India’s Health Minister is a homophobe

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

TRIKONE condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s homophobic remarks about Men who have sex with Men (MSMs)

San Francisco — Trikone, a non-profit organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of South Asian descent strongly condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks about homosexual acts committed by Men who have sex with Men (MSM) being unnatural. On July 4, 2011, while speaking at a HIV/AIDS conference in rural India, Mr. Azad called sexual acts of men who have sex with men (MSM) “unnatural”. In his speech, Mr. Azad also happened to mention the difficulty in “detecting” MSMs in general population. He went on to say that the act of men having sex with men should not be happening in our country. The Health Minister’s comments caused a massive uproar across the country and drew sharp criticism from international agencies such as the UNAIDS. With mounting pressure, Mr. Azad issued an insincere clarification, accusing the media of taking his words out of context, that he meant “HIV/AIDS” was unnatural and transported from the west.

People across the country and the broader diaspora have come together to condemn Azad’s insensitive remarks. From this unified and unambiguous response, we can confidently say that the nation is unwilling to tolerate ignorant comments towards homosexuality. Mr. Azad has rightly come under fire for his insensitive comments and his issued clarification has done little to throw clear light on his ability to lead as the country’s health minister. Trikone strongly condemns criminalizing either homosexual conduct or HIV transmission. Such antiquated attitudes only curtail the efforts of valiant community organizers in the country, who are working on the ground, adopting grass roots strategies to encourage and establish models of testing and safe-sex practices. The Health Minister’s insensitive remarks concerning homosexuality or HIV/AIDS clearly jeopardizes the gains made in the past decade.

Like our sister organizations in India, we at Trikone have lost our faith in Mr.Azad to lead the country as the Health Minister or provide much needed services to the queer community. His personal judgments and remarks over the last weekend have cast looming questions in his ability to think and lead with clarity and in clear resonance with the medical and scientific community – a Health Minister’s prerogative for governance.
Unless an unequivocal apology is issued by the Health Minister and corrective actions suggested, we demand his ouster.

As organizations in India and abroad continue to work passionately to combat homophobia and educate people about homosexuality, we at Trikone not only condemn Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks but also request the Government of India to provide sensitivity training about queer issues on an on going basis to all public servants. We will be happy to put together an advisory panel or provide references if need be.

A solidarity march is being planned in San Francisco, California. On Wednesday, 07/13/2011 at 9 am, members of the Trikone community plan to peacefully assemble at the intersection of Geary and Arguello, a few hundred feet away from the Indian Consulate and our representative will hand over a letter of grievances to the Consulate General.

Contacts:
Harsha Mallajosyula (Trikone Advocacy Director), 408-332-7468,
harsha@trikone.org

Letter to the Governor of Bihar: stop police killings of villagers

13 June 2011, Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi               

Social Movements, Trade Unions, and Civil Society Condemns Police Killings in Forbesganj and Submits Memorandum to the Governor, Bihar

Shri Devanand Konwar,

Governor of Bihar

 

Through the Resident Commissioner

Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi

 

Dear Sir,

It is with immense grief and anger that we write to you today bringing to your notice an incident of hideous brutality unleashed by the personnel of Bihar Police on poor villagers of Forbesganj block in Araria district. On 3rd June, when the villagers were protesting the blockade of a road that connects the village to the idgah, karbala and market by a private company, Auro Sundaram, owned by the son of the local BJP councilor, Ashok Agaarwal, they were fired upon by the police at the orders of SP, Garima Malik. It has been reported that in addition to the SDO, the local councilor was also present and not only did he instigate the police, but also personally fired upon them. The protesters were chased into their homes and killed. Six people, including a woman and an infant lost their lives. A gruesome video recording of the policemen jumping and trampling upon the faces and bodies of injured, half dead young men has exposed the depths to which the state machinery has fallen in the name of upholding ‘law and order’, and the reality of ‘good governance’, where the poor and minorities continue to remain vulnerable.

Though the government has announced a judicial probe into the incident, this can only be seen as a half-hearted measure taken under pressure of mounting criticism given that it has still not bothered to name the person who will head it; the ex-gratia compensation of Rs Three lakhs, and that too to only one victim is a mockery of this horrific tragedy and injustice. We therefore demand from the government of Bihar that:

1)      Time-bound judicial probe under a sitting High Court Judge.

2)       Immediate dismissal of SP, SDO and all other senior police, administrative officers present on the spot at the time firing was ordered.

3)      A thorough enquiry into the role of the BJP councilor Ashok Agarwal for firing at people.

4)      Compensation of 10 lakhs to the families of those killed and Govt jobs to one person from each family of those killed.

5)      Compensation of Rs One lakh to the injured and treatment of all injured at government expense.

6)      Immediate lifting of the blockade on the road to facilitate the free movement of villagers.

7)      An apology from the Chief Minister and the Government of Bihar for this incident.

 

Sd/

 

Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD

Manisha Sethi, Convener, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association

Ravi Rai, General Secretary, All India Students Association

Madhuresh Kumar, National Organiser, National Alliance of People’s Movements

Sandeep Samwad, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta

Seela Manswinee, Delhi Solidarity Group

 

Contact : Mahtab Alam 9811209345

Transcript of Arundhati Roy’s “seditious” speech

TRANSCRIPT OF ARUNDHAT ROY’S SPEECH AT SEMINAR CALLED “AZADI—THE ONLY WAY” IN NEW DELHI ON OCTOBER 21, 2010

S. A. R. Geelani: Now I request Arundhati Roy to come and speak.

Arundhati Roy: If anybody has any shoes to throw, please throw them now…

[Some people in the audience: “We’re cultured.”]

AR: Good, I’m glad. I’m glad to hear that. Though being cultured is not necessarily a good thing. But anyway…

[Interruption from some people in the audience.]

SG: Please, will you talk afterwards. Now prove that you are cultured.

AR: About a week or ten days ago, I was in Ranchi where there was a Peoples’ Tribunal against Operation Green Hunt—which is the Indian state’s war against the poorest people in this country—and at that tribunal, just as I was leaving, a TV journalist stuck a mic in my face and very aggressively said “Madam, is Kashmir an integral part of India or not? Is Kashmir an integral part of India or not?” about five times. So I said, look Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However aggressively and however often you want to ask me that. Even the Indian government has accepted, in the UN that it’s not an integral part of India. So why are we trying to change that narrative now. See in 1947, we were told that India became a sovereign nation and a sovereign democracy, but if you look at what the Indian state did from midnight of 1947 onwards, that colonized country, that country that became a country because of the imagination of its colonizer—the British drew the map of India in 1899—so that country became a colonizing power the moment it became independent, and the Indian state has militarily intervened in Manipur, in Nagaland, in Mizoram, in Kashmir, in Telangana, during the Naxalbari uprising, in Punjab, in Hyderabad, in Goa, in Junagarh. So often the Indian government, the Indian state, the Indian elite, they accuse the Naxalites of believing in protracted war, but actually you see a state—the Indian state—that has waged protracted war against its own people or what it calls its own people relentlessly since 1947, and when you look at who are those people that it has waged war against—the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, people in Assam, Hyderabad, Kashmir, Punjab—it’s always a minority, the Muslims, the tribals, the Christians, the Dalits, the Adivasis, endless war by an upper caste Hindu state, this is what is the modern history of our country. Now, in 2007, at the time of the uprising in Kashmir against that whole acquisition of land for the Amarnath Yatra, I was in Srinagar and I was walking down the road and I met a young journalist, I think he was from Times of India, and he said to me—he couldn’t believe that he saw some Indian person—walking alone on the road—and he said, “can I have a quote?” So I said, “Yes, do you have a pen? Because I don’t want to be misquoted” and I said, “write down—India needs azaadi from Kashmir just as much as Kashmir needs azaadi from India,” and when I said India, I did not mean the Indian state, I meant the Indian people because I think that the occupation of Kashmir—today there are seven hundred thousand security personnel manning that valley of twelve million people—it is the most militarized zone in the world—and for us, the people of India, to tolerate that occupation is like allowing a kind of moral corrosion to drip into our blood stream. So for me it’s an intolerable situation to try and pretend that it isn’t happening even if the media blanks it out, all of us know—or maybe all of us don’t know, but any of us who’ve visited Kashmir know—that Kashmiris cannot inhale and exhale without their breath going through the barrel of an AK-47. So, so many things have been done there, every time there’s an election and people come out to vote, the Indian government goes and says, “Why do you want a referendum? There was a vote and the people have voted for India.” Now, I actually think that we need to deepen our thinking a little bit because I too am very proud of this meeting today, I think it’s a historic meeting in some ways, it’s a historic meeting taking place in the capital of this very hollow superpower, a superpower where eight hundred and thirty million people live on less than twenty rupees a day. Now, sometimes it’s very difficult to know from what place one stands on as formally a citizen of India, what can one say, what is one allowed to say, because when India was fighting for independence from British colonization—every argument that people now use to problematize the problems of azaadi in Kashmir were certainly used against Indians. Crudely put, “the natives are not ready for freedom, the natives are not ready for democracy,” but every kind of complication was also true, I mean the great debates between Ambedkar and Gandhi and Nehru—they were also real debates and over these last sixty years whatever the Indian state has done, people in this country have argued and debated and deepened the meaning of freedom. We have also lost a lot of ground because we’ve come to a stage today where India a country that once called itself Non Aligned , that once held its head up in pride has today totally lain down prostrate on the floor at the feet of the USA. So we are a slave nation today, our economy is completely—however much the Sensex may be growing, the fact is the reason that the Indian police, the paramilitary and soon perhaps the army will be deployed in the whole of central India is because it’s an extractive colonial economy that’s being foisted on us. But the reason that I said what we need to do is to deepen this conversation is because it’s also very easy for us to continue to pat ourselves on the backs as great fighters for resistance for anything whether it’s the Maoists in the forests or whether it’s the stone pelters on the streets—but actually we must understand that we are up against something very serious and I’m afraid that the bows and arrows of the Adivasis and the stones in the hands of the young people are absolutely essential but they are not the only thing that’s going to win us freedom, and for that we need to be tactical, we need to question ourselves, we need to make alliances, serious alliances…. Because… I often say that in 1986 when capitalism won its jihad against soviet communism in the mountains of Afghanistan, the whole world changed and India realigned itself in the unipolar world and in that realignment it did two things, it opened two locks , one was the lock of the Babri Masjid and one was the lock of the Indian markets and it ushered in two kinds of totalitarianism—Hindu fascism, Hindutva fascism, and economic totalitarianism, and both these manufactured their own kinds of terrorism—so you have Islamist “terrorists” and the Maoist “terrorists”—and this process has made eighty percent of this country live on twenty rupees a day but it has divided us all up and we spend all our time fighting with each other when in fact there should be deep solidarity. There should be deep solidarity between the struggles in Manipur, the struggles in Nagaland, the struggle in Kashmir, the struggle in central India and in all the poor, squatters, the vendors , all the slum dwellers and so on. But what is it that should link these struggles? It’s the idea of justice because there can be struggles which are not struggles for justice, there are peoples movements like the VHP is a peoples movement—but it’s a struggle for fascism, it’s a struggle for injustice, we don’t align ourselves with that. So every movement, every person on the street, every slogan is not a slogan for justice. So when I was in Kashmir on the streets during the Amarnath Yatra time, and even today—I haven’t been to Kashmir recently—but I’ve seen and my heart is filled with appreciation for the struggle that people are waging, the fight that young people are fighting and I don’t want them to be let down. I don’t want them to be let down even by their own leaders because I want to believe that this fight is a fight for justice. Not a fight in which you pick and choose your justices—“we want justice but it’s ok if the other chap is squashed.” That’s not right. So I remember when I wrote in 2007, I said the one thing that broke my heart on the streets of Srinagar, was when I heard people say “Nanga Bhooka Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan.” I said “No. Because the Nanga Bhooka Hindustan is with you. And if you’re fighting for a just society then you must align yourselves with the powerless,” the Indian people here today are people who have spent their lives opposing the Indian state. I have, as many of you may know, been associated for a long time with the struggle in the Narmada valley against big dams and I always say that I think so much about these two valleys—the Kashmir valley and the Narmada valley. In the Narmada valley, they speak of repression, but perhaps the people don’t really know what repression is because they’ve not experienced the kind of repression that there is in the Kashmir valley. But they have a very, very, very sophisticated understanding of the economic structures of the world of imperialism and of the earth and what it does and how those big dams create an inequality that you cannot get away from. And in the Kashmir valley you have such a sophisticated understanding of repression, sixty years of repression of secret operations, of spying, of intelligence operations, of death, of killing. But have you insulated yourself from that other understanding, of what the world is today? What these economic structures are? What kind of Kashmir are you going to fight for? Because we are with you in that fight, we are with you. But we want, we hope that it’ll be a fight for justice. We know today that this word ‘secularism’ that the Indian state flings at us is a hollow word because you can’t kill sixty-eight thousand Kashmiri Muslims and then call yourself a secular state. You cannot allow the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and call yourself a secular state and yet you can’t then turn around and say that “we are allowed to treat our minorities badly “—so what kind of justice are you fighting for? I hope that the young people will deepen their idea of Azaadi, it is something that the state and your enemies that you’re fighting uses to divide you. That’s true.

[Some people in the audience: “Do you know what happened to the pundits?”]

AR: I know the story of the Kashmiri pundits. I also know that the story that these Panun Kashmir pundits put out is false. However, this does not mean that injustice was not done.

[People in audience: “Do you know how many Hindus were killed?”]

AR: I think — ok, let me continue… [part of the crowd arguing loudly].

SG: I request everyone to please sit.

AR: Alright, I want to say that, I think this disturbance is based on a misunderstanding, because I was beginning to talk about justice and in that conversation about justice, I was just about to say that what happened with the Kashmiri pundits is a tragedy, so I don’t know why you all started shouting, I think it’s a tragedy because when we stand here and talk about justice, it is justice for everybody, and those of us who stand here and talk about their being a place for everybody whether there’s a minority whether it’s an ethnic minority or a religious minority or minority in terms of caste, we don’t believe in majoritarianism so that’s why I was talking about the fact that everybody in Kashmir should have a very deep discussion about what kind of society you’re fighting for because Kashmir is a very diverse community and that discussion does not have to come from critics or people who are against azaadi trying to divide this struggle , it has to come from within you so it is not the place of people outside to say “they don’t know what they mean by azaadi, do they mean Gilgit and Baltistan, what about Jammu? What about Laddakh?” These are debates that people within the state of Jammu and Kashmir are quite capable of having by themselves and I think they understand that. So, to just try and derail things by shouting at people is completely pointless because I think that people, the pundits in Kashmir, all the time I’ve spent in Kashmir, have only heard people say they are welcome back and I know people who live there, who believe that too, so all I want to say is that when we are having these political debates, I feel I have watched and have been listening to and following the recent uprising in Kashmir, the fact that unarmed people, young people armed with stones, women, even children are out on the streets facing down this massive army with guns is something that nobody in the world cannot help but salute. However it is up to the people who are leading this struggle, it is up to the people who are thinking to take it further, because you cannot just leave it there—because the Indian state, you know what its greatest art is—it’s not killing people—that’s its second greatest art, the first greatest art is to wait, to wait and wait and wait and hope that everybody’s energies will just go down. Crisis management, sometimes it’s an election, sometimes it’s something else, but the point is that people have to look at more than a direct confrontation on the streets. You have to ask yourselves why—the people of Nagaland must ask themselves why there’s a Naga battalion committing the most unbelievable atrocities in Chhatisgarh. After spending so much time in Kashmir watching the CRPF and the BSF and the Rashtriya Rifles lock down that valley, the first time I went to Chhattisgarh, on the way I saw Kashmiri BSF, Kashmiri CRPF on the way to kill people in Chhatisgarh. You’ve got to ask yourself—there’s more to resistance than throwing stones—these things can’t be allowed to happen—”how is the state using people?” The colonial state whether it was the British state in India or whether it’s the Indian state in Kashmir or Nagaland or in Chhattisgarh, they are in the business of creating elites to manage their occupations, so you have to know your enemy and you have to be able to respond in ways where you’re tactical, where you’re intelligent, where you’re political—internationally, locally and in every other way—you have to make your alliances, because otherwise you’ll be like fish swimming furiously around a fish tank bombing the walls and getting tired in the end because those walls are very, very strong. So I’ll just leave with this: Think about justice and don’t pick and choose your injustices. Don’t say that “I want justice but it’s ok if the next guy doesn’t have it, or the next woman doesn’t have it.” Because justice is the keystone to integrity and integrity is the key stone to real resistance.

Thank you.