Monday, December 17, 2007

Unrecognised heroines

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, December 16, 2007



Is it best to forget, forgive and move on or should
we hold on to our belief that there has to be
justice for past wrongs? This question is being
asked repeatedly in the context of the forthcoming
Gujarat election. Some people argue that the
horrific events of 2002 can and should never be forgotten.

Others believe that Gujarat and Gujaratis must move
on and that economic development will ultimately
benefit all and automatically heal the wounds.
Yet, we know that unless there is justice, the
wounds don’t heal. In Mumbai, for the victims
of the March 1993 serial blasts, perhaps there is
some closure with the conclusion of the long drawn
out case that has convicted 100 people. But the
riots that preceded the bomb blasts have left behind
a legacy of gaping wounds — the perpetrators
of the crimes committed then, specifically named in
the Srikrishna Commission report, continue to roam
around freely while the victims survive in an
increasingly divided society. India’s post
Independence history is replete with such instances
of unresolved communal crimes.

Getting away unscathed

And then there are corporate crimes that also remain
unresolved. Remember Bhopal 1984? In one night,
3,000 people died because a leaking plant using
poisonous chemicals continued to operate with
impunity in the vicinity of a crowded locality of
urban poor. Until one cold December night when there
was an “accident”. Thousands died, many
more lived impaired lives for years and then died
and still more continue to carry the burden of poor
health for the crime of being near the Union Carbide
plant on that fateful night. Yet, the corporation
responsible for this “accident” has
escaped virtually unscathed.

For the victims of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, the
23-year-old struggle for justice has been relentless
and quite often thankless. For every bit of
additional compensation, for basic health
facilities, for a clean up of the rotting plant that
closed down after raining death on its
neighbourhood, they have had to petition,
demonstrate and fight.

Leading the struggle have been women. Two of them,
Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi were recognised for
their efforts when they received the Goldman
Environmental Prize (considered an alternate Nobel)
in 2004. Now these women have used the prize money
of $1,25,000 to set up the Chingari Trust that will
seek out others like them around the country and
recognise their efforts.

This year, the first ever Chingari Award for Women
Against Corporate Crime was given to a 45-year-old
tribal woman from Rayagada district in Orissa, Mukta

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Srinagar Diary

The Hindu, Sunday, December 2, 2007


Cities can change and do. Five years is a long time
in the life of a city. It appears even longer when
the city in question is one at the heart of a tussle
that has ranged over 60 years. Srinagar, capital of
Jammu and Kashmir, has seen happiness and
sorrow, strife and togetherness, natural beauty and
the ugly detritus of conflict.

In 2007, many of the symbols emblematic of the
conflict are still in place. The gun-toting security
forces in civilian areas, the barbed wire, the
sandbags, the pill-boxes, the armoured cars. Also
the anger and resentment that spills out on the
streets at the slightest provocation. And the deep
wounds that sometimes remain unspoken.

But superficially, there are changes. Against the
background of the unsettled reality of the State and
the region, they seem dramatic. There is a new
international airport under construction. The road
from the airport to the city is lined with huge and
impressive new houses built with the wealth that is
now being invested in the State. Srinagar now boasts
of a flyover that is almost ready and a railway line
that is slowly making its way. The troops are not so
prominent now, although they are still a visible and
disturbing presence.

Apparent changes

The shops don’t shut after sunset as they did
five years ago. The beautiful boulevard kissing the
banks of the Dal Lake, now sadly shrinking due to a
combination of neglect and pollution, is now peopled
and not deserted as before. There are Internet cafes
and coffee houses. There are shopping malls. And
tragically, there is so much air pollution with the
explosion of cars on the roads that the sky is not
blue anymore. A grey haze hangs over Srinagar. The
urban scourge of the rest of South Asia has
descended on this picturesque city.

Five years ago, cell phones did not work in
Srinagar. Today, you see almost every person holding
a cell phone. But you can call anywhere in the world
except Pakistan. Pakistanis can reach you if you
live in Srinagar. But you can’t call them
back. One of those inexplicable decisions based on
“security” considerations.

Can this kind of physical change, integration into a
national and global economy, more personal
investment and wealth, erase the unresolved
questions that hover over every conversation in
Srinagar? There is a new confidence that is now
evident in the young Kashmiri and in the older ones
who have suffered through the decades of conflict.
Yet, this confidence does not necessarily mean that
people have changed their positions about the future
of Kashmir. And even if there is superficial peace,
the conflict is far from resolved. Reports in the
local newspapers, not always relayed to the national
press, remind us of the daily incidents that
illustrate the extent to which parts of the State
remain tense and disturbed.

At the same time, the Indo-Pak peace process, the
people to people exchanges, the opening up of
meeting points along the Line of Control have raised
some hope that permanent peace is possible. Apart
from the larger questions, what concerns the
ordinary person is finding ways to increase
communication between divided families and
communities straddling the LoC. This was the
question that engaged a group of almost 50 women
from both sides of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Fourteen women from the Pakistan side of Kashmir
crossed the Wagah border in mid-November, travelled
by road to Jammu and then flew in to Srinagar to
meet their counterparts on this side of the border.
This was the first time such a meeting was held
between women from the two sides.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)