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Now 53 eminent historians issue joint statement against ‘growing intolerance’

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New Delhi: In a bid to express their anguish and protest about the “highly vitiated atmosphere” prevailing in India, 53 historians on Thursday issued a joint statement lashing out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his stoic silence over growing intolerance in the country.

Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib are among the eminent historians who, in the joint statement, decried the climate in which “differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter-arguments but with bullets.”

They also warned the Bhartiya Janata Party government against distorting history.

“What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history,” the historians wrote.

“It is easy to trample them down, but it is important to remember that it will take too long and will be beyond the capacity of those who are currently at the helm of affairs, to rebuild it once it is destroyed.”

Here is the full text of their joint statement.

“After concerned at the highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterised by various forms of intolerance, we, as academic historians and as responsible citizens of a democracy that has greatly valued its inherited traditions of tolerance, wish to express our anguish and protest about the prevailing conditions.

Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets. When a poor man is suspected to have kept a food item that certain sections do not approve of, his fate is nothing short of death by lynching. At the launch of a book whose author happens to be from a country disapproved of by certain groups, the organizer is disfigured with ink thrown on his face.

And when it is hoped that the Head of Government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the Head of the State to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice.

When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest.

This is particularly worrying for us as historians as we have already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history despite the fact that they are supported by sources and the interpretation is transparent. What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history.

We would therefore urge the state to ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and the safe-guarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past.

It is easy to trample them down, but it is important to remember that it will take too long and will be beyond the capacity of those who are currently at the helm of affairs, to rebuild it once it is destroyed.”

Here’s a list of the 53 historians.

1. Romila Thapar (New Delhi)

2. Irfan Habib (Aligarh Muslim University)

3. MGS Narayanan (Kozhikode)

4. KN Panikkar (Thiruvananthapuram)

5. Y Subbarayalu (Pondicherry)

6. BD Chattopadhyaya (Kolkota)

7. DN Jha (Delhi)

8. BB Chaudhuri (Kolkota)

9. JV Naik (Mumbai)

10. KM Shrimali (Delhi)

11. Neeladri Bhattacharya (JNU)

12. Kumkum Roy (JNU)

13. Shireen Moosvi (Aligarh)

14. Indu Banga (Chandigarh)

15. Rajan Gurukkal (Bangalore)

16. B Surendra Rao (Mangalore)

17. A.R.Venkatachalapathy (Chennai)

18. MR Raghava Varier (Tirur)

19. Arun Bandopadhyaya (Calcutta Univ)

20. KL Tuteja (Kurukshetra)

21. Sanjay Subodh (Hyderabad Univ)

22. Nayanjot Lahiri (DU)

23. Upinder Singh (DU)

24. Amar Farooqui (DU)

25. Gopinath Ravindran (Jamia Milia Islamia)

26. Farhat Hasan (DU)

27. Sunil Kumar (DU)

28. RP Bahuguna (Jamia Milia Islamia)

29. Ruby Maloni (Bombay Univ)

30. Kesavan Veluthat (DU)

31. BP Sahu (DU)

32. Manjiri Kamat (Bombay Univ)

33. Anshu Malhotra (DU)

34. Aditya Mukherjee (JNU)

35. Mridula Mukherjee (JNU)

36. Rakesh Batabyal (JNU)

37. R Mahalakshmi (JNU)

38. Radhika Singha (JNU)

39. Biswamoy Pati (DU)

40. Suchandra Ghosh (Calcutta Univ)

41. Sushmita Basu Majumdar (Calcutta Univ)

42. Bishnupriya Basak (Calcutta Univ)

43. Radhika Seshan (Pune Univ)

44. Prabhu Mohapatra (DU),

45. Charu Gupta (DU),

46. Sanghamitra Mishra (DU),

47. Aparna Balachandran (DU),

48. Rahul Govind (DU)

49. Yasser Arafat (DU)

50. Manu V Devadevan (Mandi)

51. Ranabir Chakrabarti (JNU)

52. Rajat Datta (JNU)

53. Umesh Ashok Kadam (JNU)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)