God’s own country, Kerala is experiencing the wrath of nature from last one week and battering rains and landslides in the state have forced over 30,000 people to leave their homes and take shelter in relief camps. The situation is grim as over 215 landslides have occurred in the 444 villages which have been declared as flood-hit by the state government and the death toll which has touched 87 does not seem to halt. The damage to life and property has been alarming and the state which is known for its highest literacy rate and sex ratio in the country apart from being a haven for tourists is suffering in silence with little outside help and relief operations which have their roots confined in the state itself.
Ideally, this is not how relief operations work, in fact when one part of the country is affected by a natural disaster then it is the duty of the entire nation to come together and lend a helping hand to provide as much relief as possible to our brother and sisters who are suffering but this does not seem to be happening at all in Kerala right now. If we assess the scale of relief operations in some natural disasters which have previously occurred in our country then it will become evident that Kerala is being treated unfairly in terms of the help it is being offered from various stakeholders. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest tweets assuring help for the state is a welcoming step and I hope it transforms into actual relief assistance and rescue operations in Kerala. The nationalistic civil society organizations which are heavily funded by the central government should also now join in the relief operations after the intervention of the Prime Minister himself.
The flash floods in Kedarnath and adjoining areas in 2013 saw various stakeholders ranging from civil society organizations to the central and state governments and most importantly the common people joining hands to re build the region but nothing of that sort is visible in the scale of relief operations in Kerala. The Bhuj earthquake in 2001 and the floods in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 also saw relief operations being carried out at large scale and people from all walks of life coming together to help their suffering brothers and sisters. In fact, what transpires after any natural disaster is a mass humanitarian movement aimed to help those who have suffered the fury of nature but nothing of that sort has happened in Kerala so far.
It is therefore important to understand and question the changes that have stopped the people of this country from uniting for Kerala and its people and standing with them in these turbulent times. The changing meaning of nation and nationalism in the era of post truth where only a certain people and their ideology is supposed to be nationalistic while all others are branded as anti-nationals is behind this silence suffering of the state. Kerala is the only state in the country which is being governed by a left party, an ideology which has been steadily and systematically branded as anti-national to the extent that anybody who is a follower of this ideology is shamed, threatened and eventually asked to go to Pakistan by the hate mongers on social media. It is therefore not surprising that hate mongers on social media are continuously discouraging people from donating to Kerala’s CMO relief fund stating that the money will be used for anti national activities and not for relief work.
This is a sad and disturbing state of affairs because if we do a reality and fact check then the contribution of the state to the development parameters have always been impeccable and best in the country, be it the highest literacy rate, the highest sex ratio or simply being at the top in terms of social progress measured through the social progress index. Thus, an entire body of politics affecting and hindering the rescue operations in Kerala cannot be ruled out and it is clearly evident that the state is paying the price for electing the only left government in the country.
These are testing times for civil society organizations and above all the people of India. It is important that these two forces join hands and stand in solidarity with the people of Kerala and contribute to the relief operations in the state. The political differences and ideologies should not come in the way of people receiving adequate help. Natural disasters often known for the destruction they bring with them also offer an opportunity to bring fore the spirit of humanity and that spirit should reign supreme in Kerala just like it has reigned supreme in all the testing times which our country has faced in the past.
The biggest disservice which we would do to humanity and to our nation is to turn a blind eye to our own brothers and sisters simply because their belief system is different from ours and hence the onus is now on us to save ourselves from committing this sin. I therefore urge to the central and various state governments, the civil society organizations and most importantly the people of India to stand with the people of Kerala in these testing times and contribute generously to the relief operations in the state.
Section 377 Decriminalized: The road ahead for LGBTQ community
The Supreme Court in a judgment which will be remembered for ages ruled to decriminalize the draconian and outdated Section 377 of the Indian Penal code paving way for consenting adults to engage in consensual sex without the fear of being thrown into the Jail and facing punishment for their sexual orientation and more precisely for being what they really are. The encouraging part was the unanimous nature of this decision in which the five-judge bench constituting Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices Indu Malhotra, DY Chandrachud, Rohinton F Nariman, and AM Khanwilkar were in favour of the decriminalization and while pronouncing the judgment did not shy away from sharing the rationale behind their ruling.
The Chief Justice Dipak Misra pointed out that, “Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual. Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality.” A statement embedded in the understanding of the regressive social morality of our country which has systematically oppressed different sections of the society in the name of religion, caste, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. This is the same social morality which did not allow the decriminalization of this draconian law even after its implementing father Britain had decriminalized it way back in parts 1828 and completely in 1967 in their own country.
However, we ourselves chose to carry the burden of this social morality and impose it on the fundamental rights of our own people for years and years. Let us not forget, that even the High Court and Supreme Court took nine long years between themselves to make this landmark judgment. It was not an easy decision for them too but a recent and slight progressive change in this social morality finally helped them to make constitutional morality victorious over social morality.
The way ahead for the LGBTQ community now lies in the rigidness of this social morality which has changed enough to stay silent on the top court’s judgment in public spheres in a possible fear of being booked for contempt of court if they speak but silently in their private spheres, the hatred is far from over, more so now when majoritarian views are systematically breaching and intruding the private spaces of the minority culture and their lifestyle. In fact, I am wholeheartedly waiting for the reaction of yoga guru Baba Ramdev on the judgment, not because he is an expert on the subject but because he has always been very vocal about Homosexuality, terming it as a disease and he, unfortunately, is also a huge ambassador of the collective social morality of our country. His silence would only signify that his kinds may have been defeated in the court but outside in the society where majoritarianism and mob mentality prevails, they will have the last laugh.
So, will gay couples and people from the LGBTQ community be accepted in the larger societal context and not seen as outcasts is a question which still looms large on the heads of LGBTQ people. A gay couple would know the problems they would face when they will go out to look for a rented accommodation, they know that even after the judgment they will either have to stay in the closet to avoid the hate they will be showered upon or be ready to deal with the multiple problems which will come their way after they reveal their sexual orientation.
This is perhaps why the bench said, “Decriminalization is but the first step; the Constitution envisages much more. LGBTs are victims of Victorian morality,” because deep down they are also aware that the landmark judgment is not but just the first step for securing the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people but it is surely not a safety net for them which will prevent them from being further victimized for being who they are. This is why the court categorically pointed out that Homosexuality is natural and not a disease and the government should spread awareness of the same and sensitize people on the rights of the LGBTQ community.
If LGBTQ people still face the same hatred and obstacles in living their lives in a dignified way and they approach the police for protection and safeguarding their rights, then will the police understand or will they lecture them on their morality? These are just some of the many questions that need to be answered and the answers may well lie in a policy document for the LGBTQ people which safeguards their interest and rights because the landmark judgment so far has only struck down their names from the category of criminals but has not provided them any protections from the real criminals spreading hate freely in the society who will time and again try to victimize LGBTQ people and make all attempts to snatch their existence from them. It is for these criminals that a strong law needs to be enacted.
The bench remarked that the, “History owes an apology to the LGBT community. They were made to live a life full of fear.” I sincerely hope that this fear is now evicted from the lives of LGBTQ people taking one step at a time. Therefore, the historic judgment and decriminalization of Section 377 is the beginning of the end of fear, oppression, marginalization and subjugation in the lives of LGBTQ people and concerted steps in all spheres starting from sensitizing the society and making it more inclusive to formulating safeguarding acts and polices for LGBTQ people will be the need of the hour.
From Kathua to Muzaffarpur: The shielding of rapists is a disturbing trend
In the scorching heat of April, 2018, the youths of this country were out on the street demanding justice for the daughters of India as the country was outraged by the barbaric details of how an eight-year-old child was raped in Kathua following which the local politicians and muscle men batted for the accused and did everything in their power to influence fair investigation in the case. Deepika Rajawat, the lawyer fighting the Kathua girl’s case went on record to say that her life is in threat and that anything could happen to her, all because she was fighting to get justice for a child who was not even old enough to understand what had happened to her.
What Deepika Rajawat dreaded ended up becoming the fate of the father of the victim of Unnao rape case, a minor girl, whose cry for justice fell on deaf ears for two long years eventually leading to the death of her father in his fight for getting justice for his daughter. The accused in this case was a BJP MLA and muscle man from Unnao, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the same man who did not shy away from smiling at the cameras. Even, the Allahabad high court questioned the credibility of the state machinery working in the case and observed that the law and order was actually working in collusion with Kuldeep Singh Sengar.
I was one amongst the thousands of youth of this country who was sitting at Jantar Mantar asking for justice for the daughters of India but little did I know that a disturbing trend awaited me, a trend of defending the rapists, sometimes in the name of religion and on other occasions simply because they are too influential and have access to the corridors of power. The general discourse was easily diverted from the increasing number of rape cases and the violence against women to the religion and caste of the rapists and we have nobody but ourselves to blame because like every other time we were happy to take this bait and indulged in selective outrage after carefully examining the religions of the victim and the rapist.
The result of our selective outrage stares us in the eye today when Brajesh Sharma, the owner of the shelter home in Muzaffarpur where over 30 minors girls were repeatedly raped and tortured, just simply smiles at the camera and walks off with ease. He knows that many would shield him because he can open a can of worms and those in power would not like that. In fact, Manju Verma, the Social Welfare Minister of Bihar has already given a clean chit to her husband Chandeshwar Verma who is also under the scanner stating that she has lived with her husband for years and she knows him really well.
She has also refrained from taking moral responsibility of the incident and has shown no inclination towards resigning. If this was not enough, a girl who was a victim in the case mysteriously disappeared from the NGO in which she was shifted and all this happened under the nose of the state machinery led by Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar who finally said that he was ashamed of the incident. There is no doubt that Mr. Kumar should be ashamed of the incident but that is not the only thing he should be ashamed of, this apparently visible nexus of politicians and rapists is also something which he should be ashamed of and strictly act upon.
If this was not enough, then gruesome details have emerged from another shelter home in Deoria in Uttar Pradesh where over twenty minor girls have been raped night after night. The stark similarity which Deoria shares with the Muzaffarpur case is that both the shelter homes enjoyed government funding at one point of time highlighting the nexus of politicians and those who claim to be a part of the civil society but are only in it for money and exploitation of those who they vouch to serve.
In this shielding of rapists, we are dealing with two very grave problems in our society, the first is rape and violence against women which emanates from a highly patriarchal society like ours and is a social problem which can be only tackled by an overhaul of the social fabric of our country. A dream which may take years to come true but is not impossible to achieve, if we make efforts and move in the right direction. However, the sad part is that currently we are moving exactly in the opposite direction with communalization and politicization of rapes and violence against women and therefore the problem has now soared to alarming levels.
The second big problem is the extreme power which politicians enjoy in our country which makes them believe that they are above the law and therefore they blatantly smile at you and challenge you to stop them if you can. They know that we shall not stand united for justice because they will simply say that rape occurred in a temple or in a mosque and in a minute we shall be divided and start questioning everything that justice stands for.
I urge to you all that not all is lost yet and we still have time to realize that rapists, murderers and criminals have no religion. Show me one holy book which encourages such barbaric acts and I will rest my case but there is no such holy book which exists and if it does exist then I must tell you that it is an unholy book. The least we can do for justice for our daughters is to stop getting divided on communal lines and speak in one voice for all the daughters of India and their safety and only then this disturbing trend of the rapists getting shielded in the name of religion, castes and politics will come to an end.
“I didn’t kill anybody!” – says Bangladeshi man in Indian Jail for the last 10 years
In 2012, The Indian Express reported the tragic imprisonment of a Bangladeshi man named Badol Khalek Farazi languishing in Tihar Jail as an undertrial prisoner for a crime he never committed. In fact, the crime that he was accused of committing occurred when Farazi was a mere student in Bangladesh. Unfortunately back then this article could not prove to be worthy enough to shake the conscience of our nation towards the plight of a man trapped in an alien environment for no fault of his.
Rahul Kapoor, a social worker first met Badol Farazi in the year 2016 when he went to Tihar Jail No. 3 to counsel prisoners and work on their reformation and rehabilitation programs as part of his fieldwork. He was deeply moved by Farazi’s story and went on to organize a march at India Gate for the same unfortunate Bangladeshi man who has been in jail for the last 10 years.
When Badol Farazi first came to the Jail he could neither speak English nor Hindi. This language barrier is one of the major reasons that when he was arrested from the Benapole Immigration check-post in 2008 on charges of murder, he could not tell the relevant authorities that he was not the person they were looking for. Since Badol Farazi could not communicate his innocence to the officials, the flaws in our criminal justice system destroyed the most crucial years of his life.
He was falsely implicated in the murder of an elderly woman in Delhi. The crime was actually committed by her domestic help named “Badal Singh” instead of whom the person in question “Badol Farazi” was arrested. Badol Farazi was convicted by the sessions court in Saket, New Delhi under section 302 on charges of murder on August 7, 2015. The judgment was later validated by the High Court and he is currently serving life imprisonment in Tihar Jail. He even tried filing a petition in the Supreme Court but it was dismissed and his sentence was upheld.
Badol Farazi has come a long way since 2008. He has completed his class 8th, 10th, 12th and graduation studies, all from inside the Jail premises through National Institute of Open Schooling and IGNOU programme facilities available in Tihar Jail. Today, he speaks fluent English and in fact, he is so good at it now that he was even certified by the Teach India Campaign, which is an initiative started by Times of India for doing exceptionally well in his English speaking course.
He had been tirelessly working inside the Tihar Jail and even managed the IGNOU centre in Tihar Jail Number 3 until recently when he was shifted to the newly opened Mandoli Jail in Delhi where he still works as a Jail Seva Daar.
Badol Farazi, in the last ten years, has maintained that he is innocent and was not even present in India at the time of the murder. All his fellow prisoners and Jail authorities have confirmed that he has been sticking to one single story and they believe that there is a strong possibility that he is speaking the truth. He has even managed to create a good impression amongst the Jail authorities as they have always been praising his conduct and good behaviour.
In the year, 2012, the High Commission of Bangladesh wrote several letters to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, requesting the release of Mr Badol Farazi and claiming his innocence with strong pieces of evidence attached in his favour. However, all their efforts and written communications fell on deaf ears as Badol Farazi is still trapped in prison where he surely keeps on revisiting that one moment in his life where he made the choice to come to India in order to see the Taj Mahal and Ajmer Shareef Dargah as a young boy on a valid passport after fulfilling all diplomatic and legal procedures. Today he desperately wishes that he had never made that choice.
During the last ten years, Farazi has gone through a lot. He even lost his father back home in Bangladesh, which left his lonely mother awaiting his return. It is this love and anticipation of a helpless mother for her son that motivated Rahul Kapoor to start working on Badol Farazi’s release on grounds of exceptional reformation and good conduct in Jail.
Rahul Kapoor is running a relentless campaign at the ground level as well as on social media since the last two and a half years to get justice and freedom for Badol Farazi. He is taking one step at a time as a result of which today more than two thousand people have signed his petition on change.org for Badol Farazi’s release and over a thousand people have tweeted Sushma Swaraj regarding the same. He has also met several Members of Parliament and tried to convey his message to the Ministry of External Affairs, India through them.
He has already written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and is looking forward towards meeting them soon and discussing Badol Farazi’s release on grounds of his exceptional reformation in jail.
Badol Farazi has applied for repatriation in a final and desperate attempt to go back to Bangladesh and Rahul Kapoor is currently working towards expediting this process of his repatriation.
Rahul Kapoor has also spoken to Mr Satish Gupta who is the Personal Secretary of Ms. Sushma Swaraj regarding Badol Farazi’s case and has received a positive response and assurance from Ms. Sirpriya Ranganathan, Joint Secretary (Bangladesh division), Ministry of External Affairs, India suggesting that the ministry sympathizes with Badol Farazi and will do everything they can to expedite his repatriation process and send him back to Bangladesh.
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