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How the situation in Kashmir is slipping out of hand

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By RAHIBA R. PARVEEN

Last month, Firdousa was at home in Shadimarg village in south Kashmir, awaiting the birth of her third child, which was due in about three months. Now, Firdousa and her unborn child lie buried in a nearby graveyard, leaving behind a grieving husband and two distraught children.

Firdousa was killed in a cross-fire outside her home in Pulwama district on 19 October, another victim of the rising violence in the Valley.

 

Cold, hard numbers show that since the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, there has been a 70 per cent rise in civilian deaths. There have also been sharp increases in violence, killings, and the feeling of alienation among the masses. The space for mainstream politics has shrunk, and border skirmishes have hit a new high.

The overall number of killings — including civilians, security forces personnel, policemen and militants — has almost tripled from 117 in 2012 to 304 so far this year.

The number of civilians killed has more than tripled in these six years; the number of security personnel killed has quadrupled. Among these personnel, the number of policemen being killed has shown the steepest increase — from four in 2012 to 43 and counting this year.

The 21 October grenade explosion that killed seven civilians in Kulgam was part of the growing trend of grenade attacks in the Valley — the number of such attacks has risen from 27 in 2012 to 49 in 2017.

All this seems to have had an adverse impact on tourism in Kashmir — from 13.09 lakh visitors in 2012, the number nosedived to just 7 lakh until September this year, with not much time left for an upswing in fortunes.

Meanwhile, the number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan has risen nearly 15-fold in the last six years, with 2018’s mark of 1,591 (so far) being almost double the number registered in 2017, which itself was almost double the violations in 2016.

These violations have resulted in a mounting number of security personnel casualties. Infiltration attempts from across the international border and the Line of Control have also jumped from 222 in 2014 to 406 in 2017.

Academic Radha Kumar, who was part of the Dileep Padgaonkar-led interlocutor panel for Kashmir formed in 2010, told ThePrint that the situation had indeed got out of hand.

“The armed militancy is back, and so is the alienation and the anger. There is popular support (for the militants), not only through mass funerals, but people coming to try and block security forces’ operations,” Kumar said.

“It doesn’t help that you have Governor’s Rule. You have the suspended assembly. You have very little insight and no peace initiative. No attempts to have talks.

“There is no doubt that Kashmir has slipped out of hand, but there are many reasons for it. The time at which we were appointed (after violent protests and riots in 2010) was also very bad. But there is something exponentially wrong about the situation now.”

The state’s former director general of police, Shesh Paul Vaid, concurred on the point of alienation.

“When the national media portrays every Kashmiri as anti-national, it alienates people of the Valley. When Kashmiris studying outside are attacked, it leads to alienation. If media picks up one problem and portrays it in certain way, it alienates the youth,” said Vaid.

Unlike in the 1990s, this wave of local militancy is being fed by social media, said Vaid. Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani used it to pose with guns in several viral pictures and videos. After Wani was killed in an encounter in 2016, educated young men picked up guns without taking any formal training.

“After Burhan Wani, social media was misused extensively from across the border to radicalise the youth. Alienation is also a contributing factor. Now, it is happening at a bigger scale,” Vaid told ThePrint.

When the PDP-BJP government was ruling the state, security forces announced a “soft approach” towards militants — according to Vaid, about 70 boys were prevented from joining the militancy and 20-odd surrendered.

However, Vaid himself was transferred and replaced as J&K DGP by Dilbagh Singh after militants demanded a quid pro quo, kidnapping policemen’s kin to secure the release of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo’s father.

A top police officer in the J&K Police said the recruitment of militants had dropped significantly in the last two months. “This year, the total number of local militants killed is around 96 so far. The number of commanders killed is also much higher,” the officer said.

The last J&K assembly elections were held in the winter of 2014, about six months after the Lok Sabha polls that brought the BJP to power at the Centre. The Valley was devastated after massive flooding in September that year, and yet, a staggering 66 per cent of voters exercised their franchise.

Contrast that with the numbers registered during the recent urban local body (ULB) polls — the Kashmir Valley saw turnouts of 8.3, 3.4, 3.49 and 4.2 per cent in the four phases respectively. The overall voting percentage for the state, including the Jammu and Ladakh regions, was just 35.1 per cent.

The state’s oldest mainstream political party, the National Conference, has blamed former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti of the rival Peoples Democratic Party for being “insensitive” to the people during her coalition government with the BJP, which it believes has resulted in this alienation of the people.

NC spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq said Mehbooba relied so much on New Delhi that the state was “run by the Centre”, not her.

Party chief and former CM Omar Abdullah also blamed the now-defunct PDP-BJP alliance, and said the country needs to question Prime Minister Narendra Modi for mishandling the state.

“It is something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to be made answerable for. You inherited a state where elections were regularly held on time and with people’s participation,” Abdullah had told ThePrint in an interview.

Incidentally, the PDP and the NC both boycotted the ULB polls, with Mehbooba going as far as to say that people who participated in these elections were “rogue elements” lured by money.

Her former partner BJP claimed victory in these polls because, for the first time, it won 100 local body seats in the Kashmir Valley. However, the numbers told a different story — 76 of these seats featured no contest at all, while in two seats, even its own candidates stayed away from the polling booths.

On its part, the BJP blamed every political party to have held power before it for “appeasement policies”.

“It is because of the previous governments and their appeasement policies that militancy increased. It is because of them the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave,” said former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta.

Asked about the low turnout in the ULB polls, Gupta insisted on looking at the proverbial bright side. “For the first time, elections were held so peacefully. We are hoping more people will participate in the panchayat elections in November,” he said.

In 2014, while the Modi wave was sweeping through large swathes of the country, people in Muslim-majority Kashmir were wary of “saffron forces”. The BJP used the Hindu-versus-Muslim ploy in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, and people flocked to vote for it.

Mehbooba, on the other hand, asked for a pro-PDP vote in the Valley to keep the BJP away from state politics in the assembly polls later that year. She pinned many wrongs — such as the killing of young boys and the use of pellets during the 2010 unrest — on Omar Abdullah’s incumbent government.

No one at the time could’ve guessed that the PDP would give the BJP a taste of power for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, Mehbooba, whose late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed forged the alliance with the BJP in 2015, said: “Mufti sahib took a very tough and unpopular decision to align with the BJP only to create (an) atmosphere of reconciliation and dialogue.” However, she said the attempt to recreate some of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s magic had failed, because “Modi is no Vajpayee”.

The parties’ ‘Agenda of Alliance’ — a common minimum programme they were supposed to work towards — is virtually a lost document.

However, BJP’s Gupta blamed the break-up on the PDP. “We made the government with PDP respecting the mandate we got and based it on governance. But the moment they began running government on their whims, we decided to withdraw,” he said.

On the financial front, Prime Minister Modi’s first address in Kashmir, at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in November 2015, saw the announcement of a mega financial package of Rs 80,000 crore for the state. However, this package was for specific projects.

Fast-forward three years, and the man in charge of J&K, new governor Satya Pal Malik, says many other projects are stuck due to a lack of money, and that the government has had to borrow Rs 8,000 crore in bank loans.

“We have made a list of projects stuck due to lack of money. We have made a development corporation and picked up Rs 8,000 crore from banks. In six months, you will see a different Kashmir,” Malik insisted.

Many politicians and pundits have referred to the central government’s approach towards Kashmir as “muscular”, but the BJP’s Gupta rubbishes these claims.

“There is no such thing called ‘muscular’ policy. Our security forces show full restraint,” he said.

Yet, civilians continue to allege the use of excessive force by security personnel.

The use of pellets has allegedly led to a generation of blinded youngsters — the state human rights commission’s own statistics say there are over 2,000 pellet victims currently in J&K.

Then, there are cordon and search operations (CASO) across the Valley, mostly in residential areas, which are allegedly followed by encounters and killings.

The Army denies such allegations, with defence spokesperson Rajesh Kalia saying its policy is to give local militants the chance to surrender. However, if the militants refuse to budge, the encounter takes place, which leads to damage to property.

According to official data accessed by IndiaSpend, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district alone, at least 105 homes were destroyed during gunfights between 2015 and March 2018.

In October last year, the Centre appointed a new interlocutor for Kashmir, former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma. He said he had the mandate to talk to anybody in Kashmir, including the Hurriyat Conference.

However, Sharma has since met only one Hurriyat leader, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, although he has visited all three regions of the state and met various civil society delegations, including youth.

The sticking point is the Hurriyat’s demand to include all stakeholders, including Pakistan, and transparency and a clear agenda from New Delhi.

BJP’s Gupta said there was no need to speak to Hurriyat or Pakistan. “Why should we talk to Pakistan and about what? Kashmir belongs to us and the part which Pakistan has occupied also belongs to us,” he said.

Governor Malik, meanwhile, said the Hurriyat were “important players”, but their insistence on bringing Pakistan to the discussion table had to be discarded.

“I respect Hurriyat leaders and think they are important players. My contention is that they say ‘talk to Pakistan’, which should not be the case. Pakistan is no stakeholder; it is a troublemaker. We think talks with Hurriyat are separate, while we will deal with Pakistan separately,” he said.

Asked what the solution to this worsening crisis was, Radha Kumar said there was no other way but dialogue and reconciliation.

Vaid stressed that a “whole government” approach was needed to bring the situation under control.

“It has to be fought on multiple fronts. It needs a whole government approach, not just leaving things to the security forces. Everyone, including the state and the Centre, has to play a role,” said Vaid.

NC’s Omar Abdullah put the onus to find the solution on those in power — the state governor, the National Security Advisor, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

“They need to first be able to accept that there is something wrong. You need to first diagnose the problem and then treat it. In this case, they are living in denial about the very existence of problem,” he said.

PDP’s Mehbooba, on the other hand, advocated a more neighbourly approach towards Pakistan.

“India has to learn to accept Pakistan as a country, as was done by Vajpayee. We need to work on these similarities rather than contradictions, and build a relationship of if not friends, at least normal neighbours… which will change the atmosphere here in the Valley.

“All this has to be followed by other confidence building measures on the ground, like less crackdowns and ending other means of harassment of people.”

(Courtesy: theprint.in)


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Opinion

The Sri Lanka attacks: New front, old wounds

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Mario Arulthas

The attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday for many brought back memories of the long ethnic war, which came to a bloody conclusion 10 years ago in May. Although the Sri Lankan authorities are yet to identify the perpetrators, it appears the attacks are of a different nature, one fuelled by global dynamics, rather than a response to local communal grievances. Despite this, the violence is bound to exacerbate already-deep ethnic and religious fault lines, increasing existing tensions and possibly fuelling further violence.

After 1948, newly independent Sri Lanka embedded a virulent form of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in the formation of the state. This ethos, in simple terms, holds that the entire island is home to Sinhala Theravada Buddhism and that minorities are invaders, who will be tolerated if they accept Sinhala hegemony. Any threats (perceived or real) to the Sinhala identity of the country are attacked resolutely.

 

This revealed itself in racially and linguistically discriminatory policies as constitutions were written, making non-Sinhala communities second-class citizens. To this day, Sri Lanka’s constitution places Buddhism above other religions, assigning the state the responsibility “to protect and foster” Buddhism.

The entrenched Sinhala Buddhist nature of the state manifests itself in its institutions, particularly those linked to security. For example, the military rank and file is almost entirely Sinhala Buddhist. Some of its units, like the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment, are named after ancient Sinhala kings, famed for defeating Tamil “invaders”.

Increasingly violent reprisals by the state against peaceful demands for autonomy and equal rights by Tamils from the 1950s to the 1970s eventually led the Tamil population to seek an independent homeland in the island’s northeast, home to the Tamil Hindu and Christian populations and the Tamil-speaking Muslim groups.
A low-level trench war escalated into a full-blown war in 1983, after the Black July pogroms, in which Sinhala mobs killed thousands of Tamils, looting and burning their properties in the Sinhala-majority south of the country.

During the war, the Sri Lankan military routinely targeted civilians, killing tens of thousands. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil group that emerged most prominently and enjoyed widespread support, deployed suicide bombers in the south of the country with devastating effects.

Meanwhile, tensions between Tamils and the Muslim Tamil-speaking community, who, in many cases, do not identify as ethnic Tamils, increased, marked by violence and massacres by both the LTTE and Muslim paramilitaries. In 1990, the LTTE expelled some 100,000 Muslims from the Northern Province, furthering the divide between the communities.

Throughout the war the Sri Lankan military repeatedly bombed churches and Hindu temples sheltering Tamil civilians; in 1995 an air attack on a church in Jaffna killed around 147 people. While those attacks were not religiously motivated per se, they portrayed the state’s willingness to attack places of worship.

After three decades, during which the LTTE was able to establish a de facto state, the Sri Lankan military crushed the movement, in a brutal crescendo of violence. The United Nations says there could have been over 40,000 deaths during this last phase, while some activists say the figure is closer to 140,000.

To this day, impunity reigns for the crimes committed during the war, despite international pressure for an accountability mechanism and demands by the Tamil community for an international war crimes tribunal. Hundreds of family members of Tamils forcibly disappeared during and after the war by state forces have been protesting and demanding answers. UN officials have warned that impunity may further increase violence in Sri Lanka.

Since 2009, the attention of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists turned to the minority Muslim and Christian communities. While the security forces maintained an iron grip on the Tamil population, Sinhala Buddhist mobs started attacking Muslim and Christian populations repeatedly. In 2018, there were anti-Muslim riots in Kandy and dozens of attacks against Christians. A report by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said extremist elements were able to influence entire communities and lead violent attacks against places of worship and people. Only last week, a church was attacked during Palm Sunday mass.

Muslim and Christian communities in Sri Lanka have responded with remarkable restraint to Sinhala nationalist violence in the past – also because they saw the potential repercussions to them in the brutality unleashed on Tamils by the state in response to their own resistance.

However, the attacks on Easter Sunday do not appear to be a response to past Sinhala Buddhist violence. The perpetrators did not target Sinhala Buddhist, but Christian institutions and tourism infrastructure.

While many Tamil Christians were supportive and sympathetic to the Tamil armed movement, as a whole, Christians as a religious community were not antagonistic to other communities. As such, to see this in the vein of an escalation of existing violence against the Christian community in Sri Lanka would be a mistake. These attacks are likely a hitherto unseen dimension to tensions, a new front of violence in Sri Lanka.

After the Sunday attacks, the tensions that already exist are likely to deepen. Already hate speech is circulating on Sinhala-language social media. There are also reports of reprisals against Muslims, as a number of Sri Lankan officials have said that a little known Muslim fighter group might be responsible for the attacks.

Relations between Tamils and Muslims are also likely to suffer. The choice to conduct an attack in Batticaloa, a Tamil-majority town on the east coast, far from Colombo, may not be a coincidence. The town, and the district it is located in, saw some of the worst Tamil-Muslim violence during the war years. The St Anthony church in Colombo is also one that is frequented by a large Tamil congregation. Consequently, there are serious concerns among Tamil and Muslim civil society in Batticaloa of a flare-up of violence.

While tensions are high in the aftermath of the attack, the propensity of the state to respond with repression must be prevented. The existing draconian counterterrorism legislation has been used to violently repress communities, while journalists and activists continue to face harassment and surveillance. On April 22, President MaithripalaSirisena also declared national emergency, which gives the military sweeping powers.

While those responsible must face justice, a similar crackdown and harassment of minority populations in response to the attacks must be avoided. Otherwise, Sri Lanka risks furthering existing divides and paving the path to renewed violence.

In order for sustainable peace to be established on the island, the underlying reasons for the discrimination against minority communities must be confronted by the majority. In the absence of that, a whole 10 years after the end of the war, Sri Lanka’s future continues to look bleak and minority communities will continue to live on the edge.

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Opinion

Is Election Commission Toothless or Timid?

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Kalyani Shankar

It was left to the Supreme Court to prod the Election Commission to realise the extent of its powers recently.

After the court pulled up the commission for its inaction against political hate speeches, the commission told the court, “We found we have powers!”

 

After the court reprimand, the EC wielded its powers this week and enforced campaign bans as a punishment on four leaders in UP, including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party for different periods, for the offensive remarks they made in the last few days.

For some time now, the role of the Election Commission has come under scanner. There is a debate on its perceived failure to check violations of the Model Code of Conduct and ensure a level playing field for the ruling and opposition parties.

It raises the question whether the EC has no teeth or is the EC being timid? It is significant to note that ahead of the ongoing LokSabha polls, 66 former bureaucrats, in a letter to the President on April 8, had expressed concern over the working of the Commission. They wrote that the EC’s independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are perceived to be compromised today.

The evolution of the poll panel has been quite fascinating. While until 1989, it was a single-member commission, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made it into a multi -member one on October 16, 1989, as he was not quite happy with the then Chief Election Commissioner and wanted to clip his powers.

This had given the government enough space to put its own nominees but they had a very short tenure only till January 1, 1990.

Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao again made it into a three-member commission on October 1, 1993 and since then the multi-member panel has been in operation.

Looking back, it is clear that if the EC decides, it has adequate powers to curb the money power, muscle power and other irregularities as demonstrated by its tenth Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan. Pleading for electoral reforms, some of his successors like SY Quereshi and Linghdo have also demonstrated their determination to act.

Seshan proved to be the greatest ringmaster of the great Indian electoral circus in a country where nearly 90 crore voters will exercise their franchise this year. He made the EC powerful within the existing laws.

Appointed by Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, he served as a dreaded CEC from 1990 to 1996. Even today, Seshan is cited as a shining example of what a CEC should be.

Even the Supreme Court once told the Commission to aspire for the kind of credibility it enjoyed during Seshan’s days.

Why do people remember a CEC who was being described as a maverick? Seshan’s story is indeed fascinating.

An IAS topper of the 1955 batch, he had once told an interviewer. “I had never conducted an election. I went with two principles: zero delay and zero deficiency.”

He followed both throughout his tenure. He wielded the big stick and implemented the election manual in letter and spirit. Due to his strict policies he was even called “Al Seshan.”

Some of his major achievements include implementation of the election process and the Model Code of Conduct, introduction of voter ID cards, enforcing limits on poll expenses, and elimination of several malpractices like distribution of liquor, bribing voters, ban on wall writing, use of loud speakers, use of religion in election speeches etc.

He introduced election observers and also forced the candidates to keep accurate accounts of campaign expenses.

Seshan took many bold measures. For instance, under his strict watch, a serving Governor who campaigned for his son had to resign. The Chief Secretary of UP was taken to task for issuing an advertisement in a newspaper at the cost of public exchequer.

He recommended to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to sack two of his ministers – SitaramKesri and KalpanathRai – for allegedly influencing the voters, but Rao did not act. In 1992, the Left parties even called for his impeachment.

The question then that arises is – has the EC performed well in the past seven decades?

While the successes have not been consistent or uniform, the EC has conducted 16 general elections in a free and fair manner. However, it is clear that there is need for more electoral reforms and more transparency.

Even during this elections, political parties all across the country have been brazenly violating the poll code, whether it is using religion to seek votes, or Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh’s campaign to support the Prime Minister or UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s describing the army as ‘Modijikesena.’ These seem to indicate the ineffectiveness of the EC to contain the political class.

While we have to wait for a full assessment of the EC’s role in 2019, as of now Supreme Court’s prodding might help the EC to wield its powers more frequently. Undoubtedly, the EC has an unenviable job of not only organising the massive exercise but also ensure that it is held in a free and fair manner.

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Opinion

Heritage of hex and curse

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Jawed Naqvi

Puting a curse on people and on ancient gods is a human heritage that straddled civilisations and underpinned their mythologies. This unreason has somehow survived in 21st-century India to be propagated by tantrics often with official patronage on TV — not very different from voodoo-practising witch doctors holding sway in swathes of Africa.

Saffron-robed Pragya Thakur says she killed HemantKarkare with her curse because the late policeman tortured her for alleged terrorism. There are two ways this could have come about. First, the official version of how the head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorist squad was laid low on the fateful night of the terror attack on the city in 2008. AjmalKasab shot the heroic officer from close range for which he was hanged.

 

In other words, Thakur’s angry hex on Karkare induced the young terrorist to travel by sea and, like a heat-seeking missile colliding with its target, he was guided by a force beyond his knowledge to fulfil the mandate of a distant curse.

The other view, albeit discussed mostly in whispers, is the claim by the former inspector general of Maharashtra police S.M. Mushrif. He has questioned the official narrative in his book, Who Killed Karkare? Mushrif suggested instead that powerful enemies, led by fans of NathuramGodse, lured Karkare into an ambush since he was investigating their communally inspired acts of terror. They used the cover of the carnage and contrived a parallel plot to get rid of Karkare in the chaos.

In either case, Thakur’s curse would seem to have homed in on its target, promptly and accurately. It is another matter that the veracity of Thakur’s belief would not hold before India’s constitutional mandate, which nudges citizens to “develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.

Hindu mythology like other mythologies is replete with examples of curses by myriad gods and sages that transform humans into stones, and so on. Such stories appeared in all major civilisations, but their people now treat mythologies as mythologies, nothing less nothing more.

Celebrated documentary-maker AnandPatwardhan has created a riveting TV serial (available on YouTube) on the subject. It’s called Vivek or Reason, which focuses on the grim battle between obscurantism and rational reasoning in India. Pragya Thakur like Godse-hugging Hindutva colleagues in the documentary subscribes to one set of people while an amazing group of men and women have dedicated their lives to the eradication of superstition and blind faith from the Indian milieu.

It’s an old struggle though, one in which B.G. Tilak and M.G. Ranade, two feisty Brahmins, took opposite sides in the fight for reason. Tilak was the regressive icon, while Ranade was greatly respected by leading social reformer Ambedkar. Patwardhan has pegged his narrative to the cold-blooded murders of popular rationalists NarendraDabholkar, GovindPansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and journalist GauriLankesh by revivalist groups not dissimilar to the ones Pragya Thakur may be identified with.

A most useful tool is this documentary to grasp the fraught consequences for Indian democracy should people like Thakur and far too many others of her flock win the elections for parliament currently under way.

NajmanBua told us with certainty decades ago that Diwali was an occasion when people practised black magic to get even with their rivals. (‘Wokalajadujagaawathain’.) A method was to float a paper lantern with chilly powder, to fly to the targeted person, who would suffer great harm when the lantern landed. Of course, this sounds improbable, which it surely is, but thumb through the works of John Campbell Oman, the British Indologist from early 20th century. Oman has been usefully cited in a collection of essays in historian David Hardiman’s Histories of the Subordinated.

Another book by Hardiman, Feeding the Baniya, has disappeared from bookstores as books critical of wily business practices tend to. The moneylender was one of the most ardent practitioners of black magic and the widely prevalent institution of the hex. That was how he believed he could keep the peasants in constant need of his favours and thus of his greedy attention.

A reason that Indira Gandhi had banned the sharing of met forecasts for monsoons was to discourage this exploitation. Among the many tricks quoted by Hardiman of ways the baniyas, the usurers, would strive to stop rain to keep the fields parched is the one from Rajasthan. “In an interview in southern Rajasthan, I was told that the baniyas could stop rain by pouring hot water onto a small image which they kept for the purpose in the Jain temple.”

Oman recounts other ploys used to drive away rain clouds, in Punjab, for example. “They sometimes made chapattis which they then mistreated in such a way as to offend the gods, the logic being that grain from which the chapattis [were] made came from the bounty of the gods who provided the rain; the angry gods would consequently withhold the rain.”

A hex that would probably make even Pragya Thakur sit up is the one from Punjab. Says Oman: “At another time I learned that a baniya had recourse to a still more effectual method of keeping off rain. He had a charkha, or spinning wheel made out of bones of dead men. Such an article could only be made very secretly and for a large sum of money, but its action was most potent. Whenever the clouds were gathering the baniya set his virgin daughter to work the charkha the reverse way, and by that means unwound or unwove the clouds, as it were, thus driving away the rain….”

It is not whether hexes and curses work, it is what a growing number of Indians expect them to do that should worry a country struggling with subs-Saharan human development indicators, including 37 per cent of the world’s illiteracy.

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