Sunday, September 19, 2010

The desolation of Kashmir

Seventeen year old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, a class XII student, was preparing for the medical entrance exam. On 11 June, while coming home from his tuition class, he was caught in a street fight between a stone-pelting crowd and the police in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area. Tufail took shelter in the Gani Memorial Stadium but a tear-gas shell fired by the police from close range landed on his head. He died on spot. The administration first tried to pass the blame on the protesters claiming that the boy was killed “to keep the pot boiling’’ but later retreated when eyewitness evidence and the autopsy report confirmed that the murder was caused by police firing. Since then, large-scale street violence has erupted across the Kashmir valley. The police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were seen engaged in frequent clashes with incendiary crowds armed with nothing but stones and chunks of rocks. Reacting to the young stone-pelters, the security men, apparently ignorant about non-lethal ways of crowd control greeted the youngsters by firing bullets straight at them. The indiscriminate firing caused several civilians to die on the streets. Most of the casualties, shockingly, are teenagers and school going children, aged between nine and nineteen. Normal life is suspended in the Valley for months by strict and indefinite curfews imposed almost every day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘sipahi’ syndrome

The Adivasis, who had flocked Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s Lanjigarh rally in thousands, cheered joyfully when he announced, “This is your victory. You saved your own land.” Adding further that he is just a sipahi (foot soldier) who have represented them in Delhi, the dimpled faced fourth-generation scion of India’s most famous political family explained to the Adivasi crowd that “whether it is rich or poor, Dalits or Adivasis,” in his religion, “all are equal”. Rahul’s flamboyant speech came two days after the Central Ministry of Environments and Forests (MoEF) has denied permission to the mining group Vedanta Resources Plc’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project at the Niyamgiri Hills for “serious violations of Environment Protection Acts, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act”. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended withdrawing the environmental clearance for the mega project. “Since August 2008, a lot of new information has come to light,” said Jairam Ramesh, the Minister for Environment and Forests. “It is on the basis of this incriminating new evidence that the decision has been taken,” the minister has asserted. The FAC accepted the findings of a four-member panel headed by N.C. Saxena which was formed after the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) instructed the Environment Ministry to address concerns related to the impact of the project on the local Adivasi community, the wildlife and biodiversity in the surrounding areas and clear the project only “after a thorough scrutiny and due consideration of all aspects.” The panel has found that the state government of Orissa has failed to implement the Forest Rights Act, which protects the community rights of forest-dweller Adivasis but instead “colluded with the firm in question, Vedanta, to allow blatant and widespread violations of forest and environmental laws.” The panel has also found that the mining group has “illegally occupied at least 26 hectres of village forest land within its refinery”.