Sunday, November 16, 2008

Arundhati on Media-Police Collusion

Of late India is witnessing a lot of encounter killings. But are they all encounter killings...? In her latest interview with CNN-IBN noted writer Arundhati Roy expresses her doubts over these killings and media's role in making people believe them.

Arundhati on media-police collusion

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Why is Arundhati Roy angry with the police and upset with the press? That’s the key issue I shall explore today. Arundhati Roy, let’s start with the recent encounter in Jamia Nagar in New Delhi. You’ve called for an independent judicial enquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge. Why do you involve yourself into this work? What’s your locus standi?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I am just one of those thousands of people who are asking some very serious questions of the police. The trouble is that you know, even if you wanted to believe this police version, you don’t know which police version to believe. Does one believe the Bombay police, the UP police, the Gujarat police or the Delhi police? All of them have different versions. There’s a blizzard of masterminds. The Additional Commissioner of Mumbai police, Rakesh Maria recently said that Tauqeer, who is the Delhi police’s mastermind of Indian Mujahideen, is a media creation. The point is who creates the media creations? Is it the media or the police or do they work together?

Karan Thapar: So, you are motivated by these contradictions. Is that the sole reason you need a judicial enquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge?

Arundhati Roy: Again, it is not just me. It was thousands of people who are saying one thing, you know. When the police have killed people, it ceases to be a neutral party. It cannot have an impartial investigation in its own actions. And there are so many serious questions about what happened at Batla House.

Karan Thapar: But before we come to those questions, let me point out what many people will be thinking at this moment. They are going to ask why do you think will an encounter, when a senior police officer like MC Sharma is killed and another injured would be fake. The police would not endanger themselves in a fake and fraudulent incident.

Arundhati Roy: Well, historically the police and security agencies the world over have done things like that. I am not saying it is fake. I am saying lets have an enquiry because this matter of MC Sharma, for instance would be cleared up if they would only produce the post-mortem report. Instead the post-mortem report is leaked in various ways and Mail Today says that he was shot from behind. Praveen Swami (of the daily The Hindu) says he was shot from two sides. The residents say that the police arrived and that there were drills and that they are making holes in the flat now. Why cannot all this be cleared up? If they would just produce the reports, which even the Magistrate asked for, and has put out a warrant for investigating officer and they still haven’t produced it.

Karan Thapar: As you speak, I get the impression that your whole premise is that you don’t trust the police. Millions of Indians do. Is it fitting and fair that you should question their veracity in this way when you know that it would not just demoralise them but it would seriously undermine their struggle to contain terror?

Arundhati Roy: Well. Millions of Indians do not trust the police. Is our choice not to question them because here we are talking about the communal profiling of a hundred and fifty million people, demoralising them, radicalising a whole generation and asking serious questions of a story that is told to us that is full of holes? Especially because such a senior police officer died in the incident, why should we not clear it up for the sake of police itself?

Karan Thapar: Let me for a moment play Devil’s Advocate and point out to you evidence that you are deliberately ignoring. AK-47s were found in Batla House, so were two pistols. Policemen were shot at, policemen were killed. Atif’s name appears in the Ahmedabad, Mumbai and UP police findings. Now, most recently, it transpires that Atif’s degree from Allahabad is a fake. Why aren’t you giving the police, as anyone else will, the benefit of the doubt? The evidence suggests that there is something suspicious, that there is a case. Why do you doubt it?

Arundhati Roy: Let enquiry clear it up. Even in the case of these recoveries, you know, there is a serious procedural lapse. When the police make recoveries at the scene of the crime, they should have independent witnesses corroborating it. They didn’t, like in the case of the Parliament attack.

Karan Thapar: Isn’t it possible that people are scared to come forth?

Arundhati Roy: No, but they have to get the seizure memo signed, right? And even the magistrate is asking for all these documents, for the FIR, the post mortem report, for the case diary not being produced. Now, let me ask some questions about Atif. The reports in the media given out by the police say that they have had him under surveillance since July 17. If so, then how was he allowed to plant these bombs in September? And even when they say that they had him under surveillance, they say that his number was called by a number, which was called by another number. I mean, c’mon, that’s a lead, not proof that someone is a terrorist.

Karan Thapar: Maybe the surveillance wasn’t effective. Maybe the police are exaggerating that they had him under surveillance. What about the other evidence that the police have brought into the public domain? It transpires that clips of the car that was used in the Ahmedabad bombings were found inside Atif’s mobile, it transpires that literature of al-Qaeda was found at Batla House. It seems that even Saif has been using an assumed name. He has been travelling under a false identity calling himself Rohan Sharma. He even had that gentleman’s voter identity card with him. None of these is suggestive or corroborated but you are dismissing it as otherwise.

Arundhati Roy: I am not dismissing it. If there is an enquiry, all this will also be a part of it. I am not dismissing they may be real terrorists. There are real terrorists, who are they? Are these boys the real ones? While the police are giving us evidence, there are also strange stories floating around. The police have been using the media to put out stories. All this is very disturbing and all this could be cleared out.

Karan Thapar: See, if I understand you correctly, there are two things you want clarified. One is that you want the questions and the inconsistencies in the police stories clarified because they suggest that the police hadn’t got a clear cut case. And the second thing is that you want to try and get at the proof that establishes that the police had good reason to suspicious of the people.

Arundhati Roy: Exactly! Even their own versions are contradicting each other. On the one hand they say that you know, we did not know that they were terrorists and that is why we went in, in this casual manner. But the minute something came up they come out and say that these were the masterminds. There are so many things, you know. They say that people were killed in the crossfire but the proof is that these two men were killed while they were kneeling with shots in their head.

Karan Thapar: That’s an assumption, I must point out!

Arundhati Roy: No, there are pictures.

Karan Thapar: Suggested. But we do not have the corroboration from the police.

Arundhati Roy: The police should show the post mortem report but we see it from the photographs.

Karan Thapar: You know what? Listening to you, people will say, and I am repeating what I have said to you earlier! They will say that her problem arises from the fact that she does not trust the police. Is it right that you should have such serious doubts about them?

Arundhati Roy: Not just rights, I think its our duty to have serious doubts and especially today, when we are sliding quickly into fascism and terrorism. It’s our business as members of civil society to ask hard questions.

Karan Thapar: In which case, what are you suspecting the police…or let me put me more strongly and bluntly. What are you accusing the police of, on this issue?

Arundhati Roy: Well, primarily of giving us a story that doesn’t hold together and insults our intelligence.

Karan Thapar: Why would they do this?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t know. That’s what we would like to know.

Karan Thapar: Is it not possible that they have got it right and you have doubts about them?

Arundhati Roy: Maybe! But an enquiry would show that, wouldn’t it? The more they block it, refuse to produce the post mortem. The more they subterfuge and obfuscate their way through this, the more people will get suspicious of them.

Karan Thapar: An enquiry at the end of the day, would be in their benefit as well! Is that what you are arguing?

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely!

Karan Thapar: What then do you say of people who argue that this is typical Arundhati Roy. She’s been against dams and developments; she’s in favour of secession of Kashmir. She’s attacked nuclear weapons and is now she is defending terrorists?

Arundhati Roy: Well, to being accused of being typically oneself is not an accusation. But if you are accusing me of having a world view that I do not believe in…I mean I do not believe in neo colonial military occupation, I don’t believe in nuclear weapons and I don’t believe in ecological destruction; then I am guilty as accused. Raising questions does not amount to supporting terrorism. I raised questions on the Parliament attack along with the people; we want to know who the terrorists are. We don’t know. Now, of the people we defended, two of the four ‘masterminds’ of the case were released. Afzal has been convicted by the Supreme Court which says that says that we have no evidence to prove that he is attached to any terrorist groups but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, he is being sentenced to death. Excuse me Karan, its my case that the collective conscience of society is also a part of media construct and a part of the judicial imagination constructed by these stories that being put out.

Karan Thapar: So, you are saying to me that as a citizen, as a conscientious democrat, it is your duty to question. And if the questions are awkward and unsettling, so be it and that they must be answered, none the less?

Arundhati Roy: Yes, absolutely!

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, lets come to the wider issue about how the police treats the people it has arrested and it is holding in detention. You are extremely upset by the fact that India Today journalists were given an access to the young men arrested at Batla House so that interviews could be done. Why do you call this a terrible thing?

Arundhati Roy: Well, look this phenomenon of media confessions is becoming a standard operating procedure with the Special cell and the Delhi police. The point is that neither the courts nor any kind of international law allows you to say that people who are being held in police custody under torture.

Karan Thapar: How do you know that they are being held under torture?

Arundhati Roy: Well, the possibility of torture…maybe that day, they were not tortured. It was the first day.

Karan Thapar: You are saying that Human Rights laws and values do not permit people under detention to be interviewed when they are not willing to be interviewed?

Arundhati Roy: Yes! And even the courts do not accept these as confessions or evidence. But the reason these are done is because they have a propaganda value.

Karan Thapar: The assumption when you say that such incidences have propaganda value is that these are forced confessions…that the young men interviewed did not give the answers they did, willingly and voluntarily. How can you conclude that that’s the case?

Arundhati Roy: In this case it is very easy to be sure. Those young men, before they were caught, Zeeshan went to Headlines Today, Saquib went to Mail Today…both these (media units) are owned by the India Today, as you know. They were all people who came out in support of Atif and Saquib and said, look we know this guy. We know who he is.

Karan Thapar: Then how come you are calling those so called confessions when they are incriminating themselves and that when they went willingly to Mail Today or India Today, there are inconsistencies.

Arundhati Roy: Yes, so which version are we supposed to believe? The custodial one or the non-custodial one?

Karan Thapar: All the three men named by India Today and I will name them, Zia-ur-rehman, Saquib Insaar and Shakil admitted to planting bombs. You are denying or doubting the veracity of the so called confessions.

Arundhati Roy: Obviously! Its absurd not to, because they are in police custody. The same guys, Saquib went to Mail Today saying that I have known Atif for years. I got him this house. I mean it’s hardly the behaviour of terrorists.

Karan Thapar: I assume that the point you are making is that any interview that is granted in police custody is not a willing and voluntary one and therefore any confession made in that interview is a forced confession and not acceptable?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is not admitted. Even in the Parliament case, the courts admonished the police for parading these people before the media and giving these media confessions. They didn’t do anything to the police which is why the same police; in fact Mohan Chand Sharma was a part of that cell, that same cell did it to theses people and it served the purpose. The propaganda value has been achieved.

Karan Thapar: You are saying that the Courts had admonished the police at the time the Parliament attack had happened for arranging such alleged false confessions and the police disregarded that admonishing and did the same thing again.

Arundhati Roy: That’s right.

Karan Thapar: In your eyes, is the police guilty of violating fundamental human rights by arranging what you call false confessions to be made in forced interviews? Is this a violation of basic human rights?

Arundhati Roy: It is a violation of all kinds of rights. I say it again, that in this atmosphere of communal profiling, this kind of propaganda is essential for them. It is the keystone to this whole enterprise. They have achieved what they set out to, regardless of what the court says.

Karan Thapar: The police have made a habit of this. It happened under circumstances, in the Arushi murder case, practically everyday. They hold press briefings, where half baked theories or at least unconfirmed details they are repeated and revealed to the press. The press then prints them as facts. The readers and the viewers of television then accept it as the truth. Are you disconcerted by this?

Arundhati Roy: I am utterly disconcerted by this because now it is the combination of the media and the police…you do not know which ends where and which begins where. In a situation where these encounter specialists are going out and summarily executing thirty people, calling them terrorists…No one asks questions once they are dead. We just accept it.

Karan Thapar: Just a moment ago, you spoke about the collusion between the media and the police. Are you saying that the press is itself in error when it accepts what is given by the police and publishes it without verifying or double checking it?

Arundhati Roy: It is not just an error. It is outrageous to do something like this.

Karan Thapar: So the press’ behaviour is outrageous?

Arundhati Roy: It is outrageous. There are statements like…and this man looked at me and he looked like a human bomb…I mean what kind of journalism is that?

Karan Thapar: So when as a result, like many people have said, this collusion between the police and the press leads to Jamia Nagar or to Azamgarh being thought as terrorist hubs or breeding grounds for terrorism, how unfortunate is that?

Arundhati Roy: It is not just unfortunate, its very dangerous. We now have a situation where a hundred and fifty Muslims and an equal number of Dalits and Adivasis in a different set of circumstances are being targeted in this way. Even if half a per cent of them decide to stop putting their heads down and decide to hit back, life as we knew it is over. A whole generation is radicalised and India becomes a threat to not just itself, but to the whole world.

Karan Thapar: This is something very important that you are saying. You mean that this behaviour of the police and the uncritical reporting by the press is going to end up in alienation and breeding the terrorism that we think we are controlling.

Arundhati Roy: Yes, that and also that this is a recipe for sliding into fascism. And we are bang in the middle of it now and this is how it works.

Karan Thapar: Why does the Indian middle class society that is so proud of calling itself a liberal democracy, accept this?

Arundhati Roy: Well, I don’t think we are anymore proud of this. We have increasingly accepted that we are a police state and there is a sort of sliding of the democracy into majority into fascism that is a real danger now.

Karan Thapar: So you are saying that the middle class no more stands up for the liberal values it believes in. It is actually in a sense accepting the horrible shortcuts and therefore colluding. It’s a very strong criticism, do you really mean it?

Arundhati Roy: I do. In fact, I feel that some day like the Nazis in Germany, we will be called upon to answer for what we have done and why we kept quiet while this was happening.

Karan Thapar: I get the feel that you are deeply disillusioned with the Indian middle classes.

Arundhati Roy: It is not just the middle classes, you know. It is the framework that we are putting into action these days. I have spent ten years writing about it. We are in a very serious situation. If we are to right it, all of us should ask ourselves very serious questions about when we chose to speak up and when we chose to stay quiet.

Karan Thapar: But in keeping quiet, as you say suggesting, Indians today are prepared to do, they are not just betraying essential values that they claim they believe in, they are actually betraying themselves and letting down their country. That’s the case you are making.

Arundhati Roy: I am making that case and I am saying that with these policies that we are persuing, today every ordinary Indian’s life is going to be at risk and we will pay very heavily for the consequences of what is going on now.

Karan Thapar: So it is virtually the last moment to stand up and be identified with the values that we claim to believe in otherwise those values are gone and with that our lives are gone.

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely!

Karan Thapar: And that’s not an exaggeration?

Arundhati Roy: Nope! Absolutely not!

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Promise of Change...and the Change We Need

This article appeared on the website of Revolutionary Communist Party, USA the day after elections resutls were out. Is Obama's victory going to change the US policies...? Read on the article for answer...

The Morning After the Election:

The Promise of Change…and the Change We Need
You couldn’t miss it on Election Night. People actually pouring into the streets to celebrate the election of a president. Emotions ran high, and tears flowed.

And in the days after: people talking to friends and strangers alike of hope. Hope for a coming era of change from the horrors of the Bush years. Hope for overcoming racism. Hope for a new era of service to the common good.

Hope—hope that is founded on the real possibilities for fundamental change in this world—is indeed precious. Dedicating your life to something higher than the ethic of “I-want-mine” is so vital that the future of humanity actually depends on it. And overcoming—truly overcoming—the divisions of society based on inequality and oppression must be at the heart of any real movement for social change.

But now, in the dawn of the morning after, one must ask and honestly grapple with some basic and very serious questions.

Hope for what?
Service to what?
Unity around what goals and what values?
And victory for whom?

The Change He Has Promised
“I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” —Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

Most of those who celebrated in the streets oppose the string of wars that Bush has launched and the threats of more war. Yet Obama through his campaign promised to send more troops to Afghanistan. He floated the idea of attacks on Pakistan, threatened Iran, and pledged to back Israel—which to this day continues to torment the people of Palestine—to the hilt. He established his reputation by opposing the launching of the war on Iraq—but has already backtracked on this during his campaign, with talk of “listening to the generals” and determining when Iraq was “stable” and its troops “sufficiently trained.”

Most of those celebrating in the streets hate the fascism of the Bush years: the spying, the evisceration of fundamental legal rights, and the torture. Yet as a senator, Obama voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act (which abolished or seriously cut key legal rights), and for immunity for telecommunications companies which illegally spied on people at White House behest.

Most of those celebrating in the streets yearn to see an end to racism, and to the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities. Yet Obama did not speak in his campaign of ending the discrimination and oppression that continues in a Black unemployment rate that is more than double that of whites, discrimination in housing and health care and the legal system, and an incarceration rate of Black and other minority people that is the scandal of the world. No, instead he spoke against his former minister, Jeremiah Wright, because Wright had “a view that sees white racism as endemic.” Obama in that speech went on to say that such thinking is “divisive” and draws people away from the problems of “two wars, a terrorist threat, a failing economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change”—thereby, in a phrase, covering over how systematic discrimination is embedded in every problem in America and negating both the bitter ongoing oppression of Black people as a people and the deep structural problems in American society that sustain this.

Many of those in the streets also see Obama as sharing their values on ending the oppression of women and of gay people. Have they noted that Obama routinely characterizes abortion itself as a bad thing, even if he does not oppose the right to abortion, or how rarely he even mentioned defending this right? Or how Obama, at a time when the right of gay people to marry was being attacked in electoral referendums, said that while he did not support that referendum, he at the same time opposed gay marriage itself—on the basis of his own religious beliefs?

Obama has said he is bringing change. He has called on you—most recently in his victory speech on election night—to both put your efforts behind him and to be patient with his administration. The question is this: judging from Obama’s actual statements and not from what you think he must believe deep down, is the change that he is promising and trying to enlist you in the change we need?

Or are you being enlisted in something that will end up actually opposed to your best aspirations and a morality based on the common good of humanity?

Redeeming the Dream?
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” —Barack Obama, in his victory speech

Well, many things certainly are possible in America. It is possible in America for European settlers to commit genocide against the Native American Indians who lived here and to then declare themselves to be builders of a “shining city on a hill” and “the last best hope of mankind.” It is possible in America to kidnap over ten million Africans and hold them and their descendants in slavery for 250 years, exploiting them as the foundation of the great wealth of this country, and then maintaining their descendants in new forms of oppression and super-exploitation, and to simultaneously brag that “the dream of our founders” is based on the principle that “all men are created equal.” It is possible in America to wage and sponsor wars and military coups over the past 150 years that have taken a toll on humanity unmatched by any of the fabled monstrous empires of the past, and to then routinely declare, as Barack Obama did in his speech, that this same country is the world’s great guarantor of “peace and security”—even as he preceded that by assuring anybody who opposed what he called the “new dawn of American leadership” that “we will defeat you.” It is possible in America to subordinate the economies of entire nations to the demands and dictates of U.S. capital; and it is possible to then both super-exploit impoverished people from those countries who then desperately seek work in the U.S. and at the same time to demonize them and scapegoat them as the cause of everyone else’s hard times. It is possible to torture in the name of “safety,” even as you assure the world you don’t.

But apparently, other things are NOT so possible in America. It has NOT been possible in America to actually do away with the structures of white supremacy and the oppression of entire peoples. It has NOT been possible in America to desist from sending troops, CIA spies, and commandos all over the world—nor has it been possible to avoid things like killing 40 civilians at a wedding party in Afghanistan on the day before the election which installed a man who has promised to send more troops to invade that tortured, beleaguered country. It has NOT been possible in America to actually overcome the subjugation of women in every sphere of life, or to end the demonization and systematic discrimination against gay people. It has NOT been possible for America to refrain from the heedless plunder and spoliation of the very planet on which we live. It has NOT been possible in America to overcome the deadening alienation of everyday life for most people, or the despair of seeing your best efforts come to naught for many of those who want to dedicate themselves to making things better.

What has been proven to be possible—and what has proven to be NOT possible—has nothing to do with “human nature” and everything to do with the system that was put in place to ensure the “dreams of our founders.” The name of that system is imperialism—a stage of capitalism in which the majority of humanity are consigned to short, bitter lives of almost indescribable exploitation, humiliation and degradation. . . in which entire nations are subjugated to deepen and extend that exploitation. . . and in which the entire world is divided up amongst a handful of big imperialist powers (with the U.S. currently at the head of that).

That is the system which actually determines what is, and what is not, possible. That is the system Barack Obama is now stepping in to head. That is the system to whose service he now summons you.

Stop Thinking Like Americans! Start Thinking About Humanity!
Imperialism has an ideology—a systematic way, even if unacknowledged, in which people are trained to view every event in the world. When Barack Obama sings songs of praise in his victory speech to the greatness of America—he is training us in a way of understanding the world. When he goes so far as to not just send best wishes to his opponent, but to gushingly praise this unrepentant war criminal who dropped bombs on civilians over and over again in Vietnam as a “brave and selfless leader”—he is doing that training in a particularly nauseating, and frankly horrific, way. When Barack Obama tells us to “summon a new spirit of patriotism” and overcome divisions—same thing.

This has to be called out for what it is: American chauvinism. This accepts as a given the existence of imperialism. Many of those who celebrated on election night are in effect hoping that Obama will lead to a "better" imperialism. But there is no such thing– there is no "better" imperialist USA, no "good" imperialism of any kind. What we need is to sweep away imperialism, and all relations of oppression and exploitation.

Stop chanting USA, USA—and start thinking about what is really facing humanity and what must urgently be done. Stop waving those flags, and start resisting the crimes of that system, including the very real crimes of the Bush regime that Obama not only is not going to prosecute but, yes, is determined, in large part, to continue. STOP THINKING LIKE AMERICANS—and start thinking about, and trying to proceed from, what humanity needs.

A Better Way
Does this mean, then, that there is no hope? That there is, in fact, nothing one can do? Are we counseling cynicism or despair?

Far from it. In place of false hope, we offer hope based on a real foundation. We offer hope based on the vision of a different society that draws on the fact that humanity could today accomplish great things—starting with the elimination of hunger and disease and homelessness—but is only held back by the economic relations of exploitation in which it is fettered, and the machinery of oppression that backs up those relations. We offer, in short, the hope of revolution.

We offer hope evidenced in the accomplishments of the Russian and Chinese revolutions—before those revolutions were reversed. Those revolutions made leaps in the very things that are NOT possible in this system: the elimination of exploitation and a rupture with the imperialist relations that strangle the world; the uprooting of the subjugation of women, and of oppressed nations and nationalities; the opening up to the oppressed of the spheres of running society and working with ideas—spheres which they are today kept out of by both the normal workings, and conscious policies, of capitalism; and the provision of health care, education and many other basic needs to all of society, in ways that narrowed and did not widen inequality.

We offer hope founded on the scientific work of Bob Avakian, the leader of our Party, who has both upheld the achievements and fundamental lessons of these revolutions, while criticizing and rupturing with significant errors and shortcomings of that first wave of revolution. On that basis, he has revived the REAL dream of emancipating all of humanity from exploitation and oppression, and shown the way forward to do that.

In place of a “service” which can only end up reinforcing the very things you oppose, we offer something which corresponds to your highest aspirations: making revolution.

For there IS work to do—work that urgently cries out to be done. There is the work of fighting for your best ideals and hopes for change. There is the work of actually digging into how the world really works, into America’s real place and role in that world, and into what revolution is all about and how it might be possible. There is the work of fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution.

Let us break, finally, with deadly illusions and let us set about that work—the ending of imperialism, and of all relations of exploitation and oppression, and NOT their reinforcement, in a different package. Let us truly bring about a new day.

Revolutionary Communist Party, USA