Stan Swamy Case Saw Rule By Law, Not Of Law; Scrapped Section 66A Still in Use

Plus: RSF rogues gallery features almost all of South Asia, Brazil didn’t give Covaxin EUA, Nilekani and digital monopolies, Mukesh recalls Yemen roots, Village Cooking Channel reaches 10 million

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
July 6, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Fresh evidence has emerged of individuals arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case having been targeted by unidentified hackers who inserted incriminating documents on their computers. A new report by the US-based Arsenal Consulting says it has evidence that lawyer Surendra Gadling’s computer was compromised. Last year, Arsenal showed how activist Rona Wilson’s computer had also been hacked. 

Reporters Sans Frontières has published its 2021 “predators of press freedom” list, a rogues’ gallery of 37 heads of state or government “who crack down massively on press freedom”. All nations of our neighbourhood are present and accounted for, except Nepal. Our head of government is labelled, “Predator since taking office” and “predatory method: national-populism and disinformation”. 

Conrad Sangma, chief minister of Meghalaya, has condoled the custodial death of Father Stan Swamy. 

Even as Indian military leaders bicker publicly over theatre commands, an updated visual on China’s Air Defence and Surveillance upgrades along the Line of Actual Control, combining old and new positions, tells us of the evolving infrastructure and the coverage that points to no decrease in the threat perception.

Reportedly, Infosys non-executive chairman Nandan Nilekani “is all set to join as an advisor to the government’s Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) to prevent digital monopolies.” The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) has issued an order stating that an advisory council would be constituted to advise the government on measures to design and accelerate the adoption of ONDC.

In an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court, the Modi government has said that Twitter has lost immunity from criminal prosecution for content hosted by it since it hasn’t complied with the IT Rules, which require it to appoint grievance redressal officers in India.

At the Qatar Economic Forum, Mukesh Ambani said he is more than just an Indian, because he was born in Yemen. referring to his father, he said that “he was always saying that I have Arabian blood. I know the importance of relations between India and all Arab countries.”

RJD leader and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav addressed political workers after a long time yesterday and attacked the Delhi and Patna governments: “GST and demonetisation as also corona have created an economic crisis. Now, there is also the threat of destroying the social fabric. After Ayodhya, some people are talking about Mathura.”

Abhijit Mukherjee, former Congress MP from Jangipur (the constituency of his father Pranab Mukherjee), has left his ‘dented, painted’ party and joined the Trinamool Congress. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has been spotted cycling down Chennai’s East Coast Road ―  that’s the scenic route down to Kanyakumari, via Mahabalipuram and Chidambaram. He is a regular cyclist, but this was his first day out as chief minister.  


EU repeatedly spoke for Stan Swamy

Eamon Gillmore, the EU Special Representative for human rights, has said that the EU had been repeatedly raising the case of Father Stan Swamy with the Indian authorities, keenly aware that he had been detained for nine months. Here is Father Cedric Prakash’s testimony about Father Stan Swamy, and why he was sent to prison. The Guardian and the New York Times have reported on his death, while the Economist Espresso is witheringly sharp. ‘Merciless’, it says.


Household debt worries

Household debt ― after taking into account retail loans, crop loans and business loans from financial institutions like commercial banks, credit societies, NBFCs and HFCs ― has sharply increased to 37.3% of GDP in FY21 from 32.5% of GDP in FY20, according to a new report from SBI: “The decline in bank deposits in FY21 and concomitant increase in health expenditure may result in a further increase in household debt to GDP in FY22.” 


Brazil didn’t give EUA to Covaxin

Controversy over a multi-million dollar deal between Brazil and Bharat Biotech ― for the import of 20 million doses of Covaxin ― refuses to go away. Now, according to reports, Brazil’s national health regulatory authority ANVISA says it had never actually granted Bharat Biotech emergency use authorisation. Last week Bharat Biotech emphatically denied any wrongdoing; the company said it had followed a “step-by-step” approach, and that “EUA (was) received on June 4”. It has now quietly changed those words on the website. Instead of EUA it says; “On 4th June, ANVISA authorized exceptional import of Covaxin vaccine by Ministry of Health for distribution and Use Under Controlled Conditions.”


Gupkar disappointed

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, comprising Kashmir-based political parties, has expressed its disappointment at the outcome of the PM’s all party meeting in Delhi, especially at the absence of any CBMs like releasing political and other prisoners, and the lack of concrete steps to end the alleged “atmosphere of suppression” that has “choked” J&K since 2019. It said that the Assembly elections should be held only after restoration of full statehood to J&K, and asked the BJP-led central government to honour its commitment made on the floor of Parliament.


The Long Cable

Stan Swamy’s custodial death ends charade of ‘Gandhi in London, Godse in Gwalior’

Seema Chishti

With a deep sense of pride, the late Chief Justice JS Verma used to recount how he saved India the embarrassment of having the UN Human Rights Commission evaluate the Gujarat killings of 2002. He told Mary Robinson that it was not necessary, as Indian institutions ― in this case, primarily the National Human Rights Commission, which he was heading ―  were on the job and had prepared a meticulous account of state failure and complicity. 

In the case of 84-year old Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy’s custodial death, India may have denied itself that luxury. A quick recap: No trial. No conviction. Father Stan Swamy was interrogated, then dragged to Taloja jail, away from his home in Ranchi in October 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, and held as an undertrial. He was denied a straw ― a Parkinsons’ patient, he couldn’t drink water without one ― and bail, despite telling the court that his functioning had been impaired by his time in jail. He was forcibly hospitalised, at his own cost. 

The point was that the state could do so, with the full support of a judiciary which allowed for 16 human rights lawyers, trade unionists, activists, writers and intellectuals to be kept in custody indefinitely despite there being no prospect of an imminent trial. The charges? Letters, which apparently establish a conspiracy to overthrow the elected government. In April, a US digital forensic firm provided evidence to the NIA that the so-called letters, at least 10 of them, on which this entire case rests, were planted by a computer attack on the laptop of one of those arrested, activist Rona Wilson, before he was taken into custody. Now, it turns out, evidence was also planted on Surendra Gadling’s phone.

In Father Stan’s case, the manner in which he has been accused and incarcerated leads to a single point – the intentions of the political project towards independent institutions, the law and minorities.

  • The rule by law, instead of law, is brought home forcefully by this case. The way the National Investigation Agency was brought in, the use of the notorious UAPA to lawfully but unconstitutionally name individuals as terrorists and violate their right to life and liberty, was a vivid illustration of the pattern at play. Use the law to attack and break down the rule of law.

  • The way institutions, especially the judiciary and the media, whose patriotic duty it is to question and interrogate breakdowns in the system and call them out, failed to stand up. This underlined how powerless not only Swamy, but every Indian, had become, without the right to recourse of any kind. The case supposedly involves the ‘overthrow’ of the Union government, which made it necessary to suspend the freedoms of so many people, but it is not important enough to be heard. After The Washington Post and The Reporters’ Collective reported on the findings of the US forensic firm Arsenal Consulting, its second report was submitted to the special NIA court on March 27, 2021. The matter is now before the Bombay High Court.

  • It is no coincidence that Father Stan Swamy is a Jesuit Priest in central India, where the Sangh Parivar has targeted missionaries. Despite demographic evidence to the contrary, paranoia is seen in several BJP states about ‘conversions’, and several anti-conversion laws have been rushed through, often as ordinances. The insensitivity of the Indian state is not indifference. It signals encouragement to the base of the ruling party.

Now, there are consequences. Observers overseas are seeing through the carefully crafted and duplicitous narrative, in which dissenters are quietly silenced at home while internationally, India pretends that Gandhi’s statues will continue to be built and Nehruvian liberalism will persist. Just last month, PM Modi told the G7 in a session titled ‘Open Societies and Open Economies’, according to the Foreign Ministry: “As the world’s largest democracy, India is a natural ally for the G7 and Guest Countries to defend shared values from authoritarianism, terrorism and violent extremism, disinformation and infodemics and economic coercion.” 

It’s a posture of strategic importance to Modi’s government, especially in the post-Trump world. The international media unsparingly held up the mirror to India during the callous handling of the pandemic, but the death of Father Stan concerns the fundamentals of democracy and may threaten membership of an international club, which this government so values. The European Union has spoken up and India will continue to face embarrassment at all international fora. 

The unconstitutionality of downgrading the status of J&K and making it the world’s largest open jail in a democracy may have just simmered and not hurt the ruling party’s quest for ‘Gandhi in London and Godse in Gwalior’ in the beginning. But there came a time when political gaslighting finally ceased to be an issue that could be ‘managed’ at home, often by not even hearing habeas corpus petitions or silencing by jailing public representatives, including three former chief ministers, under draconian laws. India is firmly ahead in certain global  rankings ― it’s the internet shutdown capital of the world. The global order immediately recognised Swamy’s custodial death as a violation of basic freedoms, which democracies must protect.

The farmers’ protest too finally caught public attention internationally when it became a free speech issue, as internet access was cut. Of what use would India be to the Western powers it is so anxious to be on the right side of, when its internal democratic environment resembles that of Turkey or Russia? 

The ghost of Justice JS Verma may not have won this round with the UNHRC. Father Stan Swamy lives on to fight another day.


Reportedly

Citing a “constitutional crisis”, the BJP removed its Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat only four months after he was sworn in. It is true that bypolls for two vacant seats in the state were unlikely to be held because Assembly polls are scheduled in less than a year. While the West Bengal state government has requested the Election Commission to hold bypolls, no such request was made by either the Uttarakhand government or the CM on the grounds that bypolls are necessary to meet the constitutional requirement, to allow Rawat to become a member of the Assembly in good time. Rawat, in fact, did not even resign from his Lok Sabha seat. Was the BJP scared of losing the bypoll in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha seat in the state? 


SC shocked: People still booked under long-defunct 66A 

The Supreme Court has said it is amazing and shocking that people are still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that was scrapped by the apex court verdict in 2015. A bench of Justices RF Nariman, KM Joseph and BR Gavai issued notice to the Centre on an application filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) after it was informed that as many as 745 cases under the long-defunct Section 66A of the IT Act are still pending before trial courts in 11 states.

“Don’t you think this is amazing and shocking? Shreya Singhal judgement is of 2015. It’s really shocking. What is going on is terrible,” the bench told senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for PUCL. Parikh said that despite express directions of the court in 2019 that all state governments should sensitise police personnel about the March 24, 2015 judgment, thousands of cases have been registered under the section. The bench said, “Yes, we have seen those figures. Don't worry, we will do something.”


Prime Number: 41.2
The country’s services Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 41.2 in June from 46.4 in May. A reading above 50 indicates expansion and below that threshold points to contraction. The latest reading points to the fastest rate of reduction since July 2020.

Dowry continues, in defiance of the law

In rural areas, the practice of dowry payments remains prevalent and the system has been largely stable over the past few decades, according to a World Bank study. Researchers looked at 40,000 marriages held across the rural areas of 17 states between 1960 and 2008. They found that dowry was paid in an overwhelming 95% of cases, though the regressive practice has been illegal since 1961.


Deep Dive

Anticipating arrest, Father Stan Swamy wrote a letter to NGOs and journalists last October from Bagaicha, his home near Ranchi, detailing questions that the National Investigation Agency had posed in his interrogation of 15 hours. He details the planting of fake evidence in his computer (as in Rona Wilson’s, which was forensically exposed by a third party), and notes that the questions had nothing to do with the Bhima Koregaon case, for which he was arrested, and only sought to establish Maoist links, which he denied. 


Reading, counting pushed back

The Union government has pushed back targets on literacy and numeracy by two years at least, since enough money has not been allocated. “No extra funds, money coming from Samagra Shiksha’s 20% lower budget,” says this report. The National Education Policy had included a 2025 deadline to achieve the goal, the Centre has pushed back the target date to 2026-27. The School Education Department says no additional funding is being allocated for the National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN Bharat).


Village Cooking Channel has 10 million subscribers 

Village Cooking Channel has crossed one crore subscribers, becoming the first Tamil YouTube channel to achieve this feat. Launched in April 2018, the creators received the ‘Diamond Play Button’ from YouTube for reaching this milestone. The channel is run by a group of youngsters from Chinna Veeramangalam in Pudukkottai, who come from a family of farmers. Subramanian, Ayannar, Tamilselvan, Muthumanickam and Murugesan, who are cousins, run the channel along with their grandfather, Periyathambi, who was a caterer. 

Thatha Periyathambi was the happiest after receiving the button. He said that in his several years as a caterer, he never received any recognition. But now, thanks to Youtube, everyone lovingly calls him Thatha and comments on his cooking. Rahul Gandhi’s appearance on the channel in February is a very popular video. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Naresh Fernandes writes that all Indians of conscience must demand that bail immediately be granted to Hany Babu, Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling, Ramesh Gaichor, Vernon Gonsalves, Sagar Gorkhe, Jyoti Jagtap, Gautam Navlakha, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Anand Teltumbde and Rona Wilson and that the National Investigation Agency present the evidence it has gathered in the Bhima Koregaon case for a trial in open court.

  • Rukmini S writes that the Civil Registration System is an imperfect system, yet one that journalists are having to turn to in the face of the continuing refusal of the Union government to engage with the issue of the true extent of mortality. Acknowledging the gaps in the system will help journalists, but does not minimise the magnitude of the crisis.

  • In “A Requiem for Father Stan Swamy”, Justice (retd) Madan B Lokur writes that the entire episode leaves behind a feeling that Swamy was virtually thrust a sentence of death without charges being framed against him, and without a trial.


Listen Up

How can we enter distant history and understand what happened? Language is a possible route. Peggy Mohan shares her insights on what the evolution of our languages reveals about how people and societies evolved.


Watch Out

Undertrial Jesuit priest Stan Swamy died in custody yesterday and will not be able to defend himself. But he spoke as early as in 2018 on the vacuity of the charges against him.


Over and Out

“Since 2008, a South Asian American kid has been named a champion at every Scripps bee. This year, two-thirds of the semifinalists were of South Asian descent, and at least nine of the 11 finalists are of South Asian descent. Over the past two decades, spelling bees tailored to South Asian children have proliferated. So have spelling bee coaching companies founded by South Asian Americans. Flyers for local bees are handed out at Indian supermarkets, and the activity is spread through word of mouth at temple events,” reports the New York Times.

Read from The Indian Memory Project on the telephone operators of Seventies Assam.

Al Jazeera has a feature on Kerala’s robotic leather puppets, where “technology meets tradition”. The sole keepers of this 300-year-old temple art form are looking for ways to save it from extinction.

And this pair of friends in Kerala has been wearing matching clothes for 25 years.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.