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Female genital mutilation: India’s darkest secret

Simran Bhaskar

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Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) comprises procedures that involve partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is mainly carried out in girls between 1-15 years of age and sometimes on adult and married women. As per the United Nations, around 4.1 billion girls around the world are undergoing female genital mutilation in 2020.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) family of girls and women who undergoes FGM/C believes that FGM is necessary to raise a girl and prepare her for marriage and adulthood, to ensure premarital virginity, and marital fidelity to increase marriageability. Moreover, FGM is also associated with the cultural ideals of feminist, purity, and modesty.

Despite the global and national efforts to ban the practice of FGM, it remains widespread in different parts of the world. Millions of girls and women have undergone FGM from different parts of the world. The practice is very common in 30 countries including Africa, some countries in Asia, Latin America, and the migrants from these areas.

As per the joint statement by the WHO/UNICEF/UNEPA on FGM, it has classified into four types-

a. Type I is the removal of the prepuce or the clitoral hood with or without the removal of part or the entire clitoris.

b. Type II is the removal of the clitoris with the partial or total excision of the labia minora.

c. Type III is the removal of part or entire labia minora or labia majora and stitching and narrowing of the vaginal orifice which is also known as infibulations.

d. Type IV contains all the other types of harmful non-medical procedures to the female genitalia which include pricking and piercing of the clitoris, cauterization, stretching of the clitoris/labia, scraping, and introduction of substances into the vagina.

The medical costs for the treatment of this practice alone accounted for 1.4 billion USD across 27 countries in 2018 – an amount that is slated to rise to 2.3 billion USD by the year 2047. Unless countries actively work on abolishing FGM, the health-related costs are projected to increase by 50 percent due to the increase in the number of FGM cases – such a major increase might render victims of this practice unable to receive proper health care as well, which further increase the number of FGM related deaths.

Why is FGM practiced?

The practice of FGM veil in religion and it varies from region to region, and across cultures and communities. This practice is a manifestation of gender inequality and discrimination against girls and women which is rooted down in traditional social, economic and political structures.

The main reason for FGM is to control women’s sexuality and their experience of sexual pleasure has been entrenched in patriarchal ideas about purity and modesty of women. It clearly shows harmful gender norms and some communities also believe that FGM is required for girls’ proper upbringing, marriage and to maintain the family’s honor.

As per UNFPA, there are mainly 5 reasons why FGM is practiced.

1. Psycho-sexual reasons- When FGM is carried out as a way to control women’s sexuality which is believed to be insatiable if parts are not removed especially the clitoris.

2. Sociological or cultural reasons- When FGM is seen as part of girls initiation into womanhood and plays an important part in a community’s cultural heritage

3. Hygiene and Aesthetic reasons-Some communities consider external female genitalia as ugly and dirty.

4. Religious reasons- As per the UNFPA maintain that FGM is not endorsed by Christianity or Islam as it connects them with their ancestors.

5. Socio-economic factors- Some communities consider FGM as a prerequisite for marriage especially those communities where women are dependent on men economically.

According to the WHO FGM includes an attempt to ensure women’s premarital virginity since FGM is believed to reduce libido and hence believed it helps her to resist extramarital sexual acts.

FGM IN INDIA

In a country where women and young girls are depicted in the form of the goddess we continuously harm them in the name of culture. Many young girls and women in India and around the world have experienced the horrific ritual of FGM/C every day. The cruel practice can be found in different parts of India and in different communities where girls are regularly scarred in the name of religion.

FGM in India is also known as Khatna or Khafz in the Muslim Bohra community which is divided into parts: Shias and Sunnis. The Bohra belongs to the Shia community and they are found in different parts of India such as Gujrat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. In the community, the clitoris part of a woman’s vagina is known as haram ki boti which means a source of sin or simply unwanted skin. The main reason for cutting off this part because of the stereotypical patriarchal mentality that if a woman knows pleasure then she might ‘astray’ in the marriage or bring ‘shame’ to the community.

It is believed only the Muslim community in India practices khatna or clitoral unhooding on girls at the tender age of seven. The holy book of the Muslim community that is Quran does not sanction female circumcision/ Khatna/ Khafz/Daimul Islam, endorses the practice on girls after they reach the age of seven for hygienic reason. Some Bohras also believe it beautifies a woman’s complexion and controls her sexual urges and makes her more devout to her husband.

According to a study , FGM in India is an old traditional practice adhering to the religious edicts and controlling women’s sexuality and abiding by the rules of the community.

In 2018, a study by WeSpeakOut published that 75% of daughters in India aged between seven and above in the Bohra community have experienced FGM/C. Over 33% of women have reported that FGM/C had negatively affected their sexual life. Many even experienced painful urination, physical discomfort, difficulty walking, and bleeding immediately after undergoing FGM/C.

In 2018, India banned the practice of FGM as per the judgment passed in the Sunita Tiwari v Union of India but the Dawoodi Bohra continued the practice on the grounds of violation of Article 25(1) and Article 26 of the Indian Constitution which grants religious freedom.

LEGAL CHALLENGE TO FGM/C IN INDIA

The legal challenge to FGM/C is still pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. A group of women from the Bohra community filed a Public Interest Litigation to stop the practice of FGM/C in India. The primary ground of this challenge is that FGM violates a women’s right to life, dignity, privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and women face gender inequality in the name of religion which violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

The case of Sunita Tiwari v Union of India emphasis two tests which are between fundamental rights which govern this country that is Article 21which talks about the right to life and liberty and Article 25 which talks about the right to practice any religion. The main question that lies in front of the court is that whether FGM/C violates the threshold which is declared as a religious practice by the Dawood Bohra community without violating the conditions of public order, health, or morality under Article 26 of the Indian Constitution.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development fully supports the ban of FGM/C but in 2017 during a survey, the Ministry was not able to find any existence of FGM/C in India. The case is now before the constitutional bench to decide the issues regarding religious rights and freedom.

The decision is still pending before the court and hopefully, we believe the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India will take an appropriate decision and soon there will ban on the practice of FGM/C in India, and those who practice FGM/C will be prosecuted under criminal offense.

LAWS AGAINST FGM IN INDIA

In India, there are various forms of violence against women that deal with the Indian Penal Code, 1860(IPC Act). As per Section 319 to 326 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 talks about various degrees of hurt and grievous hurt and as per the guidelines of WHO, the immediate compilation of FGM/C includes excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock and sometimes death whereas the long term consequences include urinary problems, menstrual problems, etc which causes hurt and grievous hurt under the Indian Penal Code,1860 as Section 324-326 talks about penalties of imprisonment and fines for voluntarily causing hurt or grievous hurt.

Section 3 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offense Act, 2012(POSCO Act) focuses on penetrative sexual assault by any person on any child, inter alia defines insertion of any object into the vagina of the girl. It is established that the penetration in sexual offense need not be completed penetration. Moreover, Explanation 1 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that the term vagina includes labia majora. FGM/C requires the insertion of a sharp object into the vagina of a child if Section 3 of the POSCO Act and read with Explanation 1 of Section 375 IPC is taken into consideration.

Section 2(y)(i) of the Goa Children’s Act,2003 talks about sexual assault which means any type of intercourse i.e. vaginal or oral or anal, using of any object with children, and causing injury deliberately to the sexual organs of children. So, FGM can fall any of the parts of this provision as it deliberately causing injury to a child.

The National Policy for Children, 2013 (NPC) aims to promote affirmative measures to safeguard the right of all children to live and grow with equality, dignity, security, and freedom. It ensures that all children have equal opportunity and that no custom, tradition, cultural practice, or a religious practice can violate or restrict children from enjoying their rights. FGM/C not only violate the children right as per the NPC Act it also carried in the name of tradition and the cause behind is simply to control women and not let her know about her pleasurable side of her body. NPC also recognizes and prioritizes the right to health, survival, development, and protect the inalienable rights of the children but it also commits to creating a caring, protective and safe environment for all the children to reduce their vulnerability from all types of violence, abuse, exploitation, and discrimination.

Moreover, NPC also grants special protection measures to secure the rights of the children in need of special protection and their specific social, economical, and geopolitical situation including the needs for rehabilitation and reintegration. This policy also gives effective measures to the state by building a preventive and responsive child protection system.

In 2009 Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) was launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Department which aims to create and establish an efficient protective system for a vulnerable child. It grants to promote the privacy and confidentiality of the child and his/her institutionalization measures of last resort.

The practice of FGM/C qualify as a form of hurt or grievous hurt under IPC read with Section 3 of the POSCO Act which includes cutting off part labia minora and it may also be addressed under sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence to make this practice a more holistic approach.

After the Sunita Tiwari v Union of India got into the light the Government of India made a clear statement that there has been no news of practice of FGM/C in India.

Recently, a study titled “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site” shows 75% of all daughters were subjected to FGM/C and pointed out 97% of women who remember their experience of FGM/C from childhood recalls it to be painful. Even though sex is a tabooed topic in India 33% of women believe FGM/C has negatively impacted their sexual life.

India being a signatory to the Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that FGM/C is a form of violence against women and discrimination based on gender. CEDAW states that it is the responsibility of the state parties to take appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural practices to eliminate practices that are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of gender.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

In the past years, there have been growing efforts to curb the practice of FGM/C. The practice of FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and children. It infringes the right to life and personal integrity, right to health and freedom from torture, cruel and unusual treatment, and violence.

FGM/C is only practiced on girls below the age of 18years, it violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989(UNCRC), and also violated the guarantee of being non-discriminated based on the gender.

Many international human rights instruments guarantee the right to be free from gender discrimination. As per Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women, 1979(CEDAW) defines discrimination as based on sex which impairs and nullifies the recognition, enjoyment exercise by the irrespective of their gender. The right to equality is a fundamental freedom in political, economic, socio-cultural, civil, or any other type of freedom.

Male circumcision has various beneficial health consequences , FGM/C adversely affects the health of females and this practice primary aim is to control women’s sexuality and subordinate their role in society. Whenever a woman undergoes FGM/C, she is a victim of discrimination based on gender and it violates her fundamental rights and liberties. The gender-based discrimination is not supported by various international instruments such as Universal Declaration for Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR), International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The right to life is a basic human right and protected by various international statutes such as Article 3 of UDHR, Article 6(1) of ICCPR, and Article 6 of UNCRC. Sometimes, women/girl who undergoes FGM/C leads to death or may also contribute to maternal and neonatal deaths.

FGM/C violates a person’s right to integrity which is often associated with the right to freedom from torture and comprises various human rights principles which include the inherent dignity of a person, the right to liberty and security of a person, and the right to privacy.

The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health id defined under Article 25 of the UDHR. Moreover, Article 12 of ICESCE talks about all state parties to covenant to recognize the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The immediate health consequences of FGM/C include extreme pain and bleeding, and the long term consequences include chronic pain, infections, decreased sexual enjoyment, and psychological consequences such as post-traumatic stress order. Furthermore, a study from WHO also confirmed that women undergo genital mutilation/cutting faces increased risk during childbirth, and death rates among babies during or immediately after birth are higher to those born to mothers who have undergone FGM/C.

FGM/C is mostly performed on young girls between the age of 1-15 years. It violates the right of the child as per Article 3 of UNCRC which talks about the best interest of the child and Article 24 of UNCRC states that all state parties should take effective measures to abolish traditional practice which harms the health of the child.

CONCLUSION & SUGGESTIONS

Based on gender, women face a lot of problems and miss a lot of opportunities or resources. Throughout the globe, women are treated unequally and are less valued as compared to men because of their gender and discriminated against in all spheres of an institutional sphere such as the right to use of power and control possession in the family circle, community market, etc. Despite all these, we women come strong but practice like Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting which is done for the sole purpose of not allowing women to have sexual pleasure as they believe it will deviate her from the marriage and her commit adultery. FGM not only affects the victim but also her partner and society at large. India is the third world that has given secondary status.

The government should ban FGM with immediate effect and should prosecute anyone who commits FGM. The government should also spread awareness and educate people on how this practice is not a religious rite rather it is sometimes which violates the right to life and liberty and do such barbaric practice in the name of religion. The main reason FGM is still practiced is due to gender inequality and it could only be stopped by creating equality between all the genders irrespective of what they do.

The practice of FGM is very well prevalent in India and is practiced under the veil of culture and religion. The Government of India could certainly ban this practice with the help of certain provisions but that will not be sufficient it shall also make strict laws against this practice along with proper implication. Hence, it requires a joint effort from the citizens, legislature, executive as well as the judiciary.

A famous quote by Colin Powell

“A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work”

On 30th July 2020, the Massachusetts Senate passed the FGM/C Bill which aims at the penalties for the crime of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, and on the same day, New Zealand welcomes the passage of the Crimes (Definition of Female Genital Mutilation) Amendment Bill which protects women and girls from the practice of FGM/C.

Opinion

EKNATH KHADSE’S RESIGNATION WOULD HURT BJP IN MAHARASHTRA

Pankaj Vohra

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The decision of former Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse to quit the BJP and join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has not come as a surprise. In fact, the saffron party’s strongman from Jalgaon, who had been elected six times from the Muktainagar Assembly segment, had been unhappy with the manner in which he had been treated by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and therefore, it was natural that he accused him of ruining his political career, after joining his new party. Khadse has been one of the unsung architects of the BJP in the state, and many had even considered him at one point as a possible Chief Minister. However, politics has its own uncertainties and when the time came, the party’s central leadership preferred Fadnavis over him, and he had to settle for a ministerial berth to begin with. His rivalry with Fadnavis persisted and in 2016, Khadse was forced to resign from the Cabinet, following charges of corruption levelled against him. It was alleged that as the Revenue minister, he had brokered a deal where his family members benefited. The allegation could never be proved and the matter is still pending. The resignation put a blot on Khadse’s political journey, and prevented him from aspiring for any major position thereafter. Matters became worse for him when he was last time denied an Assembly ticket. His daughter-in-law, Raksha Khadse, in the meantime, was elected as a BJP candidate from the Raver Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. She continues to be with the BJP, though Khadse, who is likely to join the Maharashtra Cabinet, has started his new innings under Sharad Pawar.

Fadnavis has been on the defensive ever since, and has been trying to explain how he had no role in pushing out Khadse from the party. The damage has already been done. The former Chief Minister’s supporters are of the view that his leaving the BJP would not make any difference. They may be totally wrong. Whenever a strongman of any party parts company with the organisation he has helped to build, there is always a huge cost. In 1977, when Jagjiwan Ram along with H.N. Bahuguna and Nandni Satpathy resigned from the Congress and formed their own party, Congress for Democracy, Indira Gandhi knew that it would be extremely difficult for her to win the Lok Sabha elections. Rest is history since the sitting Prime Minister lost to her opponent, Raj Narain, from her traditional Rae Bareilly seat. In Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana left the BJP briefly but the result was for everyone to see. The BJP has never won the Delhi Assembly for the past 22 years. Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s resignation from the Congress sealed its fate in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, there are many examples including those of Dushyant Chauthala in Haryana where the parent party got affected due to the activities of its own people.

Khadse should have been treated with the dignity he deserved. His example should help the BJP and its rivals to learn some elementary lessons. Loyalists of the party should not be sacrificed in power politics. If that happens, every political party should be prepared to pay the price.

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Time to shatter the glass ceilings in our minds

The emancipation of woman is not possible without the emancipation of man. As women aim to shatter the glass ceilings outside in professional spaces, men need to look inwards and shatter the glass ceilings of prejudice, regressive conventions and patriarchy.

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Do glass ceilings exist only in professional spaces? Look around and think again! Glass ceilings exist everywhere: In professional, social, emotional, physical and material contexts as constructs to subvert female views and ideas, needs and desires, egos and identities.

We bring up our boys and girls in an all-pervasive misogynist culture, where boys are raised to entitlement and girls to submission. Sometimes, it is subtle and, at other times, explicit in both the formal education mores at school and the verbal and social transmission of education in homes.

“Boys will be boys” is the idea used as a dictum for the normalisation of several things. For instance, boys’ sexuality blossoming too rapidly in middle school is a topic parents shy away from considering. The boy enters a box of rehearsed patriarchal learning and a script to abide by for the rest of his life which tells him that licence for sexual activities is to be taken for granted. It teaches him that once “the adolescent sex drive is triggered”, even he himself isn’t responsible for where it leads him to and that taking “no” for an answer is an impossibility.

The normalisation of a licentious, free-wheeling sexual exploration, that is allowed and acceptable for boys, creates a position of the male as the active and the female as the passive. However, female sexuality is taboo, if explored by the female herself. It is only to be at the mercy of men, to be tampered with or even exploited. Hence, there exists the huge pop culture industry in India normalising phallocentric language in songs and erasing the need for “consent” in the portrayal of man-woman relationships in movies: “kudiyon ka laga hai buffet, jo chahiye, karlo choose”.

Girls and boys grow up singing these songs and unconsciously plotting in their consciousness the notion of women being “meat” for display, for objectification, for “physical gratification”, for “lustful enjoyment” as it were, and a “piece of flesh” which has no right to say “no”, thus rehearsing the same patriarchal script of rules over and over again. Young girls if found to be consuming adult literature are penalised hard, but for young boys, parents look the other way for the same so-called “violation” committed, because “it’s just a part of growing up”. “Boys will be boys”, after all!

In other words, patriarchy is not promoted and preserved by the man alone. The woman too, in her own way, contributes heavily through the various inhibitions, social mores, folklore, customs and glass ceilings which she religiously holds on to as a “normal” in her life, besides teaching her daughter to accept the same as a given in hers, instead of something to be shattered and done away with. Therefore, it is no wonder that the battle for women’s equality is mired in so many obstacles, when a woman’s mother, mother-in-law, neighbour, grandmother, sister, aunt, teacher, and boss are up against her, simply because she dares to dream of achieving everything that a man is capable of.

Many argue that equality is slowly and steadily making its way into our lives, citing how the gender divide is tilting in favour of the fairer sex, especially in urban India. Is that so? Equal doesn’t necessarily mean identical. A woman and man are essentially different in their sensibilities, physiologies, social and emotional aspirations, even in terms of the yardstick of professional gratification and hence it is not as simple as just switching a man with a woman and vice versa, while overlooking the immense responsibility every woman is also occupied with generally, whether mentally or physically or on the home front.

Equalising a woman to liken a man in terms of cloning his ways of working or simply exchanging gender roles is just another way of reiterating patriarchy. And that is neither equality, nor liberation for women. A woman needs to be treated as a “human equal”, not a “man equal”—and our professional spaces, both public and private, are still far from it. Male subordinates still cringe while taking orders from female bosses, especially if they are in technical fields and the female boss hails from general administration. Females are also expected to be nice and humble, and not behave in a matter-of-fact manner and professionally in their work spaces and are even criticised for possessing these qualities, whereas a male boss is deified for being curt and “professional”. Glass ceilings are being shattered by women painstakingly in the professional world, but what about the glass ceilings that exist in the patriarchal minds of both men and women? Is there a way to shatter those?

The answer lies perhaps in education and social awareness, where the media has a big role to play. Education needs to encompass more life skills like conflict management, critical thinking, communication skills, problem solving, emotional intelligence, stress management, sex education, etc, rather than rote academic skills. Education needs to aim at nurturing humane and human equals rather than clones of each other in the name of equals. Misogyny is a mindset that is embedded in childhood through lesser and under-dignified chores and routines reserved for daughters. Females are only regarded as passive bearers of everything sanctimonious or paradoxically unholy on earth. Hence, all slangs and cuss words are shaped after them, abusing their body parts. Thus, education, instead of helping in perpetuating the status quo, needs to purge itself of these blemishes and emerge as a bridge between the different sexes—male, female, transgender—to help build a stronger nation.

In this regard, the media needs to promote idols who have shattered the glass ceiling in different fields: Social workers like Kailash Satyarthi, who has been working for the cause of children for decades, and Harish Sadani of MAVA (Men Against Violence and Abuse), who has been working relentlessly for women’s causes, coaches like Pullela Gopichand, who mentors super girls like P.V. Sindhu, and fathers like Mahavir Singh Phogat and Harvir Singh Nehwal, who raised daughters like the wrestler Phogat sisters and shuttler Saina Nehwal. The media needs to reiterate their vision and portray instances of equality that is achievable and worth emulating, instead of only the utopian mirage of urban prototypes in nightclubs with no holds barred on intoxicants and excesses or the placard-brandishing feminists who cry foul at the very mention of the word “man”—both of whom are an exaggeration and an exception in a country where the heart still resides in small towns and villages where patriarchy is still the order of the day unfortunately.

Sophocles had said in his famous tragedy, Antigone, “If my body is enslaved, still my mind is free.” For women, things will look up only when she herself learns to look up, when she learns to unshackle her mind and think in terms of solutions to problems instead of avoidance or endurance of them, for the biggest of battles are first won in the mind.

Two things that can make her think along those lines are education (both vocational and academic) and economic independence, however miniature in form and structure it may be, because with every penny she earns, she earns much more in terms of self-confidence, courage, and dignity of labour. The various educational and vocational training provisions of the government therefore need to orient themselves to serve that end, whereby it is important that the authorities do not treat this as an isolated women’s issue but as a family welfare issue since the woman is the nucleus of the family unit. Her physical and mental wellbeing affects the family at the micro level and the nation at the macro level. The concerned authorities should, therefore, envisage long-term and short-term programmes enabling the rural family unit to emancipate organically as a whole, and not by imposing some utopian hired foreign model upon them for quick magical results. The emancipation should also be “organic” because India is a heterogeneous society with variant social, economic, cultural and political ambient features which play very significant roles in determining the success or failure of such schemes and operations.

The way forward is through collaboration. The emancipation of woman is not possible without the emancipation of man. As women aim to shatter the glass ceilings outside in professional spaces, men need to look inwards and shatter the glass ceilings of prejudice, regressive conventions and patriarchy that often exist in their mind spaces.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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TIME FOR INDIA TO START FORMALISING RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN

Joyeeta Basu

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Amid unconfirmed reports that India could be pursuing a trade pact with Taiwan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has asked New Delhi not to forget the “one China principle”, according to which the island nation of Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Beijing also reminded New Delhi that this principle is “the political basis for China to develop ties with other countries”. The statement was the latest in a series of gratuitous “advice” that Beijing has been offering not only to New Delhi but also to the Indian media about Taiwan. This tone is expected to get shriller and threatening once a possible trade pact is taken out of the realm of speculation and given shape. It is hoped that such threats will be ignored, considering India has started thinking of its own interests for a change, instead of worrying about angering China. Any such pact will mark an important step towards formalising relations at the government to government level between India and Taiwan, and could be the meeting ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen’s New Southbound Policy, which aims to enhance trade and cooperation with countries in South East Asia and South Asia. That the two countries have started giving a lot of importance to the relationship is apparent from the senior level appointments that the two have been making at their respective offices in the two countries. Taiwan’s last representative in New Delhi, Tien Chung-kwang, was made Deputy Foreign Minister of his country after his India stint. India-Taiwan relations have a lot of potential since Taiwan is a technological powerhouse, apart from being a good listening post for all that is happening in China. Strategically too, as part of the first island chain, Taiwan is an important line of defence against an expansionist China. Amid this, the One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China. Moreover, accepting One China policy means, by implication, accepting China’s position on Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims to be its own—and now even Ladakh. Who knows where this will stop, especially if, as consensus is building that China is eyeing to control the whole of the Himalayas with the intention of controlling the water there and choking India, so that the latter does not pose any threats to its ambitions in Asia. Being sensitive to China’s concerns has not got India anything except for Doklam and Galwan, apart from the constant threat of war hanging on its head. In fact the kind of aggressive rhetoric emanating from Beijing is bizarre. It’s strange that a world leader of Xi Jinping’s stature will ask his troops to start preparing for war. Which responsible leader uses such rhetoric? But then Xi’s China has got away with murder, literally—the murder of hundreds of thousands of people by unleashing the Wuhan virus on the world. And if the world does not stand up to it, Xi’s China may think it will get away by pushing countries such as India into a war as well.

The One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China.

This being the situation, it is heartening to see winds of change blowing through the corridors of India’s rather circumspect foreign policy establishment. It appears to be acquiring the much needed edge, keeping with the requirements of the time. If it were business as usual, Australia would not have got the invitation to participate in the Malabar Exercise, much to the chagrin of China. It is hoped, now that Mike Pompeo is visiting India a week ahead of the Presidential election in the United States, substantial progress will be made in the signing of the third and final foundational agreement needed for deeper India-US military cooperation—Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which has been forever in the making. It is also hoped that some movement will be made towards the formalisation of the Quad. It’s only a united world that can tackle the Chinese Communist bully. India seems to have woken up to this reality—as long as it does not flatter to deceive.

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Opinion

Why India fails to have an industrial renaissance

Most of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws.

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In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

A large portion of our economic growth in the last four decades has been in the services sector, predominantly the IT sector. Barring some of the large companies, most IT startups are platforms for aggregation of services, which essentially produce nothing. Their claim to bring in efficiency and provide services at cheaper rates actually pushes down the earnings and wages of the workers, forcing them to work on inhuman terms, while at the same time cutting into the profit margins of enterprises engaged in real, physical economic activity. The question here is: Who are these cheaper prices for? Is it really for the people who can afford to pay more, even at the cost of fair wages and humane working conditions for the deprived? It is the latter who need more money, to buy more and kick-start the economy. A little redundancy is actually good. It not only generates jobs, but it also ensures better conditions for our working people.

Do we know who bears the cost of frauds in the banking sector? While financial institutions aim to cut their transaction costs by employing less people, the cost of frauds is transferred to the customers who end up paying larger processing charges and get lower rates of interest on their deposits. Once again, we are pushing more money into the hands of those who have enough and grabbing it from the smaller man whose job has been taken away under the guise of technology. Worse, there is a whole new breed of criminal entrepreneurs who make insane amounts of money by compromising sensitive data and communications. In the US, companies are now quietly paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars to organisations that trace, negotiate and settle stolen money. Security frameworks are becoming more difficult with cloud services bringing in enormous complexity and security challenges. It has become a scary war of wits between nation states and crime syndicates playing for big bucks. The criminals invest unimaginable amounts of money in finding vulnerabilities and writing algorithms to break passwords and even compromise OTPs.

In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

Am I against technology? No, I am only saying that we have to be awake and clear about our priorities. Our priority today is to create jobs for millions, not to bring in technology to enrich a few. Yes, we must master the latest technology but also use it judiciously for high-end research and innovation, not for reducing jobs and making people poorer.

When it comes to innovation, my first observation is that all the major inventions and discoveries like electricity, telephony, the internal combustion engine, thermionic valve, transistor, LCD, LED, etc, had been made before the 1960s came to an end. Since then, the game has been to scale up processor speeds and integration to keep increasing computing power. New research is expensive and time-consuming and, with state funding drying up, meaningful research has taken the back seat. The result is that we are seeing more applications than inventions and discoveries. 

There is also the growing realisation that these technologies, if you can call them that, are playing havoc with social equilibrium. Countries are concerned over the concentration of power in the hands of companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. What is also worrisome is that IT and social networking are perpetuating stereotypes, reinforcing perceptions and prejudices, instead of challenging them. Emerging infotech is fuelling global inequality, while increasing social tension and dividing humans into hostile camps. They are doing a tremendous disservice by pushing people into pigeonholes where they can be classified and controlled. 

It is sad to see that many of our bright engineers can only think of apps when considering ideas for startups. The super efficiency promised by these apps is a chimera—it is bad for society. Can we use human-scale technology, in sync with nature, without being obsessed with efficiency? Fair wages for employees, humane working conditions, social security, education, health and shelter for the families have to be a part of the human cost, not forgetting a component of leisure, recreation and upgrading of skills. Check why American farmers are increasingly opting for old-fashioned tractors, like the John Deere Model D of 1923, instead of modern fuel-efficient models. They want machines which are simpler to maintain with no proprietary software and expensive spares. Also, we can no longer shut our eyes to the ecological damage, destruction of biodiversity, fatal addictions, malnutrition, organ damage, violent conflicts, inhuman working conditions, suppression of wages and profiteering which are being normalised by many oil companies, pharmaceuticals, fast food chains, armaments, financial institutions and rating agencies.

We have world-class technology institutes. They should be leading an industrial renaissance. But instead of that, 80% of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws. A correction here can be a game-changer. I am reminded of how Bajaj Auto emerged as a world leader in building the 100-cc engine motorcycle. They started by offering more attractive packages than the software-wallahs to suitable students from good engineering colleges. These were students with a passion for engineering. Bajaj Auto built a formidable R&D capability with these engineers and, together with TVS and Hero, they are now global leaders in the motorcycle market. We also saw how Sundram Fasteners became one of the top ancillary manufacturers for General Motors and Mukand became a major stainless steel manufacturer. There are many such stories of what can be achieved if leaders in positions of authority can get the big picture. Let us do it now.

The writer is an Indian civil servant and a former Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The views expressed are personal. This is the third of a five-part series that will appear over a period of time.

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The crisis of credibility facing Indian media

The phenomenal growth of the media in India, including the unregulated arena of social media, has brought with it a significant decline in accountability and reliability. A solution to this lies perhaps in the setting up of a new Media Commission.

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The media in India is facing an unprecedented crisis of credibility. Its exponential growth coupled with diminishing accountability has underlined the urgent need to draw up an agenda in the current scenario for the media to fulfil its constitutional obligations.

The media has a crucial role in promoting democratic and social values, waging a crusade against aberrations and imperfections in the polity and strengthening the edifice of democracy and ensuring good governance.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression, empowers the media to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner. But the moot question in today’s context is about who will define the “public interest” and whether the media can be goaded to follow any selective interpretation of this phrase.

The government and regulatory mechanisms like the Press Council of India (PCI) think it imperative that the media learn to differentiate between matters of “interest to the public” and “those in public interest”, remaining unbiased not only in covering latest developments in political, social and economic fields but also in highlighting the real issues agitating the masses, such as economic disparities, social discrimination, gender inequalities, child abuse, sanitation, environment, poverty, unemployment, education and healthcare, rather than thriving on non-issues.

But this “imperative” too can’t be enforced either by law or through an executive order. The right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) is limited by the “reasonable restrictions” contained under Article 19(2) on eight vital grounds on which laws can be made. But Article 19(2) in no way takes away the right of the media to promote its own interests within these reasonable restrictions, especially in this era of liberalisation.

In Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that freedom of press entitles the media to achieve any volume of circulation and freedom, both in its circulation and content.

In the landmark case of Sakal Papers v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution permits the imposition of reasonable restrictions only within the grounds expressly stated within Article 19(2). These include security of state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; decency or morality; contempt of court; defamation; incitement to an offence; and sovereignty and integrity of India.

The apex court opined that if a law does not fall within these grounds and abridges the right to freedom of speech and expression, then it is liable to be declared void.

Several professional bodies, including the Editors’ Guild of India, are seriously concerned about the behaviour of a section of the media and the inevitable fall out of all this is that “others” now seek to regulate. The media industry too is not oblivious of the tremendous pressures to self-regulate and set its house in order.

The NDA government has been adopting a very cautious approach in dealing with the highly sensitive Indian media. So far it appears to favour persuasion rather than the imposition of statutory regulation in any form. Even the previous UPA government had been unhappy about a “free-for-all” in the name of free media.

Lord Denning, a famous British judge, in his famous book, Road to Justice, observed that the “press is the watchdog and that even the watchdog may sometimes break loose and has to be punished for misbehaviour”.

The government, which sometimes appears eager to rein in the media, may like to study the report of the Lord Justice Leveson public inquiry which was set up by then British Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the infamous phone hacking scandal. The Justice Leveson public inquiry was asked to look into phone hacking and police bribery by the News of the World. It alsoconsidered the culture, practices and ethics of the wider British media. The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World was found involved in the phone hacking scandal, which rocked the British government and jolted public opinion across the world. Several high-profile heads rolled when the story behind the scandal unfolded. The Justice Leveson inquiry recommended a statutory independent regulatory mechanism with powers to enforce its decisions on the media in all its manifestations. The report castigated the British media for its behaviour which it said often “wreaked havoc” in the lives of innocent people. 

The Indian media has also often drawn flak from various quarters for “sensationalism” and “trivialisation”. Intemperate language used by some politicians and social activists reflecting their gender and community bias has invariably underlined the need for the media to scrupulously avoid devoting precious time and space to “non-issues” which may be of interest to certain segments of the society but do not serve the public interest.

Several professional media bodies have been pressing for the setting up of a Media Commission on the lines of the First Press Commission and the Second Press Commission for an extensive review of the entire media industry. The proposed Media Commission may recommend, among other things, the setting up of a Media Council of India, replacing the existing Press Council, which has the mandate to regulate only print media. The jurisdiction of the proposed Media Council may include all types of media—print, electronic and the Internet/social media. But the idea has failed to take off in the face of stiff resistance from the industry.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), a private association of different current affairs and news television broadcasters in India, and the Indian Newspapers Society (INS), representing the print media industry, for long have enjoyed considerable clout in the corridors of power. Together they have been lobbying hard against the setting up of a Media Commission which may review the functioning of all segments of the media and address other important issues including cross-media ownership, paid news syndrome, press-politician relationship, monopolistic TV rating points, concentration of advertisement, the wage structure for employees in the media industry, etc.

The first Press Commission set up by the Nehru government in 1952 looked into the control, management and ownership, the financial structure as well as other aspects of the newspaper industry. It recommended the appointment of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), setting up of a Press Council of India and the enactment of the Working Journalists’ Act, besides other things. The Second Press Commission was set up by the Janata Party government, headed by Morarji Desai, in 1978. The Commission in its report wanted the media to play a responsible role in the development process. The Press Council of India was reconstituted as per recommendations of the Second Press Commission.

The media industry, both electronic and print, would like us to believe that the question as to how the media can and should focus its enormous strength and reach on developmental reporting and positive news interests could be addressed only through self-regulation. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is India’s apex organization of television broadcasters. It promotes the interests of the Indian television industry and provides a meeting ground to ensure that its members work in consensus to achieve common goals and have a common platform to air grievances and arrive at solutions. The IBF has adopted a programme code. It has empowered the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) to impose fines on TV channels found violating the programme code.

A few channels have already been faced with financial penalty for screening obscene content and directed to tender an on-screen apology for violating the programme code. The BCCC has also been regularly issuing advisories to TV channels cautioning them about their content, particularly depicting victims of incidents of rape and acid attacks on women and girls, stereotyping of women in general and the portrayal of minority communities. But all these measures on self-regulation appear “clumsy” and the paradigm of self-regulation needs to be strengthened by reviewing this model.

It is a catch-22 situation. Self-regulation without a statutory binding to enforce it among all the players of the game will be a half-hearted attempt to make the TV channels accountable to the people. And any legal framework would be rejected by the industry as violating the right to freedom of speech and expression. A way out has to be found for an effective and smooth functioning of the media as a potent weapon to strengthen Indian democracy. And then there is the phenomenal growth of the unregulated social media with the potential to breach privacy, create social disorder and pose a threat to national security.

An answer lies perhaps in the setting up of a Media Commission (another Press Commission) for a fresh look at the whole gamut of media functioning in India. It is the need of the hour. It may be headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court of India and its findings binding on all the stakeholders. The proposed Media Commission may recommend a truly representative statutory Media Council in place of the existing Press Council. The proposed Media Council may encompass the media in all its dimensions with adequate provisions to enforce strict vigilance and discipline.

It may be possible sooner than later. What is required is a powerful public opinion in its favour and a strong political will on the part of our lawmakers.

The writer is a senior journalist and currently a part-time member of the Prasar Bharati Board. The views expressed are personal.

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IT’S NOT JUST POLITICAL, IT’S ALSO PERSONAL

Priya Sahgal

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The state of Bihar is all set to go to the polls next month but equally there is another interesting battle that will take place around the same time. This is the slew of bypolls slated for 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government rules with a wafer-thin majority. Of these 28 seats the BJP needs 9 seats to cross the halfway mark on its own; and just two seats to continue in government with the help of its current allies: Currently, the BJP has 107 seats in the 230-strong Assembly. It also has the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one suspended SP MLA. Since these are fickle allies who will switch sides with anyone who has the numbers, the BJP is keen to get a simple majority on its own and is targeting nine seats at the very least. For a government in the saddle, that is not too difficult an ask.

But the Opposition led by former CM Kamal Nath seems surprisingly confident, though the Congress has a much more difficult task. After Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP with his faction, the party is now reduced to 88 seats. Ideally it should win all 28 to cross the halfway mark, but even if it wins around 20 odd seats, it is confident of wooing away some of the smaller allies and independent MLAs from the BJP to wrest back the government.

However, this is not the twist in the tale for until now this is just a fight between an incumbent and a former Chief Minister. The story gets interesting when you add Scindia into the mix, for unlike Chauhan versus Nath which is a straightforward electoral battle, the Scindia versus Nath fight is very personal. Even before Scindia destabilised the Nath government, the two were rivals, for the former always saw himself as the rightful claimant to the CM’s chair while both Nath and Digviijaya Singh saw his as a bit of a pretender who whiled away his time in Delhi and only showed up to claim the prize. This interestingly is a turf war that dates back to Jyotiraditya’s father, the late Madhavrao Scindia’s time when Nath backed Digvijaya’s candidature as Chief Minister over Scindia senior’s claims in 1993.

These bypolls are as crucial for Jyotiraditya as they are for Shivraj and Kamal Nath. As many as 16 of the 28 bypoll seats are from the Gwalior-Chambal region, which is touted as his stronghold. The BJP tickets have been given to the Congress rebels who switched sides with him, thereby upsetting the BJP leaders in the area. Most of the thwarted BJP candidates have been accommodated by Nath, either within the Congress or they have his support as independents. According to senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai, “Nath has deputed a party worker for every 20 voters, he has a band of two lakh fifty thousand workers for these 28 bypolls.” This is the same formula he had used to win the 2018 state polls as well, taking on Amit Shah’s panna pramukh model with his own.

Since Scindia has not yet been accommodated in the Modi cabinet, a lot will depend on how he performs at the ground level. The cabinet reshuffle at the Centre is slated to take place after the Bihar and MP elections. And apart from Nath, he also has to take on the discontent within the state BJP which is not too happy to have ‘Maharajah’ thrusted upon them. Both the PM and the Home Minister are staying out of the bypolls, preferring to focus their energies on the Bihar elections. This leaves the field clear for the state BJP which recently came out with a star campaigners list that had Jyotiraditya as low as Number 10 with others like V.D. Sharma (state BJP chief) and Narender Singh Tomar above him. The message is not lost on those who recall that when he was with the Congress, Scindia headed the campaign committee. Equally telling is the fact that Scindia’s face is not there amongst the official BJP posters.

For Nath too, the stakes are high. This could be his last shot at relevance for one is not sure if the Congress would project him as the CM candidate in the next state elections due in 2023. He knows this and has been working hard throughout the lockdown. His team seems confident of winning at least twenty of these bypolls. and though there are WhatsApp videos being circulated by the Scindia camp to show the empty seats at Nath’s rallies, the latter’s supporters point out that these are seats at the fag-end of the tent and that too during corona times. They instead talk of his confident body language and the fact that he is leading the campaign from the front. And there are also WhatsApp videos of Scindia being greeted with Murdabad cries that are in circulation, only one is not sure whether these are from the Congress or sent by his newfound BJP colleagues.

And so while the media focus is on the Bihar polls, there is an equally interesting and high voltage battle being fought in Madhya Pradesh with the theatre of action being the Gwalior-Chambal region

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