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Press Release

The Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority (MahaRERA) has directed developer to give an undertaking that the firm will cover any losses suffered by five home buyers, who got refund orders for delayed possession last month, till the filing of an appeal with the appellate tribunal.

On September 27, 2018, MahaRERA had ordered the developer to refund the investments of five home buyers – Rahul Bhosale, Hitesh Shah, Riyaz Jetham, Alistair Gomes and Sachin Kadam – who had booked flats in Acropolis project in Virar through a subvention scheme in which buyers paid eight per cent of the flat consideration and the banks paid the remaining 92 per cent. The order was to be executed by the developer within 30 days from the date of the order.

The subvention scheme itself is a very big scam, in this scheme the builder gets almost 95% of the loan amount on signing of the agreement without laying a brick, unlike regular home loan where the bank pays to the builder as per progress of the work, the builder lures the home buyers on promise to pay EMI till he hands over the possession, but when builder fails to construct or give possession on time the liabilities comes on the home buyer and the home buyers becomes defaulter and not the builder, in subvention scheme builder charges 10% more then the market value which the buyer realises on the later stage, subvention scheme is design to cheat home buyers.

The developer approached MahaRERA again on October 11 and got a stay on the order till October 24. On October 24, the matter was heard again, and the developer sought extension of stay on the execution of the judgment till the end of 60-day appeal period, citing financial crunch to pay the decretal amount that needs to be paid before the Maharashtra Real Estate Appellate Tribunal.

According to Section 43 of RERA, the appellant has to deposit 50 per cent of the amount with the tribunal before the appeal can be heard.

During the hearing before MahaRERA member Madhav Kulkarni, Sulaiman Bhimani, who appeared for the home buyers, strongly opposed the stay petition arguing that home buyers will suffer monetary losses since they had purchased the flats with bank loans and are paying EMIs. He argued that Rahul Bhosale, who had taken two bank loans, had received a foreclosure letter from the bank stating that if dues are paid before a cut-off date, he will get a concession of Rs seven lakh. He argued that home buyers will suffer immediate losses if the stay is extended.

Kulkarni then directed the developer to file an undertaking to make good any losses suffered by the home buyers till the end of the 60-day appeal period which ends on November 26. The stay was granted after developer complied with the undertaking.

Sulaiman Bhimani Legal Consultant
Expert RERA & Co-operative Scty Matters
Human and Civil Rights Activist
President Citizens Justice Forum 
9323642081
Sulaimanbhimani11@gmail.com

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Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

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Recently, I attempted a tweetstorm on why I think the 2016 Aadhaar Act does not override, or render useless, the orders passed in Oct 2015 by the Supreme Court. I argued that all of the recent notifications by various central government authorities making Aadhaar mandatory to avail the respective service of those authorities, are in manifest violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.   This post is to explain those points in a little more detail and provide a rebuttal to counter-views that are being tweeted out such as this.

Here is a brief timeline of the events leading up to the recent Govt. notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for availing for services like food grain under PDS, mid-day meals for school children, girls rescued from human trafficking and many others.

  • The unique identification authority of India (UIDAI) was established by an executive notification in January 2009 and had been running/overseeing the operations of data collection, enrolment, deduplication through biometrics, assigning of Aadhaar numbers. It also provided Aadhaar authentication and related services.
  • The authority operated under executive notification until it was reincarnated into its present statutory form after the coming into force of the 2016 Aadhar Act.
  • Nearly a dozen petitions challenging the Aadhaar/UID project have been pending in the Supreme Court since 2012.  The petitions challenged the project on a number of grounds including :
    • The Authority operating without a legal sanction and in legal vacuum;
    • The unconstitutional irrationality of using Biometrics – not just unproven but provably inappropriate technology for deduplication and authentication; and tying the same for the purposes of identification for essential services such as food, NREGA lead to unconstitutional exclusion of people from accessing those services;
    • The enablement of surveillance, convergence of data without constitutionally sufficient statutory protection being an unconstitutional infringement of the right to privacy;
    • National security implications of employing foreign companies with link to foreign national governments and intelligence agencies for biometric operations, endangering the right to life of the entire population of the country;
    • Unconstitutional Irrationality of employing private contractors as enrolment agencies and having them handle sensitive personal data without constitutionally adequate techno legal safeguards;
    • Unconstitutional irrationality of using Aadhaar authentication or KYC for financial products or inclusion schemes as it facilitates money laundering; promotes exclusion even as it paints a picture of inclusion; and importantly threatens economic sovereignty of the nation;
    • The unconstitutional denial of dignity to Indian residents for using unlawful coercion to have then queue up to part with their biometrics and other personal data;  and
    • The lack of competence, under the constitution of the union executive in operating the project.
  • Supreme Court passed the first interim order in the matter in September 2013 prohibiting any government body from insisting Aadhaar as mandatory for any of its services irrespective of any circular or notification that may have been issued in that regard.
  • It reiterated that position a number of times thereafter – November 2013,  March 2014, March 2015, August 2015 (after Attorney General for India famously claimed before the Supreme Court, the highest constitutional court of the land, that Indian citizens do not have the right to privacy under the constitution and the matter was sent before a constitutional bench of a minimum of five judges, even as the matter raised grave questions of constitutional interpretation and is “of some urgency”) , and again  in October 2015.
  • The August 2015 order limited even voluntary use of Aadhaar to two schemes viz PDS and LPG.  The October 2015 order permitted four more schemes for voluntary usage of Aadhaar.
  • The October 2015 order categorically made it clear that Aadhaar scheme shall be “purely voluntary” until the matters are finally heard and decided one way or the other.
  • In March 2016, Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill, bypassing the Rajyasabha.  The unconstitutionality of such introduction and passage has also been challenged in the Supreme Court and that challenge has also been admitted and tagged along with earlier petitions before the SC.
  • Starting January 2017, more than sixty different government authorities issued notifications under Section 7 of the Act, apparently making Aadhaar mandatory for various purposes.

In my humble but considered view, such notifications are unlawful and are in violation of the Oct 2015 order which still holds the field.

I argue that :

  1. The primary basis of a court passing an interim order is the pending dispute before the court. As long as such a dispute  is still pending, the orders would ordinarily hold force.  In this case, the petitions are still technically pending before the Constitution Bench of the court, even if the Govt thinks they have become infructuous/ useless. The government has not moved the court for such a declaration or dismissal of the petitions or vacation of the orders citing the new law.
  2. Note that this case is different from instances like the Shah Bano story in which a final judgment of the court was sought to be undone by an Act of parliament.  In this Aadhaar case, the central government is still before the court and is subject to the jurisdiction and specific restraint imposed by the court.  If any authority wants to exercise power, (even newly found power) contrary to such restraint, it cannot do so without the permission of the court.
  3. I am not suggesting that a parliamentary legislation cannot in any case override interim directions of the supreme court.  However, I argue that the following are the necessary (but not sufficient) ingredients for that:
    1. There should be an express statement in the objects of the Act as introduced in parliament or elsewhere during the legislation process that this seeks to undo interim directions of the court; or
    2. It is impossible for a person to comply with the later legislation as well as the orders of the court.

In this case, the Act has neither of these ingredients. While Section 7 confers power on various authorities to insist on Aadhaar as a mandatory pre-requisite, it does not impose a duty to do so. The authorities therefore can comply with the Act without being in contravention of the orders of the court, by simply not exercising the powers under Section 7.   If any authority is desirous of exercising the newly found power, they can do so - but only with the leave of the court.

Moreover, when the interim orders were passed, the absence of law was not the only issue in consideration.  In fact, the central government had argued that the Appropriation Act at the time read with Allocation of Business Rules under Article 77 provided the legislative basis for the project and that IT Act and the Rules under IT Act have enough statutory safeguards for data protection; and therefore there was no legislative vacuum under which the project was operating.

Government of India, and others seem to take a view that the 2016 Act did not exist before October 2015 and that there is no principle of automatic stay of an Act of parliament that did not exist at the time of passing the order and therefore, October 2015 order would not prohibit authorities from exercising power under Section 7 of the newly enacted Act.

That argument does seem to be appealing on the face of it. However, a plain unqualified application of that argument leads to absurd results.

Assume for one moment, that the 2015 Act did stay the operation of a law – lets call it Aadhaar Act-1.  Say parliament passes another identical Act and lets call it Aadhaar-Act-2.  Can the government continue to implement and enforce Act-2 believing that there is no automatic stay? Such a result would be absurdity. Why have constitutional courts at all if legislatures can simply reiterate their earlier position and escape orders of such a court? My point is that the question as to whether or not an earlier interim restraint prohibits persons from exercising powers under a future Act depends on the facts and circumstances under which the earlier orders were passed and the contents of such future Act.   For instance, SEBI applied to the Court to modify the 11th august order complaining that the 11th August imposed a restraint on its statutory powers even though they were not in challenge before the Court. On the face of it one may argue that there is also no principle in constitutional law to put restraints on statutory powers when such a statutory provision is not under challenge. But the court did not accept such a contention in its 15th Oct 2015 order and disallowed SEBI's application.

I also argue that the Act was incorrectly introduced and passed as a money bill in the parliament in brazen disregard for the qualifications of being a money bill under Article 110 (3) of the Constitution and in glaring violation of the principle of Federalism, which is a part of what is called “Basic Structure” of India’s constitution. I am of the view that the Act is still-born and people are not bound by it.    Note that this is different from an Act which is contrary to provisions of Constitution such as any fundamental right etc.   In such a case, people are required to act as though they are bound by it until such a law is declared unconstitutional by the court.  However, because this Act is no valid legislation at all i.e. it is void ab initio, people are free to act contrary to it.  It is no different from a random resolution passed by your neighbour’s family – to give a crude example 😉

Prasanna S is one of the advocates acting for some of the petitioners in the Aadhaar petitions before SC.

Bastar. An abstract name of some strange place where there is Naxalism. And therefore a place to be avoided, to be dreaded and mostly ignored. Not a land of a people who love, have children, earn livelihoods, make houses, sing, dance and celebrate. Not a land of everyday interpersonal conflicts, a tiff with a neighbour, a fight with the spouse. Not a land where children play, tease and bruise their knees. Not a land where people can dream of a future.

Just some dark hinterland, a version of Western World’s Africa right here in India.

I bring Bastar to light. Here.

Bastar is a district in Chhattisgarh. The total area is 4029.98 sq kms. It has a population of 1,411,614 humans (as per Census 2011). 70% of this population are Adivasis belonging to multiple tribes. Chhattisgarh has the 4th largest forest land in India with 44.21% of land cover. Many sections of Bastar are poorly developed with no pucca roads and few medical facilities. Traditionally, Adivasis have depended on forest products for their livelihood. In more recent times, agriculture is a mainstay for many.

There are four main issues that should concern us as regards Bastar: 1) Adivasi rights; 2) Rights of the forests; 3) The future of Bastar; and 4) Who speaks for whom?

Adivasi Rights

Way before Naxalism became active, Adivasis often found themselves on the wrong side of forest officers. These officers had been using their authority to make life difficult for Adivasis to continue with their livelihoods. There was intimidation, rampant corruption and frequent sexual abuse.

After the spread of Naxalism and the subsequent attempts of the State to crush their rise, the many failed strategies like Salwa Judum, the everyday Adivasi has become tainted as either a possible Naxalite or a police sympathizer. S/he is born into this taint, unable to make a choice to be apolitical or non-ideological. Nor even to question State or Naxalism. With state control over media and public opinion outside of Bastar, there is a lurking assumption that every Adivasi is indeed a potential Naxalite. Erased by birth, erased by residence.

What has, therefore, followed is dehumanization of Adivasis by clumping them under a label and reducing them to an object that needs to be controlled. And mansplainers are extremely good in explaining in their daddy-voices on how one can’t trust the locals, how Naxalism has infiltrated the community and that therefore State violence is the only way out.

But Adivasis are citizens of India. They are given the same constitutional rights as all of us. They are protected by the Constitution. And no matter what we opiniate, there cannot be a localised need-based convenient interpretation or occasional reference to law. It basically means they are afforded the same freedoms that we have taken for granted — like right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to constitutional remedies, right to life. They are afforded the same human rights guaranteed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

And yet time and again, irrespective of Government, it has been trampled in Bastar. For e.g. when Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher spoke up in support of her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, a fearless talented journalist, she was arrested.  Cases were filed against her that led to arrest, torture and brutal sexual abuse. If it were not for the activists who followed up and publicized the gross human rights violation, we would have never heard of Soni Sori.  The courts have now cleared her of all the cases. She, in turn, has become a go-to-person who gives courage to women who have been exploited and sexually abused to speak up.

The question before us is why was she tortured? Even if for a moment we assumed she was a Naxalite, does that warrant sexual abuse and torture? Why were the Constitutional rights so openly flouted and yet key officers were not called to question?

Not only Soni Sori, but hundreds of other Adivasis have been wrongfully confined, false cases heaped on them and reports of torture have emerged from more than one place.

More recently, Bela Bhatia wrote about rampant rape of Adivasi women and random detention and assault of men in The Pegdapalli Files. This report is worth your time. For her efforts to expose the human rights violation, Bela Bhatia has been threatened and slandered.

Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) that worked for the legal rights of Adivasis have been evicted. Journalists who reported on Constitutional violation of Adivasis rights to life, dignity and property have been silenced – either by intimidation or arrest. As the India Today long story “Life in the Red” shows, journalists are reporting under the shadow of fear.

In absence of activists and journalists, we will never hear the other side of the story, the one beyond what the State machinery wants us to know.

Soni Sori campaign
Soni Sori campaign

Rights of the Forests

Chhattisgarh boasts of some of the densest forest cover in India. It is also rich in minerals, rich in natural resources. But that forest cover is quickly being depleted. Between 2011 and 2013, there is reduction of 19 sq kms (1 sq km= 100 football fields) of forest area in Bastar district alone.

Whereas Forests cannot speak for themselves, we the Citizens should ask why the forests are being cut down indiscriminately. One of the major reasons is mining. The area is rich in minerals, coal and other natural resources. A second reason is movement of Adivasis in giving up traditional forest-dependent livelihoods in favour of clearing land for agriculture which is facilitated by the State. The third reason that is cited is to evict Naxalites from these forests.

Forests hold rich biodiversity. Forests protect landscape from erosion, from multiple natural disasters, and provide oxygen to the world. How is it that under our watch the forests are being cut down and there is not more than a whisper of dissent? Except that of locals and human rights groups like Amnesty India.

Who gains by cutting the forests? The locals or big mining corporations and their corrupt nexus with politicians?

Future of Bastar

Like it or not, Naxalism arose as a counter to the atrocities committed by rich landlords. If you read Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita, you will know several stories of the horrifying crimes committed by the land-owning upper caste groups on landless. A systematic way in which groups of people were kept illiterate, under-developed, in poverty and complete dependence on the land-owning groups.

Like it or not, Naxalism empowered the marginalized, as Bela Bhatia said and I paraphrase, to name the crimes as injustice rather than fate. It is a different thing that Naxalism quickly veered into violence that consumed the very people they were fighting for. It pushed the locals into a state where they could no longer make choices, but remain in that uncertain diplomatic silence on issues.

So if we assume Mission 2016 will succeed and Naxalism will end, the question before is who will benefit from it? Will Adivasis regain rights over the land and rights to dignity? Will they have a voice in their own development and all issues that pertain to their district, to their community? Will they now begin to receive fair and just trials or will they be massacred as possible Naxalites? Will they be empowered to document injustice and successful get constitutionally-guaranteed remedies?

Or will it pave the path for multinational and big mining groups to set up shops, to make rich richer.

This is the question that we should ask. For Bastar deserves (as every land does) a prosperous, healthy and peaceful future. And the constitution guarantees that India is a democracy -- of the people, for the people, by the people. And Bastar is not an abstract name of a land, it is the breath of a people.

Who Speaks for Whom?

Why do activists speak? Is it because they have no other work to do? Are they mere noise makers disturbing the monolithic State narrative of what is happening on ground—the hurrays for the many surrenders of Maoists, the encounters that are supposed to have killed “dreaded” Naxalites, and the legitimacy of Mission 2016. Minus of course the erring journalists, the outspoken researchers, lawyers and activists. The manufacture of a public opinion -- that if you want to end Naxalism, it is given that there will be collaterals of a legitimate war, a.k.a ‘some’ Adivasis will die.

Democracy requires and is maintained by dissent. In a democracy, there can never be a single narrative. There are multiple truths jostling with each other for significance. A process that forces us to not move into easy judgments, but glimpse and empathise with the complex human lives caught in a complex web of power struggles.

And why should it concern those outside Bastar, in other words ‘us’? Don’t we all have own problems in life, our everyday struggles to make ends meet or aspirations to meet a dream? Don’t we have own interpersonal and organization conflicts to deal with?

Why should we? Because as Rahul Pandita had said in a tweet  in context of journalists and so have others, Chhattisgarh is a lab for brutal policies. You succeed in Chhattisgarh, you develop a formula, you set a precedent and then you can implement it in other parts of the country.

Then we must bring down this laboratory and return Bastar to the protection of our Constitution. Now. We have to ensure the protection, freedom of expression and dissent for local activists like Soni Sori and the many outspoken journalists of Bastar so that they, in turn, may stand up for their community.

There are three ways to support people of Bastar:

  1. Search for news on Bastar and please make yourself aware. Share news, talk about it, write about it.
  2. Follow human rights groups like Amnesty India or National Human Rights Commission and support them as needed.
  3. As a citizen, participate in the #OneMillionPostCardCampaign and send an e-card to Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh asking him to bring CBI and Supreme Court to investigate matters that concern people of Bastar and Soni Sori. Let your voice be heard. http://goo.gl/forms/rvTT6CyHbI

Thank you for taking time to read this post fully. Bastar does need you!

Some information is referenced from Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita.

Featured image by Pankaj Oudhia

1

This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.

The War against Scholarship

The Central Government's Ministry of Human Resources & Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser - the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again - with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP's leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government's henchmen on various campuses.

Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith's suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP's support, as noted by many of the student protestors.

The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.

As I write this, Pune's Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP's war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India's politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.

Highlighting the Real Issues

The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity.  Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India's poorest and most disempowered.

In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates - this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a "Mission 2016", particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State - the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices - Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.

In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur's MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state's Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.

The list goes on - the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand's cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,

Response

The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors,  but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government's lawsuit, the ABVP members' resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India's Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.

The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.

It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their  #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.

The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn't communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!