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Dr. Sandeep Pandey

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Big hullabaloo has been raised by the Indian government and some sections of the Indian media on the incidents of 26 January, 2021 during the tractor parade of the farmers’ movement. Government has used the incidents as an excuse to tighten its noose on the entire movement. However, things are not as polarised as shown by some media. Majority of the people participating in the rally conducted their march as intended peacefully. But there was a small section of the protesting farmers, not part of the 32 Jathebandis involved in negotiations with the government, that broke the first barricades and started to march towards Red Fort.
On the event of the Republic day, the only scenes showcased were that of an unruly mob taking over the capital. This was largely the result of Indian media’s biased reporting and a habit of jumping to the conclusion by painting false narratives. The sacrifices farmers have been making for more than two months were outrightly disregarded. More than 170 famers have lost their lives during this peaceful protest either due to suicide, extreme cold conditions or health reasons. Interestingly, complete disregard of masks and social distancing has not resulted in any death due to Covid.
The protestors faced condemnation for hoisting a Nishan Sahib flag at Red Fort, which is normally put atop Gurudwaras as a spiritual marker of Sikh identity and has deeper philosophical meanings attached with faith. But what needs to be kept in mind is that during the entire course of this event, the tricolor was never disrespected in any way. It was always seen flying at the highest point at Red Fort where it needs to be. Many people use flags to represent an idea/ideology they stand by. The communists have a popular slogan, ‘Lal qile par lal nishan, maang raha hai Hindustan.’ The Rashtriya Swayansewak Sangh is so enamoured with its bhagwa dhwaj that until Bhartiya Janata Party formed a government at the centre they gave priority to their flag over the tricolor. Their hidden agenda has never been disguised when they openly talk of making a Hindu Rashtra out of India with their bhagwa as the national flag. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) has been negotiating for a separate flag and separate Constitution with the government of India. Jammu and Kashmir used to have its own flag until Article 370 was diluted. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had gotten a separate flag for Karnataka approved by his cabinet. So, if somebody hoisted their favourite flag without disturbing the tricolor why is the government, including the President and Prime Minister, harping on disrespect to the national flag? And in any case, how can Red Fort, which incidentally has been handed over to Bharat Dalmia group for Rs. 25 crores for five years in 2018, be a symbol of our democracy. The Parliament, the Supreme Court or the President’s Residence are symbols of democratic republic.
BJP and RSS supporters, masquerading as pro-farm law supporters, have attacked the farmers in police presence at various locations. Journalist Mandeep Punia who reported one such incident was arrested on charge of obstructing police in discharge of their duty and of beating police personnel. Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s prophecy in August 2019 that abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Jammu and Kashmir would not result in Indianisation of Kashmir but rather Kashmirisation of India has come true with internet ban at protest sites. Water and electricity supplies had been cut off. But brave women from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana arrived with earthen pitchers of water.
The coverage of mainstream media, unlike during the Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement which was launched in 2011, this time is biased. It reported that farmers were leaving the protest sites after the 26 January incidents, whereas the reality is that only those who specifically came to participate in the Republic Day tractor parade were going back. Because of government’s repression and breaking down of Rakesh Tikait at Ghazipur border the farmers were galvanised. It became a matter of self-respect for them, Since then mega Kisan Mahapanchayats have been held at Muzaffarnagar, Baraut, Mathura, Bijnore, Jind, Shamli and farmers are making a beeline for Delhi border. Tikait who till 26 January was only the leader of farmers from western UP has now become the face of entire farming community of northern India. Farmers are mobilized into a stronger force now.
On the other hand the government is being mean. It tried to get twitter accounts sympathetic to the famers’ movement blocked, registered cases against prominent people who posted messages in support of farmers’ movement, got iron nails embedded on roads to puncture famers’ vehicles, put up concrete, metal and stone boulders as obstruction, diverted trains to make it inconvenient for farmers to reach protest sites. When the government starts treating its own citizens as enemies, it is clear who has an upper hand in the battle. It remains to be seen who’ll win the war.
The government is irked by the international support of Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, terming it interference in the internal affairs of our country, forgetting that the basic premise behind Citizenship Amendment Act brought by it was that non-Muslims in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are persecuted minorities and it was actively trying to get the Nepalese Constitution in 2015 amended, going to the extent of imposing an informal economic blockade, which has resulted in an ill feeling in these countries towards India. In any case, domestic violence is not considered the internal affair of a household. Similarly, violation of human rights by any country cannot be overlooked by terming it an internal affair.
BJP leaders from Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere have begun publicly articulating their discomfort at the way their government is handling the movement. Most believe that the Prime Minister is capable of resolving the crisis. Most prominent among them is the Meghalaya Governor, Satyapal Malik, with a socialist background, who has advised the government not to insult the farmers.
With discontent within and without it may be difficult for the BJP government to continue its smooth sailing for very long. The government is arresting farmers under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for having provoked violence on 26 January whereas Deep Sidhu, one of the miscreants, whose proximity to the BJP has been all over the media, is yet to be apprehended. Compare this with the violence which was unleashed on 6 December, 1992 by an unruly Hindutva mob which resulted in razing the Babri mosque and killing of 12 Muslims as their houses were burnt down in Ayodhya. While demolition of Babri mosque invited the problem of terrorism to India, no First Information Report was registered in the case of murdered Muslims even though the P.V. Narasimha Rao government paid financial compensation to the families of the deceased.  
It is ironical that the BJP government has launched a high profile programme to honour the martyrs of Chauri Chaura incident, forgetting that these martyrs were booked by the British government in a similar manner that it is charging the farmers today, even though the scale of violence in Chauri Chaura was much bigger, 22 policemen burnt to death, compared to Delhi incidents.
The role of government in any country is to look after its people. The basic needs of people are not just material but even more a sense of security. The recent history of dissents in India has show that the government rather than providing answers and being more transparent in its functioning dwells into identity politics to change the narrative and infuses a communal propaganda to every protest and voice that disrupts its non-transparent way of functioning. This attack on a person and group identity is leading to a growing sense of insecurity among the people of India and disintegrating our secular spirit while losing faith in democracy. The trust in government is sadly, already lost.


By Dr. Sandeep Pandey, Harleen Sandhu and Rahul Singh Rana
Note: Sandeep Pandey is National Vice President of Socialist Party (India), Harleen Sandhu is a Doctoral student at Louisiana State University and Rahul Singh Rana is a consultant working in the field of business analysis.

By Sandeep Pandey, Simran Kaur and Harleen Sandhu

The Bhartiya Janata Party and its historical ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have used religion in manipulating the sentiments of the masses to gain political mileage, strengthening its grassroots presence as well as skyrocketing its electoral mandate. A mosque was demolished a few decades ago to mobilize the Hindu votes in the name of building a temple at the same exact spot. The perpetrators walked away with impunity while the police appeared to look the other way when thousands were killed and left homeless in its aftermath. Under this Hindu Nationalist administration, the cow has been accoladed a political significance and used as an instrument to polarize public opinion leading to a series of cold and dreaded mob lynchings across the country. Any intellectual, artist, journalist or even a student, anyone who has dared to question these Hindutva vigilantes through their work and advocacy are either put behind bars or murdered in broad daylight. Anybody holding a differing viewpoint was and continues to be branded anti-national or a Naxalite. Using the national interest narrative, the Indian government has been silencing any form of remonstration and dissent comes at a very high cost in India. Under the shield of this toxic communal politics the government so far got away with a number of unpopular and brazen decisions like making and enabling electoral funding by private corporations opaque and removing any ceiling on donations, demonetization, implementation of Goods and Services Tax, repeal of Articles 370 and 35A from Jammu and Kashmir, passage of Citizenship Amendment Act and instituting National Register of Citizens exercise, totally dampening down the labour laws, diluting Environment Impact Assessment regime, without any significant challenge except on the CAA/NRC where coronavirus came to government’s rescue. This democratic alienation that our government seems to have grown very fond of increases the distance between the people and the decision makers. The government thought that it could also road-roll three laws pertaining to farmers likewise but got a surprise in the form of a rock solid resistance from Punjab and Haryana farmers.

            The Sikh community has been at the forefront of the struggle at all the protest sites surrounding Delhi from all corners, whether in Haryana, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh. Their religious ethos of langar (free meals), sewa (service), charhdi kala (high spirits) and hakk (right/dignity) have been deeply imbibed and resonate in every space of the ongoing protest. The farmers and their families have been there for almost 2 months in harsh cold conditions but their firm resolution to stand against this tyrannical government doesn’t seem to be slowing down rather seems to be getting stronger with each passing day. The Sikh community has ensured that anybody coming to participate in protests will not face any inconvenience of any sort. The trolleys and tractors are parked in a very organized manner on highways, and they ensure that it does not disrupt the movement of the passing vehicles. The Punjabi youth and women have been playing a very key role in keeping the protest organized such that even despite the large number of protestors that keep joining everyday, it looks like a new village that has sprung up altogether than a protest site. Langar, one of the most unique characteristic of Sikh religion and a hallmark of their faith makes them stand out from the rest of the world. The practice of langar, and community kitchen is the most humanitarian deed there can be perhaps as it thrives on the principles of equality according dignity to all since it symbolizes ‘sharing’ and not charity.

The Sikh community has utilized the positive emotion or energy of their religion to relentlessly support a political cause of farmers’ rights which is not just a matter of economic rights but these laws jeopardizing the dignity of living and livelihood of farmers as well as everyone associated with this sector at the grassroot level. They have the moral strength and zeal to take on the Indian government as they are determined to get the anti-farmer laws repealed and there is no question of retreating back. The ruling dispensation on the other hand has used sophistry, manipulation, misappropriation of narrative, illusion of a false sense of pride in an abstruse idea of nationalism which may not stand them in good stead.

            The seismic waves of protests have to a large extent also eroded the credibility of the government as it was busy trying in every which way it could, to discredit the thrust of the protest and delegitimize it by calling it ‘anti-national’. It has exposed the vulnerability of the ruling alliance that churns out facts that dispel the truth. As the government dithers in taking a decision on the farm laws it is increasingly becoming abundantly clear that it is serving the interests of its corporate sponsors. Graphic posters at the protest site keep depicting how Narendra Modi is controlled by Adani and Ambani and how the Prime Minister at the behest of his capitalist masters further controls the media houses, throttling free speech and dissent in many ways. It is very clear that all three laws in question are aimed at serving the corporate interests in totality. In spite of the best and concerted efforts of the government in trying to question the motive of protestors, its own intent and vision pertaining to the laws is now considered to be dubious carrying multiple designs.

            The Hindutva brigade which is quick to ascribe motives to people who oppose its agenda is at a total loss to even comment on posters like ‘Non-Resident Indians for Farmers,’ ‘We are not terrorists but farmers’ or the active participation of bodies like Khalsa Aid and British Sikh Council in facilitating the protests or the presence of martial Nihang Sikhs who have taken upon themselves to form the first line of defense at the Singhu border. They are there willing to sacrifice themselves at any given point of time for the cause of farmers. Even Muslim farmers from Maler Kotla have set up a langar to offer solidarity. The spirit of service, a unique feature of this protest, has overcome all political propaganda unleashed at the protestors or attempts to divide them by employing various tactics invoking the bogey of communalism, terrorism, foreign hand, etc., but no charges seem to stick. The government, whose morality is hollowed out by corruption, politics of divide and polarization will not be able to face the truth that resides in the hearts of committed protestors. None of the tools employed by it to browbeat its dissenters seem to be working at this time as the protestors have successfully fought back to counter those wishing to taint the movement with cogent analysis of the consequences of the laws.

                Almost two months of dialogue process has not yielded a result because the Ministers engaged in dialogue on behalf of the government are probably not empowered to take a decision on their own. Amit Shah could have taken a decision in consultation with the Prime Minister, but farmers refused to dialogue with him rightly pointing out that farmers’ problem cannot be viewed as a law and order problem alone. Narendra Modi himself will never engage in dialogue as became clear during the 112 days of fatal fast of Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, earlier known as Professor G.D. Agrawal, in 2018 at Haridwar demanding a law for conservation of Ganga. Modi didn’t respond to four letters written to him by Swami Sanand but was quick to send a condolence message after his death. Death of hundred farmers during the movement will not move him if he didn’t care for the life of an eminent saint-scientist-environmentalist on an issue which was apparently close to his hear. Hence the dialogue process is doomed. We can only hope that the struggle of these farmers will triumph soon one day.

(Note: Sandeep Pandey is national vice president of Socialist Party (India), Simran Kaur is 5th year student of B.A.-LLB (Hons.) at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh and Harleen Sandhu is a Doctoral student at Louisiana State University.)

By Nilkantha Mandal, Sandeep Pandey and Kushagra Kumar

All his life he fought valiantly to defend the rights of the people belonging to marginalised sections of society who were persecuted by the State or people who would stand up for their rights and consequently were targeted by the ruling elite but in the end he paid a price for his magnanimity. Surendra Gadling, now in jail in the Bhima-Koregoan violence case, is a human rights lawyer and Dalit rights activist based in Nagpur. He is known for taking up cases of extra-judicial killings, police excesses and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in Gadchiroli and Gondia districts of Maharashtra. He is considered to be an expert in special laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, laws under which rampant violation of rights of tribals goes on in this country.
He represented Arun Ferreira, also in jail in the Bhima-Koregaon case, between 2007 and 2012. Until his own arrest, he was also handling the case of a wheelchair-bound Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, now convicted for his Naxal links. Surendra Gandling is known to take up most of his cases pro bono.
While working as an apprentice in the railways, Surendra started the Awhan Natya Manch, which would organise cultural evenings in the bastis of Nagpur and engage in conversations around rights and oppression. He has also been a member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners and served as General Secretary of the Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers. The IAPL describes him as ‘..an iconic example to many dalit lawyers defending their oppressed communities.’
Gadling was part of an independent fact-finding team that probed the encounter killing of 40 alleged Maoists by the police in Gadhchiroli in April 2018. He has also been a voice against persecution of the lawyers by the police machinery. In this context he also visited Kashmir as part of a team. He conducted a fact-finding mission in Chhattisgarh and brought out a report about persecution and harassment of lawyers who take up cases pertaining to tribals trapped in UAPA cases. He was also part of the Bhima Koregaon fact-finding team.
Gadling has been deeply involved with issues related to backward communities, in defense of reservation and in defense of the independence of the judiciary. He has been instrumental in spreading awareness and organising public meetings on various human rights issues.
Among the persons Gadling defended, many were charged with UAPA/Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and labeled as terrorists or Naxalites. Some of these names will definitely be part of history for their contribution towards society. In the close to twenty five years of legal career he was able to get acquittal for all his clients, except in three cases, who were charged under these draconian laws, no mean achievement considering the powerful state paraphernalia that he was arrayed against. By deploying the heaviest of police bandobast, cordoning off the court premises, issuing alerts on the court hearing days, the police would often throw its weight to intimidate him and his clients in many of the cases he was involved with.
Despite all this, Gadling has been successful in convincing the courts of law about the innocence of his clients and in the discarding of many ridiculous allegations. He has fearlessly defended many even when there was strong objection from bar associations, negative publicity in media and open threats from investigating bodies.
He has been appointed special public prosecutor in cases filed by women’s organizations on multiple occasions. In one dowry death case, despite a hostile investigation team, Gadling managed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and obtained the conviction of the husband. After the completion of the case, fulfilling his duty as prosecutor, Gadling wrote to the higher-ups in the police department seeking stern action against police officers from the investigation team for their negligence of duty.

National Investigating Agency had raised objections on interim bail to Gadling on his mother’s demise.

It is clear that the role of Gadling as a lawyer and activist has been quite unpleasant for the powerful people in the police department. Given his commitment to defend those who have been labelled “Naxals”, police officials have made every effort to target him. There have been many instances where police officials have conveyed their displeasure towards him in various ways for handling these cases.
During the trial of Professor G.N. Saibaba, the then Investigating Officer in the case, Bawache, had said in the court premises itself that once Saibaba is sent to jail it will be the turn of Advocate Surendra Gadling. This particular threat was given right in front of the juniors and associates of Gadling.
It was clear that the threat was administered only to ensure that the defense counsel does not dare to function with a free mind. True to his threat, Bawache even got one of the surrendered Naxalites to give 164 statements in which he has attributed some of the most ridiculous allegations against Gadling. Bawache is known to be closely supervising the present case without officially being part of the investigation.
Gadling though has never been intimidated by such threats. There was even a time when he had to keep his anticipatory bail order in his pocket when he went for his own wedding.  However this time the Bhartiya Janata Party led central government in collusion with the police have managed to find a way to silence him, but, hopefully, only temporarily.
Therefore the 6th June 2018 arrest of Surendra Gadling along with other political prisoners by the Pune police due to accusations of Maoist links, under the UAPA is baseless. Either the charges against him must be substantiated in some way or he must be freed from imprisonment immediately. It is important that Surendra Gadling is out so that the rights of many are not trampled upon by the powerful vested interests often in collusion with the ruling elite.

(Nilkantha Mandal is a LLB student at Bengal Law College, Santiniketan, Sandeep Pandey is Vice President of Socialist Party (India) and Kushagra Kumar is a student from Lucknow.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the authors. The facts and opinions in the article do not reflect the views of The Public India and The Public India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Faisal Khan, 48 has invested his entire life to strengthen communal harmony. With the intent to maintain and promote peace and harmony between people and communities he took out countless marches not just within India but also between India and Pakistan. He can recite verses from Ramcharitmanas and from the Quran with equal conviction. He offers namaz in mosques and also receives prasad and blessings from the priest of Hindu temples. Last year he also took part in ‘Saryu Aarti’ in Ayodhya. In 2018 he was invited by the well known preacher Murari Bapu to his ashram at Mahua, Gujarat, and felicitated during the ‘Sadbhavna Parv,’ as part of which Faisal also addressed the gathering present there. Murari Bapu was so overwhelmed upon hearing Ramcharitmanas verses from Faisal that he promised to visit ‘Sabka Ghar’ in Gaffar Manzil, near Jamia Milia, Delhi, which has been established by Faisal, dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives as victims of some form of discrimination or other. Sabka Ghar is a living example of communal harmony where people of different religious faiths come and live together, and celebrate different festivals like Holi, Diwali, Eid, Christmas, etc., together with equal fervour and spirit.

Recently Faisal Khan, Chand Mohammad, Alok Ratan and Nilesh Gupta undertook ’84 Kos Parikrama’ of Braj in Mathura during which they  paid a visit to a Nand Baba Mandir. They received the prasada from this temple and Faisal recited verses from Ramcharitmanas to the priest. The priest happily allowed him to offer Namaz inside the premises on 29 October 2020. When the photographs of Faisal Khan and Chand Mohammad offering Namaz in the temple premises went viral, then it appears as if someone with maligned intent asked the priest to lodge a police complaint. Three days after this incident, on 1st of November 2020, a first information report was lodged at Barsana Police Station. All four pilgrims have been charged with Indian Penal Code sections 153A, 295 and 505. On 2nd November 2020, UP Police arrested Faisal Khan from Delhi and took him to Mathura. Later IPC sections 419, 420, 453, 468, 470 has also been added to the FIR.

Faisal Khan and his associate offering Namaz in Mathura Temple

There is a contradiction in charges slapped by the police. How can those who are undertaking 84 Kos Parikrama for peace and communal harmony in Mathura spread hatred in the name of religion? Followers of Hindu faith should be happy that people from other faiths are also undertaking 84 Kos Parkirama as per Hindu traditions and customs and receiving blessings and prasada from their temple. Moreover, all religions overall believe that there is one God. Then what difference does it make if we worship the God differently? Some people may worship by offering namaz. The destination is same, only routes are different. Those who will listen to the voice of reason will not have any objection to this. But if someone wants to leverage political mileage out of religion or polarise communities on religious sentiments then such a person will make an issue out of this incident.

Faisal Khan is also a trustee of Sarva Dharma Sadbhava Kendra Trust located in Ram Janaki Mandir in Durahi Kuan, Sarju Kunj, Ayodhya. There is a plan to develop an all-faith communal harmony centre in this Ram Janaki temple where Acharya Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri is the Mahant. Faisal Khan has offered Namaz several times in this temple. People of all faith and caste including Dalits are welcome in this temple. There is also a langar (kitchen) organized at this temple everyday like in Gurudwaras. The committee which manages the langar is headed by Danish Ahmed of Faizabad. One of the objectives of the religion is to encourage people to live in harmony and peace with each other. If people use religion to incite discontent or divide then this cannot be a called a religious act.

Faisal Khan also organised a march from Delhi to Haridwar in March 2019 to support Brahmachari Atmabodhanand, who was sitting on a fast in Matra Sadan at Haridwar to demand a law for conservation of  river Ganga. Faisal also invited head of Matra Sadan, Swami Shivanand Saraswati in February 2020 to Delhi to distribute relief materials for restoration of a damaged mosque as well as to meet victims of communal riots in a camp. Faisal Khan is doing important work of an antidote to the poison that communal forces are spreading in the society. That is why it is even more shocking to see the charges under which Faisal Khan and colleagues have been booked.

Some people are raising the question that Faisal Khan could offer namaz in a temple, can one perform yagya, bhajan-kirtan in a mosque? Now, Hindu religion is a liberal and flexible religion. The mahant of above mentioned Ram Janaki Yugal Kishore Shashtri describes himself as an atheist. Such a possibility exists in Hindu religion but not in Islam. Hence different religions have unique characters. It is unfair to compare them. Moreover, it is said that religion is a matter of faith. We should respect anybody’s faith in a particular religion and also those who don’t have faith in any religion. If there is something special about our religion we should try to preserve it and refrain from finding fault with other religions. Because criticism will only lead to controversy. Hence respecting the diversity of our religions is a way to maintain peace and harmony. As we write this, we hear that some people have gone and recited Hanuman Chalisa in a Idgah and a mosque. If they done it with the permission of caretakers of these places there is nothing wrong with it. But the intention is very important. Faisal offered namaz with the permission of priest of the temple and he was on a mission of communal harmony having done the parikrama.  He is well versed with Hindu religion texts as well. But if the intention of those reading Hanuman Chalisa is merely a reaction to Faisal’s offering namaz in temple then it doesn’t serve any purpose. If they are religious people they’ll try to understand Islam as well and not merely seek to justify their act on political ground.

The society has to understand Faisal Khan and his spirit and stand along with those who are trying to maintain and strengthen communal harmony and peace rather than those who are trying to divide for political aggrandizement.

Jointly authored by Bobby Ramakant, Kushagra Kumar and Sandeep Pandey. Kushagra Kumar is a student and Bobby Ramakant & Sandeep Pandey are associated with Socialist Party (India)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the authors. The facts and opinions in the article do not reflect the views of The Public India and The Public India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

What purpose does a religion serve?

It serves you the meaning of living a life in the right way.

Lately, the sentiment around the religion in our country is undergoing transformation, religion has become a marker of character. Earlier this thinking was limited to a very small section of society but now the politics of majoritarianism has taken over. It has influenced the government, administration, police, judiciary and the media. By conflating majority Hindu religion with nationalism the problem has been further compounded. So much so that every wrong, such as violence done in the name of religion, is sought to be justified. On the other hand Muslim citizens become a suspect in the eye of system. Innocent Muslims as well as those who are critical of the Hindutva ideology are falsely implicated in legal cases because they are viewed as anti-nationals. Laws like sedition, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and National Security Act are invoked so that the accused have to spend years in jail without trial and bail. In Uttar Pradesh, where the police have failed to control the law and order situation, out of 139 cases registered under NSA, 76 are related to cow slaughter. It shows the misplaced priorities of and the abuse of police to achieve its political agenda by the Bharatiya Janata Party government which is being played up by the media of our country. People are using digital platform to incite hate and anger, sadly there is no control over it. This politics of communalism is creating mistrust among the communities as never before and has led to many dreadful events, taking a heavy toll on social fabric of this country.

We live in a society with over 3,000 castes and over 10 major faiths. Yet a kid won’t know when he will call his friends for gully cricket their faith or caste but as they grow society molds our thinking. Our syncretic culture has an inbuilt tolerance. People of different religions and castes have learnt to live together over generations respecting each other’s views and often go out of their way to help each other. For every communal incident we also hear stories of how Hindus saved Muslims and vice versa. But unfortunately politics of communalism is polarizing the society resulting in mental ghettoisation.

Mob lynching incidents, which initially targeted Muslims and Dalits, are now on the rise as people are emboldened to take law into their hands even in other matters. Pure human emotions like love have not been spared. Love jihad is used as a pretext to hound inter-religious couples, just as inter-caste couple are persecuted. The jihad concept was extended to COVID-19 crisis accusing Muslims of spreading the virus. And now one channel has come out with a story that Muslims are infiltrating the civil services. Sachar Committee report tells us that Muslims are under-represented in service sector in proportion to their population essentially because education levels among the community are comparatively lower, but that is how the media is distorting the reality, implications of which are very dangerous for the well being of our society.

Watch The Public’s Third Eye with Anand Vardhan Singh on Palghar Mob Lynching

Our morality has been numbed by this communal-patriarchal-casteist thinking that our conscience is not pricked by even the cruelest acts. When a barber Ikhlaq from Uttar Pradesh went to Haryana in search of work his right hand which had a ‘786’ tatoo on it was amputated by a saw machine. 786 has religious significance in Islam just as ‘Om’ in Hinduism. It has nothing provocative about it, yet Ikhlaq has been permanently disabled to pursue his vocation for livelihood. Slogans like Jai Shree Ram and Allah-O-Akbar have become war cries defeating the whole purpose of religion. What purpose this hate campaign can serve except to create long lasting fissures in society?

When Wall Street Journal recently carried a story on how Facebook deliberately allowed hate speech content by some BJP leaders including T. Raja Singh to keep the government in good humour, even though it played a role in instigating communal riots, it has sparked a debate on free speech. Ultimately Raja Singh’s content was removed but a number of BJP leaders including the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad objected to the curb on right to freedom of expression of their colleagues. Does the right to free speech give one a right to endanger somebody’s life? It is interesting that BJP leaders advocate for their freedom of speech but anybody else found to be crtical of their government or leaders or even past Hindutva leaders are likely to be booked by the police. Recently UP police went all the way to Odisha to arrest a Muslim youth who made some adverse comments about Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi on social media. And now the UP government is creating a Special Security Force with a power to search and arrest without warrant. We can very well imagine who the likely victims will be.

Media, with some exception, has readily propagated the right wing ideology either to curry favour from government or under duress. The manipulation by the media channels, trying to feed the negativity to serve their rating, has been damaging to our society. The social media platforms have spread fake news sometimes resulting in violent incidents. Hatred and stupidity are on brazen display on these platforms. Innocence of human beings has been replaced by cunningness.

Watch Third Eye with Dr. Sandeep Pandey & Anand Vardhan Singh on Disinvestments

During the time of pandemic when people are mostly at homes the news channels have stooped to a new low in indulging in sensationalism. Journalism is losing its essence, it’s no longer about issues but it has taken the role of judging people’s character. To ensure that no hard questions are asked about its inept handling of the crisis at border created by China, the BJP has invented enemies like Rhea Chakraborty and Shiv Sena so that energies of its supporters are directed internally. Nobody is interested in the real question of how drugs make it to our society with the collusion of authorities. Meanwhile, the BJP is unashamedly using Sushant Singh Rajput’s issue as an election issue in Bihar diverting the attention from the misery of migrant workers who are facing a dual crisis due to floods. The media is simply lapping it all up.

We have to ask some serious questions. How is the national politics and media relevant to a child who sleeps without food at night because there is unemployment? Is poverty no longer an issue in a country with most number and proportion of poor in the world? Where is the conscience of media which is required to play the role of fourth pillar of democracy?  With unemployment going up the information broadcasters are earning enough money to feed gossip but will they be able to feed an empty stomach of a family whose lives have been devastated by the lockdown? What we see or listen we tend to believe, that’s the power we have given to the TV channels and they are abusing the power of information. An uneducated man or a villager is not interested in the Bollywood. The journalism in our country is dying and the people are enjoying the funeral because they are getting their daily soap fun. Journalism means research and showing the truth, posting the current events and not twisting a person’s mind with false fancy information.

It’s no secret how the elections of 2014 and 2019 were influenced with the power of technology. The feed on our Facebook and other platforms are customized menu offered to us, the fashion videos or the food videos are not randomly there on your feed.  Sure, it is easy to just be glued to your phone and watch or get served what you ordered thereafter the rest of the menu follows without you searching for it. The extensive reach of the platforms has posed a danger to our society as whole. Since the feed for each individual is customized the opinion of a person is shaped accordingly but the downside is the race for attention of the masses and the electronic media is the most aggressive player in the game. Electronic media in India is more of drama than actual journalism. As a human mind is more prone to sensationalism, the advantage is being taken by the electronic media. The real issues like the falling GDP, the situation of migrant workers, farmers’ misery all fade vis-a-vis the suicide of a Bollywood actor, Shiv Sena leader equating demolition of Kangana Ranaut’s office to Babri Masjid’s or the politics of Hindu Muslim binary. People get carried away as they are being fed the drama and tend to forget about the actual problems, this has created polarization to a great extent in India. People hate each other for their ideology, even in families there is polarization among the kids and their parents because the kids are critical of the Government.

Is that the world one wants to live in? Where we have differences among our family members? Hate boiling in our blood for our ideology? Use of religion or caste to demean others?The external threat faced by the country can be countered only by fostering equality, liberty, and most of all fraternity, amongst its citizens and not by playing the divisive politics internally.

Maybe it’s time to rethink our actions and conscience! Remember that Idea advertisement? Where people had no religion, no caste just their phone numbers as their identity. If people were more thoughtful there would be less hatred and violence and more love in our world.

(Jointly Authored by Dr. Sandeep Pandey and Shivi Saba)

Note: Sandeep Pandey is renowned Social Activist & Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and Shivi Saba is a Masters student at Berlin School of Business and Innovation.

Also Read: TIME TO JUDGE THE JUDGEMENT

Also Read: Who Will Clean The Deep Root of Indian Education System?

When the only cause for elation, even a smile in the morning, is news of the release of an innocent detainee with the words that his detention ‘was bad in law’, then democracy is indeed staring at its nadir.

Priyanka Gandhi called Dr. Kafeel after his release. We would have liked to call the judges who delivered this judgment. Why? For doing their duty? For upholding a fundamental principle of the law? That a man is innocent until proved guilty? But how many judges are doing their duty today? If they were, would Sharjeel Imam, Devangana Kalita (who was indeed granted bail on one of several charges) and numerous others be rotting behind bars? Here we do not even talk of the Bhima Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case in which many intellectuals, journalists, advocates, professors and human rights defenders are in jail on charges similar to those levelled against Dr. Kafeel Khan.

Dr. Kafeel’s is no ordinary case. Accusations made against him were never really about the ‘incendiary’ speech he is supposed to have made at Aligarh Muslim University. It is well known that the deep corruption and mismanagement of a hospital in Gorakhpur where sixty children lost their lives for lack of oxygen, was brought to light when the man in charge—Kafeel Khan—disclosed the fact that earlier bills for cylinders were kept pending despite his repeated reminders resulting in total unavailability of oxygen in the hospital. He was never forgiven for this and it was only a matter of time before the predator pounced on the prey. He was arrested in 2017 for dereliction of duty and being engaged in private practice.

Dr. Kafeel Khan after his release from jail

In 2018, Dr. Khan was released on bail as the court did not find him guilty of medical negligence. When a departmental inquiry cleared him of all charges a fresh inquiry was initiated clearly suggesting that there was more to this case than met the eye.The Uttar Pradesh government got another opportunity to nab him after his speech at AMU in December 2019 during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens movement when he was accused of promoting hatred and violence between different groups. The UP police who have proved to be a total failure in controlling the situation of law and order within the state, displayed great alacrity in arresting Dr. Kafeel Khan from Mumbai and bringing him to Aligarh from where he was shifted to the Mathura jail. He was charged with threatening the peace and tranquillity of Aligarh. Before he could be released on bail after an order of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Aligarh, the administration slapped the National Security Act on him which further continued his incarceration. The State Advisory Board extended his period of custody under the NSA.

It finally took a Division bench of two High Court judges Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh to set aside his detention as well as extension terming them unsustainable in the eye of the law, clearing the way for his release. What the police thought was a provocative speech, the Judges described as ‘a call for national integrity and unity.’ What can be a more stark example of the venality of police action. The police’s role has been damaging to the self-esteem of this professional service. Dr. Kafeel Khan has proved that he is a dedicated and conscientious paediatrician and it is unfortunate that the government instead of using his services in a time of pandemic, chose to keep him in jail.

Watch the Episode- 226 of Third Eye on Dr. Kafeel Khan

All judges are aware of the fate of Justice B.H. Loya, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2014 when he was hearing the case of the (fake) encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which Amit Shah was an accused, and of Justice S. Muralidhar who was transferred to High Court of Punjab and Haryana on the night of the day that he took Delhi police to task for not registering a First Information Reports against three Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who had made provocative speeches which were followed by communal riots in Delhi in February, 2020. Also the prospect of rewards for ‘services rendered’ at all times looms large and indeed comes to fruition as we have recently witnessed. It takes a Dushyant Dave to (want to) say to a retiring judge: “May I pray to Lord Mahabaleshwar to bless you with strength to introspect and stir up your conscience.” (Indian Express, September 3) As we know, though invited to the function as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, he was not permitted to speak at Justice Arun Mishra’s farewell. This was immediately after the contempt of court case against Prashant Bhushan in which Dave was Bhushan’s advocate pleading before a bench presided over by Justice Mishra.

Thus whereas politicians and members of the public – those members that care – are quick to cry out against witch hunts and vendetta politics, we write in the belief that it is also necessary to salute those in the legal system who are willing to speak truth to power and deliver the sort of justice the citizens of this country deserve. It will take another set of intrepid judges to not only reinstate Dr. Kafeel Khan in his job, but even more consequentially, to set aside the case under NSA against him.If this happens, it could serve as a precedent, setting in motion the release of other innocents in jails.

We commend the Allahabad High Court judges for preventing gross injustice at a time when the public perception of the independence of the judiciary is under a dark cloud of mistrust.

May their tribe increase!

(By Sandeep Pandey and Mohini Mullick)
Note: Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India) and Mohini Mullick is former Professor of Humanities at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.  

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It is unusual for a bright young scholar like Amrendra Narayan, with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Mississippi State University, preceded and followed by research stints at Indian Institutes of Technology at Kanpur and Mumbai, respectively, to go and work at a relatively little known Veer Kunwar Singh University in a small town Arrah of Bihar near his native place. His own family and friends would have probably dissuaded him from going to Arrah and for good reasons. After working there for three years he was physically assaulted on campus on 13 August, 2020, by one Vivek Kumar alias Jitendra Pandey, who hangs around in the University without any formal affiliation there.

            It appears that a section of people with the University were not happy with the reforms that Amrendra was trying to bring about in the prevalent ‘academic’ culture there. Using his technological capabilities, the University created a Computer Centre facility for computerized result preparation saving crores of rupees and freeing it from the clutches of private agencies and from external and internal manipulation. His biggest attack was on plagiarism. He introduced software to detect plagiarism which made it difficult to obtain an easy Ph.D. from the University. In his attempt to rid the system of higher education of the malpractices and corruption by strictly implementing the University Grants Commission norms, he shook the entire set up.

            The Vice Chancellor was supportive of his efforts in the beginning because of which Amrendra was able to accomplish a number of things. But after the assault incident, the VC has decided to go mum.

            The scenario at University in Arrah is not an exception. To a lesser and greater extent all the malpractices here can be found in any academic institution in other places too. Using unfair means in examinations is very common and is a collaborative exercise in many places with students, parents, teachers, and management of school or college, education department officials, administrative officers and people’s representatives all colluding. It is an important factor responsible for fall in quality of education activity at educational institutions. Students of renowned institutions like King George Medical University, Lucknow and IIT, Banaras Hindu Univeristy have been caught impersonating for candidates in respective entrance examinations in exchange for money. Incidents of plagiarism have been reported at very reputed institutions too. Erudite economist Jean Dreze accused IIT Kanpur Associate Professor in Economics, Somesh Kumar Mathur, of having completely copied one of his articles published in Economic and Political Weekly when Mathur was a Ph.D. student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mathur just added a section to Dreze’s article and published it in another journal in his name. Inspite of charges of plagiarism in other works, Mathur continues to serve the IIT Kanpur.

            What is probably a rarity at IIT is a common practice at universities like the Veer Kunwar Singh. Dishonesty in research and teaching is rampant. The practice perpetuates from one generation to another. Any intervention to rectify the malfunctioning is likely to receive a violent pushback as experienced by Amrendra Narayan.

            Campus violence is also not uncommon. From carrying the feudal-casteist disputes from the rural hinterland to academic campuses, clashes between student groups more for asserting their dominance than for any ideological reasons, giving vent to their frustration against any attempt to discipline them by indulging in vandalism have been common incidences. Banaras Hindu University at Varanasi closing down sine die after campus violence was an expected annual event before the University decided to ban students union elections. This January we have seen masked gang going on rampage in JNU campus. A rowdy group forcibly entered the Gargi College in Delhi in February and molested girl students in a shameful act.

            Most of our institutions of higher learning have no pretensions of being the ideal centres of learning and scholarship. Inspite of high numbers involved in higher education India has a poor record in research. It is no surprise that no scholar working in an Indian institution has received a Nobel prize till date. The quality of research also reflects in the economy. The manufacturing in India is highly dependent on foreign designs and imported materials and products. China has infiltrated the Indian market to such an extent that in spite of our wish to boycott Chinese goods because of its infringement of Indian territory we’re unable to do so. The Prime Minister may dream of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, the fact is we cannot do without external help, whether of finance or technology. A recent trend is even governments hire foreign consultants to advise them on matters of domestic policy.

            It is quite clear that India has not taken its education seriously. Education is a ritual to be completed for upward social and economic mobility. The ultimate objective is to possess a degree irrespective of any capability acquired through the process of education. The more smart among the educated use their knowledge or skills to make money for themselves, legally or illegally. Corruption in India is a product of the educated. Education is disconnected from social reality and does not even attempt to solve the real problems of our country. Corruption, violence and mediocrity are endemic to Indian education system. The system is deeply entrenched intertwined with powerful vested interests.

            However, if the policy makers want an overhaul of the education system, as is desired in the recently released New Education Policy, the reality would have to be confronted. Some people will have to stem the rot. This will definitely involve risks as Amrendra’s example has shown. But the wider society and at least the intellectual academic community will have to support persons who attempt to reform the system and not abandon them.

Rona Wilson is a prison rights activist who has been in jail since April 2018 and denied bail several times. The Pune Police raided his home in Delhi on April 17, 2018, and arrested him subsequently for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon violence in January that year. A few months later, the agencies also accused him of being part of a larger naxal plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Rajeev Gandhi style and overthrow the current government. To substantiate their claims, the agencies allegedly produced some letter from his laptop which cyber-forensic experts believe could have been maliciously planted through malware. Nonetheless, this grave accusation was enough to land him in prison without any bail.

Rona is a founding member of the CRPP – the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. CRPP provides legal aid to people accused in terrorism cases and booked under repressive laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and National Security Act. Rona is reported to have been working for the release of political prisoners since the early 2000s. In the words of Meena Kandasamy, a feminist writer and activist, “People like Rona represent the last frontier, the last line of defense that dissidents have. They could feel safe knowing that people like Rona will take up your cause; that they will campaign for your freedom.” Now with an ardent campaigner like Rona behind bars, Kandasamy questions if others will also be condemned to silence. 

Many activists have alleged that the government had framed these activists to shield the Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide who were accused of mobilizing an attack on the Bhima Koregaon memorial event, which attracts large Dalit crowds on January 1 every year to celebrate the anniversary of a stunning victory of a lower-caste Mahar regiment of the British army over the upper-caste Peshwas in 1818. Over the years this event has become a symbol of Dalit-Bahujan’s assertion against the draconian caste system of India.

Many who know Rona personally have been pained to witness this deplorable attempt of the government to harass this defender of the most vulnerable prisoners in India. In the opinion of renowned author Arundhati Roy, not much has been written about Rona as he is “low-key” in his disposition. Professor G. Haragopal described him as an erudite and hardworking scholar with a strong moral compass. Rona’s commitment towards his values is uncompromising, and the activist’s moral universe is based on the “larger concerns of the poor people, concerns of the prisoners, concerns of the tribals,” reports the Caravan. 

The second writer of this article had seen him with late Delhi University Professor Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, an accused in the Parliament attack case of 2001. Geelani was first given a death sentence but later acquitted by the Delhi High Court in 2003 for lack of any evidence against him. Supreme Court upheld the decision. It was after the acquittal and release from jail after 22 months of Professor Geelani that CRPP was formed with Amit Bhattacharyya as Secretary General, S.A.R. Geelani as Vice President and Rona Wilson as Secretary, Public Relations as a need was felt for a body to work for the release of increasing number of persons who were being incarcerated for political reasons. This trend has never reversed and today we see a large number of political prisoners in jail and laws like UAPA being made more stringent to cast a larger net to nab such individuals who the establishment considers a threat. Except for the period when Emergency was imposed in India, probably never before so many intellectuals, writers, advocates, journalists, scholars, students and activists have been in jail as today. Emergency was imposed for two years and people targeted by the Indira Gandhi regime were in jail for a duration of less than two years. Under the current dispensation some people are now lodged in jail for more than two years. The attempt by the state is to silence every dissenter so that there is no criticism of majoritarian politics. Four such dissidents have been silenced by direct assassinations in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Needless to say these phenomena will have a chilling effect and citizens will feel threatened to raise a voice against injustice. Contempt of court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan is another case in point. The need for human rights bodies like CRPP and for activist like Rona Wilson has never been greater.

Before his arrest, Rona was in the process of heading abroad for his Ph.D. He had applied to the University of Surrey and the University of Leicester to pursue his doctorate. Even in jail, his quest for further studies never got extinguished and is still alight with hope and optimism. He has urged his family members to remain in touch with the faculty-in-charge at both the foreign universities and to apprise them of his precarious situation in India. His letter in this regard also mentioned his proposed thesis: “The Fiction of the Muslim Other: State, Law and The Politics of Naming in Contemporary India” writes Aathira Konikkara. 

The imprisonment of this bright scholar of our country is condemnable. The state must either prove its grave charges against him conclusively or set him free along with all other political prisoners.

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic threat a raging debate is going on at present regarding the holding of the Joint Entrance Examination Mains, the preliminary examination required to be cleared for admission to prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and other engineering and technology institutions, during 1-6 September, 2020, by the National Testing Agency, in which 8,58,273 candidates are to appear. Subsequently a JEE Advanced will be held for 2-2.5 lakhs candidates selected from the abovementioned for final admission to IITs and other institutions. Some students approached the court with an objective to get the JEE Mains postponed but court has decided to support the NTA’s decision to conduct the examination. Now there is pressure being exerted through various channels including leaders of Bhartiya Janata Party and its allies for the postponement of this examination.

            Some IIT professors think the examination should be postponed in view of the imminent threat of COVID-19, some think only one round of examination should be conducted and some are suggesting innovative alternatives like Professor Kannan M. Moudgalya of IIT Bombay, through an article in Indian Express, has suggested postponing the examination by two years and allowing the students to enroll in a branch of their choice in any engineering college during the interim and use NPTEL/SWAYAM video courses to study. Professor P.R.K. Rao, formerly of IIT Kanpur, has suggested an admission process without entrance examinations in which students seeking admission to IITs would not be eligible for non-IIT engineering institutions and vice-versa. Students seeking admission to IITs will be allowed to specify a maximum preference order of 2-3 IITs with a maximum preference order of 2 branches. Students admitted to IITs will give an undertaking that they will withdraw from the programme if their performance falls below a specified level. Admission process will follow a first-come-first-served rule in a fixed time frame.

            There are 23 IITs now in the country, one in each state in mainland India except for Uttar Pradesh which has two and for the entire Northeast and Sikkim there is only one in Guwahati. There are total of 15,53,809 seats available in 3,289 engineering colleges of India which are recognized by All India Council for Technical Education. The ideal situation is one where nobody who has an aspiration to study engineering is denied admission. The number of students appearing in JEE Mains held two times a year is about the same as number of seat available in all engineering colleges. Hence, it is physically possible to accommodate each aspirant without conducting any examination for elimination.

            Each of the 23 IITs should take responsibility for assigning seats available in their state (region, in the case of Northeast and Sikkim) to the students from their state (region). For example IITs at Kanpur and Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi will take responsibility for allotting 1,42,972 seats available in 296 colleges of UP to students from UP. Of course, any excess students in any state will have an opportunity to fill vacant seats in a state of their choice.

            Considering that 15,53,809 (equal to number of seats available) students have to be offered admission, each IIT’s burden will be about 67,557 students. Assuming that there are an average of 200 faculty members at each IIT, each faculty member over a 15 minutes one-on-one interview during 8 hours a day on an online platform, after verifying the identity of the student, can interview all the 338 students in his/her share in ten and a half days evaluation process. This evaluation process will essentially determine capability of the student and accordingly allot him/her to an institution whose rigour can be matched by student’s capability. The choice of branch of study should be left to the student. The selection process should be mindful of allotment of appropriate number of reserved seats to students from that category in each institution. A good proportion of girl students should also be allotted to each institution to maintain the gender balance to the extent possible. This one online interview will replace the JEE Mains, JEE Advanced and the counseling which decides the Institute and Branch choice for admission.

            This seat allotment process will be subjective as different faculty members at different IITs interview different set of students and individual inclinations will come into play. A deterrent to selecting an undeserving candidate for a seat will the public knowledge about who selected whom displayed on the particular IIT’s website. To exclude the possibility of individual biases panels can be formed, which will obviously be interviewing a larger number of students. But it is important that all faculty members are involved to share the load. As a correction mechanism, just as there is provision for branch change within an institution at the end of first year depending on the performance of initial year, an opportunity can be given to the students to change their institute based on their performance. Hence a student who was not allotted an IIT in the first year can by his/her hard work move from a private college or state engineering college or a National Institute of Technology to an IIT in the second year. For a student not sufficiently prepared a reverse process can also be adopted.

            The entire seat allotment process will save time, resources and bureaucracy invested in conducting the JEE. Additionally, the students will be attending an institution close to their home akin to the idea of neighbourhood school. This will correct the regional imbalance in representation among student community at IITs and also that created because of coaching institutions.

            The biggest gain will be making the selection process free from extortionist and grueling coaching institutions, which is one of the stated aims of New Education Policy recently delivered to the country. There will be simply no need of them. Every desirous student will be able to study engineering. This is akin to universalisation of education, a long cherished dream of every educationist.

            It is also likely that a major complaint of faculty members at IITs that students coming through the coaching institutions are not interested in engineering but they just need the IIT brand to move on to something more lucrative, like a career in finance, will also be addressed to some extent. It is high time we encourage students with an interest in particular subject to which s(he) is seeking admission, like in other countries to which Indian students migrate for undergraduate or graduate education.

            The suggested seat allotment process could be studied for a few years. If it appears to be advantageous over the current selection process than it could be adopted in long term too.

By dr. Sandeep Pandey
Dr. Sandeep Pandey is Ramon Magasaysay Awarded Social Activist and has taught at IITs at Kanpur, Gandhinagar and BHU, Varanasi and has conducted examination free evaluations of students in all his courses.