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Linking Aadhaar to bank accounts is a recipe for creating benami[2] bank accounts and scaling benami bank transactions. It threatens to destroy your bank accounts and destroy the country’s banking system. It’s devastating that the integrity of banking processes is being destroyed by dividing, outsourcing and privatising processes integral to core banking so that they become the responsibility of no one.

Linking Aadhaar[1] to bank accounts is a recipe for creating benami[2] bank accounts and scaling benami bank transactions. It threatens to destroy your bank accounts and destroy the country’s banking system. It’s devastating that the integrity of banking processes is being destroyed by dividing, outsourcing and privatising processes integral to core banking so that they become the responsibility of no one.

Destroying the banking system

India’s Department of Revenue (DoR) has done it again.

On June 1, 2017 vide Notification №2/F .No. P.12011/11/2016-ES Cell-DOR it mandates the linking of every bank account with an Aadhaar number before December 31, 2017. While lawyers point out several illegalities, including the scope, of the notification of this subordinate legislation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the failure of the DoR to consistently protect national interest is unbelievable.

A few days back a co-panelist on a TV channel defended the DoR arguing that linking Aadhaar to Bank Accounts will weed out money laundering by verifying bank accounts. What my co-panelist did not say is money laundering is facilitated by creating benami accounts. It is also facilitated by benami transactions. Nor did my co-panelist explain how benami accounts happen or how benami transactions are scaled by money-launderers.

This latest notification ensures that the Trojan horse that they instilled into the banking system on January 27, 2011, will destroy the Indian economy along with the Indian banking system. As feared by the Reserve Bank of India before January 2011, Aadhaar is yet the best state sponsored enabling mechanism for money launderers to enable benami bank accounts. Aadhaar can even help the money launderer to take over your bank accounts. Aadhaar is also the enabler to scale benami transactions.

Here are just 5 ways in which linking the Aadhaar to PAN[3] or a bank account will hurt you, destroy India and, for those who care, an explanation of how Aadhaar creates benami bank accounts and scales benamitransactions.

The innocent will lose money, reputation and access to justice, dignity and livelihood

One, the innocent will lose money, reputation and access to justice, dignity and livelihood as their Aadhaar numbers can act as mules for money laundering, their subsidy and other Aadhaar enabled payments can be easily compromised, their access to their own bank accounts be denied, or they can be framed for economic offences. Helpless citizens and businesses may also find themselves at the receiving end of covert human rights violations as even their access to money and existence is disabled by deactivation or blocking of Aadhaar leaving no recourse to survival.

Linking Aadhaar to bank accounts or PAN converts India into the new tax haven for money launderers

Two, linking Aadhaar to bank accounts or PAN converts India into the new tax haven for money launderers as it becomes easy to remotely create benamiaccounts and operate benami transactions while claiming complete legitimacy. This will destroy India’s economy and governance.

Financing crime and terrorism will grow uncontrollably

Three, financing crime and terrorism will grow uncontrollably as it becomes increasingly difficult to discover, report or close down such operations. This will make it impossible to ensure national security as the rule of law is destroyed.

Corruption will increase

Four, corruption will increase as it becomes easier when proceeds will not be traceable to the corrupt. It will be increasingly difficult to restore swarajya and impossible to ensure suraiya.

Banks will not be able to contain non-performing-assets

Five, banks will not be able to contain non-performing-assets, fraud and financial misappropriation as the real users of banking services will be untraceable. The economy will be completely out of control as the black and white economies become indistinguishable.

We are in a policy vacuum as the NITI Aayog and the bureaucracy have failed to recognise the Trojan horse and protect national interest. Unless the RBI de-licenses the payments systems based on Aadhaar (AEPS) immediately and the government stays linking Aadhaar to PAN and bank accounts, our leadership will have failed to protect India from this fast colonisation of India by the private interests driving Aadhaar.

Enabling Benami Bank Accounts

Benami accounts get created when banks fail to identify the real customers who own the accounts. The Panama Papers exposed data of thousands of benami accounts created through a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The Panama Papers exposed one modus operandi of hiding the real owners of the assets in tax havens.

panama papers modus operandi
The use of Aadhaar as KYC for bank accounts is similar to the note from Panama Law Firm Mossack Fonseca saying “they are an honest client”

Prudent bankers recognise the importance of knowing who they bank with. It is no wonder that the RBI had warned, right from before the Trojan horse was instilled in to the RBI in 2011, that the Aadhaar enrolment process does not have due diligence. It pointed out that for Aadhaar enrolment verification is not compulsory, as confirmed by the UIDAI in the Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure, and does not require document based verification.

The RBI also highlighted that such use of Aadhaar as third party identification is against Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the paper issued on Customer Due Diligence (CDD) for banks by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and circulated to scheduled commercial banks by the RBI on November 29, 2004.

The RBI also observed that a fixed time document like the Aadhaar cannot be a Proof of Address. It further cautioned using Business Correspondents (BC), to open bank accounts or undertake banking transactions, as the vulnerability of the system has not been tested and co-mingling funds of different banks in the hands of BC’s was a major operational risk to the banks. While resisting the use of Aadhaar, the RBI also highlighted the Government’s concern about the perceived misuse of such accounts for terrorist financing.

Under pressure from the UIDAI and the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, the RBI, through its circular dated January 27, 2011, allowed bank accounts to be opened exclusively on the basis of Aadhaar number. However the RBI required such accounts to be put to restrictions and be subjected to conditions and limitations prescribed for small accounts.

Not happy with the restrictions, the UIDAI pressed the RBI to lift the restrictions placed on accounts opened with Aadhaar numbers under the PMLA. On September 28, 2011, again through the Department of Revenue, the UIDAI succeeded in getting the RBI to backtrack and suspend the restrictions of the PMLA on bank accounts opened solely through Aadhaar. The UIDAI also succeeded in causing the RBI further to accept eKYC or remotely using information associated with an Aadhaar number as KYC. According to the UIDAI eKYC brings scale to the ease of onboarding customers.

To put the problem in perspective, Aadhaar enrolment was completely outsourced to private parties by the UIDAI with the sole aim of building the worlds largest biometric database. Mr. Nilekani’s UIDAI repeatedly emphasised that they merely provided a framework to issue a number and store the (unverified and unaudited) data.

RTI says Aadhaar has never been verified or audited
UIDAI admits that the Aadhaar (UID) database has never been verified or audited

No one from the UIDAI or even the government even sign the Aadhaar card that is mailed back to the enrolee. The very same organisations that were declared by the UIDAI as holding databases full of ghosts and duplicates were asked to serve as “Registrars” to the enrolment process. They were even given flexibility in the collection, retention and use of the data (including biometric) that they collected.

Without a verification and audit Aadhaar enables duplicates and ghosts
Without a verification and audit Aadhaar enables duplicates and ghosts

No one in the Aadhaar enrolment process was required to identify anyone. At best they had to merely verify documents that were submitted for enrolment. Needless to say anyone in possession of your documents could enrol with minor changes in any demographic information or with different biometrics. Field stories of enrolments are replete with descriptions of biometric jugaad including using combination of persons, use of biometric masks, biometric modifications, and other ingenious methods to maximise registrations.

According to the IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, 34,000 operators who tried to make fake Aadhaar Cards have been blacklisted. Even if each operator worked for a year before being blacklisted, at about 100 cards a day amounts to over a billion cards. That is more than 95 percent of the database. The Aadhaar enrolment has been unlike that of any other identity document, easily scaling the creation of duplicate and ghost identities.

Excrept of IT Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad’s reply in Rajya Sabha on April 10, 2017
Excrept of IT Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad’s reply in Rajya Sabha on April 10, 2017

While there is widespread belief that biometric authentication at time of opening a bank account prevents benami, it ignores the field realities of mobile phone SIM cards being issued on Aadhaar photocopies and used to open bank accounts, of having remotely “downloadable” accounts, and also plain simple use of photocopies of Aadhaar or parallel Aadhaar databases to open bank accounts. With Aadhaar, banks do not have any trace of the real customer. The real customer is simply masked by a benami owner using an Aadhaar number.
Even your Aadhaar can be used, without your knowledge, by a perpetrator to open multiple accounts in order to use it to collect bribes, park black money, or siphon your subsidies. In the eyes of law enforcement, if these accounts are discovered, you will be the criminal.

benami money laundering aadhaar bank account
Is Aadhaar the new Panama?

To compound the problem, UIDAI has no liability for benami bank accounts opened with Aadhaar. After the introduction of the Aadhaar to open bank accounts, the accounts and deposits have doubled in 5 years. No one knows who really controls these accounts.

Growth of bank accounts and deposits in India
Growth of bank accounts and deposits in India

Enabling Benami transactions

Even when it had no mandate to develop banking platforms, in 2009, the UIDAI signed an MoU with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), a non government company, to develop an Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS). In this MoU the UIDAI has no responsibility for your banking transactions and the NPCI has no obligation to the RBI. The payment system uses the Aadhaar linked to a bank account as a financial address to do electronic money transfers from one Aadhaar number to another.

Company data for NPCI
Company data for NPCI

Unless an Aadhaar is linked to the account, the AEPS cannot access the bank account. Linking a PAN to the Aadhaar will have the same effect as linking the Aadhaar to a bank account as the PAN is already linked to the bank account. Such accounts become Aadhaar enabled. Aadhaar enabled bank accounts are ready to be used by the AEPS for Aadhaar to Aadhaar money transfers.

Linking an Aadhaar to a bank account is done through a process called as “seeding” an Aadhaar number to a bank account. After receiving the Aadhaar number from the customer, the bank uploads such numbers’ into a “NPCI mapper” or a repository of Aadhaar numbers and Institution Identification Number (IIN) numbers used for the purpose of routing transactions to the destination banks. The IIN is a unique 6-digit number issued by NPCI to the participating bank. If you or anyone else seed your Aadhaar with another bank account, the NPCI mapper is overwritten with the new banks’ IIN. Money transferred to an Aadhaar number, using the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System, gets transferred to the bank account linked to the Aadhaar number at the branch recognised by the IIN.

A money launderer can transfer money to an account linked to an alternate IIN and then re-seed the NPCI’s mapper with the original IIN for the Aadhaar number, completely wiping out any trace of money to the alternate IIN. Like transactions of bearer shares in Panama, such money transfers becomes no different from a hawala[4] transaction between real parties who remain anonymous or benami[5].

Your Aadhaar number can be used to facilitate such benami money transfers. If these money transfers linked to your Aadhaar number are detected by investigation officers or tax authorities, you, not the real operator will be held on suspicion of economic offences.

The NPCI’s idea of Aadhaar to Aadhaar banking itself is flawed. It is surprising if the RBI has licensed this payment system under the Payment and Settlements Act.

All money is ultimately stored in bank accounts and not in the name of a person. Nowhere in the world does one transfer money to a person, you transfer it to a persons account. Money transfers to and from a bank account makes every money transfer traceable from source to destination making money laundering difficult, if not impossible.

Hawala schemes make money transfers untraceable by eliminating the bank accounts. Money transfers that, like the hawala, are based on the premise that you do not share an account number, with someone transferring money to you, are inherently flawed in auditability as they wipe out the money trail.

The idea of a mapper, as used by NPCI’s AEPS, does not allow for instructions from sender but relies on periodic update of IIN in the NPCI’s table mapping Aadhaar numbers from banks. As multiple banks have to upload the Aadhaar numbers seeded with accounts held by them, this cannot guarantee desired results.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the mapper is that it slices the business process and outsources parts. This destroys the responsibility of the payment system from any single party as was in the case of NEFT or RTGS. Neither the NPCI, the UIDAI or the banks are responsible in such money transfers. They merely provide “look-up” services. In this system, a single compromised or rogue bank branch, or the perpetuator’s ability to exploit a good one, is enough to siphon off subsidy, park black money or take bribes.

Such money transfers would be difficult, if not impossible, to trace without a whistleblower. A few cases have been reported that suggest the large scale play of this scenario already. For example more than 40,000 erroneous transfers were reported through AEPS in DBT transfers meant as part of drought relief for farmers in Karnataka. The government allegedly blamed the banks for failure to seed the correct Aadhaar numbers with the beneficiaries.

Governments across India had been using the RBI’s own payment system, the NEFT or RTGS, to undertake electronic money transfers. This is also evidenced by the fact that Aadhaar Leaks has exposed that bank details are already present in every record of the leaked data. There is absolutely no reason to switch public payments from NEFT to AEPS, run by a non-government company.

The replacement of a time tested standard of electronic money transfers under government regulation by a non-standard payment system run by a non-government company raises several serious questions of national and public interest, propriety and possible conflicts of interest.

Preventing disaster

If the government and the Supreme Court implement the wisdom of 7 orders of the Supreme Court of India on the use of Aadhaar, they can yet save the country from disaster resulting from the colonisation of India by the new East India Companies or the private interests driving Aadhaar.

In its first order of September 23, 2011 the Supreme Court had indicated that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card inspite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar Card voluntarily”.

On August 11, 2015, the 3 member bench restricted the use of Aadhaar and indicated that it may not be used for any other purpose.

On October 15, 2015, a 5 member bench led by the Chief Justice had emphasised that “the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court”. It had restricted the voluntary use of Aadhaar to public distribution system (PDS) Scheme, the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (Old Age Pensions, Widow Pensions, Disability Pensions), Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

In the meantime, following Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps and refusing to link Aadhaar to anything may be the only option left for you.

On 10 January 1908 Mahatma Gandhi was arrested for the first time in South Africa for refusing to carry an obligatory identity document card commonly known as the ‘pass’.

[1] Aadhaar is a 12 digit random number assigned by India’s Unique Identification Authority of India to unaudited and unverified demographic and biometric information submitted by private enrollers.
[2] Accounts and transactions undertaken using a ghost or a duplicate identity are called benami.
[3] Permanent Account Number or PAN is a number used to track financial transactions and file income tax returns in India.
[4] Hawala is an alternative or parallel remittance system that works outside formal banking systems.
[5] This was first highlighted in September 2014 in http://www.moneylife.in/article/how-aadhaar-linkage-can-destroy-banks/38736.html

 

Originally published here.

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A guest post by Hari Prasad on the propaganda prevailing in India, the nature of it and the implications it has for the country and its ability to understand its government.

India. It was May, 26th 2014. There was a coronation in front of an historic building to an undisputed emperor of the purportedly new dawn, the king of good days (not times). There was hope, expectation, (misplaced) rejuvenation among many and there was anxiety, curiosity, worry and suspense among another lot. What one thinks and feels (or felt of thought) is not relevant when it comes to judge what has happened since.

There have been seemingly unconnected statements made by various ‘fringes’ – a term which is mostly an excuse by the present ruling dispensation in India and its larger family the RSS. It is important to see why these statements and certain actions are to be seen in cohesion and not as so called ‘isolated’ anomalies.

But how are things handled these days in India? How is criticism taken these days in India? How is opposite point of view is viewed in India? All of these not by Indians but by the present ruling dispensation and its cohorts in India.

I have kept the prose very rudimentary, less grammatical and only in hints or examples (not explanations) and there is a reason to it.

Ad hominem:

You place an argument and instead of responding to that argument, we are called names. I will let you assume what those names have been and how many people have been victims of those. To electoral opponents in Delhi to an economist.

Ad nauseum:

How many times have we heard a single or very limited ideas being repeated – like ‘Love jihad’ or ‘us vs them’ or ‘appeasement of past’?

Appeal to authority:

How many seemingly unconnected and extremely opposite national icons have been appropriated by this group? Bhagat Singh was a completely left. Ambedkar called Hinduism “a veritable chamber of horrors.” Netaji had nothing to do with RSS. Patel was opposed to RSS. Yet, and that’s where the beauty lies, they are being appropriated.

Appeal to Prejudice:

How many loaded and emotive election campaigns have we seen during 2014 and two years after that? Whether it is 15lakh per person to Muslim across the border in Assam to crackers across the border in Bihar, to the latest Kairana, we have come a long way in just appealing to only emotions.

Big Lie:

The big lie was economy was absolutely down. Nothing moved. Policy paralysis. Based on the new series (or magic series, if you are one of the critics), in fact the economy didn’t do as bad in numbers published by the finance ministry in final years of UPA. But in meetings after meetings, in interviews after interviews we heard the word “revival” used sparingly and without any inherent meaning. There was no concrete proof provided on what that word meant. There was neither concrete proof provided for the word “in shambles.”

And oh, the global economy was blamed. And what did the world see after 2008? A high growth and high demand period? (more on specifics in another post)

Black and white fallacy:

Sometime back, I wrote on ‘is and the ought.’ Apart from those, we have been provided with few false choices during these two years. A shining example – “have four kids or else…”

Cherry Picking:

Savarkar sympathizers quoting Gandhi, to their own convenience. The irony died multiple times in the past two years.

Classical Conditioning:

If you are against this government or its policies, you are termed you know what by you know who. What happened and is happening to the NGOs and the activists in Chatisgarh is beyond comprehension.

Common Man:

Remember the photo ops – worshipping parliament, crying in central hall, posing with broom. These appeal to the common folks, just like you and me. And by the way what is wrong with it? Nothing, if they are true and honest and we know now those are not. When you work actively to topple elected government, your empty symbolism is sheer waste.

Cult personality:

My favourite. There is nothing wrong in personality but everything wrong with Cult personality. Name a person in India who has used mass (and social) media to have cultivated idealized, heroic and worshipful image? The never-wrong image fuels the followers and in turn feeds the person as well.

Demonizing the enemy:

Remember the Hitler and Akbar comparison by a dimwit? Libtards sounding bastards to refer liberals. Presstitute sounding prostitute or press? These are sub-human and at once demonizes all opponents.

Dictat:

Indian Prime Ministership is supposed to be first among equals. There has never been a PM apart from Nehru who personified this. However, there was nothing called as Dictat from the last PM. But now, there are Diktats – Yoga Day on Ramzan, Good Governance day on Christmas etc. With short term memory, we forget the burqa diktat in one Jaipur rally of BJP and yea, asking colleges to send pupils to its Mhow rally.

Disinformation:

Dadri. JNU and Hyderabad University. Created false records, forged video to convince us of some untruth. This also has extended to conceal truths by censorship. Udta Punjab is a case in point and not the end of it. Kerala – somlia comment. Amit Shah showing a Sri Lanka kid’s pic with the words “God’s own curse”

Euphoria:

Circa 2014. Need say more? Or all the NRI meets.

Exaggeration:

Modi lied about paying off Gujarat’s debt before and he lied about 15 lakh per person on black money. And I am waiting and so are crores. These are all classic case of exaggeration which are allowed only to poets and if politicians use this licence they have one word for it – LIARS!

Fear, uncertainty and doubt:

With demonization and name calling, few sections of society are left in fear. They have to prove everytime that they are innocent and the starting point of any debate is under the assumption that they are guilty.

Flag-waving:

After 6 decades of independence we are left with a debate on nationalism and patriotism. Now, we are expected to prove our patriotism first when we debate the idiots and foxes in power. To provoke nationalism is one thing, it can harness good in a society but the flag waving group is certainly not doing for it.

Guilt by association:

You are associated with congress, yes you are guilty and anti-national. Well, when they cross the river and come over to BJP, their sins are cleansed by Ganga jal and are reborn. Assam to Uttarakhand to Arunachal we have seen it all.

Half truth:

“Despite being Muslim….” That’s how a minister referred to Late APJ Abdul Kalam. He was a Muslim, yes, no denying that but ‘despite’?

Intentional Vagueness:

This government is a master in not disclosing facts and trumpeting on motherhood statements. Take for example BJP-PDP alliance. Or for example the Naga accord. What are the specifics? What have we conceded or accepted to? Bharat Mata is worshipped but “afforestation commitment” and “Forests Rights Act” certificate have been removed for miners!

Labelling:

Aadarsh Liberals. Libtards. Sicklar. Presstitutes. Barmaid.

These are easy, simple, deceptive, meaning less but enchants the crowd. (Bhakt is a praise and cannot be called as pejorative.)

Managing the news:

As Arun Shourie said, this government is managing the news and not the economy. What we are given now are recurrent themes – “under threat,” “love jihad,” “illegal migration,” “fastest growing” and acronyms and abbreviations for endless recycled policies and schemes. But actions on those? Never mind.

Minimization:

Dadri. It was not a cow. No, wait. It was a cow. So killing is justified. An unjustifiable position is justified. Go online and see comments and feedback on Godhra and the answer is glaring.

Name calling:

Should it be elaborated? How many facts based arguments have we seen in the past two years? Every issue is twisted to make it emotionally suitable to a point of view, to an agenda, to a predisposed conclusion. Oh! And don’t forget a former general calling some Dog. Behold, Sickulars!

Oversimplification:

Pakistan, China and the like. We have seen and heard solutions to all. We have seen and heard the past government being (rightly) criticized for handling these issues and were offered “56 inch.” But what have we seen? ISI has visited our Air Base, China came in last week, Nepal screwed and no, we love Africans (but only one of our CMs has a reservation about Nigerians). Results? A big big zero.

Rationalization:

How many reasons have we been offered for completely indefensible acts?

Scapegoating:

Oh yea. Blame it on Nehru. Blame it on Congress. Blame it on Mughal Rule (note: not on British Rule). But I am incapable to providing solutions or answers. All I can do is blame the past. And no, don’t question me on my work. Because, I am a patriot.

Also, keeping a one arm distance, the ‘fringes’ are offered as scapegoats whereas they are perfectly in line with the mind-set and ideology of the ruling dispensation.

Stereotyping:

NGOs are foreign national plant. Christians are converting beasts. Most of the supporters actually believe this garbage. And no, I need not say anything about their thoughts on Muslims. A quick stroll through whom the PM ‘follows’ in Twitter will give a glimpse of the stereotyping.

Testimonial:

In March, 2016, BJP tweeted a purported quote of Mahatma Gandhi praising Savarkar. However, when I tried searching a lot, I couldn’t find a quote.

Third Party technique:

Another testimonial came in the form of WikiLeaks which praised Modi as corruption free. Remember? That was also a lie. An organization which is respected and hated worldwide was quoted without any authentication or permission and self-glorified itself.

Unstated Assumption:

One follower, a famous one at that said “When pest control is done at homes, cockroaches, insects etc come out. The house gets cleaned up.” What is the implication? Eradication of all who are opposing this government of us? Or even if they oppose what is the written law, so what? The unstated assumption here is that like Hitler used vermin, he had used it and threatened whoever is opposed to whatever this government thinks it as right. So did he propose a ‘final solution’ to the problem?

Virtue words:

Truth alone triumphs

The world is one single family

Non-violence is the topmost Dharma

Let good thoughts come from everywhere

All spiritual paths are treated equally

“Sahana bavathu… let there be no hostility”

These were pre-2014 words of Modi’s Idea of India.

As recently as last week, we have seen the double message – Vikas from PM and Kairana from the planner.

So why are all these necessary? What are these random phrases? These are phrases which define any propaganda machinery. Their methods, techniques and their ways. Its hard to see things in isolation but when you connect the dots, you have it all.

Without knowing and without being obvious, what we are seeing and living with is a propaganda machinery at work. We can’t search for a plan, a blueprint. What we are left with are actions on ground, inferences glaring at our face, wanting to take note and stand up and raise our voice.

Why was the prose kept very simple? Because someone in the past said that propaganda must be kept simple.

What is Propaganda?

The dictionary describes it as “information, especially of biased nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

What will this trend lead to?

People who have the power also have the responsibility to do. In our case, we have the power to resist such schemes, manipulations and twisting of facts. If we stand and watch silently, if we think that this has not happened to me so it will never happen to me, I leave you with these wise words of Niemoller.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Dissent, debate and disagreement are cornerstones of a vibrant democracy. By using the techniques of propaganda, the ruling party and its affiliated ‘parivar’ are undermining it. Brick by brick, the edifice of our democracy is being eroded in front of our eyes and we are remaining mute spectators.

If we think, this will not happen to India, just because this is India, we are either living in fools’ paradise or utterly stupid.

Wake up, its propaganda!

Originally published here

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Following on from this series of tweets

Ever since I heard of the renaming of Gurgaon to Gurugram, it was as if something exploded within me. Naming one metro station “Guru Dronacharya” did not bother me as much – especially since the next one is “Sikanderpur”. (I died mildly, thinking of the irony, when someone suggested that the next station in Gurgaon, “M G Road”, was Mahatma Gandhi Road – it’s actually Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road). But renaming the whole city for a fictional character raised my hackles no end. While this did throw up many jokes, it also revived one of the darker episodes from the fabulously flawed epic – that of #Ekalavya.

I noted, again in alarm, that no sooner did the discrimination against Ekalavya get revived that some right-wing twitterati started circulating their own fable about Ekalavya being on the wrong side of “Dharma”, apparently, because he fought against the Pandavas and eventually died at the hands of Krishna. The ultimate fate of Ekalavya, to me, is irrelevant. What is of significance is the excessive wrong done to him at the outset of his life, and this I knew from first-hand reading of the original English translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli published in the 1890s (all translations since have borrowed from this one).

The Ekalavya story, which I ended up “live” tweeting so to speak (link above), is revelatory for it throws up a number of modern parallels. But what it underlines crucially is that entitlement and appropriation have been contemporaneous with casteism – no matter to what period you date the composition of the Mahabharata, its events borrow from a deeply casteist society whose elite did not balk at any opportunity for preserving their privilege. And so I started..

"So, anyway, or not, I want to narrate the Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation of the episode of the today. Mute if you want to ignore, or just unfollow. I am doing this cos #Ekalavya is also being #appropriated, and the lie needs to be called. Also, as a final introductory point, today is most auspicious for this. Ganguli impresses me because of his rigor: he compared many versions.

Story so far: Drona has been appointed by Bheeshma on account of being a merited-yet-poor Brahmin weapons expert to teach the scions of Kuru. Also, Drona has a grudge against Drupada, who just happens to be king of neighbouring Panchala. Perfect killing two birds with one stone. So the pandavas and kauravas become pupils of Drona and soon Arjuna becomes the teacher's pet after Drona discovers him practicing at night. Quoting Ganguli "Drona, hearing the twang of his bowstring in the night, came to him, and clasping him, said, 'Truly do I tell thee that I shall do that unto thee by which there shall not be an archer equal to thee in this world.'" This is a compact Arjuna will hold. "Thereafter Drona began to teach Arjuna the art of fighting on horse-back, on the back of elephants, on car, and on the ground.'"

Drona's popularity drew many other kings. Among these "was a prince named Ekalavya, who was the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas (the lowest of the mixed orders)." (Important points here!)

"Drona, however, cognisant of all rules of morality, accepted not the prince as his pupil in archery, seeing that he was a Nishada who might (in time) excel all his high-born pupils."

Observe! No reservation so the Brahmin teacher rejects the "low-born" pupil!

We all know what #Ekalavya did next - goes back to his forest, builds a clay image of #Drona, worships it, practices archery in front of it! "And one day, O grinder of foes, the Kuru and the Pandava princes, with Drona's leave, set out in their cars on a hunting excursion. A servant followed the party at leisure, with the usual implements and a dog. Having come to the woods, they wandered about intent on the purpose they had in view. Meanwhile, the dog also, in wandering alone in the woods,came upon the Nishada prince (Ekalavya)..."

Observe again - it is the dog that comes upon #Ekalavya

"beholding the Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black", repeat "Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black and bearing matted locks on head, the dog began to bark aloud. Thereupon the Nishada prince, desirous of exhibiting his lightness of hand, sent seven arrows into its mouth (before it could shut it). The dog, thus pierced with seven arrows, came back to the Pandavas. Those heroes, who beheld that sight, were filled with wonder and, ashamed of their own skill, began to praise the lightness of hand and precision of aim exhibited... by the unknown archer."

"And they thereupon began to seek in those woods for the unknown dweller therein that had shown such skill... the Pandavas soon found out the object of their search ceaselessly discharging arrows from the bow. And beholding that man of grim visage, who was totally a stranger"

(again, worth noting "man of grim visage") "they asked, 'Who art thou and whose son?'" (the Mahabharata version of "tu kaun? tera baap kaun?") "...the man replied, 'Ye heroes, I am the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas. Know me also for a pupil of Drona..."

[For those who know Sanskrit, #Ekalavya's father's name (Hiranyadhanus), interestingly, means "Golden Bow". Worth asking if #Ekalavya's skill was hereditary!]

[tweetthis]Was #Eklavya's skill hereditary?[/tweetthis]

This has modern parallels, of course. Colonialism killed artisanship - could the suppression of skilled-but-"low-born" archers be an augury? Carrying on with the tale

"The Pandavas then.. returned (to the city), and going unto Drona, told him of that wonderful feat of archery. Arjuna, in particular, thinking all the while of Ekalavya, saw Drona in private and relying upon his preceptor's affection for him said, 'Thou hadst lovingly told me, clasping me, to thy bosom, that no pupil of thine should be equal to me."

(Oh, the effing entitlement!)

"Why then is there a pupil of thine, the mighty son of the Nishada king, superior to me?"

(Observe how "merit" works - through influence!)

"On hearing these words, Drona reflected.. and.. took Arjuna with him and went unto the Nishada prince. And he beheld #Ekalavya..."

(wait for it)

"And he beheld #Ekalavya with body besmeared with filth, matted locks (on head), clad in rags, bearing a bow in hand and shooting arrows!"

Interjection: I don't believe Ganguli is piling on his own Brahminical biases (his introduction is worth reading!) but note the repetition! Whoever composed/compiled this section of the #Mahabharata, really had to drive in the appearance of #Ekalavya - as if that disqualifies him!

On we go...

"when Ekalavya saw Drona approaching towards him, he went a few steps forward,and touched his feet and prostrated himself. And the son of the Nishada king worshipping Drona, duly represented himself as his pupil, clasping his hands in reverence stood before him. Then Drona addressed Ekalavya, saying, 'If, O hero, thou art really my pupil, give me then my fees."

(Entitlement and appropriation all over again. Drona rejects the candidature of Ekalavya, refuses to make him a student, but is conceited enough to demand fees!)

"On hearing these words, #Ekalavya was very much gratified, and said in reply, 'O illustrious preceptor, what shall I give? Command me for there is nothing, O foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, that I may not give unto my preceptor."

This is #OneTightSlap territory, in my opinion. A right-minded teacher should have turned into a puddle of wax at this continued righteousness. But no!

"Drona answered, 'O Ekalavya, if thou art really intent on making me a gift, I should like then to have the thumb of thy right hand."

Gift! As #Mahabharata pundits like to rave, where was #Dharma here? #Ekalavya followed it to the tee, and #Drona, the entitled pompous ass? Gift!

After this, when the Nishada prince began once more to shoot with the help of his remaining fingers, he found that he had lost his lightness of hand. And at this Arjuna became happy, the fever (of jealousy) having left him.

There you go! "Merit" wins again! The least justice for Ekalavya would have been a no-holds barred contest with Arjuna - may the best man win! But instead we hear of how he is handicapped, literally, because he follows the #Dharma of a student even though he has technically never been admitted as one by #Drona. Nowhere in the story do we here of what support system Ekalavya might have had as a student whereas Arjuna is palace-raised, in high comfort. Yet, because Ekalavya could pose a threat to Arjuna's supremacy, he is cut down in his prime. Again, Arjuna watches this with joy but never in the Mahabharata is he called to account for this! This is "establishment" behavior - "hey who cares for a low-born Nishada huh, huh? #BroCode", Arjuna might have tweeted.

To conclude #Drona fears from the start that #Ekalavya will defeat the "high-born" pupils of his. From here on it is entitlement all the way - on Drona's and Arjuna's part. And scholars far more erudite than me - both Dalit and Savarna - have demonstrated how this sort of privilege has continued to stake its claim in modern India as well. It is of this that Ambedkar sought to break the back by turning away from Hinduism itself. It is telling of India's storied lethargy and unwillingness to break from conformity that this singular act was not the death knell it should have been for casteist Hindu practices. To this day, we continue to chew the cud over this - to what end?

Today there is a new Hindu elite seeking to turn back time to that fictional era in which a Drona could oh-so-easily stomp his privilege over an Ekalavya. That Drona is being celebrated through renaming a city. Today's Ekalavya's must spit in the face of modern Dronas and Arjunas, refuse to parley with them, and, most definitely, must refuse to cut off their own thumbs.

I know I would do so as an Ekalavya. Good night and good luck.

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Dhammachakra Pravartan Din at Deekshabhoomi

"I have no Motherland' Ambedkar once said to Gandhi, in frustration following the treatment dalits received in 20th Century. However, even if today an educated chunk belonging to Scheduled caste group get similar feeling of whether this is really "My Motherland", then the status quo of the Indian society and the treatment its people receive has to be intriguing.

Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Stall selling calenders and books of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

In 1935 at Nasik district, Maharashtra, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar had declared his firm resolve to change his religion. He famously said, "The object of our movement is to achieve social freedom. It is equally true that this freedom cannot be secured without conversion". On October 14, 1956, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and lakhs of his followers converted to Buddhism at a place in Nagpur which is now called Deeksha Bhoomi.  The day of Vijayadashmi Dussehra, for on this day in 1956, millions of Dalits “broke the shackles of Hindu religion and converted to Buddhism,” according to him.

Just as every year, lakhs of people from Scheduled caste and many progressive groups across India gather in Nagpur to remember this day, to celebrate the Dhammachakra Pravartan Din. Whole city of Nagpur is seen with people from across the country visiting to pay homage to their leader and witness this event of their Liberty. Every nook and corner across Nagpur is seen with people greeting each other. Various Books written by Ambedkar and other progressive writers are sold on a ground near Deekshabhoomi. People rejoice to the rebellious songs singing the story of their liberation and rebel.  Music, Speeches, Books, Reverence, Self-respect, Organisation, Citizenship rights, people resolve to abide by Ambedkar's message of "Educate, Organize and Agitate" and lot more can be observed as key-features of this gathering to any witness present there. Book selling crosses record numbers in mere 2 days.  The ambience is much similar, even grand compared to what we witness on 6th December in Dadar in Mumbai when people come to pay homage to Ambedkar on his Death Anniversary.

dalits posing in front of Deeksha Bhoomi on Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din
Deeksha bhoomi continues to call lakhs every year, six decades after Ambedkar's demise
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works
Book stall selling Ambedkar's works

I had no expectation personally that this event could get any air-time in the mainstream media, and I was quite not outraged though not OK with the "black-out" of this event in the media. The outrage arose when since morning I have been watching a Mohan Bhagwat speech atttended by a very tiny crowd being aired on all channels held at Reshim Baugh which is hardly few kilometers away from Deekshabhoomi. I mean, the attitude of "ignorance towards a group existence"  of the media is quite evident when their cameras and vans easily navigate through hundreds of people celebrating all around the city but cover a speech of RSS chief.

Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi
Followers of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Deeksha Bhoomi

If media is the fourth pillar of Democracy, the role of Media towards the society and its citizenry has to be extremely responsible. Such ignorance of an outright apparent grand event and cover another speech is a matter of great introspection for us as a society. Such acts clearly gives a group a feeling of being unimportant in the national arena. While the media keeps harping about Secularism, such navigation of their cameras clearly reveal their biased approach of ignorance and selective importance towards the citizens of a same country. Media attitude in this case is "Philosophy of Silence and Killing by ignorance". Such occasions clearly expose the double-standards media practices about Secularism. Secularism discourse in India has been narrowed down to mere Hindu-Muslims binary. When Secularism in its broader sense has to be in treating each citizen of the State without any prejudice arising out of caste, creed, religion etc. Such occasions definitely create a feeling of alienation among the minorities (Scheduled castes in this context). I do not know whether the camera ignorance/affinity of media in this case is just about the indifference or subtle upper-caste prejudice/arrogance. I am not a journalism expert, but I'm sure journalism cannot be just about the TRPs or the choices of the editors, what to air and what not.

- An outraged Citizen of India (Pratik Tembhurne)

1

Once Maharashtra was the land of progressive thought. Now it is the land where progressive thought is killed. After Narendra Dabholkar's murder in Pune, Comrade Govind Pansare was shot in Kolhapur. He has succumbed to his injuries.

This is the man who hosted events asking dangerous questions like "Who killed Karkare?" or protested the powerful IRB Infrastructure Developers. Over decades of service, he has stood up for all kinds of rights of people. He faced virulent hate propaganda from fans of Nathuram Godse more recently (Nathuram godse is Mahatma Gandhi's murderer) from Sanatan Sanstha and others.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]Govind Pansare is dead. Murdered brutally to silence. His killers roam free. Where is justice?[/tweetthis]

In a state where the supporters of the ruling parties are the most venomous haters of progressive thinking activists, there appears to be no point expecting justice. In a country where the state machinery works to free killers and frame activists, there appears to be no point expecting rule of law. What is justice anyway? Two or ten worthless souls put behind bars cannot compensate the social loss of progressive thoughts being proliferated time and again.

Justice for the murder of a thinker can only come from the proliferation of their thoughts. Voices that resonate with ethics become louder because they speak the hearts of many, address the needs of many. They can be silenced by guns, but they cannot be refuted. Thoughts let lose in the world cannot be reeled back in.

We all die one day. The fearless die once.

When Narendra Dabholkar was murdered, I was overwhelmed with shame for having agreed with his views, but never taken the effort to add my voice. From that day, I remain committed to speaking out against superstition.

[tweetthis twitter_handles="@Vidyut, @_AamJanata"]We all die one day. The fearless die once. One dead Pansare spawns many more.[/tweetthis]

Today, it seems the commitment needs to be wider. There are so many things that need voices speaking truth to power. So many voices that going around with a gun becomes unfeasible. In the absence of deterrent for criminals from the state, the strategy of minds insisting on progressive thought must evolve to build in deterrents. This is one.

I promise to continue speaking. Loud and clear. Against superstition. Against corruption. Against exploitation and inequality. Against communal hate.

It is but one voice and the task is huge, there is no alternative but to grow to meet it.

Walk along. Let not voices of reason be a few heads sticking out in a crowd that can be shot out of the picture.