The Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Bihar on Tuesday fielded five-time Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA Awadh Bihari Choudhury as its candidate for the post of Assembly Speaker. The election for the Speaker’s post is due on Wednesday.
Choudhury, an MLA from Siwan, is directly pitted against National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee and three-time BJP MLA Vijay Kumar Sinha.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav on Tuesday said Choudhury has filed his nomination for the Speaker’s post on behalf of the Opposition Grand Alliance. Confident of Choudhury’s victory, he said that the post of Speaker in the Legislative Assembly is an eminent and responsible post held by a leader who can take the ruling party and the Opposition along and listen to the views of all party leaders. The Speaker’s chair must be held by someone who has immense political experience, Tejashwi added.
Asked about seeking support from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Tejashwi said he would appeal to all the Opposition MLAs to vote for a veteran leader as Speaker of the Assembly. The RJD leader said Choudhury became an MLA for the first time in 1985 and has been elected an MLA five times.
Choudhury said the Grand Alliance has nominated him as the candidate for the post of Assembly Speaker. The Siwan MLA assured all the MLAs that if elected as Speaker he would run the House following all rules and perform his task without any prejudice.
Meanwhile NDA candidate Vijay Sinha said that normally the post of Speaker goes to the ruling party as it has the majority in the House. “The post of Speaker is elected with mutual understanding of ruling and opposition parties and it is based on numbers. Our alliance has projected me on the basis of seniority and we are fully confident about it,” Sinha said.
Tarkishore Prasad, the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar and BJP leader said: “We have the numbers to elect the Speaker in the House and we will prove our majority. Traditionally, it goes to the ruling alliance.”
Meanwhile, the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav urged pro-tem Speaker Jitan Ram Manjhi to conduct the oath-taking ceremony of every candidate of his alliance.
Yadav was hinting at Bahubali MLA Anant Singh of the RJD and Amarjeet Kushwaha of the CPI (ML). The former was elected from Mokama and is currently lodged in jail. Kushwaha has been elected from Ziradei and is lodged in Siwan jail. Both of them are facing criminal charges.
The opposition Mahagathbandhan has 110 seats in the Assembly and there is reportedly a big chance of 5 AIMIM, 1 BSP and one independent candidate voting in its favour. The ruling NDA has 125 seats. In such a situation every vote is important for both the sides.
With IANS inputs
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NatHealth thought & leadership series: Discussing future of biotech and evolving global Covid vaccine landscape
NatHealth, as part of its Thought & Leadership series, presented a riveting session on the Future of BioTech and the evolving Global COVID Vaccine Landscape on January 21, 2021. Moderated by Dr. Sudarshan Ballal, Chairman, Manipal Hospitals, opening remarks by Preetha Reddy, President Nathealth, Vice Chair, Apollo Hospitals, closing remarks by Mr Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Secretary General at NatHealth and special remarks by Dr. William A. Haseltine, President, Access Health International, the session centred around the novel-coronavirus Covid-19, its impact and ways to tackle it. It provided a holistic and well-rounded approach to the topic at hand. In addition to discussing the ongoing pandemic, the panel also significantly focused on the way forward and spoke about the various vaccines, their types and consequences.
Preetha Reddy, President at Nathealth and Vice Chair at Apollo Hospitals, she said, “The past 10 months significantly have been tumultuous for us Indians and humanity at large. Genomics has been the key word lately and has made a huge difference with vaccines. Bill Gates said that what we have done in two months could have taken two decades to achieve. We look forward to Dr. Haseltine telling us what would be the right thing to do, whether in the space of innovation, research, genomics or biotech. We can look forward to various solutions for healthcare. We should give credit to the hours of research, hard work, thought which had gone into producing the vaccines and predicting the future”.
Congratulating everyone at Nathealth for organising the leadership series,Chairman at Manipal Hospitals Dr Ballal further talked about how 2020 has been the worst year for us, everything went spiralling down and how we were battered by Covid. He then welcomed Dr. William Haseltine for his comments.
Dr. Haseltine, President at Access Health International, said, “We know this is a new virus, which probably started circulating as early as October of 2019. It manifested as an outbreak in the Chinese city, Wuhan in a demonstrable way in December. Once it was recognised, the Chinese authorities took very strong measures to control the spread. In a few months’ time, it was controlled because of instituting standard public health measures, which is a tribute for the Chinese government as they had sent people for 10 years to Harvard School of Public Health to understand how to control a pandemic. They understood that SARS not only destroyed lives but had the potential to destroy economies. So, they had studied in great detail about what to do and they implemented almost a textbook case of what to do and it worked in a spectacular way. China is the only country, apart from a few island countries, that instituted that kind of control and they managed to quarantine 11 million people. That should’ve taught the world a lesson but it did not. This virus could be controlled by public health measures alone, without the benefit of all the science. We are still minimising the danger. Taking India as an example, you reach the peak and see the cases decline, eventually leading to population immunity. I have argued since the beginning that this is a poor concept for coronaviruses. As a virologist, I’ve learned to look at what actually happens and what we think should happen. The lesson from SARS and MERS is that viruses are out there and can adapt to humans. We need to be careful because we dropped the ball globally, we didn’t do our research on those viruses and we weren’t prepared for the next one that came along. Scientists got everything done, the vaccines ready but the money wasn’t there. Another thing we should’ve paid more attention to is that coronaviruses aren’t new to us and each of us has it every year, we call it a common cold. They keep coming back, like the flu, which is why I said that don’t count on population immunity because it doesn’t exist for these coronaviruses.
He added, “As far as countries are concerned, I would say, if you’re afraid for your economy, you took some action. Chinese and East Asian countries knew that SARS could’ve destroyed their economy and they took rapid action after studying what to do. Other countries, western countries, India didn’t have this problem so they didn’t take the same kind of action. Countries, this is for the future, if we’re going to deal with pandemics, we need good political leadership, good governance and Heath system for communities and social solidarity, which is true for the whole world”.
Speaking about the path to the early development of the vaccine and the role of innovation and technology in its development, Dr. Haseltine opined, “I have different views from most people. Everyone is celebrating how great science is, how we’ve solved this but we haven’t. We dropped the ball in many ways- we didn’t need high science, if we had taken a simple route and not a complex one, as it is more convenient. These kinds of vaccines work and it still works today, for polio. Our emphasis on high science instead of blocking and tackling that needs to be done in healthcare, has led to some problems. For America, it has been a disaster to not rely on public health but high science. Same goes for diagnostics, we felt that we needed fancy ones whereas lateral flow anagen diagnostics work far better and the world still doesn’t have access to tests like we need. That was a fundamental mistake made earlier on but these vaccines are wonderful to have”.
Elaborating on how he felt that the testing for coronavirus could’ve been different, Professor Haseltine expressed, “In the early days of detection, the CDC tests didn’t work, they were PCR based tests. Once the virus was understood, what could’ve been done was to develop simple antigen tests, measuring the concentration of protein in saliva, nasal fluids. In a pandemic, during the diagnosis, you want to know if they’re infectious or contagious and take action. We relied on a test which broke down and is very expensive compared to other tests. Antigen tests are very simple and cheap to do yet, nowhere in the world do you have free, simple tests which can be self- administered and know who’s contagious. This should then be followed by making sure those people are isolated but this is difficult as people avoid this due to lack of economic support. I believe if the tests are done, you pay people to stay home and have a realistic policy. Simple tests, simple solutions. Pay people to stay home or ensure that the country’s social system works for everybody”.
Giving an overview of the types of vaccines, their safety, efficacy and which one he would choose if given a choice, Professor Haseltine said, “I would take the simplest one, the killed vaccine, because one, it has a huge safety record. Second, it’s a whole virus ,which changes when it’s trying to escape and how the body reacts. Like the mRNA vaccines are unreliable and we don’t know the full story and adverse reactions. If you have a chance to take any vaccine, take it, that’s the message I want to give. After this, I would prefer subunit vaccines, where you produce a piece of the virus and use it as the antigen. Indian companies make such vaccines at a large scale, like Hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine I would not prefer is, the adenovirus vaccine and the reason is that it’s usable only once”.
Talking about the logistics, production and distribution across the globe, as well as maintaining the extreme cold chain which the mRNA vaccines require, Dr. Haseltine said, “We know that in the global vaccine business, a cold chain is a problem. The two problems are- cold chains and multiple doses, that limit it. We’ve almost eliminated polio and smallpox, in that process we learnt the two big barriers to global vaccination were these two problems. Another important component is whether you can get it to every community and to work with community leaders who are trusted. If this lacks then people will be afraid to take it and so the whole process is important”.
When asked whether vaccines should be recommended for children, Dr. Haseltine said that it is not known yet and is being tested. He does hope that it will protect children because some news strains are popping up more in children.
Talking about the mutation of the virus, Dr. Haseltine said, “One thing we learned is that the cold coronaviruses come back every year, like flu. The two reasons you can get infected every year, one, the immunity drops and the second is that, the virus changes. In Covid, we knew that the immunity dropped but we didn’t know the virus changes and now both thus are going on. Natural immunity doesn’t last long for these viruses, especially mucosal immunity, the type which stops things from getting into you and you passing it on, that doesn’t last long. The Chinese were lucky because they got the weakest version of this virus, by February it mutated and transferred across the world. Over the summer, it changed again in different ways to become more transmissible. The mutations are escaping our immunity and becoming more infectious. Another lesson from is virus is, think of it as flu, more deadly so vaccines will have to adapt and vaccine companies are rushing to understand it. The vaccine is like a tree with branches, to deal with it, cut down the tree at the root with public health. This is a lesson we need to push pretty hard if don’t want to get hit again and again with this tricky virus”.
On being asked about the equitable distribution of the vaccine between the haves and have-nots of the world, Professor Haseltine said, “This is very important. Our world is connected like never before, the lesson of all these viruses is that, if don’t eliminate it everywhere, we don’t eliminate it anywhere. We cannot isolate ourselves from these diseases and have to help everybody and that’s what we need to do for this. India has a history of supplying these vaccines to the world because of heat stability, safety, cheapness. Vaccines can be as cheap as a rupee, it won’t be profitable but it could be subsidised. The world has now become small and we’re all connected but more people are required to help each other out and restrict their freedom to help others.”
Speaking on when we’ll be able to breathe easy, literally and figuratively, Dr. Haseltine said, “It’s going to be very spotty. I have teams of people in China who’re travelling, enjoying life but they can’t leave the country. Life in China got back within 5 months, other countries can do that but they don’t, because they’re not willing to put in the effort to control the pandemic through public health measures. Unless countries do that, they won’t get back to normal in the foreseeable future because the vaccine will not do it, there’ll be other variants which will do it over again. Medicine can help the problem but not solve it. To cut it off from the root, we need to combine public health with other measures so it doesn’t exist on the planet anymore, not just one country. We’re entering a period of vaccine euphoria, thinking it over but next year it’ll be back like the flu. We need to be vigilant and cut it off from the root, another lesson is to pay attention when nature warns us and not push it to the side. We’ll move from pandemic to endemic, something that will live with us. To get back to normal life, we need to do our best to take the institutions, our leadership, our governance, our social solidarity and science to tune them to their maximum efficiencies in order to have a normal life. Humanity will prevail, but let’s hope we’re happy while that happens”.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Haseltine told citizens across the globe, “Care for one another. The Bible says ‘Treat you brother as yourself’. If we take precautions, we protect ourselves, our family and everyone around you. This is a message at a country level, to make sure your country is disease free and help other countries who have advantages. India can now help other countries, which it does, so we need to join as a community and help our neighbors”.
Modesty of expression is required for the development of society
There are certain fundamental socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethical principles of development which should be well woven in the core fabric of a nation. Only then can a country become great. India has practised, preserved and evolved the mechanism of achieving greatness since ancient times. Ancient Indian scriptures well describe the harmonious relationship of man with man, man with other living beings and man with the environment. In the present time of advancement and development, we may criticise some of the principles and theories in these texts. After all, change is the law of nature and, as a result of that, old knowledge is replaced with the new. Traditions change not only because of the passage of time, but also for geographical, social and religious reasons. But only those civilisations and countries reach the heights of greatness which keep on developing constructive and appropriate knowledge systems and traditions for effective and harmonious socio-economic, cultural and religious development.
Ancient Indian people had created and developed a socially harmonious, culturally enriched and religiously united economic system and these principles were refined over the ages to match contemporary needs. The foreign ruling class of pre-Independence India damaged the Indian economic, social, religious and cultural fabric but the roots of the Indian civilisation were so deep that foreign invaders could not destroy it completely. When India got its independence, it immediately started efforts to reestablish its culture. The most appropriate example of this restoration and reestablishment is the creation of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India is a well-planned attempt to reinstate Indian culture in the best possible manner. The fundamental rights given by the Constitution to the citizens of India are part of a major attempt to restore ancient Indian culture. Among the fundamental rights, the freedom of expression is the best means to establish social development, economic progress, logical harmony and religious equality. The freedom of speech promotes scientific, logical and metaphysical thinking and is a useful factor in establishing social harmony and equality. But it needs to be investigated whether the Indian public is using this right for constructive development or misusing it.
Analytical evaluation of the use of the right to freedom of expression by the Indian society in the last several decades reveals that this right has been appropriately used and practiced. Consequently, its use has contributed to the creative development of the country. The assessment of the last 30 to 40 years clearly reveals that voices from several unheard, neglected and poor sections of Indian society have reached the government, non-governmental organizations and other institutions. Unheard and underprivileged people have shown not only their presence and participation by exercising the right to freedom of expression, but also achieved considerable success in generating development possibilities for themselves. An appropriate example is the case of Nirbhaya. The nation heard the voice of Nirbhaya and her family and received the message that whatever happened to her was a heinous crime and an act of injustice against women. People supported the voice of Nirbhaya and forced the supreme legislative body and the Parliament to deliver justice to women. Other suppressed sections of society have also raised their voices time and again, which had been impossible in the past, and it has reached the right ears and resulted in their growth, development and participation, and further, led to the economic and social development of the country. So, the right to freedom of expression has contributed constructively to the development of the country. However, it is also pertinent to mention here that this right is also used for harming others and for petty self-interests by engaging in unnecessary debate, accusations and counter-accusations.
The very first requirement for the use of the freedom of expression is that the user of this right should be restrained, disciplined and self-controlled. He should check whether there is a need to express or not. If expression is the utmost desired, only then one should express. It should be important to think seriously about when to speak and how much to say. The speaker has to take care that in certain situations he has to not speak at all, specifically when the expression is going against the interests of society and the country. In the past, the right of free expression in India has been misused many times by individuals and communities to exploit and harm other persons and sections of society, particularly by political parties to serve their political interests. Consequently, the nation has suffered various kinds of losses, spoiling the social, religious, political and economic environment of the country.
The current farmers’ agitation can help in the critical analysis of the use and misuse of the right to freedom of expression. Different stakeholders like the farmers, farmer unions, unorganized farmer›s groups, media persons and political groups are participating directly or indirectly in the agitation for their interests. An analysis of the type of language used by such participants for the expression of their thoughts clearly reveals that a majority of them are deliberately misusing their right. The parties involved in the agitation are misusing the right not only to support their interests, but to blame, demoralize and hurt their opposition.
Here it becomes necessary to describe the misuse of the right to freedom of expression. Misuse of this right can be understood as the use of indecent language, hostile expression and involvement in unnecessary debate by people for attaining their personal interests without giving attention to what is right and wrong. The job of the media, considered the fourth pillar of democracy, is to express responsibly and to provide an opportunity for expression to others. But it has been observed that prior to publishing or presenting news in print or electronic media, press reporters and media persons do not edit indecent or hostile language and other inappropriate expressions for the sake of increasing their TRPs and profits or to serve their political or other affiliations. This has become a common phenomenon particularly in the telecast/broadcast of electronic media.
The height of the misuse of the right to freedom of expression is when press reporters instigate people to misuse their freedom of expression for cheap publicity. This is attained at the cost of disrespecting people, communities, governance and the society at large. The limits of the freedom of expression are also breached whenever the press invites a person as a representative of the public or the government who has neither the knowledge of the subject at hand nor the basic etiquette of exercising the freedom of expression. Such a respondent usually does not have much to say and strongly emphasizes his personal point of view, often to condemn or undermine the point of view of the opponent. Such press interviews are an open and deliberate misuse of the right to freedom of expression, and disrespect people and groups or communities.
All sections of society are respectable and important parts of the country. So, before speaking against anyone in the media, people should observe certain necessary manners and have knowledge of the issue at hand. No person, class or community can be bigger than the nation itself. For the holistic development of the country, each of its sections needs to be respected and also held responsible for the protection of the interests of all. Members of the military happily sacrifice their lives for the cause of the nation, professionals from the medical, paramedical and other necessary services sectors protected many lives during the pandemic, farmers provide food to all and fulfil one of the most basic needs of human beings—people from all sections of society contribute significantly to the nation and no class or community is above the country.
India is a democratic country where everyone has the right to equality and, in case of injustice or discrimination, people have the right to raise their voices and protest. But as per the Indian Supreme Court and the Constitution, people should not affect the wellbeing of other sections of society and the nation while protesting for the protection of one›s community or personal interests. The government should also come forward immediately to address the problems of agitating groups as long-running mass agitations may be detrimental for all. But agitating groups should also think about the fact that every person, family, community and even the government has limited resources and considering their interests to be paramount, without worrying about the socio-economic situation, will only enhance the pressure on the nation›s systems, which will ultimately be borne by common citizens. So, it is important that we consider our nation as paramount and take care of ourselves and others by displaying appropriate expressions and making our contribution in its development.
The writer is Dean, Humanities and Applied Sciences, Shri Vishwakarma Skill University, Palwal.
DAKSHAYANI VELAYUDHAN: A DALIT WOMAN IN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
The Constitution can largely be called the voice of men. Women representatives were a minuscule 15 in number out of 389 people in the Constituent Assembly. Hailing from Kerala, Dakshayani Velayudhan was the only Dalit woman amongst them.
The making of the Constitution of India has been one of the toughest struggles of Indian history for many known and unknown reasons, notwithstanding a truth that this sacred document has been able to prevent an invasion of religious and caste orthodoxy to Parliament and decimate the nation like our unfortunate divided neighbour. The political brass of today may discredit or misunderstand those who waded through those testing times and took many decisions which are disliked today, but their contribution cannot be forgotten and erased from history. One such fascinating personality in the Constituent Assembly was Dakshayani Velayudhan, a Dalit woman, coming from an untouchable family, much admired by the 14 other upper caste, privileged and Western-educated women with her in the Assembly for her intellectual interventions against social injustices and towards inclusive governance in the assembly debates.
Recollecting the date, 26 November 1949, when the Constituent Assembly after an arduous hard work for three years adopted the Constitution of India, which came into force two months later on 26 January 1950. The Constitution can largely be called the voice of men. Women representatives were a minuscule 15 in number out of 389 people in the Constituent Assembly and were brilliant in every way. Dakshayani Velayudhan was the only Dalit woman amongst them who hailed from Kerala. Her birthday in 1912 matched the making of the American Republic on 4th July in a community of Pulayas, one of the lowest in caste hierarchy of Kerala, a state where untouchability was an accepted social norm. Pulayas were ostracised and excluded from basic human rights of dignity and access to even the fundamental resources of food, clothes, transportation, roads, education or even cutting of hair. Many Pulayas had to live covered with grasses or roam half naked. The Kings of Ernakulam prohibited their entry over roads where the upper caste walked and they were forbidden to use even a corner of public land for even a temporary purpose of festival, marriage or a gathering.
Kerala’s depressed classes launched the historic movement against this evil practice of untouchability but since the resources were with the upper caste Hindus, Pulayas were denied any land to converge and congregate upon. However, this did not prevent them from raising their voice against untouchability as they converged on the backwaters in an indomitable spirit of resurgence. They joined several boats together to create a land for themselves to stand upon to declare a historic Kayala Sammelan of the Cochin Pulaya Mahajana Sabha led by the legendary K.P. Karuppan and family members of Dakshayani’s family namely, Kunjan, Krishnethi and K.P. Vallon. Most of the historic heart-rending episodes of this struggle which should put the casteist Hindus to shame are found in the writings of K.P. Kuruppan and recently in the collection of Dakshayani’s daughter Meera Velayudhan, Cherayi Ramdas’s book Ayyankalikku Aadarathode (In homage to Ayyankalikku). Meera has been a scholar of repute in a leading research institution in Thiruvananthapuram.
Dakshayani’s Sanskritised name was a problem for her family as girls and boys of the Pulaya community could only keep names such as Pullamma, Pomalla, Kunju or Chakki which made no sense or connect with the sacred Hindu scriptures. She mentions how the Ezhavas who occupied a higher than Pulaya position in caste hierarchy, mostly small cultivators, toddy tappers and weavers used to openly mock her as she went out of her home. Strangely, even the Latin Christian community acquired the Hindu caste behaviour on untouchability and scorned her presence in public places. This reflects upon the surreptitious nature of caste practices which work in the interest of the privileged rather than the religion itself. Every effort was made by the upper caste to prevent any advancement of Dakshayini nonetheless it did not prevent her mother’s determination to take her forward. Failing to withstand such insidious marginalisation and overt ostracisation despite the changing times, her mother converted to Christianity with elder siblings and Dakshayani’s uncle Krisnethi but she did not convert Dakshayani and her younger brother K.K. Madhavan.
Conversion helped the mother of Dakshayani to be able to support her daughter through her struggles in procuring basic life requirements otherwise denied to her even when she struggled her way to become a teacher in a government school in Peringottukara in Thrissur and Thripunithura. Only those ignorant of the bane of caste despise converts to other religions which offers them a status of equality and fraternity. Dakshayini, who later reached the Constituent Assembly, was once upon a time not even allowed to draw water from public wells, walk on public roads and visit public markets despite her education and job in a government school. This sentiment digs deep into Dakshayani’s sensibilities when she desired that her biography be titled as The Sea has no Caste (‘but a well does’ as she added). Most memoirs about Dakshayani are found in the collections of her daughter Meera Veludhan in the Centre for Development Studies at Kerala and in the Cherayi Ramadas’s book Ayyankalikku Aadarathode (In homage to Ayyankalikku).
Dakshayani married a Dalit leader Velayudhan in 1940 who was the uncle of K.R. Narayanan, the first Dalit President of India. It also paved the way for Dakshayani to think of stronger platforms to voice the concerns of depressed communities. She was nominated to the reserved Scheduled Caste seat to the Cochin Legislative Council in 1945. Here begins her unstoppable journey towards giving India an inclusive Constitution which would have no place for caste-based discrimination or dehumanising practices such as untouchability.
Her contributions to the Constitution are many. She vouched for proportionate reservation of Dalits in Panchayats and Municipal Bodies. Even though ‘proportionate reservation’ could not be structured in the Constituent Assembly debates nonetheless, Article 14 of the Constitution, read with Article 16 of Indian Constitution, guarantees not only equality before law but also an equal protection of law to Indian citizens who have been historically oppressed and the state will be allowed to make special provisions for them under Article 16. We find Dakshayani’s campaign close to her dreams in 1992 when the 73rd-74th Amendments were carried out for Panchayats and Municipal Bodies respectively.
She strongly spoke about the criminality which goes with the practice of untouchability. Her debates and insightful arguments in favour of Article 11 of the Draft Constitution which abolished untouchability goes on record. This became Article 17 of the Constitution which inscribed, ‘Abolition of untouchability, The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law’.
Her arguments and speeches against the gubernatorial powers of Governors and its subsequent impact upon the character of federalism were prophetic. She was fairly clear that the Centre-state relations may definitely take a nosedive with such an arrangement of institutional powers with the governors.
Decentralisation was a dominant and most impactful campaign that one can find in her debates. She believed that the Constitution ought to be kept free of any form of centralisation of authority. Her undying faith in inclusive governance is expressed in her campaigning for the spirit of freedom, equality and protection of rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
As Modi government prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Independence in 2022, eradication of Dalit oppression in India should be placed as an important goal to achieve. Even in the vision document which the NITI Aayog has prepared for 2024, it should be a priority to make India free of untouchability and caste discrimination. The vision document’s objectives of eradication of poverty and corruption may only create groups of upper caste beneficiaries if laws and institutions which eradicate caste-related discriminatory and heinous practices are not strengthened. This Republic Day let us pay our obeisance to this Dalit woman warrior of the Constitution Assembly of India.
The writer is a professor (retired), Administrative Reforms & Emergency Governance, JNU, and president of NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group. The views expressed are personal.
Kerala’s depressed classes launched the historic movement against this evil practice of untouchability but since the resources were with the upper caste Hindus, Pulayas were denied any land to converge and congregate upon.
Mind Matters: CatFit presents a series on Mental Toughness & Performance Enhancement
NewsX was recently joined by Mr Arpan Dixit, Global Head, CatFit, and Captain Yashika H. Tyagi for a special series on ‘Mental Toughness & Performance Enhancement’ presented by CatFit. This series provided a holistic conversation around mental health, mental toughness and training one’s mind. This series gains special importance because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it has had on individuals, as well as their mental and physical well-being.
This is where CatFit steps in, as their team joined NewsX to talk about various aspects of an individual’s health and how CatFit, as an organization works to provide people with military and Special Forces style training of mind and body and how this can be applied to our daily lives.
Talking about CatFit and the MAST technique, Arpan said, “MAST is an acronym for Military Application and Special Forces Tactics. It’s a four-fold approach where first and foremost, we go to schools, colleges, universities, sporting houses and teams as well as corporate business houses. What we do is, we try and identify the current state of mental health, emotional health, psychological health and physical health. These four are interrelated and we use them in sync and can confuse mental health with psychological health and psychological health with the entire physical fitness but all four are different. Our psychologists from the defense forces intelligence work with top corporate houses across the world. There are a series of questionnaires prepared to evaluate different aspects and once these are identified, we counsel them. This is the first part of our mass training”.
Arpan then went on to talk about mental training, what it is and how it’s done. He said, “After identifying issues like depression, fewer levels of resilience or lesser abilities to cope with adversity, we take them through a series of exercises which are mental, physical and psychological. We do these at our camps, in-house and even on the premises of the corporate house concerned. These are physical and mental exercises. We can train the mind to do what we want it to do. The mind is what invented the computer and it is the brain behind artificial intelligence, so there’s no reason why the brain can’t supersede everything else around”.
Joining in the conversation, Captain Yashika shared how she got involved in the concept of leadership training at CatFit. She said, “I’m a lady officer from very initial batches of the Indian army and joined in 1994. I did difficult postings in high altitude areas and extremely cold climates. I was the first lady officer from logistics to be in the battle zone in Operation Vijay, Battle of Kargil. After I hung my boots, I did a lot of work with private and public organizations but I wanted to do more than that. Something where I can add my mindset, my service experience into something productive. In 2017, I was working with an international university in Pune and at this time I connected with Col. Krishnan. Col. Krishnan and I trained together in Chennai and he invited me to speak on the forum of CatFit, it had just begun! I gave it a shot and my first workshop in a college in Chandigarh made me realize that this is my calling and this is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.”
“It is so wonderful, this girl in Chandigarh was listening very closely and intently during the workshop. I could see that she was actually touched by what I was saying. Soon after there was wonderful news when the girls ended up topping CDS but also got All India Ranking 1. This real-life impact shook me and changed me”, said Captain Yashika.
Throwing some light on CatFit’s goals, Mr Dixit said, “The idea of CatFit is performance enhancement, it is the reason for the existence of CatFit. I could say that it is the very essence of our existence as far as an organization is concerned. When we started in 2017, we started with primarily training sports teams, international and national athletes. Once we saw what the members of Special Forces and others do in the training, we imparted this to international cricketers and members who are currently a part of the Indian team. We saw the results, received feedback and then we realized that this is something which shouldn’t be limited to sports, it can be passed onto students. Even in corporates, we take senior management and train them in workshops. The feedback that we got from them about this being practically applicable”.
There is a difference between training students versus sportsmen and even those belonging to corporate organizations, elaborating this, Captain Yashika said, “We work with the philosophy of MAST. We firmly believe in two things- the mind is trainable, it is the basis of all the success and progress of a person. The second thing is that the army has set the gold standard for performance, for handling stress and performing under different kinds of challenging environments. So, we have clubbed different kinds of learning from the army and taken MAST forward. When we deal with military applications and Special Forces and impressionable minds together, it gives us a magic formula. When the army into a different environment, they have training and army teaches us that training is a bedrock. The more you swear in peace, the less you bleed in war. When we go to students and provide them with the training of handling different kinds of stress environments, adversity, depression, the stress of life, college life and corporate life, we merge it together for the best kind of results”.
Once the tests are done, the results provide a person’s status in all areas. Talking about the structure of the program of individual and team training, Captain Yashika said, “ We customize the program as per the requirement of the participants. For example, when we go to schools, we have the widest and best array of psychologists, the person to be helped is the student. If we find a student which requires more therapy or a group which will benefit from a team effort, our psychologists and leaders like me shift from individual students to class level to school. We are trying to build a warrior mindset. A mindset that is full of resilience, it can bounce back and a mindset which can fight the unforeseen circumstances. We want to build a mindset of courage, of discipline and purpose. These three things can make you survive anything from all walks of life”.
Talking about how to approach CatFit, whether they do special camps, webinars and how it works, Arpan said, “It is two-fold. Firstly, we have a marketing team which approaches corporate houses, sports teams, schools, colleges and universities. Second if an individual or a small group wishes, we’re just a call away and can be reached by mail. The program can also be tailor-made according to the requirement. We have many individuals from sports backgrounds who are training for the Olympics or World Cups or national games. We train them individually but we also do group training and those who wish to connect with us can log into the website, social media and drop a message”.
Our generation has not gone through any war hardships like our ancestors but we have faced a global difficulty during Covid and different kinds of stress related to it. Speaking about what CatFit brings to society to cover this collective experience of Covid, Arpan said, “As far as Covid-19 is concerned, four psychologists who work with us went on to conduct a study for the Government of India and the Education Ministry, this was done to identify the impact of Covid-19 on people with six sectors being identified. Now that we have the results with us, and what we have been doing for the last four years has come together. We are now in a better position to reach out to people. The Indian government has also taken out books after these results, these are guide books and posterity as well. These six books act as a basis of reference and see the data and reactions of the past and what could’ve been done in the past”.
Talking about what CatFit provides, and people being more receptive of this and interested in this, Arpan said, “When we started out, there were few people who understood what we were doing. A problem with calling it ‘mental health’ in India is that the analogy that people have here is, mental means mad. Mental health is different from someone being mad and what we do is to identify how people are feeling at time, why they’re feeling that way and what can be done to make them feel better and make them tougher, so that they don’t fall back into it again”.
Arpan further explained, “The courses are stretched across the year and we keep going back to them. The channels are always open for those who we’ve worked with. They can always call us back, the exact person back and give their feedback to them. They will have the results at hand and will probably put you through the testing again to see what has gone wrong. It’s an evolving process, not a one-time event”.
CatFit is also involved with Central government’s ‘Beti bachao, beti padhao’ initiative. Talking about their involvement and what it means, Captain Yashika said, “This is some interesting work that we did. We went to the hinterlands of Uttarakhand and conducted the program under that banner. Uttarakhand falls under the seismic zone and there had been a huge earthquake in Uttarkashi. Taking a cue from that, we decided to give the girls first aid, CPR along with mental toughness training. This would empower them in case there is any requirement of first responders. After the first day, the girls were enthusiastic and were volunteering, they were ready to go to different villages and share their knowledge. These girls may come from small places but they have a level of confidence, we need to be the wind beneath their wings. They are ready to take on the world with a push and some guidance. As partners in Corporate Social Responsibility, we would like to take various facets of how to empower the girl child of our country”.
We think we understand the concept of military self-defense, but a lot of such workshops already take place. Talking about how CatFit and its techniques are different from the others, Arpan said, “First, the self-defense primary formats we’ve heard of, these formats are now, sports. When anybody is taught martial arts and sports, they are taught the rules and regulations and laws of the sport. In such cases, there are more cant’s than do’s. Whereas, when we look at military self-defense, it means that no matter what it takes and how it takes to get out of a particular situation. Military self-defense is basically taking the best from all martial arts, putting it together in a realistic format. Understanding the real problems which can be faced by women and children, the real threat scenarios. People who have faced such scenarios in their lives, come and teach it, the training level is different, as the mental level of confidence is different as compared to any martial arts sports”.
EXECUTIVE, JUDICIARY AND THE ISSUE OF TRIBUNALS
A recent judgement of the Supreme Court in the matter of Union of India vs Madras Bar Association has created a lot of interest in the legal circles. The Supreme Court has correctly invoked its constitutional morality by separating Tribunals from the clutches of the executive. However, I am not going into the contentious issue if the Supreme Court has jurisdiction on taking upon itself to frame the rules, which is subordinate legislation. But, the concern of some lawyers and chartered accountants are mainly relating to the commission that shall select the Tribunal members.
Article 50 of the Constitution discusses separation of judiciary from the state. Concept of independence of the judiciary is a basic structure of the Constitution. The concept is not limited from executive pressure only but it includes independence from many other pressures and prejudices acquired and nourished by the class to which judges belong (C. Ravichandran Iyer v. Justice A.M. Bhattacharya 1995 5 SCC 457). Article 50 plainly reveals the intent of Constitution-makers to immunise the judiciary from any political pressures. (Union of India v. Shankalchand Himatlal Sheth 1977 4 SCC 193).
In the Rojer Mathew case, the Supreme Court had issued mandamus to the government to frame rules for selection of Tribunal members. Subsequently, the government framed the Tribunal Rules, 2020. However, not being satisfied with the Tribunal Rules 2020, the Supreme Court has virtually struck down these rules framed by the government in the Madras Bar Association’s case and directed to frame the rules as per its own directions given in the said case.
In Gainda Ram v. MCD (2010) 10 SCC 715, the Supreme Court held inter alia that, “…67. In the background of the provisions in the Bill and the 2009 Policy, it is clear that an attempt is made to regulate the fundamental right of street hawking and street vending by law, since it has been declared by this Court that the right to hawk on the streets or right to carry on street vending is part of fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g). However, till the law is made the attempt made by NDMC and MCD to regulate this right by framing schemes which are not statutory in nature is not exactly within the contemplation of constitutional provisions discussed above. However, such schemes have been regulated from time to time by this Court for several years as pointed above. Even, orders passed by this Court, in trying to regulate such hawking and street vending, is not law either. At the same time, there is no denying the fact that hawking and street vending should be regulated by law. Such a law is eminently necessary in public interest…” The court further directed the appropriate government to legislate and bring out the law to regulate hawking and the fundamental rights of hawkers.
The Supreme Court has issued following directions to implement:
i. The Union of India shall constitute a National Tribunals Commission which shall act as an independent body to supervise the appointments and functioning of Tribunals, as well as to conduct disciplinary proceedings against members of Tribunals and to take care of administrative and infrastructural needs of the Tribunals, in an appropriate manner. Till the National Tribunals Commission is constituted, a separate wing in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, shall be established to cater to the requirements of the Tribunals.
ii. Instead of the four-member Search-cum-Selection Committees provided for in Column (4) of the Schedule to the 2020 Rules with the Chief Justice of India or his nominee, outgoing or sitting Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal and two Secretaries to the Government of India, the Search-cum-Selection Committees should comprise of the following members:
(a) The Chief Justice of India or his nominee—Chairperson (with a casting vote).
(b) The outgoing Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal in case of appointment of the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal (or) the sitting Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal in case of appointment of other members of the Tribunal (or) a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court in case the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal is not a Judicial member or if the Chairman or Chairperson or President of the Tribunal is seeking re-appointment—member;
(c) Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India—member;
(d) Secretary to the Government of India from a department other than the parent or sponsoring department, nominated by the Cabinet Secretary—member;
(e) Secretary to the sponsoring or parent Ministry or Department—Member Secretary/Convener (without a vote).
This judgement primarily lays down the law that there should be a nodal commission to oversee the working of all Tribunals in India and its members. In order to separate the judiciary from the executive, such nodal commission will also be responsible for selection of members, president, vice-president, chairman and vice-chairman, etc. It also directed the government to allocate separate funds from Consolidated Fund of India to administer these Tribunals.
The primary concern is that the commission which is to be constituted for selection of members, president, vice-president, chairman and vice-chairman does not have any member who has domain expertise in the field. The Supreme Court of India and Supreme Courts of other countries have stressed the need for consulting experts with domain knowledge in deciding the complicated issues. Therefore, for selection of such members who will decide the complicated issue of facts and law in their particular field, it is imperative that the Selection Commission also have members with expertise in such fields.
The writer is Senior Advocate, Bombay High Court. The views expressed are personal.
WHY PM MODI IS NOT TRUMP
The anti-Modi brigade—supporting the farmers’ protests, alleging attacks on free speech, and drawing parallels between PM Narendra Modi and Donald Trump—is in need of a reality check. Those lamenting the demise of democratic ideals in India are themselves a danger to India’s democracy right now.
Post the unprecedented Capitol siege in Washington on 6 January, the ugly rush to draw parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters and Donald Trump and his rowdy acolytes has assumed an accelerated pace. There has been a plethora of unfavourable commentary on the state of democracy in India with some questioning the resilience of Indian democracy in the event of a Washington-like crisis and others even suggesting that autocracy is already here in a subtle form.
Tavleen Singh, writing in the Indian Express (10 January 2021), wryly commented, “This has inspired me to draw for you a portrait of the ‘new Indian’ who constitutes the base of today’s BJP, which is as heavily stamped in Modi’s image as the Republican Party came to be stamped in the image of Donald Trump.”
She then went on to make a baseless and outlandish rhetorical surmise: “America may look really bad at the moment but let’s remember that its democracy just passed its hardest test and won. Would we be able to say the same in India about our institutions if put through such a test?”
How valid are these concerns? Or is this a deliberate attempt to create an illusion of impending autocracy to discredit the current government and put it on the defensive by traditional Modi baiters?
True, Indian democracy has been under siege for the last year or so, but not by PM Modi and his supporters. In fact, an objective appraisal of the current political scenario reveals that it is India’s liberal left, the political opposition and columnists like Tavleen Singh who are the ones testing the limits of our democracy.
First, in a democracy, change is affected by laws enacted in the Parliament, which people are supposed to accept. Over the last year, every effort has been made to derail this process. The CAA was a constitutionally legitimate law that was passed by the Parliament; it had a benign intent that did not impact any Indian Muslim. Nevertheless, duplicitous rumor-mongering created an atmosphere of distrust. The law was not challenged via the normal channels available in a democracy. Instead, mobs were provoked to descend on to the streets in large numbers and indulge in senseless violence to intimidate the government: a clear-cut case of ochlocracy or the rule of the mob.
The anti-farm law protest is another attempt to exploit misguided public dissent to discredit constitutionally enacted laws. The canard being spread is that the laws were rammed through Parliament without adequate discussion: A lie that flies in the face of facts. Not only have agricultural reforms been discussed for years, but in August 2014, the government had set up a high-level committee headed by Shanta Kumar to suggest agricultural reforms. I reproduce below an excerpt from the preface that clearly reveals that stakeholder suggestions were taken into account: “The Committee had wide consultations with several Chief Ministers, Food Secretaries and other stakeholders in various States. Their valuable suggestions were invited through various newspapers also. Almost 300 representations were received by the Committee and many of these valuable suggestions have been taken into consideration while finalising the report…”
Surjit Bhalla calls out this dishonesty (Indian Express, 12 December 2020). He writes, “All the above facts have been known, and discussed, by learned people for decades. Which is precisely why the intellectual gymnastics played by many learned people defending the farmers’ protests is so shocking. The “demand” by intellectuals that the farm bill should have been discussed before being passed is well beyond the bounds of conventional dishonesty.”
Deliberate misrepresentation to mislead the gullible public has been pivotal in the recent spate of protests. Dishonesty and violent blackmail are being employed as tools to undermine our parliamentary democracy and replace it with street politics.
It is even more outrageous when another commentator (Suhas Palashikar in the Indian Express, 12 January 2021) speaks of ‘mob politics’ to blame the BJP and not the Opposition. He writes, “In terms of constructing a constituency of the mob, the present moment is probably more dangerous than what India has seen so far for two reasons: There is a carefully orchestrated and sustained use of mobs which are excited prior to being unleashed … Thus, the “science” of mob politics is employed in a nuanced manner with a rhetorical discourse legitimating the mob as the people.”
Such statements warrant a reality check. The protestors taking to the streets are not BJP supporters—these are mobs unleashed by a desperate Opposition which has become even more desperate after the BJP’s massive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and sees no future for itself unless it indulges in such unruly shenanigans. So, let us be clear about one thing: the danger to India’s democracy is coming from recourse to ‘mobocracy’ encouraged by the anti-Modi gang.
Secondly, there is the usual refrain that freedom of speech is under threat and with it the constant whining of being called ‘anti-national’. Tavleen Singh writes, “They make it clear that there is no room in India for people who do not share their point of view. Dissent of any kind is for them exactly the same as sedition and they see it everywhere.”
Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Indian Express, 1 January 2021) indulges in bizarre logic by making a distinction between abstract people (read: Modi supporters) and actual people who oppose PM Modi. “The people in this construction are an abstraction, unified and marching to the same drum beat. The minute any actual people assert their reservations, express their individuality, or pose pragmatic facts against wild prophecy, they are immediately branded as being outside of the pale of the people, they are the anti-nationals. So, the rhetoric of the people can be turned against groups of actual people, one at a time. It is an enemy of both freedom and fraternity.”
Name calling does not make for civil discourse and must be avoided. But let me remind you that those complaining of being called anti-nationals today are the very same people who reveled in dubbing nationalists as extremists and ‘saffron looneys’ in the yesteryears.
These well-known columnists cry hoarse that dissent is under threat but appear to have the freedom to rant and rave against the government using choice epithets in their columns. Every week after I read their vitriolic vituperations, I sleep in peace knowing well that freedom of speech is alive and kicking in India.
With regard to the issue of corrosion of institutions, it is a matter of perspective. Charges are being bandied around with no real evidence. If a SC verdict is not to one’s liking, it does not mean that the institution is damaged. We need to be mature enough to accept verdicts with grace even if they do not conform to our ideology. That is the crux of a democracy.
Finally, let me remind the readers that despite all the charges of fascism levelled against the BJP and Modi, not a single action attributed to either Modi or the party stands out as undemocratic. In fact, the BJP and its leaders have always religiously conformed to the tenets of democracy.
In 2002, when Modi was subjected to overwhelming criticism for his handling of the Gujarat riots, he resigned prematurely, recommended dissolution of the assembly and sought a vote of trust from the public—a democratic gesture par excellence, and certainly not totalitarian.
Who can forget Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s magnanimous gesture which must go down as the finest moment of Indian democracy? In late 1999, after a successful tenure of 13 months, the BJP was forced to seek a vote of confidence as a result of a realignment of political parties. It was a test that the BJP lost by a single vote in a house of 540; a vote whose legitimacy was questionable, being cast by a Congress member (Giridhar Gamang) who had ceased, for all intents and purposes, to be a member of the august body after being elected to a state legislature. Yet, without a murmur of protest, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (the BJP prime minister) had put in his papers in the larger interest of democracy.
The current political situation in India is profoundly distressing. In their bid to pull down PM Modi, it appears that certain sections will stop at nothing, even if it means the destruction of our democracy. The rule of the mob is being encouraged as opposed to rule of the law, an illusion of free speech coming under threat is being created, and wild charges of national institutions being compromised are being thrown around. It is time that these sleazy machinations are called out for what they are.
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