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Policy & Politics

Imran’s promised neverland

Pandering to extremists, ruining economy, Pakistan PM Imran Khan is running out of time.

Vijay Darda

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There was euphoria when Imran Khan left the cricket field and came to bat on the political pitch — the world felt that Pakistan had found a politician with the ability to get the country out of the quagmire it was in. Just as Jayaprakash Narayan gave the slogan of “total revolution” in India, Imran Khan gave the slogan of “corruption-free Pakistan”. His words found traction with the people of Pakistan. He struck a chord with the youth — lakhs would attend his public meetings. It was during this political journey that I met him and had discussions with him about Pakistan in London. He came across as earnest, with a genuine desire to bring about change. In his words and eyes, I saw the spirit of Pakistan’s progress and a message of friendship for India. He was moving ahead with a sporting spirit. His dream came true after 22 years of struggle and he became Pakistan’s prime minister.

Over two years later, one wonders: What kind of impression will Khan leave on the sands of time? Where did he go — or is going — wrong? Last week’s decision by the Pakistan Supreme Court to let off Daniel Pearl’s killer Omar Sheikh shows how fragile the system is. I have been to Pakistan several times and have become acquainted with the peoples’ battles and aspirations — they struggle with poverty and hunger and are blighted by corruption and unemployment. Terrorism is a dominant force, the intelligence agency and the army have always been powerful in Pakistan — today, ironically, they are seen as an inalienable part of democracy, Pakistan style.

Khan signalled a break from the past. Long before he became PM, he built a state-of-the-art cancer hospital in Lahore and schools and colleges as well. After becoming PM, he started his work with great simplicity. He even scaled down his government security to a great extent and did not use the government aircraft but travelled on commercial flights. He wanted relations with India to improve. He said that if India took one step, he would take two!

But neither could he move one step forward nor did India take two steps. The reason for this was the betrayal in 1999, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to meet Nawaz Sharif with a message of friendship and the Pakistan army inflicted the Kargil war. Narendra Modi had invited Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony and had also flown to Pakistan to meet the latter but India got nothing in return. As for Khan’s initiative, India felt that history should not repeat itself because the biggest charge against the Pakistan PM has been that he is the army’s puppet. Some of Pakistan’s old-timers and free-minded people say that India should have given Khan an opportunity, taking all precautions, and helped him to get Pakistan out of the morass. They argue that by not doing so, India fell into the ISI “trap” — Khan drifted away from India and the ISI and Pakistan army succeeded in their nefarious designs.

Today, both countries are forced to “burn” crores of rupees on the border every day. There is loss of life and property on both sides. Forget what the mullahs want. I can say based on my experience that the people there want friendship with India because it will benefit Pakistan immensely in healthcare, industry and trade. Today, dialogue has stopped and there has been a sharp surge in ceasefire violations by Pakistan. There is no let-up in terror and little hope that India and Pakistan will ever sit together to talk peace in the foreseeable future.

Imran has failed on both domestic and foreign fronts. Even before he came to power, the US had turned its back on Pakistan and the country had stopped receiving American bailout packages. Pakistan turned to its evergreen friend, Saudi Arabia, but met with disappointment there as well because of the Saudi-US alliance. Along with Turkey, Malaysia and Iran, Khan hoped for a new Islamic mobilisation which is caught in the big Saudi vs Iran rivalry.

Economically, Pakistan is on the brink. Still stuck in the FATF “grey” list, it’s dependent on China more than ever. China has given a huge loan to Pakistan but the interest rate is so high that Pakistan can never repay it. That is why Imran is being accused of “selling Pakistan to China”. The debt-trap has made Imran so helpless that he is unable to speak a word on the plight of the Uighur Muslims in China.

During our meeting, Khan had stated that no country can progress in the name of religion, indicating that he would keep the custodians of religion away. Unfortunately, he is today caught in the politics of mullahs along with the ISI and the army. The courts pretend to punish these outlaws but the factory of terror is allowed to operate with impunity. How can Khan stop this? There is no doubt that he is still seen as a leader with a clean image, but the affection that the masses had for him has started to wane. The common man is so upset with the inflation that the Opposition parties and the organisations that help the terrorists have succeeded in creating an atmosphere against Khan. Massive demonstrations have been held in almost all provinces of the country. In a country with a population of 22 crore, unemployment was already a serious problem and the pandemic has left 2 crore more jobless. Inflation is at a 12-year high.

Imran Khan has about two years and nine months left in the present term. He stands by his slogan of building New Pakistan, but at present, that goal seems remote. It is sad. Khan’s failure would be like hope slipping away.

Courtesy: The Indian Express

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

Imran Khan has about two years and nine months left in the present term. He stands by his slogan of building New Pakistan, but at present, that goal seems remote. It is sad. Khan’s failure would be like hope slipping away.

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Policy & Politics

Government aims to become self-reliant in silk sector in two years

Tarun Nangia

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Smriti Zubin Irani, Union Minister of Textiles and Women & Child Development Government of India today said that the recent Budget has brought cheer to the textile industry with the announcement of seven mega textile parks. Additionally, INR 10,000 crores have been dedicated by the Govt of India for PLI schemes, specially dedicated to MMF and technical textiles.

Addressing the inaugural session of the Karnataka VastraTek – Apparel & Textile Conclave organised by the Department of Handloom and Textiles, Govt of Karnataka in association with FICCI Karnataka State Council, Ms Irani elaborated on the growth of the silk sector in the state, Ms Irani said that Karnataka reigns in the realm of silk. “Under the Silk Samagra Program, the Govt of India dedicated specifically over INR 2,000 crores for the development of silk. I am hopeful that the industry gives the state of Karnataka ideas, proposals or initiatives that can make our country Atmanirbhar in silk. We in the Ministry of Textiles are looking at the next two years to ensure that India is self-reliant in the space of silk,” she said.

“Just reducing the produce line to saris and garments would be doing a great injustice to the potential of the silk sector. We are aware that silk, especially the waste of a cocoon can be used by pharma and cosmetic companies. We are hopeful that industry captains can suggest usage of silk waste to help elaborate our production line or elaborate our diversification prospects, Ms Irani added.

On the future of textiles in the state of Karnataka, the Minister said that the MSP operations for cotton procurement by the Cotton Cooperation of India has touched over INR 359 crores in the state. “From 2014-15 to this year, the Ministry of Textiles has extended support of over INR 1,622 crores only for cotton procurement and MSP operations benefiting over 1.67 lakh farmers,” she said.

Highlighting the importance of the handicrafts sector, the Minister said that Pehchaan Cards were distributed to over 26,000 artisans. The latest handloom census has brought to light that there are over 50,000 weavers in Karnataka who are looking at new opportunities digitally to expand their markets. She further suggested that on lines of the GeM portal that has brought on-board over 1,50,000 weavers from across the country, a similar digital opportunity is given to the marketing of artisans and weavers of Karnataka.

The textile and the apparel sector were tested as an industry during the COVID times and we rose to that challenge nationally and internationally by becoming the second largest manufacturers of PPE suits. “The fact that we could turn around our manufacturing processes in less than 60 days to meet the immediate need of our country speaks volume and is a testimony to the talent of the textile industry,” she added.

Mr Shrimanth Balasaheb Patil, Minister of Handloom and Textile & Minority Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka said that the state was first state to implement a dedicated textile policy and has been an inspiration to other states in the country for the same. The Doddabalapur Integrated Textile Park is the first integrated textile park of the country spread across 48 acres of land and has over 85 units focused on weaving, warping, among others and has generated employment for over 8000 people.

“The Govt of Karnataka is committed to providing world class facilities with easy access to railways, airports and ports for the smooth export of goods and materials. The new Textile and Apparel Policy 2019-2024 has been formulated keeping industrial requirements in mind and the incentives provided is the best in the country. With constant monitoring, the sector will be able to tide over the difficult situation induced by the pandemic,” he said.

Mr Ullas Kamath, Chairman, FICCI Karnataka State Council & Joint Managing Director, Jyothy Labs Ltd said that the special emphasis given by the union budget 2021 to the textile and apparel sector to set up large textile parks are extremely important.

“Very few countries can boast of robust textile value chains that India has. Karnataka has been one of the key states of apparel and garment supplies to both domestic and international markets and the textile industry occupies key position in terms of its contribution to the state’s economy. The policy intervention by the Govt of Karnataka have created thriving manufacturing clusters.” he said.

The FICCI Karnataka State Council has been taking sector specific initiatives to improve industry performance. For the textile and apparel sector we are forming a subcommittee with leading garment manufacturers and this will certainly help to bring more vibrancy, he added.

Dr A Sakthivel, Chairman, Apparel Export Promotion Council (APEC) said that with the support and help extended by the Centre during in the last year, India became the second largest manufacturers of medical textile.

“Karnataka plays a vital role in apparel exports and does about INR 17,000 cr worth of exports per year. The state govt should utilise the PLI scheme and promote MMF garments in a big way, he said. There is a need for plug and play facilities for apparel manufacturing and processing, he suggested.

Speaking on the industry’s role, Mr R D Udeshi, President, Reliance Industries Limited said, “The time has come for the industry to come forward and be aggressive for reinvestment and become one of the major manufacturing hubs in the global arena. We, as an industry, have proved ourselves during the pandemic. From importing PPE suits to manufacturing and exporting the same, this has proved that the industry has the willpower and manufacturing excellence.”

Mr Jacob John, President – Premium Brands, Adithya Birla Fashion & Retail Limited said that the retail sector is pleased to see business bouncing back after a prolonged crisis induced by the pandemic. “With the steps taken by the govt, we expect business to attain normalcy by Q2 of FY22,” he said.

Mr Siddhartha Agarwal, Co-Chair, FICCI Karnataka State Council and Managing Director, Bhoruka Park Private Limited delivered the vote of thanks and said that the conclave had been organised against the background of the new state textile policy unveiled by the Govt of Karnataka.

On the future of textiles in Karnataka, the minister said that the MSP operations for cotton procurement by the Cotton Cooperation of India has touched over Rs 359 crore in the state. ‘From 2014-15 to this year, the Ministry of Textiles has extended support of over Rs 1,622 crore only for cotton procurement and MSP operations benefiting over 1.67 lakh farmers,” she said.

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Policy & Politics

India and Mauritius sign comprehensive economic cooperation and partnership agreement

As regards trade in services, Indian service providers will have access to around 115 sub-sectors from the 11 broad service sectors, such as professional services, computer related services, research & development, other business services, telecommunication, construction, distribution, education, environmental, financial, tourism & travel related, recreational, yoga, audio-visual services, and transport services.

Tarun Nangia

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Dr Anup Wadhawan, Commerce Secretary, Government of India, and Ambassador Mr. Haymandoyal Dillum, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade, Government of Mauritius signed the India-Mauritius Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA)  in Port Louis yesterday, in the august presence of Prime Minister of Mauritius Mr Pravind Jugnauth, and External Affairs Minister, Govt of India, Mr S. Jaishankar.

CECPA is the first trade Agreement signed by India with a country in Africa. The Agreement is a limited agreement, which will cover Trade in Goods, Rules of Origin, Trade in Services, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, Dispute Settlement, Movement of Natural Persons, Telecom, Financial services, Customs Procedures and Cooperation in other Areas

Impact/benefits: CECPA provides for an institutional mechanism to encourage and improve trade between the two countries. The CECPA between India and Mauritius covers 310 export items for India, including food stuff and beverages (80 lines), agricultural products (25 lines), textile and textile articles (27 lines), base metals and articles thereof (32 lines), electricals and electronic item (13 lines), plastics and chemicals (20 lines), wood and articles thereof (15 lines), and others. Mauritius will benefit from preferential market access into India for its 615 products, including frozen fish, speciality sugar, biscuits, fresh fruits, juices, mineral water, beer, alcoholic drinks, soaps, bags, medical and surgical equipment, and apparel.

 As regards trade in services, Indian service providers will have access to around 115 sub-sectors from the 11 broad service sectors, such as professional services, computer related services, research & development, other business services, telecommunication, construction, distribution, education, environmental, financial, tourism & travel related, recreational, yoga, audio-visual services, and transport services.

 India has offered around 95 sub-sectors from the 11 broad services sectors, including professional services, R&D, other business services, telecommunication, financial, distribution, higher education, environmental, health, tourism and travel related services, recreational services and transport services.

Both sides have also agreed to negotiate an Automatic Trigger Safeguard Mechanism (ATSM) for a limited number of highly sensitive products within two years of the Signing of the Agreement.

Timelines: The Agreement will come into force at an early date.

The India-Mauritius CECPA will further cement the already deep and special relations between the two countries.

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Policy & Politics

CARE FOR YOUR AND OTHERS’ LIVES

As soon as the launch of the Covid-19 vaccine was announced, people threw all the caution to the winds. This careless attitude is responsible for the reappearance of the coronavirus pandemic. The need of the hour is to take strict action against those whose careless attitude is not only endangering their own lives but that of others too. Moreover, vaccines should be made available in the open market.

Vijay Darda

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As the New Year dawned, it looked like that the coronavirus pandemic was now tapering out. The number of Covid positive patients was declining rapidly and the death count was also going down, but by mid-February, reports of a fresh coronavirus outbreak from several parts of the country started pouring in again. The situation is getting worse in Karnataka and Maharashtra. The situation in Amravati, Wardha, Yavatmal, Akola, some suburbs of Mumbai and Nagpur in Maharashtra is turning to be serious. If we look into the reasons, then one thing is clear that it is the negligent behaviour of the people that is responsible for this worsening situation.

 If I were to talk about my state Maharashtra, hundreds of people attended the wedding functions that took place on Vasant Panchami’s Muhurat and people neither took any precaution nor used sanitizer. They behaved as if the Covid-19 crisis was over, and there was no need to be afraid of anything! About 500 to 600 people had gathered in each marriage hall. These marriages have proved to be the hubs of the Covid-19 outbreak. The hard work and dedication of the government officials, doctors, other agencies who had subdued the pandemic and got letters of appreciation for being Covid Warriors, have all gone in vain. The organisers of wedding ceremonies are responsible for the new crisis, the hotels and the wedding halls as well as the officials of municipal corporations are also largely responsible. This could not have happened without their collusion.

Besides, the careless attitude of people in putting on masks and not following social distancing norms is leading to a surge in coronavirus cases again. Even if people are putting on masks, they are wearing it improperly. It keeps hanging below their nose or below their chin. With this kind of poor discipline, the atmosphere is proving conducive for the spread of coronavirus pandemic. If even one person in the crowd is a Covid-19 patient, he will infect a multitude of people. How can we forget that we have lost many of our near and dear ones due to Covid-19 pandemic. I believe that it is very important to open the markets because it is related to the livelihood of the people but at the same time we have to adopt some rules otherwise how will we be able to protect ourselves from this deadly virus? If the Covid-19 cases continue to rise, it will directly affect our economy. We have come out of lockdown with great difficulty and the economy has somehow started coming back on track.

Under these circumstances, if the situation worsens again, it will not only affect those Covid-19 positive patients, but other people will also suffer. If the lockdown or curfew is required again, the situation will worsen. From the common man to traders, businessmen and industrialists, they all are still reeling under the impact of coronavirustriggered lockdown and the very thought of the lockdown again is enough to give them shudders. The condition of schools is also very bad. They are grappling with the challenges of recovering the fees from parents and paying their staff. It is unfortunate that people are not thinking about it. They neither care for their own lives nor of those of others. In my view, such reckless people are enemies of the society.

The situation warrants strict action against them so that they would desist from indulging in such careless activities again. Besides, the government should now step up vaccination drive too. At present, just the frontline warriors are being vaccinated. Covid-19 vaccination in India started on January 16 and one crore people have been vaccinated in a month. If the pace remains the same, then just imagine how long it will take to vaccinate all the needy people. It has been reported that ordinary people above the age of 50 years will be vaccinated in the middle of March. The question is why the speed of vaccination is not being stepped up when we have about 10 crore vaccines ready and the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech are engaged in developing the vaccine at full capacity. Why so much delay in giving vaccines to people above 50 years of age? It is reported that the glitches in the app have slowed down the vaccination but now they are being corrected. So, should it take so much time in today’s technological age? Let me inform you that Tamil Nadu government has also started vaccinating the journalists because they too have been in the frontline war against the coronavirus pandemic. That is very encouraging.

And the second biggest thing is that since we have lakhs of vaccines, then why doses are not being made available in the open market. By open market, I do not mean drug stores but private hospitals. Private sector hospitals in our country are well equipped with resources and if their help is taken, the pace of vaccination will become faster and the burden on the government will also be reduced. Those who have the ability to spend money for the vaccine should go to a private hospital. And the government should make arrangements at its centres for those who do not have money for getting vaccinated at private hospitals. Now, the common people are also wishing that the vaccine should be made available in private hospitals and the government should fix the rate of the vaccine and ensure that no hospital charges more than the prescribed amount.

India has overcome many diseases by vaccinating its vulnerable population. It is due to the series of vaccination drives that the immune system of Indians is much stronger than people living in countries of Europe and America. This is the reason why the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been relatively low on us. We are the number one in the world in terms of vaccination. Our resources and our potential are immense. The vaccination of the population on a mass scale can definitely help us beat the coronavirus. But this does not mean that we abandon the path of prevention. We should not become guilty of criminal negligence. Take care of your life and do not play with the lives of others. Wear the mask in the right way. Follow the safe distancing norms. Be healthy and keep others healthy too.

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

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Policy & Politics

MAKING IT HAPPEN: TRANSFORMATIVE EXCISE POLICY

Anil Swarup

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It is a moot point whether respective State Governments should impose prohibition, banning sale of potable alcohol. Some States like Gujarat and Bihar indeed have. There are arguments both for and against it. However, everyone admits that excise revenue arising out of tax on liquor sale constitutes a big chunk of the overall revenues of any state. At the turn of the century, there were unmistakable signs that the excise sector was struggling on account of monopolistic structure at least in the State of Uttar Pradesh. When S P Gaur took over as Secretary in the Excise Department of the State, he was briefed by the then Excise Commissioner, Pravir Kumar who too had recently taken over this sensitive assignment. He gave him an overview of the excise scenario in the State. The excise earning of about Rs. 2100 Crore constituted 17% of the total tax revenue. There was a monopoly of excise contractors. The distilleries and consumers were hapless sufferers at the hands of these contractors. Seven groups (each in one or a group of Districts) of excise contractors had taken control of the entire State, with distillers & consumers reduced to non-entities.

Under the prevalent system that was almost a century old, the excise vends came to be auctioned District-wise annually. A similar auction-based system was in vogue in most neighbouring States. Magnitude of licence fees for the district was so large (more than Rs.100 crore in urbanised districts) that small players couldn’t participate in the auctions. The whole process was reduced to a farce as a handful of big contractors cartelised and carved out their respective districts or a group of them for excise business. The monopolists would influence the excise policy, rules, dictate terms to the distillers and charged arbitrary price from the consumers. Not infrequently, they would refuse to yield any increase the bid amount. The government, expecting higher revenues in a competitive environment, was left with little elbow room to negotiate with the licensees.

The new team at the helm of Excise Department had the benefit of the K.N. Singh Committee Report that had highlighted concerns about the growing influence of excise monopolies. Further, a comparatively low per capita consumption of liquor in UP implied a suppression of consumption data by licensees. They had a vested interest in projecting lower sales, indulging in supply of illicit liquor, smuggling & excise duty evasion. The consumers, being unorganized and without a lobby, were made to pay the price. Besides, the supply of country liquor in poly-pouches spelt disaster for the environment with disposal of 100 lakh pouches every year. This disposal impacted water bodies as well.

The refusal of excise contractors to bid for higher revenues for 2000-01 precipitated a crisis. It was too late to make amends for the auctions due in March 2000. Major strategic reforms, however, became imminent in the excise sector of the State. S P Gaur and his team had consultations with all the stake-holders that included distillers, District Collectors and excise officials.

With support from Excise Minister and the new Chief Minister, Rajnath Singh, it was decided to undertake major reforms instead of tinkering here and there. A new Excise Policy (NEP) was considered. The objective of this Policy was to eliminate the monopolies, facilitate entry of new enterprise in excise sector and to settle the excise vends in a transparent and fair manner.

As a prelude to NEP, an innovative Beer Project, entailing a paradigm shift, was devised. The excise duty, collected at a brewery, was now to be a major source of excise revenue with licence fee playing secondary role. The Beer Project met with stiff opposition from the powerful contractor’s lobby. After a protracted legal battle, the government settled 1326 new beer licences in summer of 2000. The new licences, with a small licence fee and simplified terms and conditions, were allotted on the basis of publicly held lottery. This Project gave unexpected sales and opened up the system. Beer prices crashed from Rs.65 to Rs.35 per bottle. Besides releasing this segment of liquor from the clutches of regular contractors, it opened up the system and brought several thousand new entrepreneurs in the sector. A new excise policy (NEP) was born!!

Encouraged by the success of the Beer Project, the team toiled day and night to work out alternative options and their implications under New Excise Policy. An inter-State meeting of 10 major excise earning States was held in November, 2000 to identify the best excise practices & consolidate the essential elements of NEP without compromising the total revenue. It provided for low licence fee, simplified entry level terms & conditions, allotment of shops by respective District Collectors through public lottery, and set the vendors free to buy liquor from any State distillery. The country liquor pouches (200 ml) were to be replaced by bottles (180 ml). It introduced Maximum Retail Price (MRP) and holograms using latest technology for checking duty evasion.

There were apprehensions about a fall in excise revenue as every 180 ml bottle contained 20 ml less country liquor than a poly-pouch. Even the Cabinet Minister shared these apprehensions but he played along in view of the larger benefits. The NEP was approved by the Cabinet. The Policy was put into operation within 2 months. The Excise Minister was partly correct as during the first year of NEP, there was a lower increase in the revenue that was expected. Subsequently, however, the excise revenue rose phenomenally to reach Rs. 27,323 Crore. It also ensured safe and better quality liquor to consumers at a fair price. His place as a stakeholder was duly recognized. By eliminating the use of poly- pouches, the Policy reduced the soil and water pollution a great deal.

The team led by S P Gaur and Pravir Kumar demonstrated that out-of-box-thinking is possible in bureaucratic framework as well and if it is done by taking stake holders into confidence, with imaginative planning and meticulous execution, it can yield the desired results. Here was a team that made-it-happen and it sustained over the years as they put in place institutions to sustain what they had created.

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Policy & Politics

How coronavirus strikes a sanitary pad crisis in India

Menstruating girls and women are restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books. The underlying basis for this myth is also the cultural beliefs of impurity associated with menstruation. It is further believed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated.

Anushka

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This article shall talk about the discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India, where periods have long been a taboo and considered impure. According to one study, only 36% of India’s 355 million menstruating females use sanitary napkins , while the rest use old rags, husk, ash, leaves, mud and soil and such other life-threatening materials to manage their flow.A woman’s menstrual health is crucial to her well-being and also to the well-being of her family and community. But too often — especially in the developing world — mindsets, customs and institutional biases prevent women from getting the menstrual health care they need. Menstrual hygiene continues to be amongst the most challenging development issues today. Menstruation is associated with the onset of puberty in girls and many a times, it brings with it rules, restrictions, isolation and changed expectations from the girls by the society. This changed attitude towards girls such as restrictions on their self expressions, schooling, mobility and freedom has far reaching consequences on the mindset of women. Menstruation is still considered a taboo in the Indian society. Even today, the cultural and social influences on people create a major hurdle in ensuring that the adolescent girls are given proper knowledge on menstrual hygiene. Mothers are also reluctant to talk about this topic with their daughters and many of them lack scientific knowledge on puberty. Culturally in many parts of India, menstruation is still considered to be dirty and impure. The origin of this myth dates back to the Vedic times and is often been linked to Indra’s slaying of Vritras. For, it has been declared in the Veda that guilt, of killing a brahmana-murder, appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra’s guilt. Further, in the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating. She must be “purified” before she is allowed to return to her family and day to day chores of her life. However, scientifically it is known that the actual cause of menstruation is ovulation followed by missed chance of pregnancy that results in bleeding from the endometrial vessels and is followed by preparation of the next cycle. Therefore, there seems no reason for this notion to persist that menstruating women are “impure.” Many girls and women are subject to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. Not entering the “puja” room is the major restriction among urban girls whereas, not entering the kitchen is the main restriction among the rural girls during menstruation. Menstruating girls and women are also restricted from offering prayers and touching holy books.The underlying basis for this myth is also the cultural beliefs of impurity associated with menstruation. It is further believed that menstruating women are unhygienic and unclean and hence the food they prepare or handle can get contaminated. According to study by Kumar and Srivastava in 2011, participating women also reported that during menstruation the body emits some specific smell or ray, which turns preserved food bad. And, therefore, they are not allowed to touch sour foods like pickles. However, as long as general hygiene measures are taken into account, no scientific test has shown menstruation as the reason for spoilage of any food in making. Cultural norms and religious taboos on menstruation are often compounded by traditional associations with evil spirits, shame and embarrassment surrounding sexual reproduction. In some cultures, women bury their cloths used during menstruation to prevent them being used by evil spirits. Interestingly, in Asia including India, such beliefs are still practiced. However, there seems to be no logical or scientific explanation for this.In some parts of India, some strict dietary restrictions are also followed during menstruation such as sour food like curd, tamarind, and pickles are usually avoided by menstruating girls. It is believed that such foods will disturb or stop the menstrual flow. As far as the exercise is concerned, many studies in India and elsewhere have revealed that many adolescent girls believe that doing exercise/physical activity during menses aggravate the dysmenorrhea while in real exercise can help relieve the menstruating women with symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea and relieve bloating. Exercise also causes a release of serotonin, making one feel much happier. In some parts of India, perceptions of Hinduism center on notions of purity and pollution. Bodily excretions are believed to be polluting, as are the bodies when producing them. All women, regardless of their social caste, incur pollution through the bodily processes of menstruation and childbirth. Water is considered to be the most common medium of purification. The protection of water sources from such pollution, which is the physical manifestation of Hindu deities, is, therefore, a key concern. This highlights the possible reason why menstruating women are not allowed to take a bath especially for first few days of their menstrual period. It is believed that if a girl or women touches a cow while she is on her period, that the cow will become infertile – leading girls to associate their own bodies with curse and impurity. The main reasons for this taboo still being relevant in the Indian society are high rate of illiteracy especially in girls, poverty and lack of awareness about menstrual health and hygiene. Only less than 18 per cent of Indian women use sanitary pads. The latest National Family and Health Survey found that 58 per cent of young Indian women (15-24 years) use a hygienic method of protection (mostly sanitary pads), a significant increase from the 12 per cent using pads in 2010. The difficulty of accessing sanitary pads is another major issue. India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products in 2018 after months of campaigning by activists.Campaigners had argued that menstrual hygiene products were not a luxury and periods were not a choice that a woman could simply opt out of.However, tax exemption is only a small step towards a much longer journey of making menstrual health and hygiene an accessible reality for every woman in the country. This is, no doubt, a consequence of greater attention to menstrual hygiene management over the past few years in India. This not only prevails in the Indian society but is a global issue. From an early age, girls learn to live with the pain and fear and seldom do we see a girl seek help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods. But with a surge in the use of social media in recent years, women have begun sharing their stories about menstruation too.Yet this freedom is often questioned and those sharing their stories are threatened with bans, while trolls who indulge in moral policing and shaming women go scot-free.Perhaps the more critical issue is that menstrual health experts say the current coronavirus crisis has worsened matters further in India. The country is under a strict lockdown which has severely impacted production and supplies of menstrual hygiene products. Access to menstrual hygiene products for Indian women, especially those in rural areas, has been severely impacted due to the coronavirus pandemic and closure of educational institutions and community organisations has further compounded the problem, a study has found.The pandemic has also disrupted the production of menstrual hygiene products, with many small and medium scale manufacturing units facing a shortage of labour, raw material and working capital, it said.

KEY CHALLENGES RELATED TO MENSTRUAL HYGIENE

1. Continuing taboos and restrictions related to menstruation.

2. Limited access to sanitary pads.

3. Limited access to social support.

4. Restricted access to sanitation facilities.

5. Anxiety and stress over how to manage menstruation.

6. Disrupted manufacturing of menstrual hygiene products.

7. Broken supply chains for menstrual hygiene products.

The result of the above factors found by one of the surveys was that most girls and women began to switch to cloth pads.

How do you maintain Period Hygiene? The Problem with Using Cloth Pads

How do you maintain period hygiene when you have no safe access to sanitary pads or sanitation facilities? A relevant area of concern.

A common problem linked to the use of cloth pads is that those who use it do not have adequate information on how to maintain the cloth they are using so that they are not infected later. In fact, using cloth pads without knowing how to maintain it poses danger to a woman’s health and they risk infections of a grave nature. In relief camps and shelters where food and water are of primary concern, and in quarantine and isolation facilities where testing kits and essential medicines are the necessity, menstrual products for women are not considered an essential item.

Female migrants on the road and women in quarantine or isolation facilities may experience discrimination and stigma more acutely owing to their menses.  Women and girls may use their menstrual products for longer than recommended, or turn to unhygienic alternatives such as old cloth or rags.  Irrespective of what is used, changing menstrual products regularly, washing reusable cloth pads, cleaning the body, and disposing of used materials, is now more challenging than usual. In slums, where many are dependent on community toilets, social distancing measures and mobility restrictions makes it difficult for girls and women to use toilets as frequently as they need to during their period. In rural areas, procuring additional water for washing related needs during menstruation may be a barrier. Privacy to change materials frequently and to discard them is impinged upon for urban and rural residents alike. For women migrants, managing periods on the long and tough road home without access to any type of amenity is an unimaginable difficulty. Limited availability of menstrual hygiene products and inability to maintain hygiene can affect the health of menstruators adversely. Strikingly, poor and affluent women alike, express anxiety over limited supplies for themselves and female family members.

Menstrual materials are worn for longer than they should be, simply to extend availability of limited stock to deal with restricted mobility, increasing the risk of reproductive tract infections (RTI). Reusable cloth pads, while a good alternative, may not be washed and dried thoroughly due to paucity of water and privacy, posing additional risks for infections.Women do not seek required healthcare for RTIs even under normal circumstances. With non-essential health services curtailed and frontline health workers focused on the pandemic response activities, RTI symptoms resulting from poor menstrual hygiene are likely to go unaddressed. Hence, action for ensuring access to safe menstrual products and information on menstrual hygiene are critical.

To deal with this crisis and to ease the problem of girls and women specially in the rural areas, I started an NGO called NAARI which aims to deal with stigmas related to menstruation and also distributes sanitary napkins to women. This journey started in the month of September and we have now reached almost 3000 women across two states, namely Jharkhand and West Bengal. We also conduct various sensitization programs amongst girls and women and the objective of this holistic sensitisation programme is accomplished through integrated awareness, motivation and meditation programmes. It provides them with know-how on how to handle menstruation, improve knowledge of personal hygiene and boost confidence by answering unanswered questions through interactive and engaging training methods.

We have taken this step because we were aware that this it is an important issue among underprivileged families specially during this pandemic and we aim to reach out to more number of women to provide them with sanitary napkins regularly.

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Policy & Politics

Fall in aid from rich nations hurting the developing world: Ex-UN Secretary General

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urges the global community to redouble efforts to help the needy.

Tarun Nangia

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Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Tuesday expressed concern over traditional donors – the rich countries – cutting back on aid at a time when the developing world was challenged by budgetary constraints.

Noting that nationalism and protectionism were hindering multilateral cooperation, he asked the global community to redouble efforts to ensure that critical resources reach the needy through measures that are flexible, accountable and country-driven. Moon’s comments assume significance as global experts and the heads of international organisations including the UN, WHO and the WTO have warned against vaccine nationalism and the related export curbs disrupting the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, especially to poor countries, and in turn, slowing down economic recovery.

Speaking at a webinar co-hosted by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Mr Moon, who is the Deputy Chair of The Elders (an independent group of global leaders), pointed out that many nations, particularly those in the global South, were facing expanding budgetary constraints in 2021. “Traditional donors are cutting aid when it is most needed. Despite this, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that critical resources continue to reach the most in need and that assistance is flexible, accountable and country-driven. We must remember that this is a sound investment in sustainability, inclusivity and prosperity,” he said at the webinar titled ‘The UN@75 and South-South Cooperation: evolving roles and responsibilities’.

Stating that development cooperation was under pressure as a result of the pandemic and the ensuing global economic crisis, Mr Moon said the call for Agenda 2030, mitigation of global warming and the quest for ways to tide over the scourges of the present pandemic also necessitate a further collaborative approach towards provision of global public goods and protection of global commons.

He urged both the UN and the emerging powers to continue to play an active role in the global system. “Your countries are the stewards of our multilateral future. Indeed, while you have lifted millions of people from poverty, you can further help millions more,” he said. Mr. Moon said while the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the international system and collective efforts, it has also created opportunities to expand cooperation to help build back better and ensure that no one is left behind.

The webinar sought to address concerns regarding cooperation between the developing world countries (South-South Cooperation or SSC) to support countries to better recover from the current COVID-19 crisis. Since 2013, the Conference of Southern Providers (Delhi Process) has been attracting international attention on issues and emerging challenges for SSC. In this regard, the Delhi VI Conference will take place this year. UN support for SSC has been an integral part of these efforts. The 75th anniversary of the UN provides a landmark to examine how the relationship between the UN and the South, – i.e. the majority of its member states – has evolved.

The webinar was attended by Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, DG, RIS, Sven Grimm, Head of Research Programme on Inter- and Transnational Cooperation, Training, DIE, Ambassador Vijay Nambiar, former Special Advisor to UN Secretary General, among others.

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