Jantar Mantar is the Capitals protest ground for unheard voices of people who come from all over the country to share their grievances.
“Where is the Money?”
That is the rallying cry of band of men, who have been holding protests and demonstrations for the past four years in many parts of north India to seek answers, and get their money back.
Each of them had invested in PACL (Pearls Agrotech Corp Ltd) started in 1996 by Punjab-based Nirmal Singh Bhangoo. They are some of the 6 crore investors, mostly in north India, having invested a few thousand to hundreds of lakhs of rupees in the company.
In 2014, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (Sebi) declared PACL a ponzi scheme with investigations ordered into its dealings and its owner Bhangoo tossed into jail (or hospital he visits often).
“But how did political leaders from all parties meet and host him down all these years?” demands Amit Garg, an advocate, investor and passionate coordinator of the campaign.
(Advocate Amit Garg)
He shows a glossy booklet that the investors have published collating information about the Pearls Group and their own agitation. It shows Mr. Bhangoo rubbing shoulders with key political leaders, as well glowing endorsements from a spectrum of government agencies.
“How was the company allowed to operate so successfully for so many years?” thunders Ravi Shanker Gautum on the mike.
(Ravi Shankar Gautum addressing the rally)
Bhangoo’s assets have been seized, some auctioned and sold, but investors haven’t received much relief. To return investors’ money, Sebi had also set up a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha following a Supreme Court order to refund investor money in 2014. Despite some activities undertaken, this hasn’t really happened.
“I invested about Rs. 7 lakh,” sighs a visibly tired Paramjit Singh from Hoshiarpur, “But no one has got in touch for refund.”
(Paramjit Singh, Hoshiarpur)
Finally, Mahindrapal Singh, another PACL investor undertook a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar itself. On the 11th day the group got a response: a police van arrived and policeman forcefully took Singh to hospital where he was fed intravenously.
“A clear message,” says Garg bitterly, “that we can be ignored till our voices die, but a death here would be inconvenient for the government.”
Lok Raj Sangathan
“1984 Sikh Genocide Normalised State Violence”
This is what members of Lok Raj Sangathan asserted at their annual demonstration at Jantar Mantar on the 1st of November this year too. The organisation registered in 1998 is “a political organisation not a political party”, pointedly underlines S. Raghavan, the soft-spoken President of the NGO.
(S. Raghavan, President, Lok Raj Sangathan)
A former health sector professional, Raghavan became part of the Sangathan, with so many others from different communities and walks of life, to strengthen civic voices against growing criminalisation of politics.
For them, as for so many others, the 1984 Sikh genocide (“Not riots,” Raghavan insists, “Riots imply a spontaneous outburst of anger, 1984 was a planned, state-sponsored attack on a particular community.”) was a macabre milestone in normalising state violence.
(Walking barefoot from the Gurudwara to Jantar Mantar)
“Look at the pattern since then – Babri Masjid, Gujarat, Hashimpur, the growing power of lynch mobs ….. these can happen only with state support. If we remain mute witnesses to such actions then we too become complicit, we must together raise our voices against all state-sponsored crimes,” thundered Siraj Talib, State Executive, Welfare Party of India.
“There is no doubt that communal violence has become a convenient tool in the hands of all political parties as a diversion from real, serious issues of unemployment, education, health. We must stand united to fight this toxic environment,” said Poonam from Purogami Mahila Sangathan.
(Poonam, Purogami Mahila Sangathan)
There is no doubt that the brutal attack on Sikh men, women and children after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh security guards in Delhi on October 31, 1984, was unprecedented in its ferocity in the Capital. While official government records show less than 3,000 Sikh people died across the country, independent sources put that number just for Delhi, with the rest of the country suffering another 5,000 deaths.
(Arpana Caur, Painter, extending support)
“The masterminds behind that planned attack are still at large, and that’s because it does not suit any political party to set a clear precedent of justice because they could then be implicated, but we have to demand that all the 1984 cases are properly dealt with,” was the rallying cry of another group, “We will not forget,” said the women, as they walked barefoot down to Jantar Mantar from Rakabganj Gurudwara.
(Demonstrators walking from Rakabganj Gurudwara to Jantar Mantar)
The importance of these passionate sentiments was echoed by Fareed Zakaria in his recent Program GPS on CNN when he quoted the following lines of Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor and theologian (1892-1984):
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
(Supporters at the demonstration)
Jai Jawan Jai Kisan
“One BSF jawan commits suicide every week!”
So claims Navratan Choudhury, who put in four years of service in the BSF (Border Security Force) in a clerical position between 2012 – 2017.
He goes on to say – “It is unemployed people who commit suicide or people who don’t enjoy job security, but why do so many jawans of a paramilitary force that is praised by leaders and the media commit suicide? Is this not something critical for our government, media and people to learn about and question?”
He raised this issue at a demonstration in Jantar Mantar, the city’s protest, under the newly registered NGO ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’, initiated by another former CISF jawan Mohd. Jaleel, who also served for 18 years in the force.
The BSF and CISF are not part of the Indian Army that is under the Ministry of Defence, they are part of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) under authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“What the general public associate with soldiers vigilant on the borders, getting injured or dying in internal conflicts with Maosits or Naxals are most often CAPF jawans, so why are they treated differently?” demands Choudhury.
And it is this difference that is very problematic for CAPF jawans. Their pension was stopped in 2004 and they were brought under the National Pension Scheme (NPS). “Our job involves very high levels of tension, tremendous pressure and an earlier retirement age than those in civil jobs, so why don’t we get the same benefits as regular army soldiers?” demands Choudhury.
Jaleel and Choudhury are two of the most vociferous voices committed to bringing the abject work conditions of CAPF jawans into public gaze.
(CISF jawan Mohd. Jaleel)
“It is not just about salary and pension, the work environment itself is horrible – corruption is rife,” they both contend.
The two of them are embroiled in cases with the CISF and BSF themselves. “We are not just levelling charges, we have evidence for whatever we are saying, so it is just inconvenient for powers that be, and we have both been terminated for groundless reasons.”
And there’s a litany of cases they want more CAPF jawans to air – “We want our jawans to be proud of their job and be respected by their own seniors, which is very often not the case,” they say.
Chaploosi (excessive flattery) to your senior officers is important, who can ask jawans to do anything – from frivolous tasks like, shopping for their families, household chores, taking their dog out for a walk, etc. to ignoring rampant corruption, like in procurement of supplies for the jawans or selling alcohol out to civilians.
“Retribution to any protest is swift – you can be put under campus custody or dismissed from service, even physically beaten up,” says Choudhury.
“Our mission is to reach out to all our jawans across the country and say ‘please don’t commit suicide’ because then you become just a number, and the CAPF seniors pass it off as ‘domestic disturbance’; we want more of our men to come forward and talk – not to suffer in silence, and we will help in whatever way we can.”
They have had some advocates, like Praveen Swarup, to help them in legal redress and they are always looking out for more support.
Renu, a self-employed professional, was part of the demonstration. “Ever since I started to learn about the conditions of our jawans and farmers through meeting with Jaleel Mohammad, I have been really saddened and distressed. If we cannot look after these two important limbs of our society – our jawans and farmers, then we have no future,” she says with tears in her eyes.
DEMANDS FOR CAPF JAWANS:
1. Pension stopped since 2004 to resume
2. CAPF jawans to be bestowed shaheed status
3. Widows of jawans killed on duty to receive full pension
4. Exploitation , unfair practices, servant-like treatment by higher officers to be stopped immediately
5. British laws used for disciplinary actions to be reviewed and changed
6. CAPF jawans extended medical support like regular army personnel
7. CAPF jawans given ex-servicemen status like army personnel
8. All jawans removed from duty due to unfair complaints by higher officers to be reinstated
9. Set-up an independent court to look into grievances of jawans especially against their higher officers
10. Those jawans who were removed from their jobs due to unfair and/or unfounded complaints of higher officers should receive salary of the years / months dismissed from service, which should not be from govt coffers and public money but from the salary of officers who lodged those erroneous complaints.
11. CAPF jawans should be given the 10% canteen facility given to army jawans
12. Educational institutions should keep 10% quota for CAPF families
13. Families of slain CAPF jawans should also be given support like gas agency, petrol pump, etc.
14. It’s one country, one constitution, so why CAPF too given same status as army
DEMANDS FOR FARMERS:
1. Swaminathan recommendations (2004-2006) to be implemented
2. Electricity bill for irrigation to be waived
3. DAP khad cost increased from Rs. 300 should be brought back
4. Workers employed in khadon factories (quarries) in the private sector should be on the same salary level as government chaprasi
5. All farmers and labourers to receive Rs. 6k pension after 55 years of age
6. Education for technical degrees for children of farmers and soldiers in government and private institutions should cost the same