Two deaths, no FIR: How UP’s criminal justice system failed Pappi Devi and her baby

Pappi Devi died soon after childbirth. Her in-laws claimed her baby was stillborn. Her father suspected foul play, but his complaints to the police fell on deaf ears.

Two deaths, no FIR: How UP’s criminal justice system failed Pappi Devi and her baby

We didn’t go looking for Pappi Devi’s story. In fact, that’s part of the problem. Nobody went looking for Pappi Devi, or her baby, or her story.

We first heard of her on September 23, during a conversation with Rajeev Pandey, a criminal lawyer who has been practising at the Lakhimpur Kheri civil court for 19 years. We were meeting Pandey to discuss how three girls had been raped and murdered in Lakhimpur Kheri within a span of 21 days, between August 14 and September 3.

“What about women’s safety?” we asked.

He almost laughed.

“A woman’s life is in danger before she is born,” Pandey said. “A year ago, Pappi Devi was pregnant. Her husband and his family wanted a boy but a girl was born. Between when the mother and child were discharged and the family reached their home, they had disposed of the girl child. The next morning, the mother died.”

Two suspicious deaths and yet it took four months for the police to even file an FIR, Pandey said. “That’s women’s safety for you.”

That was how we learned about Pappi Devi.

Her father said Pappi Devi’s husband and in-laws wanted her to have a son. But she gave birth to a girl. She died soon after, as did her baby. Her in-laws claimed the baby had been stillborn, a claim refuted by a doctor and a few other people present at the time of her birth.

Pappi Devi’s father, Sri Krishnan, 50, suspected foul play and repeatedly went to the police to file a complaint. It took the police over four months to file an FIR, on September 1 this year, and launch an investigation, which seems to have gone nowhere.

This, then, is the story of a father’s struggle to find out how he lost his daughter and granddaughter, and an apathetic state’s relentlessness in thwarting him.

The tragic story couldn’t have had a happier beginning, with Pappi Devi marrying Bablu on May 15 last year at her father’s home at Tamolipur village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. She left to live with her in-laws in Lalapurwa, about half-an-hour’s drive away from where Krishnan has lived his whole life, and raised three daughters and a son with his wife Kushma Devi.

It wasn’t long before trouble started, Krishnan said. “They demanded a lot of dowry from us. They wanted a cooler, a fridge, a motorcycle,” he explained. “I don’t make enough money for all that. I borrowed money and gave them whatever I could but that was never enough for them.”

Krishnan works at a sugar mill near his village, earning Rs 4,000 per month. He spent Rs 3 lakh on Pappi Devi’s wedding and dowry. Much of the money was borrowed and he’s still repaying it.

In October, five months after the wedding, Pappi Devi’s in-laws “beat her”, Krishnan alleged, and sent her to his place. “In December, I negotiated with them to take her back,” Krishnan said. “She was pregnant by then.”

It’s a decision Krishnan and his family will regret forever. Today, the father wishes his daughter had been more vocal about her troubles.

“She had said she was never given food on time and that they weren’t treating her properly. But then she would also tell me to let it go and that it was okay,” he said. “So, I also thought these were normal fights.”

His wife, Kushma Devi, said whenever Pappi Devi telephoned them, her in-laws would stay close as she spoke. “She would try to tell us something and they would beat her,” she alleged.

Then, at around 10 am on April 22 this year, a month after the Indian government had imposed a national lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, Krishnan received a call from his daughter’s neighbour in Lalapurwa.

Pappi Devi was dead, the neighbour said.

Krishnan and Kushma Devi recalled conversations with Pappi Devi’s in-laws during her pregnancy. They claimed her husband Bablu and his parents demanded she give birth to a male child, as if she had a say in the matter, and allegedly threatened to harm her if she didn’t.

Sri Krishnan shows a picture of his daughter.

FIR not filed

Soon as he got the call from his daughter’s neighbour, Krishnan rushed to Lalapurwa. Pappi Devi’s body lay in the courtyard of her in-laws’ house. Nobody from the family was home. A neighbour told him Pappi Devi had given birth to a baby girl early that morning.

That’s how Krishnan found out he had become a grandfather. He didn’t know where his grandchild was or how his daughter had died. He enquired from Pappi Devi’s neighbours who said she had given birth to a stillborn girl that had been “buried immediately”.

“Everybody said my daughter had given birth to a stillborn baby girl, whose last rites had been performed the previous night,” he recalled. “And Pappi Devi had died soon after from health complications, they said.”

As Krishnan stood in the courtyard, an ambulance arrived, accompanied by the police, to take Pappi Devi’s body to the district hospital. Krishnan wasn’t sure who had called the ambulance. “Perhaps someone from Pappi Devi’s husband’s side,” he said, adding that the husband and his parents were nowhere to be seen.

As far as Krishnan remembered, it was the ambulance staff and the police that took Pappi Devi’s body away. “Nobody was listening to me and I was not allowed to enter the ambulance,” he claimed.

Two hours later, at around noon, a desperate Krishnan telephoned his three brothers. They rushed to the Dhaurahra police station, which has jurisdiction over Lalapurwa as well as Tamolipur.

“I didn’t believe my daughter had died a natural death,” Krishnan said. “But the police officer refused to file an FIR. He told me, ‘If you make a fuss about it we will send you to jail.’” Instead, he alleged, he was made to “sign a few papers” he didn’t understand.

The police station’s general diary, which Newslaundry accessed, documents Krishnan’s visit on April 22. It records a complaint signed by him at 12.44 pm stating that he was told Pappi Devi had given birth to a “dead female child” that morning, and later died under “doubtful circumstances”. He asked for a postmortem.

The police, however, added a note to Krishnan’s complaint describing Pappi Devi’s as an “accidental death”. And they didn’t file an FIR.

Five months later, Krishnan struggled to precisely recount the events of that day. His daughter’s postmortem took place at 3.53 pm. That evening, he said, “someone” told him Pappi Devi’s body had been returned to her in-laws’ and she was being cremated immediately.

Save for a nephew who managed to reach the cremation ground quickly, Krishnan and his family were unable to attend his daughter’s last rites.

It would take Krishnan four months, 15 letters to the district police chief, multiple trips to the police station, and a visit to the director general of the Lucknow Zone police to finally have an FIR filed in his daughter’s death, and find out more about his dead grandchild.

Pappi Devi’s postmortem

Pappi Devi’s postmortem was conducted at the Lakhimpur Kheri district hospital. The postmortem report, seen by Newslaundry, lists “shock and haemorrhage” as the cause of death and notes that she had suffered from postpartum haemorrhage, or excessive bleeding following childbirth.

Between July 1 and July 30, Krishnan wrote seven letters to Poonam, then Lakhimpur Kheri’s superintendent of police. In his letters, he asked for an FIR to be filed and for the baby’s body to be located. Poonam was transferred out on July 26, and replaced by Satyendra Jain.

Having received no response from the district police, Krishnan on July 20 wrote to the additional director general of police, Lucknow Zone, Satya Narain Sabat, appealing for help. Krishnan said he had sought to file an FIR regarding his daughter’s death but the station house officer, Hari Om Srivastav, had turned him away. “Sir, I request that my FIR be logged in Dhaurahra police station, the corpse of the newborn girl be located and her safety be ensured,” he wrote in his letter to Sabat.

‘Baby was healthy’

In August, the lawyer Rajeev Pandey took up Krishnan’s case. They filed an RTI request for hospital records of Pappi Devi and her baby.

These records tell a disturbing story.

Pappi Devi was admitted to the local community health centre at 11 pm on April 21 by her husband Bablu. She had a normal delivery, giving birth to her first child, a girl, that weighed 2.34 kg at 2.30 am.

The hospital records clearly establish that Pappi Devi’s child was born alive, not stillborn. The baby was “normal” with no complications, and cried, urinated and defecated immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin contact was established between mother and child. From 2.50 am, Pappi Devi breastfed the baby for 30 minutes.

A post-delivery checklist notes that Pappi Devi was in a “poor” condition. She was bleeding heavily due to postpartum haemorrhage, or PPH, and required to be shifted to a better facility. The delivery registry says she was “referred to the district hospital due to PPH”.

A doctor who attended to Pappi Devi at the health centre confirmed to Newslaundry that she had given birth to a healthy child. Pappi Devi herself had been in critical condition, added the doctor, who did not want to be identified for fear of police action.

The community health centre where Pappi Devi delivered her baby.

As per protocol, an Accredited Social Health Activist, or ASHA, was present during Pappi Devi’s delivery and attended to her that night. Mariamma G, the ASHA, said when Pappi Devi’s condition deteriorated she was referred to the district hospital.

But was her baby stillborn?

“No, not at all,” Mariamma said. “She delivered a healthy baby and the child had no complications.”

Both mother and child left the health centre alive, Mariamma said, but in a private vehicle, not an ambulance.

“After they left, I have not been in touch with them,” she said. “I don’t know if she reached the district hospital or not. I have had no contact with them since.”

Krishnan suspected Pappi Devi had not been taken to another hospital. His daughter may have died due to haemorrhage, he argued, but her in-laws could have saved her life if they had taken her to a better medical facility.

From multiple accounts, it appears Pappi Devi left the health centre with her baby, husband, and his family members, and bled to death at her home a few hours later.

The baby was last seen at the health centre, alive and well. Only Bablu and his family can explain what happened to her.

When Newslaundry contacted Bablu, he refused to even confirm if he was Pappi Devi’s husband. He reluctantly said Pappi Devi “died on the way” from the health centre. Contradicting the medical records, the doctor, and the ASHA, he claimed that the baby’s condition was “not stable” when they left the health centre.

The only testimony to the baby’s life are records that show that on April 22, her heart was beating. There is no photo, no video. The only identity marker is a hospital record showing a baby’s footprints alongside a thumb impression of Bablu’s mother, a witness to a life that barely lasted.

Baby’s exhumation

In August, after multiple letters and much pleading from Sri Krishnan, the Lakhimpur Kheri district magistrate, Shailendra Singh, ordered that the baby’s body be exhumed and a postmortem conducted to determine the cause of death.

And so on August 20, the baby’s body was exhumed. Her grave was probably pointed out by her father’s family members who had buried her, just metres away from where Pappi Devi was cremated.

Not much was left of the baby except a few bones.

The postmortem was conducted by a panel of three doctors at the Lakhimpur Kheri district hospital at 8.10 pm on August 20. Under “name of child”, the postmortem report said, “Loose lying human bones said to be of neonate of late Pappi Devi”. Four pieces of skull and six other bones were identified, and the cause of death “could not be ascertained”.

The bones were then sent to an overburdened forensics laboratory in Lucknow.

Pappi Devi's mother and sister at their home.

Finally, an FIR

On August 31, several things happened.

An exasperated Krishnan wrote to the police superintendent, Satyendra Jain: “I’m tired of the relentless harassment by the police and I have decided that either the police file an FIR quickly or mercy kill our entire family.”

He accused the police of creating a “fake GD” – the general diary entry about Pappi Devi’s “accidental death” – and said he felt “powerless”. He also listed the 12 other times he had written to the district police chief.

It wasn’t just a question of writing a letter and posting it, Krishnan told Newslaundry. Every time he wrote a letter, he would travel from Tamolipur to the Kheri main town, about an hour away by bus, forgoing a day’s wages, and using public transport during a pandemic. Yet, he had received no response and no action was taken.

On the morning of August 31, Krishnan, his wife, son, and daughter met the district magistrate, Shailendra Singh, and showed him a letter they had written to Jain. The family then sat in protest outside Singh’s office until 11 pm, demanding that the FIR be filed.

This time, Singh acted. He signed an acknowledgement of the letter to Jain and asked for a proper investigation to be conducted.

Finally, at 2.34 pm on September 1, an FIR was filed at the Dhaurahra police station. It named six people in connection with Pappi Devi’s death – Bablu, his unnamed mother, his father Jamuna Prasad, his brother Chotu, Chotu’s wife Chandni, and another relative Kanhaiya Lal. All six face charges under the Indian Penal Code related to cruelty, voluntarily causing hurt, dowry death, murder, and disappearance of evidence, as well as under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

Apart from Bablu, Newslaundry was unable to speak to any of Pappi Devi’s in-laws named in the FIR despite repeated attempts.

But why did the district magistrate take so long to act? Why wasn’t the FIR filed earlier?

“As far as the FIR is concerned, it has been filed,” Shailendra Singh said. “Regarding the delay, I can’t comment. Only the circle officer of Dhaurahra, Arvind Verma, can answer that question post investigation.”

On November 9, over two months after the FIR had been registered, Verma said, “No arrests have been made.” Asked if Pappi Devi’s in-laws had been questioned, he said, “No, we are waiting for the forensic report.”

But a forensic report isn’t required to start an investigation? “Now,” Verma replied, “just because somebody names someone in an FIR doesn’t mean we can just arrest them or question them, does it?”

Contrary to Verma’s claim, the police have the authority to investigate, question and hold in custody a suspect named in an FIR.

Not long after the FIR was filed, Jain was transferred and replaced as the district police chief by Vijay Dhul. He didn’t “know enough about the case”, Dhul said. He refused to comment on the delay in filing the FIR, but said that if they found “any negligence from the side of any police officer, we will immediately take strict action”.

It was Hari Om Srivastav, the station house officer of Dhaurahra, who had taken down Krishnan’s complaint but not filed an FIR. He has since been transferred. “I wrote the complaint that the man had,” Srivastav said. “He wanted a postmortem. It was being done anyway. Apart from that, I don’t know anything.”

Why didn’t he file an FIR at the time?

“They had no complaints so why would I lodge an FIR?” Srivastav said, referring to Krishnan and his brothers. “They said the baby was born dead so we wrote that.”

Asked why it took four month to file an FIR, Hari Om Srivastav simply said, “There was no delay in filing an FIR.”

Newslaundry also accessed Pappi Devi’s inquest panchnama, filed the same day. The panchnama is a record attested by five witnesses of the condition in which the body was found. The panchnama states that Pappi Devi had given birth to a stillborn. But one of the witnesses, tehsildar Anil Kumar Yadav, told Newslaundry he is “not really involved” in the case. “I don’t know about the baby,” he said. “I only went for Pappi Devi’s panchnama.”

Crucially, neither Srivastav nor Yadav checked with the local health centre, where hospital records would have shown that Pappi Devi had delivered a healthy baby.

Sapna Devi shows her sister's books.

‘I can’t take this pain anymore’

Rajeev Pandey, who is fighting Pappi Devi’s case, is exasperated.

“What is the point of schemes such as Beti Padhao Beti Bachao if the administration refuses to even acknowledge the loss of a woman’s life?” he asked. “All these schemes are useless if the mindset of even our leaders doesn’t change.”

Kushma Devi collapsed while talking about her daughter. Clutching her stomach, she sobbed, “My stomach hurts, my body hurts, my head hurts when I think of her. I can’t take this pain anymore. Everything in this house reminds me of her.”

Pappi Devi was Kushma Devi’s only child to graduate college. Her sister, Sapna Devi, 17, has studied only till Class 10. Leafing through her sister’s textbooks, Sapna said Pappi Devi loved studying. “We would start crying when we had to go to school, Didi would get ready, say namaste to our parents, and quickly leave,” she said.

Her mother added, “My daughter would encourage other girls in our village to study. In our family, no one has studied as much as she had.”

Did Pappi Devi have dreams of pursuing a career? “I don’t know,” Sapna said. “Even if she did, how would my father have fulfilled her dreams? So she just got married. And then she and her baby died.”

Pictures by Akanksha Kumar.

Anil Verma, Riya Agarwal, and Diksha Munjal contributed reporting.

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Delhi Police Files Supplementary Chargesheet Against Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam

The 930-page supplementary charge sheet was filed under sections 13 (unlawful activities), 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) of the UAPA.

New Delhi: The Delhi police on Sunday filed a supplementary charge sheet in a court here against former JNU student leader Umar Khalid and JNU student Sharjeel Imam in a case related to the alleged larger conspiracy in the communal violence in northeast Delhi in February.

The charge sheet was filed before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat against Khalid, Imam and one Faizan Khan under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections related to criminal conspiracy, murder, rioting, sedition, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, language, caste, etc of the Indian Penal Code, according to sources.

The offences entail a maximum punishment of death penalty.

The 930-page supplementary charge sheet was filed under sections 13 (unlawful activities), 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) of the UAPA.

The accused have been charged under IPC sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy) read with sections 109 (abetment), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) 124A (sedition), 147 and 148 (rioting).

Also read: India’s ‘Extraordinary’ Laws Need to Be Revoked, Not Revamped

The three have also been charged under sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 353 (assault to deter public servant), 395 (dacoity), 419 (cheating), 420 (cheating), 427 (mischief), 435 (mischief by fire), 436 (mischief by fire), 452 (house trespass), 454 (house breaking), 468 (forgery), 471 (using forged document as genuine) and 34 (common intention) of IPC and under relevant sections of the Arms Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act, the sources said.

While Khalid and Imam are currently in judicial custody in the case, Khan had been granted bail by the Delhi high court.

The main charge sheet was filed in September against Pinjra Tod members and JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha and student activist Gulfisha Fatima.

Others who were charge-sheeted included former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rehman, suspended AAP Councillor Tahir Hussain, activist Khalid Saifi, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Salim Malik, Mohd Salim Khan and Athar Khan.

Communal violence had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24 after clashes between citizenship law supporters and protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.

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Debate: Plurality of Hindi’s Linguistic Trajectory Belies Claims of Colonial Creation

Devdan Chaudhuri’s response, “It’s Not Exaggeration to Say the British Codified the Language We Know as ‘Hindi’ Now rightly pointed out an oversight in my piece “Was Hindi Really Created by India’s British Colonial Rulers?”, published in The Wire in September 2020. Here, I engage with the ideas in Chaudhuri’s essay, which are held by a wide range of both Hindi speaking and non-Hindi speaking intellectuals.

In my original piece, I referred to the resentment against the politicised role of Hindi in 20th century nationalism, citing Chaudhuri’s 2019 article “Hindi was Devised by a Scottish Linguist of the East India Company – It Can Never be India’s National Language”. However, as Chaudhuri wrote, his article had been prompted by a recent event and it did not directly refer to the 20th century nationalist discourse on Hindi. However, both sides of the debate in that article reprise old 20th century positions.

The language question for the 21st century is not whether Hindi will impose itself on India as national language but, rather, how will Indian regional languages, including Hindi and Bengali, resist the enormous pressure they face from English. While there was a chance in the 20th century to introduce Hindi as national language, in the 21st century, any gestures towards such an action can – at most – be considered symbolic.

Today’s elite does not deem regional languages good enough even for kindergarten education. Debates about regional languages might appear to have intensified these days, but, given the choice, bhasha-premis are more likely to send their children to English-medium schools. Furthermore, regional languages are losing their intellectual vitality, and in the 21st century, one can rightly talk in terms of “death of vernaculars”, as the title of Vasudha Dalmia’s article warned already in 2006.

Let me start with the idea of Hindi as a British invention mentioned in Chaudhuri’s rejoinder. I would like to address three aspects to this claim, writing the language in the Devanagari script, the standardisation of its grammar and the purging of its vocabulary. The agents for these actions are usually held to be the teachers at Calcutta’s Fort William College in particular, and the introduction of print culture, which was a corollary of colonialism for all Indian languages in general. Let me examine the side that seems unique to Hindi, the role of Fort William College, Calcutta.

As I demonstrated in my earlier article, by the time the college was established, writing Khaṛī Bolī in the Devanagari script had already been a tradition for almost 200 years. I have cited some examples in the article and let me add one more to them. Below is the kabitt quatrain by Bājīd (fl.1600) that includes the confused speech of gopis to Krishna’s messenger Uddhava. This quatrain is one of more than a dozen in several Devanagari manuscripts, the earliest of them copied in 1654 (word-separation, line breaks and commas are mine):

गोपी गाय ग्वालनि तौ बेहाल हैं बिहारी बिन,
होता न मालूंम मकसूद क्या तुम्हारा है।
इनायात रहै, मकाम कीने है कमल-नैन,
मैनमथि मारै, माधौ, चारा क्या हमारा है।
जौ तौ तकसीर कछु भई है हमारी, हरि,
कीजिये जू माफ, तुम जीते, हम हार्या है।
तुम तौ सखा हौ, साखी सांची किनि कहौ, बलि,
ऊधौ, ब्रजनाथ ब्रज काहे तैं बिसारा है।

gopī gāī gvālani tau behāla haiṁ bihārī bina,
hotā na māluṁma makasūda kyā tumhārā hai |
ināyata rahai, makāma kīne hai kamala-naina
mainamathi mārai, mādhau, ćārā kyā hamārā hai |
jau tau takasīra kaćhu bhaī hai hamārī, hari,
kījīye jū māpha, tuma jīte hama hāryā hai |
tuma tau sakhā hau, sākhī sāṁćī kini kahau, bali,
ūdhau, brajanātha braja kāhe taiṁ bisārā hai || 7||

Without Krishna the gopis, the cows and the cowherds are despondent. It is not known what you are up to.
The lotus-eyed one favoured us by taking up residence in us — We have been smitten by the Soul-Churning Love for Krishna, what is our way out?
If we ever offended O God please forgive us, you have won, we are defeated.
You are his friend — who else can I call a true witness? — Uddhava, why has the Lord of Braj abandoned us?

Although there is an abundance in north Indian archives of such Nagari Rekhta poetry, written in an unstandardised form of Khaṛī Bolī in Persianised style, hardly any of this literature has been published or discussed in Hindi or Urdu literary histories. Over the past two centuries, they have become “homeless texts”.

Let us now consider the standardisation of the grammar. What later came to be called Khaṛī Bolī showed more features of Braj in the 17th to mid-19th centuries in northern India than it does today. These features were gradually eliminated. Mir Taqi Mir’s (1723-1810) poetry is a good example of the level of standardisation that the literary language had achieved by the middle of the 18th century. Yet occasionally even he relied on Braj forms (e.g. ćāhte hai so āp kare hai, چاہتے ہیں سو آپ کرے ہیں).

Also read: Love of Urdu in Times of Shrinking Diversity

Surprisingly, the only Fort William publication in Devanagari Khaṛī Bolī, Prem Sāgar, written in 1803/4 by Lallu Lal, a munshi at the college, and first published in 1810, appears to be less standardised than Mir’s work. The first ten lines of the 1882 edition of the first story in Prem Sāgar use forms such as हुये huye (for हुए hue), तिनके tinke (for उनके unke), बुलाय bulāy (for बुलाकर bulā[kar]), तैने taine (for तूने tū-ne), तिस्से tisse ([sic] for उससे us-se or उसे use), so सोंहीं (for सामने sāmne), and सतावेगा satāvegā (for सताएगा satāegā). These variations include Braj and regional forms as well as orthographic variants. (It should be mentioned that the various editions of Prem Sāgar differ in their spellings.)

The work of Sadal Mishra, the college’s other Hindi munshi, was even further removed from the modern standard, as it occasionally used not only Brajbhasha, but also eastern Hindi and Bengali forms. Standardisation of Khaṛī Bolī apparently had little association with Fort William College.

Might it still be possible that John Gilchrist, the first principal of Fort William College, standardised the language through A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language published in 1796? First, Gilchrist’s work was only one in a series of Hindustani grammars written in various European languages starting around 1700 that were aimed at foreign learners and not Indians (for a history of early grammars, see T.K. Bhatia’s History of the Hindi Grammatical Traditions). Secondly, Gilchrist’s grammar does not present standardised Hindi: most examples are given in the Urdu script, supplemented by another few in Kaithi (and not Devanagari). The examples in the Kaithi script are also not in modern standard Hindi (see the page reproduced below). For example, of the four words given in the Kaithi script on page 23, dīragh, gura, laghu, haraśh/haras, only laghu tallies with the modern standard Hindi form (dīrgha, guru, laghu, hrasva in modern Hindi).

Thirdly, and more interestingly, Gilchrist gives examples in both Urdu and Brajbhasha within the grammar. Although he was aware of these language varieties, he did not consider the two to be distinct languages. Also, after the founding of Fort William College, several of its Hindustani publications were published in both scripts with minimal changes, suggesting that the publications were not “exclusive” to one language (see Francesca Orsini’s Between Qasbas and Cities: Language Shifts and Literary Continuities in North India in the Long Eighteenth Century, 2019).

Notwithstanding all the arguments presented so far, Prem Sāgar, the first printed book in modern Hindi and the first prose fiction in Devanagari Hindi, was certainly prepared in and published under the auspices of Fort William College. Similarly, Sadal Mishra created Sanskritised Khaṛī Bolī versions of the Nāsiketopākhyāna (1803) and the Adhyātma Rāmāyaa (1805) in the Devanagari script. To what extent was the college promoting these experiments? While the two munshis were apparently instructed by Gilchrist to produce their work in de-Persianised Hindi, the college as an institution was reluctant in its support. Lallu Lal’s work was interrupted by Gilchrist’s departure in January 1804 and was first published only in 1810 as mentioned above. Neither of Sadal Mishra’s Khaṛī Bolī works were used or published by the college, although his Ramayana was printed in 1860, when the linguistic situation was more favourable to Khaṛī Bolī.

A similar experiment with purified Khaṛī Bolī was also carried out by the Urdu poet Insha Allah Khan, ‘Insha’, who after living in Delhi and Murshidabad, settled down in Lucknow. Insha wrote Rānī Ketkī kī kahānī in the Urdu script in heh, that is, ‘pure’ Hindi. Academic consensus dates it to 1803, which then makes the primacy of the Fort William munshis  questionable. In Hindi Literature of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, R.S. McGregor gives three reasons for Insha’s invention. First, he mentions that the polyglot Insha, author of the first Urdu grammar in Persian, realised “the artificiality of literary Urdu in the Indian context and may have composed Rānī Ketkī kī kahānī with this artificiality in mind” (p.65), in other words he experimented with a de-Persianised register on the pattern of de-Sanskritised Urdu. Secondly, following other scholars, McGregor speculates that Insha might have been acquainted with the example of Fort William College. Thirdly, and most importantly, McGregor sees in these works “a broader similarity, in that all are products of the same linguistic circumstances, which have operated variously to impel persons of different backgrounds and interests in the direction of a new and similar use of language.”

Insha Allah Khan ‘Insha’ (c1756-1817). Source:

Kerrin Dittmer’s detailed study of the role of Fort William College has largely gone unnoticed. However, Alison Safadi’s more recent research, on which I rely in the following discussion, is informed by Dittmer’s monograph.

Gilchrist has also been blamed for the establishment of two separate departments for Hindi and Hindustani and, thus, institutionalising the divide. Safadi, however, reminds us that there was no separate Hindi department at Fort William College. From 1802 onwards, the college employed both ‘Bhasha’ and ‘Hindustani’ munshis, and all forms of Hindi and Urdu came under the Hindustani department; Gilchrist likely believed in plurality than in duality of forms.

Would the creation of distinct munshi positions have led to the separation of Hindi from Urdu? Safadi examined the list of college publications and statements on what the college taught. She demonstrated that, apart from Prem Sāgar, which was apparently printed on Lallu Lal’s insistence six years after Gilchrist’s departure, all the published Hindi books were either in Brajbhasha or in Avadhi. Similarly, extant statements about the Hindi taught in the college show that it was ‘Bruj bhakha’ and not de-Persianised Hindi.

The ‘separation’ introduced by the parallel munshi appointments was not between what are now Hindi and Urdu; instead it was based on the pragmatic exigencies of teaching, between the two extremes of the existing literary idioms, Brajbhasha and Urdu. The college might have experimented with Sanskritised Hindi not to create a new idiom, but rather to unite Sankritised Brajbhasha and Khaṛī Bolī Urdu.

Also read: Hindi-Hindu Nationalism and Secular Retreat in the Heartland

Following Dittmer, it is possible to view the purified Hindi works of Insha, Lallu Lal and Sadal Mishra as emerging “curiosities in the literary history of Hindi-Urdu” (p. 61). Safadi, in her conclusion suggests that the division was more the result of the hardening of Hindu-Muslim and of linguistic identities after 1857.

Safadi accepts Gilchrist as the person behind the production of Prem Sāgar, but she reminds us that his agency in producing the de-Persianised register is not beyond doubt. I would not, however, deny the early colonial participation in the formation of the new literary style. In Lallu Lal’s words, Gilchrist appears to have asked him (and apparently also Sadal Mishra) to reproduce Indian classics in non-Persianised Khaṛī Bolī prose as one of the possible styles to write Hindustani. Still, this was a peripheral activity for Gilchrist as well as for the college and he had not thought of creating a new language.

In my previous article I have shown that Khaṛī Bolī had been used for poetry as well as for practical documents, such as the Mahzar-nāma of the inhabitants of Benares, already before the establishment of Fort William College and the use of the language was attested by both travellers and grammarians. As I have mentioned earlier, Hindi was standardised and conceptualised gradually. The separation of Hindi and Urdu from Hindustani and the creation of modern Hindi did not happen in Fort William College, although they definitely had significant roots there.

In The Hindi Public Sphere 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 5-6), Orsini, examining the trajectory of Hindi in the 19th and early 20th centuries, explains the later stages of standardisation through the work of the two towering figures of this process, Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885) and Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi (1864-1938),

“Nineteenth-century writers like Hariśchandra and his circle, while embracing the aim of unity and reform, had actually drawn on all the resources of the language and the various literary traditions in their own creative writing – they used the colloquial spoken language and concrete metaphors in a way that retained the particularity of language use, so that the caste, region, and profession of every character showed in their language … A generation. later Mahāvīr Prasād Dvivedī did exactly the opposite, and exhorted other writers to do so too. By purging print-language of colloquialisms, regional usages and ‘Urdu’ words, by privileging abstract over concrete words and making Sanskrit loanwords the rule, and by fixing syntax along regular subject-object-verb lines, Dvivedī ‘standardized’ Hindi into a sober written language.”

Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi (1864-1938). Source:

Orsini’s more recent study of multilingual north India, ‘Between Qasbas and Cities’, calls for a reassessment of the role of Fort William College,

“Rather than a story of momentous literary and linguistic break with the past in the context of Calcutta’s ‘colonial modern,’ then, Fort William College becomes a story of remarkable literary continuity with the literary culture of eighteenth-century North India.”

Furthermore, Orsini observes a new turn in historiography that can also be applied to language development,

“while historiography has come to a more gradual view of the colonial takeover and emphasises the dynamic role played by groups and individuals who took advantage of the political vacuum in competition and collaboration with the increasingly powerful East India Company (EIC), literary historiography still starkly narrates the turn from pre-colonial to colonial culture as a complete epistemic shift.”

There are, however, more interesting questions at play than the role of the British in the development of Hindi and other north Indian languages. I will touch briefly on two of them: the lack of clarity in terminology when talking about what a language is, and the parallel trajectories of north Indian languages.

What is a language? In popular usage, language often refers to a singular speech form. However, in a linguistic sense, language is an umbrella term for a plethora of speech forms, styles, registers, dialects, sociolects and so on. Many of these forms would in popular use be considered as languages in themselves. Thus, we can speak of Premchand’s language when referring to his style, or of Haryanvi language when referring to a dialect (or a group of dialects).

Those who reject the pre-colonial tradition of Hindi appear to use double standards for Hindi and other languages. Languages change over the times, Ćalit bhāā, that is, modern Bangla, is different from Sādhu bhāā, the language of Bankimchandra, which is different from the classical Bengali of the great Mangalkabyas and of Krishnadas Kabiraj, which in turn is different from the archaic Śrīkṛṣṇakīrtana of Badu Chandidas and from the Persianised Dobhāī or Musalmani Bangla.

Linguistic distance, although not measured in India diachronically, and rather referred to anecdotally, cannot be an argument to cut off earlier language forms. The language of works such as the Hindustani Sanandh is not further removed from modern usage than the language of the Manasāmagal, the Eknāthī Bhāgavat or the Amuktamālyada in Bengali, Marathi and Telugu, respectively. On digging deeper, we may find that the linguistic distance between the earliest layers of Namdev’s bhajans or Badu Chandidas’s Śrīkṛṣṇakīrtan is no less than the linguistic distance between Avadhi/Brajbhasha and Modern Hindi. Moreover, poetic language in India can at times be so literarised that it is incomprehensible without special studies. The highly Sanskritised poetry of some of the most outstanding early Telugu poets, such as Nannayya, Shrinathudu or Peddana, lucidly illustrates this.

Codification, too, cannot be an argument for separation. Otherwise, only Urdu would be able to pride itself as having a pre-colonial past among the north Indian vernaculars as it was theoretically codified in the 18th century. Similarly, the argument that printing had a role in ‘creating a language’ would backfire for almost all Indian languages, since early printing in them was done by missionaries or colonial intellectuals. The same is true about the creation of early grammars – at least in north India.

Also read: Pushing Hindi as Politics, Not Hindi as Language

Instead of singling out Hindi as a language with an anomalous history, or rather with a lack of history, it may be more useful to consider the parallel trajectories of Indian, especially, north Indian languages. I draw attention to a little-discussed phenomenon, namely that all north Indian languages developed a Persianised register between the 16th and 19th centuries. Yet colonial and nationalist attitudes towards these language varieties differed widely.

The earliest Rekhta compositions in Hindustani appear in the 16th century, Marathi became highly Persianised during Shivaji’s reign, and even Assam developed its Persianate register in compositions like the zikrs of the 17th century poet Ajan Fakir. Bengali had Dobhāṣī or Musalmani Bangla committed to writing in various scripts. Gujarati also began to include the Persianised Parsi Gujarati and Musalmani Gujarati in the 19th century, and the Arabicised Lisan al-da‘wa is still used among Gujarati Bohras. Panjabi has developed Sanskritised and Persianised versions with accompanying splits in the scripts.

Ajan Fakir’s dargah in Horaguri (Saraguri) Chapori, Shivasagar, Assam. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although a parallel development under modern nationalism is clearly observable among Indian languages, that is, languages distancing themselves from the Persianate registers, attitudes to these ‘Musalmani’ versions have varied over the centuries and have included accommodation, marginalisation, suppression and language split.

A parallel phenomenon in language development was the role of colonialism. I have already referred to the introduction of print culture. Another aspect to examine in a comparative light is the colonial attitude towards Persianisation. In her study of the trajectory of Islamic Bangla literature, Ayesha Irani, relying on Dinesh Chandra Sen’s History of Bengali Language and Literature (2007, first published in 1909; vol. 2, p. 915) writes,

“The initial efforts of the Bhaṭṭācāryas, Sanskrit ola pundits, in the College’s employ, resulted in the creation of a language which relied on an entirely Sanskritic tatsama vocabulary, simultaneously purging both the ‘vulgar’ idioms of colloquial tatsama speech (calita bhāā) and Perso-Arabic words”.

Irani points out that the mastermind behind this reform was N.B. Halhed (1751-1830), who in A Grammar of the Bengal Language claimed to present the language “merely as is derived from its parent the Sanscrit” and to have avoided Perso-Arabic wordsHalhed, 1778, pp. xxi-xxii[footnote]. Perhaps Gilchrist borrowed the idea of examining the possibility of non-Persianised Hindustani from Halhed. Thus, later nationalist efforts to purify a language by de-Persianisation may well be indebted to early colonial thinking. However, Halhed imagined a single form of Sanskritised Bengali while Gilchrist was open to accepting Indian linguistic plurality, and by acknowledging the variety within Hindustani, he committed less epistemic violence than Halhed did.

The title page of Halhed’s A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778). Source:

The languages of India have developed along parallel trajectories in Persianisation, print culture and other colonial interventions. Within these trajectories, they also had their own fascinating differences. A comparative study of these parallels and differences still remains to be done.

Imre Bangha teaches north Indian languages and literatures at the University of Oxford and has extensively published on Old Hindi literature as well as on Rabindranath Tagore

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The J&K District Polls Call for an Examination of Local Governance Not Politics

Governance as a process promotes both social and political participation. Similarly, elections ensure social and political participation. However, in areas affected by conflict and violence, every process becomes a tool of political positioning. The process of elections to District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir has brought the focus back on the political process in J&K rather than on local governance.

Elections at the local level are no substitute for legislative assembly elections and do not provide adequate representation to every issue and challenge that people face. J&K at this moment faces bigger challenges that cannot be addressed at the local level. Further, elections to DDCs or vacant panchayat seats cannot be used as a litmus test for all the changes that have emerged in the erstwhile state of J&K. This is where the politics-administration dichotomy debates even more relevant.

Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils, and District Development Councils are the institutions of local governance. And local governance through Panchayati Raj is at the heart of rural development. Elections to these institutions have to focus on local governance rather than promoting and ‘force verifying’ a particular ideology.

Also read: To Contest or Not: Gupkar Alliance In a Bind About Participation in J&K DDC Polls

Elections to DDCs would complete the three-tier Panchayati Raj in J&K. DDCs would play a significant role in preparing and approving district plans and capital expenditure. They would have elected representatives from rural areas of each district. Within DDCs, there will be District Plan Committees (DPCs) which will consider and guide district development plans. DPCs would indicate priorities for various schemes and consider issues related to the speedy development and economic uplift of the district.

Election officials make preparations for polling at the BDC elections being held across 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: PTI/File

District Development Councils have to be understood within the context of Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP) and Back to Village Programme (B2V) programme. Looking purely from the governance perspective, GPDP has to be the cornerstone of the local development and governance.

GPDP empowers Halqa Panchayats to ensure decentralisation of planning and power at the grassroots level. DDCs would help in the consolidation of planning but councils cannot be substituted for gram panchayats, and yet another tool of centralisation of planning process even if it is at the district level.

The success of DDCs would rest largely on the process of decentralised planning through Gram Panchayat Development Plan and Back to Village (B2V) programme. These twin concepts are aimed at ensuring effective, efficient, transparent and accountable governance at the local level. The focus of this article would be on GPDP and Back to Village concepts (B2V).

From local government to local governance: Shift from means to ends

In other states of India, the debate around local governance has shifted from local government to local governance. The organisation issue has been resolved in other states with the implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the constitution which mandated three-tier structure of Panchayati Raj. In Jammu and Kashmir, elections to the local bodies have been irregular. In 2011, Panchayati elections were held after a gap of 10 years. In 2001, the elections were held after a gap of 23 years. Even when elections were held, those were for Halqa Panchayats only. Now with elections to DDCs, all three structures of the Panchayati Raj would be in place, namely: Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils and District Development Councils.

These structures would not be enough. There has to be devolution of functions, finances, functionaries and decentralised planning as mandated by the Act. However, this has not happened and unlikely to happen if there is more political utilisation of local governance institutions.

File photo of women attending a gram sabha meeting in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan. Photo: UN Women Asia and the Pacific/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Elections are means to an end and not an end in itself. Devolution of functions, finances and decentralised planning as mandated by the Act are yet to be implemented in the actual sense. This is partly due to focus on PRIs as the institutions of local government rather than local governance. The focus has been more on political participation, and PRIs are looked at more as centres of local politics than institutions of governance. It also suffers from bureaucratic hurdles of power-sharing. People’s attitude towards these institutions has been to a large extent indifferent as their participation was limited to voting.

Also read: Cui Bono: Panchayati Raj System and the Structures of Power

There has to be a shift from local government to local governance with emphasis on three Fs, functions, finance and functionaries. The shift should aim to make PRIs action-oriented and goal-oriented units of governance. From mere political representation, the emphasis in governance would mean focus on citizen participation, responsiveness, transparency, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency and accountability.  In the context of PRIs, local governance as a concept would manifest itself through empowerment of gram sabha and gram panchayat, capacity building of panchayats, financial strengthening through devolution, programme delivery, inclusive social and economic development, social justice, and social audit.

Governance includes various processes – elections, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, etc. It is not one of these features that complete the organic concept of governance, but a combination of these. Strengthening one aspect involves strengthening other aspects as well. Institutions, processes and people’s participation are in a way ends of the governance. But on the other hand, these features are means through which the state achieves the larger objectives. That’s true in the context of local governance as well.

Strengthening of local institutions like gram sabha and gram panchayat; people’s participation in local development; and processes like capacity building, community mobilisation and decentralised planning are not an end in itself.

These aspects are the means to achieve effective and responsive service delivery at the local level and ensuring inclusive social and economic development and justice at the grassroots level. There has to be the shift from means to ends which would involve reforming of local governance and strengthening of all aspects of governance to ensure responsive and effective public service at the local level. It starts with PRIs playing a major role in planning at the local level.

Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) and responsive local governance

Planning is an important process of governance. Decentralised planning has been a long-term objective in developing effective local governance in India. It gained renewed focus in 2015 through Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP).

GPDP is the development plan of the gram panchayat. GPDP are plans formulated by gram panchayats for economic development and social justice utilising the resources available to them. It is expected to be not merely an end product of gram panchayat planning, but a comprehensive and participatory process of governance that involves full convergence with schemes of all related union ministries related to 29 subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule of Constitution.

A gram panchayat meeting in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

A gram panchayat meeting in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

The convergence is a central aspect of GPDP for the effective implementation of flagship schemes on subjects on national importance for the transformation of rural India as well as localisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

GPDP re-emphasises that development is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Local needs and demands may differ from panchayat to panchayat. It is a bottom-up approach of planning which seeks to go beyond infrastructure and covers areas like poverty reduction, social development of vulnerable groups, service delivery, and include both resource-based and no-cost interventions.

Also read: Why India’s Governance Policies Often Ends up Being Suboptimal

GPDP through a convergence of schemes at the panchayat level seeks to address deprivations at the grassroots level and achieve inclusive development, poverty reduction, creating better opportunities, improve basic services, health nutrition, malnutrition, education, and women and child development, etc. GPDP as a process of planning takes into account the available resource at the panchayat level, infrastructure status and gaps, needs and demands of local people and prioritises important sectors and activities, etc.

GPDP as a process of governance is a reform tool that improves institutions, people’s participation and processes. It is a reform and development tool both at the level of preparing as well as implementing it. It is a time-bound, participatory, inclusive and transparent process.

There has to be a change in the working of the panchayats, capacity building among gram panchayat and gram sabha members, and convergence of efforts of various functionaries at the GP level, block officials, district officials and at the state level with gram sabha to avoid Riggsian Formalism in the Gram Panchayat Development Plan.

It starts with the awareness generation about the gram sabha and gram panchayat. It is critical for any planning process that people should be able to express their demands. Demands can come from active citizenry. Active citizenry is a byproduct of awareness generation and capacity building. This is where the concept of Back to Village (B2V) of Jammu and Kashmir gains significance.

Back to Village programme

As a concept of governance at doorstep, Back to Village programme ensures active citizenry through community participation in the development and strengthening of panchayats. It has to essentially act as a means to promote local planning rather than yet another tool of bureaucracy-led top-down planning with only difference that it is done at the local level by visiting the villages. It has to act as a behavioural programme as well through the reformed bureaucratic apparatus and there is an effective convergence of officials at the state and district level with frontline functionaries and local elected representatives.

J&K Lt Gov Manoj Sinha inaugurates the Back to Village programme. Photo: By arrangement

Back to Village programme has to essentially act as a prelude to GPDP and complement it rather than act as a parallel framework of local governance and development. The first phase of B2V saw significant participation among the people. The subsequent phases have also been popular with the masses but the participation has been slightly less due to lack of accountability and follow-up on earlier promises. This is where the problem actually exists. The perception goes among people that it is led by the officers when it has to be led and directed by local people which decentralises not only planning but also implementation and accountability as well.

Also read: Outsourcing Governance to the Citizen

Even though Back to Village programme is aimed at involving people of the state and government officials in a joint effort to deliver the mission of equitable development, it has to be led by the people at the grassroots than by the visiting officers and those at district and state level. There is where the change is needed.  There is where convergence is needed between GPDP and the Back to Village programme.

GPDP aims at getting wide spread participation, and Back to Village would assist in strengthening systematic efforts to mobilise community and getting them involved in the process of their own development. Community awareness and mobilisation would essentially mean behavioural change. The behavioural change involved in the process is to own common problems and not leave them to the government (perceived as external agency).

One of the aspects that should be added to Back to Village programme and GPDP is to engage a team of community volunteers. These volunteers can be given training about planning, implementation and monitoring of development programmes. These community volunteers can be used to do community mobilisation as well as capacity building. Community mobilisation through volunteers has to focus on capacity building and information dissemination and leave the leadership role to the members of the community themselves. They have to act more as facilitators for sustainability of such process.

GPDP as a holistic plan has to deal with several subjects and would need much more participation and involvement of the people. Planning is a technical process and it is true that people at the local level know their problems and needs, but may not effectively be able to plan about their solutions. This is one aspect which often leads bureaucrats to presume that leaving planning to people wouldn’t serve the purpose. However, capacity building is possible.

Also read: Why Has the ‘Back to Village’ Programme Failed to Take-Off in Kashmir?

One critical aspect of GPDP is the formation of Gram Panchayat Planning Facilitation Team (GPPFT). It has to be a starting point of GPDP implementation, and in J&K, B2V exercise should be used to facilitate capacity building of GPPFT since officers are available at the local-level during such programmes.

GPPFT would have to create working groups or use standing/functional committees to deal with different subjects, such as health, sanitation, education, nutrition and social welfare, etc. It would need involvement of such people who have interest in such matters or knowledge or experience of such matters. Facilitators and volunteers would first build capacity of working groups of the GPPFT before the larger community mobilization is initiated.

J&K Lt Gov Manoj Sinha distributes sports kits as part of the Back to Village programme. Photo: By arrangement

Devolution of funds was a major challenge to the functioning of the local governments. This issue to some extent has been resolved through the devolution of funds to the local governments under the 14th Finance Commission. In fact, it was the 14th Finance Commission that played a major role in increasing prominence of PRIs.

The 14th Finance Commission awarded a fixed amount of Rs. 2,00,292.2 crore to panchayats across India for 2015–20, which is more than three times the grant of the 13th Finance Commission. This devolution of funds augmented the financial health of PRIs. It has also made the exercise of GPDP meaningful. Even though funds are still limited GDPD can play a role in effective and efficient utilisation of available funds. One of the major lessons of B2V was the mismatch between what people need and what people are provided. GPDP would ensure that funds are utilised for works depending upon the priorities set by people themselves at the village level.

Back to Village programme has also assisted in strengthening twin concepts of ‘self-coordination and self-adjustment’ which are fundamental to GPDP.  Self-coordination and self-adjustment relate to coordination by direct control and coordination in the early stages. It means that there is direct access to Halqa Panchayat leadership to common people. Halqa Panchayat is in convergence with the line functionaries in the gram panchayat and that this involvement is at the initial stages and continues from planning to implementation stage. Problem solving has to be a shared goal among people, village leadership, block and district leadership and above. Once a particular problem gets solved, it would shape the behaviour of people and increase their interest and participation in the activities of gram panchayat.

Also read: ‘More Visiting Officers Than Villagers’: Inside J&K Govt’s ‘Back to Village’ Outreach Programme

GPDP would provide a role for civil society organisations and state institutes of rural development. The role of civil society organisations and state institutes of rural development is essential to train elected representatives, community volunteers and frontline functionaries in the planning process. These bodies would also help in data collection and analysis that is at the heart of Gram Panchayat Development Plan. The role of community volunteers can be used to collect information about financial resources available, own funds, number of ponds, wells, check dams, the status of grazing lands, condition of buildings, schools, health sub centres, toilets, infant mortality, school drop-outs, institutional births and drinking water in Anganwadi, etc. This would make planning at the local level effective.

GPDP plans have to be realistic and must factor in situational analysis and demands of various groups to prioritise activities for development in a year. Community mobilisation and community ownership would ensure equal focus on social development. For long, gram panchayats have focused mostly on infrastructural development. This has largely been due to lack of awareness and lack of demands by various groups in the gram sabha. Community mobilisation and active participation of people in gram sabha ensure that there is expression of needs and ensuring of focus on social development and service delivery. It also leads to focus on many costless or low-cost activities which are largely dependent on community awareness and mobilisations, such as quality education, provision of mid-day meals in schools, proper sanitation, enrolment of school drop-outs, immunisation, institutional delivery and social forestry, etc.

Way forward

The way forward for local development is the effective utilisation of the twin concepts of governance-GPDP and Back to Village. It needs the fundamental change in the understanding of governance both by the officials as well as the people. If these concepts are implemented in the letter and spirit, then there is a strong possibility of a shift from local government to local governance; and from top-down to bottom-up planning; and more importantly from bureaucracy led to community-led development. Without utilising these concepts, it is unlikely that sustainable development would reach to the grassroots.

Dr. Zubair Nazeer is an assistant professor of public administration at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Dr. Shafia Wani is an assistant professor (Rural Development) at J&K Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development, Srinagar (J&K).

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CJI Bobde’s View of Article 32 is Linked to Apex Court’s Vacillation on Basic Structure Doctrine

This is the fourth article in a six-part series on the basic structure doctrine – which the Supreme Court of India propounded in 1973 when it said there are features of the constitution which are unamendable by parliament under any circumstances. The Wire is revisiting the doctrine as various aspects of it figure in several important cases currently before the apex court. 

Also read:  Part I/Part II/ Part III


New Delhi: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde’s statement this week that the Supreme Court is keen on discouraging petitioners from resorting to Article 32 of the constitution  has drawn criticism from scholars and practitioners of law for the Article is considered one of the constitution’s basic features.

In L. Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997), a seven judge bench said that the power of judicial review – vested in the high courts under Article 226 and in the Supreme Court under Article 32 – is an integral and essential feature of the constitution, constituting part of its basic structure. In paragraph 81, the court reiterated the view of Ambedkar – expressed during the constituent assembly debates – that Article 32 is the “heart” and “soul” of the constitution (see the draft Article 25 debate on December 9, 1948, paragraph 7.70.172).

If, as Arun Thiruvengadam suggests in his book, The Constitution of India: A Contextual Analysis, the basic structure doctrine has come to be one of the most momentous innovations of the Indian judiciary, CJI Bobde’s remark indicates a certain judicial hesitation, even unwillingness, to harness its full potential. In the past, the BSD has allowed Indian judges to adopt radical strategies of initiating public interest litigation, using methods such as the creative remedy of continuing mandamus (through which it can keep a case alive even after it has been decided, sometimes for decades, to ensure its implementation).  Not so anymore.

Also read: Eight Cases That Will Test Whether ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’ Can Safeguard India’s Democracy

Basic structure as trigger

Contrary to popular belief about the basic structure doctrine having played a stellar role in safeguarding India’s democracy, evidence points to the Supreme Court’s reliance on it only in seven instances, since its birth, to strike down constitutional amendments.   They are: 

1. Kesavanand Bharati v State of Kerala (1973).

The 25th Amendment Act, 1971 had inserted Article 31-C to confer immunity on laws pursuant to Directive Principles from being held void on ground of inconsistency with  Articles 14, 19 and 31.  The Supreme Court, in this case, declared a sub-clause stating that ‘no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy’ unconstitutional.  Later, the 44th Amendment Act deleted Article 31 (compulsory acquisition of property) from the scope of Article 31-C, apart from Article 31 itself.

2. Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain (1975).

The Supreme Court struck down Clause 4 of the 39th Amendment Act, 1975, which inserted Articles 71(2) and 329A.  These Articles provided that disputes regarding the election of four high constitutional functionaries , namely, the president, vice-president, the prime minister and the speaker of the Lok Sabha should be adjudicated by whatever authority and procedure as provided by law, and that any court order, made before its commencement, declaring such an election to be void, should be deemed null and void.  Later, the 44th Amendment Act restored the original form of Article 71 and deleted Article 329A.

3. Minerva Mills v Union of India (1980)

In this case, the Supreme Court  struck down Section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, which added clauses (4) and (5) to Article 368.   Clause 4 provided that no amendment of the Constitution shall be called in question in any court on any ground.  Clause 5 provided that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution.

In the same case, the Supreme Court also declared amendments in Article 31C – introduced by Section 4 of the 42nd Amendment Act – unconstitutional, as they sought to give primacy to directive principles over fundamental rights.

4. Samba Murthy v State of Andhra Pradesh (1986)

In this case, the 32nd Amendment Act, 1973 had inserted Article 371D of the Constitution, which excluded the high courts’ power of judicial review.  The Supreme Court struck down clause (5) of Article 371D along with the proviso, as void.  This proviso conferred power on the state government to modify or annul the final order of the administrative tribunal.

5. Kihoto Hollohan v Zachillhu (1992)

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down Paragraph 7 of the 10th Schedule to the Constitution, inserted by the 52nd Amendment Act, 1985, to disqualify elected members of Parliament and state assemblies on the ground of defection, as unconstitutional. Paragraph 7 had barred the jurisdiction of courts from considering the validity of the speaker’s decisions with regard to disqualification.

6. Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997)

In this case, the validity of Section 46 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 was the issue.   This provision had inserted Articles 323A and 323B dealing with administrative tribunals and tribunals for other matters respectively.  The Supreme Court declared Clause 2(d) of Article 323A and Clause 3(d) of Article 323B as unconstitutional as they excluded judicial review by the high courts.

7. Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v Union of India (2015)

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down the 99th Amendment to the Constitution, establishing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) replacing the collegium framework for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.  As the NJAC Act took away judicial primacy in the appointment of judges, the Supreme Court found that it infringed upon judicial independence, violating the basic structure doctrine.  Unlike the previous partial striking down of amendments, it was the first and only time when the Supreme Court struck down the entire Amendment Act as unconstitutional.

Basic structure doctrine v ordinary laws

Since the constitution bench in the Fourth Judges case (2015) had invalidated the 99th amendment invoking the basic structure doctrine, it did not find the need to apply the same doctrine while setting aside the NJAC Act.

Yet, it is interesting to note how the judges disagreed on the question.  Justice J.S. Khehar, in his judgment, found no problem in challenging the Act based on the doctrine because such a challenge would be based on a set of articles in the constitution, which the statute violated. While Justice Lokur offered a contrary view, other judges on the constitution bench avoided the issue as unnecessary.

File photo of Justice Madan B. Lokur. Photo: PTI

Justice Lokur noticed that in Madras Bar Association v Union of India, the Supreme Court had held that the basic structure doctrine could be invoked to challenge ordinary laws. But Justice Lokur chose to rely on the seven-judge bench decision in State of Karnataka v Union of India, which held that basic structure doctrine cannot be used to challenge ordinary laws. The only exception to this perhaps could be a statute placed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, he noted.

However, Justice Lokur was part of the five-judge constitution bench which decided State of Tamil Nadu v State of Kerala, on May 7, 2014, declaring as unconstitutional the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006, which fixed and limited the Full Reservoir Level (FRL)  of  Mullaperiyar dam owned and maintained by Tamil Nadu at 136 ft.   The bench, relying on the court’s judgment in Mullaperiyar Environmental Protection Forum 1 case pronounced  on February 27, 2006, held that raising the water level from 136 ft to 142 ft would not jeopardise the safety of the dam in any manner.  The bench concluded that the 2006 Amendment Act was usurpation of judicial power, and therefore, violative of the doctrine of separation of powers, a basic feature of the Constitution, and also of the rule of law.  This subtle change in Justice Lokur’s opinion in the course of one year thus is noticeable on this issue and is also indicative of the lack of clarity among the Supreme Court judges on whether BSD could be applied to test the validity of ordinary laws.

Judicial independence the key concern for Supreme Court

The seven instances of striking down of constitutional amendments on the ground of violation of basic structure doctrine would show that in all these, the court did so only because the amendments threatened judicial independence, considered as a basic feature.

So far, the Supreme Court has not yet invalidated a constitutional amendment on the ground of violation of basic features, other than judicial independence.  This shows that the Supreme Court is inclined to invoke the basic structure doctrine as a last resort only if it finds that its own independence from the legislature or the executive is at stake, while striking down constitutional amendments.

As Krishnaswamy observes, there is an overzealousness that characterises Supreme Court’s willingness to protect the independence of the judiciary.  In the last two decades it has intervened in the selection of district court judges, their conditions of service including payment of salaries as well as the selection and functioning of tribunal and regulators.

Is this a case of institutional self-dealing where the court is protecting and advancing its own?  Krishnaswamy told me in an interview that he would agree if there was evidence that the Indian state invests heavily and pampers the court system.  “Unfortunately, the courts and the legal system are in a dismal state of disrepair, and hence judicial intervention in this arena appears to be more benign”, he said after the judgment in the NJAC case.

Interestingly, judicial independence or primacy were not listed by the majority Judges as basic features in the Kesavananda judgment, but have been elevated by the judiciary as basic features subsequently.   According to Chief Justice Sikri, the basic structure consists of just six features: supremacy of the Constitution; Republican and democratic form of government; secular character of the Constitution; separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary;  federal character of the Constitution; and the dignity and freedom of the individual.

To this, other majority Judges added the unity and integrity of the nation, social, economic and political justice, liberty of belief, faith and worship, and equality of status and opportunity.  Mandate to build a welfare state, limitation on the amending power that it is not used to alter or damage the basic structure of the Constitution and independence of the judiciary were other additions.  It was possible for the subsequent benches of the Supreme Court to add to this list because the majority Judges in the Kesavananda had held that their list of basic features was only illustrative, and not exhaustive.

In Delhi Judicial Service Association v State of Gujarat (1991), which dealt with the power of the Supreme Court under Article 129 to punish for contempt of subordinate or inferior courts as well, the Supreme Court observed:

“Under the Constitutional scheme this Court has a special role in the administration of justice and the power conferred on it under Articles 32, 136, 141 and 142 form part of the basic structure of the Constitution.”

Citing the above passage, Raju Ramachandran finds it difficult to appreciate how Article 142, which gives the Court the power to pass any order in order to do ‘complete justice’ can be a part of the basic structure or how again the power of the Supreme Court under Article 136 to grant special leave can form part of it.

In cases where constitutional amendments are not under challenge, however, the Supreme Court has been more liberal in invoking the basic structure doctrine.

This has been so notwithstanding the aberration in A.D.M.Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla (1976) when the Supreme Court held that the Presidential proclamation suspending Article 21 did not leave the citizen with the right to protect his liberty.  Because of this decision, a right which, applying the basic structure test, could not be taken away even by amending the Constitution, could be taken away by an executive proclamation.   But the court has, in subsequent years, not only considered A.D.M. Jabalpur unworthy of being followed as  a precedent for this decision, but specifically overruled it in 2017.

Former Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud. Photo: PIB

In  Special Reference Case 1 of 2002, while answering an advisory opinion sought by the president on the question of holding assembly elections in Gujarat in the aftermath of the post-Godhra carnage against minorities in the state, the Supreme Court held that holding of free and fair elections is a basic feature; therefore, the Election Commission was bound to hold elections within six months of dissolution of the assembly.   The EC wanted to delay the holding of elections in the state, in view of the tense situation in the state at that time, notwithstanding its constitutional obligation to hold the elections in time.

Over the years, the basic structure doctrine has been used more as an interpretative tool to test the validity of a law or executive action or determine the meaning of a constitutional provision.

BSD and recently decided cases

In K.S. Puttaswamy v Union of India, the Supreme Court’s nine-judge bench held that when a constitutional right such as the right to equality or the right to life assumes the character of being a part of the basic structure of the constitution, it assumes inviolable status:  inviolability even in the face of the power of amendment.   Statutory rights are subject to the compulsion of legislative majorities.  The purpose of infusing a right with a constitutional element is precisely to provide it a sense of immunity from popular opinion and, as its reflection, from legislative annulment.   Constitutionally protected rights embody the liberal belief that personal liberties of the individual are so sacrosanct that it is necessary  to ensconce them in a protective shell that places them beyond the pale of ordinary legislation; Entrenched constitutional rights provide the basis of evaluating the validity of law, the bench held.   These observations are a clear pointer that BSD can be applied to test the validity of ordinary laws, whatever the previous precedents.

Justice J. Chelameswar, in his separate and concurring judgment in Puttaswamy, observed:  “The implications arising from the scheme of the constitution are the “constitution’s dark matter” and are as important as the express stipulations in its text.  The principle laid down by this court in the Kesavananda that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be abrogated is the most outstanding and brilliant exposition of the ‘dark matter’ and is a part of our constitution, though there is nothing in the text suggesting that principle. …  Romesh Thappar and Sakal Papers are the earliest acknowledgement by this court of the existence of constitution’s dark matter.  The series of cases in which this court subsequently perceived various rights in the expression ‘life’ in Article 21 is a resounding confirmation of such acknowledgment”.

In the Ayodhya judgment, the Places of Worship Act, 1991 came for review.  The bench held that the state has, by enacting the law, enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalized its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is a part of the basic features of the Constitution.   The bench relied on S.R. Bommai v Union of India, in which the Supreme Court reiterated that secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution as affirmed in Kesavananda and Indira Nehru Gandhi.  “Any step inconsistent with this constitutional policy is, in plain words, unconstitutional”, the court had observed in that case.  The Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state, the bench in the Ayodhya case said.

A November 1990 photo of the Babri Masjid, still standing. Photo: PTI

Curiously, though the decision in the Ayodhya case was expected to deal more with secularism as a basic feature, the court invoked its relevance as a facet of BSD only while discussing the Places of Worship Act, 1991 in the judgment.  Many, therefore, would consider the bench’s non-reliance on BSD to reach its conclusion in the Ayodhya case a disappointment. Rather, the court decided the case the way it did because it paid only a lip service to the BSD, by relying on it just in passing, to suggest how to deal with such issues in future.

As the Supreme Court braces itself to decide the pending cases which implicitly involve an interpretation of the Constitution’s ‘dark matter’, it is its judgment in the Puttaswamy case which should offer it guidance, rather than its silence in the Ayodhya case.

BSD and the future of democracy

Against this back drop, a key question for our times is whether the basic structure doctrine can come to the rescue of Indian democracy in the face of a ruling dispensation determined to push its agenda?

The answer to this perhaps lies in how the Supreme Court’s judges  consider the application of the basic structure test to particular cases before them. Experience suggests that if they find alternatives to adjudicate an issue, they prefer those alternatives, rather than to use the basic structure test. In a given case, it may prove to be an easy alternative for a judge to rely on an abstract principle, and consider it as a basic feature of the constitution.

In many cases, however, judges find it problematic to apply the BSD to a given case when the impugned amendment/law/executive action only seeks to tweak or tinker with the constitution, but does not threaten to bring down its edifice.

Also Read: Inside Story of the Centre’s Turf War with the Supreme Court Collegium

In the NJAC case, for example, critics ask whether the Supreme Court was right in equating judicial primacy (which is just one facet of judicial independence) with judicial independence to strike down the constitutional amendment and the NJAC Act.  They ask whether the same judicial primacy is not sacrificed when the Supreme Court’s collegium is indifferent to the executive’s non-compliance with its recommendations in judges’ appointments or transfers even when reiterated.

While the abstraction of a basic structure principle may appear to be an invitation for its easy adoption by the judiciary in a given case, the standard of review required – whether the impugned legislative or executive action threatens to bring down the edifice of the constitution itself – may be a difficult criterion to satisfy, thus forcing a judge to consider alternatives to basic structure.

In State of Karnataka v Dr.Praveenbhai Thogadia, (2004) for example, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court found the BSD a useful tool, in terms of Supreme Court’s declaration of secularism as a basic feature in S.R. Bommai (1994), to justify preventive action by the executive to stop any individual or group of persons from sowing seeds of mutual hatred, to create disharmony and disturb equilibrium, by their caustic and inflammatory speeches.

In the recent Firoz Iqbal Khan v Union of India (Sudarshan TV – UPSC Jihad show), the Supreme Court first restrained itself from imposing a pre-broadcast injunction against the television channel telecasting its controversial programme called “Bindaas Bol”, which allegedly tarnishes the Muslim community.  The precedent set in Thogadia could well have been applied in this case, without giving an opportunity to the channel to telecast the first four episodes of the controversial program allegedly facilitating hate speech.

The Supreme Court changed its view and imposed a pre-broadcast injunction over the remaining episodes of the programme only after the hate-speech content of the first four episodes already telecast were brought to its notice. The Supreme Court is apparently in search of principles to balance the free speech rights of the television channel with its responsibility to maintain the equilibrium.  In other words, the court finds the case before it too complicated for an easy adjudication on the basis of the BSD, as the court had done in 2004 in the case of Thogadia.

These two cases dealt with in the span of two decades by different judges bring to the fore the vacillation of the top court in recent years in adjudicating an issue on the basis of the BSD.

CJI Bobde’s recent off-the-cuff remark on discouraging resort to Article 32 of the constitution ˆ even while reprimanding in another case the Maharashtra legislative assembly secretary for threatening TV anchor Arnab Goswami for invoking the very provision – is one more proof of this vacillation among the judges of the Supreme Court on the application of the BSD.

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What’s ‘hate speech’? Depends on who is speaking

The Delhi police have arrested Umar Khalid for allegedly inciting the communal carnage that tore through Delhi in February this year, and charged him under the anti-terrorism law UAPA. The activist’s “crime”? He made speeches at protests against the citizenship law urging people to hit the street during American president Donald Trump’s visit to Delhi. According to the police, Khalid’s “provocative speeches” were part of a “conspiracy” to incite violence in the capital. As “evidence”, they have cited an edited speech of Khalid shared on social media by BJP leaders.

The police have also named Harsh Mander in one of the chargesheets related to the carnage filed in June. The veteran social justice activist, the chargesheet claimed, “instigated the protesters to not have faith in the Supreme Court and to fight their battle on road to get justice. He however used a façade of peace in a part of his speech.”

Mander had earlier been accused by no less an authority than India’s solicitor general of making a “hate speech” disparaging the Supreme Court and asking the people to hit the streets against the citizenship law.

If what Khalid and Mander said is construed as “hate speech”, what do we call the poison that BJP leaders, present and past, have injected into India’s national discourse? And if Khalid’s and Mander’s words are prosecutable offences, as the Indian state and its agents insist they are, why aren’t those of people like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, LK Advani, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara?

Clearly, the standards for what qualifies as ‘hate speech’ are quite selective.



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‘Great success for Modi Sarkar’: How news media channels aired unverified news on India’s ‘pinpoint strikes’ in PoK

Out of the blue on November 19, news channels began flashing the news of an airstrike by Indian forces in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Channels scrambled to organise panel discussions to accompany this “breaking news”.

A PTI report was the main source for these broadcasts, calling it “pinpoint strikes” by India on “terror launchpads”. Soon after, however, the Indian army itself refuted these claims. Lieutenant General Paramjit Singh, the Indian army director-general of military operations, said: “Reports of Indian army’s action in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) across the Line of Control are fake.”

It later turned out that the PTI story was based on an “analysis of ceasefire violations” that had taken place on November 13.

Spoke to senior Indian Army officials. They have denied @PTI_News report on so called air strike inside PoK. ‘The PTI story is based on analysis of the Ceasefire Violations (CFV) that took place on 13th November. It is clarified that there has been NO firing or CFV in LoC today.’

— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) November 19, 2020

The government’s Press Information Bureau also said it was “fake” news.

Several media outlets are claiming that the Indian Armed Forces carried out strikes on suspected terror launch pads across the #LOC.#PIBFactCheck: This claim is #Fake. There has been no firing across the LOC today.

— PIB Fact Check (@PIBFactCheck) November 19, 2020

News channels stepped back on their coverage, but many of them had already managed to stir up a frenzy within that short period of time. They were supported in this endeavour by news reports in several leading publications.

This incident spotlights the media’s problems with reporting on military issues. While hurrying to “break” news, basic journalistic practices like verifying the news fell by the wayside. News channels could have contacted military spokespersons, or the defence ministry, or the external affairs ministry.

Which is why, at around 7 pm on November 19, Aaj Tak, ABP News, Times Now and Republic Bharat, among others, were crowded with chatter about these so-called airstrikes.

On Aaj Tak, Rohit Sardana said — or screamed — and there was “big news at this hour”. “India has done another airstrike on Pakistan’s terrorists,” Sardana proclaimed.

Times Now ran unverified visuals of the location of these purported strikes, while two senior members of the channel discussed them at length. ABP News credited Narendra Modi for the strikes, saying it was “another big success for Modi Sarkar, for the Indian military”.

Some of the anchors on these channels also tried to outdo each other in brandishing their nationalistic credentials on Twitter. Aaj Tak’s Anjana Om Kashyap tweeted the “news” with an emoji of the Indian flag. She deleted the tweet an hour later, saying that the military had “refuted any claims of a strike”.

News Nation’s Deepak Chaurasia followed the same pattern, though his tweet took it a step further. He said: “India’s biggest airstrike yet in PoK, many terror centres destroyed, the operation on army’s soldiers is a success.” Fifteen minutes later, Chaurasia deleted his tweet and subsequently tweeted about it being “PTI news” — though his original tweet had not attributed it to PTI.

ABP News’s Rubika Liyaquat’s excitement knew no bounds: she started a hashtag #AbkiBaarPokPaar to accompany her tweet on how “terrorist locations” were “destroyed” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “All would be welcomed by gunpowder,” she exulted.

Like her counterparts in other channels, she later deleted the tweet and tweeted the army’s clarification.

So, in this race for ratings and revenue, channels and their anchors first pushed unverified news and then backtracked — without apologising. PTI shouldered all the blame instead. Unsurprisingly, a hashtag began trending in Hindi on Twitter, demanding apologies from “fake media”.

It’s unlikely that apology is forthcoming.

A version of this story was first published in Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated from Hindi by Shardool Katyayan.


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Also Read : ‘Over 300 casualties’ in Balakot airstrikes, but who’s the ‘source’?


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dishonest to deny the realities of Lalu’s misrule and lawlessness. Here’s why

“Patna in 2004 is an open city, like Sarajevo in 1992, like Baghdad is right now,” wrote Siddharth Chowdhury in his debut novel Patna Roughcut.

He was referring to the penultimate year of the 15-year-old rule of the Lalu-Rabri government (1990-2005), a period in which the “openness” of the state capital could easily be decoded as lawlessness, the untrammeled run of functioning anarchy, and the brazen political patronage of crime syndicates. For a generation of Biharis, including me, this was as much a lived reality in the vast rural expanse of the state as it was in its urban centres. In the political lexicon, it was etched as the “jungle raj” phase.

Writing in 1992, two years after Lalu Prasad Yadav took charge as chief minister of Bihar, scholar Arvind N Das had identified two possibilities for the emergent Bihar . One of them was the state descending into a land governed only by the rule of its internal jungle, while the second was a more wishful possibility. The former was true for at least the next 13 years. In his work The Republic of Bihar, Das also evoked the Hobbesian pre-state condition to describe the situation in the early years of the Lalu regime: “nasty, brutish and short”.

More than the literary reference or academic assessment, “jungle raj”, as an expression of anarchic insecurity, got popular currency because it was the firsthand experience of a large section of the state’s population during that period, including that of the author. In the campaign for the recently held Assembly poll in Bihar, despite having the factor of anti-incumbency working to its advantage, the Rashtriya Janata Dal found it tough to shed its association with the collective memory of the dreaded period.

However, a section of political commentary during the recent poll campaign, and a form of misleading and decontextualised analysis offered in the wake of the poll results, have been engaged in denying this frightful chapter in the history of contemporary Bihar. In many ways, such a line of denial of civic memory comes across as a starkly dangerous aspect of a particular line of commentary on the recent Bihar poll.

While insidiously misdirecting the historical understanding of a period, such exercises also amount to a gross misrepresentation of the causes they supposedly value. In the process of being evasive about the lived reality of a period, the political defence or statistics fail to grasp that the sense of deep insecurity became pervasive and entrenched in the period because of the governing party’s brazen protection and promotion of crime syndicates, and the normalisation of thuggery in public space.

So, the statistical measures are of little value when the nature of crime and general condition of intimidation aren’t understood. Moreover, there is a difference between the sense of insecurity and anarchy that the political sanctuary of crime triggers, and the other forms of criminal incidents that a society encounters.

Given that it was a period in which both the frightened citizenry and the demoralised law-enforcing agencies were creaking under general anarchy and the blatant crime-politics nexus of the regime, it’s futile to draw any meaning from the numbers that the records throw up. The official registration of the crime itself became such a risky act for the victims as well as the police — from the upper echelons to the lower rungs — that the crime data couldn’t tell the story beyond a point. The scale of underreported crimes was very large, something only lived experiences could carry.

Journalist Arun Sinha, who had reported on Bihar for the Indian Express and the Times of India, wrote in his book Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar:

“The Lalu regime represented a culture of loot and larceny with open patronage to miscreants and roughnecks, whose premier symbols were Sadhu and Subhash (Lalu’s brothers-in-law). There was a mass reproduction of groups like those of Sadhu and Subhash, with ministers or MLAs of the RJD acting as their patrons, across the state. The towns and countryside of Bihar were infested with roughnecks who found extortion and robbery as the most profitable — and the safest-occupation. Officials at police stations would hesitate to register a complaint against delinquents who had the patronage of one or the other RJD leader…During the Lalu-Rabri regime, wide gaps existed in crime control all along the line: between the commission of the crime and registration of the case, between the registration and the arrest of the investigation and prosecution and between prosecution and judiciary.”

In the 1990s, the regime was a mute spectator and an active participant in the process of the political class using crime as a mode of what scholar Arvind Das saw as “speedy private accumulation”. The range of crimes covered in this accumulation kept widening.

Sinha wrote:

“The characteristic feature of the Lalu raj was the blurring of boundaries between white-collar and street crimes. While politicians made illicit earnings through fraud and deceit, they also shared the booty of kidnappers, robbers and extortionists to whom they provided patronage. While white-collar crime had been going on under other chief ministers in the past, Lalu would be remembered for opening up the avenue of an additional source of income to public servants through street crime.”

A demoralised police force had to face political roadblocks in the pursuit of mafia spearheads who formed the core of the crime-politics nexus. The then director general of police, DP Ojha, for instance, was transferred following his detailed report on the criminal activities of the then RJD MP Mohammed Shahabuddin. Even when judicial intervention sometimes led to jail term for dons like Shahabuddin, Rama Singh, and others of their ilk, the facilities they enjoyed had the makings of hospitality extended to state guests. One might recall the journalistic accounts of NR Mohanty (The Times of India) and Manuwant Choudhary (NDTV) about their jail visits to interview the dons; Mohanty was understandably startled to find Shahabuddin sitting in the jail superintendent’s chair while the latter was sitting on the floor among about a hundred of the don’s supporters.

There were occasions when the chief of a dispirited police force would plead helplessness before the judiciary. On January 5, 2003, the Indian Express reported a statement made by the then DGP RR Prasad in the Patna High Court. When the high court judge asked Prasad about no action being taken against unauthorised constructions in Patna, the police chief said the officers were as powerless as the blind Dhritarashtra (from the Mahabharata) who can’t stop Draupadi’s (here, the state) disrobing.

It is here that the nature of crime and intimidation becomes crucial to a sense of insecurity and fuelled anarchic nightmares. If the protection of property was one of the minimal expectations from the state apparatus, none other than the workers of the governing party and the supporters of the governing family ensured that even this low benchmark wasn’t met.

Remember, for instance, the raid led by RJD loyalists on the car showrooms in Patna to ensure that their party supremo’s daughter’s wedding guests were transported in comfort.

Farzand Ahmed wrote in the June 10, 2002, edition of India Today:

“Several groups of RJD loyalists, miscreants to most people, prowled the streets of the state capital, raided car showrooms and drove away with as many as 50 new, unregistered cars.. They were not car lifters in the conventional sense of the term; they were merely doing it so the VIP guests and baraatis of Bihar’s First Family could be ferried in comfort. For businessmen and traders, it means downing their shutters. The Patna operations of a leading automobile manufacturer were closed and the staff, including some senior executives, was shifted to Kolkata. Laloo’s army of raiders even targeted small-time merchants and traders, who were too afraid to speak fearing retribution.”

The thuggery displayed in organising the party’s several rallies weren’t any different.

This was just a slice of the flagrant patronage to lawlessness that became the norm in the period. As a result, besides the rampant cases of kidnappings, the governing party-sanctioned loot meant that the period saw many businessmen and professionals like doctors leaving the state. At a time when other states were trying to woo investors in the wake of economic liberalisation, Bihar’s dismal law and order scene meant that Bihar was driving out even existing enterprises and professional avenues. But for those who stayed back or couldn’t afford to move out, the only option was to reconcile with the functioning anarchy.

In the realm of everyday experience, the brandishing of weapons and the roaming droves of hooligans meant that public space had an undercurrent of constant insecurity. The women were the worst sufferers, as their movement was heavily curtailed; in towns as well as villages, the idea of evening outings was considered an avoidable risk.

It was against this grim backdrop that the change of regime in 2005 was seen as a point of departure. Despite its imperfections, the focus on governance in the Nitish Kumar-headed government meant that measures were taken to improve the general sense of security among people through confidence-building measures.

First, and most significant, was the better detection of crime and prompt registration of cases in police stations. This step clearly showed the sense of seriousness with which the new regime was addressing the law and order scenario in the state. In 2006, the provisions of the Arms Act were strictly invoked with the twin objectives of bringing order as well as clearing judicial bottlenecks in the speedy conviction of criminals.

Following up on the October 2006 brainstorming sessions in a workshop-seminar attended by the chief minister, top bureaucrats, the state police chief and high court judges, an effective measure implemented was the speeding up conviction through fast track courts and the strict invocation of Arms Act. While the former meant that the number of convictions increased rapidly, the latter meant that the sight of criminals moving freely with arms in public view became rare. Both contributed to bringing a sense of order.

Even though the prevention of crime remained a continuing effort with varying degrees of success, it was the will shown in detecting and registering crime which instilled public confidence in the law-enforcing intent of the government. Even with the police showing promptness in registering crimes, the initial years of the new dispensation saw the number of kidnappings, murders and robberies decline.

Talking about the first term of the Nitish government, journalist Arun Sinha remarked, “Although it was hard to accept the claim that detection and speedy trial had completely re-established the writ of the state, there could be no dispute that the number of convictions had a direct bearing on crime.”

Moreover, another clear and very important hiatus from the phase of lawlessness and political patronage to crime was the new government’s tough stand against offences committed by criminal-politicians. With varying degrees of presence, social clout had ensured that such politicians were found in almost all political parties in the state, including the governing alliance. However, despite their place in the legislature or different parties, the government acted against them whenever they violated the law, including initiating action against legislators from the governing party, like Sunil Pandey, Anant Singh (then with JDU, now with the RJD), and Munna Shukla.

The first term of the new government saw speedy trials leading to the convictions of a large number of criminal-politicians, regardless of their party affiliations: Shahabuddin, Anand Mohan, Suraj Bhan Singh, Rajan Tiwary, Pappu Yadav, Munna Shukla, and Anant Singh, to name a few. As dons belonging to different parties bore the brunt of law enforcement, the fair-minded approach was certainly emblematic of the effort to restore law and order.

The cumulative effect of the above factors was a distinctly improved sense of security among people. This, however, hasn’t meant that the crime has made a dramatic retreat. The incidents of reported crime have fluctuated over the last 15 years, showing different variations. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau and the Bihar police, some forms of registered crime have dipped but other forms of registered crime, like family land disputes leading to killing of family members, have shot up. On some counts, Bihar is on the lower half of incidents; on others, it’s on the upper half; and on some, it is within the range of the national average.

However, the most significant feature has been the delinking of crime from the political patronage of those in seats of power. In the Lalu regime, it was the proliferation of political sanctuaries of crime that gave the state an anarchic ring. It was the nature of crime and impunity with which it was committed which contributed to the large part of horror.

Now, the restoration of the basic functions of the police in registering, detecting and investigating a number of criminal incidents has gone a long way to restore the core legitimacy of the state apparatus. To put a number to it, for instance, since 2005, there has been a 52 percent rise in the number of arrests made by the police in the cases related to various offences.

One of the indicators of a change in public attitude towards security has been the reclamation of public space. Women, in particular, have responded with greater confidence in moving out and participating in various forms of activities in the public space. Significantly, besides benefiting from women-oriented welfare schemes and empowerment measures through affirmative action, the improved sense of security has also been a reason behind the Nitish government’s popularity among women voters in the state.

Meanwhile, the recent Assembly poll campaign also saw a section of commentators, like journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, echoing something that has long been Lalu’s fallacious line of defence against the public memory of him heading the rule of lawlessness: it’s an upper-caste allegation to discredit the government of the backward castes.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Such convenient victimhood is historically a bogus argument, undermines the cause of social empowerment of the backwards, and glosses over the all-encompassing adverse impact of political patronage of crime on all sections of the society. While dubbing development, governance and law and order as upper-caste concerns, and even “elitist” wishlist (he had even alleged that the corruption cases, for which he is in jail now, were upper-caste machinations), has been typical of Lalu’s politics, even an elementary exercise in public reasoning tells us that a dismal law and order affects all, and hits the poor harder. The spurious argument about a conspiratorial design behind the defamation of Lalu’s rule and his brand of social justice has too many holes to stand memory and logic.

First, the very rise of a counter-social coalition led by Nitish Kumar, an OBC leader like Lalu (both belonging to the relatively better off among the backward castes, Kurmi and Yadav respectively), could be traced to Lalu restricting, and hence subverting, the OBC empowerment movement of pre-Mandal as well as post-Mandal politics only to the specific groups that formed his electoral base.

It’s important to remember here that the Lohiaite politics-inspired backward castes empowerment movement in Bihar preceded Lalu. Beginning in the late 1960s, Bihar had intermittent phases of backward caste leaders heading the state government. Karpoori Thakur, a Nai by caste (belonging to what’s now known as extremely backward class, EBC, within OBC) had proposed the Bihar formula (or Karpoori formula) for more equitable distribution of quota benefits among the caste groups within OBCs, and other deprived sections. When Lalu came to power in 1990, he limited the scope of empowerment.

In a phase which gave rise to what commentators called the M-Y consolidation, or some simply called the Yadavisation of OBC politics in the state, Lalu showed more interest in consolidating the support base of his own caste group Yadavs (around 11 per cent of the population ) among the OBCs and hoping to consolidate (around 17 per cent) voters from the Muslim community.

As detailed in my two part-series on social coalitions in Bihar politics, Lalu’s refusal to push for the application of the Bihar formula — also known as Karpoori Thakur formula of 1978 — in the deliberations over the Mandal quota didn’t go down well with the EBCs. While the Karpoori formula was seen as more sympathetic to the diverse claims and different conditions of the EBCs, among the OBCs, the centrally mandated Mandal quota in Bihar was seen as benefiting the upper backwards only.

I wrote:

“The sections of Dalit voters that were no longer the captive electorate for the Congress and the Left parties, including a few radical fronts, were now getting disillusioned with the Lalu regime too. A large section of non-Paswan Dalit voters had no reason to even support Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party. Hence, the LJP’s support base was confined to the Paswans among the Dalits.

“Moreover, even a section of Yadavs, either left out of Lalu’s patronage system or yearning for better governance, was courted by the emerging social coalition. Similarly, the lower section of Muslims (Pasmandas) had a long-standing grievance that the benefits of the M-Y axis were being cornered by the Ashrafs (Syeds, Pathans, etc) within their community.”

By the turn of this century, Nitish had grasped the importance of the EBCs in an OBC-led front. It helped that he was one of the conceptual contributors to the Bihar formula. Also, in the late Seventies, Nitish’s writings in Samayik Varta, a Patna-based Hindi fortnightly of contemporary Lohiaite thought, had made it clear that EBCs were going to be an important part of his imagination of OBC socio-economic empowerment. He was ideologically as well as strategically aware of the post-Mandal surversion of the EBC claims in the RJD-led Yadav dominance of OBC politics of Bihar in the ‘90s. While Nitish focused on the wide range of challenges confronting the state, from governance to law and order, he kept an eye on social engineering to sustain his Lohiaite project as well as a longer innings in power.

So, the naïve acceptance of Lalu’s false victimhood rhetoric, and turning a blind eye to his subversion of empowerment of backward communities, amounts to a gross case of misreading of contemporary politics. It also reveals the failure to grasp the dynamics of a strand of social justice politics in the Hindi heartland which has often abandoned its core cause at the altar of dynastic politics. In some ways, there is a different strand to it, and it’s represented by the stream of social justice politics represented by non-dynastic Lohiaties like Nitish.

The misgovernance and lawlessness of the Lalu regime, captured with the evocative phrase of “jungle raj”, was a lived reality for millions. The efforts to deny memory of that dreadful chapter of the past, and the comparative perceptions of the present, are historically dangerous exercises and journalistically dishonest exercises.


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Muslim in UP Minor With No Link to Anti-CAA Protests Released After 11 Months

Lucknow: On November 6, 16-year-old Hussain* had a full, home-cooked meal for the first time in 11 months. His house in Thakurganj was rippling with excitement – his parents, two brothers and three sisters surrounded him on all sides.

“My son is home after months,” his mother says.

The circumstances of his return tell a story different from the usual experiences of others in his age group.

Hussain was arrested on December 25 from a friend’s house. His last 10 months were spent at a juvenile correction centre. He was arrested for having been a part of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Except, Hussain says, he never attended even one protest against the CAA.

“We are a poor family, with not many resources. Our father is a plumber who somehow manages to pay our school fees and buy us books,” Hussain says. 

People in various districts of Uttar Pradesh had been vocal and had joined in during the countrywide protests against the CAA and National Register of Citizens. Police detained and arrested several people wherever protests turned violent. In many situations, those arrested or their families narrated horrific experiences that The Wire reported on here and here.

Women at the sit-in protest against the CAA at Lucknow’s Clock Tower. Photo: PTI

Hussain was no exception. One of the 25 accused named in FIR 947/2019 which was filed on December 19, 2019, Hussain was picked up at noon, taken to Thakurganj police station, and sent off to a juvenile correction centre within a matter of hours.

“I was not allowed to call my parents. They were not even informed of my arrest,” he says.

Filed in Thakurganj police station by sub-inspector Kailash Narayan Trivedi, the FIR charged him under 14 sections of the Indian Penal Code that cover a range of charges from rioting to voluntary hurt of public servant to criminal conspiracy. He was also charged under section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932.

Hussain was given bail on November 13, 2020 by a sessions court. 

Also read: Lucknow: Father of 18-Year-Old Jailed During CAA Protests Died of Trauma, Family Says

The first bail application in the case was filed in the juvenile justice court on September 15 but was dismissed on the grounds that if released, the minor could be a “threat” to the society. This order came after he had already been in jail for eight months. 

Aashma Izzat, a Lucknow-based advocate who secured Hussain’s bail, said that the order was arbitrary as it is in the best interest of minors to stay with parents instead of in jail. The next bail application was filed in the court of the district and sessions judge on September 29, 2020. The bail order came on November 13. 

Izzat has been working on several such cases pro bono. She said that the UP police had arbitrarily targeted and arrested Muslim youth for violence during the anti-CAA protest in December last year. “There was huge pressure on police to make arrests. To satisfy the state government, the police made random arrests. For five days, there were continuous arrests of Muslims in Lucknow,” said Izzat.

Aashma Izzat. Photo: Ismat Ara

She added that because it was a random arrest, police struggled to substantiate the chargesheet as no evidence could be found against Hussain. 

“The state, instead of protecting children, is acting against them. It has severely affected their mental health,” she said, citing the case of another accused, a young boy, who broke down in court. She added that some minors have also been illegally sent to district jails.

Hussain is among many who have been sent to jail for absolutely no offence, she says. 

Also read: Lucknow Families Recount a Night of Police Terror and Arrests

In the process, the teenager lost a precious academic year. “They said that I will not be admitted now, as I have missed the registration date,” he says.

Hussain passed his matriculation exams this year from Rajkiya Hussainabad Inter College in Lucknow. He was in the facility when his results came out. 

Even though he has lost a year, he hopes to join the Navy someday. 

Women with their children at the sit-in protest against the CAA at Lucknow’s Clock Tower. Photo: PTI

‘Illegal detention and torture of juveniles’

A report titled, ‘Brutalising Innocence – Detention, Torture and Criminalization of Minors by UP police to Quell Anti-CAA protests’, was first published by HAQ Centre for Child Rights on January 31 this year. The report alleged that several minors were illegally detained and tortured by police across the state, including in Lucknow. The report also mentioned Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor and Sambhal. 

On the basis of this fact-finding report, a petition was filed by HAQ. It read:

“The perusal of the aforesaid fact finding reports of the Petitioner highlights the actions of the UP police in illegally detaining minors and torturing them is in grave breach of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, and the Constitutional rights guaranteed to children under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21.” 

Last Tuesday, November 17, the Allahabad high court sought a reply from the Uttar Pradesh government while hearing the PIL alleging illegal detention and torture of juveniles during anti-CAA protests in the state in December last year. The NGO was represented by advocates Vrinda Grover, Soutik Banerjee and Tanmay Sadh.

Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Siddhartha Varma have asked the state to file all details relating to each and every district of the state with regard to the application of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The matter will now be heard on December 14. 

*Name withheld to protect the identity of the minor.

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