In 2015, a team of archeologists from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), a body under the culture ministry in the central government, began excavations at a coconut-tree farm at Keezhadi, near Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu. Over the subsequent two years, the archeologists found over 5,500 artefacts. The team found upon investigation that the artefacts were dated to the Sangam era—a period between 400 BCE and 200 CE, which is widely as the crowning point of Tamil art and literature. The discoveries were the first-ever evidence
of an urban civilisation from the Sangam era. But the project has been mired in controversy—at first, a tussle between the ASI and political parties
in the state took place, with the latter demanding that the former not take any objects from the site to Karnataka for observation, as they belonged to the state. Then, in October 2016, when approvals and funding for the upcoming year was expected to be granted, the central government withheld approval for a third season of excavation at the Keezhadi site. This prompted severe criticism
from within Tamil Nadu. Members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam raised the issue in parliament, and G Ramakrishnan, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the state, alleged that
the move was a result of “political design”—that it was in the interest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and favourable to the ideology it espouses to prevent details of an independent Tamil culture from surfacing. The excavation was subsequently given the green light in February 2017.
A professor of Malayalam at the Nehru Arts and Science College Kanhangad, Ambikasutan Mangad has been closely involved in the fight against the use of the pesticide endosulfan. The pesticide’s usage in the cashew plantations in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, run by the Plantation Corporation of India, adversely affected the biodiversity and the health of those in the region. Residents of Kasaragod experienced severe health issues, ranging from sores to respiratory disorders, as well as conditions such as infertility and congenital deformities. Various others died due to the poisonous effects of the pesticide. The Supreme Court banned endosulfan
in 2011, but the struggle against it has continued in the region—both for the recognition of the damage caused and for rehabilitation to the affected. Though several court-appointed commissions of inquiry have looked into extent of the damage and the involvement of the PCI, few have found in favour of the affected residents. In December 2010, the National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of the damage caused by endosulfan, and recommended
that the state government pay compensation to the victims. In January 2017, many of these payments were yet to be made, and the Supreme Court directed
the government of Kerala to compensate those affected within 90 days.
The Brands India Consumer Show—a five-day consumer fair
held at Victoria Park in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh—entered its final day on 10 April 2006. The organisers Lakhan Tomar, Asit Gupta and Siddharth Manohar, had arranged for three centrally air-conditioned halls to be constructed for the fair. At around 5.40 pm that day, 20-year-old Paras Vij was manning his family-owned stall, “Delight Xerox” in Hall A, when he heard people scream “Fire!” He told me he saw people scampering and searching for an exit, but having spent five days at the fair, he knew that there was only one exit—at the end of the third hall. Tickets for the fair were sold at the entrance in Hall A, and “people could only exit from Hall C, after having gone through the entire fair,” Paras said. But, seeing a crowd running towards the entry gate in Hall A, Paras and his brother Puneet joined them. As they made their way out of the gate, the brothers were hit by a blaze of fire, and they fell down. “Both of us were burnt, my brother more badly than I was,” Paras said. He continued, “I used my bare hands to try and put out the fire on my brother.” I met Paras at his printing-and-photocopy shop in Meerut on 9 April 2017—nearly 11 years after the incident. He said it took nearly a year for his injuries to heal. As we spoke, he held up his hands. They were permanently deformed due to the burns. Paras told me that Puneet died in the hospital, three days after the fire.
At close to 10 am on 10 April 2017, thousands of people assembled
on the Srinagar-Leh highway in central Kashmir to offer funeral prayers for Omar Farooq Ganaie. The 21-year-old was killed the previous day, after protests broke out during the by-poll for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Ganaie, a tipper driver, was a resident of a village in the Baroosa area of Ganderbal, one of the three districts in the constituency, located about 30 kilometres from Srinagar city.
The need to recognise the human rights of persons who have actual or perceived mental-health impairments has been hard to accept, even for the staunchest social-justice warrior. The alienation of persons with psychosocial disabilities—which is the rights-based terminology to describe persons with mental illness—by deeming them as dangerous, unable to make decisions for themselves, and incapable of participation in society continues to be seen in popular culture, media reports, and even legislation and policy. The recent Mental Healthcare Act
, 2017, passed in both houses of parliament as of 30 March 2017 and enacted on 7 April, is being widely celebrated as landmark legislation. Granted, the mental-health standards are so poor in this country that any step is seen to be a step in a positive direction. This act, however, may be a case of too little, too late. There are inherent contradictions between the stated goals of the act and its provisions, which allow for the deprivation of individual liberty and capacity without providing effective support to the individual and their choices.
When the former civil servant and Pakistani author Ayesha Siddiqa’s book Military Inc. was first published in 2007, it caused a furor of sorts in Pakistan. In the book, Siddiqa wrote about “Milbus”—a term she coined to describe “military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, but is neither recorded nor part of the defense budget.” For her research, she relied on government documents and extensive interviews with former military generals. She reported in the book that those associated with the military in Pakistan owned a diverse set of businesses and had amassed great personal wealth, all the while making it appear that Pakistan was instead undergoing economic growth. At the time of its publication, the administration had blocked the book’s release, and many in Pakistan termed Siddiqa a traitor to her nation. However, her book subsequently, found an audience, and critical acclaim.
On 31 March 2017, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, stood up on the house floor to comment on the passage of the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016
. The Rajya Sabha had passed the bill into law a few days earlier, on 10 March. Azad alleged that
the Bharatiya Janata Party had taken advantage of the low attendance in the house—only a handful of the opposition members were present in parliament that day, and the house was functioning just above quorum, which is 25 people—to ensure that the bill was passed. He further added that the Business Advisory Committee, which decides the business to be taken up by the house on that day, had unanimously earlier decided that the bill would be brought up only after a discussion had taken place among all political parties.
It is difficult to understate the scale and significance of Aadhaar, the government’s programme for a national identification card for every Indian. More than one billion
Indians have already been enrolled, and their personally identifiable information—biometrics, bank-account and demographic details—are already held in a government database, the legality and security of which is contested. Disagreements about Aadhaar are disagreements about no less than what it means to be a citizen in a democratic state, as the unfolding litigation challenging the Aadhaar programme attests.
On the eighty-eighth birth anniversary of the Jnanpith Award-winning author Nirmal Verma, Priyanka Dubey writes about his impact on two lives, one of which is her own.
On 30 March 2017, I reached the residence of Sukhpal Singh Khaira, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party and the member of legislative assembly from Bholath, in Punjab. Upon entering the premises, I spotted a group of young men collected under a gazebo, engaged in an animated conversation. Inside the house, I could hear the strains of a kirtan playing in the background. The first session of the new assembly had just concluded a day before, but as Khaira walked in, he seemed to be in a rush.