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U-turn over ‘Joothan’ book controversy, never had intention to withdraw it from HPU syllabus, says HP Govt

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Joothan book in HP University sllyabus

The Chief Minister had sought a reply from the Education Department regarding the controversy, which suddenly popped-up during January 2018. 

Shimla: Today, the Himachal Pradesh Government took a U-turn over controversy pertaining to the withdrawal of a book titled ‘Joothan: A Dalit’s Life’ – a piece of Dalit literature written in the form of a autobiography by Om Prakash Valmiki – from college syllabus of HP University.

The book is being taught in the sixth semester of English subject in the colleges of the state.

Today, a spokesperson of the state government clearly rejected the controversy over this book written by a Dalit writer saying the government has neither withdrawn nor there is any proposal to take out ‘Jhoothan’ book from the education curriculum.

The novel is still a part of the syllabus and there is no proposal to withdraw it,

the government spokesperson said in a statement issued today.These parties did not verify the facts before making such accusations, said the spokesperson.  

However, this statement doesn’t look entirely fair as the Chief Minister had himself taken cognizance of a news published in a Hindi daily. 

The book is a based on the horrifying personal experience of the writer while growing up in inhuman living conditions in a Dalit basti (slum) of Uttar Pradesh in post-Independent India.  The writer has manifested his anguish against the practice of untouchability, discrimination of various sorts, and exploitation of lower caste people by those belonging to the upper caste.

The book is a compilation of experiences and social and psychological conditioning that a member of the lowest caste goes throw under extremely wretched socioeconomic conditions. It is a record of writer’s grim journey from deprived childhood to prominent social critic and writer.  The words which are at the centre of the controversy are used to appraise the reader of the fact that lower-caste people were addressed not by their names but their caste.  

To get a better idea of about the content of the book,  you can go through an acclaimed review by Namit Arora

The book was originally written in Hindi. It was in 2003 that the Joothan was translated into English by Arun Prabha Mukherjee, a professor of English at York University in Canada.

Similarly,  a column by writer Sheoraj Singh Bechain published in a Hindi daily condemned the efforts to undermine Dalit literature, which was rarely recognized.

Sheoraj is one of the most respected Dalit writers in Hindi.  He is best known for his book, “Mera Bachpan Mere Kandhon Par.”  

It was alleged the book contains words which are highly casteist in nature and the teachers find the use of these words in classroom awkward as well as inappropriate.

The allegations also speculated that the book was actually encouraging caste discrimination. Majority of the teacher community, as well as student organizations, had made it an issue demanding the withdrawal of ‘Joothan’ from syllabus or removal of several words used in it.

The government is washing its hands of the controversy by terming it an unnecessary political agenda created by rival political parties like the Communist Party of India.

However, it must be reminded that the Chief Minister had sought a reply from the Education Department regarding the controversy, which suddenly popped-up during January 2018. 

As a matter of fact, for decades now, the book had been part of the English literature syllabus of over a dozen of Indian universities including some of the Central varsities.  

If the report published in Hindi daily Amar Ujala’s January 8, 2018, to be believed, the Director of Higher Education, H.P., Dr. Amar Dev, had ordered a review of the book a couple of days after it. He had said that if needed the book would be removed from the syllabus. 

As per the report, the Vice-Chancellor of the H.P.U., Rajinder Chauhan, had ordered the formation of a committee headed by the professor Girija Sharma of the Department of English, HPU, to look into the matter and submit its report within 15 days.

The reaction of the upper caste lobby was such as if the practice of caste discrimination or untouchability exists no more in India. 

It still exists in rural Himachal and the recent incident of discrimination against children of a government school in Kullu district is a proof of it. The magisterial probe had confirmed that the incident did take place and police had filed an FIR. Three persons including the headmaster were arrested. But they were released on bail within 24 hours arrest.  Dozens of other persons were also named in the case by the police. 

The segregation of students during mid-day meals and preference to upper-caste candidates while recruiting mid-day meal workers in schools is another allegation that has surfaced again after the Kullu school incident.  

 

Meanwhile, the Dalit community leaders expressed agitation over the issue and threatened widespread protest in case the government decides to withdraw the book from the syllabus. 

The issue could have triggered a nationwide Dalit community protest, which makes it a highly sensitive matter.  The step would have hit the Dalit vote bank of the ruling party ahead of 2019 assembly elections. 

It is a bitter truth that the caste system is still prevalent in our society.  The exploitation by politicians through caste-based politics makes it even worse. This divide in society is deemed beneficial in politics.

Despite being educated, the inter-caste marriages are still not acceptable to the parents and society. 

Manual scavenging still exists and labourers, who are mostly Dalits, often die in septic tanks or manholes as they are made to clean them with no gas mask, safety gears or proper equipment. On February 15, 2018, three such workers had asphyxiated while cleaning a septic tank in Ponthur near Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.

Similarly,  in October 2017, three workers of a company near Hero Honda Chowk in Gurgaon had died of suffocation while they were attempting to save one of their colleagues from drowning in the septic tank. Again, all safety measures were missing. 

A 2017 news report published in the US Today had highlighted how the manual scavengers become the victim of widely flouted laws.  At least 750 deaths has been reported from across India since “manual scavenging” was first banned by the Indian government in 1993.  The year 2017 had witnessed around 75 deaths during manual scavenging. 

So, it would not be correct to say that the young minds do not need to read about this evil anymore.  

In Himachal Pradesh, the atrocities on lower caste members may be missing, but the practice of untouchability still continues unabated.  

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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How HP Govt Contained an Imminent Threat Successfully

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video of Farmers arrested in Shimla

Shimla-Three Punjab farmers were detained by Shimla Police on January 19, 2021, from the Ridge Shimla. The police can be seen shrouding them from media person and rushing the farmers to the Sadar Police station. A couple of media person were allegedly hackled during this process. The farmers were kept at Sadar for hours for questioning and later brought before the Magistrate. However, the scene created a stir among those who witnessed it.

Media persons were left wondering as to what these people might have done or were about to do. The body language, action, and statement of the police suggested that these three persons posed some serious threat.


Himachal Watcher tried to contact the Superintendent of Police, Mohit Chawala, to know about the matter, but couldn’t connect. However, a statement to an English Daily suggested that these three persons posed some sort of immediate and serious threat. They were booked under Section 107 (Abetment of an unlawful activity/thing) and 150 (Hiring, or conniving at hiring, of persons to join unlawful assembly).

“We had inputs about the arrival of some farmers but their credentials could not be verified. They have been detained as a preventive measure,”

the SP told the Daily. The Police is yet to reveal the nature of the intel and intensity of the threat posed by these three suspects.

This statement suggests, these three persons would have been on the radar of the police and their detention would have been of utmost importance to the police as it was gathering intel about them.

We will speak about the recovery of things made from these three suspects who had planned something big in Shimla later. 

Watching police in such aggressive action, media persons were seen running along the policemen who were taking these persons to the Station. According to media persons present on the scene, a couple of them were hackled by police. One of the officials, who was in a civil dress, allegedly threatened a media-person.

The policemen were seen trying hard to not let mics of reporters get near these persons. These suspects were seen trying to get the attention of the media and the people present on the scene. One of the suspects was even heard speaking something about “Right to Speech” in the Indian Constitution and “Democracy”.

When the suspense ended by evening, it turned out these were only three farmers who had come from Singhu border near Delhi to speak about three contentious Farm Laws passed recently by the Government of India. As per the police, a threat of a demonstration was looming large. To accomplish their purpose, they were reportedly carrying ‘banner’ about farmers’ protest. The police successfully recovered them before they could cause any damage to the people. However, the State Police, thus, the State Government successfully contained this imminent threat and saved a lot of people from exposure to the opinion of farmers on the Farm Laws. These farmers, if not stopped, would have spoken about their reasons to oppose these Laws.

The police said the Ridge Maidan, Shimla, falls under the Core area and requires prior permission to hold a demonstration/protest/events etc., which is true. These persons had obtained no such permission, thus, invited detention. Legally, this detention could be justified only if these persons were found violating this norm. The police or say the government might have their reasons to take such action. But our readers had been writing to us to ask about the activity in which these farmers were found to be indulged in at the spot. The farmers said that they were not shouting slogans nor staging a protest.  The SP Shimla, in a statement to media, said that these persons were detained before they could execute their plan.

The execution of detention aptly speaks about the urgency of detention of these farmers. The farmers’ protest is denting the reputation of the ruling party in the Centre. In case, more farmers are convinced and join the protest, it would cause more damage to the Union Government. These Laws have invited massive protest from farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana. Farmers have been protesting for almost two months now. The farmers have even planned to hold a tractor parade on January 26 – the Republic Day. The pressure on the Government has mounted to such an extent that yesterday it agreed to pause the three Laws for the next one and half year. Before this, the Supreme Court had stayed the Laws and constituted a committee. The farmers are, however, adamant that the Laws should be repealed. The eleventh round of talks between the farmer representatives and the Government today again concluded without any agreement between two parties. So, the state Government’s concern regarding the containment of such threats can be well explained here.

As far as the persons, who were later released on bail, managed to speak to a couple of media persons – major lapse in security. They said that farmers had been going to various states to create awareness about the Farm Laws but did not receive such a treatment anywhere except Himachal Pradesh.

“We were treated like terrorists,”

they complained.

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The Story of Himachal’s ‘Friendly Leopard’ from the Viral Videos

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Viral Himachal Leopard Cub Video

Kullu-Several videos of the ‘leopard incident’ in Tirthan Valley, Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, are going viral in India and would soon spread to international media. Anyone who is watching these videos is wondering as to how a wild predator who avoids humans, habitats, roads etc. and is a shy feline happened to be playing with people amid a huge gathering of people around him, traffic jam, and a lot of noise. It’s just like a fantasy to see a wild animal having such close, friendly contact with humans despite not being familiar with humans. Not only it was dangerous for the animal itself but also the ignorant people chasing him with mobile cams in their hands. That’s what we could infer from the response given by forest officials after watching the behavior of the people in these video clips. Himachal Watcher has also compiled several video clips of the incident.

A lot of our curious readers had been writing regarding the incident, so we talked to people who actually have knowledge regarding wildlife and animal behaviour in order to find a possible explanation for this rare leopard-man contact. It turned out, opposite to the fun people were having with this animal, it was a sensitive matter for the wildlife officials. 

We talked to the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Banjar, Praveen Thakur and HPFS, Sachin Sharma, who is currently posted as DFO, Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP).  Readers had been asking us questions; Where did it come from? How did it become so friendly with humans? What happened to the cub later? So we requested DFO, Banjar, Praveen Thakur, to answer these and some other important questions related to the incident. 

What you already know is that a leopard came out of the wild onto the road near Sarchi – Nagladi bridge in Tirthan valley on January 14. This belt comes under the Great Himalayan National Park. People stopped their vehicles and came out to record videos. The leopard was seen playfully grabbing different people. A traffic jam and a huge gathering of people, mostly locals, were seen in the videos. It was something that people had never seen, at least in this part of the world. 

The DFO, GHNP, also admitted that this is highly uncommon to see such ferocious wild predator getting so friendly within a few hours after contact with humans. But in this case, it was just a cub, aged about seven to eight months. 

“I haven’t seen or heard of such an incident where a wild leopard became so friendly with humans that he started to play with them. These animals are generally shy and smartest in the feline families. They avoid humans and their habitats,” he said.

When asked whether a cub of its age, considering strength and growth of nails and teeth, was capable of inflicting harm or not, he said that on sensing a threat it can. He condemned the behaviour of the people as it was not only dangerous for them but also the animal.

“Amid such a chaotic environment, the behaviour of any wild animal would be unpredictable. If not intentionally, the cub could have inflicted minor injuries to someone while playing. In that case, the reaction of people could have been hostile and things could have gone wrong,” he said.

In his opinion, this rare instance can’t be termed as a result of man-animal conflict. No other instances where these animals attacked or caused harm to humans in this region have been reported, he said.

The DFO, Banjar, Praveen Thakur said he was also surprised but also gave an explanation.

“It was an eight- to-nine-month-old cub, who got separated from its mother. The mother with its cubs lives in a nearby forest in a territory of four to five square kilometers. There was an incident of fire in the area and the cub, most probably, got separated from the mother due to it,” the DFO told Himachal Watcher.

Regarding the friendly behaviour of this cub, he said,

“Several videos are going viral on social media where the cub was looking comfortable and friendly with humans amid a crowd. Adult leopards show behavioural changes before becoming mature animals. They mostly avoid humans. But it was not an adult leopard, but just an 8 to-9-month-old cub,” he said.

“However, the cub did not get friendlier at the starting and was avoiding vehicles. As per my knowledge, for the first few hours, the cub was seen roaming around in a distress and avoiding humans and vehicles. (Watch Video). Initially, a couple of vehicles stopped to see the cub. As it was just a cub unable to hunt and survive at its own, it got friendlier after sensing that humans were not harming and, thus, were no threat. Cubs can get friendly on sensing no threat. Similarly, cubs and young offspring of several other animals can get friendlier.”

If watched video clips carefully, the cub was curious and trying to explore this new environment. But at the same time it was distressed as it had gotten separated from its mother and was in a environment not natural for it.

Citing a previous case, the DFO said,

“Not long time ago, we had rescued a bear cub. He had also become friendly within no time.”

“In the present case, we have identified the family. Mother lives in the forest not far from our Rest House. The area falls under the Great Himalayan National Park and is not far from the road. The family is not entirely unfamiliar with traffic and human movement,” he told HW.

In the current incident, he said that it’s a case of separation of the cub from mother.

A forest fire was reported in the territory of this family, and the mother or the cub got stuck somewhere due to it, resulting in a separation.”

He confirmed hearing calls from its mother. Mother would make a particular sound as a form of a call when trying to find its cubs, he explained.

He said that the department received the information regarding the presence of this cub among humans a little late. On receiving information, a rescue team was dispatched, which reached the spot within half-an-hour.

The team caught the cub with a net without much difficulty, he said. As it was healthy and had no injury or disease, it was released into its natural habitat as guidelines say that in such a case the animal should be released to its natural habitat as soon as possible to reduce distress.

He also said that teams are continuously monitoring the movement of the cub to ensure that it reunites with its mother and do not venture into human habitats or comes near the road again.

The mother and the cub are only a couple of kms distance apart. The cub would also make calls, which would help the mother find it, he said.

He rejected speculations of this cub being raised as a pet.

“His mother would have not been making calls if the cub was raised as a pet. These calls imply that the cub got separated very recently,” he said.

“After consulting wildlife experts, we have decided that in case the cub is seen venturing into human habitats or places having human presence and displaying same friendly behaviour again, then it would have to be captured and sent to the rescue centre in Gopalpur in Kangra district,” he said.

If it would grow up while remaining in friendly contact with humans, it might not get capable of attaining hunting skills to survive at its own in the wild. Moreover, these animals could inflict grieve injuries unintentionally while playing.

However, we are certain that the mother would soon find the cub. We will keep monitoring it until the mother stops making distress calls, he said.

On being asked whether this cub was capable of hurting or injuring a human, the DFO said that cubs of this age lack hunting skills, and it’s mostly after one year of age that the mother starts training them.

The DFO, however, expressed more concern over the behaviour of the people than that of the animal.

Most of these people were locals and they are often made aware about dos and don’t on an encounter with a wild animal.

“As soon as I came across the videos, I contacted a few people who were present on the spot including the Pradhan of the area and told him to ask people to stay away from the cub and to not chase him for photos and videos. I had even spoken to the local police to help manage the situation as people were not even listening to our Rangers,” he told HW.

“It was a complete nuisance that the people were creating by causing a traffic jam, chasing the cub, and trying to get close to it. We are trying to identify some people visible in the video deliberately going near the cub,” he added while informing that there are provisions of three to six months of imprisonment for those creating nuisance for or teasing wild animals, especially those protected. Leopards are protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

He urged the people to avoid wild animals if they happen to encounter them. Stay away from them, do not gather around and obstruct their path. Left alone, on sensing no threat, these animals eventually find their course and go back to their natural habitat, he said. In the current case, the situation would have led to chaos if it was a mature leopard, he said.

Even if you want to watch the animal then, at least, maintain a safe distance or remain in the vehicle, he added.

When asked whether this instance can be related to man-animal conflict and is a matter of concern or not, the DFO said,

“This can’t be termed as a matter related to man-animal conflict and isn’t a matter of concern as long as animals do not enter human habitats and kill livestock or attack humans. Moreover, such judgement can’t be made based on a single instance.”

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Farmers Welcome SC Order to Stay Implementation of Farm Laws But Suspicious About Formation of Committee

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of three contentious farm laws passed by the Centre Government, which has led to huge protest from hundreds of farmer groups. The stay implies that the Centre Government can’t take any executive actions based on these laws till further order. 

“The implementation of the three farm laws (1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; (2) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and (3) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, shall stand stayed until further orders,”

said the order passed by a panel headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A Bobde on Tuesday.

Further, the MSP system would continue as it was before the enactment of the laws.

“As a consequence, the Minimum Support Price System in existence before the enactment of the Farm Laws shall be maintained until further orders. In addition, the farmers’ land holdings shall be protected, i.e., no farmer shall be dispossessed or deprived of his title as a result of any action taken under the Farm Laws,”

the order said.

With this order, the SC hoped to end the ongoing impasse over the contentious farm laws.

The farmers who have been protesting for over the last 45 days, welcomed the SC’s order.

However, at the same time, the Apex Court ordered the formation of a committee to listen to both sides and make recommendations to the court. The committee, which would comprise of Agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, Bhupinder Singh Mann, Dr Prmod Kumar Joshi, former director of National Academy of Agricultural Research Management), and Anil Ghanwat from Shetkari Sangathan, was asked to submit its report in the court within two months.

The CJI, in its order, speaking about the purpose of this “extraordinary” order, said,

“While we may not stifle a peaceful protest, we think that this extraordinary order of stay of implementation of the farm laws will be perceived as an achievement of the purpose of such protest at least for the present and will encourage the farmers’ bodies to convince their members to get back to their livelihood, both in order to protect their own lives and health and in order to protect the lives and properties of others.”

Though a stay on the implementation of laws was welcomed by protesting farmers, several unions said that they would not accept this committee and the protest will continue. They said the Government is trying to form this committee through the Supreme Court. This committee, they said, included persons who have already been justifying the farm laws. They said the purpose of this committee is nothing more than creating a diversion. The protest would be armed up and only a repeal of laws would be accepted, the unions said. 

At the same time, the SC was undeterred with these statements and said there is nothing that can stop it from forming a committee. The SC asked the farmers to cooperate with the committee.

On the other hand, the Government was more concerned about that other political parties would think of the stay as a “political victory”.

Further, the Government has also expressed apprehension about security breach due to the tractor rally planned by protesting farmers on the Republic Day.

K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General, told the court that there are reports that the farmers’ bodies may take out a tractor rally on January 26, 2021, disrupting the Republic Day Parade and celebrations However, the same was stoutly denied by Dushyant Dave, learned senior counsel appearing for a few of the farmers’ bodies on the ground that at least one member of the family of each of the farmers from Punjab is in the Army and that they would not disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.

The Court, in its order, said that several rounds of talked between farmers and the Government have failed and there was no solution in sight.

“The situation on ground is: (i) that senior citizens, women and children are at site, exposing themselves to serious health hazards posed by cold and covid; (ii) that a few deaths have taken place, though not out of any violence, but either out of illness or by way of suicide,”

the order said.

The court also lauded the farmers for carrying on the agitation peacefully without any unwanted incident.

Further, the Court orders also mentioned separate petitions filed by individuals/residents of the NCR complaining of blockade of roads/highways leading to Delhi and terming it an infringement of the fundamental rights of other citizens to move freely and to carry out trade and business.

Stay on 3 Farm Laws and Formation of Committee: Read Full Order of Supreme Court

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