SACW | 25 Jan. 2006 | Fundamentalists oppose Marathon; Homeless and Hungry in Pakistan-India; History Spat
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Tue Jan 24 19:51:06 CST 2006
South Asia Citizens Wire | 25 January, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2209
 Pakistan: The obscure whims of a few [fundos] (Shakir Husain)
 Pakistan: Evictions in Karachi (Fatima Bhutto)
 Speaking up for India's Hungry and Homeless
(i) Hunger artists (Harsh Mander)
(ii) Statement of the Right to Food Campaign
(iii) No appetite for hunger (Jayati Ghosh)
(iv) Death devours the homeless (Bharat Dogra)
(v) Rights groups appeal over rising numbers of homeless in Delhi
 India history spat hits US (Scott Baldauf)
- Tariq Ali Lecture on Democracy or Dictatorship of Capital (New
Delhi, 25 Jan)
- Panel Discussion: Himalayan Hotspots: Kashmir Earthquake (New
York, 25 Jan)
- Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference (Jun 2006)
The News International
January 25, 2006
PAKISTAN: THE OBSCURE WHIMS OF A FEW [FUNDOS]
by Shakir Husain
If you haven't already noticed, you should. And if you haven't thought
about it, you should start thinking about it very seriously. If you
aren't involved in creating the kind of Pakistan you'd want your
children to live in, then you should seriously consider the kind of
society you'll be leaving for them. Civil society is currently being
held hostage by a small minority of people who believe that the few
opportunities of wholesome entertainment that are available to the
citizens of this country should also be taken away from them. Who are
these people and why do they think this way?
The answer is simple, they are the religious right and their motives are
hardly religious and have everything to do with power and their attempt
to hijack anything and everything they can get their hands on. A brief
anecdote from the late sixties will illustrate where they're coming from
and where they are today. When my father was a student at Karachi
University, a friend of his from the Jamaat had the following to say to
him: "You liberals will never have any power in Pakistan, because while
all of you armchair warriors talk in living rooms about democracy, human
rights, and how it should be, we're sending our duffers into the army,
the civil services, the judiciary, and other seats of power."
Chillingly, forty years on we look around us and see how this prophecy
has rung true. Never have so few imposed such a net of suppression over
a population of 150 million in the name of religion, whereas it has
nothing to do with religion. Who handed over the role of the 'morality'
police to these people? Not I or you.
The battle lines are being drawn around an event which provided
entertainment to about twenty thousand participants in 2005, and is
known to the people of Lahore as the Lahore Marathon. Watched by
millions of people and part of a network of marathons internationally,
the Lahore Marathon gave people from all walks of life an opportunity to
compete for some serious prize money. Unfortunately, religious parties
created a hue and cry about the fact that it was a 'mixed' race and that
Islam was in grave danger. So offended were these parties that they
subsequently attacked a women's marathon in Gujranwala a few months
later, and threatened to do so at any other marathon. Violating scores
of laws which outline punishment for such offensive and vile behaviour,
the offenders got away with a slap on the wrist, emboldening them even
more. This year the religious parties have issued an ultimatum to the
Punjab government that they will do 'anything' and 'everything' to
disrupt the Lahore Marathon if it is held. Why? Aren't there other
issues that these parties should be focusing on? Inflation? The cost of
petrol? Unemployment? The state of health care in the country? Is this
what their constituents sent them to parliament for? To orchestrate
violent attacks on peaceful citizens of the land? I think not.
The main problem that the rotund leaders of the MMA have with the
marathon is that it is a mixed race, and according to them it promotes
'nudity' and 'obscenity'. I haven't heard such a load of nonsense since
George W Bush's inaugural speech. Anyone who lives in Pakistan should
know that this is nonsense. As was seen in last year's marathon, women
participated in large numbers, as they should. Yet all of them were
wearing track pants and covered from head to toe -- there were lots of
girls who were wearing the hijab while they ran. I have yet to see any
form of 'nudity' on the streets of Pakistan except for men who insist on
urinating on the side of the road in broad daylight. Maybe there should
be an MMA drive in the offing to assault men who urinate on the roads?
This year the MMA has threatened to use any means to disrupt the Lahore
Marathon if it is not cancelled. The city of Lahore has been the centre
of enlightenment and culture for centuries, and its people have been
pivotal in making it what it is today -- a centre of learning, tolerance
and, as importantly, fun. In the darkest days of dictator Zia's
zealotry, the citizens of Lahore resisted the imposition of kill-joy
laws with great gusto. In more recent years, attempts by the MMA to
violently disrupt Basant festivities were met with equal violence from
the citizens of Old Lahore who collectively thrashed the MMA activists
and told them never to come back. Needless to say the MMA has not
attempted violence against the citizens of Old Lahore who take their
kite-flying very seriously.
Lahoris and Pakistanis, here's the thing with bullies -- if you don't
resist their attempts to impose whatever it is that they want, they will
keep coming at you. Today it is the marathon, tomorrow it will be
something else. Today they say that it is un-Islamic for men and women
to run in the same race, tomorrow they will say it is un-Islamic for men
and women to work together or go to school together. It is time to stand
up to them and there is no better way than to turn up on the 29th with
your families and support the race. There is nothing un-Islamic about
the marathon and if we look at Islamic history women have participated
in all facets of life including wars and sports. Just look at one of the
five pillars of Islam, the Hajj, where men and women travel together and
perform the Hajj together.
Obscenity is in the head and it seems that those opposed to the marathon
have pretty twisted imaginations which have brought them to oppose a
wholesome activity from which the proceeds are going to help earthquake
victims in the north of the country. It is time for average people to
push back at these bullies and thugs who are attempting to take us back
to the 10th century.
January 24, 2006
PAKISTAN: EVICTIONS IN KARACHI
by Fatima Bhutto
The issue here is not the Expressway, but the rights of the people. Not
simply their unalienable right to shelter, but also their right to
choose where they make their homes and their right to defend their
communities and resist forced resettlement. These forced evictions
affect all of us
It’s too early in the day to feel so disheartened; after all it’s only
one in the afternoon. I have just returned home, home being the
imperative word, after visiting three townships that will be demolished
to make way for the behemoth they call the Lyari Expressway. To build
this Expressway, they have already demolished 11,000 houses, all bearing
legal titles. Several thousand tax-paying commercial enterprises will
also be destroyed. These, however, are just figures. Behind them, there
is a human tragedy.
Earlier in the day we had passed a graveyard that dates back to the
early 19th century. It will be there no longer. An old man made his way
through the crowd of those gathered and said simply “I have just buried
my son here, and now they are going to take him away”. Even death is not
Why should it be, argues the government, when we can have a highway that
takes us faster from point A to point B and allows a neat profit in the
process (don’t ask them about the Northern Bypass, a road that does
exactly the same thing, without dispossessing entire communities).
Further away from the graveyard there is a mosque that has been home to
worshippers as far back as 1840. It is now in danger of being razed to
The Lyari Expressway is meant to run over the embankments of the Lyari
River, encroaching up to 100 feet on each side of the Lyari naddi. For
this, the area given to the Baloch of Karachi by the Khan of Kalat in
1780 must be vacated. This is not just land we are wiping off the map,
but also a part of the city’s heritage and history. Like preserving
Mohatta Palace and the Quaid’s mausoleum, it is necessary to preserve
these age-old communities that make up a legacy we owe to posterity. We
can’t just leave KFC and McDonalds for the future generations of
Pakistanis. Somehow I feel it wouldn’t be as meaningful.
The city of Karachi is home to more than 4.5 million people living in
slums or katchi abadis. Not all the slums are in the area that is to be
transformed into the Expressway. In fact, there are approximately 1,200
More than 16,740 houses have already been razed to the ground in what
the city government likes to euphemistically call the ‘clean up’
project. The terms ‘anti- encroachment drive’ and ‘beautification
scheme’ have also been used in an effort to sanitise what ultimately
amounts to acts of violence by the men and women elected to serve and
protect the citizens of Karachi.
Last week I visited a Hindu minority township, Prem Colony, not too far
from Gulshan-e-Iqbal, that has been bulldozed by government agencies.
Stepping out of my car, I had an out-of-body experience. I thought I was
in Muzaffarabad. Or Balakot. But I wasn’t. I was in the heart of
Karachi, and this catastrophe was of the man-made variety.
The residents of Prem Colony were lathi-charged by the police when they
tried to protest the brutality of their dispossession and the nazim,
Mustafa Kamal, continually refuses to meet them and hear their concerns.
I was among the people of the destroyed colony as they clamoured outside
the nazim’s office to seek an audience with his eminence. I was with
them as they sat on the pavement and patiently waited for an elected
official to address the hundreds of people rendered homeless by
bulldozers in the middle of one of Karachi’s coldest winters. I was
there for a long time.
I was with the men, women, and children of Prem Colony and Rahmatia
Colony when they were robbed of their right to the most basic of human
necessities - shelter. And I fear that I will be waiting with them this
week, and the next, and the next, and the week after that.
One invariably brings up the issue of compensation, as if to justify the
horrific lack of human concern brought on by the government agencies
behind these forced evictions. What little compensation has been given
to the people being displaced by the Lyari Expressway is far from
adequate. Only 8,000 families affected by the Expressway have been given
alternate plots of land to live on, and those plots are miles away from
their original communities, from their schools, and from their places of
work. And they are the lucky ones.
Many evacuees do not even have the offer of compensation or
resettlement. While the government can play hide and seek with its poor,
shifting them out of eyesight and constructing meagre shacks for them to
live in once their homes have been claimed, the one thing it cannot do
is compensate the dispossessed for their memories, their schools, their
graveyards, and their anger. Deliberately creating a refugee population
flies in the face of the development and progress the government claims
to be pursuing.
On the drive back home I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed as I passed
Karachi Zoo where even the animals have better homes than most of the
katchi abadi residents. I felt ashamed as I crossed the Teen Talwar
roundabout that was so spacious and so oblivious to the rest of the
city. And as the gates to my house opened I didn’t want to go inside. It
just seemed so wrong.
The issue here is not the Expressway, but the rights of the people. Not
simply their unalienable right to shelter, but also their right to
choose where they make their homes and their right to defend their
communities and resist forced resettlement. These forced evictions
affect all of us. In the basest terms, if it’s not your house and your
family today, it could be tomorrow.
We must take a stand now, before it’s too late for our society and its
people. We must, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the
world. Our city government’s casual approach to human life will not and
cannot stand any longer than it already has, we simply mustn’t allow it.
Those interested in more information should contact the Action Committee
for Civic Problems at 0214643592 or 03332159831. *
 SPEAKING UP FOR INDIA'S HUNGRY AND HOMELESS
The Hindustan Times
January 23, 2006
by Harsh Mander
Hunger lurks unseen and unacknowledged in millions of homes, not just in
the countryside but in the shadows of glittering cities. For millions of
people in India, hunger remains a way of life, unremitting and
unforgiving. Studies estimate that 80-200 million men, women and
children go to sleep hungry every night in our country.
While India is proud of its scientific inventions, tribal and rural
communities are silently inventing ways to survive. They have identified
local wild shrubs, weeds and tubers growing in forests and wastelands,
with no nutritional content, but with which they can fill their stomachs
to combat the insistent pangs of hunger. These pseudo-foods include also
waste like mango kernel. Some tubers are poisonous, but they are boiled
over and over again to enable for human consumption.
On desolate days when there is no grain in the house and no work, women,
and sometimes entire families, go foraging for food. They gather grain
fallen on fields that have been harvested or stale vegetables left waste
after the village market. Some eat rats. The most dispossessed
communities like the Musahars of Bihar and east UP search for undigested
grain even in cattle dung and field rat excreta.
The food that they gather, at times just a fistful, is boiled in a large
pot of water, sometimes with chilly powder and salt, to create the
illusion of plenty, and this is shared in the household. However, the
burden of hunger is not equally shared among members. First, the male
bread-winner is fed, then children and the elderly. The turn of women,
and sometimes also girls, comes only when all else have eaten. Women
have internalised the cultural values of intense self-denial when the
family lives with want.
Coping with hunger often places intolerable burdens on family ties.
Cities are full of men who migrate to pull rickshaws, break stones at
quarries, erect buildings or carry loads, and often sleep on the
streets. In all cities, the most arduous work is usually done by
migrants from states like Bihar. They live with intense loneliness,
low-paid exploitative labour, and a hard life on streets or shanties, so
that they can earn and save enough to send home to their families and
shield them from hunger. For a great many, the rigours of homelessness
is a choice they make because if they spend money on their own shelter,
how will their families back home survive?
Sometimes families migrate with their children. But when they do,
increasingly they leave old people behind to somehow survive on their
own or quietly die, unnoticed, unmourned. Many starvation deaths that I
have investigated have been of old people so abandoned. They beg for
food in the village. Often the man is too weak to move, so the old woman
moves around the village with her bowl. There are some who still try to
work bravely at fields, if anyone is willing to employ them. But usually
it is a battle for survival in which they are slowly, imperceptibly
vanquished. Women who are battered, abandoned or widowed face a similar
fate, but often with the further burden of feeding their small children.
There are other ways as well that hunger tears families apart. There are
sensationalised media stories periodically of children being sold in the
famine fields of Orissa or Chhattisgarh for a pittance. But most often,
the real motivation of parents is to send children to situations in
which at least their food and survival is secured. Sometimes, the child
himself makes the choice of leaving a home in endemic want. Many street
children have confided that they chose to leave home not because of
abuse, but simply because there was not enough food for all to eat. They
reasoned that one less mouth to feed would mean more food for their
siblings, and they courageously hit the streets alone often at ages as
low as seven years.
Hunger in indigent households often also means letting a child fend for
herself, through labour in factories or eating establishments. In cities
very young children, left to fend for themselves, learn to beg at places
of worship or traffic lights. But as they grow older they diversify
into rag-picking or selling water and sweeping floors of train
compartments. Many are sexually abused, and some learn early to sell
their bodies for money or food. Others are sent by their parents from
their villages to work as domestic help or in tea stalls and dhabas.
It is intensely painful to see one’s own children fitful and anguished
with hunger. Musahar women said that it is hardest when the children are
very small. As they weep endlessly, mothers lace their fingers with
opium or tobacco to put the child to slumber. As they grow older, they
sometimes beat them if they complain but mostly they tell them that they
must learn to live with hunger, as this will remain all their lives.
The hunger of city streets, camouflaged in the glare of street lights,
is often the most lonely, because on these streets live children, single
women, old and disabled people and homeless mentally ill people, are
ruptured from even the protection of their families. I have met on
Delhi’s freezing winter streets children high on smack or ‘solution’. It
is all that makes the cold, the hunger, the brutality and the loneliness
of life on the streets bearable.
There are usually some options to living with hunger in the countryside,
but these are the cruel ones of debt and bondage. The money-lender is
always there in times of need, but the rates of interest that he charges
are frequently upwards from 5 per cent per month compound. If there is
no land to pledge, the only asset of the hungry is their bodies. These
are given in bondage, which remain rampant even though bonded labour has
long been outlawed. I have met men who have lived 40 years in bondage;
others have received this as an inheritance from their parents and may
pass these on to their children.
Bondage may also be annual in return for an advance in the cruel summers
of want and empty grain stores. In return, entire families migrate to
brick kilns, quarries and construction sites. Older children work long
hours, side by side with their parents. Younger children are left to
tend infants, who are starved of the regular breast feeding that they
require from their nursing mothers, since creches at work sites are
rare, despite being required by law.
We stereotype and stigmatise these coping strategies in many ways. Lazy
beggars, dirty unauthorised migrants, rat-eating Dalits, street kids in
petty crime. We wilfully deny the courage, resilience, compassion,
self-denial of many of these strategies to survive the greatest odds
In recent years, the mounting agrarian crisis has thrust even farmers to
the brink. They are succumbing to the loneliest of defeats in the battle
against hunger, by ending their lives. Suicides are growing into an
epidemic in the Indian countryside. It is a harrowing act of terminal
despair. Living with hunger has become, for increasing numbers of our
people, too difficult to bear.
Right to Food Campaign Secretariat
New Delhi, 8th January 2006
STATEMENT OF THE STEERING COMMITTEE OF THE RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN
The decision of the Central Government to reduce the entitlement and
increase the prices for food grain supply under PDS is a direct attack
on the food security of all Indians especially the poor. Even Antyodaya
Anna Yojana beneficiaries who are on the brink of starvation have not
been spared. This cruel and unprecedented move comes at a time when a
family is entitled to a measly 35 kilos per month compared to an average
family cereal need of at least 60 kilos (NSSO Data 60th round). Now the
government wants to reduce this allotment drastically.
It was felt that such a decision would immediately hit the poorest 70%
of the Indian population who are already living on less than the minimum
nutritional standards (NSSO 60th Round, Utsa Patnaik) fixed by the
Planning Commission way back in 1979. It was also felt that the UPA
Government has already gone back on its own commitment in the Common
Minimum Programme to strengthen the PDS. The committee also felt that
this anti poor step was also violation of the spirit of the Supreme
Court Orders on the RTF Case pending before the Supreme Court.
It was stated that the government is out to further finish the food
subsidy under the directions of the unholy trio of the World Bank, IMF
and WTO and leave India’s poor to the mercy of the markets and the
The steering committee also condemns the manner in which the Delhi
police inflicted violence on the NFIW activists who were carrying out a
peaceful protest against the cut in the PDS quota and hike in PDS prices
on 7th January. It indicates the concerted onslaught on the PDS and
Farmers Support Programme.
The Steering Committee demands transparency from the cabinet and would
like to know both the basis of this decision and purpose this money is
being diverted for.
The RTFC in its recently organised II National Convention held in
Kolkata had reaffirmed its commitment for a effective, corruption free
and a Universal PDS. Thus the campaign will continue to struggle for
this and oppose tooth and nail at the District, State and National level
this recent decision of the GOI of reduction in quota and the hike in
rates. We will also agitate for a upward revision of the ridiculously
low poverty line of less than 11 rupees per person per day.
The RTFC appeals to the people to take to the streets to oppose this
anti poor step of the UPA government.
Aruna Roy, Colin Gonsalvez, Jean Dreze, Kavita Srivastava, Paul Diwakar,
Madhuri Krishnaswamy, Vinod Raina, Subhash Bhatnagar, Sandeep Pandey,
Soumen Ray, Balram
Steering Committee of Right to Food Campaign
Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS)
Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
Jan Swasthay Abhiyaan (JSA)
National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)
National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR)
National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR)
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)
National Campaign Committee for Rural Worker (NCC-RW)
National Campaign Committee for Constructional Labourer (NCC-RW)
National Alliance Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE)
People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan (PUCL)
Right to Food Campaign - Madhya Pradesh & West Bengal Network for Right
to Food and Work
Jan 28, 2006
RIGHT TO FOOD
NO APPETITE FOR HUNGER
by Jayati Ghosh
The mandate of the Lok Sabha elections last year is clear: People have
rejected policies that reduce job opportunities and access to quality
public goods and services, writes economist Jayati Ghosh
Throughout the 1990s and even subsequently, there have been attempts to
raise user charges of public services and utilities relevant for
farmers, such as irrigation water charges, power (used to run pump sets
for ground water extraction) and the like. While these measures are
typically under the control of state governments, the fiscal crunch of
such state governments (itself a reflection of neo-liberal taxation
policies and curbs on state borrowing) and the general atmosphere of
reducing subsidies led many state governments to increase various user
charges, especially for power, to agricultural consumers. The farmers’
backlash across India, expressed both through street mobilisation and
more recently through electoral verdicts for central and state
government legislatures, has tended to reverse these measures at least
as far as power tariffs are concerned.
However, Indian farmers are far from being protected from rising input
costs of various kinds, and the actual subsidies received by them are
negative. The product-specific support for most important crops has
actually been substantially negative, and this more than outweighs any
minor benefits from the non-product specific support.
The impact of trade liberalisation on farmers’ welfare works through
various channels such as volatile prices, problems in imports and
exports, impact on livelihood and other employment opportunities, etc.
For farmers, perhaps, the single most adverse effect has been the
combination of low prices and output volatility for cash crops. While
output volatility increased especially with new seeds and other inputs,
the prices of most non-foodgrain crops weakened, and some prices, such
as those of cotton and oilseeds, plummeted for prolonged periods. This
reflected not only domestic demand conditions but also the growing role
played by international prices consequent upon greater integration with
world markets in this sector. These features in turn were associated
with growing material distress among cultivators.
In a closed economy, lower output is normally accompanied by some price
increase. Therefore, coincidence of lower production with lower terms of
trade was very rare until recently. The pattern of lower prices
accompanying relatively lower output reflected the effect of the growing
integration of Indian agriculture with world markets, resulting from
trade liberalisation. As both exports and imports of agricultural
products were progressively freed, international price movements were
more closely reflected in domestic trends. The stagnation or decline in
the international prices of many agricultural commodities from 1996
onwards meant that their prices in India also fell, despite local
declines in production. This was not always because of actual imports
into the country: The point about openness is that the possibility of
imports or exports can be enough to affect domestic prices at the
margin. However, imports also did increase.
The combination of liberalised trade and reduced protection of other
kinds led to increased levels of exports and imports of agricultural
commodities. While exports increased in dollar terms, so did imports,
and so the trade balance shows no particular trend. However, the
relatively steady increase in the total value of agricultural exports
masks a range of differing forces which affected this value. From
1999-2000 onwards, some of the export growth is actually a form of
distress sale at the macro economic level, as the publicly held stocks
of foodgrains were sought to be disposed of through subsidised exports.
There were very sharp fluctuations in the unit value of exports because
of very volatile international prices. So changes in export volume were
necessary to ensure some degree of stability in total export values.
While the falling viability of cultivation has been an important reason
for this, the collapse of rural employment opportunities, especially in
agriculture but also in non-agriculture, has also been a major factor in
the pervasive agrarian distress. The National Sample Survey on
Employment and Unemployment, of which the 55th round was held in
1999-2000, indicates a dramatic decline in the rate of employment
generation in the latest period. The rate of growth of employment,
defined in terms of the Current Daily Status (which is a flow measure of
the extent of jobs available) declined from 2.7 per cent per year in the
period 1983-94 to only 1.07 per cent per year in 1994-2000 for all of
India. This refers to all forms of employment — casual, part-time,
self-employment, everything. For permanent or secure jobs, the rate of
increase was close to zero.
In rural areas, the decline in all employment growth was even sharper,
from 2.4 per cent in the previous period to less than 0.6 per cent over
1994-2000. This included all forms of employment, as principal or
subsidiary activity and for part days work. This was well below the rate
of growth of population. In both rural and urban areas, the absolute
number of unemployed increased substantially, and the rate of
unemployment went up as well. The daily status unemployment rate in
rural India as a whole increased from 5.63 per cent in 1993-94 to 7.21
per cent in 1999-00, and was more than 15 per cent in some states. In
addition to this, there was a sharp decline in the rate of growth of
labour force. More people declared themselves to be not in the labour
force, possibly driven to this by the shortage of jobs...
Some of this was because of the decline in public spending on rural
employment programmes since the mid-1990s. As a percentage of GDP,
expenditure on both rural wage employment programmes and special
programmes for rural development declined from the mid-1990s. The total
central allocation for rural wage employment programmes was already only
0.4 per cent of GDP in 1995-6, but it declined to a minuscule 0.13
percent of GDP in 2000-2001.
This is probably why employment generation has emerged as not only the
most important socio-economic issue in the country today, but also the
most pressing political concern. The mandate of the Lok Sabha elections
in 2004 is clear on this: The people of the country have decisively
rejected policies that have implied reduced employment opportunities and
reduced access to quality of public goods and services. This has led to
the demand for and subsequent formulation of a National Rural Employment
Guarantee Act, under which the central government would guarantee the
provision of 100 days employment for every rural household, for a range
of public works.
The writer is Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU.
Excerpted from the sixth Freedom from Hunger Lecture organised by
Centre for Environment and Food Security, New Delhi
The Times of India
January 10, 2005
DEATH DEVOURS THE HOMELESS
by Bharat Dogra
A social system is best judged by the care it provides to vulnerable
groups. Therefore, a city should be judged by the care it provides to
its homeless. The remorseless cold wave has already claimed the lives of
many on the streets.
Several people are eager to donate blankets and woollens. Each such gift
is welcome, but a much more sustained and broad-based effort is also
needed to address the basic needs of the homeless.
The administration wakes up to the inadequacies of night shelters only
when a cold wave is at its peak. No matter how bad the situation, the
authorities can minimise damage by starting temporary shelters as early
as possible. Even half-way measures like providing tents and serving hot
food at places where the homeless are concentrated can save several lives.
Citizens' groups can make an important contribution by helping in such
efforts, even initiating them. They can remind the
administration of its responsibility towards the vulnerable.
Public buildings, or parts of such buildings, can be opened at night
to provide shelter.Generous individuals with spare housing or office
space can also make such a beginning, as also school and college
managements as well as religious or charitable institutions.
While such steps need to be taken on an emergency basis, long-term
commitments are no less important. The homeless are in desperate need of
shelter during the monsoons — a downpour that lasts just half an hour
can ruin a pavement-dweller's night.
Ask homeless night shift workers how badly they need a day shelter in
summer for protection from heat wave conditions.
While attention is drawn to the plight of the homeless only in winter,
their need for shelter is of a permanent nature. There are about three
million urban homeless people in India; existing night shelters are able
to meet the needs of less than 5 per cent of them.
The number of urban homeless people may actually be much higher if the
category of 'precariously housed' people is also included — people whose
housing is so inadequate as to be almost non-existent.
Government policies have, in fact, been working at a feverish pace to
increase the number of homeless. These policies include remorseless
evictions of slum dwellers as well as the larger failure to facilitate
affordable housing for the poor.
In a predominantly rural country like India, the homelessness in cities
is also linked to the failure to reduce poverty in the villages. Instead
of helping the poor, government policies have unleashed massive
displacement of tens of thousands of villagers.
Whether it is the recent police firing in Orissa on tribals protesting
against displacement, or the injustice meted to the evictees of Narmada
dams, these processes contribute to rising numbers of the homeless.
Well-intentioned organisations grappling with problems of homelessness
need broad-based help from citizens. Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan has tried to
mobilise such support in Delhi. Support from lawyers and students helped
rescue hundreds of homeless people thrown into beggars' homes.
Appalling anti-begging (or vagrancy) laws are in operation in most parts
of the country. These define begging in such a broad way as to brand any
poor and homeless person as a beggar.
They can be imprisoned for long periods under trying conditions. In many
cases the unfortunate victims don't get a chance to even inform their
family members where they have vanished.
Over the years, infrastructure in the form of beggars' homes of various
kinds has been created. This is a highly corrupt system and to keep it
running a steady stream of real or imaginary beggars need to be arrested.
Lakhs of homeless people live in constant dread of being picked up to
fill these beggars' homes. This is apart from the intimidation they face
from the police and anti-social elements.
The homeless need policies that further a range of welfare tasks — from
health clinics and drug de-addiction centres to literacy and community
kitchens — in an integrated manner. The rain basera or night shelter can
be a suitable location for many such activities involving volunteers.
The writer is a journalist.
o o o
RIGHTS GROUPS APPEAL OVER RISING NUMBERS OF HOMELESS IN DELHI
As we find ourselves in the midst of a particularly severe winter –
January 8, 2006 witnessed the lowest temperature recorded in Delhi since
1935 – the need for decisive action to ease the suffering of Delhi’s
homeless has never been more acute.
This sense of urgency, tragically, has remained conspicuously absent
from the response of the city’s relevant municipal authorities. This is
evident in the fact that the most recent official effort to document the
extent of homelessness in Delhi occurred 1991 as part of the Census of
India. Given that the numbers of homeless has been expanding inexorably
ever since, largely due to government policies and actions, the 1991
figure of approximately 29,000 homeless that continues to be cited by
authorities is a gross underestimation of the reality of the situation.
Equally shocking is the lack of official data with regard to the number
of homeless women in the nation’s capital. The diligent work of civil
society organizations such as Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan has helped to fill
the gap created by the present information vacuum.
* According to unofficial estimates, there are nearly 1 lakh
homeless on any given day in Delhi.
* There are, at present: 12 permanent shelters, 16 temporary
shelters, 4 porta-cabins and 22 temporary tents available for use by
* At maximum capacity these shelters offer accommodation to 6,200
individuals, leaving the remaining 94% to fend for themselves on the
streets of Delhi.
* Unofficial estimates indicate that there are, at any given time,
10,000 homeless women in Delhi.
* At present, however, there are only 3 shelters available for use
by homeless women that, at maximum capacity, are capable of
accommodating roughly 100 women, or 0.1% of Delhi’s total estimated
population of homeless women.
Women and Homelessness
Although the state of being homeless presents an undeniably harsh and
unforgiving reality for anyone, especially during the winter months, it
is women and children who tend to experience more acutely the adverse
impacts of the lack of adequate shelter. Homeless women are not only
exposed to the increased risk of illness and starvation associated with
life on the street, but also heightened vulnerability to physical and
sexual violence. Furthermore, though the vast majority of the homeless
population is undoubtedly male, the actual number of homeless women
tends to be grossly underestimated.
An examination of the conditions of existing permanent night shelters
further elucidates both the gross negligence of the Municipal
Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC)
and the Government of Delhi, as well as their continued derogation from
the responsibility to help care for the most vulnerable segments of
society. These shelters are characterized by a state of general
disrepair and, in the most egregious of cases, are grossly inadequate
and unsanitary. Forced to use these shelters due to a lack of available
alternatives, many of the homeless frequently complain of a lack of
water, medical facilities, storage facilities, insufficient or
inadequately functioning toilets, mistreatment and abuse at the hands of
MCD staff and police, and filthy and unwashed bedding.
As a meager concession, given the recent drop in temperature, the
Government of Delhi has set up 22 tents for use as temporary shelters
throughout the city. According to Ram Kishan, Project Officer for Ashray
Adhikar Abhiyan, however, “the tents provided by the government [of
Delhi] are mostly constructed of poor quality material, often with
gaping holes. They are, by and large, flimsy and crude, and do not
provide adequate protection from the cold and rain.” Lacking adequate
space, the tents are often severely overcrowded as well. Apart from
being generally uninhabitable in a conventional sense, these tents also
fail to satisfy any of the criteria for adequacy dictated by numerous
international human rights instruments, including the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the
Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), whose
provisions India is legally obliged to implement.
Violations of International and National Legal Obligations
The obligation to provide adequate housing and care for the most
vulnerable segments of society is explicitly articulated in multiple
municipal legislations, various provisions of the Indian Constitution,
and numerous international human rights instruments. The current lack of
sufficient and adequate shelter, together with the continued inaction on
the part of the relevant authorities to address the situation,
therefore, amounts to a fundamental derogation from such
responsibilities and a glaring violation of the human rights of the
homeless. Indeed, Chapter 3, section 12, subsection (1) of the NDMC Act
1994 clearly includes as a function of the NDMC: “The construction and
maintenance of rest houses, poor houses, infirmaries, children’s
homes…shelters for destitute and disabled persons…”
In order to gauge the commitment among authorities to improving the
current situation of homelessness, one need only consider the number of
people who have been summarily evicted from their homes in Delhi’s
recent past. From February to April 2004, municipal authorities oversaw
the eviction of some 1,30,000 people from their homes in Yamuna Pushta
as part of a campaign of “urban renewal”. Adding insult to injury, only
16% of those evicted were considered eligible for compensation or
rehabilitation of any kind. With no alternative housing or recourse
available, a vast majority were forced into a state of abject
homelessness. Once on the street these victims of “city beautification”
find themselves the further targets of a repressive legal and regulatory
framework that - through such laws as the Bombay Prevention of Begging
Act, 1959 – aims to push further to the periphery of society groups that
have already endured severe historic marginalization.
Furthermore, the continued practice of summary and forced evictions
stands in contravention of the UPA Government’s Common Minimum Programme
(CMP), which provides that “Forced eviction and demolition of slums will
be stopped and while undertaking urban renewal, care will be taken to
see that the urban and semi-urban poor are provided housing near their
place of occupation.”
Referring to the human rights implications of the current situation of
homelessness, Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of
the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, stated that “The
recurrent phenomenon of homelessness in the capital of the country
demonstrates for all to see, the failure of governance at all levels of
authority. The inability of the local, state and central government to
reduce homelessness is a violation of the human rights accorded to the
residents of Delhi by our Constitution and numerous international
instruments ratified by India.”
Given the overwhelming lack of adequate shelter for the homeless in
Delhi and the growing incidence of homeless, it is imperative that the
Delhi government and relevant municipal authorities undertake the following:
* Pursue all available measures, in the interim, to expand the
number of accommodations available that satisfy criteria for adequacy,
including the provision of basic civic amenities such as water and
sanitation, for use by the homeless during the winter months.
* Improve upon and render more structurally sound, sanitary and
weather-resistant all existing structures, including tents.
* Undertake immediately an official survey in order to determine
accurately the current number of homeless in Delhi and their living
* Increase urgently the number of shelters available for women and
children and address their particular concerns and vulnerabilities in
the development of relevant homelessness policies.
* In the long-term, abandon the wholly inadequate practice of
providing tents during the winter months – more likely intended as a
measure to divert further public scrutiny and media attention – in favor
of more concrete and enduring solutions, such as the construction of
additional shelters, or the identification of existing municipal
structures that can be used for this purpose.
Of particular importance is the need for government authorities to
address the underlying causes and structural origins of homelessness,
for it is by way of such an analysis that the most meaningful, effective
and substantive strategies may be evolved for coping with this crisis.
These may include migration caused by diminishing rural livelihoods and
economic opportunities, the lack of equitable land reform, social
persecution, development induced displacement resulting from the
construction of dams and other infrastructure-related projects, rural
land alienation, forced evictions, drought and famine, domestic
violence, and child abuse, to name but a few. Critical to any effort to
combat homelessness is the need for a human rights approach to inform
both our understanding of its causes, as well as the development of
possible short-term and long-term solutions, including specific measures
needed to protect the rights of particular groups such as women and
For further information and interviews please contact:
Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights; mkothari at hic-sarp.org +91(0)11
24358492, +91 (0) 9810642122
Malavika Vartak, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN);
malavikav at gmail.com +91 (0) 9313900378
Shivani Chaudhry, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN);
schaudhry at hic-sarp.org +91 (0) 24358492, +91 (0)9818205234
Ram Kishan, Project Officer, Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan;
ramkishan2000 at gmail.com +91 (0) 22481609, +91 (0) 9868254869
Housing and Land Rights Network
B-28 Nizamuddin East,
New Delhi 110013
Tel./Fax: +91 11 24358492
The Christian Science Monitor
January 24, 2006
INDIA HISTORY SPAT HITS US
California educators have unleashed debate with textbook revisions.
By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
NEW DELHI – In the halls of Sacramento, a special commission is
rewriting Indian history: debating whether Aryan invaders conquered the
subcontinent, whether Brahman priests had more rights than untouchables,
and even whether ancient Indians ate beef.
That this seemingly arcane Indian debate has spilled over into
California's board of education is a sign of the growing political
muscle of Indian immigrants and the rising American interest in Asia.
The foes - who include established historians and Hindu nationalist
revisionists - are familiar to each other in India. But America may
increasingly become their new battlefield as other US states follow
California in rewriting their own textbooks to bone up on Asian history.
At stake, say scholars who include some of the most elite historians on
India, may be a truthful picture of one of the world's emerging powers -
one arrived at by academic standards of proof rather than assertions of
national or religious pride.
"Some of the groups involved here are not qualified to write textbooks,
they do not draw lines between myth and history," says Anu Mandavilli,
an Indian doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California,
and activist against the Hindu right. Speaking of one of the groups, the
Vedic Foundation in Austin, Texas, she adds, "On their website, they
claim that Hindu civilization started 111.5 trillion years ago. That
makes Hinduism billions of years older than the Big Bang." (The
assertion has since been pulled from the site.)
"It would be ridiculous if it weren't so dangerous."
Revisionist debates hot in many nations
Communities use history to define themselves - their core ideals,
achievements, and grudges. Small wonder, then, that history is
frequently reevaluated as political pendulums shift, or as
long-oppressed minority groups finally get their say. History, and
efforts to revise it, have touched off recent controversies between
Japan and its neighbors over its World War II past, as well as between
France and its former colonies over the portrayal of imperialism.
Here in India, Hindu nationalists have pushed forcefully for revisionism
after what they see as centuries of cultural domination by the British
Raj and Muslim Mogul Empire.
Instigating the California debate were two US-based Hindu groups with
long ties to Hindu nationalist parties in India. One, the Vedic
Foundation, is a small Hindu sect that aims at simplifying Hinduism to
the worship of one god, Vishnu. The other, the Hindu Education
Foundation (HEF), was founded in 2004 by a branch of the right-wing
Indian group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
This year, as California's Board of Education commissioned and put up
for review textbooks to be used in its 6th-grade classrooms, these two
groups came forward with demands for substantial changes.
Textbooks did have glaring mistakes
Some of the changes were no-brainers. One section said, incorrectly,
that the Hindi language is written in Arabic script. One photo caption
misidentified a Muslim as a Brahman priest.
But instead of focusing on such errors, the groups took steps to add
their own nationalist imprint to Indian history.
In one edit, the HEF asked the textbook publisher to change a sentence
describing discrimination against women in ancient society to the
following: "Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women."
In another edit, the HEF objected to a sentence that said that Aryan
rulers had "created a caste system" in India that kept groups separated
according to their jobs. The HEF asked this to be changed to the
following: "During Vedic times, people were divided into different
social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular
Tariq Ali Lecture
Democracy or Dictatorship of Capital
25 January 2006 @ 9.15 pm
JNU, New Delhi
o o o o
South Asian Journalists Association, New York Chapter and the Rubin
Museum of Art present a panel discussion...
Himalayan Hotspots: Kashmir Earthquake
with S. Asif Alam, president of AOPP, Association of Pakistani
Professionals; Suleman Din, reporter, Star Ledger; and Ken Bacon,
president of Refugees International
on Wednesday, Januray 25
at 7 pm
at Rubin Museum of Art, 150 West 17 Street, New York NY 10011
o o o o
Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference, Jun 2006
The 16th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of
Australia (ASAA) (coombs.anu.edu.au/ASAA/) will be held at the
University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia from 26 - 29 June 2006.
This is a reminder that the Call for Papers closes on 3 February 2006.
The organisers of the conference ask that you send abstracts and brief
profiles to Margaret Hanlon (meh43--at--uow.edu.au)
"Conference Theme - The conference is titled 'Asia Reconstructed: from
critiques of development to postcolonial studies' and aims to examine
governance, society, culture, history, education, language, law,
technology, and the arts. The themes of the conference are: * The
Critique of Development; * Governance and Citizenship; * Labour and
Social Transformation; * Forms of Knowledge; * Language and
Interculturality; * The Clash of Fundamentalisms; * National and
Transnational Legal Issues; * The Role of Technology; * New and Old
Arts; * Asia and World History; * Postcolonialism; * Australia-South
Asia Links: History and Culture; * The Neo-Liberal Challenge."
Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.
More information about the Sacw