All posts by mukulsharma

Writer, Journalist & Human Rights Activist

Alternative Futures – India Unshackled

Alternative Futures
Alternative Futures – India Unshackled

After the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many consigned ideologies and alternatives to the rubble of history. The end of the cold war was explained as the victory, not just of liberal ethos and individual freedom, but of dynamic, market-driven capitalism championed by likes of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Manmohan Singh. India’s left also embraced this belief in practice, promoting foreign and national capitals and capitalist-led industrialization. They hoped market miracles would generate employment and wealth. Women such as MedhaPatkar, a social activist and a fierce opponent of the globalized developmental model and Sudha Bhardwaj, a trade union activist in Chhattisgarh seemed as thoroughly on the wrong side of the history as it was possible to be. Continue reading Alternative Futures – India Unshackled

Ambedkar and the Environmental Tradition

The 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was celebrated in April 2016 all around, so much so that the United Nations, for the first time, observed this day with a focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the 17 goals along with 169 targets and 304 indicators, adopted in September 2015, aspire to transform our world by balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ has environment at its core, along with poverty and inequality: to ‘protect planet’, create ‘healthy environment’, and ensure equality, dignity and development ‘in harmony with nature’. And Ambedkar is found in this regard to be an apt and inspiring leader.

The world can see traces of Ambedkar’s vision in the SDGs and can find his views relevant for environmental sustainability, but not the Indian environmentalists! Indian environmental movements marginalize Ambedkar. From a historical past, environmental scholars have placed Gandhi at the apex of their inspiration. Recently, Nehru and Indira Gandhi too have been constructed through an ecological lens. However, Ambedkar’s engagement with the environmental question has been relatively unexplored, even when his thoughts and interventions on nature, village, land, agriculture, water, community, industry, technology and science are some of the enduring issues of India’s environmental and political traditions. In comparison with Gandhi, credited with having an intuitive critique of modern civilization, Ambedkar has often been criticized for his modernization vision, which it is argued, drew heavily on the west for inspiration (Nagaraj 2010: 56-7)

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Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics

Cover - Green and Saffron

My book Green and Saffron is just out. The book details and an interview  are on the blog of Permanent BlackFrom the publishers’ notice:

This book examines contemporary environmental issues and movements in independent India on the one hand, and the development of Hindu conservative ideology and politics on the other. It includes the first thorough investigation of Anna Hazare’s movement in Maharashtra.

Mukul Sharma argues that these two social currents—environmental conservation and Hindu politics—have forged bonds which reveal the hijacking of environmentalism by conservative and retrograde worldviews. This, he says, constitutes a major aspect of hinterland political life which neither academics nor journalists have seriously analysed. Environmentalism and politics cannot be seen as separate from each other, for environmental issues are being defined in new ways by an anti-secular form of Hinduism. In turn, Hindu ideologues are gaining mileage for their ideology by espousing major environmental projects. Continue reading Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics

The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi

(I am posting a much longer version of my previous article that will also respond to some of the queries and comments. This article is based on my research, field work and interviews in Ralegan Sidhi since 1991.)

This article is focussed mainly on understanding how exactly the rural environmental works in the journey of Anna Hazare and Ralegan Sidhi are articulated within a coherent ideological framework, to acquire their legitimacy and authority, which are fed by, and fed into, some dominant political cultures of the state. Any political theory and practice, built on this framework, can open the possibilities of a strengthening of the conservative and nationalist forces. Certainly, the ideology of a rural organisation or a movement and its appeal is not based on a single plank. In the case of Anna Hazare and his programme, though the developmental and the environmental works form the core of its ideological structures, it includes other issues as well. At times it provides a different scale of activities to its audience, but eventually reinforces its principal ideological framework. Some understanding of the ideological DNA of the green villagers and the fellow environmental travellers also gives us an idea as to what elements of this endeavour and ideology motivate villagers and environmentalists.

The Historical Context of Maharashtra
Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi are not a new addition to the social history of the Maharashtra state. Indeed, the movement has borrowed many features from the historical evolution of the region, and the political culture of the state, with which it negotiates at different levels. There are many factors at play, though three are of prime importance in the context of this paper: (i) nativism and regionalism in Maharashtrian culture and politics (ii) structure and nature of caste and class and (iii) agrarian economy and local environmentalism.
Continue reading The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi

The Making of Anna Hazare

[This piece is based on my extensive field work on Anna Hazare and his movement in Ralegan Sidhi over some years and is also a part of my forthcoming book Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics. MS]

The anti-corruption movement, spearheaded by Anna Hazare, and the passage of the Lokpal Bill have generated unprecedented interest amongst a wide spectrum of society about the ideas, politics and organisations of civil society in general, and Anna Hazare in particular. Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade merits attention not only for its importance in ensuring a corruption-free society, but also due to its multifaceted nature. Hazare’s politics however has to be seen in a larger framework and in a wider historical context. Howsoever laudable the goals of anti-corruption movement in India today, the movement is not beyond the categories of gender, caste, authority, democracy, nationalism and ultra-nationalism. Far from transcending them, the movement is transforming and being transformed by the implicit deployment of such categories. I wish to place Hazare in the larger context of his environmental journeys, where the elusive but crucial element is one of authority that is exercised due to a large degree of consent and conservatism. Yet, almost all accounts on him, largely celebratory in nature, do not examine the ideology and politics of his works. These are crucial not only to critically assess the present and the future of our anti-corruption movements, but also to interrogate certain brands of civil society activisms and environmentalisms. Continue reading The Making of Anna Hazare

Bhopal Disaster, Corporate Responsibility and Peoples’ Rights

2 December 2009 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. It was the night of 2nd December 1984 when over 35 tons of toxic gases leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, owned by the US based multinational Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)’s Indian affiliate Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). In the next 2-3 days more than 7,000 people died and many more were injured. Over the last 25 years at least 15,000 more people have died from illnesses related to the gas exposure. Today, more than 100,000 people continue to suffer from chronic and debilitating illnesses, for which treatment is largely ineffective. The disaster shocked the world and raised fundamental questions about government and corporate responsibility for industrial accidents that devastate human life and local environments. Yet 25 years later, the survivors and various organisations are still fighting for justice. Issues of plant site, toxic wastes and contaminated water have not been resolved. And strikingly, no one has been held to account for the leak and its appalling consequences. Bhopal is not just an incident of industrial disaster and human suffering from the last century. It is very much an issue of the present century of corporate accountability, peoples’ rights and government responsibility. The lack of mandatory laws and norms governing multinationals, legal complexities, and government failures are serious obstacles in ensuring justice for the people of Bhopal, and for the victims of corporate complicity in crimes against environment, peoples’ lives and safety. Continue reading Bhopal Disaster, Corporate Responsibility and Peoples’ Rights

Grootboom, Mayawati and Supreme Courts

Mrs Irene Grootboom lived with her and sister’s family in a shack, about 20 meters square in Wallacedene, an informal settlement without water, electricity, sewage or rubbish collection services in the western Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the residents had been on the waiting list for subsidised housing for years. Mrs Grootboom and a few hundred others decided to take matters into their hands in 1998 and occupied a vacant farm that was privately owned and had been earmarked for low-cost housing. They were evicted through a court order, their new-built homes were bulldozed and their possessions burned. When a High Court judgement granted them government shelter, the government appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court had to interpret article 26 of the new South African Constitution, Republic of South Africa, which provides that a) ‘everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing’; b) ‘the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures (such as policy and programs) to achieve the progressive realisation of this right’; and c) ‘within its available resources. The court decided to test whether the Cape Metropolitan Council’s housing program was ‘reasonable’.
Continue reading Grootboom, Mayawati and Supreme Courts

My Name is Not Khan

Migration is a matter of my life. I first moved to Delhi to pursue my education. Later, I had to often leave my country to work. Immigration grew, and increasingly became tiring for me – various counters, security checks, scanning, and questions began scaring me. I carry a few baggages, but I think my family and I must carry all our rights with them when I move. I am a human being, whether I am documented or not. Immigration systems and detentions need reforms and alternatives to ensure that I am treated with full respect for my rights and human dignity. We need to support each other – tens of thousands of individuals will be harassed and detained tonight, tomorrow, and the next day in the present system.

Continue reading My Name is Not Khan

Land and Human Rights

There are few more contentious and complex problems in India than those dealing with land and land rights. Rather than just focus on a single issue, a continuum of rights has to be established regarding land, especially in areas of access and reforms, laws and enforcement, use planning and management, administration and information, and its cross-cutting issues. The new and existing initiatives on land should be guided by the core values of pro-poor, conflict resolution, democratic governance, equity, and justice, as well as gender sensitiveness. Although land policy development is taking place, it generally lacks a human rights framework. Land is not simply a resource for one human right. While some rights have been recently established in the legal framework (like work, education, food), they all can be adversely affected by access to land, and the legal implications of it for a broad range of human rights is obvious. The Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bills should also be assessed on the basis of several international principles, interpretive documents and legal frameworks. Continue reading Land and Human Rights

Job Losses: A Reality Check

The right to work involves just and fair condition of employment, and also, protection against unemployment. It also entails access to employment without discrimination and a supportive structure that aids access, including appropriate and free choice, skill building and vocational education. However, the economic survey 2008-09 and the union budget 2009-10 demonstrate how the burning issue of job losses – retrenchment, lay off, redundancy – in times of global financial crisis and economic slowdown, are perhaps the least understood of the economic, social and political concerns. There are clear evidences that the job losses have worsened in many sectors in the recent past, posing a threat to the overall inclusive growth prospects, and are a challenge to continue successful poverty reduction efforts. Job insecurity in the country is on the rise and an expected decline in growth and investment is likely to exacerbate this problem. It is critically important to recognize the issue, and build a political will to tame anti-labour atmosphere and practices. Supportive structures should come with innovative policies and programmes. Continue reading Job Losses: A Reality Check

64 for Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma’s imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will mark her 64th birthday on 19 June 2009, her 14th year in detention. An iconic symbol of Myanmar’s political resistance, she is the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner. She has committed no crime, she is the victim of crime, yet her detention can continue for many more years. The United Nations has ruled that Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is illegal under international law, and also under Burmese law. The United Nations Security Council has also told the dictatorship that they must release her. Comparable to the personal, moral and democratic power of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, her continued detention is a powerful reminder of the unrelenting repression in Myanmar, and what must be done to make democracy and human rights a reality. Continue reading 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi

Naagbanton, Binayak Sen and Kampala Declaration

Patrick Barigbalo Naagbanton is a well-known human rights activist. Born in Rivers State, Nigeria, he trained as a journalist before working as a trade unionist at the Port Harcourt factory of the Union Dicon Salt PLC, where he was elected chairman of the workers union, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). He was eventually fired for campaigning for improvement in working conditions. Naagbanton recruited many workers to join human rights/pro-democracy groups like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Campaign for Democracy (CD), and Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). Naagbanton served as a board member of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), representing the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. He also worked with the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FOEN), documenting, researching and campaigning against human rights and environmental degradation in Nigeria. In recognition of his role in promoting and defending victims of rights abuse in Nigeria, Naagbanton received the Indianapolis University Human Rights Award in 2001; and in 2002, the Rivers State branch of the CLO conferred on him the Saro-Wiwa Award for human and environmental rights defender.
Continue reading Naagbanton, Binayak Sen and Kampala Declaration

Unfair Wealth and Fair Elections

Poverty talk is common; wealth is taboo — even when crorepati candidates (millionaires, billionaires) are on the rise in elections today. There is no doubt whatsoever that our elections are conditioned by wealth, and the rich are thriving on the benefits drawn from their money power. Ironically however, in our people’s democracy, no calls for fair elections are considered credible unless they are accompanied by cries for reforms in the role of wealth and wealthy candidates in the elections. Chances are that the Indian elections of 2009 might get caught up in this credibility trap.

In the first phase of elections, data (affidavits) available of 1440 candidates out of a total of 1715, compiled and analysed by the National Election Watch, is revealing: There are 193 crorepatis contesting elections in this phase; they have increased from 9 percent in 2004 to 14 percent in 2009. Congress has 45, followed by BJP and BSP, with 30 and 22 respectively. All parties, including independents, share this burden. Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh have a majority of them. Their total assets go as high as 173, 125, 89, 72, 56, 45, 30 crores. Neither the earth, nor the sky is the limit. And the declared assets may just reveal a partial picture, considering the fact that most of them (979 candidates) do not even bother to have a permanent account number (PAN), which is necessary for filing annual income tax returns.

Continue reading Unfair Wealth and Fair Elections

Silencing Social Activists

An escalating wave of attacks on social activists has been sweeping the country. Several recent incidents indicate an increase in the number of cases alleging grave human rights abuses against social activists, and a shift from low-level targeting, such as intimidation and harassment, to more serious violations, such as detention, prosecution, imprisonment and threats to their physical integrity. The authorities are also trying to silence them through unfair trial, denial of bail and long prison terms. There is excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment by the police. Women social activists are facing further violations, as women and as human rights defenders, including sexist verbal abuse and derogatory accusations. Continue reading Silencing Social Activists

Corporate Complicity and Gujarat

The 4th ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit, organized by the Gujarat government on 12-13 January 2009 in Ahmedabad, and the statements by some prominent Indian corporate leaders, have spawned protests, analysis, debates and questions about corporate accountability, complicity, responsibility and rights in Indian democracy. At this biennial event, ‘Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat’ has been showcased as an ‘ideal investment destination, both for Indian and foreign investors’, where prospective investors have ‘only Red Carpet and no Red Tape and it is where investors can sow a rupee and reap a dollar as returns’ (see Official portal of Gujarat Government).

Bringing together business leaders, investors, corporations and policy makers by a democratically-elected government, exploring business opportunities and signing memorandum of understandings are legitimate economic activities. However, the projection of the Chief Minister of the State, Narendra Modi, as the next Prime Minister of India by corporate cheerleaders is much more than mere economic activity. It is turning a blind eye to gross abuses of rule of law, and knowingly assisting a political leader and his government to continue committing them. It is becoming party to a specific political vision in a manner that incurs responsibility and blame. Such corporate leaders thus become complicit with a government and its leader in serious human rights abuses. It is negative and unacceptable.

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Guantanamo and Illegal U.S. Detentions: Time for Real Change

[On the seventh anniversary of Guantanamo Bay, 11 January]

The United States detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – seven years old on 11 January 2009 – have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the US Government in the name of fighting terrorism. Though the U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to close down the Guantanamo Bay, there are undoubtedly substantial challenges to closing. Every day that Guantánamo is kept open is another day in which hundreds of detainees and their families are kept in the legal shadows. Distressing to the individuals concerned and destructive of the rule of law, the example it sets – of a powerful country undermining fundamental human rights principles – is dangerous to us all. It would be no less dangerous, and no less unlawful, if the USA were simply to transfer the problem it has created at Guantánamo to another locations.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay

The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay isn’t the only prison where the United States is holding detainees from the ‘war on terror.’ At Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper in Iraq, and many more – some known and others secret – are used to detain those captured by the U.S. military. Camp Bucca alone has at times held 20,000 prisoners, most of whom live in groups of tents surrounded by wire. Most detainees are held unlawfully, without warrant or charge, and without recourse to challenge their detention. Even when Guantánamo is closed, the need to push for detainee human rights will continue.

Continue reading Guantanamo and Illegal U.S. Detentions: Time for Real Change

In Cold Blood: Abuses by Armed Groups

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, USA, UK, Spain, the Russian Federation, to name a few, are a testimony to the cruel attacks on civilians and other human rights abuses in the recent past by non-state armed groups, including terrorist groups. They are showing utter disdain for the lives of civilians and others, continuing a pattern of serious crimes and crimes against humanity. They fail to abide by even the most basic standards of humanitarian law. The attacks and other abuses by armed groups are so frequent and the security situation so grave, that it is impossible to calculate with any confidence the true toll upon the civilian population, let alone the long term consequences that so many people inevitably suffer.

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Victims of Terrorism

The multiple terror attacks in Mumbai are unprecedented and blatantly violate the most fundamental principles of law and justice. Regrettably, as Mumbai shows today, there is a huge gap between governmental counter terror rhetoric and the reality of human security observance on the ground. Much more needs to be done to mainstream counter terror strategy and action throughout the government security system and states must demonstrate the political will and promptness to translate human security and rights commitment into action. Continue reading Victims of Terrorism

Freedom of Conscience and Attacks on Christians

The idea that fundamental rights are enjoyed by all, without any distinction of race, sex, language, ethnic origin, nationality and religion, is a basic principle of democracy and international human rights law. Violent attacks on the Christian minorities in different parts of the country are an assault on the very notion of democracy and universal human rights. Despite the country’s obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion, the wave of killings, beatings, sexual assaults, looting, destruction of property, and displacement have created a climate of fear and insecurity, particularly among the Christians. Representatives of Christians and minorities are exposed to the grave risk of communally motivated verbal abuse and physical attacks.

Worst, the governments of Orissa and Karnataka continued to deny the extent of violence prevalent, and failed to face up to their minimum responsibility of securing the life of their people. If India has to live up to any human rights standards, it must show a clear political will to combat attacks on Christians: speaking out strongly, and at all levels of governance; publicly acknowledging the seriousness of the issue; and the need to take concerted action. This is not ‘hooliganism’ or ‘anti-social’ activity, motivated by some hooligans and anti-social elements. It is a violent, and apparently a communal attack, carried out by organized groups. Crimes which are communally motivated must be effectively and thoroughly investigated and prosecuted as such. Treating communally induced violence and brutality on an equal footing with cases that have no communal overtones would be to turn a blind eye to the specific nature of the acts that are particularly destructive of fundamental rights.

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AFSPA – 50 Years of a Law

Come September 2008, and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) is now fifty years old in our country. It is a law in force in large parts of the northeast that gives armed forces special powers in a locality declared as ‘disturbed area’. However, while AFSPA is considered necessary by the state and army officials to protect the state against internal disturbances, to uphold the integrity of nation, to fight against terrorism and insurgency, and to protect sensitive border areas, it is being vehemently opposed and discarded by human rights groups, women’s organizations and political groups, as it is seen as facilitating grave human rights abuses, impunity, rape and torture, and silencing of democratic dissent. The Act has long been challenged internally through country-wide campaigns, coalitions, self-immolation, fast until death, and naked protests. It is also regularly referred to internationally, for example in the recently concluded UN Human Rights Councils’ Universal Periodic Country Review or in the previous Human Rights Committee, as an issue of serious concern.

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Binayak Sen and the Right to a Fair Trial

The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of democratic societies. How a person is treated, when accused of a crime, provides a concrete demonstration of how far a State respects human rights. Detention is ‘arbitrary’, where there are often grave violations of the right to a fair trial. Detention and imprisonment, which may be lawful under national standards, are considered ‘unlawful’ under international standards. A fair trial is indispensable for the protection of other rights, such as the right to freedom from torture, the right to life, and the right to freedom of expression. This right should never be compromised. However, throughout the country, people are being detained and imprisoned without a fair trial. In these circumstances, many face torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The continued detention of Dr. Binayak Sen, Vice-President of India’s leading human rights organization, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), should trigger a debate, not only in Chhattisgarh, but also around the country, about whether and to what extent the right to a fair trial may be compromised in the name of security.

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