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Archives for : December2018

India – After a Killing in Bulandshahr

By not initiating firm action against a mob that lynched a police inspector, Yogi Adityanath reveals BJP’s priorities in the run-up to 2019

Any response to the lynching of Uttar Pradesh police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh must be in the short and long terms. In the immediate run, the assessment must be on the impact on a police force whose personnel posted in frontline positions now confront the Frankenstein’s monster they aided the political leadership create. It is also paramount to politically analyse Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s insistence on calling the cop’s death a durghatna or accident, not mob lynching. Furthermore, it is necessary to comprehend the regime’s motive in prioritising investigation into the death of a cow over the murder of a police inspector.

In the long run, it would be a cliché to limit responses to citing shortfall in the UP police strength on parameters laid out by the United Nations on the basis of population levels. Little purpose would be served by merely recalling that there is little that those in uniform can do because they are enmeshed in possibly the most impaired criminal justice system in India; it converts even the most enthusiastic officer into a cynic within months. It is time to face the harsh reality — in UP, as in several other states, the police force remains the ruling party’s handmaiden, regardless of who is in power.

The BJP government in UP perpetuated the system after assuming office in March 2017, merely replacing the previous government’s “favourites” with their own. It dumped a professed belief in “meritocracy” and continued the tradition of reserving plum posts for those from “preferred” castes while defanging previous pets by despatching them into oblivion. Like under previous governments, the police mostly further the ruling party’s political agenda — evidenced in the dramatic rise in police encounters, a euphemism for extra-judicial action, in the state.

Bulandshahr is in the region where gory cow vigilantism first displayed its fangs in September 2015 when Mohammad Akhlaq was killed. The political response at the time; subsequent lynching of several others across different states, often in public places and merely on suspicion; mushrooming of kangaroo courts backed by majoritarian political groups and a willing police force ready to collaborate with the government of the day have resulted in fear at every step in the state, but with a difference.

Belief has been amplified among sections of minorities in India, especially Muslims, that protection lies only in a collective display of identity. The liberal and progressive among them have watched with dismay as Wahabi sentiments spread across the country infusing religious conservatism even among those with little time or interest in such matters. These activities may not have evoked a complimentary political radicalism among the “neo-faithful”, but huge congregations of Muslims have been utilised by majoritarian groups for political campaigns.

The first ever Tablighi Ijtema, an Islamic congregation avowedly to reinforce the moral foundations of the faithful, in Bulandshahr concluded on the day the inspector was murdered. Due to its high attendance, estimated to be several lakhs, the event irked Hindu rightwing organisations in the district and adjoining areas with its public — and loud — display of Islamic religiosity. Traffic jams in the region enabled these groups to solicit public support beyond their supporters. Predictably, the congregation was linked to the cop’s murder in a veiled manner on social media where Tablighi Jamaat was said to be capable of mobilising crores of people overnight and accused it of links with suspect organisations abroad. Fortunately, the Bulandshahr police responded with alacrity and put out a counter tweet denying any link between the mob attack and the Ijtema.

UP has a long history of mob attacks on policemen — the Chauri Chaura incident, in 1921, severely undermined the freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach to mass movements. Adityanath’s critics would say that his insistence on calling the inspector’s murder an accident is the result of his political genealogy: Mahant Digvijaynath, chief of the Gorakhnath Mutt from the 1930s to 1960s who was also arrested in the Gandhi assassination case, was part of a mob which attacked a police post in Gorakhpur village and killed several Indian policemen.

By not initiating firm action and displaying indignation over the mob action, Adityanath has revealed his belief that the strategy would assist the BJP in the run-up to 2019. While this may be politically inviting, the response of the police, especially the preferred lot in positions in the forefront, would have to be awaited. Concerns from the force about the inability to protect an officer from mobs supported by rightwing organisations can pose a fresh problem. In an election year, the BJP can ill-afford an additional worry.

couretsy- ET

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“If BJP has Guts, Throw Me Out of the Alliance”

Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) is one of the two allies of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. The party with four MLAs has considerable influence among the Rajbhar community in eastern UP. Rajbhar, minister of backward class welfare and divyangjan empowerment in the Yogi Adityanath government, has often attacked the BJP and its leadership on several issues, including the Bulandshahr violence and Ram mandir. State BJP president Mahendra Nath Pandey has called Rajbhar a “necessary evil”. At an interview in Delhi, Rajbhar spoke to Prerna Katiyar on the reasons for his dissent. Edited excerpts:

After becoming an ally of the BJP, why are you attacking it?

My fight is for the poor and the unprivileged. I want to make people realise how they are being enslaved.

What exactly are you fighting for?

There has to be equality in education and jobs. The interests of backward communities have been ignored. You will not find many nai (barber) or lohar (ironsmith) as inspectors. There are 66 such castes. Why should that be?

I have also demanded improvement in the level of primary education in the state. There was a time when everyone went to government schools; they went on to become officers and doctors. But right now the condition of primary education is pathetic. You will not find the son or daughter of a politician in these schools. Across 75 districts, there are almost 1,59,000 schools with 3,18,000 vacancies. If you can’t hire full-time teachers why can’t you hire them on a contract basis?

In villages, many deserving people do not have BPL cards. Such anomalies are debilitating the poor. Many of the beneficiaries of Ujjwala or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are not the poor.

Lastly, the BJP keeps saying the Congress did nothing. But they opened hundreds of factories in their regime. Can’t you reopen closed factories? Won’t this create jobs?

Why don’t you discuss your problems with the BJP?

I have done it several times. After the government was formed in Uttar Pradesh in March 2017, I kept quiet for three months. I was watching. After this, I met Yogi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Om Mathur and Sunil Bansal to put across my demands.

This went on till March-April 2018. They did nothing. I met Amit Shah on March 20 for more than an hour. I was given an assurance. Till date nothing has happened.

Was that the beginning of your dissent?

The first dhokha (betrayal) was that a non-OBC was made the CM. You got their votes. That category is angry and divided. They are not the rightful beneficiaries in jobs and education.

The BJP calls you a ‘necessary evil’.

Then, why are they towing me? If it has the guts, throw me out. I am not begging them to keep me as a minister or an ally.

Why aren’t you leaving the BJP if you are so unhappy?

I will make the right move at the right time. I have helped them win 125 seats. Let them break the alliance.

There are rumours that you are unhappy because you did not get enough tickets in 2017.

If you recall, in April-May 2016, the BSP was on the rise. Then we had talks with the BJP and after the alliance, voters who were unhappy with the BSP and the SP started looking at BJP as an option. We held rallies of 25,000-50,000 people without any support from the BJP. I had demanded 22 seats. They gave only eight.

But they made you a cabinet minister.

I worked for them and helped them win. They have not done me a favour by making me a cabinet minister.

What do you make of BJP’s demand for Ram mandir?

Ram Mandir may come up but pujaris ought to be from every caste. Why should temples be helmed mainly by Brahmins? There are 9 lakh mandirs in UP, according to a survey. If 5 lakh pujaris come from backward castes, won’t as many families benefit from it? Why should I fight for mandir? Will it help me get my ration card? Will my child get a job? Nothing will happen by merely praying in a temple. Why has Yogi come to Lucknow from Gorakhpur? Because there is more power in Lucknow Vidhan Sabha mandir than in Gorakhpur mutt. But they want us to fight for Ram mandir. Many people are not educated and they easily get diverted. Today I am educated; that’s why I am talking about what I want. I am not going to fight for Ram or Rahman but for the poor.

Yogi has said Hanuman is a Dalit. It is wrong to divide gods. Now the Dalit community demands to take over Hanuman temples. To get votes, he can do anything. He is saying Asaduddin Owaisi will be thrown out. He is defying the Constitution. Is there any law that allows this? Yogi says the Congress is a losing party. But he lost his own (Gorakhpur) seat.

Why did the BJP lose Gorakhpur?

Because of its shortcomings.

What are your views on the RSS?

Their focus is to enslave and befool the society. Every strategy comes from Nagpur, including the idea of ‘Hanuman being a Dalit’.

Will you be part of BJP in 2019?

Only if they fulfil my demands. I am not their slave that I will help them in getting votes. This is not my personal fight. Improve primary education, get us jobs, get us reservation and we will be with them.

How will the BJP fare in 2019?

They will lose deposit in most seats. They are not realising that the OBCs whom they openly wooed are angry. After they got votes by projecting Keshav Prasad Maurya as CM, he was sidelined. Be it Lucknow or Varanasi, they will not win seats. In Varanasi, only Gujaratis have got theka-patta (contractual work). After notebandi (demonetisation), from builder to loader, everyone is unhappy. A cop was shot in broad daylight (in Bulandshahr) but they care only for the holy cow. Human life has no value. Cow is priceless.

What do you think of the law & order situation in UP?

Lawlessness is at its peak. Go to any police station. Corruption is rampant. During the SP tenure, if they took ₹500 to file an FIR, now they take ₹10,000. I experienced this when I went disguised as a poor man and tried to register an FIR. What will happen when thakur is daroga (cop) and thakur is SI (sub-inspector).


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Bulandshahr: Police Eyewitnesses Detail How Bajrang Dal Set Up Inspector’s Death

The testimonies reveal how the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government has lost control of the Hindutva forces it once used to enforce its writ.

The vehicles torched by the angry mob near Chingravti police post in Bulandshahr

The vehicles torched by the angry mob near Chingravti police post in Bulandshahr

BULANDSHAHR, Uttar Pradesh — Nine eyewitnesses, including two policemen, gave HuffPost India granular details on how the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), orchestrated the mob attack on a police outpost in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, resulting in the death of a policeman and a civilian on 3 December.

Station House Officer (SHO) Subodh Kumar Singh was killed as he sought to quickly disperse an angry mob that was primed to attack a small group of Muslim men returning from a nearby Muslim congregation, the policemen who accompanied him said.

Had the mob succeeded in attacking the Muslims, a policeman said, the district would have erupted in a full-blown communal carnage.

“If not for his martyrdom, entire Bulandshahr would be burning now,” said the policeman, who was part of SHO Singh’s posse.

The policemen appeared visibly scared as they spoke and sought anonymity as they feared for their lives and employment.

Bajrang Dal leader Balraj Dongar at the house of Yogesh Raj on Wednesday

Their testimonies reveal how the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government has lost control of the Hindutva forces it once used to enforce its writ.

Dead cows

The violence in Bulandshahr began soon after villagers found cow carcasses in the fields owned by Raj Kumar, a farmer from Mahav village. Raj Kumar, who has since been named as one of the accused in SHO Singh’s death, rushed to the spot and — his family members told HuffPost India — immediately informed the Chingaravati police post about the incident.

SHO Singh, and a small group of police officers, arrived soon after. A policeman present at the spot told HuffPost India that it was clear that the carcasses were of cows killed at a different place and then transported to the area.


But the police were on alert because they knew that tensions were high as lakhs of Muslim men had gathered for a three-day congregation, called Tablighi Itjema, on the outskirts of Bulandshahr.

“The sense that we got after reaching the spot was that cows were slaughtered somewhere else and brought there,” said the policeman who, along with SHO Singh, was amongst the first to reach the spot.

“Kotwal Sahab understood that it was a conspiracy to foment communal tensions in the area as Tablighi Itjema was going on in the district.”

“Kotwal” is the local term for station house officer, the rank held by Subodh Kumar Singh.

Villagers from Nayabass, where Yogesh Raj lived, says the Bajrang Dal leader was a dabangg (rowdy) who would often roam around with a locally made gun.

Singh convinced the villagers to calm down and bury the carcasses, the policeman said, but members of the Bajrang Dal, particularly the prime accused Yogesh Raj — the district convener of the Dal — insisted that the carcasses be loaded in a tractor trolley and taken to the nearest police outpost.

Raj then instigated the crowd to block the highway, the policeman said, prompting fears that they were firing up the mob of Hindu villagers to attack a group of Muslim men returning from the Tablighi Itjema.

“Kotwal Sahab understood their conspiracy and ordered a lathi charge to disperse the crowd,” the policeman said. “Imagine what would have happened if lakhs of Muslims, gathered in the district for Tablighi Ijtema, would have got the news of the attack on these three men.”

Instead, the mob turned on the police. Videos of the incident show young men, armed with sticks and bricks, storming the police compound. At some point in the melee, one of the attackers, named Sumit, was shot in the chest—further enraging the crowd. Sumit eventually succumbed to his injuries, as did SHO Singh.

Yogesh Raj’s role

Villagers interviewed by HuffPost India supported this version of events.

“The police and villagers had reached an understanding that the cow carcasses should be buried somewhere near the village. My brother-in-law offered to bury it in our farm. But it was the Bajrang Dal people who insisted on taking the carcasses to the police post,” said Bina Devi, former village head of Mahav and sister-in-law of Raj Kumar.

Villagers from Nayabass, where Yogesh Raj lived, says the Bajrang Dal leader was a dabangg (rowdy) who would often roam around with a locally made gun.


“He would carry swords during Hindu processions. He was instrumental in removing a speaker from a masjid here,” his neighbour told HuffPost India.

Local leaders have claimed that Yogesh Raj instigated the mob to attack Singh because of his role in the Dadri lynching investigation.

“He instigated the mob and told them that because of the SHO, many Hindus were implicated in the Dadri lynching case. Cow slaughter was a pretext. Basically, he wanted to get rid of Kotwal (SHO),” claimed Lok Dal leader Afaq Ur Rahim Khan, who belongs to Bugrasi, a neighbouring town.

Singh was the investigating officer in the 2015 lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq for a few months before he was transferred. Reports say he played a key role in the accused being arrested promptly.

Among the seven people named in the FIR for cow slaughter are a handicapped man and two minor boys from Nayabass village.

In a video released on Wednesday, Yogesh Raj claimed he was innocent and that he was not even present when Singh was killed.

“If our demand was agreed to and an FIR was being registered (for the alleged cow slaughter), why would we incite violence?” he said in the video.

However, multiple videos of the incident show Raj arguing with the policemen in front of the Chingravati police post.

Yogesh Raj is not without powerful backers. Balraj Donger, the area convenor of the Bajrang Dal, told the accused’s family members in Nayabass not to worry as “whatever he did was for the protection of cow”.

Even Chief Minister Adityanath, late on Tuesday, announced that strict action would be taken against those responsible for the alleged cow slaughter.


The BJP MP from the area, Bhola Ram, has said that Yogesh Raj was doing “noble and eye-opening work”.

“Expressing your support for stricter cow slaughter laws is not a crime,” he said.

The FIR on ‘cow slaughter’

The family members of Raj Kumar, in whose fields the carcasses were found, said they don’t know who killed the cows and how the Bajrang Dal got to know of the carcasses.

“My husband did not call them. Someone else from the village might have called them because my husband did not even know them. My husband never even slapped me, how will he kill a policeman? Everything happened because the Bajrang Dal people instigated villagers. They came from outside,” said his wife Priti.

Among the seven people named in the FIR for cow slaughter are a handicapped man and two minor boys from Nayabass village. Another person named in the FIR left Nayabass two years ago.

Chingravati police post which was attacked by a mob on December 1

Over 90% of the population in Mahav village, where the cow carcasses were spotted, is Hindu. Chingravati, where the violence occurred, and Nayabass, Yogesh Raj’s village, are also dominated by Hindus.

A policeman posted at the Chingravati police post after the incident said that it is impossible to kill so many cows near a Hindu-dominated village without being noticed.

ALSO READ: ‘Not Present At Site’: Bulandshahr Main Accused Yogesh Raj Claims Innocence In Video

“Do you think two or three men could have killed these cows so easily? The animals also resist when it comes to slaughter. Even if the cow slaughter took place, it was done by someone from these villages,” the cop said.

Most of the villagers of Chingaravati, Mahav and Naya Bass claimed that more than half people in the mob which attacked Chingaravati police post on December 3 consisted of outsiders and that very few locals participated it.

A video of the mob violence, which surfaced after the incident, shows the mob moving towards the direction of Bullandshahr after the killing of the SHO.

Mahav and Nayabass are in the opposite direction and only Chingaravati village is in the direction in which the mob moved but the people of Chingravati claimed that only five to six villagers from this village were a part of this mob out of which one was killed.

“We were only demanding an FIR in cow slaughter. We were not involved in the violence. Why would we do that when our demand was accepted? Did we do cow slaughter? Why would we do that? If we had to create tension in the area, there are other ways to do it. Why would we kill a cow? We could have killed any other animal and thrown it in Masjids if we wanted to create trouble here. The SHO should not have been killed. But the first incident was the cow slaughter for which the Bajrang Dal was insisting on filing an FIR. Then there was a blockade of the road. Yogesh Raj reached police station at 12.43 pm and left at around 1.20 pm. The SHO was killed at 1.35 pm. The police are deliberately plotting to implicate him in this case,” Bajrang Dal leader Pravin Bhati told HuffPost India when asked about allegations against the Bajrang Dal

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The Pulitzer-winning doctor-author- ‘My Indian identity is incidental’

 on what it takes to go beyond boundaries, both geographical and intellectual

On a grey and windy but still temperate Fall afternoon in Manhattan, the writer and doctor Siddhartha Mukherjee walked around his penthouse apartment showing me his collection of eastern and western art. I had come to interview him, but my eyes had immediately fallen upon the stone South Indian sculptures displayed on a long side-table by a bank of windows. The brick buildings across the street seemed close.

Mukherjee is a slim man of 47 with a large head that stresses the primacy of his intellect. He told me that the art in the house spanned roughly 2400 years — from 300 BC to 2000 AD. “The hand is very special,” he said, drawing my attention to a smooth, grey, stone sculpture resting on a hardcover copy of The Gene. “That’s the largest Gandhara hand that’s fully intact.” The house was studded with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, Richard Serra, and Jamini Roy, as well as ancient sculptures from India, China, and Cambodia. A ceramic globe by Mukherjee’s wife, the artist Sarah Sze, sat in the living room. “We ran out of space, actually,” Mukherjee said.

It struck me, as Mukherjee spoke, how little he fit the stereotype of the harried scientist. Instead of presenting an unkempt mien, he was wellgroomed with a head of elastic, bouncy black hair. He wore a stylish open-collared dark-blue shirt that nearly matched his blue jeans, creating the impression of an urban judo uniform. An over-long red-blue cloth-belt dangling down from the front of his jeans completed this look. On his feet were shiny black clogs; he has dozens of identical pairs in his closet. Like Steve Jobs with his black turtlenecks, Mukherjee wears only one kind of shoe at a time.

The Emperor of Maladies, his first book, won the Pulitzer Prize. It attacked a very American subject, with a very American past: cancer. As Mukherjee noted in that book, “Society, like the ultimate psychosomatic patient, matches its medical afflictions to its psychological crises; when a disease touches such a visceral chord, it is often because that chord is already resonating.” The Gene wanders more broadly — from India to Austria to the Galapagos to Africa to the labs of Stanford; it is an astonishing undertaking, full of insight and pity for humanity itself. In the sections about mental illness in his own family, Mukherjee breaks into new, fertile, novelistic territory. In fact, he has become a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, colouring its pages with his sinuous, metaphor-drenched prose — an approach to science writing that differs from the more see-through efforts of the other great doctor-writer published in that magazine’s pages: Atul Gawande.

Gawande and Mukherjee are friends, and in our interview Mukherjee touched upon Gawande’s work and his own struggles with writing. But otherwise our conversation roved freely and widely, like the books themselves — from Delhi (where we both grew up) to Stanford (where we were both undergrads, though years apart) to New York and to the strange mental spaces you can only reach with great concentration.

Through it all, Mukherjee sipped a whiskey and swirled the ice in his tumbler. He speaks fast, commencing most sentences with a slightly higher-pitched “you know” from which to slide down his thoughts. He also deploys the words “particularities” and “fundamentals” repeatedly, like gunshots of emphasis. Excerpts from the interview:

When did you start collecting art?

We didn’t start collecting — most of it is work from our friends; some of it is things we’ve traded over the years; sometimes we find something amazing, though we don’t have infinite resources or space. But I’ve always loved [art], so I’ve been involved in it now coming up to twenty years. The first piece I bought here was a work by Chuck Close and that was fifteen years ago.

Were you drawn to a particular kind of Indian art? I’ve seen the pieces you have here, but I’m curious what the evolution was.

As a child I was particularly fascinated by what happened to Jamini Roy’s evolution as a thinker. He was trained classically as a painter and then he had to go through this process of returning, he had to go backwards, and that idea fascinated me. He tried to find a kind of genesis myth…

[There is a sound like wood being polished — soft barking. Mukherjee turns to his dog, a small brown and white Papillion] Ginger, stop it!

…And in doing so he began to create a radically new form of work. He abandoned oils, went back to tempera, often paint washes, which were the simplest possible thing. So that maybe relates to a larger question: you’re an Indian writer, you think of yourself in a particular way and then you have to ask your question — what does it mean to come from that place? And for Jamini, it meant totally reinventing himself. It meant coming to terms with a national identity he had abandoned before.

What is your version of that, with India?

The question often asked is: what is Indian about what I write and what I think about and my usual answer to that has been: I’m not from India, I’m from Lithuania…That’s just meant as a provocation. What’s India, or not, is not interesting to me about what I write about. The notion of self is important, history, your micro-history, your origins, your parents, the journeys they took, how those journeys intersected with larger forces, how that creates the idea of who we are as humans, biologically, physiologically and anatomically, what that tells us about the kinds of things that we invent, the science we make, the kind of medicine we create — those lineages are important. But of course once you get to the point of thinking of these as elements of national identity you lose that textural detail and that’s what I’ve always avoided.

In Indian writing in English there’s an obsession with the national project of India, which sometimes results in books that are about Indian history or about exalting certain parts of the Indian experience but that aren’t able to contribute anything new to the understanding of human consciousness. Does something of this kind happen in science as well? People are always asking, for example: Why isn’t there a Google coming out of India?

The national project is of no interest to me whatsoever. It has only become of exalted interest now because of the aspirational quality of what that project means today. Honestly the national project was the most successful to me in writers when it was deployed into local questions, microquestions, particularities. Tagore, who breathes down your neck if you’re a Bengali of any form, Tagore is an internationalist but his most successful work is when he is deeply located in a particular village in West Bengal.

Like Gora…

Yes, Gora’s a great example. So if Tagore had written highfalutin’ works about internationalism, he wouldn’t be the same person. To some extent this is true of scientific projects as well. They are located in questions that are uninterested in the progress of capital as science but are more interested in extreme particularities that are generated by nature and the world. Why is it that things fall down not upwards? Newton wasn’t trying to create a new science, he was trying to answer extraordinarily important questions about how he observed the world to be. One of the crises is that if you set up to write the great book, the book comes out to be far from great.

What is your view of the work being done in your scientific and medical fields in India?

Medicine is an interesting arena in India. I experienced it directly when my father died. Medicine can be amazing in India. I’m writing a piece about it in The New Yorker. The main talking point has to do with the Challenger Shuttle. The Challenger Shuttle was an elaborate engineering contraption. It blew up because of a single fuse, an O-ring, as it were. Medicine in India is like experiencing O-rings. There’s an unbelievable quality, and then it fails because of some tiny systems error. Or an infrastructural error, something you can’t anticipate. The nurse can’t come because her baby’s sick and there’s no substitute and so all of a sudden in the middle of the night a patient has no nurse.

Delhi in the 1980s. What was it like?

It was a politically hyperconscious city. As you know, the riots had happened. I was 14. I have a very particular memory of that. I was in school and then all of a sudden my mother’s brother — sort of the elder of the family — suddenly appeared during break. He was a very dignified, quiet man and he said, “we should leave,” and it was a little confusing to me — I was 14, I wasn’t a child — and he said, “no, we should leave, we’ll discuss it later,” and I remember driving through the centre of Delhi and the most consequential thing in the centre was an eerie quietness. There was no one around. We were driving through these massive lanes, and by the time we got home you could see the smoke from the homes that were being burned. In fact, two homes down from ours, a home was burnt and one of the residents was killed.

Delhi was also a city slowly obsessing with its own growth. In 1987, 1988, the most consequential years, I was 17 and 18, we had begun to have access to a world that was foreign to us. The cinema houses which only had bad Hindi films and the occasional Soviet release suddenly [had foreign releases]. You could go see Orson Welles and Star Wars.

Do you feel the Indian education system or the ideas at its peripheries had an impact on you as an intellectual? We grew up, for example, in a very verbal, gregarious culture. There was a kind of fluency in Delhi. People are punning all the time; there is love of language. With you, there’s language, there’s science, there’s music [Mukherjee is an accomplished singer of Indian classical music].

I grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and on a good day George Orwell. Particularly for my generation of writers, readers, intellectuals, Salman’s book [Midnight’s Children] was like a thunderclap. Someone described it to me once: in Delhi films were always made in Hollywood or in Bollywood and they seemed like places that were far away. Then there was one film I remember from my young adulthood where all of a sudden the bus was not a Hollywood bus, not a Mumbai bus but a DTC bus and I knew the bus and it was 623 and I remember the film too, it was called Aadharshila. To see that the film is not about an abstraction of somewhere far away but somehow at your doorstep and is part of your life… that was a real revelation. At 17, I had read Flaubert’s letters. I said to myself: who writes like this? What continent do these people live in? What do they eat? What are they anxious about? My anxieties seemed so different.

In what way did you hone your prose style at Stanford and Oxford?

I never considered myself a prose stylist and never sat down and honed prose. Rather I sat down and read prose, which helped me. Who were they? In non-fiction: Primo Levi, Orwell — I’m just looking up at this bookshelf and you’ll find them — Oliver Sacks, who else happens to be on this bookshelf? And in fiction McEwan and Hollinghurst and Chekhov obviously, over and over again. Who else is on this list? Atul [Gawande], [Richard] Selzer, Lewis Thomas…

What was it like being an Indian at Stanford at the time and then at Oxford?

I was so uninterested in the idea of it, so uninterested in where I had come from. Of course, I spoke the language, I had facility with it. Yes, sure, on occasion, I would wear some Indian clothes and land up in some [festival]. But that was not the dimension I was intrigued by…

But Indian identity wasn’t forced upon you by other people? That would be the form it would some times take.

If it was, I was so immune to it. I was disengaged. To a fault, I think. It was not the realm through which I wanted to make friends or engage the world. It was purely incidental — an incidental passport which I happened to have.

Ironically, of course, I’m a third generation transplanted Bengali who knows how to write and read Bengali. I have more facility in the language than virtually anyone I know.

Why is there a tradition of doctor-writers in particular? In another interview you talk about admiring Primo Levi’s ability to break down concepts and the clarity of his style.

I think it has to do with the intensity of experience. Erving Goffman talks about total cultures— self- enclosed universes. Medicine is a total culture. It has its own laws, its own code, its own rituals, its own commandments. When patients enter the culture of medicine they feel as if they’ve entered a total culture. As human beings we want dispatches from total cultures. We want to know about them because they’re so self-enclosed they elude us.

And yet medicine has a twofer, which is that you know you’re going to be part of that total culture as well at some point in the future. It’s an inevitability. You too will have to learn the code because the code will affect you. That’s part of obsession with the idea of medicine.

But why do practitioners of medicine feel the urge to send dispatches out of the total culture of medicine? I can understand people wanting to receive these dispatches. But there are plenty of people who are happy existing within arcane cultures, hoarding knowledge.

It’s not knowledge that people are trying to disperse from the archives of medicine; what they’re trying to disperse is a sense of what it means to belong in it. Here’s an activity that is extraordinarily intimate.

Atul [Gawande] was speaking here three nights ago and we had dinner. I was reading this piece by Atul about itching in The New Yorker. I was trying to dissect the piece. What’s interesting about it is that you can’t take your eyes off the piece. And the reason it’s great is because of the total culture of it. You enter this woman’s brain and you can’t get the hell out of it. Carla in Emperor [of Maladies]: you enter her brain and you can’t get the hell out of her.

I was very intrigued as a child — I‘ve written a small piece about it but never published it — by the famous and somewhat lovely fable about Krishna swallowing a clod of earth.

His mother comes and opens his mouth and she looks inside and all of a sudden the whole cosmos is inside it. You feel, when you’re a doctor, that you swallow the clod of one particular patient’s story and everything is inside it. There’s a macabre fascination because you could be that person, you could be the doctor, the observer, the child, the friend.

Your books are about imperfect flows of information. I wondered: is that the sort of thing that is not covered in the way medicine and science are taught to young scientists or doctors?

You caught an important piece of this. The books are fundamentally about the way we acquire, disperse, and deal with knowledge. They are about the care and feeding of knowledge, the way you would care and feed for an animal. Sometimes you underfeed, sometimes you overfeed, but I think about the books as being about the physiology of knowledge.

In what ways has writing made you a better doctor and scientist and in what ways has it made you worse?

Like many other people I write to think. So knowing the structure and the nature and the limitations of how we know and what we know is crucial. That makes you a better doctor and scientist. On the flipside, the enormity of this — the enormity of what we don’t know — can be distracting. The New Yorker pieces take the druthers out of me because they are so hard to do, they have to be condensed. The background to each individual piece — I know this from Atul’s work as well — involves hundreds of interviews and then it’s sent out to dozens of people; all of that gets seeped or stocked into one little thing. It’s like getting a sponge and taking everything out of it. All of this is not about the labour of writing but to remind us that every time you uncover a particular realm of knowledge there’s a kind of humiliation that comes with it.

We’re living in an unusually antiscience period in modern history. Are there ways in which science itself has fostered that backlash? Are there things science could communicate better?

Yes I think that’s absolutely the case. This goes back to the two cultures problem, the many cultures problem, really. Scientists became obsessed with their own jargon. The jargon is very useful in some ways. It was and remains important. For the longest time scientists wrote to think. Newton and Einstein wrote to think. Dawkins writes to think. But the professionalization of science and medical writing cut that cord. You were no longer writing to think but to talk to your colleagues. That’s a problem. We lost a kind of interiority and the depth that comes with interiority when we started writing to our colleagues. It was like a telegram versus an autobiography.

You are a high achiever. You’ve done a lot of different things. Do you have darker Dostoevskyian moments where you want to smash it all? Is there a side of you that’s not generally seen by the public?

When my father died last year, in October, I sort of fell into a depressive funk. I go through funks all the time. So much of it for me is getting through a creative funk. I’m in one right now because I have to write another book. You could make a compelling oeuvre about writing about creative funks, and many people have, and it’s useful: we like to read them to get out of our own creative funks.

How did you overcome the barrier of writing about something as personal as mental illness in your family — given, as you write yourself, that your parents “[like] most Bengalis… had elevated repression and denial to a high art form”?

Once I started it was not hard. The first step was to get over the first step. I wrote the introduction to The Gene on a bus. I was going to Martha’s Vineyard and the kids had taken the ferry and I decided I was going to take the bus to the ferry that goes from Rhode Island and then take the ferry across to meet them. It was the fastest way I could see them. I had four-and-a-half hours and I had been ruminating and puzzling about all this and then I sat down and wrote it down on that trip.

What do you perceive as your own flaws as a writer?

I have many. The common complaint around The Gene, and Emperor too, has been that the personal elements don’t integrate fully. That there’s still a schism, an artifice, in moving between the visit with my father to the place where he grew up in Calcutta and the history [of genetics]. People say: what’s the connection, why are we reading this? To eliminate the artifice is tough because it felt real to me but doesn’t feel real to other people and maybe in the end these books have to just turn colder.

I think long before we know a book we know the mood and temperature of a book. I’m a very instinctive reader. When I read a paragraph I can tell you if it is blue, or red, or cold, or hot.

Do you actually have synesthesia?

I don’t have synesthesia but I have a reader’s version of synesthesia, which is that long before I understand the meaning of a poem or a paragraph, I can tell you the sense that it evokes. I’m very quick at that. I read quickly. I can look at an art work and tell the temperature very quickly.

What do you mean by cold versus hot?

I get a sense of whether the mood is ruminative versus angry, polemic versus introspective. Ultimately a piece of writing is located in some kind of dimensional space, and I can generally tell where in the dimensional space it sits.

I’ll tell you about my process. Very often I’m speaking with my editors — like after I finished writing The Gene — and I’ll say, “Don’t tell me about content. Let’s talk first about speed, temperature, mood.” This idea that I call “thereness.” The first question I ask about a piece: do you feel the “thereness” of it? Do you feel you were there, have you moved there? And this is true of knowledge. The only way we understand knowledge is when we are there, we understand its context. What was it like to be Darwin? And why is that important today?

So that’s one of the first questions I ask my editors, and if they say no, in that case I have to rewrite things. It doesn’t mean [I do] new journalism. [I don’t have to go] to the Galapagos. What it does mean is to make the history of ideas alive. What was it like not having that moment of discovery? What was it like not knowing that medicine, that kind of discovery?

You’ve written in The Emperor of Maladies that “Scientific revolutions…typically occur in basements, in buried-away places removed from mainstream corridors of thought.” Have you been able to carve out that kind of mental basement space for yourself in New York?

Well, it’s tough. It happens only when you are alone and you have to find alone time in New York or elsewhere. There’s a sense of rejection that a person feels when you say, “I really want to be alone”— your kids feel a sense of abandonment. But it’s one of the last luxuries, having time to yourself.

Where do you find it?

All the time, as much as I can, everywhere: on a flight, in a room, behind a closed door, in the mornings, in the afternoons. The only way that I write is to have an interior conversation. Once that conversation goes you’re dead as a writer and as a scientist. Then you become an outward being. The hall of mirrors of your brain has been broken and there’s nothing left.

Finally, I wanted to get to the most important question about cancer, which you didn’t answer in your book. Does coffee reduce cancer? [laughs]

[Laughs] I think essentially it does reduce cancer. We’ve been trying forever to show how villainous coffee is and every time they run a trial it turns out to not be villainous at all. I don’t know what the advantages are but it turns out that coffee’s not so bad for you.

(Karan Mahajan is an Indian-American novelist who has written The Association of Small Bombs and Family Planning)

This interview is from the book Peerless Minds: A Celebration edited by Pritish Nandy and Tapan Chaki, to be published by Harper Collins. The book is supported by a grant from Sunil Kanti Roy of the Peerless Group. All royalties from the book will go to the Ramakrishna Mission’s Sister Nivedita School for Girls

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India – Same set of pistols used to murder Pansare,Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Lankesh

Same set of pistols used to murder four activists

SIT informs court Pansare killing linked to the Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Lankesh cases

The two pistols tied to the murder of rationalist Govind Pansare in 2015 were also used to shoot dead activists Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, investigators have concluded.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Pansare’s killing made the submission in a Kolhapur court last month, strengthening long-held suspicions that the same group of ultraright-wing elements were behind the four murders carried out between 2013 and 2017.

Mirror has seen the document shared with the court. In all, three firearms were used in the four cases, according to the SIT’s findings. “Out of two pistols (used to kill Pansare), one was used in the murder of Narendra Dabholkar and the other in the murder of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh,” the document states.

Different agencies, including the CBI, are investigating the cases and they are yet to recover the firearms. According to a source in the SIT, formed by the Maharashtra police, forensic tests of recovered bullet shells helped it establish that the same set of weapons were used in the killings.

Pansare was shot near his Kolhapur home on February 16, 2015. According to the SIT’s probe, the alleged assailants, Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar, saw him as a ‘durjan’ (bad person) because of his progressive views. The two men are absconding. A supplementary chargesheet filed in the case in November 2016 named Virendrasinh Tawde as one of the accused. Tawde is also an accused in the Dabholkar case, which is being by probed by the CBI.

The SIT has identified and apprehended three more suspects, Amol Kale, Vasudeo Suryawanshi and Bharat Kurne, in the Pansare case. The arrests followed progress made by other agencies, which are now almost sharing the same list of suspects. Cops in Karnataka recently made a breakthrough in the murder of Lankesh, who was also a journalist; the Maharashtra ATS recovered arms, ammunition and explosives in Nallasopara; and the CBI made five arrests in the Dabholkar case.

Kale is now linked to the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Lankesh. According to the SIT’s probe, he conducted a recce in Kolhapur in 2013 and visited Madhya Pradesh “for the purpose of acquiring ammunition”. He allegedly also met Tawde a month before Pansare was killed, and stayed in touch with him and Akolkar through emails. Suryawanshi allegedly provided one of the two pistols used in the murder to Tawde, while Kurne is suspected to have provided the bike. Kurne is also an accused in the Lankesh killing and the Nallasopara arms haul.

Tawade, Kale, Suryawanshi and Kurne have denied involvement in all the cases.

In an application submitted to a Pune court last month, the CBI alleged that the accused in the Dabholkar and Pansare murders had links with rightwing organisation Sanatan Sanstha and its alleged sister group Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. Members of the two groups were also involved in the Kalburgi and Lankesh cases, the application claimed.

So far, the Sanstha or Samiti have not been named as accused in any FIR or chargesheet in the four fatal shootings and the Nallasopara arms haul. The Sanstha’s spokesperson, Chetan Rajhans, and the accused men’s lawyers have rubbished theories of the CBI, SIT and Karnataka investigators as figment of their imagination.

Lawyer Sameer Patwardhan, who is representing Tawde and other accused in the Pansare case, said his clients were innocent. “These men have no link with Hindu Janajagruti Samiti,” he said. He also alleged inconsistencies in the theory that the same set of firearms were used in different incidents.


Three guns, four murders

Two pistols were used to kill Govind Pansare in 2015, according to SIT.
Of the two, one was earlier used to shoot dead Narendra Dabholkar (2013), and the other to kill MM Kalburgi (2015) and Gauri Lankesh (2017).
In all, three firearms were used in the four killings, according to SIT.

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India- How a police cover-up of rape led to the death of an Adivasi teenager in Tamil Nadu

On 10 November, over two thousand Malaivasi tribals of Sittilingi protested against police inaction and negligence in the investigation of the a gang rape and subsequent death of a 16-year-old teenager.

On 10 November, over two thousand Malaivasi tribals took to the streets of Sittilingi, an Adivasi settlement in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, to protest an atrocity that was previously unheard of in the village—the gang rape and subsequent death of a 16-year-old teenager. The Adivasi residents mobilised to protest not only the police failure to arrest the perpetrators, but also their acts of negligence and complicity, as well as that of the government hospital where she was taken after the sexual assault. “We trusted the police when they took the girl; we thought they would taken care of her,” one of the protestors, a 38-year-old nurse who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, said. “The police have never cared for us tribals, but we thought that at least in such a serious case they would take care of her. Now we see the police as murderers as much as the boys.”

Two days later, the 16-year-old’s body was brought back to Sittilingi from the hospital for a traditional Adivasi funeral, accompanied by a police force of at least two hundred officers. The residents all expressed serious concerns about the police presence in the village—particularly given the state police’s record of violently clamping down on protests. As a result, most of the protestors I spoke to were unwilling to be identified by name. “We told the boys to all take videos of all events because we knew the police would start the violence, then blame it on us to disrupt the protest,” a 21-year-old college student, who resides in Sittilingi, told me.

According to the locals, the police were guilty not only of inaction in investigating the crime, but of a dedicated effort to cover it up and characterise it as an attempt to rape. They failed to ensure immediate medical attention for the 16-year-old, did not alert the necessary authorities regarding the sexual assault and engaged in a series of negligent acts that ultimately led to her death, in the Government Dharmapuri Medical College and Hospital—a government hospital in the district. From the first stage of registering a first information report, the circumstances that led to her death exhibit a string of lapses, which locals believe are characteristic of the government’s treatment of Adivasis.

On 3 November, the 16-year-old teenager returned home from her boarding school in Dharmapuri’s Pappireddipatti town, where she was studying in the twelfth standard, for Diwali holidays. Two days later, two men of her village and community, S Sathish and T Ramesh, allegedly raped her near a stream behind the village. Amid sobs, her 45-year-old mother described the incident in harrowing detail, as her daughter had recounted it to her. “They removed their lungis, which they forced down her throat to stifle her screaming, choking her. They removed her clothes, which they had used to tie her hands behind her back before taking turns raping her. On hearing her brother calling out and searching for her, both men ran away, leaving my girl to limp back home.”

When she reached home, the teenager was covered in wounds and bruises, barely able to move. Immediately, her parents and brother left for the nearest police station, 12 kilometres away, in the village of Kottapatti. At the station, the teenager’s 24-year-old brother told me, the constables on duty initially refused to register the complaint, and agreed to do so only after he called the Tamil Nadu police helpline and paid the constables a bribe of Rs 2,000. “The police would refuse to take this complaint and cover up the case,” he added, “because they are involved in the illicit liquor trade of Sathish’s mother and want to protect

After paying the bribe, the family filed a verbal complaint, accusing Sathish and Ramesh of rape. But the Kottapatti police registered an FIR for the offence of attempting to commit gang penetrative sexual assault on a child, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The hand-written complaint attached to the FIR, too, describes the assault as an attempt to rape the 16-year-old, though the family insisted that they had told the police that she had been raped, and described the assault as recounted by her. The complaint also bears a signature of the teenager, as well as that of her father. But, according to the family, the teenager did not sign the complaint at all, while the father, an illiterate daily-wage labourer, said he signed it assuming that the police had written down the account of events as narrated by the family.

The case exhibits the police’s failure to adhere to the procedure laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure at multiple stages of the investigation. The standard procedure mandates that in cases of rape or an attempt to rape a woman, police officials must ensure that she is examined by a medical professional within 24 hours. D Magesh Kumar, who was then Dharmapuri’s acting superintendent of police—the district’s superintendent was on a two-week leave when the incident took place—and S Malarvizhi, the district collector, said the teenager was taken to the government hospital in Harur, 45 kilometres away from Sittilingi. The family, however, has denied the claim. According to them, the entire family, including the teenager, were asked to sit outside the hospital and sign on a register, without any information about what or why they were signing. “None of us went in at all,” the brother recalled. “The police were the ones who spoke to the doctors inside.”

Piyush Manush, an environmental activist from Salem who took part in the protest, said that he was in contact with Dr R Matheshwari, the gynaecologist at the Harur hospital who claimed to have conducted the medical examination. “The doctor told me that a swab found no semen, as it was two days after the attack, but hymenal damage was found which indicates rape, challenging the police’s account of the incident,” Manush said. He added that the doctor claimed the 16-year-old did not show any other wounds. But, according to her family, she had several wounds on her back and abdomen, her entire face was swollen up and she bore bite marks across her face.

Matheshwari did not respond to multiple calls and messages seeking a comment on the story. A medical report was not provided to the family.

In yet another significant procedural lapse, the police failed to present the teenager before a judicial magistrate to record her statement, as mandated by law. This “is not just an act of negligence, but criminal conspiracy by the police, attempting to completely cover up a case which they had already botched,” Manush said. Instead, the police took her and her family to a children’s home run by a Child Welfare Committee—both of which are constituted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act—in Kurinji Nagar, a locality near Dharmapuri town.

At the children’s home, the parents said, the police asked the family to pay another bribe of Rs 2,000 without explaining what it was for. But the family did not have any money with them, so the police and CWC officials sent them back to Sittilingi. They returned the next day with the money, after selling one of their goats.

This decision to take her to the children’s home is another digression from routine procedure. While the POCSO Act states that the police must report such an offence to the CWC, there is no mandate to admit the teenager into the children’s home. The police offered the family no explanation for why they were taken there. “They told my parents that this is where they were supposed to bring papa,” the brother said. “We asked if at least my mother could stay here with her, but they refused and sent us all back home.” Manush emphasised that the CWC had acted illegally by taking custody of the teenager. “The CWC home is for destitute children, minors who have eloped and can’t be returned to their family for fear of safety, or victims of family abuse,” he said. “If the state had found no additional healthcare needed, then they should have handed over custody of the child to the family.”

On 7 November, after one night at the children’s home, the teenager’s condition deteriorated further, with constant vaginal bleeding and vomiting. Murugammal N and V Shalini, staff members at the home, took the teenager to the government medical college in the town. Despite her grievous medical condition, the parents recalled, the CWC staff told them not to inform the doctors that their daughter had been raped, and asked them to only complain of “giddiness” instead. The CWC “told us not to mention rape, because it would ruin the reputation of the family and become a complicated and costly legal case,” the mother said. “If only I had not listened to them and told the doctors about rape, my daughter might be alive today.”

Three days after she was admitted at the medical college, the teenager’s condition worsened drastically. A little after 9 am, within 15 minutes of being rushed into the intensive care unit, she was declared dead. According to the discharge summary, R Punitha, the warden of the children’s home, informed the doctors at the hospital about the rape only after the teenager died. The family was only given the discharge summary when they threatened to not take custody of the body without it.

The summary states that she was admitted with episodes of “giddiness and vomiting at the time of admission,” and that she is “suspected to have vertigo.” It further notes that a computed tomography (CT) scan of her head revealed “diffuse cerebral oedema and suspected space occupying lesions in the brain.” According to Subhash Mohan, the family’s lawyer, the family received a preliminary post-mortem report from the Harur sessions court on 6 December, which states that this could be a result of choking. He added that the preliminary post-mortem also indicates that the 16-year-old was raped.

Thiru MS Saravanan, the chairperson of the Dharmapuri CWC, told me that when the police brought the teenager to the children’s home, they had described the assault as an attempted rape, and did not submit any medical report. It was for this reason, Saravanan said, that the staff did not inform the doctors at the medical college that the 16-year-old had been raped. When asked why the CWC staff had asked the family to not inform the doctors about the rape, he said the parents were lying about the warden’s instructions. He added that the family had not told the staff about the rape, and suspected that “the police had probably threatened them.”

Saravanan claimed that the teenager did not have any visible wounds, and that she was not suffering from vaginal bleeding—a claim that is disputed by the family, and demonstrably false, as wounds were visible across her face, back and torso when I attended her funeral in the village. When I asked why the CWC had taken custody of the teenager at all, given that there were no allegations of negligence or misconduct against the family, he claimed that it was routine practice in Tamil Nadu to take a child to a CWC before a magistrate, despite this being a deviation from procedure. “The CWC has become an institution of routine mismanagement and negligence due to its unclear mandate and use of contract labour,” Manush told me. “Incidents like this occur all the time—the only reason this came to light was, sadly, because the girl died.”

Despite multiple phone calls and messages, I was unable to contact the then acting superintendent, Magesh Kumar. P Lakshmi, the investigating officer in the case, too, had not responded to my calls or messages at the time this story was published.

Following the teenager’s death, simultaneous protests erupted in Sittilingi and outside the medical college. At the time, the police investigation had witnessed little progress. The FIR still did not include the offence of rape, and the police had not arrested either of the men identified by the 16-year-old. According to Sittilingi locals, both Sathish and Ramesh had previously been hauled up by the village oorkettu—an unofficial tribal village assembly—for misbehaviour. In 2017, Sathish was caught taking a video of a woman as she was bathing. Ramesh, a migrant worker who travels to Tiruppur, where he is employed at a cloth mill, was infamous among the locals for routinely getting drunk and beating up his wife, who has since left him.

On 11 November, in an effort to pacify the burgeoning protest, the district collector, Malarvizhi, and the acting superintendent, Kumar, arrived at the scene of the protest—the main intersection in Sittilingi village. After hearing the demands of the family members and villagers, the collector assured them that the police would register a new FIR, which would include the charge of rape and police negligence, and that the revenue divisional officer would investigate government lapses in the case.

The protest only disbanded at around 6 pm that day, after the RDO had recorded the statements of the teenager’s relatives, which was to be relied on for the new FIR. The family told me that they had recounted all the circumstances leading up to her death in their statements, including the lack of medical attention for the teenager and the bribes demanded of them. However, the new FIR, which was registered on 12 November, does not include the charges of negligence or misconduct by the police.

“The police negligence and criminal conspiracy needs to be added in the same FIR as the rape as in the case of Kathua, otherwise the police will get off scot free,” Manush said. Mohan said that they had moved an application before the Harur sessions court on 3 December, seeking a copy of the medical records and other documents relied upon by the police. He added that on receiving them, they would file another application seeking registration of charges concerning police negligence.

As a result of the protest, Satish was arrested on 11 November, while Ramesh surrendered the following day. But no action has yet been taken against the police or the CWC staff, and the atmosphere in Sittilingi is far from calm. A protestors addressed the prevailing sentiment in the village: “They kept telling us they would catch the boys who did this, but who will catch the police?”

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#RajasthanPolls: How Amit Shah’s ‘super teams’ from Gujarat are pitching in for the BJP

A look at Shah’s data-driven, micromanaging team in Bhiwadi, just one of about 100 of his teams operating across the state.

There’s a hush of wonder and perplexity that descends when the political class talks about the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi election machine, especially post the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It also helps that mainstream media celebrate the duo as a “Jadu Jodi”, gushing and fawning about every election victory as a masterstroke, conquest, coup and other such adulatory narratives.

What is this election machine that Bharatiya Janata Party President Shah has set up that drives and enthuses his party workers and animates his political rivals and challengers? Why does Shah rely predominantly on his “Super Teams” who fly in from Gujarat, and who overrun and oversee the state local party organisation? How does their multi-pronged strategy work? Has Shah’s poll roller, replicated from the Gujarat model and brought to the rest of the country, changed the way elections are fought today? Do political party rivals now have to adopt the Shah model to take the BJP on?

And crucially, can Shah’s mega poll roller of statistics, data and micro-managing win against voter disappointments, rejection and anti-incumbency?

First, let it be remembered that post 2014, the mainstream media’s fave Jadu Jodi has also lost a few elections—a spectacular loss in the Delhi Assembly, barely eight months after Modi swept to power in May 2014; then came Bihar  in November in the same year when the BJP was trounced; in 2016, the BJP could barely make a mark in the elections in Kerala, Pudducherry, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu; it lost Punjab in 2017 and wrested power in Goa surreptitiously the same time. However, it has jumped from seven in 2014 to rule 20 states either on its own or in alliances today and has 17 of its own chief ministers.

To check out how Shah’s machinery works, we set out to Bhiwadi, in Rajasthan, the state government’s industrial township, just outside Delhi, and in the throes of election fever, to be held on December 7. Dusty and brown Bhiwadi, where factories belch out toxic smoke and exhaust even as patches of the season’s sunny yellow mustard fields burst out between houses and buildings, is one of the constituents of Tijara Assembly constituency, which the BJP won in the last election in 2013. Bhiwadi is one of Tijara’s five mandals. Its MLA is the BJP’s Maman Singh Yadav, and Tijara is known for its dominant Yadav community and also Meo Muslims, and it has elected at least five Yadavs since Independence.

However, Tijara, which falls in the Alwar parliamentary constituency, gave a shock to Shah’s BJP earlier this year in the January by-poll when its candidate Jaswant Singh Yadav lost out to the Congress’s Karan Singh Yadav by a stunning 1.96 lakh votes. The late Mahant Chand Nath Yogi, whose death necessitated the by-poll, had won the election in 2014 with 2.64 lakh votes. The BJP has denied sitting MLA Maman Singh Yadav a ticket, giving it instead to a Bhiwadi local, Sandeep Dayma, the youthful former Kabbaddi champion and present chairman of the Bhiwadi municipal council. He is pitted against Aimaduddin Khan of the Congress and there are three other Muslim candidates, most notably from the Samajwadi Party.

Dayma is one of the fortunate candidates to have the BJP president’s “Super Team” to work for him, who have swooped in from Surat, Gujarat, and are a band of Shah’s most trusted workers. There’s Dinesh Raj Purohit, the BJP’s in-charge of Surat’s Limbayat assembly constituency, and his two party colleagues and friends, who exude an air of nonchalance as they breeze through the lobby of the four-star Golden Tulip Hotel in the industrial township. Purohit is a hotelier himself running the family business in Surat, and his colleagues are businessmen too.

Purohit says he is in Bhiwadi to do a personal favour to his friend, Dayma, but there is no doubt from his demeanour that he is in complete charge of the campaign, which will go right up to the final day of voting. “There are at least a 100 teams from Gujarat who are active in Rajasthan, micromanaging the election.” The party already has in place its election organisation on the ground months ahead—from the multi-tiered organisation of booth samitis, mandal leaders and shakti kendras (which oversee a clutch of booths). There are the Kendra palaks (in-charge) who work in tandem with the panna pramukhs or “page leaders”.

Purohit is satisfied the “panna pramukhs”, who are entrusted with one page of every voter list (about 60 names on each page), have done their job already of meeting families on a regular basis. “They’ve sent their reports on how many are for, against and neutral to the BJP,” he explains, “and they’ve been tasked to work on those who are undecided, to bring them to vote for the party.”

Purohit says it is not a difficult task as the voter lists consist mostly of neighbours or residents on the same street, so reaching out to them is not a difficult as they are familiar and recognisable faces. There are 2.23 lakh voters in Tijara, according to Purohit, and with an average of 60 voters per page, there are at least 4,000 panna pramukhs who have been drawn from volunteers and party workers.

Abhay Singh is the panna pramukh entrusted with Booth No 28, and he is confident that 60 per cent of his voters will vote for the BJP. “Only 20 per cent is with the Congress, and 20 per cent is neutral.” However, it’s with caution that Sube Singh Bhiduri, local BJP councillor and dedicated party worker, reminds us that in the recent Alwar parliamentary by-election, not only did the BJP lose, but there was a high of 15,000 NOTA votes.

Purohit and his team are unfazed as they head to the spanking new BJP office where, unlike the hordes of local party workers who swarm in the grounds and loll around on sofas in various rooms, their “call centre” comprising of seven people are crackling on their mobile phones with various leaders. The call centre is just a day old and will work until the last evening of polling. “Pramukhs and mandal heads have been given a dedicated number in the call centre and the latter’s job is to keep the flow of information running smoothly —from getting feedback on voter mobilisation and their numbers, especially on polling day, which is handed to us and to the local leadership on an immediate basis.”

Doesn’t the local leadership feel besieged and overwhelmed by outsiders? There are sniggers of derision and mock about the “outsiders” who have no clue about local issues, says a leader. But Purohit says Shah’s Gujarat teams are welcomed by local leadership because they come only to assist, not to intrude. “We use our data to tell them how to reach the voter scientifically and reliably,” he says, adding, “we show them how data can save time and find accuracy, after that it all depends on the candidate, the leadership, contentious issues, people’s demands, and other usual election time concerns and topics.”

So, what’s Purohit’s data crunching and micro-management in clash with in Bhiwadi? On one side, the laptops are rolling out figures like 1.5 lakh mobile numbers of new members, volunteers, or the merely curious of Tijara; and the call centres from Jaipur to Delhi are bombarding them with daily messages and calls to vote for the BJP. Then there are the voter lists duly transferred on excel sheets, which are photo-copied into thousands for the panna pramukh, which lists the name, family name, address, ward number, and—most notably—caste; apart from a list of 38,000 Aadhaar card holders and the benefits they received from both central and state government schemes.

In fact, contacting the beneficiaries of schemes is Shah’s new strategy, such as Rajasthan’s touted Bhamshah health insurance scheme for the poor, or the central pension scheme, or the Aadhaar card holders in the constituency who get funds directly to their bank accounts, to cash in and swing votes in their favour. “There are 15,000 families in Tijara who have benefitted from the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala scheme of giving subsidised cooking gas cylinders,” says Purohit proudly. “I am sure the women who were granted the welfare scheme will not need much convincing to vote for the BJP after the panna pramukhs meet them.”

On the other hand, the fervour and gusto boil over when it comes to emotions and feelings of the people in the state, and worse, in the party structure. There is palpable anger among local party workers with the “Maharani”, chief minister Vasundhara Raje, says a leader, as she has gone over the heads of the party to rely and work solely with bureaucrats and the administration. The organisational structure, which is the workforce on the ground, has been ignored and by-passed in handing out contracts, work assignments and making policy decisions, at the cost of the lowering their significance in the constituency. “We’ve become a laughing stock as we neither have a say in the distribution of schemes and contracts nor are we able to give any handouts to our people. Our authority has diminished, even the local SHO ignores our requests in any dispute. All decisions are taken in Jaipur,” says a leader angrily.

Another reveals that the anti-incumbency against first timers—there were as many as 90 first-time MLAs when Raje won in 2013, with a resounding 163 seats out of 200 seats—who did not really find their ground, which also goes against the BJP this time. Also, while the selection of candidates and distribution of schemes was mostly decided in the state capital, several pramukhs have helped themselves as beneficiaries if they are eligible, says a leader helpfully, as it’s seen as a reward for their loyalty and dedication.

Mercifully, says another leader, the confusion in the Congress state leadership, the power clash between newbie Sachin Pilot and old horse Ashok Gehlot, their faulty selection of candidates in many constituencies, apart from old caste rivalries and affiliations, can make rival Congress’ job even harder for electoral victory, despite a wave of anti-incumbency in the state.

So, how confident is Purohit about Shah’s electoral machine working in Rajasthan this time? The Surat BJP leader had also worked as part of Shah’s team in both the Karnataka and Bihar state elections, but the BJP lost in both states. Purohit is cocky when he points out that though the party did not win the elections, it had doubled its last tally, gaining 64 seats, and was just nine seats short of hitting the majority in the Assembly. In Bihar, he points out, the JD(U) and RJD combine was bulletproof, but the JD(U) is now back as an ally of the BJP.

The contest, it seems is between an extravagant, multi-crore, data-driven micro-management election machine, versus the heated and intense emotions of the electorate, which rises and falls in proportion to their enthusiasm and disinterest. Can an aroused and charged electorate take on a sleek and techno-savvy data machine? The results of the Rajasthan state elections and the other three states on December 11, will tell which is going to stay in the future.

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Even now, I feel the pervert gaze in public places and that in itself is so heart-wrenching: Taapsee #MeToo

No filmi background, no formal training in acting, no famous last name either. As Shoojit Sircar once said, ‘She is unpolluted by the Bollywood stardom culture’. Taapsee Pannu has made a mark in the industry on the merit of her performances. While she has worked in massy entertainers like Judwaa 2, she has also received critical acclaim for her performances in hard-hitting films like Pink and more recently, Mulk. In a candid chat, Taapsee speaks about what makes her such a fierce, honest and no-nonsense actress. Excerpts…

With each performance, you’ve evolved as an actor. despite the fact that you’ve not received any formal training in acting…

I am aware of the fact that I don’t know the nuances of acting, and I do not pretend to know the job or the craft well. I have always been open to learning and I’ve learned it all on the job. Another fact is that I don’t have the fear of losing anything.



You see, I started from ground zero and I’ve already seen the lowest point. So, there’s no pressure at the back of my mind to protect a name or to wonder, ‘Will I able to get up if I take a fall?’ I can’t live life with these thoughts. And that fearlessness makes me the kind of personality that I am. It reflects in my job as well, because on set, I am there 100 per cent. I get into each character that I am playing. I argue with my filmmakers if I need to, and if I don’t know something, I always ask. So, it works for me, as a person and as an actor.

In an industry where there’s constant pressure to be and look a certain way, and to curate each post on social media to make it look like your life is picture perfect, how difficult is it to be yourself?

Honestly, I feel that I live each and every moment of my life. People try to pass every day thinking ki ‘chalo, ye abhi aisa kar lete hain, toh future accha ho jayega’. There’s no point of thinking, ‘Let’s hustle right now or stress now, to ensure tomorrow will be better’. No, I don’t believe in that funda. I feel that we need to live each and every day, only then is our life worth living. Otherwise, you are dragging yourself and trying to survive. So, I live my life. And that’s why I come across as a person who is outspoken, bindaas and nononsense. I tell people this all the time. Is it really too much to be yourself ? Is it a big thing that I’m being myself in the industry? I don’t think it is… It takes big courage to realise that at first, but when you do, it is some other feeling. You feel on top of the world, because you are not going to be standing there and doing things to validate yourself, or doing things because others like it. You do things only because you like it. When you do that, people will automatically like you. The same goes for social media. I don’t post pictures to get approval from others. I share a lot of real pictures of mine, which are far from perfect and isn’t imperfection what makes us human?

Is being real, relatable and true to yourself what you strive for in your work as well? For example, what compelled you to do a movie like Mulk?

I grew up in a family where I was always taught to stand for what is right. There’s a line in Mulk — ‘Jo sahi hai woh toh kahenge’. As an Indian, I have a certain sense of responsibility and I owe that to my nation, in a way. I mean, if I am right I have nothing to fear. What will happen to me? Coming to Mulk, it received critical acclaim and love, and the kind of messages I keep receiving on social media even today is humbling. I’ll be very honest, when I chose Mulk there was no one standing beside me. Even my own team was doubtful about it, and asked me questions like, ‘Do you really need to do this film?’, ‘It’s not that you have not proven yourself to be a good actor, or that you will not get other opportunities to prove yourself’, ‘I don’t think you will get a release for this film’, or ‘How will people react to it?’ To all these questions, I just replied, ‘People might not react to Mulk positively, and that’s the nerve we want to touch’.

Yet, a lot of celebrities feel comfortable maintaining silence on subjects like the #MeToo India movement or other pressing issues. Is it because they fear a backlash?

Precisely. Even before the #MeToo movement started in India, I was asked — ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ Some said that ‘outsiders’ in the industry go through sexual harassment in Bollywood, and I’m sure that is the case, since women have come out and named their perpetrators. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened to me. Had it happened to me, this movement would be the perfect opportunity to speak out and name and shame the perpetrators.

However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t stand by the bravehearts who have experienced sexual harassment. I am part of the CINTAA committee that ensures justice is served. I mean, not just the film fraternity, women in all spheres have gone through some or the other type of harassment in their daily lives. I didn’t go through that in the industry, but in normal life, when I travel by public transport, I experience the ‘gaze’. Even now, I feel the pervert gaze in public places and that in itself is so heart-wrenching. My mom and dad still call me after 8 pm to check whether I’ve reached home safely or not. If I am in Delhi, I still have an early deadline. They are concerned, as any other parent would be for their daughter, considering the world that we are living in. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, at least some clean-up has happened in the industry, and I completely support it. I am a feminist and unabashedly proud of it. I think feminism is all about equality and nothing else.


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Rajasthan- EVM found lying on highway, 2 poll officials suspended


Two polling officials were suspended on Friday night by the returning officer of Kishanganj in Baran district for “negligence”. Of the 12 machines the two were ferrying from the store to the warehouse, one fell off on the way, the Baran collector said. It was, officials say, an “unpolled” back-up unit. The machine was later found on NH-27 near Mugawali Road in Shahabad area of Kishanganj assembly constituency.

The two officials suspended are Abdul Rafique and Naval Singh Patwari, said Kishanganj returning officer Chandan Dubey. “It was an unpolled ballot unit, which is kept in the reserved category. They (officials) were bringing 12 machines from the store to the warehouse for submission. One of those fell off from their vehicle and they did not realise it. They are suspended with immediate effect for negligence,” said Baran collector Satyapal Singh Bhadia.

Rafique, an ILR employee at Shahabad tehsil, and Patwari will report at the district headquarters during the suspension period, said the order issued by the collector on Friday night based on factual report sent by SDM Kishanganj.

Earlier, after an EVM was reportedly found at the residence of a BJP candidate, the Election Commission had ordered the removal of returning officer Mahaveer Singh of Pali assembly seat. According to the poll panel, a sector officer carrying a reserve machine had gone to the BJP candidate’s house following which the sector officer was removed.

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Delhi doc uses shocks to ‘treat’ homosexuals #WTFnews

New Delhi:

A doctor, who terms homosexuality a “genetic mental disorder” and uses electric shock to treat gay and lesbian people, has been summoned by a Delhi court as an accused for violating norms.

Though Dr P K Gupta was debarred by the Delhi Medical Council (DMC), he was still indulging in this bizarre practice. The court took note of a complaint against Gupta by the DMC, which claimed he was using hormonal and shock therapy in treatment.

The complaint said the DMC had debarred Gupta in 2016 from practising in Delhi and as he was still projecting himself as a doctor, he was liable for prosecution.

Metropolitan magistrate Abhilash Malhotra said treatment given by doctors as a part of “conversion therapy” was not recognised either by medical science or by legislature. Conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation using psychological or spiritual interventions.

The court summoned the doctor as accused saying he was prima facie found to be contravening a provision of the Indian Medical Council Act, which entails a maximum of one-year jail. “It is clear that treatment given by doctors as a part of ‘conversion therapy’ is not recognised either by the medicine or by the legislation,” the magistrate said. AGENCIES

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