When The World Is On The Brink, Neroes Of Washington Are Fiddling!

The war between Russia and Ukraine is in its second month, and apparently, there is no end in sight! Where are all the peace seekers and peacekeepers? Why is the Secretary-General of the United Nations not shuttling between Kyiv and Moscow? How come there is little interest in finding a peaceful solution to this crisis? It is quite bizarre to think that after witnessing the destruction, atrocities, and mayhem at the battleground, it is business as usual for the rest of the world!
The Washington elites, led by Neocons, are cheerleading from the sidelines and egging the Ukrainians to continue with the fighting. Yet, they are reluctant to give the Ukrainians the necessary offensive firepower to win a war. Sitting in their comfortable multi-million abodes in the Washington suburbs, they are toying with the lives, property, and the future of the nation of Ukraine. It is another smart move in their geopolitical games where they would never let a severe crisis go to waste.

With the recent sinking of the Russian warship Moskov, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukraine president, has upped the ante. To the western media, Zelensky is this great war hero fighting the evil forces from the trenches. He conducts press conferences or addresses various legislative bodies across the west in his military fatigues, often echoing the speeches of Winston Churchill, coaxing the rest of the world to join him in his fight with the Russians.

‘However, one wonders how a genuine national leader could allow the subjugation of his people to this level of destruction and suffering and let his motherland be laid to ruins.’ He has been urging women and children of Ukraine to welcome the Russians with Molotov cocktails while lamenting the toll of the civilian deaths. Now that he has succeeded in keeping Russia’s army at bay from taking Kyiv, he must be dreaming about becoming the ultimate warrior who has saved Europe from the Russians. Of course, the power elites in Washington must be reassuring him of their unflinching support and are delighted to see the travails of the Russians on the battlefield.

However, it is a sad spectacle for the rest of the world where innocent people, some of them with their hands tied to their back and shot with their bodies strewn across the street in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. More and more, cities across Ukraine resemble Dresden, Germany, during World War II, where allied planes obliterated cities with fire bombings. In many cities, including Mariupol, the absolute magnitude of this great human tragedy is yet to be unfolded.

Looking at the reports from the battlefield, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, may have committed war crimes targeting innocent civilians as a strategy to terrorize the citizenry and bring them into submission. Shelling the residential buildings and destroying the ecosystems of civilian life, Putin is presiding over a despotic regime that is authoritarian, vengeful, self-serving, and may stoop down to any low level to achieve his nefarious objectives. He has miscalculated the resilience and underestimated the willpower of the Ukrainians while exposing the weak links in his mighty military machine the U.S. has long been touting to increase the Pentagon budget.

Whether a country is not directly affected, the economic consequences of harsh economic sanctions of this disastrous war are felt across the globe. The conflict has already triggered turmoil in the financial markets. In addition, it has drastically increased the uncertainty about the recovery of the global economy after the Covid Pandemic. Due to the high commodity prices, the inflationary pressures may well lead to a recession and even social unrest.

Russia is the world’s 3rd oil producer and 2nd natural gas producer. Ukraine is a key producer of Corn, wheat, and sunflowers. Therefore, continuing this war will disrupt the energy and essential commodities marketplace and may also intensify the risk of stagflation in both advanced and emerging economies. In a prolonged conflict,  tough western sanctions and disruptions of Russia’s oil and gas exports might blow global markets with higher interest rates and slow down the world economy. The slide in Russia’s ruble has been expected, but this could also put the dominance of the U.S. dollar in question as the world’s reserve currency.

Most importantly, according to various press reports, Russia has warned the U.S. and NATO this week that “unpredictable consequences” could be if they continue sending Ukraine “sensitive” weapons. In response, Ukrainian President Zelensky said in an interview with CNN on Friday that the world should be prepared for the possibility of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons. What should we conclude about these threats and counter-threats?

Undoubtedly, our world is at an inflection point. One may not dismiss the possibility that the Russian bear being pushed to the wall through western sanctions and battlefield losses due to the constant funneling of advanced weapons from NATO countries might react even more destructively. The world might pay even a heavier price. Ukrainians are proud people who may want to have assurances of no more wars in the future while protecting their independence and way of life.

Many would argue that the creation of the Taliban and subsequent attack on 9/11 by the Al Qaeda from the safe haven in Afghanistan was the direct result of the American foreign policy run amok after the Soviet invasion of that country. Is history about to repeat itself? Why is the world watching and waiting instead of actively engaged in finding a peaceful solution?
Today, we live in a global village without any boundaries to communication and relationships. It is in the interest of the world citizenry to keep the faith and persevere for peace to avert a potential carnage the world has never seen before! (George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Pegasus: The New Cyber Weapon For Dismantling Democracy

The New York Times recently reported that India had purchased the Pegasus software from an Israeli company, NSO, as part of the multi-billion-dollar armaments deal that included sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear. The report also said that the purchase was finalized during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and cleared by the then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017.

Once again, the Government officials in India kept their silence on the New York Times story. Earlier, the Supreme Court in India has ordered an independent probe into Pegasus upon a ruling that came after petitions were filed which sought an investigation into allegations of unauthorized surveillance. The Court stated while ordering the inquiry that “the mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator.”

The Court also listed several compelling circumstances that were weighed before issuing an order. The right to privacy and freedom of speech are alleged to be impacted, and the entire citizenry is affected by such allegations due to the potential chilling effect. The bench went on to say that the “right to privacy is directly infringed when there is surveillance or spying done on an individual, either by the State or by an external agency” and “if done by the State, the same must be justified on constitutional grounds .” During the hearing, the Centre had filed a brief affidavit “unequivocally” denying the allegations and said the matter involved national security concerns. The Indian Express recently reported that two Cybersecurity experts had told the Supreme Court-appointed committee on the Pegasus issue that there is concrete evidence that the application was used to spy on the petitioners.

The NSO group claims that the product it sells to government clients is intended to collect data from the mobile devices of specific individuals suspected to be involved in serious crime and terror. However, contrary to their assertion, it has been reported that this spyware has been widely misused. In response, a global consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets in 10 countries came together under the ‘Pegasus project’ coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Their findings shed light on the fact that at least 180 journalists across the globe have been selected as targets in countries like India, Mexico, Hungary, Morocco and France, and others. Potential targets also included human rights activists, academics, business people, lawyers, doctors, union leaders, diplomats, politicians, and several heads of state.

In a recent column, Siddharth Varadarajan, of ‘The Wire’ wrote further on his interaction with Ronen  Bergman of the New York Times stating that the Indian leadership showed ‘specific interest’ in and ‘specific emphasis’ on acquiring the controversial spyware. The column went on to say that the forensic tests by Amnesty International’s tech lab revealed the presence of military-grade spyware on the smartphones of several journalists, including two of the publication’s founding editors, investigative journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Sushant Singh and the leading opposition strategist Prashant Kishor. Their numbers were part of a leaked database of probable Pegasus targets, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, and former CBI director Alok Verma.

What is Pegasus? Pegasus is a spyware that can be covertly installed on mobile phones running most versions of iOS and Android. Pegasus can be installed on the phone through vulnerabilities in common apps such as SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage, or by tricking a target into clicking a malicious link. Once installed, Pegasus can theoretically harvest any data from the device  (SMS, Emails, WhatsApp chats, photos, videos, calendar, or contacts) and transmit it back to the attacker. It could also activate a camera or a microphone, record calls, and scan the GPS data. When iPhone is compromised, it’s done in such a way that allows the attacker to obtain so-called root privileges, or administrative rights, on the device. Pegasus could easily do more than what the device owner can do.

For a long time, Israel has used the sale of sophisticated weapons as part of its broader efforts to win diplomatic successes abroad or at the United Nations. Subsequently to this agreement, India voted in favor of Israel by denying observer status at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to a Palestinian human rights organization. India has maintained a commitment to the Palestinian cause for decades, and its records at the United Nations speak for itself. This sudden about-face by India is viewed as a betrayal of the Palestinian people, and Pegasus may have a lot to do with it. It is not only India that has changed its attitude towards Israel after a Pegasus deal; a few countries, including Mexico and Panama, also appeared to have done the same. After installing Pegasus spyware in Panama City in 2012, Panama’s Government voted to oppose the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation.

The story of Khadija Ismayilova’s story is available in the public domain. In Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation nestled next to the Caspian Sea, has increasingly stifled free speech and dissent in the last decade. Ismayilova’s investigation into the ruling family had made her a prime target of her own Government. The authorities had thrown the book at her arresting her: surreptitiously filming her during sex, accusing her of driving a colleague to suicide, and eventually charging her with tax fraud and sentencing her to seven years in prison. However, she was released on bail after 18 months and banned from leaving the country for five years. So, in 2021, at the end of the travel ban, when Ismayilova packed away all her belongings boarded a plane to Ankara, Turkey, she may have thought she was leaving all that behind.

Little did she know the most invasive spy was coming with her. For nearly three years, Khadija Ismayilova’s phone was regularly infected with Pegasus. “All night, I have been thinking about what I did with my phone. I feel guilty for the messages I have sent. I feel guilty for the sources who sent me information thinking that some encrypted messaging ways are secure, and they didn’t know my phone was infected,” she told reporters. “My family members are also victimized. The sources are victimized, and private secrets of the people I have been working with are victimized,” she added.

There is little doubt that the use of Pegasus is an assault on the right to privacy everywhere and specifically an attack on the very fabric of Indian democracy. Undoubtedly, the Government is responsible for monitoring people involved in criminal wrongdoings, and there are established procedures involving the judiciary laid out for it. However, targeting opposition leaders, journalists, and regular citizenry for surveilling for their God-given right to express themselves is tantamount to undermining the democracy itself. This Pegasus scandal exposes the mindset of the current leadership, and it does not bode well for the future of India.

George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and the Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA

Modi’s Christmas Shocker Hurts The Poor And Disadvantaged In India During The Covid

“These calls have an eerie familiarity with what has happened to the Jews in Germany during World War II. Even Hitler has used euphemism instead of direct appeal to annihilate a community. However, the religious extremists in India have gone even a step further and made their open call. Undoubtedly, India is at an inflection point in history, and the question is whether the current leadership acquiesce to the sounds and fury from these diabolical mindsets by keeping their deafening silence!”

Like many other nations globally, India has been navigating through an economic crisis while battling an onslaught of Covid-19 and its variants. However, one may find it hard to pin down a leadership anywhere bent upon augmenting that misery for its own people through arbitrary and quirky actions. That is probably what the Modi administration has done by canceling about 6000 of FCRAs (Foreign Currency Remittance Act) of NGOs and various religious organizations that serve the poorest of the poor and disadvantaged in the educational, charitable, and healthcare arena.

These leaders appear to be unimpressed with the vital work done by many of these civic organizations in blunting the fury of the pandemic by providing food and assistance when the government was found missing in action. Missionaries of Charity, an organization founded by Mother Teresa, is one of the impacted organizations and might have garnered the most attention. However, so many of those organizations on that list might soon be depriving a dying patient of urgent medical care due to their inability to pay or denying a meal to a hungry person from the ranks of the poor and disadvantaged.

It is bizarre to learn that one of the reasons for cutting off funds for the Missionaries of Charities was that the inspectors had found copies of Bibles on the premises! Missionaries of Charities have had a long record of distinguished humanitarian service that began in 1950 on the streets of Calcutta. The group is revered worldwide for its work under Mother Teresa, an Albanian Christian nun who made India her home. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedicated work over a lifetime, and her legacy inspires so many to carry on with similar missions.

The published list contains organizations belonging to various religious affiliations. Although one can fully understand the need for transparency and accountability in these organizations, this discretionary decision may have a far-reaching effect of closing their doors for good, resulting in a denial of services to the most vulnerable needy. Moreover, by releasing this list on the eve of Christmas, the Modi administration may also be sending a clear message to the Christians in India that you are no longer welcome as a partner in the social development arena. They may look at the Christian community as having undue influence in the society-at-large through their educational and charitable work and are determined to shut it down. While people worldwide are on edge dealing with variants of this virus, only a wicked mindset could think of this type of ordinance in a time such as these.

Thanks to the rising antagonism of the authorities towards minorities, we have also seen a spate of attacks on Christians during this holiday season. The right-wing extremists, who are emboldened by the words and deeds of the current leadership, went on a rampage disrupting Carol services and destroying church properties in several parts of India. A group of men led by a politician barged into a Gurgaon private school and disrupted the Christmas carnival. They also chanted slogans of “Jai Shri Ram and Bharat Ki Jai,” and the videos of the incident show a man addressing the gathering, stating that “Christianity is not acceptable here.”

In another incident, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized at the Holy Redeemer Church entrance, a century-old building with great historical importance. In the Chandmari district of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, a group of right-wing men carrying saffron flags protested outside the Matridham Ashram before a Christmas event was to take place. The group of 20-30 people raised the “Jai Shri ram” slogan along with “Church murdabad” (death to the church) and “stop conversion.” In Assam, the Bajrang Dal was also involved in impeding the Christmas midnight mass celebrations in Silchar. The men allegedly forced their way into the church and demanded that the celebration be shut down because it was also ‘Tulsi Diwas.’

The action against Missionaries of Charity also happened in the backdrop of an anti-conversion bill passed in the Karnataka Assembly that has stoked anxieties among Christians in that southern state, the IT hub of India. The first anti-conversion law was passed in Odisha in 1967, leading to an attack on Christians, culminating in the Kandhamal violence in 2008. Six other states followed suit resulting in increased violence against Christians. Rev. Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru, summed up his heartfelt feelings this way: “This is frightening and a sad commentary on secularism, signals are suggesting it is not a good time to be a Christian in Karnataka.” One also wonders that if there is such a rampant conversion as alleged, why has the Christian population in Karnataka decreased from 1.91% as per the 2001 census instead of 1.87% as per the 2011 one?

Why are these attacks occurring at an increased frequency now? For those observers, it becomes apparent that it is part of the BJP efforts to promote their long-cherished goal of a majoritarian rule under the banner of a Hindu Rashtra. The recently held Dharam Sansad in Haridwar in the name of Sanatana Dharma indicated what extent they are willing to go to accomplish that goal. One of the main organizers of the Sansad, Prabodhhanand Giri, was heard praising the Myanmarese people for killing and driving out Rohingya Muslims. The Swami wants the Hindus in India to imitate the Buddhists and drive out the Muslims from the country. A female speaker went even further, asking every Hindu to wield the sword and start killing Muslims. Christians may be considered collateral damage in their quest to fulfill that dream in the whole scheme of things.

These calls have an eerie familiarity with what has happened to the Jews in Germany during World War II. Even Hitler has used euphemism instead of direct appeal to annihilate a community. However, the religious extremists in India have gone even a step further and made their open call. Undoubtedly, India is at an inflection point in history, and the question is whether the current leadership acquiesce to the sounds and fury from these diabolical mindsets by keeping their deafening silence!

The Afghanistan Tragedy: Will There Be An End To Endless Wars?

“Many of these bureaucrats in Washington who are the true architects of these infamous wars have little in common with the folks who are sent to these godforsaken places to fight these unseen enemies. They are part of the elite society, mostly come with Ivy League credentials and live in their multi-million abodes in Washington suburbs.

Most of them might not have served a single day in the United States armed forces, and some of the older ones might even have gotten away with waivers during the time of the draft. At the end of the day, it is either those boys from the Midwest who believe that it is their duty to serve their country and honor its flag or the poor black and Latino kids who are hoping to build a better life after completing their service in the Military are the ones who fall prey to these odious designs of the so-called establishment.”

President Dwight Eisenhower once gave the nation a dire warning. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” He called the military-industrial complex a formidable union of vested interests and a threat to democratic government.

As the tragedy in Afghanistan unfolds before our very eyes, the question is whether this could have been avoided? There is no doubt that this shameful exit by the United States has not only tarnished the reputation of the superpower but put thousands of Afghan lives in danger. There is little doubt that the current administration has failed miserably in executing a proper exit strategy. History will harshly judge those who have authored and run such an ill-conceived plan. Who are the victims of this unfolding strategy? The United States went to Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda that has planned and staged the attacks on the World Trade Center that killed around 3000 Americans on September 11, 2001. There is no doubt that American intervention prevented more such episodes from the Afghan soil in the U.S., and the chief strategist of the 9/11 attack, Bin Laden, was pursued and eliminated.

However, the United States got bogged down in this protracted struggle with the Taliban, who found a haven in Pakistan for their hit and run attacks. Therefore, this was a fight lost by the United States that had no patience to outlast the enemy’s will. Taliban once boasted that “NATO has watches, but we have the time,” The truth is that the Taliban simply waited out the NATO forces and the American resolve to recapture Kabul in lightning speed that may have shocked the bureaucrats in Washington. The infantile justification by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to the President, that this chaos was inevitable is symptomatic of the mindset of the Washington establishment that is so detached from reality and back to their business as usual.

George W. Bush, who initiated the foray into Afghanistan, was never content with one war. Instead of focusing on eliminating the Taliban, which was dubbed as a terrorist organization, and securing the freedom for the people of Afghanistan from these regressive and evil elements reminiscent of medieval times, he started another war in Iraq that ended in disaster. Along with destabilizing the entire Middle East paving the way for the creation of a Caliphate by ISIS, American invincibility that was seen at the initial stages of the Afghan invasion was not only lost, but the American people simply got tired of these endless wars. Many of these bureaucrats in Washington who are the true architects of these infamous wars have little in common with the folks who are sent to these godforsaken places to fight these unseen enemies. They are part of the elite society, mostly come with Ivy League credentials and live in their multi-million abodes in Washington suburbs. Most of them might not have served a single day in the United States armed forces, and some of the older ones might even have gotten away with waivers during the time of the draft.

At the end of the day, it is either those boys from the Midwest who believe that it is their duty to serve their country and honor its flag or the poor black and Latino kids who are hoping to build a better life after completing their service in the Military are the ones who fall prey to these odious designs of the so-called establishment. Making war has become the primary business for many of these bureaucrats who are part of this military-industrial complex. People like Dick Cheney, who has never served in the Military, are prime examples who promoted wars and stood to profit. To them, these young men and women who are sent to these battlefields to die or permanently scarred for life are only of peripheral interests. Thousands of others who are caught up in the crossfire and lost their lives are simply collateral damages.

President Dwight Eisenhower once gave the nation a dire warning. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” He called the military-industrial complex a formidable union of vested interests and a threat to democratic government. Take, for example, the folly of continuing to provide billions of dollars in funding to the Pakistan government while allowing bases for Afghan insurgents and actively supporting their mission. According to various reports, the Pakistani Military was also engaged in providing training and tactical support to terrorist groups crossing the border and creating havoc in Kashmir. How could the United States justify supporting the counter-insurgency funding for Pakistan while the country remained a factory for brainwashing young minds with fundamentalist ideology and turn them loose to commit horrendous crimes across the globe?

Taxpayers of the United States indeed have lost Trillions of dollars fighting these regime-changing wars. Still, all is not lost for these conniving bureaucrats who represent potent lobbies and special interests in the Capitol. Washington suburbs have become the most expensive real estate on American soil today as these folks continue to rake in riches while the rest of the country is undergoing economic hardships and facing an uncertain future. ‘Powell doctrine,’ named after the four-star general Colin Powell, said that “war should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support; we should mobilize the country’s resources to fulfill that mission and then go in to win”.

The precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan runs contrary to that principle, and Powel himself may have violated the spirit of his own proclamation with his WMD speech at the United Nations while promoting the invasion of Iraq. Obviously, people have lost control of their ‘greatest democracy.’ Once again, they are reeling from a shameful and disheartening scenario in Kabul as thousands who risked their lives supporting U.S. policies are stranded and fearing for their lives simply as the result of terrible decision-making in Washington. In the meantime, the powerful establishment may be plotting for yet another conflict somewhere around the world in the name of ‘promoting democracy and freedom’! (George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations)

Whose Freedom Are We Celebrating This August 15?

What is happening to the soul of Indian democracy? ‘The basis for democracy is Liberty,’ said Aristotle. However, today, the Institutions that were built to safeguard that principle are under duress. Laws like UAPA were used in colonial times to suppress the independence movement by suspending ordinary jurisprudence. Under these laws, jail is the rule, and bail is an exception.

“Many of the Desi civil rights organizations in this country would make loud protests, justifiably so, at the slightest discrimination or physical attack on an Indian but remain largely silent to any level of atrocities committed to vulnerable groups in India. Some of them act as if they are mouthpieces of the BJP regime, often defending actions that violate the fundamental values and principles of the democracy we all live in. As a minority, we demand equal opportunities and protection from the US government; however, we mostly remain reluctant to hold the Modi regime accountable to the same standard! It is quite a paradox!”

As I was sitting at a corner table in a conference room at the Indian Consulate in New York surveying the folks who were busy preparing for a curtain-raiser function to celebrate India’s 74th anniversary of Independence with a Parade in Long Island, I wondered whether anyone in that group truly cared whether India is still holding on to that promise of freedom to all its citizens! To some, that question is lost amidst the excitement and pageantry of the upcoming celebration, and to many others, the retrogressive trajectory of India’s current path is the real reason for joy and celebration!

As the Diaspora is about to celebrate Independence Day of India once again, one of the questions that arises in minds across the globe is whose freedom is being celebrated on August 15, 2021?

Obviously, it was not the freedom of Father Stan Swamy, who died recently in detention on trumped-up charges of terrorism. He was a man who had devoted his life fighting for the rights of Dalits and Adivasis from the onslaught of corporate interests. And it is not the freedom of Sudha Bharadwaj, who has been languishing in jail now for over three years for defending the rights of the workers and seeking justice for extrajudicial killings by police officers. Of course, it is not the freedom of Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, and Natasha Narwal who were exercising their constitutional rights to protest CAA. For that alone, they were incarcerated under the draconian UAPA law.In the case of Stan Swamy, the authorities didn ‘t even show basic civility in providing the man with a straw as this frail 84-year-old with Parkinson’s disease had difficulty drinking water from a cup. Upon contacting Covid-19 in prison, it took a court intervention for him to get released to a hospital of his choice, a delay that may have cost him his life. What happened to his right to life and liberty? Why was Stan Swamy denied the freedom to have a presumption of innocence?

Last February 13, 2021, marks the civil rights lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900 days in detention under the UAPA law.

Last February 13, 2021, marks the civil rights lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900 days in detention under the UAPA law.  She took cases that many other attorneys refused to touch and represented workers wrongfully dismissed by companies, illegally evicted villagers from their land, and women who alleged sexual assault by security forces. Born in Boston to a distinguished economist, she went to IIT Kanpur to study Mathematics. Later, she moved to an iron mining ore town in Chhattisgarh and supported worker’s rights and safety while challenging land acquisition by major corporations and seeking justice for extrajudicial killings by police officers. Bharadwaj has denied the charges and said it was “totally concocted. Obviously, these arrests appear to be an affront to the rule of law and infringing on the citizen’s constitutional rights.

It has been said that a right without a remedy is no right at all. According to press reports, Sudha’s health situation continues to deteriorate in prison. The 59-year-old suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, making her susceptible to Covid-19 in the cramped prison. Her bail plea is being rejected, and she has been denied books and Newspapers in jail. Michele Bachelet, the UNHCHR commissioner, has expressed concern over using ‘vaguely defined laws’ to silence activists and government critics. Doesn’t Sudha Bharadwaj deserve the freedom to have a hearing on her case without indefinite detention?

According to press reports, the most bizarre incident took place on March 19, 2021, in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, when four Nuns from the Delhi province of the Sacred Heart Society were arrested while on the way to Odisha from Delhi. The incident occurred while the train they were traveling stopped at 6.30 PM at Jhansi railway station. A group of religious extremists returning from a pilgrimage accused them of religious conversion and raised religious slogans. Subsequently, police arrived at the spot and arrested the Nuns without paying any heed to their side of the story. Around 150 religious radicals accompanied the women in procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were finally released at 11.30 PM after the intervention of some advocacy groups. Don’t these Nuns deserve the freedom of unimpeded travel without harassment anywhere in India?

Mohammed Munazir arrived in Delhi decades ago, escaping poverty in his native Bihar, where his landless father worked on other people’s farms for a pittance. In the beginning, like poor migrants, he lived in a tarped hovel on the fringes of sprawling Capital, working in a bookbinding shop. Finally, when the bookbinding shop folded, he started selling home-cooked biryani on a cart. Ultimately, he saved enough money to buy a home, a nondescript building in a narrow lane. “It was a nest I finally built for my wife and six children after a lifetime of struggle,” says Mr. Munazir. “It was the only thing I wanted in life; it was my dream come true.” It is that dream that ended in flames on a bright sunny Tuesday when the Capital’s worst religious riots in decades took place in 2020, leaving 53 people dead and hundreds of wounded languishing in understaffed medical facilities, and corpses were still being discovered in drainage ditches. Doesn’t Mr. Munazir have the freedom to dream of building his own nest?

Born to a Dalit family in the slums of Indora, an Ambedkarite hub in Nagpur, fifty-four-year-old Sudhir Dhawale is an activist, editor, and writer. Dhawale was arrested alongside five other activists and professors on June 6, 2018, due to their connection to Elgar Parishad, which was blamed for the violence at Bhima Koregaon, which took place on January 1, 2018. The 1818 Battle of Koregaon is an important milestone for Dalits. On January 1818, eight hundred troops of the East India company’s Bombay Presidency army with a large number of Mahars defeated a numerically superior force of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. A victory pillar was erected in Koregaon by the British, and in 1928 B. R. Ambedkar led the first commemoration ceremony there. Since then, on January 1, every year, Ambedkarites gather at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate the victory against the upper castes and highlight the historical oppression they have suffered under the caste system. However, to the powerful establishment, these daring Dalits needed to be taught a lesson! They may have finally succeeded in putting a damper on Edgar Parishad’s luster through defamation, linking it to the Maoist and anti-national movements. Doesn’t Sudhir Dhawale and other Dalits have a right to celebrate a historical event without interference from the upper castes?

It should also be noted that Milind Ekbote, President of Dharmaveer Sambhaji Maharaj Pratishthan, and Sambhaji Bhide, a man associated with RSS and Shiv Pratishthan, who was accused of causing the violence, never faced any serious action.

Mr. Rajesh Tikait from Uttar Pradesh, a farm leader and spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, could be seen in a video distressed and wailing so loudly that his sobbing drowned out his words. Mr. Tikait said that the BJP was trying to “destroy” farmers and that he would not let it happen. He was indeed referring to how goons have infiltrated the January 26 protests by farmers to discredit their movement that has legitimate grievances against the farm laws passed by the Government in 2020. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a former Union Minister and erstwhile ally of the BJP government, said, “This anti-farmer attitude of the NDA government is responsible for the plight of farmers who are not only been stonewalled for eight months but even their dead are not being recognized.” Why this farming community that is ‘annadaata’ to the country is being humiliated in this manner and called anti-nationals for exercising freedom to air their grievances?

The alleged snooping by the Indian Government using Israeli spyware Pegasus on opposition politicians, media personnel, and private citizens indicates that individual freedom and the right to privacy have become a thing of the past. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, one of the victims of the phone tapping issue, asked, “we want to ask just one question. Has the Government of India bought Pegasus? Yes or No. Did the Government use Pegasus weapon against its own people?” The Indians in the snooping database include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, and one constitutional authority. What happened to the freedom of the opposition parties to hold the Government accountable and the freedom of the fourth estate to keep Government, legislators, and big business in check by keeping society or the public informed?

What is happening to the soul of Indian democracy? ‘The basis for democracy is Liberty,’ said Aristotle. However, today, the Institutions that were built to safeguard that principle are under duress. Laws like UAPA were used in colonial times to suppress the independence movement by suspending ordinary jurisprudence. Under these laws, jail is the rule, and bail is an exception. A polis project statement says ‘political prisoner’ is a category of criminal offense that sits most egregiously in any civilized society, especially in countries that call themselves liberal democracies. It is a thought crime: the crime of thinking, acting, speaking, probing, reporting, questioning, demanding rights, and, more importantly, exercising one’s citizenship. The assault on the fundamental rights has been consistent and ongoing at a global level, and rights-bearing citizens are transformed into consuming subjects of a surveillance state”.

Freedom of Conscience is fundamental to all other liberties. It is innate and God-given. It is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. However, it is open season for those who freely exercise it. Academia has become another favorite target of the Modi Government. BJP and its ilk have always hated Institutions like JNU, where the free flow of ideas flourished, and lively debates on the pros and cons of contemporary issues were the order of the day. Today, the students and faculty in these revered institutions are intimidated, harassed, and called anti-national for failing to toe their Hindutva agenda line and are often charged with sedition. Modi Government has been openly hostile to civil society groups. It repeatedly denounces human rights and environmental activism as “anti-national” – a phrase that carries connotations of treason.

There is also quite an irony in the fact that today’s BJP leaders, who mostly come from the RSS ranks, are vocal on the issue of nationalism. The words and deeds of the founders of that organization, from Hedgewar to Veer Savarkar, clearly indicated that they were not only non-participants in the freedom struggle where hundreds of people were risking their lives daily but also collaborators who supported the British on critical occasions. The British acknowledged that RSS has “scrupulously kept itself within the law and refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.” Sardar Patel, writing on the assassination of Gandhiji by Nathuram Godse, said, “As regards to RSS and Hindu Mahasabha…our reports do confirm that as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such ghastly tragedy became possible.”

“Religious freedom in India is taking a drastic turn downward, with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities” said United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in its 2020 report. The BJP-led Government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the Government completes its planned nationwide National Registry of Citizens”. USCIRF also recommended to the State Department that India be designated as a ‘Country of Particular Concern.’ India also slipped into 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index’s global ranking, dubbed a flawed democracy. The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) said that in India, democratic backsliding by the authorities and crackdown on civil liberties led to a further decline in their global rankings.

Christians who constitute around 3% of the population are also under severe stress with many of their places of worship under attack, increased re-conversion efforts by Hindu fundamentalist organizations, removal of Christmas Day and Easter Day from the National Calendar, and the cancellation of FCRA of thousands of Christian charities effectively putting them out of business, the Saffron brigade appears to be questioning the very Indian ness of every Christian in India. In addition, they are engaged in a scathing campaign to link Christianity in India, which has a two-thousand-year history, with the colonial legacy.

Agencies such as India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate of the Finance Ministry, the Tax authorities, and even local police forces are often accused of doing the Government’s bidding. The opposition has charged that their leaders have often been targeted for harassment which they consider a political vendetta for expressing their opinions critical of the Government.

In this week, we may witness widespread celebrations of India’s Independence that will be held in many cities across the U.S. However, one may hear very little regarding whether the hard-fought freedom won by the founding fathers of modern India is in danger of being extinguished! The Cultural and Religious organizations that provide forums for these events appear not to be concerned about the ever-diminishing freedom of India’s citizens or the weakening of its institutions. The current dispensation favors singing Vande Mataram in place of Jana Gana Mana as parts of that national song are replete with Hindu symbolism that is more gratifying, albeit not the communities in their entirety.

Indians have done well with the open electoral process in the US, having elected four of their own to the House of Representatives and another one as the Vice-President. Although most of them ascribe to policies considered far left of the center and often very strident on issues dealing with Civil Rights, Social Policies, or Immigration, they rarely criticize the Government of India for any similar wrongdoings such as violations of human rights or religious freedom.  They seem reluctant even to raise these issues when meeting with the Prime Minister or other Embassy officials.

Many of the Desi civil rights organizations in this country would make loud protests, justifiably so, at the slightest discrimination or physical attack on an Indian but remain largely silent to any level of atrocities committed to vulnerable groups in India. Some of them act as if they are mouthpieces of the BJP regime, often defending actions that violate the fundamental values and principles of the democracy we all live in. As a minority, we demand equal opportunities and protection from the US government; however, we mostly remain reluctant to hold the Modi regime accountable to the same standard! It is quite a paradox!

The Bhartiya Janata Party’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 has ushered in an unprecedented attack on India’s democracy and injected new elements of intolerance and authoritarianism into the lives of people living in the country. The anti-democratic actions by the Government have sullied international reputation. Therefore, it is time to ask exactly whose freedom are we celebrating on this 74th anniversary? Is it the hard-fought freedom won under the long struggle by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Maulana Azad from the British to the benefit of all its citizens in India or the diminishing freedom at the expense of the minorities and Dalits solely to the delight of the feudalists/upper castes elites? Nevertheless, from a vantage point, this celebration may be all about the genuine freedom we enjoy in this land of the free and home of the brave, which includes the right to hold a foreign national flag and walk in a parade under a religious banner of our choice!

(The author is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

Snooping In India Indicates, Fundamental Freedom In India Is In Serious Jeopardy

“The alleged snooping in India using Israeli spyware Pegasus of opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and constitutional scholars is one more indication that fundamental freedoms in India are in serious jeopardy” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA. What we have been witnessing over the last six years is the steady deterioration of the rule of law and undermining of democracy, and the government must be held accountable” added Mr. Abraham.

One of the most prominent people on the list is Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress and a vehement critic of the Modi Administration on their undemocratic policies. In a statement, Mr. Gandhi said, “ targeted surveillance of the type you describe, whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable.”

It is becoming evident that power is all that matters to the current leadership at the Centre, and they may stoop to any low to snatch it even at the cost of undermining constitutional freedom and individual liberties. News reports suggest that key political players, including the then deputy chief minister Parameswara and the personal secretaries of then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, may have been potential targets of surveillance by the Pegasus spyware in the run-up to the collapse of the Congress-JD (S) alliance government in 2019. If these reports are accurate, it is undermining the democratically run election process and severe violations of constitutional provisions these authorities are sworn to uphold.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extra-judicial surveillance of journalists and others in reaction to the story. “The United States condemns the harassment of extra-judicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson stated.

Significantly, the list includes a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former Chief Justice, whose turnaround from a critic to a supporter of the Modi regime policies has surprised many. It may very well make a case study about how skeletons in the closet of any individual can be unearthed and weaponized to extract concessions or demand behavioral changes. It is a sad state of affairs in India today that reveals how much the world’s largest democracy has deteriorated under the BJP rule.

Koshy Thomas Campaign Holds Interfaith Prayer S For Covid Relief

Religious leaders from different faiths gathered at Koshy Thomas campaign headquarters on Saturday, May 8 at 260th and Hillside Ave, Queens, N.Y., where he is running for the New York City Council (District 23), to offer prayers for the victims of the pandemic that is ravaging India and for the healing of the nation. Speakers, one after another, highlighted the grave situation India is facing and encouraged participants to pray for the country while extending a helping hand with medical supplies and financial resources.

Those who participated in the prayer include Guru jiGarud Gopal Prabhu, Father John Thomas of Jackson Heights Orthodox Church, Imam Muhammad Waliullah of Hillside Islamic Center, Ashok Vyas of ITV, Hemanth Shah of FBIMA, Suhag Mehta of Ganesh Utsav, Kripal Singh, VirendraVora, Paul Karukapally, Ashok Vora, Philipose Philip, V.M. Chacko, Varghese Abraham, Mercedes Buchanan and George Abraham of IOCUSA.

“We are growing in numbers and influence, and we need a voice in the NYC council,” said  New York State Senator Kevin Thomas inaugurating a fundraising event at Cotillion restaurant in Jericho, Long Island, New York.  “At the end of the day, we need someone who has ties to the community, that has organized events, who has given back to the community, and has a good heart.  And we need someone who can empathize with the community when there is sorrow or joy, whom we can put our burden on the strong shoulders. The city council is a tough and complicated place. If you do not have someone who is well prepared to take up the responsibility, we will be at a loss. Koshy is the right candidate. He wants to represent you. So on election day, make sure that he gets your vote, and there should be volunteers calling people to go and vote,” Mr. Thomas added.

The fundraising was attended by many community leaders who expressed their support for the candidacy of Koshy Thomas. Mr. Ashok Vora, a businessman from District 23, applauded Koshy to focus on the needs of the local businesses in the community, especially during these Covid times. “Koshy has the courage to stand up for the community, and next time when we gather, we would be celebrating his election as the NYC council member,”  Mr. Vora added. He requested the participants to come forward and help Koshy Thomas as he has a great chance to win this coming election.

Kamalesh Mehta, Businessman and publisher of South Asian times, characterized Koshy as a polite person but a persistent person who can get things done. He promised his full support and wished him all the success.  DilipChouhan, a community leader, lauded Koshy’s work as one of the architects of the India Day Parade and urged our community to go out and vote to elect him as the next city councilman. Mr. Vimal Goyal, a community leader and activist said he was excited about to hear that Koshy was running. “He is the only one in our community who can win in this election and our community has to come together and support him”. He added.

George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, pointed out the significance of this race and asked the community to pool our resources and manpower to create history in electing the first Asian Indian to the NYC Council. George Parampil spoke about encouraging Koshy Thomas to run for the District and emphasized the need for a “go-to”  person in this complex environment. Dr. Anna George, Educator and Medical professional talked about the need to have a person representing us to tap the resources needed to be a thriving community. Dencil George spoke about many politicians making empty promises but pointed out that Koshy Thomas, would make a  difference in our community. Regi Kurian, President of the Kerala Cultural Association of North America, promised his support for the candidacy of Koshy Thomas. Dr. Thomas Mathew, former President of AKMG, thanked Koshy for his community activities and offered his help as well.

Rev. John Thomas, Rev. John Melapuram, V.M. Chacko, Varghese Abraham, Mary Philip, Neal Koshy, Paul Chulliyil, Hema Virani, Lona Abraham, and Zach Mathai spoke in support of Koshy Thomas.  Ajit Abraham and  Biju Chacko were the EMCEEs. For further information: Please contact at 347-867-1200

Is India’s social justice paradigm under threat?

In a letter written by Fr. Stan Swamy SJ, from the prison, said, “Dear friends: Peace! Though I do not have many details, from what I have heard, I am grateful to all of you for expressing your solidarity support. I am in a cell approximately 13 feet x 8 feet, along with two more inmates. It has a small bathroom and a toilet with an Indian commode. Fortunately, I am given a western commode chair. Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira are in another cell. During the day, when cells and barracks are opened, we meet with each other. From 5.30 pm to 06.00 am and 12 noon to 03.00 pm, I am locked up in my cell with two inmates. Arun assists me to have my breakfast and lunch. Vernon helps me with bath. My two inmates help during supper in washing my clothes and give massage to my knee joints. They are from very poor families. Please remember my inmates and my colleagues in your prayers. Despite all odds, humanity is bubbling in Taloja prison.”

One may genuinely wonder why this 83-year-old Jesuit Priest afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, who has dedicated his entire life for the upliftment of the poor, is languishing in jail! What horrific deed has he committed to warrant such a treatment from the authorities?  It says a lot more about today’s political climate in India than the fate of one single old frail man who had to approach the Bombay special court for permission to use a straw and sipper cup because of his disability. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which arrested Mr. Fr. Stan, has sought 20 days’ time from the court to respond!

There is truly little doubt that his arrest is a political witch hunt. He is known for his staunch defense on behalf of the indigenous tribal people across the tribal belt and advocated fiercely for their land rights. His work in terms of educating people about their rights and helping to pass laws to protect the land rights of the tribal population is quite phenomenal. Article 13 (3) (a) of the Indian constitution empowers the tribal people to assert their traditional self-rule in those areas inhabited by them. These constitutional provisions are remarkably like the treaties governing Indian reservations in the United States.

For long, the Modi Government has wanted to diminish these rights in favor of corporates or other vested interests. In May 2016, the BJP Government passed two legislations that enabled the transfer of tribal land to commercial interests.  That legislation set in motion a struggle (Pathalgadi movement) between the tribal people and the government, resulting in a brutal crackdown by the authorities. Moreover, the movement was branded as anti-national, and hundreds of people were arrested and charged under the sedition laws.

The government went another step further and linked the movement to ‘Maoists,’ which is labeled as anti-national and dedicated to the overthrow of the elected governments. Fr. Stan, who has been a vocal critic of the government policies and defender of the tribal rights over these lands, was also charged with plotting the government’s violent overthrow.  To bolster their case, NIA, in their charge sheet, accused Fr. Stan as responsible for the violence in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra in 2017. He was not present in the rally celebrating British and Dalit forces’ victory over Brahmin Peshwas.

Historically, the BJP/RSS strategy resisted real enlightenment for the oppressed people. The feudalistic and casteist mindset under which they operate detests any individual or group that educates and inspires people from those impoverished conditions of their rights and privileges. Their anti-conversion campaign is often seen as camouflage to prevent the Tribal population like this one in Chhattisgarh ever learning of their true worth as human beings but condemning them forever in a subservient role to the upper echelons of society. What Fr. Stan has done was to help this vulnerable population demand equal justice and freedom from servitude.

Unfortunately, it is a Jesuit priest, and any person in India, whether journalists, writers, artists, religious leaders, students, or even politicians, can be branded as anti-nationals or terrorists if they dare to speak out against Prime Minister Modi or the BJP government’s crony capitalist policies.  A common tactic is to brand all peace activists as a front inspired by ‘Maoists’ or Christian missionaries. By arresting Fr. Stan, they are also conveying a message that even a Church can be branded as anti-national to the great delight of the Sangh Parivar organizations.

This branding is quite expansive now as we learn that 13th February 2021 marks the civil rights lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900 days in detention. She took cases that many other attorneys refused to touch and represented workers wrongfully dismissed by companies, illegally evicted villagers from their land, and women who alleged sexual assault by security forces.

According to a Washington Post report, Police raided her house and took computers and phones, and demanded passwords for email accounts. Then they arrested Bharadwaj under an anti-terrorism statute accusing her of a plot to commit violent actions. Since 2018, Sudha and 15 other activists, writers, and lawyers have been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused them of having links with the ‘Maoist’ group.  In a charge filed remarkably similar to Fr. Stan’s, it has been alleged that she and other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits in Bhima Koregaon village in Pune, Maharashtra. It fits a pattern now where many people across the country are getting arrested who are either critics of the government policies or outspoken advocates for India’s most disadvantaged, whether they are indigenous tribal peoples or Dalits.

Born in Boston to a distinguished economist, she went to IIT Kanpur to study Mathematics. Later, she moved to an iron mining ore town in Chhattisgarh and supported worker’s rights and safety while challenging land acquisition by major corporations and seeking justice for extrajudicial killings by police officers.  Bharadwaj has denied the charges and said it was “totally concocted’. Obviously, these arrests appear to be an affront to the rule of law and infringing of the citizen’s constitutional rights.  It has been said that a right without a remedy is no right at all.

According to press reports, Sudha’s health situation continues to deteriorate in prison. The 59-year-old suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, making her susceptible to Covid-19 in the cramped prison. Her bail plea is being rejected, and she has been denied books and Newspapers in jail. Her father passed away during her time in jail. In January, the UN Human Rights office expressed serious concern about the human rights defenders’ detention and urged the Indian authorities to immediately release the detainees. According to Michele Bachelet, the UNHCHR commissioner expressed concern over using ‘vaguely defined laws’ to silence activists and government critics.

These two cases illustrate that India’s social justice paradigm is in danger. The regressive forces are busy staging a counter-revolution to destroy the social justice pillars: Freedom, Equality, Justice, and fraternity. Fr. Stan Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj represent that social justice paradigm created and nurtured by modern India’s founding fathers.  To those NRIs who demonstrated in the Streets in the U.S fighting for the release of Arnab Goswamy, an arrogant exclusionist, may I say that your silence on the detention of Stan Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj is quite deafening!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology officer of the United Nations. The views expressed here are that of the author)