Smith plays a lawyer who inadvertently gets caught up in a US National Security Agency (NSA) plot and has his own personal life wiped clean, his bank accounts frozen, and his marriage nearly wrecked.

Both movies portrayed the Internet at its most sinister. But that was two decades ago. The appetite and the ability of the state to monitor every citizen’s life down to her minutest activity has enormously expanded since then. In 2007, the NSA launched a program called PRISM, which gathered and analysed Internet traffic from around the world, ostensibly aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks but also encompassing US citizens.

Both PRISM and another NSA program called Boundless Informant were exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

The noise and fury over India’s unique identity number programme Aadhaar is growing by the day. On January 17, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearings on the pleas against Aadhaar in the petitions clubbed under Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India. Last August, these petitions triggered a review by a larger nine-judge constitution bench of the concept of privacy.

In six historic, erudite, well-reasoned and unanimous opinions spanning 547 pages, the SC overturned its own past rulings and unequivocally declared that “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.”

The privacy judgment makes for fascinating reading. It ranges across Indian and foreign constitutional jurisprudence, as well as international privacy laws, while also examining the meaning and implications of the global information-based society we live in. The author of the substantive portion of the judgment, Justice DY Chandrachud, explains the essential nature of privacy.

“Privacy postulates the reservation of a private space for the individual, described as the right to be let alone,” Justice Chandrachud writes. “The concept is founded on the autonomy of the individual. The ability of an individual to make choices lies at the core of the human personality. The notion of privacy enables the individual to assert and control the human element which is inseparable from the personality of the individual …”

One would hope that by spelling out its ringing protection for the individual’s privacy, the SC has presaged its ruling in the Aadhaar case. But that is not a given.

The Justice BN Srikrishna committee, set up last July to draft a data protection and privacy bill, has proposed setting up a dataprotection authority as well as audits and penalties. But I’m not holding my breath: We can add layer upon layer of regulations, it’s the leaky implementation that defeats ordinary mortals.

I am not blindly opposed to a unique (and uniform) identity system for all residents in India. I have lived and worked in several countries where important transactions and activities were identifiable with my unique number. The same ID number appeared on my bank statements, driving licence, incometax returns and residence permits.

But that is where it stopped. In India, we already have an untidy array of identities: our voter cards, our Permanent Account Numbers, our driving licences, and our government-employee and armed forces ID cards. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after first passionately opposing Aadhaar when he was Gujarat chief minister, has now mandated that Aadhaar must be linked to everything, from our PAN cards to our bank accounts, investments, property transactions, mobile phones and much else. We have been bombarded with coercive and threatening reminders to do so or be left penniless and sans communication. Although the deadline for compliance has been extended to March 31, the SC’s Aadhaar ruling may come too late for the recalcitrant.

Aadhaar was originally designed as a voluntary enrolment for residents of India. Section 7 of the Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016 says verification of an individual’s identity will be necessary for transfers from the Consolidated Fund of India (i.e. the state exchequer). In reality, the demand for Aadhaar is now being used by growing numbers of service providers.

Aadhaar was aimed at eliminating corruption in subsidies and enabling direct transfers to beneficiaries. In practice, its biometric (fingerprint and iris) verification has been found not to be fool-proof. As The Tribune reporter proved last week, unscrupulous agents are already peddling access to the database of names, addresses, email IDs and so on (though not so far of biometrics). How much longer will it take for our most intimate details to fall into the paws of those who do not give a fig about our lives?

Much of the hand-wringing about Aadhaar has come from people who will not actually need to use Aadhaar regularly. The system’s weaknesses will hit the poorest the most. Already, from outrages like refusals to issue death certificates to refusing a retired serviceman his pension to blocking a young man from obtaining a ‘hall ticket’ for an important examination, Aadhaar is proving exclusionary for the people it was meant to benefit the most.

Lawyer Arvind Datar, who is appearing for one of the petitioners in the SC, cites examples like an elderly man near Manipal who could not authenticate his ration card because the ridges on his fingerprints had changed with age. This man had a fistful of other identifications, but was forced to travel to another town for iris authentication. “This is extreme bullying,” says Datar.

The SC is not likely to abolish the programme: more than 1.19 billion Aadhaars have been generated, and over 15 billion transactions already authenticated using Aadhaar. The big question is: what will all our data be used for?

In The Net, Sandra Bullock’s character is more exposed because she does everything on her computer, including ordering pizza online, and is barely known to her neighbours. In a tongue-in-cheek 2013 review, Wired magazine wrote the main discovery was that “our entire lives are recorded on computers, from our work to our taste in movies. In 1995, this was a shocking problem that people had to learn to deal with. In 2013, it’s basically how Facebook works.”

In a 1934 interview, Mahatma Gandhi said: “I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress.”

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