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India: In defence of Jean Dreze and Bela Bhatia facing threats in Chattissgrah

5 April 2016

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Outlook magazine, 11 April 2016

Stand Up For Jean Dreze & Co

In the face of the staggering xenophobic anti-intellectualism that is relentlessly coursing through the veins of the hinterland following the arrival of Narendra Modi

Something is rotten in the state of Chhattisgarh; and it stinks to the high heavens when somebody with the street cred and academic reputation of Prof Jean Dreze becomes the target of a tendentious attack. For 37 years, the unassuming Belgium-born development economist has spoken tirelessly for the salt of India’s earth, advocating a humane approach to tac­kle hunger, poverty, education and health. His colleagues in this ­noble endeavour have been the Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and ­Angus Deaton. He is an Indian citizen, waging a battle peacefully on behalf of his countrymen and ­women against the injustices of state and non-state actors. To see such a Gandhian being labelled a Naxalite—a “foreign agent” out to “tear the country apart”—points to the staggering xenophobic anti-intellectualism that is relentlessly coursing through the veins of the hinterland following the arrival of Narendra Modi. It should shame the BJP government of Raman Singh which has been entrenched in power there for the last 13 years.

The plight of Dreze and his partner Bela Bhatia at the hands of pamphleteers underlines the larger challenge to life and limb that activists and journalists, not to speak of mute residents, have to endure in the course of the crossfire between security forces and Maoists. A fact-finding team sent by the Editors Guild of India has pointed at the fear and pressure under which journalists have to perform their duties, of an undeclared surveillance that has become a part of their lives. This was not how it was meant to be when Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. It was to be an advertisement for smaller states—of efficiency and good governance. That it may well be, for it is a mineral-rich state with bountiful forests. But the events of the last few weeks show the enormous price at which it is being extracted, when even the great and the good do not have a chance before goondas with political, police and corporate patronage.

Huffington Post India - 29/03/2016

Jean Dreze: I Am Not A Naxalite, I Am Not A Foreigner

NEW DELHI — In a letter published by CatchNews, Jean Dreze, a Belgian-born Indian economist, describes how he was made to feel like a foreigner for the first time in four decades.

Dreze wrote about how he and his partner, Bela Bhatia, are being harassed by "some people," who have distributed a leaflet accusing them of being Naxalites, who are trying to "tear the country apart." He wrote about how they have raised slogans against Bela and tried to get the social activist evicted from her home in Bastar.

"Anyone who thinks that Bela and I are Naxalites is seriously out of touch with reality," he wrote.

The development economist, who was a member of the National Advisory Council under the United Progressive Alliance government, wrote about how Bela was "hounded" by police-sponsored groups such as Samajik Ekta Manch because she helped tribal women lodge a rape complaint against members of the security force.

Dreze’s letter comes in the midst of growing concerns about a crackdown on journalists, activists, and scholars, who question how the security forces combat the Naxal insurgency.

Hindi-language journalists, Deepak Jaiswal and Prabhat Singh, were arrested in the course of a week, earlier this month. Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav, two other Bastar-based journalists, were arrested in July and September, last year.

"I am a development economist associated with Ranchi University and the Delhi School of Economics. I live in Ranchi, but I come to Bastar from time to time to spend time with Bela. Most of my work is concerned with hunger, poverty, education, health and other aspects of social policy. I am a close colleague of Amartya Sen, Angus Deaton, Nicholas Stern and other economists who should be sent to jail if I am a Naxalite, according to the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.

According to the leaflet mentioned earlier, I am a "foreign agent" (videshi dalal). In fact, I am an Indian citizen and I have spent more time in India than many of those who were distributing this leaflet yesterday. I love this country, where I have friends from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. In thirty-seven years of living in India, I have not faced hostility even once - until yesterday."- Jean Dreze in CatchNews.

Read the full letter at CatchNews.