01 June, 2016

Forefront: A Network of Human Rights Advocates (2005 newsletter)

I spent a year in New York in 2001 interning with Forefront: A Network of Human Rights Advocates, an advocacy organization that was supported human rights advocates from developing countries. BASE, the organization at the forefront of eliminating bonded labor in Nepal, was one of their partners, and while I was there my job was to support its work. When Khum Bahadur Khadga, the then Home Minister, tried to strip BASE of its NGO status, I was the little intern behind the scenes who drafted the advocacy letter that was eventually signed by Jimmy Carter and sent via the Carter Center, asking the Nepal Government to restore BASE's legal status.

I put out this little bit of history in response to Diwakar Zha's article in Setopati, in which he seems to suggest I must be in favor of bonded labor because I critique the Human Rights Watch's biased report, in which they selective edit information to make it appear all those who oppose the "One Madhesh, One Pradesh" and support the Akhanda movement must be somehow in favor of bonded labor. This, I have pointed out, is wrong, and there are plenty of people who oppose the One Madhesh, One Pradesh and who support the Akhanda movement--and who also oppose bonded labor.

Here is the PDF of the 2005 Forefront newsletter. It also features an interview with the young Dilli Chowdhary.

23 May, 2016

The Constitution is Not a Magic Elixir

This is a followup to my previous article titled “Was the Human Rights Watch biased?” I’d like to thank Mr. Rob Penner for factchecking that article. And indeed there are factual errors: After watching Youtube videos and reading up on past articles, it appears the Andolan was in full force in August, most of the killings (47 killed according to commentators) occurred from August 10th onwards and was over by September, the Constitution was promulgated on September 20, and the blockade started September 23. So there were factual errors in my article, for which I take full responsibility. In my defense, I’d like to say I haven’t had access to a TV or even newspapers since April 25, 2015, and that I’ve been in and out of hospitals from multiple operations from a fractured foot and arm caused by the earthquake, and that my access to information is not as linear as it should be. I was wrong and I apologize for the confusion. 

However, the major points of my previous article still stands: the HRW report was biased in its language and perspective. It did not adequately reflect all the historical complexities of the conflict between the two sides. Most notably, it has erased the concerns of those who object to federalism with ethnic states, and it also fails to note that such a concern is valid, looking at it from the historical perspective in which Pahadis were asked to leave, through threats and intimidation, during the 2007 Madhesh Andolan. The Madhesh had already implemented a period of “ethnic cleansing” on the Pahahis. So it would make sense for those of Pahadi origins not to support an ethnic state dominated by Madeshi identity. Yet the HRW report pushes this idea favorably, selectively making it appear those who oppose this and propose a more integrated state are slaveholders, as evidenced in its paragraph saying Akhanda supporters are landlords holding bonded laborers.

In addition, it also uses biased language to describe the reactions of the two sides, potentially laying the ground for more conflict. Its graphic descriptions of what the police said to the protesters doesn’t give context that the police in Nepal have been documented to use verbal violence in the past, and continue to do so on all people, not just the Madhesis. After watching videos, I am not sure the protesters were not themselves using verbal violence on the police as well—the body language of the protesters is threatening, and there’s enough invective going around against the hill people (especially on social media, which Ms. Thapa fails to note) that the verbal violence probably went both ways. Policemen are often under resourced and at the forefront of violence: and there’s been enough mass attacks against the police in Nepal from 1996-2006, and now in 2015, for policemen to know their lives could be in danger at any instance. Youtube videos show chaotic crowds throwing stones at the police, who appear at times to be overwhelmed by the crowds of protesters. In other documentation, the police killings appear to be extrajudicial, with fleeing people shot in the back and one man shot while he was on the ground.  One is the need to ensure police don’t use violent force on demonstrators. But the other side of that is peaceful protest—protesters too should not attack policemen. Hundreds of young men throwing stones, and although I didn’t see this on video, there are some Tweets to suggest they were carrying burning sticks--is a time honored tradition of protest in Nepal, but perhaps in the era of peaceful protest the Nepal Government (and organizations like HRW) need to lay down terms for what “peaceful” actually means.

My main thesis still stands—I believe a report of this nature, brought out by an important international organization, can and most probably created more conflict by giving the protesters the moral legitimacy to continue on a violent course of action that severely impacted the humanitarian situation of the entire country for around six or seven months. An article about the earthquake in The Atlantic quotes one commentator who says 16 people of his village died of the cold in the winter of 2015, and it also notes that because of the blockade, building materials were in short supply. The link is pretty clear, and if this is the death toll of one village, added up the death toll due to the blockade must be in the hundreds across all the earthquake hit hill districts. I deliberately say seven months because even after India lifted the blockade, goods, including petrol and cooking gas, could not be found in Kathmandu, and no doubt the shortages persisted in the hills as well. In addition, it has also help close the door for any further discussion on ethnic-based states, making it appear that that’s the only officially sanctioned option.

The Oli Government has been clear on its stance on ethnic states. In an interview with the BBC, Oli himself says Nepal has 123 ethnicities, and its not possible to make a state for each one. The Madheshi activists, who are currently in Kathmandu, refuse whatever the Oli Government is offering, and the government keeps inviting them for talks, which do not occur, since both sides seem to refuse the other’s offer. The stalemate has been ongoing for a while, and doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Since federalism is a demand so closely tied to the new Constitution, this is not something both sides seem willing to give up on. Neither, however, do they seem to be able to come up with a mutually satisfactory solution. Nepali politics is adept at stonewalling, and this is something that could potentially continue for the next half century, in the manner of Burma, which is dealing with the exact same promise made of federalism to ethnic minorities, but which never came to fruition. It did, however, lay fertile ground for conflict for the next half century. The ethnic state federalism was dreamt up and promised by Maoists, who are currently not in power—Mr. Oli is from the UML party, and he seems happy enough to rise on the unexpected good fortune brought by both the earthquake and the blockade, which has allowed him to negotiate with China and open that border into Nepal for the first time. Mr. Oli also seems to have cooled towards India, and is engaging in major diplomacy with China, dreaming of big energy, infrastructure and trade exchanges with it. With China’s potential investment in the wings, India has been pushed out of the picture, which means the Madhesh and its politics have also slid into the background, for now.

With conflict exacerbating organizations like International Crisis Group insisting donors should not support local elections in Nepal, there’s now been a void in local administration and politics for almost 14 years. Prashant Jha, famous writer, is another advocate of nixing local elections, vocally insisting it should not happen. It seems to be, however, that a solution—and definitely more engaged community sense of ownership over government-- may arise if there is democractic elections and representation at the grassroots level, which at present doesn’t exist.

It is clear the opening up of democratic norms and values, but most notably migration to Gulf states, has really changed the socio-economic conditions of poor people in the Terai. Caste, gender and ethnic relations are all changing. There is no doubt there will be more vocal political engagement from young people at all levels. The Madhesh continues to be mired in old forms of social exploitations, however, including severe violations against women. There’s a resistance by Madhesi activists to look at how their own internal systems of discrimination and oppression might be holding them down, alongside Pahadi state domination. I do not necessarily think—I’m being hypothetical here—removing all the Pahadis from regional government and replacing them with Madhesis would solve all of the Terai’s issues (not advisable in a multi-ethnic community anyways). In fact, it might even make it worse for those of lower castes and for women, as the example of adjoining Bihar, whose ethnic composition the Madhesi community in Nepal mirrors closely, and where poverty and crime is at an all time high, shows.

I remember going to a lecture organized by Saubhagya Shah, a wonderful scholar and teacher who passed away a few years ago. Saubhagya had invited me to teach at the program on conflict, peace and development which he had started at Tribhuwan University. The speaker in question had come from a Northern European country—he was a famous peace advocate (if someone can remind me of his name again, I’d be most delighted). What I remember most clearly about that lecture is how the soft-spoken white haired gentleman warned the people in the audience not to put all their hopes and faith on the Constitution itself, as if it’s a magic elixir that cures all problems. The Constitution is just one single document, which democracy is bigger, a wide set of practices, institutions and behaviors that cannot be delivered through a single document. I remember this lecture very clearly, not only because it has proved prophetic over the years, but also because I think it remains relevant to this day. 

21 May, 2016

Was the Human Rights Watch report biased?

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One of the big arguments in Nepal recently has been whether a certain Mr. Rob Penner had been right in questioning a wide array of human rights activists, journalists and others about their observations that the Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report on Nepal was biased. In the view of his supporters, Mr. Rob Penner is above all criticism because he was on the side of human rights, and therefore it followed that everybody who questioned his methods must be on the wrong side of history.
But let's look at this a little bit more indepth.
Mr. Penner, “Chief Scientist” of Cloud Factory, an outsourcing company, took it upon himself to factcheck the logic and veracity of people questioning the neutrality of the Human Rights Watch Report. Titled “Like we are not Nepali,” the report at first hand is a well-written and well-researched report of human rights abuses by the security forces in the Southern part of Nepal, where a conflict started to emerge around August-September 2015, a few months after the big earthquake had hit Nepal and devastated many of the hill districts. It does what human rights reports are supposed to do – it interviews people and finds out the facts of each incident in which a violation occurred. Note this is not what the Pahadi observers had issues with—I think human rights defenders would be the first one to say this was absolutely necessary.
I think their reservations came from this: that in any conflict, there are two sides of the story. When the state goes in and starts to beat up innocent people and kill them, as happened in the Terai, they are often not doing that because they’ve gone beserk, but something else has triggered this action. That something else—which was the Madheshi Morcha leading a blockade which very soon turned into a very long and destructive blockade which completely shut down the country’s economic life for six months, including its access to cooking gas and medicines – should have received equal attention in the HRW report. And this, unfortunately, did not happen.
Tejashree Thapa, one of the lead writers of the report, answers in a Tweet to the query why HRW hasn’t dealt with the blockade: “We deal with rights violations, not politics. Blockade political issue.”
In every situation of human rights violations, there is a conflict between two or more parties which causes the violations to occur—these abuses are rarely one-sided. How can a report on a conflict which is spiraling out of control claim to do due justice to the situation without reporting on what the triggers and causes may be? And if that report only exhaustively and chillingly described those incidents which is suffered by one party, making it appear that the Nepali state had gone beserk for reasons more to do with Khas-Arya domination than anything else, could it potentially have acted to heighten tensions and lead to the Madeshi Morcha and Black Flag protesters the moral legitimacy to lengthen the blockade for six months? In other words, did the Human Rights Watch report exacerbate conflict—and were the Pahadi observers right in their statements that it was biased?
I’m not sure if I would violate UN confidentiality by sharing this story, but I felt the story below would illustrate what I’m trying to say.
In 2010, I was working for OHCHR in Nepal. My job was to write the narrative for the civil conflict violations report that was being compiled by the organization. The report itself was a mammoth task, and a team of us had been at work on this for a while, going through more than 15,000 human rights violations. Much of the primary data of abuse against individual cases had been collected by INSEC, the only NGO active in multiple districts, including Terai districts, at that time (INSEC is headed by Subodh Pyakurel, a human rights defender whose perception that the HRW report was biased Mr. Penner relentlessly tried to “Factcheck”.) My colleagues then entered them into a database, painstakingly, one by one. It was a wearying task, and I commend my colleagues who were in charge of going through each gruesome violation for months and months on end without losing their mental equilibrium. My task was to write the opening chapter, a historical overview of the conflict. I had a hard drive full of folders and files, with publications from various sources. I spent a great deal of time pouring over the available printed materials, despairing that I would ever be able to pull out a sparing narrative of how the conflict had unfolded. When I thought it was done, I handed it to my supervisor. I was sitting at my desk when he appeared and said sharply: “This is absolutely unacceptable!”
I looked at him in confusion. “Why?”
“It is completely biased!” he said, throwing down the file on my desk. I tried to think back to how he might have read it as a biased narrative. As far as I could tell, I’d done an absolutely neutral job of reportage.
“Biased? Biased towards who?” I asked. I thought he was accusing me of being soft on the state.
“Biased towards the Maoists, of course!” he said, then marched off.
I was confused. I tried to think back to why my report, carefully balanced, to the point where I was allocating one paragraph for each conflicting party, might have come across as biased. Then I realized that a researcher is only as good as his or her primary source material. In my case, almost all of the materials I had used in research had come from the Maoists, who had documented their People’s War in rich detail. Every single battle, every single ideological argument and policy, was documented in journals and publications. In addition, there were reportage from the field from insiders like Comrade Parvati and reporters like Li Onesto, who followed the Maoists to the battlefield and reported from there. In contrast, the state had almost nothing from its side—the Army did not put out detailed public information about its actions, and campaigns like Kilo Sera 2 are better known from the critiques done by the public than by the actual information from within the army. The police did not have public information about its campaigns during the conflict, or why it took decisions that it did. Since we were not doing primary interviews but working from printed materials already available, it meant my report had to be collated from already existing sources, which were heavily in favor of the Maoists.
Might this not have been the case of the Human Rights Watch report as well? It appears to me there is graphic detail of what happened to the innocent bystanders and protesters, but little information on why the state may have been compelled to take the action that it did. This seems to be due less to the availability of information from the state—Nepal has much easier access to state officials than during the conflict, and an interview could probably have been arranged with the police and government officials, upon request—than to the fact HRW simply didn’t think this was within its mandate.
So why did the state act in the way that it did? The action of the protesters, which seriously blocked the pipeline of food, cooking gas and medicine for the entire country, was a criminal act. But somehow the Nepali state could not or would not think of prosecuting those who were conducting the blockade. Why?  Was the state so weak it couldn’t enforce the law? Or is it that the blockades have been a time honored part of Nepali politics, and politicians have always been above the law in Nepal? Was Mr. Oli’s government simply too weak to enforce the rule of law on Mr Rajendra Mahato of the Madeshi Morcha—preferring instead to slide into extrajudicial police action to scare the protesters by killing innocent villagers and teenagers?
No analysis was done on how the killings in the Terai were triggered by the political action of the Morcha, including its decision to impose a destructive, human rights violating blockade on the entire country. But without this analysis, we are fated to repeat history. HRW reports selectively: the political context which led to the killings is explained as a result of the protests triggered against the Constitution, and demands for federalism, but it is mostly silent on the blockade. Its one paragraph on the blockade doesn’t examine how the shutdown of the border was a very deliberate strategy used as a pressure tactic by the Morcha to make their political demands on federalism met, putting the government in a very difficult situation as they tried to grapple with a law-and-order situation that didn’t have an easy solution.
Reading the report, one can come away thinking the state’s violent killings may be simply due to systematic racial discrimination of the Madheshis. If racial discrimination was the motive for state persecution, surely the state would have been doing that persistently and over a period of time (as in Sri Lanka or Palestine), not just in that specific timeframe? It is unquestionable that racial discrimination against Madeshis exist—but was that the reason why these specific killings occurred?
The HRW itself admits:
The first serious violence occurred on August 24, when Tharu protesters in Kailali attacked and killed eight police officers. An eighteen-month-old child was also killed. Violence then spread east to Madhesi-dominated areas, but in that ensuing violence almost all of the victims were members of the public killed by police.
This incident, which eeirely mirrored Maoist attacks on police during the civil conflict days, was obviously the trigger. Law and order had broken down, and the out-of-control police action that followed was a response to this attack. Clearly the police feared more attacks of this nature, and they systematically went about shooting citizens in a random manner, designed to evoke fear in the populace. But this rather critical point—that the state was responding to an attack on police that appeared to be co-ordinated and organized in a manner recognizable from the 1996-2006 civil conflict is not elaborated upon. The HRW report could be accused of the same “nebulousness” its critics were accused of.
Below is a paragraph from the HRW report:
The Kathmandu-based media has sometimes represented the current protests as animated by Madhesi communal anger toward people of hill origin.[11] Commentators have noted an outpouring of racial hostility toward Madhesis in the Kathmandu-centric social media since September 2015, partly focusing on alleged anti-Pahadi communal violence in the Terai.[12]
In this paragraph, the Kathmandu media is shown to have poured racial hostility towards Madeshis, but the “Communal anger” of the Madeshis is suggestively written up to be a fiction of the Kathmandu elite’s imagination. The anti-Pahadi communal violence is “alleged,” unlike the real violence experienced by the Madeshis. Perhaps Ms. Thapa wasn’t here long enough to document when Madeshi parties did hand out ultimatums to Pahadis to evacuate the Terai, nor was she there for the time when actual communities did get displaced from the Terai in a close approximation of ethnic cleansing of Pahadis. I remember leaflets handed out by these armed groups which ordered all Pahadis to leave the region. I remember relatives who did leave the Terai because the atmosphere of intimidation and threats had become all too common. Although this happened a few years ago when numerous armed groups were active in the Terai, yet this is part of the history of Pahadi-Madhesi relations—and one which I think would have been critical to include in the HRW report.
Ethnic cleansing is a loaded term—and before a legion of online activists start jumping on me questioning my veracity, I’d like to note it's not mine. HRW quotes a lot of impressive reports but fails to look up this one:
Nepal’s Terai: Constructing an Ethnic Conflict, by Jason Miklian. The report was published by the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Oslo.
Here is a quote from that report:
The anti-Pahadi fire stoked by the UDMF in grassroots supporters has manifested into action, resulting in calls for not only autonomy, but also secession and a Pahadi-free Terai. In response, ethnic cleansing of Pahadis by hardcore supporters has already begun in some parts of eastern Terai.39
The accompany footnote says:
39 Gellner, p. 1827, & Indo-Asian News Service, “400 Civil servants Quit in the Terai,” 7 November 2007.
The extent of this cleansing will be researched firsthand and reported in a forthcoming article.
This report also notes:
Madhesi leadership movement on structural issues in Nepal beyond identity and/or federalism will determine how serious they are about institutional change instead of their own legacies and coffers to consolidate personal power. Many Madhesi supporters were frustrated during the election, openly wondering why Madhesi parties seemed more interested in securing exclusive power in the Terai than ensuring a share of power in Kathmandu, lending credence to fears that secession is the final endgame of the UDMF.64 UDMF lionizing of the Madhesi brand threatensto increase violence and ethnic cleansing, and it will be tempting for UDMF leadership to scapegoat further to distract from a lack of real leadership or development in the area. At some point grassroots supporters may expect more than identity from their leadership, recognizing that the Madhes agenda is only a peripheral cover used to push personal and institutional goals. Further, demands of independence and cultural division can take a life of their own, as followers increasingly subscribe to the narratives politicians broadcast.
To return back to the HRW report’s reportage on the blockade:
Politicians in Kathmandu sought to blame India, claiming that India was unofficially imposing an economic blockade on Nepal in order to force constitutional change in line with the Madhesi demands. The Indian government denied this charge.
Politicians “Sought to blame India”? Isn’t the language rather tilted in favor of India, which undoubtedly had a significant hand in keeping the blockade in place for six months, despite its denial?
Penner’s army of supporters are convinced and vociferous that the Khas-Arya Kathmandu elites are nationalists against all freedom of speech and against all human rights. This narrative of evil Pahadis out to get the Madeshis hasn’t been effective in either furthering Madeshi rights or ending the “cold war” between the two sides. This narrative is also a bit of an irony, considering that individuals like Subodh Pyakurel spent a great part of their lives defending all victims of human rights violations, including the Madheshis, innocent bystander and leftist political activist alike, during the civil conflict and beyond. Incidentally, if it were not for people like Mr. Pyakurel, the violence of speech and verbal abuse noted by HRW about the Nepal Police would be much higher than it is now—unlike HRW, we’ve been around long enough to note that the Nepal Police (comprised of all hill ethnicities) uses verbal violence with racial connotations on not just Madeshis but the entire population, and this was a big part of the way they tried to control their opponents during the People’s War. In other words, HRW noted Madeshis felt targeted by the racist language used by the police, but failed to note this is a systematic problem—and not just one which singles out the Madeshis only—with the Nepal Police.
Oddly, for an organization that claims not to deal with political issues, HRW takes a very pronounced political stance on federalism. Those who demand a “Akhanda” state are depicted as landlords with bonded laborers—in other words, slaveholders.
The Tharus were opposed by the Akhanda Sudur Paschim (United Far West) movement, largely composed of people who live in Kailali and neighboring Kanchanpur district but whose origins lie in the hills to the north.[17] The Akhanda movement opposes dividing the hills from the plains in separate federal provinces. It enjoys powerful support from individual leaders in the largest three political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) who come from the far west. Many leading members of the Akhanda movement are landlords, one of whom told Human Rights Watch that they are motivated by the fear that they may lose their property in Kailali if it is made part of a Tharu state.[18] The same Akhanda member also advocated for the reintroduction of the kamaiya system of hereditary debt bondage, a system frequently compared to slavery, in which many Tharus were constrained as bonded agricultural laborers until it was legally abolished in 2001.
To a casual reader of the HRW report who doesn’t know a lot about Nepal, the Akhandas might come across as very alarming right-wing bloc of slaveholders indeed. In fact, “Akhanda” just means “Undivided”, and it had mass support across the far-west, not just from those who were landlords and had bonded laborers, but also many ordinary and poor farmers who never held a bonded laborer in their life but feel strongly that the ethnic federalism, which would bring states like Tharuhat and the One Madhesh, One Pradhesh, would work to divide the country by dividing up the country along ethnic lines.
In the course of looking for justice, people demand the police involved be prosecuted. Should not the same demand apply also to the Morcha and its leaders for the blockade, for the very same reason we seek justice for the victims who were killed--that it may not happen again? The HRW report has a list of recommendations, which include 11 for the security forces and 2 for protesters, but it metes out different standards of accountability for the two parties.
These are the points for the government and security forces:
Issue clear instructions that anyone holding public office at any level who engages in hateful speech or incitement of serious crimes will face significant consequences, including investigations and dismissal from public office, and possible criminal prosecution if found to have incited crimes.
These are the points for protesters:
*Publicly call on all protesters to desist from violence and other crimes.
*Fully cooperate with the police and others in any criminal investigation into serious crimes.
HRW does not say: 
“Blockading food and medicine from a civil population of an entire country, especially during a humanitarian emergency, is a crime, and protesters should immediately cease all activities along the border which stop the flow of essential goods into the country.”
HRW does not say:
All protesters who blockaded the border and caused a humanitarian crisis immediately after the earthquake must be prosecuted and face significant consequences, including investigations and dismissal from public office, and possible criminal prosecution if found to have incited crimes.
Some NGOs like Human Rights Watch may feel conflict is an integral part of social change, and that it's not their job to end it. But I cannot help wondering if this logic is the twin of the American defense apparatus’s hegemonic need to create worldwide conflict. Whether this logic, in fact, is just another way to excuse a global industry of conflict, to which human rights organizations may be opportunitistically attached.
This also brings up the question of how fly-by-night human rights consultants may exacerbate conflict, not just in Nepal in this specific instance but also in other countries where a report of this nature, focusing on just one of the conflicting parties, could end up tilting a volatile situation, thereby fertilizing the field for more violations to occur.
I am urged by Twitter users to self-reflect on how wrong I was on Penner--but those people seem unwilling to engage in that same self-reflectivity. A blockade, especially when it targets an entire country and shuts off basics like food and medicine, is a grave and egregious human rights violation, whatever Human Rights Watch’s stance may be on it. While the Oli government was absolutely wrong in killing innocent bystanders in order to deal with the situation, this also doesn’t mean that those who imposed the blockade can escape their responsibility by claiming to be victims. If you look at the history of post-conflict justice, violators of human rights cannot escape justice simply by claiming they were marginalized and oppressed—if that were the case, most of the Maoists who are now regarded as candidates for war crimes would be able to go about their business as free men. The only reason why they (as well as those of state forces that participated in war crimes) always have to be on their guard, whether they migrate to Europe, USA or elsewhere, is that the arm of justice is long, and they could always be at risk of prosecution throughout their lives, as evidence from other countries where violators from half a century before have been prosecuted.
I am happy to report that the narrative of the civil conflict that I worked on at OHCHR was finished and edited by people more steeped in the culture of neutrality of the UN than myself, and I am convinced the report helped to end the conflict, and not to exacerbate it, in the future.
Without an open and honest debate on mistakes made on both sides, the conflict between the Pahad and the Madhesh will persist, and only get worse. 
RELATED DOCUMENTS: Like We Are Not Nepali, Human Rights Watch, October 2015: https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/10/16/we-are-not-nepali/protest-and-police-crackdown-terai-region-nepal
Nepal’s Terai: Constructing an Ethnic Conflict, by Jason Miklian.

- See more at: http://setopati.net/opinion/14166/Was-the-Human-Rights-Watch-report-biased?/#sthash.dmF4jw5u.dpufhttp://setopati.net/opinion/14166/Was-the-Human-Rights-Watch-report-biased?/

13 May, 2016

Unbalanced Acts: Robert Penner and his acrimonious activism

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Rob Penner, Canadian national, who noted his position as “chief scientist” at the outsourcing company Cloud Factory, has become the faultline of a bitter public divide on Nepal. The Nepal government deported him in early May, giving him two days notice to pack up. The ostensible reason was immigration violation, and disturbing social harmony.
A slew of international op-eds in support of Mr. Penner immediately followed from the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, as well as Human Rights Watch. He became a bit of a hero on social media, although there were also equal numbers of detractors noting that he went from “Zero to Hero,” in the manner of C.K Raut and Angkaaji Sherpa, two other individuals who’d come to prominence after advocating for radical solutions to Nepali problems.
His supporters say he was a great advocate of the Madheshi movement and therefore of human rights, his actions online were impeccable and only shows good judgment, and that all of his detractors are ugly right-wing Ann Coulters and Trumps of Nepal. His detractors say he was an online troll, and that he heavily pursued high profile reporters, journalists and editors online and behaved in a way that crossed the barrier from free speech to harassment.
The two sides accuse each other of horrible crimes—the former accusing the latter of being repressive to freedom of speech and reverting back to old style Panchayat politics, the latter accuse the former of being liberals who supported unbalanced reporters of international media who pushed the country into a bitter conflagration between Pahad-Madesh that eventually led to the Indian blockade on Nepal.
The facts stand like this: Mr. Penner, who’d been in Nepal for three and a half years, seems to have developed a great sympathy for the Madhesh movement. He took pride in his ability to respond in fluent colloquial Nepali on Twitter (with some suspicions that his colleagues at Cloud Factory were the ones who were giving him that fluency.) As the Madhesh movement became more heated, Mr. Penner started to become more vocal and started to pursue journalists and human rights activists more relentlessly, asking them to clarify what they meant when they posted on their Twitter timeline.
At a certain point, his exercise of free speech then turned into an exercise in online harassment, with multiple journalists blocking him from their accounts. A female journalist was pursued in this manner for months, not just by Mr. Penner but also his sympathizers, who also put up a false account to mock her.
Here’s a simple example: Mr. Penner, who did not seem immune to his multiple privileges as a white man, demanded to know why only one, and not both, of his comments had been posted on an article on the Nepali Times website. His outrage about his deleted comment turned into a tirade that was witnessed by many people on Twitter. When he did not get an answer, he then contacted Kunda Dixit, editor, directly, demanding an answer.
While this in itself is not illegal, it gives a hint to the level at which he felt entitled to speaking his mind—overlooking house rules and basic norms of courtesy. Perhaps the Nepali Times edits comments for clarity, or it doesn’t allow more than one comment per responder. Whatever the case might have been, for Mr. Penner this event turned into a major opportunity to question the professionalism of the newspaper itself. Would Mr. Penner have felt at ease doing this to the New York Times or the Globe and Mail?
(Full disclosure: in the above mentioned incident, Mr. Penner then got into a conflict with me and blocked me, saying I was a troll. I had since that moment also blocked him and had no more notice of his escapades till the deportation notice caught my eye.)
But Mr. Penner magnum opus—the “factchecking” of the Human Rights Report-- was yet to come. Around September 2015, Human Rights Watch put out a report about the violence in the Madesh, titled: “Like we are not Nepalis”. Many human rights activists within Nepal felt the report was poorly researched and biased, and that it had been written up with two (or perhaps more likely only one) high profile and politicized journalist acting as its primary source.
Mr. Subodh Pyakurel, head of INSEC, a well respected human rights organization that was one of the few organizations to be active in the Terai during the 1996-2006 civil conflict, was one of the responders who commented on this report. Mr. Penner, in the manner of a computer programmer checking errors in code, then went on a line-by-line factchecking spree in which he attacked all comments which said the report was unfair. Instead of trying to find out why people thought it was unfair, he systematically took apart their words, and went into the report to find instances where they could be contradicted.
Just one example: Mr. Pyakurel notes the violence against the police, which led to the backlash and subsequent state violence against protesters, seemed to be poorly documented. He cites the case of a policeman who gets concussion, and says this has been erased from the report. Robert Penner points out that in fact the concussion is well documented—in a footnote that links to the Kathmandu Post article about concussion. Did you not read the footnote? He asks. This is just one example of the kind of nitty-gritty fact-checking which only served to obfuscate the larger debate, which was whether the Human Rights Report was biased or not.
Mr. Penner’s tactics to shut-up the criticism of the human rights community against a general and broad sense the Human Rights Watch report was biased only worked to fuel more conflict. What Mr. Penner missed in this evangelical mission to prove the elites of Kathmandu wrong is that many major human rights institutions which have a presence in the Terai and will continue to work long after he’s gone come from Kathmandu based Pahadi individuals like Mr. Subodh Pyakurel, and that far from being the malevolent and right-wing institutions he was trying to prove them to be, they are instrumental in keeping the norms of human rights alive all over the country.
Mr. Penner's goals seem to be simple—to get justice for Madeshis who suffered during the violence in 2015. But, not only did he try to ratchet up the tension between the two communities, and lead to more conflict, he also seems to have given the Black Flag supporters a sense of international immunity which emboldened them to ask for Indian support for a blockade—a five month long blockade whose severity and economic effects on the country was devastating, especially since it came directly after an earthquake that has destroyed 400,000 homes and injured 22,000 people. The blockade’s effect on Nepal, including collateral deaths from the cold and shortages, cannot be computed with the methods used by Mr. Penner, because he was using quantitative methods to deal with qualitative issues.
Mr. Penner did leave under a blaze of glory (which, one suspects, was always one of his aims). Dipendra Jha, his lawyer, then tried to get the Supreme Court to overrule the decision to deport him—the Supreme Court responded within 24 hours, unheard of in the case of any other Nepali citizen. Obviously he had more access to the elite institutions of justice than any Nepali could ever dream of.
The Supreme Court, to its credit, eventually postponed this meeting. Mr. Penner did leave the country (And Canada did not threaten to pull out its aid, either). What was interesting was the speed with which Mr. Dipendra Jha, his lawyer, was able to mobilize the Supreme Court on this case—my research tells me the Supreme Court is heavily backlogged for years on end, and most Nepalis end up dying before the SC notice comes to them.
The fact that Mr. Penner was able to access the highest court of justice in the nation within 24 hours shows that he wasn’t removed from the corridors of power (photographs have surfaced showing Mr. Penner with Rambaran Yadav, the President of Nepal), and that indeed his supporters’ laments that he was not treated like a Nepali national, and that he did not have access to the same freedom of speech as a Nepali, is disingenuous. Not to mention the fact his drinking buddies have all been up in arms in social media in defense of him—no doubt in person Mr. Penner is a rather sweet and gentle soul, judging from his photograph.
Should Mr. Penner have been deported? I cannot answer this question. What worries me is how polarized the supposedly democratic discourse in this country has become, in the manner of the American hemisphere. There seems to be a substantive group of people who’ve returned from the USA or other Western countries, well versed in the latest lingo, very willing to play the kind of hair-trigger, lets-take-offense leftist politics which is all very well in America, but doesn’t work as well in Nepal where that sort of active polarization could lead to real civil war and multiple deaths. The Oli Government nearly mobilized the army during November 2015, when the violence appeared to be out of control—if that had happened, Nepal would have slid into a low intensity conflict and the death count in the Terai would have been in the thousands.
What shocked me was how high profile commentators of Nepal, well regarded and with big followings on social media, seemed willing to egg people onto this trigger-point of mass conflict, using provocative words and language, using ethnicity and regionalism as divisive methods, instead of getting them to pull back. I could not wonder if these expat Nepalis were more concerned about their public profiles, careers and their salaries, which is dependent upon their liberal credentials, than they were about the possibility of immediate conflict in Nepal. High profile journalists working in international media and reporting on Nepal have also upped this sort of polarizing debates, which is in part (if not in full) responsible for the eventual blockade that India put on Nepal.
More than whether the free speech of a Canadian with uber privileges and multiple media connections was violated by the Nepali state, I think the question is more about how the human rights community is developing in contemporary Nepal. Should journalists and human rights organizations like HRW be held more to account if they bring out unbalanced reports? Should they be asked to go back and analyze their actions—and whether those actions led to more conflict? Did unbalanced journalism lead to the blockade? Do the Kathmandu dailies only give voice to the extremists and not the moderates of the Terai?
At present, the more shrill you are in liberal discourse, the more likely you are to be rewarded by institutions of higher learning with accolades and distinctions. But nobody is willing to analyze whether those actions in fact had real consequences on real people—including 30 million Nepalese who suffered during the blockade.
- See more at: http://setopati.net/opinion/13843/Unbalanced-Acts/#sthash.bGjgsgWH.dpufhttp://setopati.net/opinion/13843/Unbalanced-Acts/

19 March, 2016

How the Norwegian tragedy of Anders Breivik might have been avoided: A Jyotish astrological analysis and a critique of the imperative of happiness

How the Norwegian tragedy of Anders Breivik might have been avoided: 
A Jyotish astrological analysis and a critique of the imperative of happiness

The newsreports that Anders Breivik, Norwegian mass murderer, had complained his living conditions were “torture” caught my eye. Having once worked as a human rights officer for OHCHR, anything with the word “torture” catches my eye. The news reports had a faint note of incredulity: Breivik had three rooms to himself, one a gym where he could exercise, one with a playstation and books. How then, they asked, could this Norwegian pampering be torture?

Clearly three rooms generously outfitted with a gym and play-station is rather luxurious—consider the fact even middle class people in urban USA, let alone prisoners, won’t have as much. But what if these outer conditions didn’t reflect his inner mind, and how he was experiencing the moment? The only way to know is through jyotish astrology, the “inner eye” which sees circumstances not apparent to the outer eye. So I cast his chart.

Breivik has a Leo Moon, conjunct Saturn and Rahu. Those of you who’ve read my other jyotish articles know this: that Saturn and Rahu together form a “Mahayoga” (a conjunction of greatness) but it is also known as a “Shrapit yoga” (cursed conjunction.) Often, Saturn/Rahu together is thought to show suicide, and one could argue his massacre of fellow Norwegians, in what appeared to be a twisted inversion of the hatred he felt for foreigners, was an act of mass “suicide,” since he was hitting back upon his own “self”. 

Note to Saturn/Rahu people about the subtleties of the word “curse”: I’ve also seen this in the charts of incredibly rich and successful people, who however are cursed by their punishing schedules, and inability to enjoy their wealth. I’ve also seen this in the charts of people who are greatly concerned and doggedly serve (Saturn is the servant) the “outcastes” (indicated by Rahu.) It all depends upon which house the conjunction happens, and for which ascendant--and moderated by the planets’ strength.

Saturn and Rahu are both separators: Saturn is the heavy hand of discipline, and the grief laden version of loss, while Rahu is the outcaste, rebel energy that seeks to move away from Saturn, but only ends up magnifying Saturn’s malefic powers. The Moon, of course, is the mind. The Moon is also the mother, and although I don’t know Breivik’s biography, I imagine he either lost his mother physically at an early age, or she was a heavy disciplinarian with an edge of mental instability, giving no support to the infant mind.

Note that Saturn is trapped in Leo, the house of the Sun. Sun is the father of Saturn, and Saturn hates his father. Then note that his Sun is also trapped in Aquarius, the house of Saturn—giving rise to a powerful “parivartana yoga” or exchange of houses between Sun and Saturn, where they heighten each other’s malefic energies.

Moon in Leo, pressured by malefic Saturn, is like a planet waiting to explode, in a pressure cooker situation with weighty Saturn and boundary-breaking Rahu. Saturn seeks to conform, Rahu to be free. It’s a no-win situation for the mind.

Note this line from the Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra:
If Sahaj Bhava receives a Drishti from, or is occupied by Sani
and Rahu, death will be through poison, water, or fire, or fall from heights, or confinement. (My highlight.)

Breivik’s Saturn/Rahu conjunction falls in Sahaj Bhava (3rd House) in the ascendant chart. It is highly likely he will die from the confinement. Although I am not ruling out some underhand action by the Norwegian government to eliminate their most famous social problem: Sun (the sign of the government) is conjunct Ketu (sign of the inexplicable and strange, as well as the underhand, including drugs) in 7th House, a maraka or killer house.

Timing of death: I suspect he might try a suicide attempt at age 42, although his actual death may happen at 48. (There may also have been a suicide attempt at age 35-36, although the Norwegian government may not have wanted this publicly known.)

Breivik’s moon is in Leo, which is also the house of ancestors. Sun, the sign of “pitri” or ancestors, is conjunct Ketu, which also rules mass calamities like war and mass killings. He is strongly respectful of his ancestors, but the ancestors he adulates are the wrong kind: strongly authoritarian people (Saturn) who ended up being outcastes (Rahu), Nazis who were on the wrong side of history.

Looking at Breivik’s current transits: Jupiter is conjunct right now with Rahu in Leo, and Jupiter is retrograde. So obviously his physical and mental senses are in great discomfort. Rahu heightens paranoia: he’s accused the government of trying to kill him.

In his fourth house of Scorpio, which rules the “home”, Saturn is doing a slow 2.5 years transit right now. Not only is Saturn retrograde, making it extra heavy, but it is conjunct Mars, also retrograde, heightening that push-and-pull energy. Mars wants to be energetic, but is trapped with heavy Saturn, and both are unable to move, because they are both retrograde. Torture? While it may not look like a lot to outsiders, combined with Rahu in the house of the Moon, this could be a proposition where he fears he may be losing his mind.

Where is Breivik’s father in all this? The sign of the father, the Sun, is with Mercury and Ketu. Ketu separates, and is disengaged. Again, I see no support for Breivik from either his father or mother. Both the luminaries, the Moon and the Sun, are eclipsed in this chart in powerful “grahan yoga”—in other words, they are darkened by the nodes. The Moon is in a grahan yoga, or eclipsed, by Rahu, while the Sun is in a grahan yoga with Ketu. The two eclipsed luminaries are facing each other in 1/7 opposition. Clearly this is a chart of someone who would have great difficulties in life.

Moon touched by Rahu is also thought to cause insanity, although it is also quite common in the charts of gentle and kind celebrities with a touch of bipolar disorder, beautiful glamorous women in the spotlight, and other people who get attention. Sun/Ketu yoga could also indicate a “leadership” yoga. As always, the dispositors of the houses where these planets are sitting is key. The way to avoid reductive and grand, sweeping statements about yogas and their effects on people is to look at their dispositors.

Lets look at possibilities of relationships for Breivik. Ketu with Mercury could show some confusion about sexuality—a sexuality that is not explored, since Sun is oppressed in the house of Saturn. Ketu in 7th House from Moon again indicates disengaged drifting off of human relationships. Sun in 7th from Moon ensures that even if he has a partner, the marriage will bring him no happiness. So this is a man for whom romantic happiness, as envisioned by the Western ideal of the pursuit of happiness, is not possible.

The UN recently came out with its annual report on happiness, with nations listed from first to last on the hierarchy of happiness. Denmark is first, Burundi is last. As always, the Scandinavian nations dominate this list. What makes the Scandinavians hog happiness? Is it their material wealth and comforts, which smooth over physical discomfort to a great degree, paving the path towards mental and physical well-being? This is clearly one ideal, but then there is also the notion that everyone must conform, and be well-behaved, to the hard-working, prosperous, well married, blessed with children ideal.  All people are supposed to be prosperous and fecund in the way selective readings of the Christian Bible has suggested. Be fertile and prosper. Any other way is the wrong way to be. Scandinavians have no space for drop-outs, people who don’t fit this norm, outcastes, wandering preachers, mendicants, sadhus and ascetics. These people would simply be out of their range of acceptable behavior, and deviating from the moral obligation to conform towards happiness.

Despite Dan Brown’s attempts to bourgeoisify Jesus and give him a white picket fence and a flagpole, I still think Jesus was not the well married man fecund with children the “Da Vinci Code” would make us believe, in a desperate late 20th Century attempt to impose the American ideal of happiness onto an ancient wandering mendicant and preacher. In fact, I rather subscribe to the idea that Jesus must in fact have been followed and mourned by outcastes, that Mary Magdalene could very well have been a prostitute (which shows an even more wholehearted capacity to love the outsiders and the outcastes on the part of the son of God, which Dan Brown tries to erase with his “Mary Magdalene was a bourgeois wife slandered by Jesus’s disciplines” theory.) Attachments, including romantic ones, are never conductive to the spiritual path, and Jesus was a very spiritual man. Where did this ideal of poverty and preaching love without material attachment go? The Christianity that we see today in places like Scandinavia seems to leave scant room to follow the footpath of Jesus. The Evangelicals are awash in cash, and even if they end up in Africa in the poorest places they are carrying with them their moneybags.

Now lets think about this, for the moment: What if this “happiness” that is ideal that all moderns must pursue, as “a moral obligation,” as a recent Tweet I read suggested, was in fact, not all that there is to this world? What if you came to this world with a birthchart which showed a different destiny? Imagine Breivik had been born in a small town in India. He’d have been taken to an astrologer at the earliest, and he would have known by childhood, if not by the age of 19-20, that his parents were not going to be supportive, that relationships based on the ideal of marriage would never happen for him, and that the only hope for him, was spirituality, and a close relationship with the Divine.

Breivik’s Mars is exalted in Capricorn, in the Eighth House of Death. Some powerful forceful Mars energy was going to manifest from that house. The House of Death, is also the house of transformation. What if that energy had been channeled, and put to some other use—what if he’d become a wandering yoga teacher, lets say, someone who gave up material pursuits, since these were obviously not going to work for him, to be a greatly athletic yoga teacher? This is someone with great energy, and the energy was put to the worst use possible, because the people who surrounded him did not see the potential and channel it in the right direction.

The Sun/Saturn tension is often seen in the houses of people of great disciplines: I’ve seen Sun/Saturn oppositions in the charts of great doctors and lawyers. It shows the need for an occupation where discipline is imposed on a very strict basis. If Breivik had utilized his Exalted Mars for the purpose of becoming a highly athletic yogi and renunciate, he could have reached great heights.

I don’t want to belabor this point, but his Jupiter is exalted, and in 12th from the Moon. The 12th House is a moksh house of spiritual liberation, and Jupiter here is supposed to be a very good placement for those with spiritual inclinations. Jupiter is the Guru, or teacher. To me, this looks like the chart of someone who could have made a very good yogi or spiritual teacher—had he been born in a milieu which supported these pursuits. Unfortunately for Breivik, he was born in a group of countries where material happiness is idealized but spirituality is not—meaning he ended up using his precious human life for a very ugly purpose. Which, to me, looks like a big waste.

The Buddhists say human life is precious, and very rare. To be born as a human being is a precious and rare opportunity to practice the dharma—especially compassion towards other beings, which helps you onwards towards the endless cycles towards higher rebirths and eventual liberation. Unfortunately, Breivik missed that chance in this lifetime. He leaves behind many anguished parents whose grief and sorrow will weigh on him for lifetimes.

Buddhists also add that being born in a time and place where the dharma is being practiced, by teachers who are working with the pure and unadulterated dharma, is one of the rarest good fortune. Meaning it is not just enough to be born a human—the time and space where you are also shapes you onwards towards your destiny. A lot of poor children in Asia miss their destiny to be doctors and engineers because they do not get an adequate education in time. Might many children in Europe also miss their destiny to be spiritual ascetics and renunciates because they are never exposed to an education which allows for this possibility? Are they spiritually deprived, in much the same way as poor Asian children are materially deprived?

There may be other young men like Breivik, whose charts are pointing towards a spiritual direction, but whose potential they cannot fulfill because the pursuits of material happiness is shown to them as the only option open to them.

Imagine then, if these other avenues of spiritual purpose could be opened up. If material happiness was not the end-all and be-all for everyone, might there not be other purposes? What if knowledge of these spiritual possibilities helped to avoid another tragedy like the Norwegian one?

(Note: I read Breivik's biography on Wikipedia after I wrote this blog post, and there seems to be interesting congruences, including the abscence of both mother and father; and his views and beliefs on religion. I include the link:

13 March, 2016

The jyotish astrological lowdown on Trump, Clinton, Sanders

Since this pertains to the future of the world, folks, I am giving you the real (astrological) lowdown on the US presidential hopefuls.

Note: Jyotish astrology uses the same signs as Western astrology, but  a completely different zodiac, so if I say “Aquarius” here, its not the same Aquarius as the one you’re used to seeing in the newspapers. This Aquarius is calculated via the moon’s transit through the sidereal zodiac, which is not the same as the sun sign based Aquarius you see in the horoscopes.

This is going to be pretty detailed, and some of this is going to fly by your head. But I’ll try to make it as readable as possible, so plow onwards.

Since this is pretty serious stuff, I even took some pictures of the work I did beforehand on my astrological notebook, and have posted the photos here so you can check out the charming, blurry graphics. I’ve used the North Indian chart, rather than the South Indian, since I can’t read or understand the latter. My apologies to the South Indian chart fans.

I’m also going to be talking a lot about Scorpio, or Vrischik, which is the house where Saturn is transiting right now. Unsurprisingly, all three—Trump, Sanders and Clinton—have some Scorpio action going on right now. Trump is vrischik rashi, or his moon is in Scorpio. Bernie Sanders’ lagna is vrischik—his ascendant is Scorpio, where Saturn is currently transiting. And for Clinton, Vrischik rules her 10th House of Karma or profession. This is a very important house to consider when looking at success of a workplace. Those of you who’ve read a few of my jyotish articles above know this point: Saturn gives everything, especially when it comes to work related to government. The Sun and Mars are also very important, and we’ll get to those in a moment.

First, lets start with Mr. Trump, since he’s the one who loves attention.

Mr .Trump was born June 14, 1946 at 10:54am at Jamaica, Queens. He was born under the constellation of “Jyestha,” or “the elder”. People like to follow people born under this constellation.

If you take a look at the rather blurry gif above, you will see that his Moon is sitting with Ketu in the ascendant, while Sun and Rahu are in 7th House. All other planets are hemmed into the right side of the chart. All planets hemmed in on one side of Ketu-Rahu axis is known as a Kala Amrita yoga, and it heightens, for good or bad, the disposition of the chart to extremes. Mussolini also had one. I don’t want to imply all people with Kala Amrita yogas are going to be political extremists. While astrologers are fond of implying this placement bodes bad news, I’d like to point out that the other 7 planets are equally important, and benefics with “shadow planets” Rahu and Ketu can often bring about the opposite results: intensely extreme people who are working for the good, not the bad. There are people out there with fabulous records of extreme achievements in the arts, cinema, or music, for instance.

In Mr. Trump’s case, all five planets in his inner quads, or “Vishnusthans,” are malefics. In his Moon chart, he has Moon and Ketu in 1st house, Sun and Rahu in 7th house, and an extremely strong Mars in house 10th, house of profession. His Mars is also retrograde in the house of Leo, the Sun, making it extra powerful. The Sun is conjunct Rahu: in this position, is considered to be eclipsed and therefore a malefic—I have found, however, that a Sun-Rahu combo is often a very good benchmark of political power. Sanders also has the same yoga in 10th House of profession in the ascendent chart. The Sun represents the father, and with it, the state or government, and Rahu is a magnifier, so it’s somebody with a great deal of political power. While his super energized Mars gives Mr. Trump a strong willingness to go out there and fight the fight, there is some cause for public concern because his aggressive energy is heightened to extremes. 

Both Bernie Sanders and Trump have Sun and Rahu conjunct in 10th House, a powerful combination for political power: Sushma Swaraj of India, for instance, has this in her Sixth House as well. Bernie’s yoga, however, is in its own house Leo, whereas Trump’s yoga is in Taurus, ruled by enemy Venus. This brings down the thermonuclear temperature of his chart a bit, which is a good thing. Venus, in his chart, is in the 12th of “Great Gains and Great Losses”, where it is also most comfortable. A comfortable and strong Venus has final dispositor power over Sun and Rahu, making his fiery energy subordinate to both his wife—Venus rules wife—as well as his work, which involves luxury properties, also ruled by Venus. The fact that Venus is inextricably entangled with his 10th House means she rules behind the scenes. This may be his saving grace, since Venus is a natural benefic and is in his 9th House of destiny, bringing a bit of balance to the malefics congregated in his quads.

In fact, since Mercury is tucked away in malefic 8th House--Mercury represents the mind and psychological stability, meaning his mind is in dark places—and since his Jupiter, or sign of wisdom, is also retrograde or going backwards, his only salvation might be Venus in 9th. His wife should provide a guiding light and create his destiny.

The Kala Amrita yoga native has all planets on one side of the chart, making their lives imbalanced. These folks can rise very high in life-but when they fall, they fall hard. “Rise and fall” is the pattern for these yogas.

Currently, Trump has retrograde Jupiter and Rahu transiting Leo (as do we all.) For him, Leo rules the 10th House from Moon, and it is also his ascendant. This means Mr. Trump is going to be perceived as someone with unconventional wisdom that breaks the usual rules and regulations, and he will be wildly popular in his “workplace”. This will last till May 9th. After May 9th, he’ll still be perceived as a wise man, but by August, when Jupiter shifts to Virgo, his popularity will wane and he will be left with wanting more power, but getting only the emptiness of the big crowd that has vanished without a trace. His impressive wisdom will begin to seem like an illusion, although his unconventional speech will still mint him plenty of money (Jupiter will shift to his House of Wealth and House of Gains via ascendant and Moon chart, respectively). Perhaps a TV deal worth millions?


Hilary Clinton was born on October 26, 1947, at 8:02am, in Chicago. Her moon is in the constellation Purvabhadrapada, a sign ruled by Jupiter, the “guru” or teacher. She is also a Khumba rashi—ie; she has her moon in Aquarius.

The first thing that pops out of Clinton’s chart is her “Millionaire yoga”—Jupiter and Ketu combination is considered to bring great wealth, in the millions, to the native. Ronald Reagan also had one of these, but in the house of relationships, meaning he had great relationships with millionaires. Mitt Romney has one of these—in the house of wealth itself, meaning he has hard cash. Gandhi had one of these in the house of relationships-meaning he had relationships with the millions of poor and ordinary people of India. So we have to read the millionaire yoga with a bit of subtlety. The fact that Clinton’s Kela yoga is placed in the 2nd House of wealth from ascendant should leave no room as to what this means—she has the cold hard cash, which she got through her associations and relationships at work (Jupiter and Ketu in 10th House from Moon).

Note Jupiter is also the sign for the husband—and Ketu causes the sort of disconnected “headless” behavior that Bill Clinton became famous for. He was acting as if he was quite alone with Monica Lewinsky when in fact the whole world was watching the president of the United States. Ketu brings about that sort of “don’t care” behavior, since he’s a naga without a head, and he only “thinks” with his body. But that’s skipping ahead to the more mythological part of this whole astrological story, which you don’t have to bother with, right now.

The second thing that pops out is her chart is the three planets in her bhagyasthan, house of destiny. Sun, Mercury and Venus are in Libra, which is also her ascendent. Libra or Tula rashis are always thought of as those with the capacity to gain very high material achievements, since Tula is also the house where Saturn gets exalted. In her case, Saturn and Mars are in 10th House from ascendant, which is a great placement for Saturn, if you want to be a successful lawyer and politician. Saturn is engaged in a strong parivartana yoga (exchange of houses) with the Aquarius ruled Moon, making it even stronger. Saturn and Mars end up in Sixth House (Ari Bhava, the House of Enemies) in Moon chart, meaning that her rise is either propelled by enemies, or she uses hard work and social service to raise her profile in the workplace.

Women, especially of motherly age, love Clinton: Moon represents mother, and this is sitting in her Fifth House of Love and Children. Incidentally, this also means that Chelsea genuinely loves her mom.

Sun, however, is debilitated in Libra. Sun is very important for someone like Clinton, since it represents the benefic energy of the government. By being in the ascendant, the Sun does get a “neechbhanga” or cancellation of debilitation, but there’s always going to be an element of frustration in her rise for power. Leo Di Caprio, for instance, also has a debilitated Sun—and look how long it took him to get the Oscar. But note that the deferred priviledge make him work so hard he ended up being a greater actor than all his contemporaries who got lauded way too early, so debilitated, neechbhanga planets do have this bonus effect. 

An aside on Leo: Incidentally, Leo did have to go through some real torture to get the statuette. Saturn is transiting Scorpio, his third house of communications, at present, but his natal Rahu is also there, meaning its not all unalloyed celebration here. Saturn/Rahu takes people to the heights, but not without torturous difficulties. His envious peers are also giving him the cold shoulder and making him feel insecure by implying he didn’t get the Oscar for acting but for pain, perhaps. (Not to worry, Leo--your difficulties with friends and peers will end on November 2017.)

Ultimately, whether she will succeed in her Presidential bid or not will depend upon the strength of her planetary strengths. At the present moment, I see its good timing for Clinton because Saturn is transiting her 10th House of Profession. Saturn, however, is also engaged in Sixth House of Enemies, so any success she has is not going to come without effort. Unlike Trump’s, there’s no surprising and unpleasant rises and falls here--this is a solid chart of someone fortunate who will always have a good life. Jupiter in the quads with the Moon means she has a gajekesari yoga: the lion and the elephant yoga, which shows someone who will always have a fortunate, comfortable life.

Khumba rashi is also ruled by Saturn, so Clinton is in a strong position to be running for President. The only problem for her, I foresee, might come from the fact Jupiter will enter Virgo, her 8th House (of humiliations, scandals etc) in August, and there might be more dirty laundry regarding Bill Clinton that people are going to start pulling out from the gutter once August rolls around. This will last for 1.5 years.

Since Saturn is transiting her 10th House from Moon, she will still be in a strong position at work till at least November 2017, if not for another 10 years or so.


Bernie Sanders was born on September 8th, 1941, at 12:27pm at Brooklyn Heights, NY. He is a Meena rashi, or his Moon is in Pisces. Pisces is ruled by Jupiter, the most benevolent planet.

The first thing one notices about Sanders’s chart is his exalted Mercury, sitting with debilitated Venus, in 7th House of partnerships. Mercury represents intelligence, the kind of calculating intelligence one needs to run a country. Obviously, his biggest partners are also young women with great intelligence—these are the millenials who support Sanders. Debilitated, neechbhanga Venus also shows a simple wife, someone who doesn’t care about luxury or outward appearance, but who’s sitting on intelligence as her greatest strength. His wife has to be super intelligent: Venus is conjunct exalted Mercury. Unlike Trump’s, Bernie Sander’s inner quads are completely occupied by benefic planets: Mercury, Venus and Moon.

The second powerful yoga that is obvious is the Sun/Rahu combo in 10th House from ascendant. This yoga is also sitting in the house of Leo, the sun. Leo is the sign of a ruler, or king. And this unalloyed, strong yoga gives him powerful political strength. This alone could propel him to a Presidency. Sun/Rahu in Sixth House (from Moon) destroys all enemies.

But lets look at the other planets, as well. Bernie also has his Moon in Fifth House of Love and Children from ascendant, like Clinton: meaning he could get the motherly vote, if he tried. Also he is loved by “children”, ie—millennials.

Because his Mars in retrograde in 2nd House of speech, his voice catches in his throat and he has a difficult time getting started when talking. But once he’s started, he’s up and running. In the same way, he needs to try a few times before he succeeds-retrograde planets are though to delay success, which only happens after a few tries.

 Note I posted a Tweet saying Bernie had a “Ruchaka Yoga”, which is one of the five “Panchamahapurusa” or Five “Great People” yogas. I got this read off an online astrological calculator and site, and I didn’t actually check the chart beforehand before posting the Tweet. I regret to inform Bernie fans that in fact Bernie doesn’t have this yoga: A “Ruchaka yoga” occurs when Mars is in its own house, but in the inner quads of the chart. Bernie’s Mars is in Aries, its own house, but in ascendent and moon charts, it is in 2nd and 6th houses, both of which do not fall in the inner quads. He does, however, have a pure “Bhadra Mahapurusa yoga”—a gentleman yoga of Exalted Mercury in 7th house from the ascendant, which makes him a greater politician than if he had a yoga that highlighted great force. Muhammad Ali had a “ruchaka yoga”—this is probably more suitable for athletes and sportsmen than for politicians!

From ascendant, Bernie has Jupiter and Saturn in 7th House of partnership: again, wise and hardworking people who give him good support and authoritative power.

This is a fairly simple chart, of a simple man. Pisces rules the 12 sign of the zodiac, and the 12th House in the jyotish chart rules liberation (of the spiritual kind.) It is a moksha house that also rules restricted spaces, like sanctuaries, jails, spiritual retreats, etc. I predict that if Bernie comes to power, the USA will become a more restricted space but probably more of a sanctuary for those who live inside it.

I see a very strong possibility that Bernie could become President. Saturn, which is currently in his House of Destiny, will transit to his House of Profession on November 2017—meaning Saturn is poised to give him the highest rewards for about the next 4.5 years. His Saturn is in the Third House of Initiative, and also younger siblings and peers, which means that he could use his network of millenials to gain traction and gain authority.

Jupiter, conjunct Rahu, is about to climb out of his Sixth House of Enemies and enter Seventh House of Partnerships in August, so this will be a good time for him to connect to the masses. Right now the dispositor of his self is working hard in Sixth House of conflict and enemies, and this is not a good position for Jupiter to be in, since that’s his ruling dispositor.

I predict that by August, Bernie Sanders will be a lot more connected to his supporters. His Sun is already a great ally, a super powerful Sun with Rahu in 10th House, and his Mars is also well placed in both 2nd House of speech and 6th of Hard Work. Bernie will work long, hard hours if elected President. And because of the transit via Scorpio, there’s a very high chance he could be blessed by Saturn as President for the next 4.5 years, and beyond. It is possible he could extend it to a two-term presidency, although the last half of the second term would be incredibly miserable, so he should just stick to one term, if he becomes President.