Human Rights - Page 2

Inside Corporate: Bitter Truth Behind India’s Adani

Excerpts of the research paper published by Hindenburg Research Today we reveal the findings of our 2-year investigation, presenting evidence that the INR 17.8 trillion (U.S. $218 billion) Indian conglomerate Adani Group has engaged in a brazen stock manipulation and


Why Julian Assange Is at the Vanguard for World Press Freedom


We celebrate World Press Freedom Day in May as a reminder that the role of news organizations is to speak truth to power. Not for manufacturing consent—to use Chomsky’s famous words—for the government and the ruling classes.

It’s an occasion to remember three people who exemplify the need to speak the truth: Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and also of Chelsea Manning, without whom we would not have the proof of what the United States was doing, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but all across the globe. In doing so, I will also deal with the changing nature of government “secrets”, what outing them means then and now.

In today’s day and world, just as the scale of the government’s powers to pry into our lives and activities has increased exponentially—for example, NSA’s Prism and NSO’s Pegasus—so has the scale of the leaks. Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers were a mere 7,000 pages, and he photocopied them by hand (Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner). Chelsea Manning’s “papers”, which Assange outed, earning the U.S. government’s enmity, consisted of about 750,000 documents (Iraq War logs, Afghanistan War logs and U.S. diplomatic cables). Manning used her computer to copy this enormous cache of data. Ellsberg had one of the highest security clearances in the U.S. government. Snowden, a system administrator, is assumed to have “exfiltrated” more than a million NSA documents.

Manning was low down in the military ranks and a mere corporal. Assange had identified one key characteristic of our epoch: the digital revolution means the enormous centralization of information and also the ease with which it can release. In a conference in 1984, Stewart Brand, an author, in a conversation with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, had brought this duality of information in the digital age: the centralization of information as it is so valuable for the rulers. And also the ease of its duplication and therefore liberating it from the rulers. This is why Assange set up WikiLeaks. People, who had access to this valuable information stored in “secure” government vaults, could use WikiLeaks to reach the people. Both use the power of digital technologies and their ability to produce copies but for completely different purposes.

In 1971, a little over 50 years ago that Daniel Ellsberg leaked a study carried out by the U.S. Defense Department—the Pentagon Papers—on the Vietnam War to the New York Times and subsequently to a host of other news organizations. The anti-Vietnam War movement, which had exploded in the United States then, with cascading effects around the world for my generation, had turned Ellsberg into a radical. Just as it did many of us around the world who demonstrated against the United States and its war. The Vietnam War had discredited the U.S. empire and produced a radical generation, of which Daniel Ellsberg was a proud member.

The Pentagon Papers laid out in detail why the Vietnam War was already a lost cause and why Vietnamese people would defeat the neocolonial puppet government of Ngo Dinh Diem backed by the United States in South Vietnam. Though the study was completed in 1968 that the United States could not win, the United States had enlarged the war from a land and air war against the Vietnamese liberation forces in South Vietnam to the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam and Cambodia as well. Ellsberg believed that if the U.S. public learned the truth about the Vietnam War, they would help stop the war. This is why he, and a former colleague Anthony Russo, shared the Pentagon papers with the press. The U.S. people, he believed, had a right to know about the war being waged in their name.

The exposure of Pentagon papers helped the anti-war movement but did not stop the war. It took another four years—April 1975—before Vietnamese freedom fighters liberated Saigon. The pictures of the U.S. forces leaving in ignominy, clinging to helicopters as they lifted off from the roof of the U.S. embassy, are similar to what we saw recently in Kabul.

By the time we reached the Iraq War, the world of information had changed. Information was no longer in paper form. Copies were also not on paper. Digitizing information meant that enormous amounts could be collected, stored and used in real-time for the purpose of war: both its physical-kinetic variety and also the information war. The full power of the United States, its technology might, and its money power could be wielded to build not only the U.S. war machine but also what we now call the surveillance state. Not simply its invasion of every aspect of our lives but also in creating new, invisible hands of the Ministry of Truth. This is an information war of a different kind than in the days of Ellsberg photocopying the Pentagon Papers.

This is the world that Assange saw and understood. If Ellsberg understood the world of power, Assange understood the changing nature of how information is created in vast amounts continuously by the government, stored and transmitted. The very nature of technology that permits this almost costless duplication of information and its flows also makes it vulnerable to being shared and made available to the public.

Let us look at some numbers here. At the time of Ellsberg, there were perhaps a few hundred, maybe a maximum of 1,000, who had access to Pentagon papers and could have photocopied them by hand as he did. He had a security level of GS-18, a civilian equivalent to a clearance level somewhere between major general and lieutenant general in the military. Chelsea Manning was a “specialist”, the rank equivalent to that of a corporal in the U.S. armed forces. It is the nature of the change in technology that made it possible for a specialist holding a rank of a corporal to strike a body blow in the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan. You need tech specialists to make the nuts and bolts of the global information infrastructure run. They may have “low” ranks but by virtue of being closest to the information on these vast military and diplomatic networks maintained by the Governments, they have complete access. And the computer, as a copying device, is a much more potent device for copying information. And lastly, the discs on which we copy data today, including our lowly thumb drive/memory stick, can store hundreds of thousands of pages!

It was Assange and WikiLeaks that made possible for Manning’s information to reach people across the globe. And even when he and Manning have been arrested, jailed and isolated, the information on Wikileaks still continues to be accessible to all of us. Even today. the Baghdad video of Collateral Murder, posted on WikiLeaks, was seen across the world and brought home that the United States was lying and involved in a massive cover-up of its war crimes. The Diplomatic Cables on Wikileaks informed the Tunisian people about the kleptocratic rule of the Ben Ali family and started what was later named as Arab Spring.

The battle of the Chagos islanders in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), illegally removed by the UK and the United States to set up the U.S. naval base in Diego Garcia, was partly based on documents from WikiLeaks. This is only a very small fraction of the information that is now available to activists, and it cannot be erased either from the Internet or from our memory. Just as the surveillance state has invaded every nook and corner of our lives, the pathological need of the surveillance state to access and store all this information also makes the state porous and vulnerable.

The latest example of this vulnerability is that a 21-year-old lowly Air National Guard, Jack Teixeira, had access to the top secret documents of the Pentagon and the CIA on Ukraine. He shared these documents on a private Discord gaming server, not for any noble purpose of stopping the war, but for simply getting bragging rights. Whether this was the only leak, are others also leaking documents to create a fog of war, is a mixture of leaks, or are they also plants is another story. What is important to this story is that Airman Teixeira, though near the bottom of the ladder in the U.S. Air Force, has access to top secret documents, normally seen by the top echelons of the armed forces and the intelligence authorities of the United States. He was part of a team that managed the core network and was one of the 1.5 million people who had this level of access.

Yes, we today are in a panopticon of the surveillance state where our rulers can look into every part of our lives. But what Manning and Teixeira show us is that the same technology that allows them to look at what we are doing also works in reverse. As long as we have Assange, Ellsberg, Manning and others, they are also visible to us. As the English poet Shelly wrote in 1819 after the Peterloo Massacre, “Ye are many, they are few.” This has not changed in the digital age as well.

In the Factories There Is Wealth, but There Is No Life


In late 2022, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a fascinating report entitled Working Time and Work-Life Balance Around the World, in large part encouraged by a slew of initiatives across India to extend the workday. The report accumulated global data on the time spent at work in 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ILO found that ‘approximately one third of the global workforce (35.4 percent) worked more than 48 hours per week’ and ‘one fifth of global employment (20.3 percent) consists of short (or part-time) hours of work of less than 35 hours per week’, such as gig work. Furthermore, the report noted that the occupational group with ‘the longest average hours of work was plant and machine operators and assemblers, who worked 48.2 hours per week on average’.

From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research comes our own intervention into this debate, our May dossier, The Condition of the Indian Working Class. The dossier opens with two events from 2020. First, at the start of the pandemic, the Indian government callously told millions of workers to return to their villages, and second, India’s farmers began a powerful protest against the government’s attempt to transfer control of the mandis (‘produce markets’) to big corporations. These events demonstrate both the harsh behaviour of the Indian government and the corporate class towards workers as well as workers’ and peasants’ ongoing resistance to the structure that exploits and oppresses them.

In 1991, India used a short-term balance-of-payments crisis to disrupt the institutional fabric of national development and open the economy to foreign investment. This ‘liberalisation’, as it is known in India, meant that capital was given a decisive advantage over labour and that labour protections hard won by the working class and the peasantry would be withdrawn.

Recognising this trend, Indian workers initiated a cycle of protests to defend their rights against what became known as ‘labour market liberalisation’. The key word ‘flexibility’ meant that workers would now have to surrender their precious rights to attract investment and deliver larger profits to those investors. Despite concessions made by workers – some forced, some through bargaining – the jobs produced by the neoliberal dispensation were work for the desperate. As we write in the dossier:

The promise of large-scale industrial investment and the creation of high-quality industrial jobs did not materialise in a significant way, and both economic and industrial growth have remained at low levels not only because of the lack of investment, but also because of the suppressed demand of the Indian population. This demand was reduced because of the desperately low wages of much of the population as well as neoliberal restraints on public spending, particularly in the agrarian sector.

What we find in India is not dissimilar to other parts of the world, with more and more workers slipping into increasing precarity. While the pandemic accelerated the rise of informal and unregulated employment, the ILO has shown through a number of regional studies – in Egypt for instance – that the trend towards precarious labour was already growing precipitously, with class war of a ruthless kind camouflaged in technical-sounding terms such as ‘labour market flexibility’.

In 2015, the United Nations passed a landmark resolution announcing seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, clearly stating the need to ‘Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all’. The ILO understands ‘decent work’ to mean ‘full and productive employment, rights at work, social protection, and promotion of social dialogue’, or – in plainer language – the right to productive work, safe working conditions, social insurance, and collective bargaining.

It has been clear for a long time that ILO standards are simply not taken seriously by most countries. Trade unions and other organisations of the working class provide the only platform with liberatory potential, with the unity of sectoral unions and union confederations playing a key role for any such effort to succeed. To fight the proposed Industrial Relations Bill (1978), whose provisions would have weakened the right to strike, various unions formed the National Campaign Committee of Trade Unions. In 1982, this committee led a general strike against the imposition of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (1981), another attempt to enfeeble labour organising. Since 1991, this committee, alongside the joint platform of the Central Trade Union Organisations, has held twenty-two general strikes, each of them larger than the one that came before.

In March 2022, 200 million workers, from the industrial sector to the care sector, joined the general strike to shut down the country. These strikes have been massive because the trade union movement has taken up the battles of unorganised informal workers with the same energy as the battles of their own members, as K. Hemlata, the president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, pointed out in our dossier no. 18 in July 2019. The class struggle is alive and well, although one of the weaknesses of our time is that these massive mobilisations have not been easily converted into political power. Financial power has drowned democracy, and the rise of toxic right-wing ideas – including religious fundamentalism – has played an influential role in communities struggling with the gradual destruction of collective life (a phenomenon we discussed in dossier no. 59, Religious Fundamentalism and Imperialism in Latin America). Nonetheless, as we write in the closing sentence of our new dossier, the workers ‘remain alive to the class struggle’.

In early summer 2020, my heart sank watching millions of workers drag their tired feet across the overheated landscape of India. Gulzar Saab, one of the country’s great poets and film directors, watched this exodus of the working class and wrote a poem that captured the mood, Marenge To Wahin Jaa Kar Jahan Par Zindagi Hai (‘They Will Go to Die There, Where There Is Life’). We are grateful to Saab for letting us publish this poem here, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil:

The pandemic raged.
The workers and labourers fled to their homes.
All the machines ground to a halt in the cities.
Only their hands and feet moved.
Their lives they had planted back in the villages.

The sowing and the harvesting was all back there:
Of the jowar, wheat, corn, bajra – all of it.
Those divisions with the cousins and brothers.
Those fights at the canals and waterways.
The strongmen, hired sometimes from their side and sometimes from this.
The lawsuits dating back to grandparents and grand uncles.
Engagements, marriages, fields.
Drought, flood, the fear: will the skies rain or not?
They will go to die there – where there is life.
Here, they have only brought their bodies and plugged them in!

They pulled out the plugs:
‘Come, let’s go home’ – and they set off.
They will go to die there – where there is life.

The art in this newsletter, taken from our latest dossier, is by Birender Kumar Yadav, a multi-disciplinary Indian artist from Dhanbad, a city of iron ore and coal built on the backs of mineworkers and indigenous people. Much of Yadav’s work, informed by his early experiences as the son of a blacksmith who worked in a coalmine, draws attention to unjust class hierarchies and the plight of the working class.

Understanding the Controversy and Legality of ‘Overseas Police Stations’


The apprehension of two men in New York on April 16, 2023, marked the first known U.S. arrests in connection with Chinese overseas police stations. Both men were working in a building in Manhattan’s Chinatown rented by the America ChangLe Association, a charity that had its tax-exempt status revoked in May 2022. More Chinese police stations are believed to be operating across the U.S.—though, like in other countries, not all their locations are known.

While foreign intelligence agencies conduct extensive espionage operations in other countries, domestic law enforcement agencies are also occasionally active abroad. The FBI trained many Latin American police units throughout the Cold War and has been covertly active in the region for decades. In 2020, Russia also offered to send a police force to Belarus during mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who blamed the West for trying to foment a color revolution.

However, the scale of China’s international program and the scope of its responsibilities is notable. Run primarily by ethnic Chinese residents, the main concern of these stations appears to be managing the more than 10.5 million Chinese citizens living overseas, and to a lesser extent the 35 to 60 million people in the Chinese diaspora. The considerable size of Chinese overseas communities has allowed Beijing to field an extensive global presence through these stations.

China’s first known use of these stations occurred in 2004 with the establishment of the Community and Police Cooperation Center in Johannesburg, following several attacks on Chinese citizens and businesses. The center opened with the blessing of the South African government, and more than a dozen have since opened in the country. As in other countries, they help Chinese citizens obtain documents, assist in criminal matters, integrate into the country, as well as offer “security, fire, and ambulance teams.” The Chinese government maintains that they are not police stations but instead function as “service centers.”

Two reports, released in September and December 2022 by the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, indicated that there are now more than 100 overseas Chinese stations active in more than 50 countries. Managed by China’s Ministry of Public Security, the stations are operated by police agencies from three Chinese provinces (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Fujian) and are divided into centers, which are greater in scale, and liaisons, which have a lower profile but are more numerous.

Though the stations had previously drawn little attention, the reports have made Western countries far more wary of them in the context of intensifying geopolitical tensions with China over the last few years. There are also fears that the stations act as part of China’s United Front system to build political, economic, and cultural connections to influence other countries.

The stations have also brought increased Western attention due to their role in convincing Chinese citizens to return to China to face legal charges. Now known as Operation Fox Hunt, Safeguard Defenders estimates that from April 2021 to July 2022, 230,000 Chinese citizens were persuaded or coerced into returning to China, with China’s Ministry of Public Security itself stating that 210,000 citizens returned in 2021. Western officials had already criticized China for abusing Interpol’s Red Notice system to arrest and extradite citizens abroad for political purposes, while Operation Fox Hunt has allowed Chinese officials to bypass Interpol and deal directly with its own citizens.

Interrupting the ability of China to carry out this program is increasingly becoming a domestic security priority for the U.S. But the two men who were arrested in New York appear to be both U.S. and Chinese citizens, and the incident has become the latest attempt by Chinese and Western authorities to exert authority over each other’s citizens, as well as dual citizens.

Several dual Chinese/U.S. citizens were prevented from leaving China in 2017 and 2018 in an apparent effort to convince their family members living in the U.S. to return to China. Meanwhile in 2018, Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese national and CFO of Huawei, was placed under house arrest in Canada to await extradition to the U.S. for fraud. In response, two Canadian businessmen in China were also detained and prevented from leaving, based on espionage allegations. All were released in 2021, with Chinese and U.S. authorities denying any connection between them.

The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China, while the few European countries that do have taken steps to reduce China’s ability to enforce it in recent months. While Chinese officials have demonstrated their willingness to detain dual citizens in China, the overseas stations allow Chinese officers to locate and contact citizens living abroad directly. Through harassment, intimidation, and coercion, Beijing has bypassed formal extradition methods and quietly convinced hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens to return home.

Beijing’s approach to dealing with wanted citizens abroad contrasts with techniques employed by other countries. Many, including the U.S.Russia, and Iran, have used military, intelligence, or organized crime assets to assassinate citizens opposed to the governments. Iran is also known to have resorted to kidnapping to bring citizens back to the country, though this has also generated significant attention.

The role of these stations in advancing Chinese interests and extraditing Chinese citizens has naturally caused concern in the West. Yet until the 2022 Safeguard Defenders reports, the Western response had been somewhat slow. Only after the scale of the stations became public knowledge did Western officials take substantial steps to clamp down on them. FBI director Christopher Wray stated in September 2022 that he was “looking into the legal parameters” of the stations, and the Manhattan station was raided by the agency in October.

More than a dozen other countries have also launched probes against the stations in recent months, and other countries have significantly scaled back their cooperation with them. The growth in the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad previously incentivized many governments to facilitate cooperation with Chinese police forces, for example, and Chinese police officers were formerly permitted to assist Chinese tourists visiting Italian cities. But this decision was reversed in December 2022, while Croatia is under similar pressure to restrict Chinese tourist assistance police patrols in its cities. Other restrictive measures in the U.S. and Europe are likely to be introduced.

Western officials, however, have so far refrained from bringing too much attention to the centers. Allegations of McCarthyism and racial profiling could cause social unrest and provide Beijing with evidence of hostile Western intent toward overseas Chinese communities. Additionally, acknowledging the existence of covert Chinese officials operating across the West would publicly undermine the sanctity of Western sovereignty and reinforce perceptions of China’s growing power in international affairs.

The stations, nonetheless, are destined to remain a sticking point in the Western-Chinese relationship. Operation Fox Hunt reveals that not even the U.S. has been able to protect dual citizens or those seeking asylum on its own soil. Though Chinese officials will likely have to act even more discreetly for some of their overseas operations, U.S. officials have yet to locate where all these stations are. And even if they are found, the Chinese government has traditionally cultivated close ties with overseas Chinese communities and has additional avenues to project influence.

Despite Western countries’ increasing concern with the stations, other countries which host them appear unperturbed and will continue to cooperate with China for a variety of reasons. In 2019, Chinese police officers began patrolling several Serbian cities alongside Serbian police forces to assist Chinese tourists. Additionally, Chinese police officers have worked out of an office in Cambodia’s national police headquarters since 2019 to manage Chinese citizens suspected of being involved in crime. Chinese police and security forces have also drastically increased their cooperation with their Latin American counterparts over the last decade to “speed up the signing process of treaties concerning judicial assistance in criminal matters, and expand cooperation in such areas as fighting crimes, fugitive repatriation and asset recovery,” according to the Chinese government.

In February 2023, China also unveiled its Global Security Initiative to enhance training and cooperation with developing countries’ security forces. And because Chinese stations do act as legitimate centers aimed to help Chinese citizens abroad, countries with good relations with China and existing and growing Chinese immigrant and worker communities will likely allow further expansion for Chinese overseas stations.

The stations will continue to evolve to suit the environment of their host countries. Their ongoing operations show the increasingly sophisticated ways China aims to aid its citizens abroad, convince others to return home, and extend its cooperation agreements and influence activities around the world.

Should Act of Charity be Unconditional?


Religious scriptures , mythological stories and speeches and writings of scholars advocate that love and compassion for others  should be the central focus of the thought process of everyone. It is said that development of such mindset is the  sure way of leading life process  with peace and tranquility. Obviously, such mindset would result in the regular  practice of extending support to  the needy persons, animals and creatures  in whatever way possible.

There are number of theories with regard to the charity concept such as  that the person involving himself or herself in charity activity should not have   personal motives and should not derive any benefits from the act of charity.  Further, it is also said that act of charity need not be at the cost of self denial  except in   extreme scenario  and should be practiced  only to the extent possible  after satisfying one’s requirements. The third view is  that “reckless charity”  to all and sundry  without scrutiny of the  genuine needs of the recipients is not appropriate.    There is also another view that the charity act towards   any cause should not result in negative impact on others or in the society.

Dependent mindset :

In number of  cases, the act of charity   sometimes encourage dependent mindset or “beggar attitude” amongst the recipients , who could think that they can” earn their needs” by   actively seeking donation and  support from kind hearted persons.

In recent times, with high  public discourse about the importance of charity, some people involve themselves in some  pursuits  such as costly education or treatment in expensive hospitals  beyond their affordability , even when they know that there is   no feasibility of making both ends meet.  In other words, such people hope and expect that they can plead for support . In the process , they  run from pillar to post to identify donors  and  request for funds , even risking some humiliating experience.

Such attitude  is negative, create  laziness  and  kill feeling of self respect and prevent the persons   from putting forth hard and sustained efforts and work to earn their needs honourably.

Support sought by voluntary bodies

There are several non government organisations   (NGOs) , which appear to be thousands in number all over India, ,  who undertake some welfare functions voluntarily and plead for donation publicly . Most of such organisations do not have enough  resources to carry out their intended social activities and take for granted that they would be able to get donations  from one source or the other  from India or abroad. There are also rumours that some of these NGOs even appoint agents to collect donations for their welfare programme and provide commission to the agents  for the services rendered.

Another disturbing issue is that some  NGOs even face accusation of diverting the donation money for purposes other than for  which  the donation is intended. 

As the source of fund  is not ensured for carrying out welfare activities, several NGOs   are facing difficult conditions when donations do not arrive as per their expectations and are even forced to curtail their development programmes.

The question is whether such NGOs should feel disappointed or they should blame themselves for launching welfare activities without adequate funds and proper plans for sourcing funds.

Possibly,   their expectations on unconditional charity from others,   who may  be known or unknown, may be misplaced.

Charity dinner :

What is known as “charity dinners”  are organized and such events   take place  in luxurious  settings , when a  well known celebrity   such as film actor would be invited and may be paid  lumpsum “honorarium”  and wealthy people would be invited to attend the dinner by paying hefty charges. There would be good response  from  the invitees , considering the opportunity to interact  with the celebrity .  The participants   in the event  often do so  for their own benefits .

Surplus collections   from the event   would be provided to the voluntary bodies or deprived persons, which  is incidental.

Most probably  ,neither in the mind of the celebrity nor in the minds of the participants , there would   be any thought about the plight of the deprived persons.  There is no  spirit of charity here.

Feeding stray dogs on the streets

One of the big problems in India today are the roaming of the homeless stray dogs  on the streets, which are estimated to be around 55 million in number. Some times,  such stray dogs    have become a safety threat for passers by on the streets  and some people including children have been wounded or even killed due to dog bites.

However, many compassionate minded people feed these  street dogs occasionally or as a matter of routine  everyday.  . There is criticism now about feeding the stray dogs , which are multiplying in number  and are  becoming  a threat for   the safety of the passers by.

Obviously, the government policy with regard to management of the street dogs menace are uncertain and confusing and not improving the ground situation with regard to street dog attacks.

This scenario  make some people  wonder whether the act of feeding stray dogs as  a matter of charity should be  considered as  appropriate. This is particularly so,  since those who feed the street dogs do not take care of them partly or fully and do not make any effort  to house them in proper  conditions.  Obviously, their charity act   has limits  and  cannot be unconditional.

Charity should not be unconditional

There is no doubt that the act of charity is a noble and admirable concept. But, the concept would be diluted or even the objectives would be  defeated ,if charity would be viewed as an unconditional concept.

Act of charity  should not lead to a situation where it would reach lazy persons  or those without self respect  or those who could misuse the donation amount . Then , it would mean that act of charity has lost it’s direction  and purpose.

In Tamil language , there is a saying which means that donation should be extended only after careful study of the need of the recipient  and the  recipient should strictly deserve it  and charity should not be unconditional.

Blasphemy: Terror of the Theocrats in Pakistan


On April 17, 2023, a Chinese national, identified as Tian, working at the Dasu hydropower project of Kohistan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), was taken into Police custody following unrest, after labourers at the dam site accused him of making blasphemous remarks during a heated argument. “We have arrested the foreigner suspect under blasphemy and terrorism charges and airlifted him from here to present him before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Abbottabad,” said Mohammad Khalid, the Kohistan District Police Officer (DPO).

Had he not been a Chinese national, the mob, as in earlier instances, would simply have lynched him. Keeping an eye on the importance of the Pakistan-China relation, Tian was airlifted in an Army helicopter from Upper Kohistan to Abbottabad. Not all blasphemy accused have been as lucky.

On February 11, 2023, a mob of hundreds, led by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), lynched a blasphemy accused after attacking the Warburton Police Station where he was detained, in the Nankana Sahib District of Punjab. The mob later set the body of the suspect on fire. Residents of the area claimed that the man — who had returned after spending two years in jail — used to practice witchcraft by pasting his ex-wife’s picture on holy papers. Overwhelmed by the large crowd, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Warburton Police Station, Feroze Bhatti, and other Police personnel, escaped the scene to save their lives. The mob then grabbed the man and dragged him out into the street, where they beat him to death.

While three persons were killed on blasphemy charges in 2022, three people were also killed in such violence in 2021. In one incident, on December 3, 2021, a violent mob at the Wazirabad Road in Sialkot city (Sialkot District), Punjab, tortured to death a Sri Lankan national, Priyantha Kumara, over blasphemy allegations before burning his body. Kumara was working as a senior manager at a leading Sialkot factory that manufactures and exports sports products.

Blasphemy has been used by the Islamist fundamentalists and extremists as a weapon to target and discriminate against minorities in the theocratic state of Pakistan. According to the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) report of January 24, 2023, as many as 89 citizens have been killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in the country since independence. The CRSS report stated that, from 1947 to 2021, 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy accusations. The allegations were made against 107 women and 1,308 men. Out of the total, 1,287 citizens were accused of committing blasphemy in the decade between 2011 and 2021. However, the report also noted, “The actual number is believed to be higher because not all blasphemy cases get reported in the press,” adding that more than 70 per cent of the cases were reported from Punjab. 1,098 cases were reported from Punjab followed by 177 from Sindh, 33 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), 12 from Balochistan and 11 from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The origin of the blasphemy laws dates back to the British era, when these were promulgated in 1860. Initially, four blasphemy laws — section 295, 296, 297 and 298 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) — were introduced. In 1927, section 295 was supplemented by 295A, after a 19-year-old carpenter named Ilmuddin stabbed Mahashay Rajpal Malhotra to death on April 6, 1929, for publishing a blasphemous pamphlet.

In the early phase after the independence, there were no new provisions for blasphemy. However, during the military rule of General Zia-ul-Haq (1978-1988), the most controversial laws, Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), (blasphemy against the Holy Quran) was introduced in 1982; and Section 295-C, PPC (desecration against Prophet Muhammad) in 1986. Section 295-C read:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Later, the Federal Sharia Court held in a judgement that life imprisonment was repugnant to Islam, and that, therefore, the death penalty was the only punishment possible for those convicted of blasphemy under 295-C. The Court ruled that if the Government did not delete the words “imprisonment for life” from the statute by April 30, 1991, the Court would consider the change to have been made. On May 1, 1991, the death penalty became mandatory for persons convicted under 295-C. Though a Bill was adopted by the Senate to give effect to the ruling, the National Assembly did not pass the Bill. However, the court’s ruling on the mandatory death penalty remained valid.

Among the most high-profile accused was Aasia Bibi, also known as Asia Noreen, a Christian woman from Ittan Wali village in the Sheikhupura District. She was sentenced to death on November 7, 2010, for blasphemy, allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad during a row with woman neighbours in June 2009. Noreen denied that she had committed blasphemy and asserted that she had been accused by her neighbours to “settle an old score.” On November 7, 2010, Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, a judge at the district Court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine equivalent to USD 1,100 was imposed. On October 31, 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction, and Aasia Bibi was released from the New Jail for Women in Multan on November 7, 2018, after spending eight years in prison.

In the interim, the then Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had come forward to support Aasia Bibi, was killed by his own security guard, Mumtaz Qadri on January 4, 2011. Qadri was reportedly incensed by the Governor criticism of the blasphemy law, as also his advocacy for Aasia Bibi. Taseer had demanded the removal of the mandatory death penalty on conviction. Subsequently, on March 2, 2011, unidentified assailants killed the then Federal Minorities Affairs Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, another outspoken critic of the law.

Significantly, most of the blasphemy cases are found to be false. On September 1, 2022, the Supreme Court (SC), in a detailed judgement, asked the concerned State functionaries to exercise “utmost care” while dealing with blasphemy cases. The SC’s judgement came in the case of bail granted to a Christian sanitary worker imprisoned since January 4, 2021, in false blasphemy case. During the judgement, Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed,

Unfortunately, such cases receive wide publicity which has an adverse effect and may also jeopardise a fair trial. Irresponsible and sensational broadcasts and publications repeat what allegedly the accused had said or done; those repeating this may themselves be committing the same offence.

Interestingly, Muslims have also been the victim of this draconian law, with accusations of blasphemy often put forward to settle personal scores. According to the ‘Human Rights Observer 2022’ report prepared by the Lahore based Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Muslims made up a large chunk of people accused of committing blasphemy in 2021. The report revealed that every second accused of blasphemy was a Muslim, adding that as many as 84 persons had been booked under blasphemy charges throughout Pakistan in the year. According to the report, 42 persons accused of blasphemy were Muslims, followed by 25 Ahmadis (an Islamic sect that has, by law, been excluded from identifying themselves as Muslims), seven Hindus and three Christians. 81 per cent (68 cases) were reported from the Punjab province alone, followed by seven in Islamabad, five in KPK, three in Sindh and one in PoK.

Pakistan is one of 13 countries where blasphemy is punishable by death. While human rights groups were concerned about this draconian law, the Pakistan Government, instead of considering a lesser punishment, on January 17, 2023, passed a Bill that will further strengthen the contentious blasphemy laws. The National Assembly unanimously passed the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023, enhancing the minimum punishment for those who insult the revered personalities of Islam from three to 10 years, along with a fine of 10 lakh Pakistani rupees. These laws will further jeopardise the life of blasphemy accused. Recently, on March 24, 2023, an anti-terrorism court in Peshawar city, KPK, convicted and sentenced Syed Muhammad Zeeshan to death after he was accused of posting blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group.

With the present structure of the Blasphemy law, the theocratic state of Pakistan will see more false prosecutions and persecution of innocent people in the name of religion.

Suicides in  IIT Madras — A matter of concern


It is reported that four students of IIT Madras committed suicide in the year 2023, within just four months.  This is a matter of very high concern and needs to be investigated by experts taking a holistic view.  So far, all these suicides have been simply termed as “suicides”  and the matter appears to have been closed. Obviously, there should be a deep underlying cause for such sad events,  particularly since the students are in their teenage or early twenties and that too they study in an elite institution.  At the same time, it has to be noted that such student suicides have also taken place in other IITs in India.

IIT  Madras management does not seem to have come out with any credible explanation so far, for such an increasing number of suicides. The strategy so far adopted by IIT Madras to prevent such suicides appear to be only by way of providing counselling advice,  which may go only halfway.

It is known that studying engineering subjects in depth and understanding the concepts in full require hard work and a certain level of basic intelligence.

It is true that engineering subjects are the same whether taught in IITs or in any other engineering colleges under government or private management. However, when bright students study such subjects,  then their understanding and appreciation of the concepts could be better than the average student. Further, the standards of the faculty members in IITs, most of whom have good exposure in elite institutions in developed countries,  could be better in many cases than the faculty members of other engineering colleges. Therefore, the level and standards of teaching in IITs may be higher than in other engineering colleges.

IITs select students for admission based on competitive entrance examinations at all Indian level and mostly , the students joining IITs have higher level of understanding capability.

The fact is that 64.5% of the seats for admission in IITs come under the reserved category, where the students getting admitted in the reserved category could be scoring fewer grades in the entrance examination compared to the students admitted in the non-reserved category.

Reservation policy

CategoryReserved Percentage of Seats in Each Course
GEN – Economically weaker section (EWS)10%
Person with disability ( PwD )_5% in each category seats

In  studying the difficult engineering subjects  in elite institutions like IITs , the bright students are likely to maintain higher academic standards compared to the students with less level of understanding ability,  as reflected in their lower grades in the entrance examination,  than the students getting admission in non-reserved category. In such circumstances,  it is quite possible that some students could find it difficult to understand the nuances of the subjects and cope with the demand from the faculty members.

While IIT  management and faculty members treat all students in the same manner and provide the facilities to all students without any difference, the understanding ability of the students could certainly be different, particularly when some students get admission under reserved category compared to students who get admission only on merit basis. This scenario may create a feeling of diffidence in some students leading to frustration in their mindset.

Further, all students in IITs have high level of career expectations and many of them get into best of jobs in India or abroad or go abroad for higher studies in prestigious institutions.  While such opportunities happen for bright students with high academic achievements, the other students may not equally get such opportunities. Given the fact that the students are in their teenage or early twenties, students tend to compare each one with others.

All students in IITs know the opportunities ahead of them and would do their level best to reach the best of academic performance. Some students may not be able to reach the level of academic performance they desire to achieve, particularly in comparison with other students due to their lack of understanding capability, which may be lower in some cases. For such students, the fear of not landing the best jobs would be a matter of utmost anxiety.

In such elite institutions like IITs , when some admissions are based on a reservation basis, it is inevitable that the understanding ability of all students will not be at the same level. This is the problem in introducing a reservation policy for admission in elite institutions like IITs, where the faculty members are of a high standard and facilities are modern and adequate and expectations from future employers are high.

The objective of this article is not to discuss the merits or demerits of the reservation policy in educational institutions.

On the other hand, the aim is that there should be a dispassionate analysis as to whether reservation policy has led to such suicides in IITs. If this is so, then some steps would be needed to provide specialized coaching for students getting admitted on the basis of reservation. It is not clear whether this would be practically possible.

India: The Cock and Bull Story of Pulwama


In a recent interview Satya Pal Malik, the former member of the Narendra Modi-led government and the former Governor of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir has alleged that the Indian prime minister silenced him on the security lapses which led to the 2019 Pulwama attack. According to him, Modi played a dirty game by concealing the truth from his own nation and tried to fix and frame Pakistan in a matter which actually had nothing to do with Pakistan. In other words, Malik has simply defended and supported Pakistan’s stance on the Pulwama Attack of February 2019. Intentionally or unintentionally, his statement on the Pulwama Attack has turned the table in real sense. It has been proved that whatever happened there in Pulwama was the action of some indigenous groups already active in India; however the negligence and non-professional attitude of the Indian security organizations provided these groups a strong support. Satya Pal Malik has also pointed towards the same incompetence and carelessness of the Indian security organizations in his recent interview. It is also on record that the Modi government expressed no surprise after the Pulwama incident though it was no doubt a tragedy which claimed lives of more than forty CRPF personnel and left five critically injured. Instead of lamenting over the killing of those ‘sons of the land’ and instead of taking to task those responsible for this mishap, the Modi Sarkar started playing old dirty game of blaming Pakistan simply as a routine practice.

According to Satya Pal Malik, Mr. Modi had asked him to ‘stay quiet’ about the security lapses he allegedly raised with the government. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had also advised him to keep silent over the alleged lapses. Malik said that he was well aware of the fact that all the onus of the attack will be put on Pakistan to reap electoral benefits. Actually by maligning the facts, Mr. Modi tried to kill two birds with one stone; on one hand he attempted to disrepute and defame Pakistan and on the other hand he tried to nurture the anti-Muslim feelings among the extremist section of the Indian society. For the last many years it has been Mr. Modi’s routine practice to follow and promote the Hindutva philosophy which directs its followers to adopt a strategy resulting in conversion of a constitutionally secular India into an ethnic Hindu state. Mr. Modi, being a staunch follower of that philosophy ever plans and struggles to push all minorities to a second-class status in India including the Muslims who are more than 200 million in number. Same is the case with the Christians, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and as well as with the low-caste Dalits.

With reference to the Pulwama Attack a very important fact is that some sections of the Indian media started raising hue and cry against Pakistan, without any confirmation, just after the incident. The noise they made was not for those soldiers whose lives were wasted in that incident; it was only against Pakistan. It seemed that on the direction of Mr. Modi, they already had tailored the desired or required propaganda material. It is something very positive on the part of some Indian media houses that they tried their utmost to bring the truth to the public even at that time. Though they didn’t support Pakistan but they tried to expose the negligence and inability of the Indian security organizations; the ‘Hindu’ is also one of such media sections. In a report published on 21st February 2021, the Hindu said, “There were at least 11 intelligence inputs between January 2, 2019, and February 13, 2019, pointing to a macabre “Qisas (retribution) mission” in the making, one that culminated eventually in the attack on a security convoy in Lethpora, Pulwama. But the government was deaf to all these.”

India’s one of the most reliable magazines, The Frontline has something more shocking to reveal on the issue. In an investigation report on the issue the magazine said, “In the aftermath of the attack, which took place eight weeks before the 2019 general election, there was relentless mobilization of emotion by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), calling for avenging the attack and projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the sole protector of the national interest. Prime time television hugely aided the politicization of national security issues, more so after the aerial raid at Balakot by the Indian Air Force on February 26, when one news bulletin after the other claimed, without evidence, that at least 300 Pakistani terrorists had been eliminated in that bombing.” The Frontline concluded its analysis by saying that ‘the election returns proved that the BJP’s muscular nationalism campaign was the predominant, if not the only, factor that facilitated Modi’s landslide victory’. India is not just a vast piece of land; it is the name of a centuries’ old culture, civilization and traditions. India has ever been a home to countless artists and artisans who created eternal type of master-pieces in the field of poetry, singing and architecture etc. Secularism has ever been the real beauty of India. Anyone who tries to deprive this country of its original and genuine colour of secularism could never be a well-wisher of it. For the sake of personal gains and subjective motives, no one must be given a free hand to deface the serenity of the Land of Art and Culture. All involved in misleading and deceiving the world through different false flag operations must be seriously taken to task.

The Search for Justice for India’s Dalits: Examining the Reasons Behind the Rise in Crimes


The International Dalit Solidarity Network estimates that there are 260 million Dalits globally. Dalits dwell in South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) and in populations that have migrated from South Asia across the world. In India, atrocities and a crime against Scheduled Castes increased by 1.2% in 2021 (50900 cases) over 2020 (50,291 cases), including 2585 incidences of rape against Dalit women.

Dalits, also known as “Untouchables,” belong to the lowest caste in India’s ancient caste system. They have experienced social, economic, and political prejudice and marginalization for generations, resulting in widespread poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. Despite constitutional safeguards and affirmative action laws intended at encouraging social and economic participation, Dalits continue to endure systematic discrimination and violence, leading to an increase in crimes against this vulnerable minority.

The rise in crimes against Dalits is a multifaceted issue that cannot be reduced to isolated acts of violence or hatred. It is, rather, the outcome of centuries of institutional oppression and discrimination that has resulted in a profoundly established and linked network of social, economic, and political inequities. To obtain justice for Dalits, it is critical to investigate the underlying causes of these crimes and strive toward structural reform that tackles the community’s continued marginalization and oppression.

Although India’s caste system has a lengthy and complicated history, its essential principles have remained stable over time. This system divides society into castes based on birth, and individuals are assigned to a certain caste depending on their lineage. The lowest castes, especially Dalits, were deemed unclean and faced social, economic, and political marginalization and discrimination.

Despite India’s independence in 1947 and the adoption of a constitution that forbids caste discrimination, Dalits experience severe inequity and marginalization. Dalit activists and groups have undertaken several campaigns and movements throughout the years to raise awareness about the ongoing challenges of these minority people and advocate for change. Despite these attempts, prejudice, and violence against Dalits and other oppressed people continue to be pervasive throughout India. Rape against Schedule caste women (including children) accounts for 7.64% (3893 instances), with 2585 incidences of rape against Dalit women and 1285 cases of juvenile rape.

In addition to their continuous challenges, Dalits confront significant obstacles in getting justice. For example, they may face systemic prejudices within the court system, making it harder for them to seek legal redress. Furthermore, a lack of political will and inefficient execution of laws designed to protect Dalits can make it difficult for them to seek justice when crimes against them are perpetrated.

The Reasons Behind the Rise in Crimes Against Dalits:

Despite constitutional safeguards and affirmative action programs, prejudice and violence against Dalits are still prevalent in India. This is due, in part, to deeply rooted social and cultural conventions that sustain the caste system and its attendant prejudices and biases. Furthermore, the absence of political will and inefficient execution of legislation intended at safeguarding Dalits contributes to the community’s continuous isolation and persecution.

The Indian government and political leaders have frequently failed to take serious measures to safeguard Dalits and punish perpetrators of crimes against this minority responsible. This lack of political will, along with the inefficient enforcement of legislation designed to safeguard Dalits, has increased crimes against this vulnerable minority.

In recent years, India has experienced an upsurge in right-wing Hindutva nationalism, which has had a severe influence on the rights of Dalits and other oppressed tribes, with Atrocities and Crime against Scheduled Tribes increasing by 6.4% in 2021 (8,802 instances) over 2020. (8,272 cases)

Examining the Failure of the Justice System:

The Indian court system has always failed to offer proper protection to Dalits, and this remains a fundamental concern today. The difficulty of detecting and prosecuting crimes against Dalits is one of the most significant barriers to justice for them. Many crimes against Dalits go unreported or uninvestigated, and even when incidents are brought to the attention of authorities, they sometimes lack the means or inclination to investigate them effectively. Furthermore, the cultural stigma against Dalits, as well as the prevalence of caste-based prejudice in many regions of the country, can create a hostile climate for Dalits seeking justice through the judicial system.

Another key hurdle to justice for Dalits is the criminal justice system’s lack of accountability and openness. There are several incidents of law enforcement personnel, judges, and other criminal justice system members who have been accused of ignoring or intentionally undermining Dalit rights. Because of the system’s lack of transparency, it is sometimes difficult to hold those guilty accountable, which can lead to a pervasive sense of impunity among those who perpetrate crimes against Dalits.

Addressing the structural prejudice and bias that India’s Dalits confront in the criminal justice system is crucial. This necessitates a wide variety of reforms, including improved law enforcement training and instruction, greater safeguards for Dalits who report crimes, and enhanced openness and accountability in the criminal justice system. It also necessitates a larger cultural movement toward greater respect for Dalit rights and an end to the caste-based prejudice that persists in many regions of India.

The reasons for this rise in crimes against Dalits in India are firmly founded in the history of the caste system and the ongoing battle for Dalit equality and dignity. Despite some efforts to address these difficulties, there are still numerous obstacles to overcome before Dalits may obtain justice. The battle for Dalit justice in India is a collaborative endeavor that demands the participation of all segments of society. This includes addressing systemic discrimination and bias in the criminal justice system, as well as broader societal and cultural attitudes that contribute to the persistence of caste-based violence, while civil society organizations must work to raise awareness and support Dalits who have been victims of violence. The media may also play an important role in elevating Dalit voices and shedding light on the ongoing struggle for justice.

The Death of over a Thousand Garment Workers in Bangladesh


In memory of Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury (1941–2023)

On Wednesday 24 April 2013, 3,000 workers entered Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar in Bangladesh. They produced garments for the transnational commodity chain that stretches from the cotton fields of South Asia, through Bangladesh’s machines and workers, and on to retail houses in the Western world. Garments for famous brands such as Benetton, Bonmarché, Prada, Gucci, Versace, and Zara are stitched here, as are the cheaper clothes that hang on Walmart racks. The previous day, Bangladeshi authorities had asked the owner, Sohel Rana, to evacuate the building due to structural problems. ‘The building has minor damage’, said Rana. ‘There is nothing serious’. But at 8:57 am on 24 April, the building collapsed in the span of two minutes, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring over 2,500 more. The circumstances of the collapse were similar to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, where 146 people died. Tragically, a century later, garment workers are still subject to these dangerous labour conditions.

The list of avoidable ‘accidents’ in Savar is long and painful. In April 2005, at least 79 workers died in a factory collapse; in February 2006, 18 workers died in yet another collapse, followed by 25 in June 2010 and 124 in the Tazreen Fashion Factory fire in November 2012. Since the Rana Plaza devastation ten years ago, at least 109 other buildings in the area have collapsed, resulting in the death of 27 workers (at minimum). These are the deadly factories of twenty-first century globalisation: poorly built shelters for a production process geared toward long working hours, third-rate machines, and workers whose lives are submitted to the imperatives of just-in-time production. Writing about the factory regime in nineteenth-century England, Karl Marx noted in chapter 10 of Capital:

But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. … All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour power that can be rendered fluent in a working day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

These Bangladeshi factories are part of the landscape of globalisation echoed in factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places around the world that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy uptake of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome multinational clothing companies that no longer wanted to invest in factories. So, they turned to subcontractors, offering them narrow profit margins, compelling them to run their factories like prison houses of labour. The garment industry in Bangladesh, which comprises 80 per cent of the country’s total export earnings, grew entirely in security zones, offering workers few prospects to unionise. It is no wonder that these factories are a warzone.

The subcontracting process allowed multinational firms to deny any culpability for the actions of small factory owners, allowing wealthy shareholders in the Global North to enjoy profits from the lower costs of production without having their consciences stained by the terror inflicted on these workers. Men like Sohel Rana, a local tough guy who oscillated between different political parties depending on who held power, became local thugs for multinational firms. After the collapse of the building, Rana was hastily disowned by all politicians and arrested (the trial against him continues, although he is out on bail).

Men like Rana assemble workers, shove them into these shoddy buildings, and ensure that they are beaten if they threaten to unionise while elites living in the mansions of Gulshan and Banani offer small gestures of liberalism through charity and the allowance of modest, but unfulfilled, labour laws. Labour inspectors are few, and – even worse – they are powerless. As the International Labour Organisation noted in 2020, ‘Labour inspectors have no administrative sanctioning power and cannot impose fines directly. However, they can file a case in the labour court, but the resolution of these cases usually takes a long time, and the fines imposed… do not provide a sufficient deterrent’. An occasional outburst of liberal sentiment in the Global North forces some companies to ‘self-regulate’, an exercise in whitewashing the horrors of the global commodity chain. Capitalist democracy requires this alliance of brutality and reform, of neofascism and paternalism. It celebrates the Ranas of the world until they become a liability, and then it simply replaces them.

One day after the building collapse, Taslima Akhter went to Rana Plaza and photographed the ruins in what she saw as an act of remembrance. A selection of her photographs illustrates this newsletter. Later, Akhter published a 500-page book, Chobbish April: Hazaar Praner Chitkar (‘24th April: Outcries of a Thousand Souls’), which displays a collection of the posters put up by frantic family members looking for their loved ones and passport photographs of the dead with a brief note on their lives.

Chobbish April opens with the story of 35-year-old Baby Akhter, a swing operator at EtherTex Garment who began working at Rana Plaza only 16 days before her death. Akhter came to Dhaka from Rangpur, where her father was a landless peasant. Eighty per cent of the workers in these factories are women, and most, like Baby Akhter, migrate from conditions of landlessness. They bring with them the desolation of the countryside, its overworked soil and poisoned water ravaged by industrial agriculture as well as by the law of value that makes the small farmer redundant before the might of capitalist farms. Baby Akhter’s husband, Delowar, recalled that her luxuries were chewing paan (‘betel leaf’) and using a hand-held fan. ‘She was ready to fight any war’, he said. Her photograph exudes defiance and kindness, a smile hidden in her face.

Bangladeshi workers like Baby Akhter have regularly organised to fight against their wretched conditions. In June 2012, the year before Rana Plaza collapsed, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone outside Dhaka protested for higher wages and better working conditions. For days on end, these workers closed 300 factories, blocking the Dhaka-Tangail highway in Narasinghapur. In retaliation, the owners shut down the factories, and the state took their side, with inspector Abul Kalam Azad declaring that the factories would only re-open if the workers ‘behaved properly’. Police officers marched down the street with batons and tear gas used to ‘educate’ the workers about so-called proper behaviour. After the 2012 protests, the government set up the Crisis Management Cell and the Industrial Police, both of which ‘collect intelligence and pre-empt labour unrest in industrial areas’. When Human Rights Watch investigated the situation in 2014–15, one worker told the investigator that despite being pregnant, she was ‘beaten with metal curtain rods’. One of the owners of a big factory explained to the investigator why the violence is viewed as necessary:

Factory owners want to maximise profits, so they will cut corners on safety issues, on ventilation, on sanitation. They will not pay overtime or offer assistance in the case of injuries. They push workers hard because they don’t want to miss deadlines… Workers have no unions, so they can’t dictate their rights… Some of this can also be blamed on the branded retailers who place bulk orders and say, ‘Scale up production lines because it is a big order and improve your margins’. Even 2–3 cents can make the difference, but these companies don’t want to factor [labour rights and safety] compliance into costing.

Each of these sentences seems lifted directly from Marx’s Capital, written over 150 years ago. The harsh conditions set by the global commodity chain make Bangladesh one of the worst countries in the world to be a worker. A study published in January 2023 shows that during the pandemic, multinational garment companies squeezed subcontractors to cut costs, which resulted in harsher conditions for workers.

In 1926, the All Bengal Tenants’ Conference met in Krishnanagar to form the Kirti Kisan (‘Worker-Peasant’) Party, an early communist political platform in South Asia. Kazi Nazrul Islam sang his Sramiker Gaan (‘Song of the Workers’) at this meeting, a poem that could have been written for Rana Plaza workers and for the millions who toil along a global commodity chain that they do not control:

We are mere coolies working at the machines
in these terrible times.
We are mere dupes and fools
to discover the diamond and to make a gift of it
to the king, to adorn his crown.

Hold fast your hammer, pick up your shovel,
sing in unison and advance.
Switch off the machine-light, the Satan’s eye.
Come along, O Comrade, and keep your weapon high.

On Prisoners’ Day, Palestinians Stand in Solidarity With Their 5,000 Comrades in Israeli Occupation Jails


On April 16, the eve of Prisoners’ Day, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) stated that a jailed Palestinian, Khader Adnan, is in a critical state and needs immediate hospitalization. Adnan is currently on an indefinite hunger strike against his unlawful detention by the Israeli occupation forces.

Adnan, aged 45, has completed over 70 days of his hunger strike and is currently inside Israel’s notorious Ramla prison clinic, despite repeated appeals to shift him to a proper hospital. The PPS claimed that Adnan is already suffering from serious health issues and “Israel’s refusal to move him to a hospital aims at causing him chronic diseases that are difficult to treat later.”

Adnan has been arrested 12 times in the last 20 years and has spent over eight years altogether in Israeli administrative detention. He has been on hunger strike since the beginning of his present incarceration, in the first week of February. This is his sixth hunger strike and his longest so far.

Palestinians mark Prisoners’ Day every year on April 17 to express solidarity with their freedom fighters inside Israeli prisons. According to a joint report published on the occasion, there are around 4,900 Palestinians inside different Israeli prisons, including 31 women and 160 children.

Most Palestinian prisoners face widespread atrocities from the Israeli prison authorities, including denial of family meetings, restrictions on interactions with other prisoners, and torture.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service