Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tehelka's take on the Godhra Train burning

It was the fire that supposedly started all the fires - the burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati express near Godhra station in 2002. The

Following my recent posts on Tehekla's sting operation on the rioters, many have asked the same question:

"Why doesn't Tehekla do a sting operation to find out what happened when the train coach burned?"

Well, Varun's comment told me that they did one on that too, and a little bit of googling brought up some interesting articles.

1. An article from 2005: A massacre that wasn’t? - The Banerjee Committee’s interim report reveals many holes in the police’s claims.

2. The more recent one [long article], including interviews done by the same reported who did the other sting operations:

I strongly encourage all, those who agree with my PoVs, and those who do not, to go through the entire article. Some excerpts.

The Provocation[s]: Testimonies by onlookers stating how there was a fight between a tea vendor and kar-sevaks, and that they also tried to abduct a muslim girl.

Tehelka's sting reporter meets a witness:
What exactly transpired between ASM Meena and the mob?

[Assistant Station Master (ASM) Harimohan Meena who was manning the cabin] is silent on the issue in his statement to the police. TEHELKA’s undercover reporter decided to meet him posing as a research scholar. Meena — not aware that he was talking to a journalist or being recorded — said that when he came down and asked the mob why they were chasing the train, a few people from the mob replied that one of their people had been abducted by the karsevaks on the train. Meena also said that he heard a few in the mob suggesting that the coach be set on fire to drive people out of the coach so they could recover their person. But he saw no swords, any other sharp weapon or inflammable material being carried by the mob. On the contrary, according to him, the mob mainly consisted of women and children carrying sticks and pelting stones.

Pre-meditated fire-setting, or mob gone out of control?
EMERGING CONTRADICTIONS: Was the mob carrying petrol and kerosene? Among survivors of coach S-6, only the karsevaks claim so

Neither Meena — the only official who witnessed the mob from close quarters — nor any of the survivors who were not karsevaks in S-6, like army man Pande and Rajendrasingh Rajput, saw any inflammable material like petrol, kerosene or diesel being carried by the mob. Nor did they see coach S-6 being set on fire. Satish Misra, a businessman in Vadodara who was travelling back with his family from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh on S-6, and who lost his wife in the blaze, says, “Upon hearing that there was stone pelting on the coach, we had closed the windows and doors... As there were fumes of smoke on account of the fire I could not see any people pelting stones or who set the coach on fire.”

Four among the surviving karsevaks of coach S-6, — Amrutbhai Patel, Dineshbhai Patel, Rambhai Patel and Nitinbhai Patel, all residents of Mehsana, all of whom had gone to give ahuti at the Ramjap Yagna at Ayodhya — too have stated in their first statements, recorded on March 8, 2002, that they had not seen anybody carrying inflammable material or setting the coach on fire. They said that they fell unconscious because of the smoke inside the coach.
The only people who claim to have seen the mob carrying inflammable material are some of the karsevaks in S-6 who survived and karsevaks in other coaches. Interestingly, all these karsevaks admit that they had shut the doors and windows of their coaches because of the heavy stone pelting, yet in the same breath they claim they saw the mob armed with all kinds of inflammable material.

Please note that Tehelka chose to report on impartial witnesses also, though they could have easily not reported on that. They do not say that the mob did not start the fire, but there are valid questions about the use of fuels like kerosene.

AN IMPARTIAL EYE: Was there any neutral survivor, not a karsevak but an ordinary passenger, from coach S-6 who saw any possible source of fire?

The answer is yes. A family of four — Lallan Prasad Chaurasiya, his wife Jankiben, their 13- year-old son Gyan Prakash, and a toddler Rushabh — were aboard coach S-6. The Chaurasiyas were travelling back from their native town of Allahabad and had two reserved seats in coach S-6 — seats number 8 and 72.

However, karsevaks had occupied seat number 72, so the entire family travelled on seat number 8. Later they all shifted to seat number 6. This is what 13-year-old Gyan Prakash said in his statement recorded on March 4, 2002: “Because of the stone pelting, people in the coach had closed the windows and doors of the coach. However, the stone pelting continued on our coach and as a result the windowpanes were broken. Before the iron window could be closed, some burning substance had come inside and immediately there was black smoke inside the coach. Seeing this, I immediately told my mother to get out of the train along with my sister’s son, Rushabh.
Gyan Prakash’s parents, both Lallan Prasad and Jankiben, corroborated that some burning substance had fallen in through a window and after that black smoke had filled the coach. None of the Chaurasiyas however said that they saw the mob carrying petrol or kerosene or containers filled with inflammable liquid.

There is much more detail in the article, and I once again recommend you all to read it for yourself. A final link to the section about the truth about some key witnesses is in order though.

So, what is the conclusion of this investigation of Tehelka into the train burning incident itself?

THE MOOT QUESTION: A pre-planned conspiracy or a spontaneous riot?

A detailed study of statements and eye-witness accounts, like the one above, clearly suggests that the burning of coach S-6 was an instance of spontaneous vandalism that snowballed out of control. Provoked by the attempted abduction and the karsevaks’ fight with Muslim hawkers at the station, the hawkers began to pelt stones at the train, and then, as the mob gathered strength and force, someone in the mob eventually threw burning rags into the coach that started the fire.

Before my detractors say, "Aha! Now you call the burning of the train a spontaneous mob act, but refuse to acknowledge that the following riots were the same too.", I would like to make one thing clear -- the killing of innocent people is a crime, no matter what the justification, and I would like the real culprits in that train-burning mob brought to justice as much as I would like to see those baby-burning Hindu fanatic b*stards hanged.

Also, there is a lot of evidence [unless you didn't see the videos] that the riots were incited by the state govt itself, which had been given the task of protecting its populace; and that is what I have the biggest problem with. Feel free to post your questions of my choice of focus in the comments, and I will be happy to answer them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Answers to common comments on Tehelka's sting operation

Adding to the post I made a couple days ago about Tehelka's recent string operation, here is Abi's excellent post summarizing responses to the most common attacks on the sting operation itself. Included is the response to "Why not investigate situations when Hindus were killed".

'nuf said.. please read the post by Abi:-).

Friday, October 26, 2007

See. And Be Afraid

The Tehekla guys have done it again. One of their reporters went undercover as a researcher on hindu resurgance, and got to talk to the a lot of people involved in the Godhra riots. In true Tehelka style, he was wearing button cameras, and got stunning confessions on tape.

Editor-in-chief Taun Tejpan writes in his editorial:
Of the many things that are uniquely appalling about Gujarat 2002, three are particularly disturbing. The first that the genocidal killings took place in the heart of urban India in an era of saturation media coverage — television, print, web — and not under the cloak of secrecy in an unreachable place. The second that the men who presided over the carnage were soon after elected to power not despite their crimes but seemingly precisely because of them (making a mockery of the idea of the inevitable morality of the collective). And finally — as TEHELKA’s investigation shows — the fact that there continues to be no trace of remorse, no sign of penitence for the blood-on-the-hands that — if Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky are to be believed — is supposed to haunt men to their very graves.

Like Germany and Italy once, Gujarat begs many questions. How do a non-militant people suddenly acquire a bloodthirsty instinct? Does affluence not diminish the impulse to savagery? Does education not diminish the impulse to bigotry? Do the much-vaunted tenets of classical Hinduism not diminish the impulse to cruelty? If tolerance and wisdom will not flourish in a garden of well-being and learning, in the very land of Mahatma Gandhi, then is there any hope for these things at all?

The following videos made me sick to the stomach, but hey, the truth _is_ bitter.

Babu Bajrangi: A local Bajrang Dal leader and one of the main conspirators.

Ramesh Dave: VHP's point man who planned attacks on Muslims in Kalupur and Dariyapur

Arvind Pandya: State Counsel appointed by the Narendra Modi government to defend it before the Nanavati-Shah Commission

The sceptics will ask - "Why now? Isn't this a Congress ploy just before the elections?". I say it very well can be, but does that change the gruesome nature of these crimes? [Also, Tarun slams the central govt for its spinelessness too, and I don't like the congress for what they did in the Delhi riots either.] And please do not give me the "muslims killed so many hindus in the medieval times, so what if we killed some now" line -- last time I checked this was not the middle ages, and we had something called due process.

Or perhaps, I am wrong, and as Tarun says in his editorial:
Is it possible that contrary to all the hoopla we may have already lived out the high tide of our democracy? Many Indians may get richer and richer but as a people — a deep civilisation — we will now only get poorer and poorer? Is it possible that a country sprung from the vision of giants can now only sustain small men with small concerns? Once a few good men shaped a modern egalitarian nation out of a devastated colony; are there none now to staunch the rot?

Too shocked to write more...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

There is a hole in the sky ...

... through which things can fly!
I am talking about Portal, the latest game from the creators of Half-Life.

Here is the video trailer:

I have loved Half-life, as opposed to Quake or Doom or Unreal, because I love solving puzzles, and I love the first-person perspective. Even right now, I am at a stage in Half-life 2 where I have to kill a lot of zombies, and that is something I am not really interested in.

Portal, for me, provides the best part of half-life, namely the physics and realism in a first-person perspective, without the bloodshed. I am seriously thinking of spending the $19.95 for this game.

But wait, there is more! The good people at Primotech have modded Half-life to be played with the portal gun enabled. More details, and a video are here.

And for those who want to get a feel of the game, but for free, there is the flash version of portal. One of the best things is that you retain momentum while jumping through portals - so if you jump from high above into a portal, you come out of the other end with the same momentum [and kinetic energy]. This can be used to jump very high :-). [I know this sounds confusing. Post a comment if you want me to explain further, or better, play the flash game for a few levels :-)]

Finally, credit is due to the guys at User Friendly, who have been running comic strips on this topic for some days now, sufficiently so to prompt me to look it up on wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sex, Truths and Videotape

Today I came across this wonderful desi educational video [careful: video is very explicit in places] about safe-sex. [hat tip to Abi]

The video is in Telugu, but with english subtitles. The cooler part is, they do not shy away from topics such as feminine condoms, and the need for condoms by gay men. I wonder if they are already showing it on regional TV :-).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How to turn a sphere inside out

Abi posted an entry about this wonderful educational video about how to turn a sphere inside out.
[If it says "video not available", refresh the page. Worked for me :-)]

I love the graphics, and the way they have explained these concepts. And yes, once again, my subscription to Abi's blog's feed pays off :-).

P.S. AIS Garba tonight!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Coal-bear is running for office!

.... well.. at least in South Carolina.

He gave a glimpse of it here:

and then followed it with the following:

I would love to see him in the debates - esp since he is running both as a republican and a democrat :-).

In fact, if he runs for the full country, and some cool techie people get hell bent on showing how vulnerable the e-voting in USA is, he might just pull off a Man of the Year ;-).

P.S. In other news, Sanjay Dutt meets a combination of the pink panther and wiley coyote in the movie Chatur Singh Two Star -- why can't they be original!! Think of Shikari Shambhu.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How to talk to children

I love the NPR series This American Life. And since I have recently discovered the joy of downloading podcasts on iTunes at home, I added the show to my list.

This weeks episode was about talking to children, and how adults make mistakes when talking to them. You can listen to it here.

The show starts with a number of children talking about what they hate about adults' conversations with them ("Why is it always - 'How's school?' - don't they have anything else to talk about?"). It then goes into the story of two stand-up comics who had to create a show for 11 year olds. If you have seen any stand up comedy here, you know why that can be tough. The part where they talk to the kids after the show is done is pretty revealing.

Act two is about Sex. They interview the editors of Sex, Etc., a national magazine for teenagers. Then they go into the story of what happened when a mother learned that her daughter was having sex.

Finally, they explore the 'benefits' of yelling at children.

Having had interactions with 7-12 year olds recently [kids of friends, cousins], I understand how tough it can be to interact with kids that age, and loved the show. Strongly recommended listening.

P.S. Do NOT watch Bhool Bhulaiya.. terrible movie.. I came out sad, pained and angry
P.P.S. The radio show is here, in case you missed the link :-).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mottainai Grandma's coming - finish your rice!

NPR's morning edition is always amazing. Today's cool post was about the Mottainai Grandma comics, which use the old granny to teach the message of no wastage.

From the article:
Mottainai roughly translates as "Don't waste." In the drawings, Grandma looks a little stern with her hair up in a bun and cane in hand. And there's no avoiding her eyes.

"Mottainai!" she says to her grandson, who is brushing his teeth. "One cup of water is enough!"

I strongly recommend reading the post and listening to it. It is a very good look into the current Japanese situation - where people are trying to reconcile their desire to get new things, while trying not to waste.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Onions, Tears and Blood

MS sent me this article today, about the various sides of the onion price hike. Not the best written article, but very moving nevertheless.

From the article:

When I had gone to cover the first onion farmers' suicide in rural Nashik, I was very directly questioned by a village boy, " you do go to the urban housewives to see their problems when onion prices go high then why don't you come to us when it falls to Rs1 per kg?" And I had no answer.

Some parts of the article reminded of the story of potato growers from Fast Food Nation here in the USA.

As per the law, [the farmers] have to bring the produce...at their cost...to the APMC's pay for weighing, grading, loading/unloading...and sell at the pre-managed auctions in the APMC's. The traders form a ring among themselves and decide that none of them is going to bid for more than a certain price...the farmers face an auction with a pre-determined bid price...thus the prices are made to fall. If you remember...for the past 3 seasons, the prices in the APMC's were kept as low as Rs 1.50 per kg but the retail prices were never below Rs 9 per kg.

And then this..

Also, the government gives subsidies to those farmers who build a facility to store onions...this costs nearly Rs2 lacs and hence only the rich afford to build this. More than 60 per cent of the onion farmers are small land owners and they simply can't afford. So even this time, the rich farmers who could store the summer crop are minting money today but still the 60 per cent of the farmers have not benefited.

The above sure reminds me of the US taxation system, where the rich employers get tax breaks in the name of fostering innovation and creating jobs.

I really wish I could do something about the situation

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Birthday Bapu!

Today is Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday in India, in honor of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. It is also commemorated as the International Day of Non Violence now [thanks for the tip RM!].

As a kid, I used to hate him, for postponing India's independence by 5 years by stopping the quit India movement after the violence. However, over the years, I have begun to appreciate the power of non-violence, and the risks of using violence as a tool for getting one's demands met. For one, violent struggle often involves killing people, and someone always survives to get back at you! There are no such risks in a non-violent struggle.

I still do not know much about the man himself, and have not seen the "Mahatma vs Gandhi" play or the movie based on it, but I _do_ like the non-violence idea. I have issued his autobiography from the library recently, and am looking forward to reading it.

One of my favorite bapu songs is दे दी हमें आज़ादी (de di humein azaadi) written by the great poet Pradeep. Here is a video for you all [lyrics in indic and roman scripts]: