The Times of India – Bring back Kohinoor, Rajya Sabha members urge government

New Delhi, 3 May 2016. The issue of getting the Kohinoor back from Britain figured in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday as members cutting across party lines voiced support for it. Even house Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said everyone would be “happy” if the gem is brought back.

The issue was raised by Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member Bhupinder Singh during zero hour. He said: “Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, in his last will, said he wanted to give it (Kohinoor) to Lord Jagannath in Puri.”

He said the will was fished out when India was observing 50 years of its independence.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member urged Leader of House Arun Jaitley to take action in the matter, adding: “We would urge the Leader of the House to show some action… What you said in the Supreme Court is not right. Duleep Singh was taken to Dalhousie and converted, and they said he offered it (Kohinoor)… It is wrong.”

Several members from the ruling and opposition benches backed the BJD member’s zero hour mention.

“All will be happy if the Kohinoor is brought back… Every member will be happy if it is brought back,” Kurien then said. – Why is a Gory Video of Unidentified Corpses Strewn Around a Punjab Canal Making Rounds?

Mallika Kaur

The Movement Against State Repression (MASR), led by Mr. Inderjit Singh Jaijee, has released literally raw footage: a 23:51 minute video showing human bodies strewn in the water or its banks, alongside garbage, and being pulled apart by packs of wild dogs.

Mr. Jaijee has brought this mystery to the attention of the Punjab Government, Central Government, Punjab & Haryana High Court, National Human Rights Commission, and now everyone with an internet connection.

Mallika Kaur speaks with Mr. Jaijee, human rights activist and co-author of ‘Death and Debt in Rural India,’ to find out what lies beneath the bodies, and remains of bodies, caught downstream the Bhakra Beas mainline canal.

Wednesday 3 May 2016.

Q: You’ve released a gory video of dignity being stripped from the dead, of human beings even reduced to meat that these dogs seem quite accustomed to. What drove the decision to release this video?

Jaijee: Look, when we were telling them, citing figures, even from government’s own documents, people perhaps were not getting it. When you show the actual picture, people are more likely to believe it, we hope.

The government is not admitting this horror. Now see it for yourself. Bodies taken out, thrown back in. This, in presence of police. So it is deliberate : to perpetuate the mystery and misery around these bodies. Look, when I say police, I mean government.

Q: What can people do about this?

J: People can ask some obvious questions and make sure bodies don’t just keep piling up spreading disease and reinforcing despair.

Q: Some questions then. Your contention is that we might be only watching this on video now, but its been happening for years?

J: At least for 6-7 years when it came to our attention that dead bodies floating downstream the Bhakra Beas mainline canal are piling at Khanauri village. We went to the local police station. The police station is located only about 100 yards from the canal head where the bodies come, and they denied there were any bodies piling up.

We pointed them out to the police, but they didn’t pay any attention. That was policy. But we kept going back there because the number of bodies was increasing. And then, in the meanwhile, the local citizens of Khanauri had even set up a rest house for the relatives coming to look for these bodies.

Q: How did these relatives know to come looking here?

J: Word spreads among tragedy-affected desperate families. And the fact the rest house was created shows we aren’t talking about 1 or 2 bodies. A rest house with 4 or 5 rooms was set up. And the Gurdwara provides langar to all the travellers.

Q: Who build this rest house for the relatives?

J: The Khanauri Mandi citizens. And the free food from the Khanauri Gurdwara. As for the government, we asked them to set up a mortuary, nothing happened. The government paid no attention. After a lot of noise, they did put an ambulance 3 years ago, but it was a broken down affair, you don’t see that coming to pick the bodies in the videos.

Q: Civil society showed such initiative in a time people are cynical about civil society. Where is Khanauri, and why did Khanuri Mandi folks mobilize?

J: Yes, humanity amongst the ordinary person is alive. So, to be clear, Khanauri is village within Punjab, on the Haryana border. See, this canal, one branch goes through Punjab and enters Haryana at Tohana, through a smaller canal.

It is shallower. Bodies get blocked about three kilometers down this branch, at a one place. They are easier to detect here, its not at all that they all come from here. So since Khanauri is where they are piling up… citizens there are witnessing this horror and the tragedy of searching family members.

The Khanauri Mandi citizens also organized to a petition to the High Court about 5 years ago. The High Court gave orders to add underwater lights, and various other gadgets. Now, 5 years have passed and government has done nothing.

Q: What have you done to petition government action?

J: So in 2011 the Khanauri situation was brought to the attention of the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the next year it ordered the state to take corrective measures. Nothing happens. Police does post someone in 2014 to stand there and take note of the number of bodies seen floating through, but he has orders not to make any attempt at retrieving or identifying bodies.

In 2015, we approach the National Human Rights Commission. Result? A diligent policeman, at least recording the numbers, is removed from his post! Then, we write to the NHRC about that decision against a junior man in uniform. And soon we hear that he has been reinstated.

On the larger matter, the NHRC’s ask of an Action Taken report from the government has been met with silence. As the three months are coming to a close, we decided to release these videos, so people can wake up to see what putrid callousness we are campaigning against.

Q: In the videos, there are people handling these bodies, who seem to be retrieving these bodies too?

J: Divers are employed there. Private, locally employed. They look at a person and see. If the person looks rich, they will ask for Rs. 30,000 and if a person doesn’t look so rich, they ask for 10,000 or even 5,000.

But people coming are so poor they can’t pay. So even if divers find a body, can’t identify it, they just throw it back into the canal. And for a good portion of time, the police has instructed divers to do just that.

There is nobody hired by the government to retrieve bodies. We had asked the government to employ divers. We had asked the government to put underwater lights, we had asked the government to put nets. But like I said, dead silence.

Q: So these dead have been carried downstream.

J: Yes, however far up the canal is coming from. So the families coming looking, some are from Ropar, some come from Patiala, some come from, it enters Sangrur area only 3-4 kilometers above. The rest is within Patiala. So districts Patiala, Sirhind, Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib, maybe parts of Ludhiana.

Q: You have been championing this issue. And your work is around rural debt-related suicides, which you began exposing in the early 1990s. But how do you connect these bodies tragically piling up in Khanauri to debt?

J: We don’t say they are all debt-related suicides. Even police at Khanuari have noted 35-40 bodies every month, regularly. This is the bodies that are actually seen. Now who are these unidentified bodies? Usually if it is a case of murder, police is active, villagers are active, and report it to the police station near their village.

If it is an accident on a canal, the press is also active. A scooter fell down, a car fell down. That is big news, villagers, they run and see that. So the unidentified bodies can’t largely be that. Of people jumping in the canal voluntarily.

Even that can be some other angle, some heartbreak, some other desperation. Families come looking. But, who are the people whose deaths are still not largely reported? Our experience points to suicide victims, driven by debt.

Q: So, by this process of elimination of the reasons…you are making the claim that these bodies are missing people who have taken their lives due to debt?

J: See, we have village Balran in Sangrur. It had 90 suicides. There are however also 15 missing in that area, post–militancy mind you. Not even counting the deaths of that period. Every village we survey for debt-suicides has missing people, who are not recorded anywhere.

Our estimate is many, maybe most, bodies in the canals are of such missing people. For instance, a person from a university team who came surveying, was telling me the other day that he had come to Khanauri earlier too when a family he was talking to mentioned they suspected their debt-ridden man had ended his life in the canal.

Q: You mentioned debt-suicides are not largely reported?

J: Yes, it has changed over the decades that we have been doing this work, but villagers still do not shout out debt suicides. Initially, if a family reported a suicide, it was a declaration that they are very poor. If they had children to marry, they wouldn’t find matches for them, etcetera. And their prestige in the village would sink.

Initially they hid the suicides quite fiercely. I remember families that we went to who got very hostile with us. How dare you say this? Our chap would never do that! They tried to keep the image of being well-to-do, farmers or laborers.

And then whether suicide is still a crime or not, whether the law has changed or not, isn’t clear to people. What is clear, through their life’s experience, is the amount of harassment that has followed many suicides, including jail for abetment.

The government’s failure to recognize that Punjab has suicides for so many decades has shrouded the issue in shame.

Q: Why has there been such a resistance to recognizing suicides in Punjab?

J: Look, its very simple. Economically, from virtually on the top, Punjab has sunk towards the bottom. If the most agriculturally progressive state has sunk, that means agriculture has failed across the country. So the government just doesn’t accept these facts in full.

Even though, per capita, Punjab has the highest rural suicide rate in the country. I can’t be clearer: the highest. We have written on this so many times.

Yet, each Punjab government downplays the suicides, which is why it seems to us part of a larger agenda in New Delhi to downplay agrarian distress across the country. The Government of India knows this is an all-India problem. Admit it in Punjab, and its clear as day.

This is reminiscent of the militancy period. Pre-militancy in fact. With agrarian distress rising across India, Punjab had taken the lead. Rasta Roko, and then they started blocking Punjab’s food grain going outside, when the government had no way to escape, they converted it into a religio-political movement, and clamped down.

Well-planned diversionary tactics. I’m not saying people were not raising real demands. People were fed up, they did want change, they wanted more federalism.

The same calls came from Jyoti Basu, Biju Patnaik, from Karnataka, from Andhra, but the attack on Punjab and 2% Sikhs was disproportionate. It was painted as all about unity of India, keeping Punjab in India.

Anyway, Punjab feeds India. Now, with an all-India problem, what will they do? They are now trying to push divides on religious basis more ferociously, instead of talking about the poor and hungry and those feeding them, or dying trying.

Q: So let’s come to who is dying now. There is often talk about this being a Jatt caste problem, from their misplaced pride and machismo, highlighted in some recent movies as well. Can you comment on this?

J: If it were a caste thing, then how do you explain rural suicides of labor? That is exceeding suicides of farmers now? So it isn’t that. Now, maybe a village that had 30% landowners once, has 10% landowners: balance have become laborers. So you have landlords, laborers, and landlords-cum-laborers.

Remember, in an agrarian economy, the entire village lives on farming. Whether the grocer, the cloth merchant, transporter, the local halwaii, everyone. Farmer has always been 30-40% and then the laborers working with him, because it is still largely manual farming.

And I am not taking about the belt that has more industry, like Ludhiana, or other avenues of work. I am talking about the large belt of Punjab that still has traditional agrarian society, which is being strangulated, man, woman, child.

Q: Suicides are largely by males, it is gendered. What happens with the women?

J: They rise to the occasion. They try to head households, but still with debt hanging on the family’s head. In a society where women have largely not been allowed roles of leadership, despite this being the land of Baba Nanak, they then have to fight for their rights.

We have also partnered with Building Bridges India and developed stitching centers and other support for women particularly.

And mind you, not everyone can go against the immense odds. We also have stories where children are abandoned, and the widow, who cannot feed them or preserve her dignity, or prevent them from becoming child labor, goes away. Then we have the elderly raising these orphans. Young girls remain particularly vulnerable.

Q: And this is the same for those working ancillary to farmers, they are also committing suicide?

J: Definitely. The entire village is suffering. All segments of the village are sinking. Money comes in through farmers, in a farming society. If he is not bringing in money, everyone shrinks.

So even the shopkeeper, he is not getting buyers. We have cases of these shopkeepers committing suicides, even multiple suicides: taking their wives and children with them.

With land ceiling laws, mind you there is no parallel ceiling on urban lands or industrialists, with the division of land with each generation, you have farmers with very small land holdings. And on top of that, there are laws controlling the price of crops.

Earlier, it was by market demand. But now on paddy and wheat, which Punjab has been forced into growing, while cotton and sugarcane and cash crops have by policy been encouraged to the west and elsewhere, there is a price control.

So we have controlled price, limited cultivation area, and a depleting water table, where is the farmer going to earn from? And for those dependent on his purchase power, it also spells doom. Suicide is a reality of life here, and that is why people quietly turn into these corpses in Khanauri.

Q: So the gore at Khanauri is well known by local residents, local knowledge, local researchers… how about those further away?

J: Secondary investigating bodies of the universities, who do not necessarily have knowledge about the villages, have been put in charge of surveys ordered every so often. Look, out of all the graduates in Punjab, only about 3% come from the rural sector.

Now, how much are the urban area researchers going to find out about the rural sector and its suicides? It becomes a way of playing down the suicides too. The Agricultural University that is slightly more aware of agro problems, gave the estimate of 4,049 debt-related suicides.

Punjabi University and Guru Nanak University said that in 10 years, less than 300. And now, from this canal, under Punjabi University’s purview, you have up to 35-40 a month! I’m all for University studies. But let independent groups come in, let their reports be published, and let there be some light shed for the families of the dead.

Q: What is your estimate?

J: Our village-to-village survey and related relief work of adopting families in 110 villages reveals 2300 debt-related suicides. The Punjab Farmers Commission saying 2000 people dying per year is now old news. Don’t do anything, and the new numbers are so much higher. I estimate, across Punjab at least 5000 suicides a year.

The canal angle came as a revelation even to us 5 years ago. And these are only the bodies that surface, what about those don’t or get caught in silt or undergrowth? And this is only from one canal. Punjab is littered with canals…

Q: And you’ve succeeded in securing some governmental relief for families identified?

J: It took MASR 10 years of litigation to get any compensation ordered in well-documented cases, with Panchayat Affidavits attached saying, yes, this person had a debt of such-and-such amount and committed suicide by such-and-such method. But really, compensation is treated like a top secret by government.

A Deputy Commissioner’s statement saying so many given compensation. Now, say how, many, by what District. And compare it against the reported numbers. But they are using compensation for political advantage.

Larger changes like laws are also more news than fact. The laws in the 1930s, named after Chottu Ram, recognized that the agrarian man is always a laborer, always working on a job that keeps others alive, so requires protection given the uncertainty of this profession.

In post-colonial India, that people like my father fought for, how hard is this to understand? Very. Because of the larger conspiracy of silence around the agrarian sector that I explained earlier. And also, lobbies like the moneylenders, the Aartiyas. They have nothing to do with cultivation, except lending money to farmer.

So why is produce sold through him, why aren’t interest rate ceilings on loans enforced so debt doesn’t become a downward spiral? Because Aaartiya is a fundraiser of the political parties. Thus, depriving farmers of their legitimate rights.

Q: What needs to change, in Khanauri, for the dignity of the dead? Besides the acknowledgement and larger structural changes?

J: Ambulance, mortuary, lights, nets, need to be installed as a start because so many bodies flow through undetected. There has to be an effort made to investigate every unexplained death. They have now said that they will build a mortuary 30 kilometers away.

People don’t have the money, and they should go another 30 kilometers away to Moonak? A poor man cannot do that. No, right here, bring some transparency and some dignity. Advertise in the newspapers, the photos of those found, before dogs disfigure them. All we are asking for is admission and investigation on what is actually happening.

Mallika Kaur is a lawyer & writer who focuses on gender and minority issues in the U.S. and South Asia.

Vilvoorde Gurdwara

Vilvoorde Gurdwara
24 January 2016


Big Divan Hall – Palki Sahib


Big Divan Hall – Kirtan


Big Divan Hall – male sangat


Big Divan Hall – female sangat


Big Divan Hall – Kirtan


Big Divan Hall – male sangat

Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib
Lange Molensstraat 14
B-1800 Vilvoorde – Vlaams Brabant
(just north of Brussel)

To see all my pictures :

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Economic Times – Indian American Sikh woman elected to key Republican position

Washington, 3 May 2016. An Indian-American woman Sikh lawyer from California has been elected to a key position in the Republican party at the national level.

Chandigarh-born Harmeet Kaur Dhillon, 47, was elected as the newest national committee member of the Republican National Committee on Sunday by thousand plus votes in attendance at the California Republican Party convention. She was earlier the vice chairman of the California Republican Party.

She was the first woman elected to this position of vice chair of the California Republican Party.

A nationally recognised trial lawyer, Dhillon was born in India, but raised in rural North Carolina after her Sikh parents moved to the US.

“A little girl from Chandigarh, India, the Bronx, and Smithfield, North Carolina back in the day, to being one of California’s three votes on the RNC. For the next four years starting in late July, I will help shape the policies of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman, the party of liberty and opportunity,” Dhillon said after her election.

Following her clerkship with Paul V Niemeyer of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Dhillon’s practice in New York, London, and the San Francisco Bay Area has focused on federal and state commercial litigation and arbitration, with a particular emphasis on unfair competition/trade secret misappropriation, intellectual property (including trademark litigation and internet torts), complex contractual disputes, and First Amendment litigation.

Based in San Francisco, Dhillon among other things also sat on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union, and once made a financial contribution to Kamala Harris’ campaign for local office – Harris who is a US Senate hopeful and rising star in Democratic politics.

Dawn – ‘Disgracing’ Sikh youth’s turban: Five blasphemy accused granted bail

Shafiq Butt

Sahiwal, Panjab, 4 May 2016. Chichawatni Civil Judge (magistrate) Tahir Manzoor on Tuesday granted bail to the five accused who were arrested on blasphemy charges on the complaint of a Sikh youth, Mahinder Pal Singh.

Mr Singh in the FIR (169/16) lodged with Chichwatni city police had said six attackers (employees of a transport company) publicly disgraced his turban, considered sacred in Sikh religious code, and humiliated him for making a genuine complaint about a bus that broke down while he was traveling by it from Faisalabad to Multan.

Investigation Officer Abdul Sattar confirmed that bail had been granted to five accused, bus terminal manager Baqir Ali, Rashid Gujjar, Faiz Alam, Shakeel and Sodagar, booked on April 30 under sections 295, 506, 148 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Meanwhile, Chichawatni police have failed to arrest Haji Riyasat, one of the main accused and owner of a private bus terminal, three days after the incident.

District Police Officer (DPO) Baqir Raza told Dawn that police were raiding different places to arrest Riyasat.

Mr Singh, talking to Dawn from Multan, said he was informed by the police on Tuesday morning that they were presenting all the five accused in the court, asking him to send his lawyer to Chichwatni.

“How could I send my lawyer (to Chichawatni) in two hours from Multan,” he asked.

Mr Singh said the police booked the accused under the sections which deal with bailable offences and “desecration of a worship place”.

“I am not a worship place but a citizen of Pakistan having Sikh faith and attackers have disgraced one of my religious symbols. So police should have added 295/A which deals with non-bailable offence with maximum penalty of 10-year imprisonment”.

He said that in consultation with his lawyer, he would apply for adding Section 295-A to the FIR and would move court if required. He vowed to fight his case and hoped to get justice.

The News – All, starting from PM, must be held accountable: Opposition

Disagreement continues on seeking Nawaz’s resignation. Agrees on four points; says premier failed to fulfil his moral responsibilities; rejects government Terms of References; wants judicial commission to probe PanamaLeaks

Asim Yasin & Muhammad Anis

Islamabad, 3 May 2016. The joint opposition on Monday failed to reach a consensus on seeking Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s resignation; however, it unanimously rejected the government’s Terms of References (ToRs) for the inquiry commission to probe the PanamaLeaks.

The opposition called for the accountability of all those mentioned in the PanamaLeaks starting from the prime minister and his family.

The opposition parties also could not reach a consensus on whether the prime minister should be asked to quit before the start of the probe. The meeting also failed to decide the time-frame for the start and completion of the probe against the prime minister and his family.

“The opposition parties feel that the prime minister has failed to fulfill his moral responsibilities after the PanamaLeaks,” PPP leader Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira said while briefing newsmen on the outcome of the meeting here. He was flanked by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan and Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad.

“Here the term of moral responsibility covers many things,” Kaira said when asked to comment on whether the opposition parties had asked the prime minister to resign. At the same time, the PPP leader, without giving a clear reply to a question about the resignation of the prime minister, asked newsmen to interpret the term of ‘moral responsibilities’.

He said a nine-member ToRs committee representing all the opposition parties had been formed and it would meet at the residence of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan on Tuesday (today). “The opposition parties presented their proposed ToRs today and the same will be discussed in the nine-member ToRs committee meeting,” he said.

Responding to a question about the offshore wealth of Jahangir Khan Tareen and some PPP leaders, Kaira said all of them should face accountability. The nine-member committee comprising one member from each opposition party was also constituted.

The committee comprises Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan (PPP), Hamid Khan (PTI), Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed (PML-Q), Israrullah Zehri (BNP-Awami), Asadullah Bhutto (JI), Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed (AML), Mian Iftikhar (ANP) and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui (MQM).

At the conclusion of the meeting, a four-point declaration was released to the media saying that the consultative meeting of the nine-member opposition committee had rejected the ToRs of the government in the present shape.

The opposition parties wanted accountability of all those mentioned in the PanamaLeaks but maintained that the process should start from the prime minister and his family.The meeting also declared that a judicial commission be constituted to probe the disclosures made by the Panama Papers.

“The opposition parties should also be consulted for any legislation in this regard,” the declaration said.The declaration said a joint committee had been constituted to draft the opposition’s TORs for the Judicial Commission. The committee would meet at the residence of Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan on Tuesday (today) at 11 am.

According to sources, MQM, ANP and Qaumi Watan Party did not support the idea of seeking the resignation of the prime minister at this stage. These parties were of the view that a time-frame should be given to the prime minister to clear himself before declaring him guilty.

Meanwhile, the PPP demanded the inquiry commission that would probe the matter should not be constituted under the 1956 Act but it should be made through a presidential ordinance and must be given protection by parliament.

Furthermore, it was stated that the investigation should start from the family of the prime minister and a time-frame must be set for the investigation.

Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Senator Sirajul Haq stressed that the inquiry into the PanamaLeaks should have two phases. In the first phase, accountability of the prime minister, his family and those named in the PanamaLeaks should be started and in the second phase, corruption since Independence should be probed and the plunderers taken to task.

Siraj said the issue was so serious that the prime minister had to address the nation thrice. He said the JI had already begun its campaign against corruption.

However, he said that an inquiry into financial corruption was not enough and recommendations should also be made to end electoral and moral corruption, which had weakened the foundations of the country.

Siraj stressed that besides holding protest rallies and public meetings, the opposition should decide a common line of action and the meetings should be result-oriented. He said several inquiry commissions had been set up in the past but nothing concrete came out.

The joint consultative meeting of the nine opposition parties was attended by Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jahangir Tareen, Dr Shireen Mazari, Dr Arif Alvi, Asad Umer, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mushahid Hussain, Sirajul Haq, Sahibzada Tariqullah, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Mian Atif, Kanwar Naveed Jameel, Israrullah Zehri, Mian Iftikhar Hussain and Haji Ghulam Bilour.

The Tribune – Farmers pay with life for state apathy

Inderjit Singh Jaijee

When a highly productive agricultural state like Punjab is beset by a high rural suicide rate it points to a severe agrarian crisis all over the country. The corporate sector flourishes at the cost of farmers. As a consequence, farmers pay with their lives. It’s time to reset our priorities.

While replying to a question on rural suicides, Mohanbhai Kandariya, Minister of State for Agriculture, informed Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha that 1,841 farmers had committed suicide in Maharashtra, in Punjab the number was 449, 342 cases were reported from Telangana, 107 from Karnataka and 58 from Andhra Pradesh.

Based on the data quoted in the Lok Sabha, we can calculate the simple per capita (total rural population divided by number of rural suicides) and the number of suicides as a percentage of the total rural population. The per capita calculation reveals that Punjab has the worst per capita figure (1 for every 38,628).

Telengana comes next (1 for every 63,114) followed by Maharashtra (1 for every 84,904, then Karnataka (1 for every 3,50,189) and lastly, Andhra (1 for every 9,71,753). In terms of the percentage of rural population that falls prey to suicide Punjab is far ahead of other states.

When this problem initially came to public attention, the government attempted to underplay rural suicides. When suicides could no longer be denied, the government misrepresented the suicides as deaths of farmers only (and not rural labourers).

The Central government does address this crisis and insists on referring only to “farmers’ suicides”. Government figures excludes family members from the “farmers” category as, according to the government, they were not the karta and, therefore, were not responsible for incurring debt.

The restrictive categorisation centred on land-owning cultivators only ignores the fact that when the farmer is in trouble, the entire rural sector is in trouble too labourers, artisans, and even rural moneylenders.

The situation was well stated in a recent article that stated, “Agriculture is said to be India’s largest private enterprise, engaging nearly 90 million farmers (cultivators) and 144 million landless labourers.”

It is not that the Centre has not responded to the rural suicide issue. In 2007, a Central rehabilitation package of Rs 1,697,869 billion was worked out and the recipient states were Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.

To this package, ex gratia assistance of Rs 155 million, interest waiver of Rs 270,781 billion and restructuring and rescheduling loans of Rs 905,112 billion was added. A special package was also given to Vidarbha. Punjab and Haryana were excluded.

Later, a dry-land package was given to the states that were doing dry-land farming. Punjab was again excluded on the grounds that Punjab was not a dry-land area. The Central government overlooked the cost of extraction of underground water in Punjab where the water-table is sinking rapidly and sub-soil water is contaminated due to over use of fertilisers and pesticides.

In 2008, the Union Cabinet sanctioned Rs 710 billion to finance the national agricultural debt waiver. Though Punjab contributes approximately 50 per cent of the grain to the national pool, out of these billions Punjab received a share of only 1.3 per cent.

Why has Punjab been ignored every time? Is it because Punjab has all along been projected as the country’s most progressive and well-off agricultural state and admitting rural suicides in Punjab would invalidate this claim and thereby compell the Union government to restructure its planning in favour of the agriculture sector? Is there any other reason why the Central government would deny aid to Punjab’s rural sector?

The situation in Punjab is far worse than what the Union Ministry of Agriculture figures indicate because Punjab’s rural suicides have been grossly and deliberately under-reported over the years.

The Punjab government has desperately tried to underplay these suicides. It does so on the grounds that the state “cannot afford” to provide financial assistance to distressed families.

Punjab is a sensitive border state and is under the constant surveillance of intelligence agencies of the Union government and the Indian Army. It is impossible that intelligence agents have failed to notice the phenomenon of rural suicide — especially as reflected by bodies in the canals.

The issue of bodies in the Bhakra Beas mainline canal has been reported to the National Human Rights Commission, which has taken cognisance of it. The Punjab Police post at Khanauri Kalan is on the bank of the Bhakra Beas mainline canal.

This police post maintains a record of bodies sighted in the canal. According to this Punjab Police record, 35-45 bodies are seen at the Khanauri barrage of the Bhakra Beas mainline canal per month. (Reported by documentary films of Rajya Sabha TV, Channel News Asia – Singapore and The Week, August 24, 2014).

Many bodies go unnoticed because they are submerged or they pass the barrage at night. Even assuming that, per year, the number of bodies spotted at this point is around 500, over a 10-year period this would put the toll by drowning alone at 5,000.

This figure refers to a single point on a single canal. Punjab is veined with rivers and canals. Before mentioning a figure for rural suicides in Punjab, the Agriculture Ministry should check with the Intelligence agencies and the National Human Rights Commission.

It appears that the Central government wants to ignore or downplay rural suicides in Punjab. This is understandable because if Punjab, India’s premier agricultural state, is in crisis, then crisis has surely overtaken every other state in the Union. This effort to hide farmers suicides is not peculiar to Punjab alone.

This is also observed in the other states and has been widely reported in the media. Remedial measures, and that too radical measures, are long overdue. These should be akin to the grassroots movement led by Gandhiji before Independence.

In colonial India, India was reduced to a source of raw materials while value-addition through processing was entirely the province of England — notably the mills of Lancastershire. Gandhiji’s response was the khadi movement.

The pre-1947 situation persists: the farmers of Punjab Haryana and western UP are pushed into cultivating wheat and paddy, while the processing industries are mainly located in the western states.

Cost of wheat and paddy is price-controlled but finished products of wheat and paddy are not. The corporate sector flourishes at the cost of the farmers. As a consequence, the farmers pay with their very lives.

It is time to reset our priorities. For decades, India’s political leaders have clung to the trickle-down theory: Make the well-to-do more prosperous and their prosperity will percolate to those below. The economic position of people on the bottom weakens by the day. Why not try the reverse?

Make the masses prosperous so that their prosperity rises up through every class. It is time to remember that our cities rest upon the vast swathe of India’s fields. So long as India’s agriculture prospers, the cities will flourish. But when we destroy our farms and by extension our rural sector, then surely bramble will grow over the streets of our cities.

The writer, a human rights’ activist, is the Chairperson, Movement Against State Repression & has co-authored ‘Death and Debt in Rural India’ with Aman Sidhu.

Sint-Joost-ten-Noode/Saint-Josse-ten-Noode & From Erps to Vilvoorde Gurdwara

18 January 2016


Paleizenstraat/Rue des Palais – MIVB tram


Kruidtuin/Botanique MIVB Metro station


Kruidtuin/Botanique MIVB Tram stop

Erps to Vilvoorde
24 January 2016


Erps Kerk De Lijn bus stop
Bus 652 to Brussel Luchthaven


Brussel Luchthaven Gebouw 9
Waiting for 820 or 821 to Vilvoorde


Vilvoorde Gurdwara – Divan Hall

Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sahib
Lange Molensstraat 14
B-1800 Vilvoorde – Vlaams Brabant
(just north of Brussel)

To see all my pictures :

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – Six booked under blasphemy law for desecrating Sikh’s turban

Chichawatni, Panjab, 2 May 2016. Chichawatni city police have booked six men under blasphemy law for desecrating turban of a Sikh passenger during a scuffle for complaining about inconvenience during the travel.

The complainant, Mahinder Paal Singh (29), a resident of Multan, told local media that he was travelling from Faisalabad to Multan by a bus (FDS 676) owned by Kohistan-Faisal Movers company that broke down near Dijkot.

He said that at the terminal he and some of his fellow passengers complained to the transport company’s staff about the slow speed of the bus and demanded an alternative vehicle for the onward journey.

The two sides exchanged words, during which six company employees and terminal owner manhandled the passengers, including Singh.

He alleged that during the fight a bus terminal hawker, Rashid Gujjar, threw his turban on the ground.

The turban was considered sacred in the Sikh religious code and throwing it on the ground was tantamount to desecration.

According to some affected passengers, Singh told police, that reached the bus terminal following the brawl, that it was a case of desecration and since he was a Pakistani national the attackers should be booked under the blasphemy law.

Khaizer Hayat, Chichawatni city police SHO said five of the attackers, terminal manager Baqir Ali, Rashid Gujar, Faiz Alam, Shakeel, and Snawal had been booked under sections 295, 148 and 506 of the Pakistan Penal Code on the complaint of Mahinder Paal Singh and an FIR (169/16) had been filed under blasphemy law against the suspects.

The Hindu – Delhi red-faced over U-turn on visa to USA official

Dr Lantos Swett from the US Commission for International Religious Freedom had been denied a visa last month

Suhasini Haidar & Narayan Lakshman

New Delhi, 3 May 2016. A month after the Modi government refused visas to a USA delegation monitoring religious freedom, one of the delegation’s officials Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, was permitted to attend the controversial anti-China conference in Dharmsala that ended on Sunday.

The incident has led to deep embarrassment in the government, The Hindu has learnt.

“I did travel to India and came back to the USA this weekend,” Dr. Lantos Swett told The Hindu over the telephone, confirming that she had indeed received an e-visa for tourism, and had attended the conference on China.

Adding to New Delhi’s discomfiture, within hours of her return to Washington, Dr. Lantos Swett released the latest USA Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report, giving India a negative rating and keeping it on its watchlist of “Tier II countries”.

“As you know I wear two hats, both of the Lantos Foundation on Human Rights and the USCIRF. On this occasion I was not travelling as a representative of the USCIRF,” she explained.

On March 4 this year, the Indian Embassy in Washington had issued a statement saying the USCIRF had no “locus standi” to criticise India and there had been “no change in its policy” to deny its members visas.

Officials confirmed that they were aware of Dr. Lantos Swett’s visit, but refused to comment on how the prominent USA activist received a visa without prior clearance or red flags being raised over her status.

A senior official told The Hindu that there had been “no reversal of policy” on her visa, indicating that the fault lay in the visa and immigration departments for not having detected her application and for allowing it to be processed.

The official also indicated that there could be an overhaul of the visa granting process, that came under fire after it emerged that several Chinese dissidents including Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa, who faces an interpol notice, had received visas which were later cancelled.

More questions for government

The government is likely to face more uncomfortable questions over why it granted a visa to Dr. Lantos Swett after denying entry to her delegation from the USCIRF only a month ago.

In India, Dr. Swett attended the two-day conference in Dharamsala organised by USA-based dissident groups, Citizen Power for China and Initiatives for China, that are funded by the USA Congress-run National Endowment for Democracy.

Met Dalai Lama

Dr Lantos Swett reportedly also met the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala. Significantly, the USCIRF was responsible for the USA government’s decision to deny then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a visa in 2005. Since 2009, India has been kept on the USCIRF’s watchlist, and the Commission has been consistently denied permission to visit India.


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