Sri Lanka: Should India be worried?

Posted in politics by Sameer Boray on February 4, 2010

Its been 9 months since Prabhakaran and the LTTE were ousted from the Pearl Nation.Its also been 1 week since Rajapaksa proved his overwhelming popularity in the Presidential polls after defeating opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka.

Now why should India be worried? Lets journey through the last one year, beginning in 2009. One major cause of worry for India should be the rampant curbs on the freedom of the media. Lasantha Wickramatunge was a well known Sri Lankan journalist who had been killed mysteriously. The irony is he knew of his death. One can read how he has poignantly penned down how one must wait  before they are killed and one can only appreciate how he fathomed the fact that he would be dead soon. His last article can be read here,

The LTTE and Prabhakaran have been officially defeated.But that still doesn’t  guarantee the safety of a million Tamils in the North(not to forget Sri lankan Tamil refugees who fled to India during the brutal war).There are still many reports of gross human rights violations by the Sri Lankan army in refugee camps.

Now diving into the elections, Rajapaksa was declared a hero after defeating the LTTE.But then again , he was only popular with the overwhelming Sinhalese Majority.There had been reports of rampant corruption within his government and rumours that he ran the goverment in a dictatorial fashion. To refute all this, he decided to hold a presidential poll to reaffirm his faith in the people(and vice versa), which has shown to be successful. His opposition candidate was a former army chief and fought for Rajapaksa in order to defeat the LTTE. He accounts how corruption was rampant in Rajapaksa’s administration that he even went on to mention in his manifesto that he would commission an anti corruption body and try Rajapaksa in a court of law.

The official report is that the elections were smooth , free and fair , without any rigging.This was confirmed by international observers which included a team from The United States.However,Foneska still claims that the elections have been rigged and he has called out to all embassies in Colombo to take notice of it and to prevent Sri Lanka from falling into the hands of a dictator. The Sri Lankan authorities have passed this of as cacophony, a trick being played by the losing candidate.

In the light of all the above, how should India react? There have been reports that India would be increasing its investments in the island nation, along with China. One must not forget the fact that India will always be worried until the Tamil problem has been solved once and for all. And about the fact that Sri Lanka ‘might’ be run by a dictator? At this point of time, all Delhi can do is keep an eye on Colombo.

Comments and opinions will be appreciated


Of Employment: Gender ‘O’

Posted in gender equality, society by stories of an authentic self on December 28, 2009

The Pakistan SC, after hearing a petition for rights of the marginalised eunuch community a few days ago, advised the government to employ eunuchs for the recovery of loans from defaulters, citing India as example of the same. This has been the latest in a series of measures being introduced by the Pak SC towards the social inclusion of this lot, including recognition of their “distinct” gender, registration on electoral roles, recognition of inheritance rights among others.

For a community that makes a living out of beggary, prostitution and appearances at weddings and fetes, any provision of real employment, especially by the State speaks volumes for the efforts made towards their upliftment. Consider that young males were forced to leave home when families learnt of their gender identity crisis, and consequently are denied an opportunity to acquire skills necessary for any employment at all. Consider also that in the past, even singing and dancing on the roads by eunuchs dressed as women was criminalised by the Criminal Tribes Act. Consider that eunuchs (sometimes, even those not involved in prostitution) are booked for prostitution. The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, after being amended in 1986 to make its applicability non-gender-specific, has been used to arrest eunuchs for prostituion, under S. 8, Solicitation, without evidence of solicitation on their part. So the situation we find ourselves in is that we deny them an education and thus the chances of employment, and then we deny them their means of livelihood. Worst of all is that the Original Position, if one were to engage in a Rawlsian discussion of justice in India, does not even contemplate transsexuals and the like, while choosing principles of justice that could benefit the least advantaged in society.

In this light, appointment of eunuchs for recovery of loans or compelling payment of taxes is indeed “respectable” employment. Those that argue that employment of eunuchs for recovery of loans capitalizes on society’s fear of transsexuals and will consequently perpetuate exclusion are either labouring under the misconceived notion that recovery of loans is a sophisticated form of beggary (entailing clapping and an assortment of blessings/curses), or have not understood the concept of dignity in labour, one that is absent in our social fabric. The idea is that there is dignity in every form of labour; respect and remuneration are not factors of the degree of intellect involved in the mode of employment.

It’s not a wonder that the eunuch community in Pakistan was overjoyed at the suggestion of the SC. It’s time the governments of both India and Pakistan opened up more employment opportunities, possibly in polling booths and suchlike.

Gender ‘Other’

Posted in gender equality, human rights, society by stories of an authentic self on December 27, 2009

I find it inexplicably appalling that there exists a whole community of non-people, literally, who are denied “civil personhood” and consequently civil rights, singularly out of legal non-recognition of the third gender. This amounts to a denial of the right to personal autonomy of a transsexual, as I have argued in my previous post.

This parochial entrenchment of the binary gendered order bodes awfully for the State and its people. The State cannot possibly be reneging on its promises to a whole section of its people. Add to this, social awareness and effort towards inclusion is hardly forthcoming, and will not be, in the absence of laws seeking social change. And so we find ourselves in this mess, orphaning a section of the Indian people.

Through the next few posts I propose to bring out some of the issues associated with this denial of rights to the transsexual, transvestite and eunuch community of India.

Of Identity: Gender ‘O’

Posted in human rights by stories of an authentic self on December 25, 2009

The Election Commission recently decided to introduce the “Other” category for Transgenders, on Voter ID cards.

Transgender activists have reacted saying that while this may be a start towards recognising this marginalised group, it does not really go a long way in according them a separate gender identity; they prefer the provision being called “Third gender”.

‘What’s in nomenclature?’ may be the first question that comes to mind.. which brings me to Goodwin v. UK, a 2002 case successfully fought by a post-operative male to female transsexual for her right of recognition of her post-operative gender in national benefit schemes et al. wherein gender holds legal significance.The European Court of Human Rights made an interesting observation pertaining to identity, personal autonomy and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which recognises the right of respect for one’s personal life.

The Court held that through this Article,  “protection is given to the personal sphere of each individual, including the right to establish details of their identity as individual human beings“. This essentially breaks down the biological gender identity and recognises one’s autonomy in deciding his/her sexual identity, concurrent with the psychological and hormonal gender identity. In India, given that most cannot afford gender re-assignment surgery and the wide social stigma associated with it (TN is the only state that recognised such surgeries, by way of a G.O), if transsexuals choose to establish their identities as such, they must fully be accorded the right to do so.

As an aside, it strikes me that even de hors the reactions of transgender activists, gender “Other” forms a terrible compromise of identity, as it connotes a gender “other” than male or female. Granting an identity relative to those of established and recognised social groups such as male and female, charts the path to perpetual social exclusion.

Telangana: Betrayal and Broken Promises

Posted in politics, society by Nehaa on December 23, 2009

As Telangana continues to be a hot-bed of political uncertainty and regional discord, Abdaal Akhtar explores the history of the region and the formation of Andhra Pradesh, and why a separate state might be a good idea, while the Congress finds itself in a Catch-22 situation.


It was with some degree of amusement that I read the reactions of various people to the Telangana issue. “DO NOT DIVIDE THE COUNTRY AGAIN!!” screamed a hysterical status message on Facebook. “You divide, we fall” ran the slogan of the United Andhra Group. “Make Hyderabad a UT-Cheap Booze!” said another. The more knowledgeable ones wrote about how small states do not necessarily mean better governed states, how political consensus was not arrived at and how Irom Sharmila’s fast has been ignored for a decade while an opportunist politician’s fast has been rewarded in just five days!

At the outset, Telangana is not equal to KCR. Or the TRS for that matter. Telangana was an entity long before they came on the scene. Right from the 14th Century to 1956, Telangana was never a part of Andhra. Six centuries of separate existence has led Telangana to acquire an identity of its own. Unlike Coastal Andhra, Telangana is unmistakably feudal, a side of it captured brilliantly by Shyam Benegal, a Hyderabadi, in his debut film, Ankur. The culture is distinct too. Anybody with even a passing acquaintance of Telugu cannot miss noticing the difference between the Telugu spoken here and the rest of Andhra. The vocabulary here is rich with borrowings from Urdu and Marathi. It is always “Nuvvu” (tum) here and never “Meeru” (aap) as prevalent in the Coastal areas. A place is either “najdeekmu” or “doormu”. Not surprisingly, the Telangana dialect has always been the butt of jokes in the rest of the State. So much so that prominent Telanganites like the late PM, P.V Narasimha Rao always made it a point to speak the “refined” coastal dialect in order to avoid coming across as uncouth. Telugu movies inevitably have the villain speak this “rowdy” dialect which is perhaps a telling comment on the way Andhra sees Telangana.

The old Hyderabad State continues to be regarded with pride by native Telanganites. While Andhra associates the Nizam’s rule with the tyranny of the Razakars and the Police Action, a Telanganite remembers it as the last time any development activity happened in his lands. It saw the creation of the Nizamsagar Dam, of the Nizam Sugar Mills, the establishment of the Osmania University and the making of Hyderabad into what it is today. No wonder then that KCR’s lavish praise of the Nizam a few years ago drew no flak in Telangana while he was roundly criticized for praising a tyrant by the Andhraites.

The differences I have enumerated can be easily dismissed as trivial by many critics of a separate Telangana. After all in India, cultures, cuisines and languages change every hundred miles. Does that mean a separate state carved out of every existing state? The problem is not the diversity. It is when this diversity leads to neglect. Take any human development parameter and compare a Telangana district, say Nalgonda or Adilabad with a Coastal district like Krishna or West Godavari. The Telangana districts fare no better than Daltonganj or Surguja while West Godavari is one of India’s most developed districts, economically and educationally. Indeed, for every 1 rupee that flows into Hyderabad, barely 4 paisas go to the districts of Telangana, its neighbours. As a Times of India report points out, Telangana, minus Hyderabad, fares just about better than Bihar in living standards, a statistic that is even more shocking when one considers the fact that more than 30,000 crore rupees has been pumped into Hyderabad through the IT sector. That is why I also have sympathy with similar demands in other neglected areas like Bundelkhand or Purvanchal.

The Fazal Ali Committee whose recommendations led to the redrawing of the provincial boundaries of India had specifically commented on Telangana. It stated that it would be wrong to merge Telangana with Andhra once the old Hyderabad state (comprising of modern day North Karnataka, Marathwada and Telangana) was abolished. Its reasons were simple: a) Economic b) Lack of public support for Andhra Pradesh in Telangana area. It recommended a separate Hyderabad State that may join Andhra at its own option later. This was however overlooked by the Govt. of India in view of a Gentlemen’s Agreement entered into by Telangana and Andhra leaders. The Andhra leaders promised among others that a) Telangana would benefit from the planned dams on the Krishna and Godavari rivers b) Telanganites would be given preference in jobs c) 40% of ministers to be from Telangana. While Pt. Nehru had his doubts, he nevertheless gave the go ahead.

By 1969, the illusion had been shattered. Once every clause of the agreement had been broken, Telangana erupted. More than 350 people died in police firing alone. Indira Gandhi in a masterstroke made the leader of the movement, M Chenna Reddy the Governor of UP and thus controlled the flames of what promised to be a repeat of the Telangana Rebellion of the 1940s when the peasants overthrew their landlords and liberated a third of the region. The T sentiment though kept on simmering as evidenced in 2004 when the Congress in alliance with the TRS swept Telangana. KCR’s constant gaffes and resignation dramas however ensured his party’s rout in 2009. The mandate though was not anti-Telangana. What choice did the people have anyway? Chandrababu Naidu, whose flip flops are legendary? Or the Praja Rajyam, a party with almost no base here? The people made the pragmatic choice by voting Congress. YSR knew this better than anybody else and thus kept on dilly-dallying the Telangana issue. A vote for development is not equal to an Anti-Telangana vote as United Andhra proponents would like to claim. It merely reflects the lack of choice in our democracy.

The recent agitation has little to do with KCR. Had the police not savagely beaten up pro Telangana demonstrators, this turn of events would never have come to be. KCR became the unwitting posterboy of a drama fuelled by an age old sense of betrayal and conducted by a brutal police and a hapless CM. The announcement by the Home Minister sparked off wild celebrations. These people were not OU students or TRS cadres. They were people celebrating the end of six decades of betrayal.

What followed though was shameful. For no apparent reason, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra erupted. I have observed first hand the agitation here in Guntur, the heart of Coastal Andhra. The people are actually glad about Telangana. Hyderabad, the great vortex of economy in Andhra, had been sucking in way too much investment in their opinion. It was high time, they say, that Vishakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Guntur received their share as well. The reasons officially bandied about for the agitation include “development in United AP-separation is no solution”, “hasty decision”, “fate of Hyderabad” and so on. The first reason, and this is the one most commonly given, is laughable, coming as it does from people who adore Potti Sriramulu and claim to be running the movement in his name. Potti Sriramulu ensured the separation of Andhra from Madras province claiming unequal development. It was his fast unto death that led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956. If only he had subscribed to his followers’ views of “separation is no solution”! Coming to the second argument, the decision is not hasty at all. After all werent it these the very MPs who had authorised the CWC to decide on Telangana? Had not the TDP and the PR declared their unstinted support to the Telangana cause? All that the Govt. did was to recommend that a resolution be introduced in the Assembly and that was enough for these opportunists to do a complete volte-face.

An interesting observation in this United Andhra agitation is the fact that its leaders have all got major business interests. This is where the third reason becomes pertinent. Throughout the years they have made major investments in the realty sector in Hyderabad. The creation of Telangana is expected to cause a sharp drop in land prices and this would hurt them badly. That is the reason why they want Hyderabad to be made the joint capital or a UT. That is the reason why Vijayawada MP and billionaire, Lagadapati Rajagopal is on a fast unto death. Other reasons include the mining lobby’s pressure which, controlled as it is by the notorious Bellary brothers, is afraid of losing the rights to Telangana mines. The creation of Telangana would hurt them and their ilk the most. Separating Hyderabad from Telangana is a ridiculous idea. Telangana derives much of its distinctiveness owing to Hyderabad’s location. Hyderabad in no way can be a made a UT or a joint capital, hemmed in as it is by close to a 150 km of Telangana territory on all sides. This talk of a joint capital is daydreaming in the least and utter stupidity in fact.

A laudable side effect of the Telangana movement has been the collapse of the linguistic state model. Pt. Nehru had warned of its dangers back in the 1950s but his warnings were ignored. Linguistic subnationalism is a force no less harmful than religious extremism. MNS and the Shiv Sena being prime examples. The geographic or cultural creation of provinces makes much more sense. Much discussion has centered on how smaller states cannot handle Naxalism. Naxalism arose because of the lack of smaller states! If Madhya Pradesh had not neglected its eastern wing and Bihar had paid a trifle more attention to Dhanbad, Giridih or Aurangabad, they would never have become the naxal hotbeds that they are today. Small states are not the cause but the solution to Naxalism. Development indices too point to the fact that small states are not doing that badly. Rural electrification has taken off in a big way in all the three states created in 2000. They all enjoy better literacy rates than their parent states even though two of them are predominantly tribal. All three of them have better healthcare records than the states they were hived off from.

The Congress is today caught in a Catch 22 situation. It is damned if it does and damned if it doesnt. Going ahead with Telangana would probably lead to a split in the party and the migration of the super rich from it. Going back on Telangana would be double crossing a people who have been deprived of their just rights since independence. This duplicity will never be forgiven by them. One only hopes that it makes the right choice. Jai Telangana.

The Telangana Tangle: Biggest Loser Congress?

Posted in politics by armalcolite on December 22, 2009

On 9th December, 2009, Danny Cahill became the biggest of Biggest Losers by losing an astonishing 239 pounds. But the way the Congress is handling the Telangan issue, they seem to be in a greater hurry than Cahill to shed their political wieght in Andhra Pradesh.

The fast for Telangana by KCR was a comedy of errors from Day 1. When the history of the Telangana is written, writers will probably chose to ignore the fact that KCR’s fast was a politically motivated one, or that he was forced to take the fast more seriously after being caught consuming a glass of juice on the second day. Far from being a struggle for statehood, KCR’s fast was a fight for political relevance after the drubbing in the elections earlier in the year. In fact the situation got so dire for KCR that at one stage it came to be known that he had clamped down his demand from demanding separate statehood to settling for talks with the centre. So, in effect a problem that could have been solved by holding talks, the old-fashioned way has now blown out of proportion, and it gets worse. This is not to discount the volatile situation that arose out of the largely student led movement for a separate Telangana, but as a political call by the Congress, there were other alternatives to jumping the gun on the issue.

Further, within Andhra Pradesh too, this was one crisis the Congress could have done without. It is no secret that Rosaiah is running a divided house following the unfortunate demise of YSR. With the splitting up of the state, the Congress has gone ahead and given itself an additional cause of worry with its members now squabbling over another issue. To further complicate the issue, Chief Ministerial aspirant YS Jagan has made no bones about where he stands on the issue by calling for a unified Andhra.

The Congress’ position in Andhra Pradesh is unique compared to most other states as, not only is it the only national party in a political landscape dotted by regional parties, it also controls the state. What this also translates into is that while other parties are driven by strictly regional considerations, the Congress has to keep in mind larger, national interests. So from such a standpoint, creating Telangana might not be such a bad call. But given the intervening circumstances the Congress couldn’t do better even if it wanted to hurt itself. For, the Congress has through the years exploited the Telangan issue for political mileage while not doing anything about it, meaning that it had no real stand on the issue. The other parties on the other hand have their roles cut out with the TDP (though Chandrababu Naidu has remained quiet on the issue) and PRP opposing Telangana for a unified Andhra and the TRS taking a diametrically opposite stand. Cometh the hour, they just fulfil their designated roles while the Congress, having soothed egos on both sides finds itself in no man’s land.

Evan at the Centre, the Congress finds itself in an unenviable position. Having on the one hand recognised Telangana and on the other ruled out the creation other states such as Gorkhaland, it can be construed that the Congress is applying double standards. But as in the case of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress in it’s all accomodating policy of yore simply does not have a stand on the issue of creation of new states. On the other hand, the BJP having carved out Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand has gone on record to say that smaller states make for balanced development. The BJP even supports the Gorkhaland cause having allied with the GJM for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. With parties taking up either side of the debate, the Congress finds itself alienating both sides by either carving out new states or not creating enough, much like Gorbachev embracing Western ideas towards the end of the Cold War.

However, given the right strategies, the Congress can still pull itself out of the rut (a rather large one) it finds itself in. Since it has already announced the creation of Telangana, it cannot retract its announcement and must find a way of amicably settling the issue. Hyderabad has occupied the centre of this debate and finding a way to balance the Telangana claim for the city on the one hand while not compromising on the development and finding adequate recompense for the other side is paramount. This does not require a miracles solution, but does require a lot of time for tempers to fall and vested interests to take a back seat. As is evident from the actions of the centre, the issue itself will be resolved in a matter of months rather than days. As regards other ‘demands’, most of them seems to be seeking the limelight rather than statehood. However, in the days to come future governments will be (or should be) more wary of conceding to demands for statehood. The focus must now be on damage control to quell dissent within party ranks.