Recent Resources for Feminists
The Feminist Spring: #1 An exposè of political-social-economic flaws thwarting the road to equality Print E-mail

New Internationalist Issue 474 - July, 2014

Feminism - The Facts

Facts for feminists - the twists and turns along the road to equality.

The Gender Inequality Index is a composite measure that reflects inequality, reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market.

Girls have made important gains in literacy and education.

20% increase in girls attending primary school in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa 2000-11.

Girls are more likely than boys to attend secondary school in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Canadian women as % of university graduates in selected subject areas, 20113

53% working women employed in ‘vulnerable’, insecure jobs globally.

10-30% the average pay gap between men and women.

Earnings / $1 paid to a white man in the US5

Women enjoy growing influence. In 1911, just 2 countries in the world allowed women to vote. Now the right is near-universal.

Number of countries with female heads of government since 1960s6

Among the most common human rights abuses worldwide, male violence is more likely to kill or maim women aged 15-44 than cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.8

30% of women worldwide have experienced violence by an intimate partner.2

20,000 ‘honour’ killings estimated to take place each year, globally.9

117 million girls thought missing due to ‘sex selection’ before birth, neglect and infanticide.10

2 women are murdered every day in Guatemala.11

Sexual violence

Rape case attrition in selected European countries4

50% of sexual assaults world-wide are committed against girls under 16.11

10 lesbians are subjected to ’corrective’ rape every week in Cape Town, South Africa.12

500,000 women (adults, children and infants) are raped in South Africa every year, the highest rate worldwide.13

Legal redress4,14
64% drop in domestic violence in the US (1994-2010), following the Violence against Women Act.

125 countries outlaw domestic violence.

52 countries have explicitly criminalized marital rape.

68,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year.

61 countries severely restrict women’s right to abortion.

% of women in relationships using any method of contraception

Risk of maternal death
1 in 7,300 developed world

1 in 22 sub-Saharan Africa

Women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid housework, in all regions.

British men and women, daily housework in minutes.


Plastic surgery procedures in the US over 15-year period15


Share of total cosmetic (surgical and nonsurgical) procedures, 201116

1 in 5 women in South Korea undergoes cosmetic surgery – the highest ratio in the world.17


1 in 5 teenage girls in the US has been asked to send nude or suggestive pictures online.18

100 the number of women arrested daily in Tehran for not wearing proper Islamic head dress.20

80% of all 10-year-old girls in the US have dieted.21

1. Dan Smith, State of the World Atlas, Myriad/ New Internationalist, 2013. Based on UNDP Gender Inequality Index.
2. MDGs Gender Chart 2014, UN Women. 
3. Government statistics Canada.
4. Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012, UN Women.
5. The American Association of University Women.
6. Dan Smith, State of the World Atlas, Myriad/New Internationalist, 2013.
7. Women in national parliaments as of 1 April 2014. Inter-Parliamentary Union.
8. Nicolas D Kristof, ‘Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?’, 12 January 2013, New York Times.
9. Ahmed Maher, ‘Many Jordan teenagers “support honour killings”’, 20 June 2013, BBC News.
10. UNFPA, Sex Imbalances at birth: current trends, consequences and policy implications, 2012.
11. Fast facts: statistics on violence against women and girls.
12. Fihlani Pumza, ‘South Africa’s lesbians fear corrective rape’, BBC News, 6 November 2012.
13. South Africa: One in four men rape’, IRIN news.
14. US Bureau of Justice Statistics.
15. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
16. International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery global statistics.
17. Asian Century Institute.
18. Study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and, in 2008.
19. ‘11 facts about sexting’.
20. Hossein Fatemi, Veiled Truths, Panos photo story.
21. 80% of 10-year-old girls in the US say they’ve been on a diet,’ June 2012,

22. The World’s Women 2010, UN.
23. Beatrix Campbell, End of Equality, 2013, Seagull Books.

The Feminist Spring: #2 An exposè of hijacked feminist agendas intended to flatten not flatter Print E-mail
New Internationalist Issue 474 - July, 2014

When rights go wrong

From empowerment-lite to love-jihad, exploreing the perils of hijacked feminist agendas.

By  Rahila Gupta

Illustration: Kathryn Corlett

It is a measure of the success of a set of ideas when business interests reference them in their marketing strategy. If religion and the state pile in too, it means those ideas are dangerous enough to warrant control through subversion. That has been the fate of feminism.

Perhaps the grandest of all ideological thefts took place when the US claimed it was invading Afghanistan to liberate women. Since then, saving women has become a central issue in the North-South civilizational discourse, separating ‘us’ from ‘them’.

Outrage at women’s suffering can go off-course all too easily. You may have thought recent demands for protection of women in India from sexual violence would be pretty difficult to subvert. But even here, conservative forces have appropriated the feminist agenda.

Kavita Krishnan, a passionate campaigner for women’s rights, has described the moral panic that followed the gang rape and murder of the young student Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi in December 2012. Society responded by policing women’s sexuality, locking up girls and women at home ‘for their own protection’.

The rush to protect took some dangerous turns: placards demanding ‘hang the rapists’ were directly linked to safer streets; the Aam Aadmi Party, a new anti-corruption grouping, set up local youth brigades that could just as easily unleash vigilante justice against girls out with their boyfriends.

Men from minority communities such as Muslims were also targeted. The khap panchayats, a quasi-judicial body at the village level, infamous for pronouncing harsh punishments based on age-old customs and traditions, used slogans such as ‘Beti Bachao, Bahu Bachao, Samman Bachao’ (protect daughters, daughters-in-law and our honour). The ‘protection’ being demanded was from a so-called love jihad by Muslim men intent on seducing Hindu women.

Indian feminists have fought back, working to recast the debate in the language of rights and to refine their demands: demanding protection for ‘a woman’s freedom, not her body’.

Demonstrators embraced this wider critique of patriarchy. Krishnan says the massive protests by young people on the streets were not only in repudiation of Jyoti Pandey’s murder, but also an outburst of accumulated anger against rape culture.

‘Many public figures made remarks that in fact criticized her [Jyoti] for being out with her “boyfriend”… What girls were telling us was, “that after this case, our parents are telling us that we can’t go out at night, we can’t watch a movie with our friends, we can’t study away from home.”’

In a speech to demonstrators that went viral on the internet, Krishnan promised, ‘We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!’

Strong… and shiny
The corporate sector has also got in on the action. One of its most effective appropriation strategies has been to cut feminism adrift from its roots as a collective project, by emphasizing individual empowerment and choice.

‘The personal is political’ is a key foundational principle of feminism. It resulted from joining up the dots between individual women’s experiences to come to an understanding that these experiences were part of a systemic inequality, which needed collective effort to dismantle. However, this same principle is broad enough to allow business interests to ride on its back. Hair-care firm Pantene sells us shampoo, urging us to ‘be strong and shine’ in an advertisement that shows a series of images that highlight gender inequality, as if glossy hair can fight the sexist labels that hold women back.

Across the board, the corporate sector has used individual empowerment to sell beauty products and cosmetic surgery on the basis that the modern woman, that is to say, the feminist, is in control of her career, her life and her body and she remakes them as she chooses even if those choices entrench gender inequality.

Those same business interests often rely on supply chains forged from women’s exploitation. In order to counter the bad press they have received on this front and partly to fulfil their corporate social responsibility obligations, the corporate sector has jumped on the ‘development’ bandwagon – predictably on its own terms and without a sense of irony.

US retail giant Walmart, which has been dogged by strikes and legal action over pay discrimination against their female workers, set up its Empowering Women Together programme in 2011. It has committed $100 million for jobs training for a million women across the world and gives women-owned businesses preferential status as suppliers. Yet it is only able to sell cheap clothes because of the starvation rates paid to Bangladeshi women garment workers.

Empty rituals

Similarly, US sportswear transnational Nike – with its own history of labour exploitation of young girls – set up the Nike Foundation in 2004 driven by the discovery that ‘the best investment with the highest returns’ was adolescent girls. In ‘Can girls save the world?’, Kate Grosser and Nikki van der Gaag analyse how the Nike approach undermines the feminist position and promotes a neoliberal agenda by focusing on the girls as individuals with power to change their situation while ignoring the social and political context which makes them powerless.1

Mainstream development trends must also be questioned. In Engaging with Empowerment, Indian scholar Srilatha Batliwala rejects those apolitical programmes that adopt feminist ideas, divest them of the complex transformative strategies they were embedded in, and reduce them ‘to formulas, rituals and mantras’. Anthropologist Andrea Cornwall has dubbed this ‘empowerment-lite’.

The religious right is another one that is fond of couching a pro-life position in the language of women’s rights. Christian groups in the US have long claimed abortion is necessary only because society has failed the needs of women. Europe has its own variants. A recent anti-abortion resolution filed in 2013 (which was ultimately rejected despite intense lobbying) expressed feminist-sounding concern for the early sexualization of girls, their widespread exposure to porn, the resultant gender stereotyping and sexual violence (so far, so acceptable) as a prelude to condemning ‘any violation of the bodily integrity of women’ and demanding universal access to ‘post-abortion trauma syndrome treatments’.

The British government, too, has not been averse to using women’s rights as a Trojan horse to smuggle in other, anti-immigration agendas. Prime Minister David Cameron has denounced forced marriage as ‘abhorrent and little more than slavery’ – a position that all feminists could support. Yet Britain’s action against ‘sham and forced marriage’ translated into upping income thresholds for those bringing in a foreign spouse, and increasing the probationary period of such marriages from two to five years. When a marriage breaks down in less than five years, a woman has to provide proof of domestic violence in order to get leave to remain in Britain. Ignorant of their rights, it is likely that many women would not dare to leave such marriages for fear of deportation and destitution. In contrast, the demands from feminists – more funding for specialist refuges, women’s centres and adequate training for teachers, social workers and police to identify girls at risk of forced marriage – go unheard.

We have to be vigilant to the encroachment on feminism from every direction and of attempts to use our own ideas against us. This imitation is not aimed to flatter but to flatten us.

Tina Wallace, Fenella Porter (eds), Aid, NGOs and the realities of women’s lives, Practical Action, 2014.
Rahila Gupta is a journalist, writer and activist. She also writes for OpenDemocracy and The Guardian.

Vandana Shiva: Growth measured via commercialisation & commodification of resources is a scam Print E-mail

 Thursday June 19, 2014

The scam of growth

By Vandana Shiva

Bhutan: I am working with the government of Bhutan to help the country become the world’s first wholly organic country. I am also working to redefine the economic paradigm to focus on the happiness (gross national happiness) and well being of its people and the health of its environment, instead of narrowly defined growth as gross domestic product.

Eighty per cent of Bhutan is forest. All streams and rivers are healthy and living. And this is a result of a conscious policy to protect nature and culture. From the local to the national level, policies are dedicated to “promotion of sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and conservation of biodiversity in pursuit of a happy society”.

In the beautiful valley of Bumthang in central Bhutan, the government plans to set up a gross national happiness centre, and I have been invited to be on its executive council.

To reach the site of the centre, which is surrounded by protected conifer forests, we had to cross a gushing river in a basket on a rope bridge.

The forests and rivers took me back to my childhood in Garhwal and Kumaon where my father served as a forest conservator, and we trekked across the Himalayas through healthy forests and gushing rivers and streams. I could not have imagined as a child that our precious forests and rivers, which have sustained us through the centuries, would disappear in my lifetime because we would blindly start chasing a mirage of growth.

Forty years ago, the women of Garhwal stood up for their forests and started the Chipko Movement. They said that the real gifts of the forests were soil, water and pure air, not timbre, resin and revenue. After the 1978 floods, the government was forced to recognise that the costs of deforestation in terms of floods was much higher than the revenues collected from logging. In 1981, a ban was imposed on logging above 1,000 metres in the Ganga catchments.

In 1982, the ministry of environment asked us to do a study on the ecological impact of mining in the Doon Valley. In 20 years of mining, I had watched our streams and rivers disappear.

Our study showed that the limestone left in the mountains contributed more to the economy than its extraction through mining, because limestone is an aquifer and holds water in its cavities and caves.

Friends of the Doon Valley mobilised the citizens and in 1983, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the limestone mines and all the polluting industries dependent on it. The Doon Valley was declared an ecologically sensitive zone and a green valley.

Thirty years later, in violation of all laws, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, Vijay Bahuguna, signed an MoU with Coca Cola to set up a plant in village Charba. Wherever Coca Cola goes, it brings famine and pollution. This was the case in Plachimada in Kerala, where women started a movement and shut down the Coca Cola plant.

Similar is the case in Mehdiganj near Varanasi. Each plant uses 1.5-2 million litres of water per day. This can create scarcity in the most water abundant region. On May 29, 2013, citizens from across India and the Doon Valley joined a solidarity rally of the Charba community to stop the Coca Cola plant.

Today, our forests and rivers are dying. And as a society, we don’t seem to care even though every community whose land, forests and water are being grabbed are rising in revolt. It is probably the biggest ecological movement in our history.

Tagore had called Indian civilisation “Aranya Sanskriti” and distinguished us from the Western industrial societies based on brick and mortar. But the economic and political powers that be do not think twice about chopping down forests for mines and concrete jungles.

When the protector becomes the predator, how can India’s forests survive?

And when the tribals and forest dwellers try to protect their forest homes from the predatory invasions of a corporate state, should we not pause and think about the future of our forests, our tribals, our democracy and the principles that made us an “aranya sanskriti”? Should we not look deeper at the roots of violence in our tribal areas?

How could we so completely have forgotten the foundations of our sustenance, our forests and rivers? How could we have forgotten what it means to be a forest civilisation and a civilisation where rivers are our sacred mothers?

Why do mining corporations, real-estate corporations, dam corporations get priority over our Constitution and laws, the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, and environmental laws meant to protect nature? How have we reached a situation where the government rewards ecological criminals, and criminalises citizens working in defence of their ecosystems and the livelihoods and sustenance they provide?

There are, after all, forest conservation laws meant to protect our forests. There is a Panchayati Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act that recognises the rights of tribal communities and their sovereignty over their land and forests.

The justification is always “growth”. However, no short-term economic policy can trump the long-term economic policy of protecting the ecological foundations of all economy. Everywhere in the world, especially in Bhutan, the scam of “growth” is being recognised. All it measures is commercialisation and commodification of resources, and hence is actually the rate of extraction of resources from local ecosystems and local communities. It should, therefore, be interpreted as measuring ecological destruction and the creation of poverty, not as measuring wealth.

The real meaning of “wealth” is well being. A process that destroys nature and dispossesses local communities and hence destroys well being cannot be justified as wealth-creating. What it does lead to as a result of ecological and social exploitation and the conversion of nature’s resources into cash is the concentration of cash in the hands of a few.

And this cash can then be used for kickbacks and buying political influence, to further erode nature, people’s rights and democracy. This is the vicious cycle we have got trapped in. And only people’s movements in the defence of nature and their rights can break it.- The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

India: Feminist environmentalists pinpoint IB Report's threat to country’s Food & Seed Sovereignty Print E-mail
PRESS RELEASE 17th June 2014

India’s Sovereignty, Security and Freedom at risk

Is the IB being used by foreign corporations to take over India’s vital seed sector?

The IB report has a special section on GMOs (genetically modified/engineered organisms). It clearly supports the introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture.
The IB report makes specific mention of the Supreme Court cases which have been filed. It curiously also accuses civil society organisations and individuals of influencing 3 Committees that were officially mandated to assess GMOs. The IB report objects to these formal government reports, the Moratorium Orders of Shri Jairam Ramesh, the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report and the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee Report (TEC) because they find that on current evidence, GM crops have little to contribute to Indian agriculture, safe food and food security. These findings did not accord with the view of the PMO, when headed by the erstwhile Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This report was initiated under the UPA Government.

IB objects to protection of Indian seed and food sovereignty?

In 1998, when Monsanto introduced Bt cotton illegally, without the statutory approvals from the GEAC, we had to file a case in the SC to defend the laws of the land, our Constitution, our Seed Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty. When open field trials were being conducted without appropriate and independent Biosafety assessments, and expertise in these matters, the current cases in the Supreme Court were initiated in 2003 and 2005 to uphold the law: protect the environment and safety of our seeds and food from irreversible genetic contamination, protect smallholder farming in India, and the health safety of 1 billion citizens. The country faces a major threat from the multinational Seed/chemical industry, seeking control over our seeds, our agriculture and our food. This is the corporate focus. This is their AGENDA. Thousands of organizations and many multiples of thousands of individuals are committed to resisting this unacceptable corporate goal for India.  

IB favors the foreign hand in the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’:

The IB report quotes a Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University who promotes GMOs and the monopoly of Monsanto. It is ironic that the IB report relies on the evidence of Dr Herring with his antecedents in Cornell University, a hub of blind GMO promotion. It is the direct foreign hand along with USAID and Monsanto funding, behind the ‘making of India’s Bt brinjal’. Here is a real foreign hand that informs the IB report. Has the IB report been written then with foreign influence, for the benefit and profits of foreign corporations? The strategy of the global GMO seed industry with their patents & IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights) is to bend regulation and influence governments and regulators to approve GMOs, by-passing scientific, transparent and independent safety testing.

Outrageous insult to our Parliamentarians and Contempt of Court by the IB:

The PSC recommended a high-level enquiry into how Bt brinjal was approved by the Regulators for commercial release. The self-assessed safety-dossier by Mahyco-Monsanto was a cover-up as evidenced in independent assessments of the raw data by several leading international scientists.  It staggers belief that the IB find it possible to hand out an outrageous insult to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, by suggesting  that they have in effect been led ‘by the nose’ by activists and civil society groups and have no competence to address their official mandate on the subject. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the IB report has been influenced by those who have most to gain by undermining our seed and food sovereignty ie. the foreign corporations.

The IB report has also attacked the government decision made under our Biosafety laws to impose a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. It is thus attacking our Biosafety. This will only suit foreign interests.

The IB is guilty of contempt of court since it attacks the Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the issues of GMOs and Biosafety. The case is still being heard.

The IB fails to refer to the important other official report, the ‘Sopory Committee Report’. This report of 2012 commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture itself is a stinging commentary on what is wrong with GMO regulation in India. Our regulatory institutions and the MoA have been indicted in this report for lies, fraud and lacking GMO expertise. And the truth with regard to massive contamination was revealed in this report.

NGOs saving Indian seed and food sovereignty:

The biggest foreign hand by STEALTH and official COVER-UP will be in GMOs/GM crops if introduced into Indian agriculture. All that stands between a corporate takeover of our seeds and agriculture is the committed and exemplary work by the not-for-profit sector that helped create an informed debate on GMOs and has postponed, even stopped government action from introducing them for over 15 years.  In conspiring with deeply conflicted institutions of regulation, governance and agriculture, of which there is incontrovertible proof, to introduce GM crops into India, the IB will in fact aid the hand-over of the ownership of our seeds and foods to Multi-National Corporations. This will represent the largest take-over of any nation’s agriculture and future development by foreign-hands and this time it will be no bogey foreign hand. This will be for real.  China is on record as saying that she will not allow her armed forces to eat any GM food. This not-to-be-imagined future will plunge India into the biggest breach of internal security; of a biosecurity threat and food security crisis from which we will never recover. The fallout of this mere 20 year-old laboratory technology is, that it is irreversible. This is what must give us sober ‘food for thought’ uncontaminated by GMOs, something the IB seems to be supremely oblivious of. GM crops have already demonstrated no yield gain, no ability to engineer for traits of drought, saline resistance etc and have some  serious bio-safety issues which no regulator wishes  to examine.

Indian Cotton in Foreign Hands, Indian farmers’ hard earned money expatriated to foreign lands:

India’s Bt cotton is an outstanding example of the above scenario. It was introduced into India’s hybrids, not varieties so our farmers would be forced to buy seeds each year. This ‘VALUE CAPTURE’ for Monsanto which was contrived and approved by our own government mortgaging the public interest has ensured that in a short 10 years, 95% of cotton seeds in the form of Bt cotton are owned by Monsanto. The damage to India’s organic cotton market and status is significant. India is the largest organic cotton producer/exporter in the world. It is Monsanto now that decides where cotton should be planted and when by our farmers, a role that the MoA has absconded or been eliminated from. The Royalties accruing to Monsanto that have been expatriated are approximately Rs 4800 Crores in 12 years,   (excluding other profit mark-ups). What would this figure be if GMOs and propriety seeds flooded our farms without Biosafety assessment and regulation? This is the arithmetic the IB should have done, instead of throwing an arbitrary figure of 2-3% loss of growth. The IB is thus conspiring with global corporate interests to hemorrhage India’s agricultural economy. More than 284000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide because of a debt trap, lack of government investment in smallholder farming and dependence on non-renewable, propriety seeds and chemicals sold by the corporations. We call for an investigation on the foreign influence in writing the GMO section in the IB report.

If India's intelligence agencies become instruments of global corporations working against the public interest and national interest of India, our national security is under threat.

This IB report is deeply anti-national and subversive of constitutional rights of citizens in our country.  It does India no credit.

 Vandana Shiva,       Aruna Rodrigues,   Kavitha Kuruganti
  8100 25169                                                             98263 96033                                             96112 98718


 Wednesday June 18 2014

The importance of dissent in democracy

Pushpa M. Bhargava
The Hindu Illustration: Deepak Harichandan
In a democracy, non-governmental organisations provide a platform to civil society to dissent in an informed and reasoned manner

On October 31, 1570, Martin Luther nailed on the door of a church in Germany 95 objections to the Catholic faith that led to the emergence of Protestanism. Soon after, Galileo Galilei challenged the Church by stating that the Earth and other planets revolve round the Sun. He died under house arrest.

In 1927, Heinrich Wieland received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering a structure of cholic acid which was proven to be wrong within a year. In 1959, Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of enzymes that carry out the synthesis of RNA and DNA in living organisms. It turned out that these enzymes were not the right ones.

In fact, the history of progress of mankind is a history of informed dissent; much of creative activity of high quality in all areas of human endeavour at any given time has been a reflection of such dissent.

Today we favour democracy as the most acceptable form of governance because a citizen has a right to dissent without fear of victimisation ­ as long as such dissent does not lead to inhuman or unconstitutional action. By contrast, dissent in an authoritarian, dictatorial or colonial regime could lead to the severest of punishments ­ loss of life ­ as happened in colonial India, Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR.
Platform for dissent

In a democracy, non-governmental organisations provide a platform to civil society to dissent in an informed and reasoned manner. They provide a mechanism for the ruled to keep a check on the rulers.

There are of course NGOs that engage in illegal or objectionable activities using Indian and/or foreign funds, much like how 34 per cent of newly elected MPs in Parliament have criminal cases against them. Just as the majority of MPs do not have cases against them, a large proportion of our NGOs operate transparently and legally.

The power that NGOs wield has increased concurrently with the increased demand for real and operational democracy. If it were not for our NGOs, we would not have the system of obligatory declaration of assets, now required by all those aspiring to be MPs. We would also not have the the Right to Information Act or the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act.

Denigrating good NGOs would therefore imply that our democracy is only notional and not functional. Such denigration would smack of a dictatorial attitude.

The recent Intelligence Bureau report on the “Concerted efforts of select foreign funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects” casts serious aspersions on some of our best NGOs and distinguished citizens. The report also alleges that these NGOs would have a negative impact on GDP growth by 2-3 per cent by stalling, through agitation, development projects such as nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, GMOs, projects by POSCO and Vedanta, hydel projects, and “extractive industries” in the north-east.

By casting unwarranted and unproven aspersions on highly reputed NGOs such as Greenpeace and Nobel Prize-winning Amnesty International, and individuals such as Suman Sahai, Vandana Shiva, Aruna Rodrigues, Prashant Bhushan, Udayakumar, Admiral Ramdos and Praful Bidwai, the IB has indirectly indicted every individual and NGO that has voiced reasoned dissent in the interest of our country and its people, within our constitutional framework. Such an attitude on the part of the IB makes a mockery of our democracy.

What is wrong in receiving funds from well-meaning individuals or bona fide organisations abroad who want to help a worthwhile cause in India? Doesn’t the Indian government, for example, help worthwhile causes in Afghanistan? In fact, the Bureau should have looked at the damage caused by government funding to organisations like Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan started as a fully justified campaign on June 12 against the illegal raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam from 122 to 139 metres, which will adversely impact over 2.5 lakh people engaged in various occupations. We know from past experience that nothing will be done for those who stand to be displaced by this move. But IB would probably condemn the above campaign in its next report.

Let us look at how specious and ridiculous the arguments in the IB report are. There is massive opposition to nuclear power plants around the world, and many countries such as Japan and Germany have decided to abrogate them in a time-bound fashion. In our own country, many highly distinguished individuals such as a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and several former Secretaries to the Government of India, who are knowledgeable in the area, have opposed further investment in nuclear energy. None of them has any connection with Greenpeace, nor do they have any vested interest. They have provided valid reasons for their views.

Let us take another example ­ coal mining for coal-fired thermal power plants. Such mining requires destroying India’s forest wealth and the livelihood of tribals. What about our national commitment since Independence to have over 30 per cent of our area under forest cover? Why should we invest so heavily in nuclear, thermal or large hydel power plants, none of which will be environment or people-friendly, when we have far better alternatives staring us in our face: solar power, wind power, micro and mini hydel, biomass and biogas, lot of which can be produced and used locally? Isn’t it strange that our country does not have even one single institute totally devoted to research on solar power? We want to spend enormous amounts of money to buy nuclear reactors from the U.S. but we do not want to learn lessons on solar power from Germany. What is then wrong with NGOs in our country such as Greenpeace for taking a courageous stand against nuclear, coal-fired thermal or large hydel power plants?

It is hilarious that the possession of a map showing nuclear installations in India and a list of Indians who oppose nuclear power ­ all of which is public knowledge ­ is a crime in the eyes of the IB. The ignorance of the Bureau with regard to the Bt-cotton story in India, and of the problems with GM crops, is appalling. For example, Bt-cotton has totally failed in rain-fed areas that account for nearly two-thirds of cotton-growing area in the country. Even if, as the IB claims, there is a negative impact on GDP because of opposition to certain projects, so what? Our experience of high growth rate in some recent years has by no means been satisfactory, for it has barely touched the bottom 80 per cent of our population and has vastly increased the economic gap between the top 20 and bottom 80 per cent.

Action against illegal activities
It is only proper that the government takes action against those organisations that obtain foreign funds illegally and/or are not transparent in using them as required by law. Many organisations do not take money from the government or business houses. It is admirable that they survive on donations by individuals in India and/or abroad. They follow the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and their accounting is transparent. I believe that in the long-term interests of inclusive growth in the country, it is much wiser to support such organisations than to have FDI in retail which will benefit a select few but adversely affect millions of people in the country.

(Pushpa M. Bhargava is the founder- director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad, and chairman of the Southern Regional Centre of Council for Social Development.)

India: IB Report exposes Modi-led Govt’s pro-corporate plan of to criminalising legitimate dissent Print E-mail

Friday July 11, 2014

New truth regime

The Vedanta plant at the foothills of Niyamgiri Hills, the peacful habitat of the Dongria Kondhs in Lanjigarh, Kalahandi district. The Supreme Court ruling resulted in the scrapping of its bauxite project. (Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury)
A signage for the project site office of a proposed Posco steel complex in Nuagaon, Odisha, on January 18. The I.B. report refuses to see the fact that many mega projects and their implementation faced the wrath of local communities such as Adivasis, Dalits and marginal farmers. (Bloomberg)

The Intelligence Bureau’s report gets it all wrong in accusing the robust civil society and its NGOs of threatening national economic security.


HISTORY RECORDS THAT WITCH-HUNTS IN political and cultural arenas were launched on the back of conscious and simplistic misunderstandings of complex structures and their associated phenomena. And as yet another hunt is just about to be launched, it is important to realise that the struggle against it is not just a political one but an epistemological one: this struggle is not against arbitrary power alone, but against the one-sidedness of the truth regime of that of power.

What does this new truth regime, constituted by the Intelligence Bureau’s (I.B.) June 2014 report, set out to enunciate? It purports to be an economic analysis of the Indian establishment’s failure to realise its obsession of unilinear economic development, but it is not! It neither discusses the international or domestic economic contexts and factors that contributed to this failure nor allots them any blame quotient. However, it apportions most of the blame quotient to India’s robust civil society and its non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The report tersely states that the dissenting activities of India’s NGOs have threatened national economic security. It apportions a 2 to 3 per cent loss in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to their problematic activities, which include campaigning against some mega projects­in the extractive, nuclear and coal-based power sectors­and succeeding in stalling (more correctly, deferring) a few of them. It goes on to conclude that all this was done at the behest of Western corporates and political powers who want to “take down” India’s development in order to further their business ends. The report’s sometimes explicit message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials is the need to quell such dissent-led protests, which have stalled what is deemed to be India’s corporate-led economic growth agenda.

The I.B. report neither asks why these mega projects, in the first place, became contentious, nor attempts to analyse why governmental agencies continued to promote such projects despite potential loss of livelihoods and environmental degradation for the local communities. It does not contain a single word on issues that were raised during the 2014 election campaign­rampant corruption, as evidenced in the 2007-09 coal allotments, promotion of crony capitalism, and illegal wealth stashed away in the banks of some of these very Western countries.

Stick to beat NGOs with
It goes without saying that the report’s key finding is intended to arm the Narendra Modi dispensation with a stick to beat the NGOs with and arm-twist them into submission so that they do not oppose its economic agenda. After all, laws still require them, especially those receiving foreign funds, to furnish accounts to the myriad Ministries led by the Union Home Ministry which continue to look at them from the political or economic security angle. Also, Narendra Modi and his team are in desperate need to realise their electoral mandate over the next five years. By implementing such an agenda based on 7 to 8 per cent steady annual economic growth­with the slogans of inclusiveness: sabke saath aur sabkaa vikas. If this mission fails for whatever international or domestic reasons, the I.B. report’s conspiracy narrative will term those NGOs that still have the gumption to continue to voice their dissent as villains. Thus, a new truth regime has already been floated and ye shall obey it, as the old saying goes.

But this truth regime is neither new nor without problems. First, it carries forward an old legacy. This report’s findings sound uncannily similar to the rhetoric by Indira Gandhi who routinely referred to the foreign hand out to simultaneously destabilise her and India’s polity. During those heady decades, some observers had even concluded that India’s fledgling human rights movement was guilty of aiding this foreign hand whenever they raised the issue of gross violations of human rights. Some had gone to the extent of concluding that the armed revolts taking place in India’s geographic peripheries were a direct result of these hazy-hand conspiracies. Given the fact that some of these revolts have meandered on for decades without pragmatic political solutions, such theories have become less fashionable today. Nevertheless, if one has to go by the I.B. report, the foreign hand itself appears to have decisively shifted terrain: For the hand, the political is now a legacy as the economic is the contemporary.

Indeed, the truth regime easily comes apart. The I.B. report steadfastly refuses to see the fact that many mega projects and their implementation faced the wrath of long-marginalised local communities such as Adivasis, Dalits and marginal farmers; governmental agencies had already ridden roughshod over these communities’ rights by acquiring or destroying lands and other natural resources for which they had put forth their rightful claims; these rights, guaranteed by India’s constitutional provisions and parliamentary laws such as the Forest Rights Act, 2007, merely existed on paper; in a number of States, there were simply no agencies to implement them. This failure to realise their rightful claims pushed these communities to the path of struggle.

In the ongoing protests over nuclear power projects in Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu) and Jaitapur (Maharashtra), local communities remain far from convinced about governmental assurances on safety after witnessing the Fukushima disaster in Japan live on television. The protests continue. Also, over the past few years, a range of new activists and NGOs, starting from the grass-root-level to the State, the national and international levels, tirelessly worked to extract information about these projects from authorities reluctant to part with it, petitioned local and State-level judicial forums by highlighting the problems associated with them, moved the Supreme Court or the Green Tribunal in Delhi, and vigorously campaigned on these issues. The results of such interventions went either way for those who initiated them. Regarding the case against Vedanta’s bauxite mining project at Niyamgiri in Odisha, the Supreme Court ruled that the local communities had the final say whether the mega project violated their religious and cultural rights (see story on page 15). This resulted in the scrapping of the project. As for Kudankulam, the court decided to go by the official scientific opinion but imposed conditions for the project’s implementation (see story on page 21).

Thus, these NGOs have seen only a few successes but have endured a large number of failures. The failures came when they did not have the resources to fight cases or were unable to stand up to state- or corporate-led intimidation and harassment. More dangerously, in some contexts, the local communities gave up as they did not have the numbers or they were unable to stand up to the police repression over a period of time. Of course, the I.B. report has no reason to mention this fact.

It devotes a few pages to the activities of international NGOs, including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Survival International and ActionAid. It says, after circulating and amplifying dissent to the point of a global-level protest, these organisations fuelled the protests. On the other hand, these metro-based organisations do not appear to possess the power or the will, or even the intention, to sustain grass-root-level struggles, which can be sustained only by grass-root-level movements built over a period of time by committed activists.

NGOs’ contribution

The international NGOs’ contribution came in the form of meticulous research on local issues from a global human rights and ecological perspective. Secondly, they also ensured that local campaigns reached and impacted international arenas. Third, the international NGOs did some fine-tuning of the news about these protests to resonate with impacts of similar protests across the world. They knew that parallel protests over such issues had broken out across the world. Thus, a local protest by Adivasi communities against bauxite mining in their traditional lands and habitats in Odisha immediately resonated with that of indigenous communities in the Amazon jungles against mining, dam-building or timber-logging. This resonance has now become so important that the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, James Ananya, spent an entire year (2012-13) studying the impact of extractive industries on the lands and habitats of indigenous communities across the world. A myopic I.B. report can hardly be aware of such an overarching trend in world politics. It needed a James Cameron to sense this trend. His Avatar, a film documenting the epic struggle of the Navi tribe, coincided with the release of Amnesty International’s research report on the human rights violations suffered by the Dongria Kondh tribe protesting against Vedanta’s bauxite mine plans. The Niyamgiri campaign went viral after Avatar’s phenomenal success.

Thirdly, persistent advocacy by the international NGOs enabled local protests to get easier access to Western sites of economic decision-making such as Ministries, stock exchanges, banks and pension funds. The international NGOs had already done serious advocacy and campaign work on human rights violations and environmental degradation committed by Western companies across the globe. This included campaigning for justice for the survivors of the December 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster. Following this work, the Western sites of economic decision-making are now aware of the extraterritorial human rights obligations of companies that operate with global financial resources. These obligations are now getting enshrined in corporate law frameworks of these countries. When Indian corporates enter these very sites to access funds, they are ill at ease in complying with the rigors of decision-making, which include stringent measures to prevent human rights violations and environmental degradation as a result of the activities of corporates. These obligations have become particularly relevant in the extractive sector companies, which face tremendous opposition for their operations across the world. This naturally impacted Vedanta and other companies, which were put on the back foot as they steadily lost investors and ratings in the wake of the news of the human rights violations at Niyamgiri. The I.B. report is simply ignorant of the range of factors contributing to these corporate setbacks­indeed, it goes on to label such activities by international NGOs as attempts to “take down” India’s economic growth.

By sticking to this conspiracy angle, the I.B. report appears to have missed the most important evolution, which the NGO as an institution is undergoing in contemporary India. Yes, an NGO is not just one static organisation sticking to one issue as thought of earlier. It is forced to operate across a number of issues and themes, including information, human rights, ecology, education, health, and women. It is now more of a hybrid and needs the ability to quickly metamorphose back and forth. Gone are the days when it was a legally run cooperative, or worse, individual- or family-run fiefdom or business not accountable to anyone else. In fact, some NGOs are now run as chief executive officer (CEO)-style companies but with similar non-accountability structures. Yes, during the past decade, the corporate and the electronic worlds have decisively entered the NGO institution, bringing a host of changes in its structure, funding, style of work and even clouding its universal ideals and substance of work. Some of this change may be irreversible, but even in this chaotic world, there are local NGOs, launched with good old ideals but are struggling for funds.

Unlike what the I.B. report concludes, some of India’s top national NGOs manage themselves with shoe-string budgets and do not accept corporate or foreign donations. Unlike what the I.B. report thinks, they cannot run or sustain a social movement against a mega project but can only add to the strength of a social movement. Some NGOs are still confined to the research desk, the campaign blackboard and the law book. However, a few others with sufficient ambition have set up laboratories and policy think tanks and commissioned scientific and environmental studies. Some have had the audacity to lead social movements, establish nuclei of political parties and endure their attendant problems. As for the international NGOs based out of the West, they started as voluntary association of internationalist citizens committed to the rights of the other. Today, they are not just organisations but politico-cultural brands. Their leaders are appointed just like any other corporate honchos and they operate in presidential style. Indeed, these organisations zealously guard their brand identities. They are drawing up, or have already implemented, ambitious plans of expanding their membership base and reach in the South, and their plans include expansion in India.

A bit of this comes out when the I.B. reports the organisational muscle of Greenpeace India, but on the whole the report grossly misses the hybrid presence of the NGO institution in India. Yes, given their history and context, NGOs need to ponder a lot over the following issues. First, the I.B. report may afford to miss it this time as it focussed on silencing dissent on economic growth, but they need to reflect on the hybrid future that awaits them. Secondly, it is essential that they not only furnish regular accounts to the members/donors or the Union Home Ministry but also make their structure, capacities, activities, plans, successes and failures fully transparent to the public at large and subject them to independent scrutiny, without resorting to fixing such scrutiny. Thirdly, it is essential that they retain their capacity to ask universal questions.

One such question is why modern India, despite having a long and continuous tradition of voluntary work from Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to Mahatma Gandhi, is still unable to ensure the flowering of international NGOs, which stand up for the rights of those across the world and do not have anything directly to do with India. Such universal questions are the only pedestal they will retain at a time when many await their turn, after the I.B. report, to bring them down from their moral high ground.

Ramesh Gopalakrishnan
was, until recently the India Researcher at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London and was directly involved in the research, advocacy and campaign on Vedanta’s bauxite mine plans in Niyamgiri, Odisha.
Friday July 11 2014

Targeting NGOs

The Narmada Bachao Andolan's "Jal-Satyagraha" at Bichoula village in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh, in September 2013. (A.M. Faruqui)
A demonstration in solidarity with the Niyamgiri struggle against Vedanta in front of Odisha Bhawan in New Delhi. (Shanker Chakravarty)
Greenpeace activists drape Essar's 180-foot-tall building in south Mumbai on January 22, protesting against the proposed destruction of the Mahan forests in Madhya Pradesh. (Vivek Bendre)

The timing and contents of the I.B. report naming select NGOs and individuals as working against the national interest exposes the Narendra Modi government’s pro-corporate plan to target organisations championing people’s causes that have not been taken up adequately by the political class.

BOTH the contents of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) report on certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the manner in which the report was leaked in June underscored one important point: that this exercise was clearly part of a game plan devised by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. To start with, the report was leaked from the office of a chartered accountant-politician who is perceived to be rising fast in the new dispensation at the Centre. The politician’s office reportedly leaked the report on the premise that it was a first step towards unfolding some development thrusts of the new government. The 21-page document titled “Concerted efforts by select foreign-funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects”, as the title suggests, seeks to selectively target certain NGOs and makes no secret of its intent.

The very first paragraph of the report states as follows: “A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by some donors based in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries) have been noticed to be using people-centric issues to create an environment which lends itself to stalling development projects.” It goes on to specify the projects thus: “These include agitations against nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants (CFPPs), genetically modified organisms (GMOs), mega industrial projects (Posco and Vedanta), hydel projects (at Narmada Sagar and in Arunachal Pradesh) and extractive industries (oil, limestone) in the north-east.” Thus making clear what and whose concerns were being addressed, the report concludes the paragraph with the estimation that “the negative impact on GDP [gross domestic product] growth is assessed to be 2-3 per cent per annum”.

The rest of the report details the activities of the alleged anti-national NGOs and some individuals who are apparently involved in their activities or are assisting them. The NGOs mentioned include Greenpeace, ActionAid, and The Alliance of Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), and among the individuals are Suman Sahai, Vandana Shiva, Kavitha Kuruganti, S.P. Udayakumar, Aruna Rodrigues and Swami Agnivesh. Each NGO and the activities of each named individual are dealt with at some length and there is an evident effort to build a case against them.

The orchestration behind the report has also been unravelled by the manner in which it has plagiarised a speech made by Modi in New Delhi on September 9, 2006. Modi, who was then Gujarat Chief Minister, had pointed to a “vicious cycle” operating among NGOs. The speech has been recorded thus: “Another conspiracy­a vicious cycle is set up. Funds are obtained from abroad; an NGO is set up; a few articles are commissioned; a PR [public relations] firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media, an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance this image. Such a vicious cycle, a network of finance-activity-award is set up and, once they have secured an award, no one in Hindustan dares raise a finger, no matter how many the failings of the awardee.”

The I.B. report paraphrases this as follows: “A small group of activists and NGOs at times have succeeded in shaping policy debates in India. Apart from that, in some cases it is observed that in a cyclical process, an NGO is set up, funds are obtained from abroad, a few articles are commissioned, a PR firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance the image, after which government machinery finds it more difficult to act against the awardee.”

Calculated moves
Commenting on the form and content of the report as well as the manner in which it has been propagated, the Patna-based political analyst Surendra Kishore told Frontline that this seemed like a unique political exercise that harked back to the style of functioning seen during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi.

He said: “The craft one sees in the report is non pareil. It seeks to strike many birds with one stone. It has struck a blow for the so-called development projects mentioned. It has raised questions about foreign funding to NGOs but done that selectively, leaving out the ones that favour and help the BJP as well as the larger Sangh Parivar. I am of the view that this will now lead to two pursuits. First, a resolute move to implement these projects, some of which have been questioned and put on hold by the higher judiciary itself. This will essentially involve moves to advance the neoliberal development agenda while questioning the agit-prop positions and the championing of those causes taken up by these NGOs. The second aspect will also lead to calculated moves to initiate legal and punitive measures against some of these NGOs. The fact that the funding that many of them receive is questionable will certainly provide ammunition for the interested sections of the Modi government. In any case, one will not see the end of this debate anytime soon.”

It does not require phenomenal logic to infer as to who will benefit from the so-called development perspective highlighted in the I.B. report and the prospective drive based on it. In India, the plans of multinational corporations such as Vedanta, Posco and Monsanto have faced resistance not only from mass movements but also from the judiciary. Their projects involve massive displacement of people, especially indigenous tribal communities, in various parts of India. ASHA pointed to the corporate tilt in the I.B. report and expressed concern over its consequences for the people. ASHA said the report was silent on American multinationals such as Monsanto which spent vast resources on publicity work. It said an informed public debate on Bt brinjal helped put the introduction of the transgenic brinjal variety on hold. ASHA added that the moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal should be welcomed, especially since the Parliamentary Standing Committee (set up by the previous government) was unanimous in upholding it, and that the insinuation that the committee could be influenced by liaising and facilitation of articles was an insult to the credible body. The I.B. report, ASHA said, was not about foreign-funded NGOs but about quelling dissent and opposition. Anti-genetically modified seeds activists pointed out that the BJP’s election manifestoes in 2009 and 2014 had stated that “no genetically modified seed will be allowed for cultivation without full scientific data on long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers”.

Kudal Commission

Kishore pointed out that Indira Gandhi had initiated the Kudal Commission of Inquiry against NGOs. “This comparison imparts a kind of historical significance to the present report and the related actions that would emanate from it. In many ways, it necessitates and facilitates a recount of the NGO-civil society involvement in the Indian political and developmental space,” he said.

The Kudal Commission, headed by Purushottam Das Kudal, was set up in 1982 immediately after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. (In 1977, the Janata Party, a party formed by leaders who had opposed the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, received a huge mandate to form the first non-Congress government at the Centre.) The premise for setting up the commission was that a number of NGOs in the country were funded and controlled by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that they were trying to destabilise India. Political observers and civil society activists had then maintained that Indira Gandhi was irked by the political role played by NGOs in the anti-Emergency movement between 1975 and 1977. Several NGOs, especially Gandhian institutions such as the Gandhi Peace Foundation, had campaigned against the Emergency and facilitated the political mobilisation which helped end the Emergency in 1977. The Kudal Commission report is still not available comprehensively, but indications are that it did uphold Indira Gandhi’s premise that the CIA was involved with many major opposition forces and leaders during that period. Names mentioned in this connection include a number of Sangh Parivar associates and leaders of the socialist movement.

The context of the Kudal Commission inquiry and some of its perceived findings had raised a number of questions about the functioning of Indian NGOs. Allegations about foreign funding, CIA connection, and bureaucratisation of NGOs increased during this period, leading to a loss of intensity of their social and political involvement. It was perceived that the Indira Gandhi government had stifled the capacity of NGOs to bring together people on social and political issues.

A detailed study undertaken by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), on NGOs advanced this debate considerably. His study “Action Groups/Voluntary Organisations: A Factor in Imperialist Strategy”, argued that a number of NGOs reflected strategies developed in imperialist quarters to harness the forces of voluntary agencies/action groups to their strategic design to penetrate Indian society and influence its course of development. Even as arguments like this were discussed through most of the 1980s, in the early 1990s, several NGOs and civil society organisations started displaying a unique two-dimensional character.

On the one side, some of them became part of the social capital-oriented government processes while others took up social, political and people’s causes left unaddressed by established political players. While the difference between the two groups were noticeable during the Congress- and the BJP-led governments that were in power during the 1990s, the UPA-I government (2004-09) witnessed the involvement of the latter group in governance, through the National Advisory Council led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

This turn of events invited an organised reaction from the BJP at that time. It evolved two comprehensive vision documents that sought to emphasise the need to strengthen its own NGOs and harness them politically. This was advanced in a steadfast manner by supporting, building and infiltrating several NGOs and civil society organisations. The high point of this was during the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare. The plan to hijack that movement for the political benefit of the BJP did advance well until Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) formed by him took the movement in a different direction. By any yardstick, the current report and the prospective and planned political and administrative moves on its basis are a continuation of this tussle. Clearly, the Modi government is targeting those NGOs that have sought to champion people’s causes not taken up adequately by the political class. An important instrument for these NGOs and civil society organisations and leaders to challenge this devious move would be enhancing their transparency and internal democracy quotient.

According to Sangh Parivar insiders, the RSS and its affiliates plan to create a climate where their front organisations and the NGOs controlled by them have hegemony over the social and political spaces now occupied by the NGOs that have taken up people-oriented issues. No wonder, the I.B. report is silent on a number of foreign-funded Sangh Parivar NGOs, whose questionable funding and activities have been cited time and again in the past two decades.

Clearly, the emergent situation and the orchestrations aimed at hegemony in civil society space make the role of NGOs and civil society organisations in the public sphere even more important.

 Tuesday June 17, 2014

Dissent is now a crime

By Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

(DC archives)

The report of the Intelligence Bureau on the “impact” that non-government organisations have on India’s “development” is a case of extreme paranoia on the part of a section of the country’s establishment.

This section believes that those who are opposed to their notions of development ­ which include the proliferation of nuclear energy and widespread use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture ­ are not just anti-national but also acting at the behest of foreign powers who do not want India to develop.

Interestingly, many of those opposed to the activities of foreign-funded civil society organisations as well as those who actually run such NGOs belong to the country’s elite. One group which spares no effort in extolling the virtues of foreign direct investment, also conjures conspiracies when it comes to ascribing motives to those who speak up for those displaced by mining, irrigation and industrial projects.

The first group firmly believes that growth is the mantra for the country’s economic problems. The other section espouses environmentally-friendly policies and believes that inequalities must come down if sustainable development is to take place.

The two groups represent contrasting worldviews. To use simplistic catch-phrases, one is Right-wing, neo-liberal and market-friendly while the other is Leftist, Luddite and emphasises redistribution before growth. One believes that encouraging the private sector is the best way forward while the other is in favour of government-sponsored welfare schemes for the poor. Both sections want to engage with the West and the rest of the world, but on different terms.

The current debate on the role of NGOs is reminiscent of the polarised discourse on Christian missionaries who “convert” tribals and poor Hindus by “alluring” them. The anti-missionary viewpoint can be found in the books written by Arun Shourie, including one entitled Harvesting Our Souls. The contrary view is that if the Indian elite have been less than fair to society’s underprivileged, why should they grudge the activities of those (including missionaries from India and abroad) who have tried to organise the poor. Many missionaries are perceived as activists. One such individual named in the IB report is Thomas Kochherry, who fought relentless to safeguard the interests of Kerala’s traditional fisherfolk and who passed away recently.

By criticising NGOs allegedly opposed to the “Gujarat model of development”, the IB ­ which one of the world’s oldest internal security agencies ­ may have sought to please Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, one paragraph in the report seems to have been inspired (if not plagiarised) from a speech that Mr Modi made in September 2006 during the launch of a book with a rather revealing title: NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry.

On that occasion, Mr Modi had lashed out against those he described as “five-star activists” by remarking: “Funds are obtained from abroad; an NGO is set up; a few articles are commissioned; a PR (public relations) firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media, an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance this image. Such a vicious cycle... no one in Hindustan dares raise a finger, no matter how many the failings of the awardee...”

Mr Modi is in illustrious company. His predecessor Manmohan Singh was suspicious of NGOs using foreign funds who were opposed to the establishment of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Dr Singh and former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar were both opposed to NGOs who were resisting field trials for genetically-modified food crops. In January 2013, speaking at the centenary session of the Indian Science Congress in Kolkata, Dr Singh described the issues of nuclear energy and GM foods as “complex issues” that “cannot be settled by faith, emotion and fear but by structured debate, analysis and enlightenment.”

The tone of the IB report is not very different from the raving and ranting against an unseen “foreign hand” during the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi between June 1975 and March 1977. It was during this period that the government enacted the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which was amended during the second UPA government in 2010.

While there are more than a million NGOs operating in the country, roughly 50,000 are currently registered under the FCRA. After the law was amended, the permission granted to some 4,000 NGOs to receive foreign funds was revoked.

It is nobody’s case that all foreign-funded NGOs are run by bleeding-heart activists who only have the welfare of the deprived and the indigent on top of their minds. There is no dearth of people who abuse their association with international civil society groups to go on expensive junkets across the world and live a rather good life. Such individuals can be found across different strata in Indian society.

If anyone, including those who run NGOs, is found to be violating the law of the land, the law should be strictly enforced against such people and organisations.
But why is the voluntary sector being targeted at present? The IB report appears to have been written and deliberately leaked with a specific purpose ­ to create an atmosphere that would encourage some in the government to come down hard on dissenters and those whose views and activities they don’t like. It’s as simple as that.

This writer’s name figures in the IB report for having produced and directed a 45-minute documentary film in English and Hindi entitled Coal Curse/Koyla Ya Kala Shaap in 2013 which was financially supported by Greenpeace India. Both versions of the film are available for free viewing on YouTube. The film juxtaposes the Coalgate scandal (which was, incidentally, highlighted by the ruling party) with the larger socio-political and economic issues surrounding the use of coal.

It includes a case study of the Singrauli region in central India, often described as the country’s “electricity hub”. The film argues that what represents an investment opportunity for both public sector and private corporate entities is a “resource curse” for local populations whose livelihoods have been devastated together with the ecology of the region. It is a separate matter altogether that I have been writing about and making documentary films on this subject for many years now.

In conclusion, one must assert that there are always certain exceptions to the rule and no action will ever be taken against particular NGOs. These are the now-defunct National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi and the nearly-90-year-old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

There are also two other organisations that have received funds from foreign sources (including the Vedanta corporate group) whose activities are unlikely to be scrutinised by the ministry of home affairs, under which the IB operates. These are the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The writer is an educator and commentator

 Friday July 11, 2014

Politically motivated: Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar. (CV.Subrahmanyam)

“A SMALL group of activists and NGOs have at times succeeded in shaping policy debates in India. Apart from that, in some cases it is observed that in a cyclic process, an NGO is set up, funds are obtained from abroad, a few articles are commissioned, a PR firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media, an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance the image, after that the government machinery finds it that more difficult to act against the awardee.”

This paragraph from page 3 of the Intelligence Bureau’s (I.B.) secret report on “Concerted efforts by select foreign-funded NGOs to ‘take down’ Indian development projects” goes on to list “significant anti-developmental activities undertaken by NGOs” which include movements that are primarily protesting against certain energy and extractive industries, including the “Jal Satyagraha of the Narmada Bachao Andolan demanding lowering of water level of the Omkareshwar Project and of the Indira Sagar Project in Madhya Pradesh.”

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and its founder Medha Patkar, 59, are no strangers to accusations. Set up in 1989, the NBA has made a name for itself. It certainly has detractors, some of them even well-known and respected people, and though there have been allegations that it took financial help from abroad, they were invariably dismissed after investigations into them.

The organisation has had a hand-to-mouth existence, carrying out its activities with the time given by volunteers, the conviction of its activists, and the support of the people it works on behalf of. It is therefore not surprising that Medha Patkar expresses indignation at the I.B. report. She says:

“We [the NBA] have been cautious about foreign funding and have not accepted it at all because of our belief in self-reliance. They [the government] have tried their best to try and pin accusations on us in this respect. Some years ago, [Narendra] Modiji had even written to L.K. Advani asking him to investigate the NBA. This was done and Advani wrote back saying nothing was illegal. We used that letter in court when the CEO of Adani filed a case against us. He said we received foreign funds and used the money for anti-national activities. In 2007, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

“We don’t believe in accepting funds from outside the country and have never done so. When we won the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize, we did not accept the prize money that was associated with both.

“But what I want to point out is that the government has no moral right to question foreign funding because they themselves are foreign funded... capital is flowing in from abroad and it is influencing and changing the country’s policies. This takes its toll on the people... it affects livelihoods and takes away profits from the state exchequer.

“Every sector in the country is getting foreign funding, so why not the NGOs? In fact, the NGO sector is service- and empowerment-oriented, so really there is no reason to question the foreign funding they get. Of course, scrutiny of the sources and how the money is being used, all this is fine, but to actually debate whether or not NGOs should get foreign funding, that is not acceptable.

“The government is saying that foreign funding for NGOs can go against economic security. There are basic ideological issues at play here. Just because something is not the state’s point of view doesn’t make it anti-national or against national economic security.

“They are saying that NGOs like Oxfam and Greenpeace are anti-national. These are world-level organisations. They are bringing up questions of the environment and of livelihood­these are more and more relevant in the world today. These organisations do studious academic reports. What is wrong with research and documentation?

“The government has no right to question them just because they have another point of view. Is this point of view illegal? Is it harming the state? A mere difference of opinion doesn’t give the state the right to step in. Unless something unconstitutional is proved, it cannot do this. It is anti-democratic and fascist.

“NGOs are the voice of informed dissent, and this is required in a democracy. There are so many examples of benefits to civil society because of NGO intervention. There is the Right to Information Act, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, the declaration of assets by those standing for public office, environmental laws... so many such benefits. Besides, under our Constitution there is such a thing as the right to agitate.

“This report and all it contains is really just politically motivated. Is one meant to suppress all opposition to varying economic paradigms? The government only wants to support the corporate plan. It is a horse race to ensure that there are no barriers for the corporates so that they can do as they please. And they claim all this is in the name of economic progress.”
Lyla Bavadam
 July 11 2014

‘The report is to discredit protests by people’

Brinda Karat (C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM)

Interview with Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M).

THE selective targeting of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the leaked Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) report did not elicit too many responses from the political class for the simple reason that the report was initiated by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. While opposing the use of foreign funding for political activities, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) believes that many of the NGOs mentioned in the report have been unfairly targeted. In an interview to Frontline, Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and former Rajya Sabha member, said such reports did more harm than good. Excerpts:

What are your reactions to the I.B.’s report that NGOs and their activities have led to a decline in economic growth and to the issues relating to foreign funding raised by it?

The main accusation of the I.B. report is that all foreign-funded NGOs are in the business of halting development and acting as instruments on behalf of foreign powers. This is a laughable premise but not for the fact that the I.B. is accusing NGOs of doing exactly what the government of India has been doing ­acting at the behest of foreign governments whether it is in the matter of mining policy, nuclear energy or allowing foreign direct investment in every sector. Earlier, it was the UPA government and now it is the Narendra Modi government which is following policies that are in the interests of foreign powers. I challenge and oppose the very premise of the I.B. report. It is also significant that it was the Congress-led government that had initiated the report and the Modi government which is acting on it. They both have the same policy of bulldozing the interests of the people in the name of development, which serves the corporates, whether foreign or Indian.

The NGOs and individuals named in the report have stated that the issues of funding are baseless and that the real objective is to quell dissent.

If someone wants to play the role of advocacy, taking a position on various policy issues or criticising the government, whether funded or not, they have every right to do so. Whether it is Greenpeace opposing a project or any other organisation, they have a right to raise a public dialogue on policy matters, but in principle we are against the use of foreign funding for political mobilisations. The CPI(M) is totally against foreign funding for any type of activity, which by its nature can be termed political.

There is a feeling that the report has been selective about certain kinds of NGOs and certain kinds of issues.

There are NGOs in India that are not foreign funded and have every right to go in for political activity. Many of the organisations and individuals who have been named in the report, which was deliberately leaked to discredit individuals, have declared that they do not receive foreign funds, and some have even filed defamation cases. The government certainly owes them a public apology for making such false claims. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act [FCRA, 2010] has certain rules, which were adopted by Parliament, that apply to all organisations taking foreign funds. That should be implemented.

What is striking about the I.B. report is there is no mention of the huge funds coming to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] and its affiliates, which have been used for activities that have caused more damage to India and its interests than any of the so-called funded organisations that the government has targeted. There should also be a check and strict scrutiny of foreign funds that are coming in the name of religion, and which are being used for political activity, and this includes all organisations functioning in the name of all religions in India, whether Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. There are reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have received foreign funding, which is completely illegal, but that, of course, does not form part of any report.

While questions can be raised about the timing and the nature of the I.B. report, there is an increasing demand that there should be more transparency and accountability on the part of all NGOs, especially those that do advocacy campaigns and mobilise politically as well.

The I.B. report is to discredit people’s protests. At the same time, there should be some responsibility and accountability on the part of those NGOs that take foreign funding. The way the foreign funds are utilised has to be transparent. We have often seen in many areas where there are organised Left movements, they have been targeted by both religion-based organisations and NGOs. They play a role in de-politicisation. But using foreign funds for any political activity opens the floodgates for intervention, which will not be healthy for Indian democracy.

However, many of the NGOs named in the I.B. report are not doing that. But the government is not interested in that. Otherwise, it would have taken action against the RSS.
 Friday July 11, 2014

‘Right to protest under threat’

Samit Aich.

Interview with Samit Aich, executive director, Greenpeace India.

ONE of the organisations to feature prominently in the report of the Intelligence Bureau submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office is Greenpeace, a global environmental organisation. Some of Greenpeace’s global actions have been categorised as cases of “extreme environmentalism”. Its international and Indian chapters have been criticised for having spearheaded many protests, including ones against coal mining, that have allegedly contributed to a deceleration of the GDP. Greenpeace India executive director Samit Aich spoke to Frontline on his organisation’s response to the I.B. report. Excerpts.

How do you view the I.B. report, which looks at the activities of your organisation very critically? It also questions the sources of your funds.

We find it extremely surprising that the report has been leaked. We do not know what is the real version and what is the official version. The timing is also of grave concern; whether the report is essentially meant to set the cat among the pigeons, to throw a scare among NGOs [non-governmental organisations]. We feel extremely perturbed that Greenpeace India has figured prominently in the report. Of course, our position on several of the issues we work on, like coal, nuclear power or against GM [genetically modified food], is all very clear, but we are wondering what the basic reason for this report being leaked and Greenpeace being named could be. What we have seen is, of course, malicious, and the figures of GDP being quoted should be questioned.

Did you try to put in some kind of a requisition to the government for a meeting to discuss the I.B. accusations?

Just after it was reported in the media, I sent a formal letter by mail and fax to the Home Ministry and haven’t got a response at all. There is complete silence. Till date we haven’t heard anything from the government about civil society and NGOs being a threat to the country’s economic security and quite deplorable the things that have been said about Greenpeace. The sense I am getting from this report is that there is a threat to the right to protest and the right to civil democracy that as an Indian I am very proud of. That is the question Greenpeace and others are asking: do we have a right to protest, as it is guaranteed by the Constitution to have a different thought process, the right to protest, of course not violently?

Coming to the more basic question that has been raised on the issue of international funding and the outsourcing of such funding to other organisations to organise protests, what is your organisation’s response to that?

Let me clarify this about funding. As an organisation, we have around a quarter of a million Indian financial supporters who support Greenpeace. Our model is interesting and clear. We take only small sums of money from a large number of people from any part of the world. We have around three million online supporters, volunteers and offline supporters. I don’t know what is the definition of foreign funding. If I go by corporate law, for instance, any company that has a more than 51 per cent stake can be considered as having a majority stakeholder. At Greenpeace India, we have on an average 60-65 per cent of money coming in from Indian supporters. So by what stretch of imagination can we say that we are a foreign-funded organisation? Having said that, we have around 35-38 per cent of funds coming in from Greenpeace International, which, by the way, also follows the same norms of fund-raising. Almost two-thirds of our funding comes from Indians and I am surprised to hear that this small amount of funding is coming in the way of economic growth. We have not seen the report and we have responded on the basis of what has appeared on the Net.

Greenpeace is often accused of environmental extremism.

We hold on to three values very strongly­non-violent direct action, bearing witness, and financial independence. Bearing witness essentially means that when there is an environmental disaster or an environmental problem of a significant kind, we are not the kind of organisation that will remain silent. We will go to the world and tell them about it. We take direct action, but non-violently. I think you are raising a larger question about the role of coal. This is not just the position of Greenpeace in India alone, but any of the 40 countries where we operate we say that coal is not the solution to energy problems. For us climate change is the biggest risk the world over because of carbon emissions caused by thermal power generation. If the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report says that the world is heading towards irreversible climate change and that is a report no one officially contests, then all developing and developed countries have to move away from coal. There are myriad issues involved here: extraction, carbon emissions and displacement of people. If you overlay the forests of this country with the map of India, you will see all the coal reserves lie under forests. One will have to cut the forests, displace indigenous tribes and forest dwellers, and be in contravention of the Forest Rights Act. A more fundamental approach to energy planning is required.

Our studies indicate that coal reserves will be there for 17 to 20 years. No one says coal will be available for the rest of our lives. The government is making investments for the long term; are these being made for new thermal projects which have a lifespan of 40 years? Money is going to be put in for infrastructure where the raw material is not going to be there. Therefore, an alternative energy planning strategy is required. We are saying: go in for renewables; for a change, lead the world, not follow the world. Those investments need to be made today. The World Bank says that 5.7 per cent of India’s GDP is going to be affected because of climate change. So any growth the country makes will be negated by climate change.

But is there not a similarity of argument in what the Western countries say about developing nations’ need to cut down on carbon emissions, instead of looking at their own consumption levels; Greenpeace does not seem to criticise the capitalist nature of development.

We say that irrespective of whether you are a developing or developed country, carbon emissions have to come down. Our stand is clear; we tell the United States to move away from dangerous fuels.

There are alternative paradigms of development; it cannot just be GDP-led growth. Why is it that after 65 years of Independence 300 million Indians do not have access to electricity? The very definition of GDP, that is, the mean of the average of all incomes in this country; it does not address the disproportionate distribution of wealth. It cannot just be linked to the economy but to the ecology. We are demonstrating alternative models of energy. In Bihar, we have set up a micro grid, which is clean and decentralised. The government can trash our model but what has its energy planning delivered so far? The rich in India are emitting almost the same amount of CO that they do in any developed country in the world. There is no talk of national parity

The I.B. report was commissioned by the previous government and presented to this government essentially. There does not seem to be a shift in the paradigm of development. Besides the I.B. report does not prescribe any course of action against you.

I do not know whether the report is a vestige of the past or an asset of the future. But this broad-brushing of allegations is dangerous and deplorable. It is like saying one-third of the Parliament Members have criminal records, so all of them are criminals. But increasingly, the right to protest is being pushed around. I have a different view of the Gujarat model. Now there are voices saying that they have been stifled. Select industries have access to the PMO, while NGOs don’t. The I.B. report is what crony capitalism seems to be taking refuge behind. The Niyamgiri forests will be cleaned off; the Mahan forests will be cleaned off in the name of energy security. The current government has the responsibility to ensure that our vibrant democracy is not stifled.

Every NGO seems to have an idea of “rights”. Several organisations named in the I.B. report have not responded jointly and unitedly, and there are many who have not been named and have not come out in support.

Diversity in approach and functional focus is to be seen in a positive light. If industry can be diverse, why can’t civil society be? I cannot say why some have responded and some have not. The government can unleash its powers against those who are doing things against the law of the country. It is wrong to put an umbrella approach to say that every member of civil society is a sitting conman and should be rejected outright. Every NGO adds a different aspect to the debate and in some way they are all interconnected. Our campaign in Mahan is not just about an ecological issue; there are issues of displacement as well. We have an appalling record of rehabilitation. It is not about rehabilitation alone. There are social pressures that work, right? You cannot give money and tell people to migrate. People have lived in those villages for decades; they have a right to self-determine. That’s what they are saying in Niyamgiri: our hills are sacred to me. One cannot put an economic value to it. That is what they are saying in Mahan also.

What lies ahead?

Nothing has changed. We will continue to campaign in defence of the planet. We have done nothing illegal. We are the country’s premier environmental organisation and perhaps even the world’s. We come with our warts and moles but that won’t alter the strategic approach in the way we work. The I.B. report shows what Greenpeace is about; we are an organisation that cannot be ignored. What we say will make sections in the government and industry extremely uncomfortable but that is the approach we will take.

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