Transgenders have been at the receiving end of all societies over ages and even in the surreal world of the “idiot box”. In one of the episodes of Netflix’s TV show, Designated Survivor, Sasha, a transgender and sister-in-law to President of the United States of America faces backlash for using a toilet earmarked for women. A liberal and progressive President struggles to decide whether to speak in favour of Sasha or remain silent to avoid conservative backlash in his re-election year.
This fictional episode has been mentioned only to highlight the hostility that transgender (or third gender) face while accessing public facilities all over the world. Historically, public facilities have been made for two sexes- male and female, with no thought to the ‘other’. This may not be out of apathy, but due to the fact that expenditure choices made by government policy makers have to balance a set of competing demands.
What complicated the situation was the absence of official census of transgender population till 2011. Census of India did not collect any data specifically on ‘transgender’. Census 2011, for the first time provided three choices, i.e. Male, Female and Other to respondents. The ‘other’ enumerated at around 5 lakhs, are a very small number and perhaps not realistic. In a democratic set up, numbers will always matter and thus, for decades, public policy treated these ‘others’ as invisible while formulating policy and allocating funds for creation of public facilities like toilets.
Supreme Court took cognizance of the plight of members of transgender community in National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India (UOI) and Others. (2014), noting their social exclusion from the mainstream of the society and denial of equal access to fundamental rights and freedoms. In particular, Supreme Court declared that Centre and State Governments shall take proper measures to provide public toilets to transgender community. Supreme Court also directed Centre and State Governments to take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.
This welfare orientation got legal recognition with the enactment of The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. Chapter IV of the Act makes it obligatory on the government to take measures for formulation of welfare schemes and programmes in a manner that they are transgender sensitive, non-stigmatising and non-discriminatory.
When Misha Singh, a young IAS officer took over as Chief Executive Officer, Zila Parishad, Shajapur, Madhya Pradesh, she was confronted with this problem. Normally such issues are overlooked on account of other pressing priorities. But Misha chose to consider this vital requirement of marginalised section of the society.
Swachh Bharat Mission, launched on 2nd October 2014 targets universal sanitation coverage and puts sanitation at focus of rural development efforts. The first phase of the mission witnessed construction of over 100 million toilets in rural India, as India declared itself Open Defecation Free on 2nd October, 2019. The second phase of the SBM titled as ODF-Plus aims to ensure that no one is left behind, and that solid and liquid waste management facilities are accessible.
It is this mandate to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ that informed implementation of Swachh Bharat Mission in Shajapur district of Madhya Pradesh. This year, there was a target of building community toilets on a large scale. It was decided to implement Swachh Bharat Mission in a transgender sensitive manner, enlivening the spirit of The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019. The entire process saw extensive exercise and deliberation over location, nature, design and maintenance.
The locations of community toilets were carefully selected to cater to the needs of local, floating and migratory population who cannot avail of the individual households under the scheme. Transgender have to frequently travel by bus and railways for work and stand to directly benefit if separate access is provided for them in community toilets located at important centres of road and railway connectivity.
Nature of the toilets was the most crucial aspect of the deliberations. Whether to build standalone separate toilets for transgender or to have a Gender Inclusive Unit. Some urban municipal bodies in recent years have constructed an occasional separate toilet for transgender but a similar model in rural areas would have entailed issues of security and maintenance due to constraints of resources and auxiliary staff. Having involved the kinnar akharas and understanding the complexity of the matter, it was finally decided to go for Gender Inclusive Units.
The third important aspect was design and cost. The suggested design provides separate access to male, female and transgender in the same complex. Swachh Bharat Mission has the flexibility to factor in local conditions and material availability, so an innovative design was evolved for making provision for a separate unit for transgender within the community toilet complex. The idea was to innovate within the framework of an existing scheme to promote the welfare of transgender community. It was also decided to include facilities like crèche, breast feeding areas for women to extend appeal and use of these modern toilets. Convergence of three schemes- SBM, MGNREGS and 15th Finance Commission was done to fund this initiative.
The project is backed by willingness of Sarpanchs and members of local self-government as ground executing agency to take the momentum forward. These utilities are modelled on Pay and Use basis promising continued sustenance of this important rural community asset. All the 87 community toilets built under Swachh Bharat Mission in Shajapur district have access for transgender. A rights-based approach abhors symbolism, as inclusivity cannot be reduced to a token exercise by construction of few separate standalone toilets and has to become generalised in all our design and outreaches. These are 87 small, yet affirmative steps towards an idea whose time has come.
What this young and dynamic officer, Misha Singh could achieve in her short tenure is quite stupendous. She could make-it-happen despite adverse set of circumstances on account of her vision, planning and meticulous execution to resolve an issue that is normally chosen to be ignored. She also demonstrated that age doesn’t really matter when it comes to maturity and anything can be achieved by taking stake-holders into confidence.
Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.
Swachh Bharat Mission, launched on 2nd October 2014, targets universal sanitation coverage and puts sanitation at focus of rural development efforts. The first phase of the mission witnessed construction of over 100 million toilets in rural India.
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Need to consider global pact on regulation of food tech: NITI Aayog official
‘Technology increasingly being controlled by private agencies and MNCs; global authority needed to ensure flow of such tech to developing nations for food safety and security.’
Expressing serious concern over the lack of proper global regulation on technologies affecting the food system, India is considering suggesting to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to facilitate discussions on an international protocol or an agreement or a global authority on such technologies. “There are a lot of technological changes happening. In many cases, we do not have the right kind of regulation to ensure proper use of such technologies. Should we be asking the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to help prepare some global protocol on whatever technologies are coming? So, could we or should we have some kind of global agreement on these or should a global authority be advising on these,” Professor Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, said. He was speaking at a webinar organised by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) and NITI Aayog on ‘National Consultation on Issues Before the UN Food Systems Summit’.
The event was held in the backdrop of the UN announcing that a Food Systems Summit (FSS) will be held in September 2021 in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. This Summit has assumed wider significance in the context of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which exposed the fragilities in global food systems and their vulnerabilities to external shocks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to deliver his address during the summit. The 2021 FSS event has outlined five cross-cutting Action Tracks such as: Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food; Shift towards Healthy and Sustainable Consumption Patterns; Boosting Nature Positive Production at Sufficient Scale; Advancing Equitable Livelihoods; and Building Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses.
In his valedictory address, Jayant Sinha, Member of Parliament and Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance drew upon contemporary challenges of agriculture livelihoods, and the emerging transformative changes and new institutional mechanisms in India for value creation through modern food processing system, with equal emphasis on sustainable food ecosystem. He duly stressed on the importance of access to markets and investments in this sector.
Speaking on the occasion, Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director-General, RIS, said given the food security concerns of the developing world, India has volunteered for Action Track 4 (that is related to advancing equitable livelihoods). He said the Indian government, through its food security welfare scheme, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, reached out to the masses including the migrant labour and ensured their food security during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts at the meeting spoke about the inequities being perpetrated in the global agriculture system with developed countries trying to formalise their first mover advantage in the World Trade Organization negotiations by not agreeing to reducing their trade distorting subsidies, and instead have not only brought in non-tariff barriers in the form of sanitary and phytosanitary or SPS measures but are also putting pressure on the developing countries to cut tariffs. Mr. Pawan Kumar Agarwal, Special Secretary (Logistics), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, though trade issues were only a small subset of the UN food systems discussions, they should be now highlighted from the perspective of hunger, safety and livelihood. There is also a need to advance the work on revisiting global and regional arrangements of food safety so that they are looked at from the objectives of the UN FSS, he said. The webinar addressed various issues related to ‘livelihood security and impli cations for trade in agriculture’ and ‘equitable access to technology for sustainable food systems.’
India opposes rich world’s efforts to hoard Covid vaccines; seeks support for its proposal at WTO on its efforts to get TRIPS waiver to vaccines
New Delhi also called for greater support to its proposal along with South Africa at the World Trade Organisation to waive the implementation, application and enforcement of certain sections of the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IPRs) ‘in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19 until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity’.
India on Friday vehemently opposed ‘vaccine nationalism’ – or the attempts by some developed countries to hoard vaccines and not sharing them or the related Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) with a view to maximise profits from not just COVID-related vaccines, but also from therapeutics and diagnostics.
New Delhi also called for greater support to its proposal along with South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive the implementation, application and enforcement of certain Sections of the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IPRs) ‘in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19 until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity’.
Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s BRICS Sherpa and Secretary (Consular, Passport and Visa and Overseas Indian Affairs), Ministry of External Affairs, expressed serious concern over ‘vaccine nationalism’ and said India and South Africa have repeatedly asked WTO members, especially from the developed world, to agree to provide IPR waivers to ensure that the developing world was able to access the vaccines. Shri Bhattacharyya said India has helped the global community by delivering 64 million doses of vaccines to more than 80 countries, and has shown the willingness and capability to shoulder greater responsibility to not only be the ‘pharmacy of world’, but also be a reliable provider of medicines and healthcare worldwide. He was delivering the inaugural address at the two-day BRICS Civil Forum 2021 held in a virtual format and organised by the think-tank RIS. The official also called for reforms of multilateral bodies including the UN, IMF, World Bank and the WTO so that they can respond better to global challenges including pandemics, digital divide, climate change and terrorism.
In his keynote address, Shri P. Harish, India’s BRICS Sous Sherpa and Additional Secretary (ER), Ministry of External Affairs, said the multilateral bodies have not lived up to the expectations, adding that the edifice of the international system has been weakened and undermined. He said BRICS countries should work to strengthen the international governance architecture and enhance the capacity of WHO, IMF, World Bank and the WTO to make it more inclusive, representative and democratic by enhancing the participation of developing countries to effectively address various challenges confronting the world today.
Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director-General, RIS, said the priorities for BRICS during the year include ‘reformed multilateralism’, ‘technological and digital solutions for Sustainable Development Goals’, ‘enhancing people-to-people cooperation’ and ‘counter terrorism cooperation’. Dr. Mohan Kumar, Chairman, RIS, said there was a need to study how the BRICS countries have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic including sharing best practices, adding that it would be useful to look at the strengths and weaknesses of BRICS countries in this regard to be better prepared for future global health crisis-like events. He said the BRICS bloc must also cooperate on finding common solutions to address the widening inequalities within the BRICS countries, especially following the pandemic outbreak.
Dr. Victoria Panova, Managing Director, Russian National Committee on BRICS Research and Vice President for International Relations, Far Eastern Federal University, Russia, presented the report of BRICS Civil Forum 2020, and mentioned about initiatives including BRICS vaccine research centre and a program to stimulate green investments.
Amb. Pavel Knyazev, Russia’s BRICS Sous-Sherpa, said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided opportunities for BRICS countries to not only consolidate their efforts so far but also to collaborate for a better future. Amb. Ben Joubert, South Africa’s BRICS Sous-Sherpa, said BRICS countries need to address the common challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, and push the development agenda in various international fora. Amb. Amar Sinha, Distinguished Fellow, RIS also spoke on the occasion.
BRICS has shown resolve through the creation of new financial mechanisms under the BRICS, viz. the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. Arguably, organisational and decision-making parameters in these institutions are more democratic than that of the Brettonwood institutions. Similarly, BRICS needs to lend stronger voice towards reviving the WTO and retaining its development centrality.
The event had sessions including on ‘reformed multilateralism’, ‘development finance and global public goods’ and ‘pandemic response, partnership and role of civil society’. India assumed the BRICS Chairship in 2021, at a time when BRICS is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Under the theme “BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation”, India’s approach is focused on strengthening collaboration through “Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus”.
The ten themes for BRICS Civil Forum 2021 include reformed multilateralism; development finance and global public goods; pandemic response, partnership and role of Civil Society; quality of economic growth and inclusion; wellness, health and traditional systems of medicines; BRICS economies and women participation; future of education and skills – new paradigms of learning in BRICS; ‘entitlements to entrepreneurship – role of technology’; people’s participation in sustainability – BRICS Experience; and dialogue on society and peace building. RIS is planning to organise a series of events on thematic dialogues, starting with the Curtain Raiser on 16-17 April 2021 and ending with the final event in July 2021. (ENDS).
Making it happen: INDCOSERVE
Most INDCOSERVE tea factories present a ‘bombed’ look thanks to the complete run down and dilapidated status of the mechanical, civil and electrical infrastructure.
This was 2017. A discussion in one of the Committee Rooms of the Parliament House was underway. I was present as Secretary, School Education and Literacy. As it was inter-departmental discussion, there were Ministers and officers of the other Ministries as well. What is etched in my memory is the poise of the then Director General, Doordarshan. I was impressed with her lucid articulation and presentation. I discovered later what wonderful work she was doing in rebuilding the credibility of Doordarshan and in restoring its primacy.
INDCOSERVE was set up in 1965 by the government of Tamil Nadu with the objective of providing livelihood opportunities to small tea farmers in the Nilgiris. It had been empowering its farmer members with access to information, training and marketing thereby laying a strong foundation for a brighter future in true spirit of the co-operative movement. INDCOSERVE has emerged as India’s largest Tea Co-operative Federation with more than 30,000 small tea farmers as its members manufacturing about 14 million kilograms of tea in its 16 tea factories.
Like most Government organizations, INDCOSERVE lacked a futuristic vision. It was Supriya Sahu, an IAS officer who had turned around Doordarshan as its DG who formulated futuristic vision for INDCOSERVE based on the inherent potential of the organization and the inputs from our most important stakeholders viz. the farmers.
To keep INDCOSERVE future ready and to bring it back in competition with other well established tea brands intensive field visits to connect with the farmers were organised. The idea was to listen to their wisdom and experience, gather and analyse data and study market intelligence. At the end of the exercise, it was found that the first and the most critical intervention had to be “Quality”. Mission Quality was thus born.
As no internal professional support was available, the first task was to get a qualified professional and dynamic team to support initiatives and interventions that were to be take in coming months. An Advisor was brought in to lead the charge. A quality management team, Tea leaf price fixation team, Tea Auction base price fixation team and Marketing and Brand building team were put in place with representation from farmers heading Factory Boards.
A Quality Management Team was also put in place which designed Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) and implemented them. Training, capacity building, setting benchmarks, feedback mechanism were integrated in the Mission Quality. An internal quality certification protocol for identifying and rewarding factories making good quality teas was also evolved. This led to competition among the factories each one vying for better grading. Better grades were linked with an incentive mechanism wherein more teas were bought from better graded factories and less from others. This brought improved resources to those who were making better quality teas. This had the desired impact
Most INDCOSERVE tea factories present a “bombed” look thanks to the complete run down and dilapidated status of the mechanical, civil and electrical infrastructure. INDCOSERVE Tea factories were looked down upon as typical “Sarkari” factories. The factories were also stigmatised as ones churning out bad quality teas year after year.
It was important to create a model which would break the stereotypical image of factories. The idea was to inspire the farmers about their own enterprise and create an easily replicable model. All resources were galvanized and tea factory at Kattabettu was renovated. The factory was completely transformed and more importantly painted with beautiful images of the local people, flora and fauna. Local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to helped completely restore the environment around the factory. A nature walk was created. An Eco-information centre has been set up within the factory to spread awareness about eco restoration activities and ecology of the Nilgiris Bio-sphere reserve. All this brought a sea change in people’s perception. An upgradation and modernisation plan for factories was prepared. This got funding support from the government of Tamil Nadu and NABARD.
As a key communication strategy, a weekly open house for farmers was started. Personal letter was written by Supriya to all 30,000 farmers seeking suggestions from them to strengthen their own organisation. An appeal was also made to them to give good quality leaf only and help transform the organisation. This was transformational. Now, a farmers Application viz., “Indco App” has been launched to make this communication digital.
Visits were organized to private tea factories to make them realise how private factories were able to keep their factories cleaner, more hygienic and well maintained with even less resources. They also learnt about packaging and marketing These visits inspired them and instilled confidence.
The pricing mechanism for green tea leaves supplied by farmers was also improved. It was important to break the vicious cycle of supply of bad quality of leaves leading to bad quality of teas manufactured in Indco factories. A calculated risk was taken in announcing better prices for the raw material being supplied by farmers. These initiatives helped INDCOSERVE improve profitability due to better utilisation of the capacity.
The product portfolio was confined only to 3 tea products which were in old style packaging and were also only dust grades. This has now been expanded to 11 products. Each of these is well packaged in attractive brand names. In the pipeline are niche products coming for the first time in the market like the Nilgiri Kahwa Tea. The organization now has State of the Art e-commerce website www.indcoserve.com.
INDCOSERVE is the largest supplier of teas in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the Government of Tamil Nadu wherein about 2500 tonnes of tea is being supplied every year to about 30,000 ration shops.
Most of the factories were making losses as there had not been much focus on exploring newer markets. Their complete dependence only on one auction platform i.e., Teaserve made them vulnerable to market volatility. Hence, other auction platforms were used. This initiative helped earn better price for teas and has also exposed them to buyers from across the country.
Indco Tea Houses are being opened across the State to market teas to a wide range of tea lovers. Mobile Tea and food trucks, called Tea-Vandi are providing a unique experience to tourists and locals. Five vehicles are already operating and 20 more vehicles are joining the fleet in the coming few months.
Fairtrade and Trustea Certification for Indcoserve factories have now been obtained. This would be a game changer as these reputed certifications would now help charge a premium on teas and would also help export teas to most EU and American markets.
Consequent to the efforts put in by Supriya and her wonderful team, sales turnover has increased by 180% from Rs. 136.00 crores in 2019-20 to Rs.240.00 crores in 2020-21. Farmers’ income has increased by 160% from Rs. 12 per kg of green tea leaf during 2019-20 to Rs. 19 per kg during 2020-21. Average selling price of bulk teas has gone up from Rs. 66 to Rs. 103
The lady officer from Doordarshan, Supriya Sahu had the “door drishti” (vision) and she could make-it-happen despite very challenging set of circumstances. She could do it on account of her vision, meticulous planning, passionate execution and by taking all the stakeholders into confidence.
Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.
Stop squabbling, save people’s lives
Fear and anxiety rule the roost but fighting the pandemic with courage is the only option.
In the turbulent times of Covid-19, there is an acute shortage of everything. There are no beds, no oxygen, no ventilators, no medicines for treating the ever surging number of Covid-19 patients. Such a scary situation doesn’t warrant the luxury of indulging in political squabbling. There should be no blame game. The time is crucial for saving human lives. And saving lives is also in our hands to a great extent. If you are using a single mask, start using a double mask and if you have not used it, put it on immediately. Follow the guidelines. Help the government. Cooperate with the government because the government is doing what it can, but it cannot do more than this. Today every person needs to become a ‘chowkidar’.
Of course, the blame game that is going on is not in anyone’s interests. States are blaming the Centre and the Centre is blaming the states. This blame game must get over fast. We all are Indians. All of us are children of Mother India. Neither BJP nor Congress and not any other party for that matter can be greater than the nation. Everything belongs to Mother India. This is not the time to practise discrimination.
None of us had ever imagined such a difficult and sordid time in our dreams. We were told that when the epidemic like Spanish influenza and plague had spread, several villages were wiped out in many parts of the world. And today, we are seeing loved ones struggling for life. My Lokmat family is very large. Everyday news comes from my HR department that Mr so-and-so is gone or Mr XYZ is gone. This is happening every day. Similar news is coming from every part of the country. If biggies in top positions are not able to get beds, imagine the condition of the common man? The rich and powerful who have oodles of money have left the country for treatment abroad. Many have taken shelter in Maldives and Dubai. Some people have gone to the hill stations but then this kind of system is suited for a handful of super rich people. They don’t represent the bigger picture of the country. The common man who is the soul of the country is struggling with horrific tragedy.
It is good that Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the seers and finally the Kumbh Mela concluded. Actually, this mega event should not have been allowed in the first place. Better late than never! It is estimated that about 49 lakh devotees have taken a dip in Kumbh. Thousands of devotees along with hundreds of sadhus also got infected with coronavirus. Two prominent saints lost their lives too. Now imagine if thousands of people reach different parts of the country by becoming carriers, how many will be infected? After all, it affects the administration. People who work in administration are also human beings. That is why I am saying that we should cooperate with the government. It is necessary to follow all the protocols of Covid with complete restraint and discipline, otherwise the situation will get worse. Just remember how a hue and cry was raised about the Tablighi Jamaat in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic! Remember that small sparks cause deep wounds. It is our responsibility to keep this country intact. Massive political rallies are being organised in many states where elections are going on and the Election Commission should ban them immediately. If the Election Commission is not able to prevent these rallies, the Supreme Court should take cognisance and stop them. These rallies and gatherings are just corona bombs!
As of now, the government is leaving no stone unturned to stop the spread of corona infection. There is a steady increase in the number of beds for corona patients in the country, but the question is, from where to bring doctors, nurses and paramedical staff? Certainly, lakhs of families have lost someone or the other. Hence it is but natural that people should get annoyed with the system, but we have to understand that this is not the time to fight with the doctors. It is time to boost their morale. The kind of spirit that doctors, nurses and paramedical staff have shown in the turbulent and uncertain times is commendable indeed. Doctors cannot be held responsible if there is a shortage of beds or lack of oxygen. What is the fault of the doctors? Do not forget that they are humans too.
Let me remind you that the first wave of coronavirus was fiercely confronted by India through lockdown and earlier in the year it seemed that we were winning. This bred complacency and subsequent negligence made the people to start organising weddings and celebrations which provided a fertile ground for coronavirus to flourish. It turned the tables! Taking a lesson from the first wave, the government also had to make arrangements like the US or Europe did, but we displayed utmost negligence. Today we are suffering its adverse effects. Even now, if possible, we can prevent future losses. Our ancestors had seen a worse time but they managed to get out of it. The cholera epidemic that began in Bengal in 1816, along with lakhs of Indians, also swallowed 10,000 British soldiers. Nearly 1.70 crore Indians were killed in the Spanish flu that spread in 1918.
At that time, the population of India was less than 32 crore. Science was not so advanced at that time, so deaths occurred more and it took a long time to get a vaccine. This time, many vaccines have become available in less than a year to fight the coronavirus. But don’t expect the coronavirus to end with just the vaccine! It will still take a long time for everyone in the country to get the vaccine. Even after taking both doses of the vaccine, it is not clear whether the vaccine will have to be taken every year or every six month. Therefore, avoiding corona is the best option.
We are witnessing how people are stressed, fearful and worried. Covid-19 scare is taking an emotional toll too. The resurgence of the virus has caused public anxiety. But this does not mean that we lose courage. Bear in mind that we can defeat this deadly virus only with the weapons of restraint, discipline, courage and alertness!
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.
On one hand, the patients are running from pillar to post in search of medicines and hospitals with beds, oxygen and ventilators, and on the other, a disgusting round of accusations and counter accusations continues. The squabbling and blame game should end now! And yes, you too should follow the Covid-appropriate guidelines and support the government efforts. For, the government is doing everything it can, but don’t expect it to give you more than what it is dispensing now.
NO COUNTRY FOR WOMEN: WHY BEING A WOMAN IS NOT AN EASY TASK IN INDIA
A decade since the gang-rape and murder of a student on a bus shocked India, state spending to combat violence against women and girls is just not adequate. A fund named after the 23-year-old woman who was raped and killed in 2012 is low on resources and under-utilised, found the “Towards Violence Free Lives For Women” report, noting that a rape takes place every 15 minutes in the country of 1.3 billion. During the coronavirus pandemic, Indian women have suffered increased violence, job losses and taken on more unpaid carework. Many women, who have been forced to stay at home due to lockdown measures, have been cut off from support services and have suffered at the hands of abusive partners. Indian government set up the Nirbhaya Fund to “enhance the safety and security of women” after the bus gang rape spotlighted India’s appalling record on gender-based crimes, but gender justice has still not been met. Shakti Mills rape case I’d like to put more light on, On 22 August 2013, less than a year after the furore that followed the gang rape in Delhi, and after the Verma Committee report led to a change in the rape law, a twenty-two-year-old photojournalist and her colleague were accosted by a group of men when they went to take pictures of an abandoned textile mill in Central Mumbai, a stone’s throw away from a busy railway station. The woman was gang-raped while her colleague was beaten up. Luckily for her, even though traumatized—the rapists filmed the act—she had her wits about her. After the rapists walked with her and her colleague to the nearby Mahalakshmi railway station, where they issued dire threats that if they were to report the incident to the police, the videos of the rape would be released on social media, the woman decided to go immediately to the nearest hospital to get a medical examination. Changes in the law after 2013 established that any hospital, private or public, would have to attend to a rape survivor, report to the police and conduct a medical examination. Earlier, only public hospitals could do this. The fact that she was a journalist, that her seniors came immediately to her aid as did other journalists, helped ensure that the police did not delay in moving on the case. The issue that I’m very much concerned about here is that we have been time and again ensured that government and other administrative organs are taking full responsibility for the safety of the women of this country? But where is this safe environment we are talking about, practically is it even existing?
These incidents that I have further talked about will it make it explicitly clear as to why I believe there’s no safety that can be assured to a woman in India and it is absolutely not easy to be a woman in our country anymore. The recent news that has made all of us go cold has taken place in the National Capital itself, 26-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband, 40, at a crowded market place in Delhi’s Rohini area on Saturday (April 10) on the suspicion of her having an affair with another person. The man also threatened people as some passers by tried to intervene in the matter and save the woman. The woman was seen lying on a road’s side in a pool of blood. Her husband tried to escape from the spot with the blood stained knife in his hand, but was chased by police. This man had the audacity to stab her 25 times with a knife that too in broad daylight and the more unfortunate and darker side of it is although people were witnessing the incident, nobody came forward to help the woman rather people have been seen recording the entire incident, this brings us to a very simple question, “Is humanity absolutely dead in our country? Is there any mercy left for the girls and women of this country?”. Talking about the awareness amongst the citizens of our country to take a stand in support for the victim, the condition is very pathetic. Where even the media which is eventually called the fourth pillar of democracy is showing no mercy on the victim, what can we expect from the normal public. With reference to this I’d like to mention about a case where worse still, a reporter from some newspaper climbed sixteen floors of a private hospital, where the woman was being treated, to try and get into her room to interview her. She was stopped by the police guarding the floor. What was the necessity of this kind of intrusion into the survivor’s privacy? This has been the tragedy of the Indian media in the twenty-first century. It fails repeatedly to be sensitive to the problems that rape survivors face after they have been sexually assaulted and brutalized. The story of what happens after a rape exposes the fault lines in the implementation of laws and in the working of our criminal justice system. In the Shakti Mills case, the survivor was an informed young woman who also had some support. And yet, what she faced in the process was traumatic. Multiply this account thousands of times over, and you get a sense of the horror that poor and marginalized women go through.
Talking about the very recent case in Jharkhand, The Steel City of Jamshedpur was shook by the recent incident that took place in the area called Kadma where a man killed his wife, his two daughters and their tuition teacher who happens to be a female. From the initial probe it was found that all four were killed with an iron dumbbell. The children we just 11 and 15 years, What could be the reason behind this gruesome brutality? If a woman is not even safe in her own house, where is she expected to go? What is she expected to do if the predator turns out to be someone so close to her, the husband itself? Just as levels of violence against women have risen, lockdowns and other movement restrictions have made it more difficult for survivors to report abuse and seek help.
Talking about the rape culture in India, women are being treated as objects, being beaten up, killed on the roads, being raped, gang raped and what not. To go back to one of the events that happened last year, On September 14, 2020 a 19-year-old Dalit (formerly “Untouchable”) woman was tortured and allegedly gang raped by four upper caste men in Hathras district in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Her body was severely brutalized; her tongue was torn, limbs fractured, and spinal cord damaged. The woman succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in New Delhi a fortnight later. As shocking as the bestiality of the rapists is the abject failure or rather, the reluctance of the Uttar Pradesh police to follow due process. Apparently, police accused the woman of lying, refused to register a rape complaint, and delayed taking the victim to a hospital for treatment. A police official even claimed that no rape took place as semen was not found on the victim’s body. Apparently in a bid to destroy evidence, the victim’s body was swiftly cremated in the dead of the night by the police. Family members were neither allowed to see her body nor to be present at the cremation. Sexual violence against women is pervasive in India. These figures are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Only a fraction of women who are raped file a complaint. Most victims prefer to remain silent because of the social stigma attached to rape. It is not uncommon for the victim to be blamed or for aspersions to be cast on her character. A single mother who was gang-raped in Kolkata in 2012 was stigmatized as a sex worker. On December 16, 2012 a woman was gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi. The rapists penetrated her with an iron rod, rupturing her intestines. The gruesome violence she was subjected to did not stop people from asking why she was out at night with her boyfriend. Did she invite the sexual assault? Why are questions always posed on the woman or the girl as to what was she wearing when she was raped, what caste is she, with whom was she at that time, why was she out so late at night and what not. Also silencing of victims or witnesses is not uncommon should a victim or her family dare to pursue justice through the courts. A woman who was raped at Unnao in 2018 was burned alive by five men, including her rapists, a year later as she made her way to a court hearing.
Women aren’t safe in India. Pick up a newspaper or randomly switch to any news channel on your television set, there is a good chance you’ll come across yet another case of sexual harassment of a woman, a minor or even an infant. In such times, you expect the people in power to take crucial steps towards women safety or at the least be sensitive while speaking about the horrifying cases that surface every day. Instead, they end up justifying the sexual harassment with their bizarre and clueless explanations while some simply choose to blame the victim. The kind of remarks these so called politicians make on the victim are even more shameful, Days after the victim of the Hathras gang rape passed away, Surendra Singh, a legislator of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly, said that “such incidents [like rape] can be stopped only with sanskar” adding that “it’s the duty of all mothers and fathers to imbibe good values in their daughters and bring them up in cultured environments.” This isn’t the first time a politician has made a foot-in-the-mouth statement. Sexist, misogynist, and insensitive statements go hand in hand with some politicians in our country. It is this mindset that needs to go, Putting the onus on women to prevent sexual violence is not just absurd but dangerous.
“Will you marry her?” asked the Chief Justice of India to a man who is accused of repeatedly raping a minor. The accused stalked the victim on her way to school, gagged and tied her whilst he raped her, threatened to throw acid on her face if she spoke up and continued to rape her several times thereafter. The facts only came to light when she tried to commit suicide and her mother stopped her. She and her mother tried to file a police complaint, but the mother of the accused stopped them promising her son would marry her when she turned 18. It is shocking that the Chief Justice would think it appropriate to offer marriage as a solution to the horrific criminal behaviour without even considering the rights of the girl. However, this is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the system when men in power continue to impose suffocating rules and policies, pronounce misogynistic and sexist statements, totally ignoring the rights of women, treating them as objects. The idea that one needs to marry one’s rapist as though that justifies the act and is the right solution is atrocious. The idea that one needs to register oneself at the police station so that one’s movements can be tracked for one’s safety is equivalent to being voluntarily surveilled and there is no backing down from there on. In a way, we are being asked to give up our rights with regards to freedom of choice and movement in return for protection. What if we choose not to register ourselves or marry a rapist? Does it mean that the State has no responsibility to ensure our safety? Does it mean that we will be blamed should we get trolled, attacked, stalked, assaulted and raped? Curtailing a girl or woman’s freedom in any way, warning girls and women to not go out alone or to dress and behave in a culturally appropriate, male-mandated way cannot prevent sexual violence. Rather, we need to din into boys and men that aggression is not masculinity and being macho is not “cool.” It is only by tackling misogynistic mindsets among men and women and dismantling the patriarchal aspects of the sanskar that some people uphold that sexual violence can be tackled.
Changes in the law after 2013 established that any hospital, private or public, would have to attend to a rape survivor, report to the police, and conduct a medical examination. Earlier, only public hospitals were allowed to do this.
ROHINGYA DEPORTATION & THE CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT: ‘ALIENS’ MUST ENTER INDIA LEGALLY
At the beginning of the year gone by, and before the coronavirus scourge had engulfed the entire globe, our nation was within the grasp of a powerful and exacting movement against the amendments introduced by way of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. Without delving into the details of the same, the opposition was principled around the fact that special citizenship provisions were made available specifically to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from the neighbouring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to the explicit exclusion of those belonging to the Muslim community.
To the layman, the above amendment would seem an exercise in discrimination, inequality, arbitrariness and absurdity. However, as had been contended last year in an earlier written piece, the doctrinal approach centred around the ‘right to equality’ under Article 14 coupled with the ‘right to life and personal liberty’ under Article 21 of the Constitution of India would be of no avail to those who find themselves on the anvil of exclusion under the amendment of 2019. No doubt, the dual protection vide Articles 14 and 21 preserves the rights therein to citizens and non-citizens alike. However, a mere cursory glance through Part-III, i.e. the chapter on ‘fundamental rights’, would make it manifest that the Indian Constitution very clearly bestows certain additional rights and liberties unto its citizens to the explicit and unambiguous exclusion of aliens and/or those who’ve entered the sovereign territory of India in an illegal manner.
As had been argued earlier, only the Union Parliament is given powers to make laws unto ‘foreign jurisdiction’, ‘citizenship, naturalisation and aliens’, ‘extradition’ and ‘admission into and emigration and expulsion from India’. Irrespective of the guarantees of equal protection to citizens and non-citizens alike vide Articles 14 and 21, the same has to be tempered in consonance with Article 19 which is exclusively applicable to Indian citizens; incidentally the Supreme Court of India, per its recent order in Mohammad Salimullah and Anr. versus Union of India and Ors, tends to agree with the above proposition.
Succinctly put, the Apex Court has essentially laid out three crucial propositions; (1) India’s obligations and respect for international treaties/covenants/conventions ought not be in conflict with any contrarian position appearing under its municipal laws, i.e. laws enacted by the Indian legislature, (2) the rights emanating from Article 14 and 21 are undoubtedly available to all ‘persons’, i.e. non-citizens and citizens alike, and (3) rights ancillary and concomitant to Article 19, despite touching upon protections guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21, must be adjudged on the anvil of Article 19(1) read-with Article 19(2).
Therefore as the law stands concerning the troika of rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21, it emerges that ‘aliens must enter India legally’ if they wish to seek protection of rights at par with citizens under Article 19 and evidently thus the debility unto non-citizens renders any such requisitions vis-à-vis equality and equal protection untenable.
Hence, what flows thereof, and rightly so in the opinion of the authors, the Apex Court’s ruling provides more than a glimpse into the way the highest court of the land may end up dealing with the challenge to the amendment of 2019. Questions of morality and ethicality apart, the 2019 amendment is of little or no concern to Indian citizens for at the end of the day all who entered the sovereign territory of India prior to the cut-off date outlined therein are deemed to have done so illegally and without authority of law. Thus, for all such aliens, be they of any faith, there exists no guarantee whatsoever ‘to move freely throughout the territory of India’ or ‘to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India’.
Out of this group of illegals, and undoubtedly done so in an artificial manner, the amendment of 2019 bestows additional rights at par with citizens, upon a particular group of people who are not practising a particular faith; in that sense their continued presence inside the Indian territory (be it in any part thereof) is no longer deemed to be illegal and they enjoy the trinity of rights guaranteed vide Articles 14, 19 and 21 in its entirety.
Now consider the case of those who’ve been denied this special and artificial conferment, not only were they illegals at the time of entering Indian territory, they continue to remains so for not being covered under the amended umbrella. This would not only lead to an explicit denial of rights under Article 19, it also means that any argument resting on equal treatment/protection thereof shall surely fall through for illegals/non-citizens can never be placed on the same mantel as those who have specifically been included and recognised as part of the citizenry. Deportation, therefore, of illegals is not protected unless statutorily provided and protected in a specific and explicit manner. Inescapably, any remedy, if at all, against the 2019 amendment is a political one for the Apex Court is most unlikely to render it inoperable.
In conclusion, one must pay heed to the scheme of our Constitution and the deliberate manner in which the framers defined ‘Citizenship’ under Part-II beforehand venturing into laying out the ‘Fundamental Rights’ vide Part-III. A conjunctive reading of both parts would lead to the peerless conclusion that certain rights were very deliberately reserved for Indian citizens and concomitantly very deliberately denied to aliens. In fact, the conscious decision-making of the framers becomes apparent by way of the wordings of Article 11 (Part-II) which in a non-obstante manner gives power to Parliament ‘to make any provision with respect to the acquisition and termination of citizenship and all other matters relating to citizenship.’
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