Monthly Archives: January 2010

Gays Will Cause “Whole Defense System of the Nation To Collapse”

One of the most interesting features of India’s legal system is the right of every Indian to appeal directly to the Supreme Court on any issue they feel threatens them or goes against the constitution. It’s part of a set-up designed to give even the poorest, and in one judge’s words, the most “bewildered” citizens the opportunity to challenge injustice.

Sadly, as a report in Frontline makes clear, this system has become gradually dominated by people who can afford to make multiple trips to Delhi to make their case and, if they really want to win, can afford the hyper-expensive lawyers who know what they’re doing. Only about 2% of cases are now direct petitions, and almost none are heard, compared with about 10% of cases in the 1970s, of which over half were heard.

On a more amusing note, these mechanisms can result in some pretty crazy petitions being put forward to the court. Take the petitions against last year’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality, which I recently took a look through at a Delhi lawyer’s office.

Among the 14 petitioners is Yoga Guru Swami Baba Ramdev, who is estimated to have 80 million followers around the world (one of whom gifted him an island off the west coast of Scotland last year which he renamed Peace Island). The guru believes that homosexuality is an unnatural vice that can be cured. Part of his petition reads: “Since, in the case of anal sex, artificial lubrication is required, therefore this by any stretch of the imagination could not be termed natural.” Solid reasoning there.

Another comes from the Inter-Faith Group of Indian Citizens, based in New Delhi, who fear that liberalised sexuality will lead youths to “become the target of the mafia”, increasing the risk of “anarchy, drug culture [and] terrorism.”

My favourite is Suresh Kumar Kaushal, a newspaper astrologer, whose petition argues that the new-found freedom to engage in homosexuality will be dangerously misused within the armed forces “by superior officers against their subordinates … [and] if this be the conditions, the whole defense system of the nation will collapse.”

A good excuse, I think, to relive the Brass Eye expose on gays in the navy:

The Supreme Court is set to decide on these arguments in March (the petitions, not whether gays attract sharks), although it is expected to follow the government’s tacit acceptance of gay rights by simply delaying any decision and avoiding the uproar that would result from making a clear decision one way or the other.

Watch this space to see if that results in an apocalyptic explosion of mafia/anarchist/terrorist hell being unleashed…

Tamil Tiger Send Bomb to Indian Embassy

DNA is reporting that a bomb was sent to the Indian Embassy in Rome with the sender’s address marked as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan insurgent group which was defeated by the government last year.

The letter bomb apparently arrived on 20 January, and the news comes the day before hotly contested elections in Sri Lanka. India was controversially involved in the Sri Lankan struggle in the past. Official Indian policy has been torn between the need to appease its own Tamil community in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the wish for a stable and peaceful neighbour and its support for Sri Lanka’s brutal counter-insurgency tactics, which it hopes to emulate against its Maoist problem. India joined with Pakistan and China last May in blocking European attempts to launch a probe into alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan authorities with UN Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, the people of Sri Lanka go to the polls facing a ridiculous choice between the president who won the war and the general who fought it – neither of which are likely to ensure a better deal for the Tamils in the future.

If the report is true about a bomb at the Indian Embassy in Rome, then it’s a bizarre choice of venue. The LTTE retains a structure outside of Sri Lanka, and is angry at the diplomatic support offered the Indians to their enemies in Colombo, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

Russia Still Getting the Lion’s Share of India’s Military Spending

India is on a massive military spending spree at the moment and for all the talk of the special relationship being developed with the US, its Russia that are getting the biggest spoils. Last week, they announced an imminent deal for 29 MIG-29k worth $1.2 billion. The two countries are also on the verge of signing a $8-10 billion deal to jointly develop Russia’s new PAK-FA T-50, which is expected to rival the US’ planned F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (not sure what the makers of that website were thinking with their font – trying to cheery up the fact that it’s going to be most “lethal aircraft ever used” I guess).


PAK-FA T-50 promotional video. Includes lovely uplifting music.

Part of the advantage of continuing to deal with the Russians is that deals don’t come with all the baggage that the US piles on. Last week’s visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was seen as more proof of their close ties, but behind the stirring speeches, the two countries are finding it difficult to make agreements stick.

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Naxalites: What Exactly Will We See?

The BBC is reporting that a major offensive has been launched against Maoist leaders.

“We want to drive them into a headless condition, so we will go after the leadership,” [Home Minister P Chidambaran] said, “but we don’t want a Sri Lanka-type operation that could cause much collateral damage to innocent civilians. So we are specifically targeting the Maoist leadership and you will see a lot of special operations based on specific intelligence.”

This is pretty poor counter-insurgency theory to be coming from the man who is supposed to be the sharpest and most effective member of the Indian cabinet. If ever there was a group that epitomised the popular uprising model of insurgency, then the Maoists are surely it. As I wrote a couple of days ago, this movement is the product of very genuine grievances among the poor: deprivation, brutality, theft, oppression – you name the bad-sounding word and the dalits and adivasis that make up the Naxalite constituency have experienced it.

So it should come as no surprise to the government that their plan to decapitate the regime will have absolutely no long-term effect on the strength of the movement. Or at least, no adverse effect. It might create new martyrs and grievances that give it further strength, and this strategy seems designed to keep all the root causes of the violence intact.

Unfortunately, this does not matter because the government’s forces are unlikely to stick to the plan so objectively reported by the Beeb. Far from limiting themselves to actionable intelligence and careful targeting of individuals, the security forces have long made a habit of roaming through villages murdering anyone thought to be a Maoist sympathiser. Reports of disgusting violence, rape and torture are common from these scenes of combat – often, for some god-forsaken reason, featuring young children with their fingers cut off. The alleged sympathisers are generally people that have been forced to seek the protection of (often brutal) Maoist cadres as their only protection against a rapacious state, or because they provide a semblance of administration where there is none.

Do these offensives have anything to do with defeating the Maoists, in which case they are very poorly conceived, or are they really motivated by the need to remove obstacles to economic progress – in this case, poor tribal people that happen to be in the way of very valuable minerals? Minerals which have already been signed away to foreign multi-nationals and dealt on futures markets.

The government knows the score - its own panel of experts told it as much in 2008. I’ve linked this before and I think I’ll keep doing so because chapter 3 gives such an excellent run-through of the myriad failings of the state and its absolute responsibility for the violence occurring in India’s poorest regions.

So, we are left with two choices: Either the government genuinely cares about the Maoist threat and is implementing a completely wrong-headed approach to its counter-insurgency campaign; or it doesn’t care at all about the violence enacted on the poor in these states and is going on a killing spree dressed up as intelligence-led counter-terrorism. Hard to find much hope there.

The most ridiculous part of Chidambaram’s statement, however, are actually the words “you will see”, because the chances are the wider world will see nothing of these operations. Journalists are barred from Maoist areas with a ruthlessness that would impress even the Israel Defence Forces. Perhaps the BBC will print some more glowing reports of success from Mr Chidambaram when it’s done.

Sui-Glide Bombers

India spends a great deal of time being tensed for another terrorist attack but there has been some serious tightening of late, with a slew of reports in recent months letting everyone know they will all be blown up in some way or another very soon.

Clearly, the threat is real. India experienced a 2009 free from Pakistan-sourced terrorism (although plenty of Maoist and separatist violence), but Pakistan’s failure to effectively clamp down on militants in its midst means there are plenty of people itching for another high-profile attack. Today, security was heightened at airports amid claims that Lashkar-e-Toiba was planning to hit an airline, and just a few days ago arrested militant Amjad Khwaja, of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islam, told interrogators something similar.

But is it just me catching a waft of the ridiculous about today’s other big announcement: that LeT militants have bought 50 paragliders in Germany for use in a suicide attack. I know we live in an age where terrorists are forced to resort to shoving the explosives in their underpants or even up their arse, but there is something just a little bit silly about picturing these guys learning how to paraglide, especially since the only paragliding instructors I’ve met have been irritating Live-for-the-Rush hippies. On the other hand, if they can get hold of someone like Patrick Swayze in Point Break, then they might be on to something…

[I'm ready to eat my words - assymetric enemies are nothing if not speedy innovators, after all]

India-Pakistan: New Toys and Bad Sports

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been in South Asia, highlighting the precarious balancing act that his government is currently attempting there. He was first in India, threatening Pakistan that another terrorist attack there will be a step too far. Then he crosses the border into Pakistan where he finally accedes to the army’s long-standing request for drone aircraft. Of course, it’s not de rigeur in that country to be accepting presents from Americans so they have to play down any excitement about the new toys being sent their way – an excitement which might partly be driven by the prospect of being able to use them against the Indians. Oh, what an incredible tangle is being weaved here – and that’s without even mentioning Afghanistan. If the Americans can pull any of this off, it will be a miracle.

My favourite op-ed on all this was in the Hindustan Times yesterday, where Ashok Malik argued that India’s development had made it impossible to either send in the tanks or strike up a friendly relationship with its embattled neighbour, a lesson learned in the abortive build-up of 2002:

India realised its autonomy had been curtailed. That was the price for growing up — as an economy, as a nuclear power, as a nation. Fortuitously, it was in about 2002 that the Indian economy pressed on the accelerator … Today, the western neighbour is treated more with condescension than antipathy.

Having moved on, India would like to ignore Pakistan, preferring to engage “in a two-horse race with China, not in a two-mule derby with Pakistan.” But it’s hard to make a clean break when the diplomatic establishment in Pakistan does not represent the real power-brokers there. How does one go about getting through to the mysterious cabal of intelligence officers that actually have influence in Pakistan?

This track tends towards a very benign view of India as a mature, reasoned actor frustrated in its dedication to peace and only really interested in improving its economic prospects.

However, even if we ignore the fact that economic liberalisation seems to have actually worsened the status of the poor over the past two decades (once the stats are de-rigged), then there is still India’s absolute intransigence over Kashmir, for which it seems unable to even contemplate the beginnings of a resolution. Despite India removing two divisions in late 2009 (or did they?), it remains the most militarised border in the world, and the government brooks no dissent on its sovereign right to the whole territory.

Why not? India has proved quite successful at keeping order in Kashmir, albeit of the boot-on-neck variety, in recent years.

But how do we reconcile the story of India’s supposed maturing into an esteemed international actor with the flatulently moronic scenes witnessed at this week’s IPL cricketers auction, in which some sort of background pressure meant that not one team made a single bid for any Pakistani player (even the really, really good ones). Perhaps there was no government meddling, perhaps it does not reflect deeply ingrained bigotry – two charges that have been levelled at the IPL this week - but whatever the facts, they do not say much for the maturity of India’s attitudes towards its sibling.

Naxalites: Some Different Approaches

Apologies – posts have been light while I settle in the freezing, foggy building site that is Delhi.

I’m turning my attentions to Naxalites and starting to collate a list of events that I will publish on this blog when it takes some form. Although the TV media tends to see this in horrendously Bushian, black-and-white terms of terrorists trying to overthrow the state, there are some excellent articles being published, not least this one from Tehelka from last week about how journalists and activists are being prevented from monitoring the government’s anti-Maoist military campaign, Operation Green Hunt, which was launched last November.

What follows are some general thoughts from things I’ve been reading over the past couple of days, which I’ll hopefully build into something a bit more organised as time goes on. The Naxalite movement remains criminally under-reported in the west, mostly because their attentions are mostly directed at internal enemies and because the government black-out on information has been so successful.

It has become common knowledge that the Maoist uprising of the past five years is the result of the suffering inflicted on the poorest in Indian society – the dalits and adivasis (hill tribes) – through social oppression, physical dislocation, political corruption and inertia, the failure to develop services and employment opportunities, brutality by the security forces and the large-scale degradation of the environment by mining corporations.

But as Arundhati Roy argues in this brilliant long article, that understanding is not enough. It tends to encourage  simplistic responses such as ‘the state is not doing enough’, ‘more development is needed’ and so on. Such statements suggest that the power to resolve the crisis is within the government’s grasp and desire, if only it implements the right policy, puts the right people in place, does the right thing. What they miss is the fundamental nature of the Maoist protest – that it objects not to particular people or policies, but to the entire direction which the government has taken over the past two decades.

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