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No child’s play: India will be the next global destination for toy making

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It was while taking classes in the history of the trade of materials and objects at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum that I first learnt of the toys of the Indus Valley Civilisation. One of them was a little figurine cart, something that a child might pull with a string. I remember being delighted and fascinated by the sheer length of history that India has when it comes to toys. Like everything else, it also developed local nuances with time—a toy from one part of India can be enchantingly different from a toy from another part. In one of his Mann Ki Baat radio talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had put the spotlight on the Etikopakka toys from Andhra Pradesh, which are made of lacquer, for their traditional beauty and charm and their environment-friendliness. I have been remembering this recently as India prepares to host a major national toy fair between 27 February 2021 and 2 March 2021 to showcase the myriad opportunities in the country.

The Indian toy industry is worth around $1 billion. Being one of the biggest producers of polyester and allied fibres, and other raw materials, at a cost-effective price, the country is planning to expand its share in global toy manufacturing with an elaborate plan that maps almost every major economic department of the government.

Indian states, from Maharashtra to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to Telangana, have set up, or are in the process of setting up, significant manufacturing capabilities and clusters aimed at producing quality toys not only for India, which has one of the youngest populations in the world, but also for the export market. States like Gujarat are offering significant parcels of the setting up of toy manufacturing clusters, while Uttar Pradesh has developed a toy city, with another one coming up. Karnataka, meanwhile, is pitching its toy making cluster in Koppal, spread across 400 acres, as a ‘toy manufacturing ecosystem’ at par with the best of such facilities in the world. The creation of such clusters provides a major boost to local manufacturing and creates tens of thousands of jobs.  Then, of course, there is Hamleys, one of the most celebrated toy brands in the world, which is now Indian-owned.

Beyond all these significant achievements, there is a story that can, and is, emerging in India, which would be of global interest. India is not only looking to promote its traditional toys, of which there are many, but also marry its technological prowess with toy making. Toys, in fact, map onto each of the major priorities of the government, whether it is self-reliance (Aatmanirbhar Bharat) or ‘Vocal for Local’. Toys are also a great tool to make new generations understand the richness and diversity of Indian history, culture and civilisation — an example is the Thanjavur doll, the traditional Indian bobblehead made of terracotta, which has been given a GI tag for its distinct value in handcrafted toys. More recently, badminton player Manasi Joshi became the first Indian para-athlete to get a one-of-a-kind Barbie doll made by Mattel in her honour.

There are some questions now which are relevant for the growth of the toy industry in India. For instance, can Indian robotics join hands with toy makers? In a country where digital education is soaring, can new playful tools be invented by bringing toy making into education and bridging goals between pedagogy and playfulness?

Nevertheless, whether it is through financial incentives or supply chain benefits, India is planting its flag in the global toy manufacturing supply chain and giving a boost to its more than 4,000 toy manufacturers.

The upcoming toy fair will be a gateway to understand how history and tradition and the beautiful handiwork to make toys in India can come together with cutting-edge technology to make the country a global destination for the manufacture, sale and purchase of toys. It is clear that the new age of toys and toy making is dawning in India.

The writer is Vice President and Head of Research at Invest India, the national investment promotion agency. Views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

NSUI CELEBRATES ITS GOLDEN JUBILEE BY REMEMBERING INDIRA GANDHI

Pankaj Vohra

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The National Students Union of India, the student wing of the Congress, celebrated its golden jubilee on Friday (9 April) by recalling the contributions of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership the frontal organisation was launched in 1971. To mark the occasion, a poster of the former PM with Brij Mohan Bhama, one of the founding members flanking her, was released. Also on this day, Hari Shankar Gupta, former Delhi University Students’ Union president, the first NSUI nominee to be elected to any position in the capital, also released a letter signed by former NSUI chief Geetanjali Maken appointing him as the treasurer of the Delhi unit in 1977.

The NSUI has come a long way since its inception and has produced several distinguished leaders including Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the founding president, K.C. Joseph, Harikesh Bahadur, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik, Ramesh Chenithala, Ajay Maken and Manish Tewari amongst others. Soon after the Congress split in 1969, and Babu Jagjivan Ram was appointed the president of the Congress owing allegiance to Indira Gandhi with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna as his general secretary, a need was felt to have a students’ wing of the party to oppose the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the RSS, as well as the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (Socialist Party), the All India Students Federation (CPI) and the Students Federation of India (CPM). Bahuguna was successful in getting Indira Gandhi’s approval and the organisation was founded under the name of National Union Of Students at a convention attended by four of its founding members—Rangarajan, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vyalar Ravi and Brij Mohan Bhama, then an upcoming student leader of Delhi. However, in 1972-73, the NUS was renamed as the NSUI with Rangarajan as the first president and Harikesh Bahadur, K.C. Joseph and Pradeep Bhattacharya as general secretaries. The body was expanded by including Ram Kumar Bhargava as general secretary and Rohit Bal Vohra (Pappu) as the secretary besides Raman Chopra as office secretary.

The NSUI contested its first DUSU election by fielding Mool Chand Sharma against the present VHP chief, Alok Kumar, in 1973-74 and a year later by declaring Bhama as its candidate to oppose Arun Jaitley of the ABVP. In Delhi, it became a force under the leadership of Deepak Malhotra, who was ably assisted by Prem Swarup Nayyar, Vijay Lochav, Kewal Krishan Handa, Kavita Mehra and subsequently by Sunil Chopra and Mehmood Zia. The NSUI was also patronised by Nasikrao Tirupude and Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra. Tirupude was able to assist Satish Chaturvedi to get elected as the president of the Nagpur University despite a stiff challenge from the ABVP in the RSS bastion. Geetanjali was elected as the president of the Bhopal University Students Union.  After Rangarajan, the NSUI was headed by Mohan Gopal, till recently a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and then by Geetanjali Maken. Deepak Malhotra, Anand Sharma and Imran Kidwai were its principal leaders with Ashok Gehlot heading the Rajasthan unit. In fact, when Gehlot was declared as the Rajasthan chief, Rohit Bal Vohra, drove all the way to Jaipur to deliver his appointment letter personally to him. Gehlot never forgot this gesture and when Vohra passed away in 2011, he flew especially from Jaipur to attend his funeral. Such were the bonds.

In Delhi, the NSUI tasted success for the first time in 1978 with Hari Shankar Gupta as its candidate. The losing ABVP nominee, Surendra Pushkarna, committed suicide. A mystery in the Congress is that Hari Shankar despite being a great organisation man has never been considered for heading the Delhi Congress which badly needs a person of his calibre. The NSUI saga in the university had begun and in 1985, Ajay Maken and a year after him, Madan Singh Bisht were elected DUSU presidents. The Congress, if it wishes to revive itself, must strengthen its frontal organisations. And when it celebrates its momentous occasions, it must not forget to invite its former members and office bearers. All of them had, in their own ways, played a role in the evolution of the NSUI.

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Opinion

Are deemed to be universities on the path of self-improvement?

Pre-eminence of deemed to be universities gets further corroborated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework data, which shows that as many as 35 of them have figured in the first hundred institutions during the last two cycles.

Ved Prakash

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The country did not have a proper national public education system at the time of Independence. The overall literacy rate was at a rock bottom. The number of institutions right from primary to post-secondary stage of education was excessively frustrating. There was hardly any network of premier institutions which could significantly contribute in nation-building. There were only 25 universities and about 500 colleges. The nation-building clearly was a daunting challenge under such unfavourable circumstances.  But the leadership of the time was ardently committed to lay the foundation of an empowered and strong India through education. Since they knew the situation well enough, the first-ever decision that they had taken in 1948 was to set up the University Education Commission (UEC) to give new direction to higher education in independent India which had come out of the burden of colonial rule after a prolonged struggle.

One of the most important recommendations of the UEC was related to the creation of a statutory regulatory body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which resulted in the enactment of the UGC Act, 1956. The UGC was chartered with the task of maintenance of norms and standards in higher education along with disbursement of grants to enable the university system to perform its anticipated challenging roles. There was an element of farsightedness in the provision of the UGC Act, as it had envisioned that there could be institutions beyond the universities to play a seminal role in higher education and research and they could be treated like universities.

The basic idea behind this proposal was to recognise the academic excellence of an institution and authorise it with powers to award degrees identical to those of universities. The UGC Act thus provides for the establishment of an institution deemed to be university. Accordingly, the Central government, on the advice of the UGC, was mandated to notify any institution for higher education, other than a university, as deemed to be university. The provision of the creation of an institution deemed to be university is indeed a tribute to the visionaries who laid the foundation of higher education in the independent India.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi were the first set of institutions that were notified as institutions Deemed to be universities in the year 1958 because of their pioneering contributions in the fields of applied sciences, technology and agriculture. Four more institutions joined the league of deemed to be universities over a period of next six years. Gurukul Kangri, Haridwar, became a deemed to be university in 1962, Gujarat Vidyapith in 1963 and BITS, Pilani and TISS, Bombay in 1964. Thus, only six institutions were conferred the status of deemed to be university in a span of eight years after the commencement of the UGC Act. Most of these institutions have proved to be excellent examples of meaningful partnership between public and private sectors in higher education.

Much of the progress in higher education during the initial period was credited to public institutions. The share of the private sector was almost negligible prior to the era of liberalisation. The total number of degree awarding institutions at that time was only 185. Of them, the private sector was represented only by 8 deemed to be universities. There was not a single state private university at that point in time. This was the time when the sector of higher education was under tremendous pressure for expansion partly due to spike in transition rates from secondary to post-secondary and partly due to swelling aspirations of the middle-class population. Since the public sector was not in a position to make new capital investment due to resource crunch, the sector was thrown open to private entrepreneurs. However, the only window available to them was that of becoming a deemed to be university because by then neither the states nor the centre had enacted any legislation for the establishment of private universities.

Thus the private entrepreneurs gradually took advantage of this unique opportunity. Though the number of deemed universities grew at a very slow pace between 1990 and 2000 despite neoliberal reforms, shortly thereafter, it picked up momentum. The number of deemed to be universities rose from 37 to 128 within a short span of ten years between 2001 and 2009, with a maximum number of such institutions in the states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. It is important to recognise the trend in the growth of deemed to be universities both from the point of view of the year of their notifications and their proliferation only in a few states.

It seems that there were a couple of reasons for such a sudden spurt in the number of deemed to be universities. The first reason was the absence of any legislative enactment by the states for the establishment of a private university till 1995. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim were the first to enact the laws in 1995, resulting in two private universities, one in each state. The second was the inability of public universities to maximise their residual capacities and the third was the ambivalence of public universities to diversify their curricular provisions from general programs to market oriented ones.

Nevertheless, the growth trend of deemed to be universities shows an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. Initially, there were several gap years when no proposal seemed to have been submitted for grant of deemed to be university status. This scenario continued for over four decades. But then there was a sudden rise in numbers with maximum concentration in a few states with resultant possibilities of commercialisation. Besides, their programmatic structures, that were not in any specialised areas, as were reflected in their proposals, gave rise to suspicion in the minds of authorities about the quality of their programmes, leading to intervention petition and Court’s direction to the UGC to replace its Guidelines by Regulations.

In keeping with the developments, the MHRD constituted a five-member Review Committee under the chairmanship of Prof P.N. Tandon in 2009, to ascertain whether they were serving the purpose for which they were conferred the status. All 128 deemed to be universities were evaluated by the Review Committee against nine parameters. Many of these institutions were not found to be up to expected standards on these parameters. The Committee decided to classify them into three categories. Of them, 38 which justified their continuation were placed in category-A. Another 44,that were found to be deficient in certain areas were placed in category-B. They were given three-year time to rectify their deficiencies. The remaining 44 were found unfit and thus placed in category-C. Two of them had opted out on their own from the review process. 

The Category-C institutions approached the Supreme Court with an impassioned plea for relief. The Court directed the MHRD in 2011 to give individual hearing to these institutions. Further, the Court directed the UGC to examine all reports with notices to all these institutions and take an independent decision in accordance with law. After inspecting 7 of those institutions that filed interlocutory before the court, the UGC submitted its report. In 2015, the court directed the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) to carry out accreditation of ‘C’ category institutions. Thereafter, the matter was disposed of by the Court.

Analyses of the accreditation data of as many as 104 out of 125 deemed to be universities reveal new insights into the current functioning of these institutions. Fairly a large number of them seem to be on a path of self-improvement as is evident from their overall rating indicated in the form of Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) by the NAAC. Out of a pool of 80, as many as 24 made the cut in the top grade (A++), followed by 21 in the next grade (A+) and another 35 in the next to next grade (A). In the subsequent group of 23, as many as 11 passed the muster with B++, followed by 5 with B+ and another 7  with B grade. Only one of them got the ‘C’ grade. 

The data visibly reveal that the accreditation status of deemed to be universities is much better than the private universities both in terms of quantity and quality. As against 104 out of 125 Deemed universities, only 54 out of 372 private universities have got themselves accredited by NAAC thus far. Correspondingly, while 24 Deemed to be universities got the highest grade (A++) and another 21 the second highest (A+), none of the private universities could make a cut into either of the two. Similarly, as against 35 deemed to be universities, only 13 private universities could barely attain grade – ‘A’. Clearly, it is an apology to quality and more so when mandatory accreditation had been in vogue for over two decades.

Pre-eminence of deemed to be universities gets further corroborated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) data, which is wholly compiled and collated by the Ministry. It shows that as many as 35 of them have figured in the first hundred institutions during the last two cycles. Furthermore, six out of ten private institutions that have been identified by the government as Institutions of Eminence (IoE) in 2019, happened to be from amongst deemed to be universities, like KIIT, Bhubaneswar and VIT, Vellore. It is evidently clear from NAAC accreditation and NIRF ranking that institutions deemed to be universities are on the path of self-improvement. It would be worthwhile for others in the sector to try to emulate the recent success of these institutions.

While these institutions have every right to take profound satisfaction in their achievements, they should give equal credit, if not more, to the Tondon Committee which made them realise that in education it could not be business as usual. Surely, it would not have been accomplished without the hard-hitting review by the Committee. The most important lesson that needs to be learned from the Tandon Committee is that the purpose of any review or accreditation or ranking should not be mere certification of quality assurance. It should rather be a mechanism to provide for step-by-step advice by the peers to move to higher levels.

The writer is former chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

HOW SHALL NIGHT CURFEW CURTAIL COVID CASES WHEN DAY NORMS ARE FLOUTED?

Pankaj Vohra

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The Delhi government as well as several other political dispensations around the country have imposed night curfew, supposedly to check the surge in Covid cases. While the declaration appeals to a number of people, the logic behind this exercise is unexplainable. There are a very few citizens who are on the road between 10 pm and 5 am as compared to the remaining period during which so much activity is witnessed both in public spaces and also in offices and other establishments. The curfew suggests that the Covid pandemic is transmitted mostly at night and hence it was paramount to somehow discourage any kind of movement in this period. The better thing would be that the corona norms should be observed and enforced during the day time when there is a tendency on part of many people to flout the rules and regulations. Any visit to the crowded markets of Sarojini Nagar and Karol Bagh would prove that by and large. The citizens have apparently thrown caution to the winds and been violating even the basics. In the walled city, there are very few people who can be seen wearing masks or observing social distancing. All these precautions are a must since the vaccines are no guarantee that the ailment would not afflict even those who had been vaccinated. A huge controversy over a certain type of vaccine has broken out in Europe and the UK where cases of blood clotting have been reported.

Back in India, Maharashtra has seen the maximum spike and even Delhi is not far behind. Politics over the availability of the vaccine has come into play with state governments accusing the Centre of not sending sufficient supplies. The Union government is also being attacked for sending vaccines to other countries when the domestic needs have not been met. The Health Ministers of several states have locked horns with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan over the issue. This is really unfortunate since there should be no politics over the pandemic and all concerned whether in states or at the Centre must work unitedly to provide as much relief as possible to people. Fortunately, in India, the spread of the virus was not as pronounced in the first phase as compared to many other countries. This may have been due to a better immunity system but all the same, it does not mean that precautions should not be taken. A person has no business to put someone else’s life at a risk and must cooperate with the authorities fully. The state governments also must take pragmatic steps instead of putting various businesses and vocations in difficulty of some kind.

The economy has suffered drastically since the demonetisation took place and the prolonged lockdown has made things worse. People have to both survive and fend for their families. Therefore, any step which deprives someone of livelihood should not be taken unless it is an urgent requirement to preserve the life of a greater number of people. The night curfew announcement has surprised many since there are restrictions in Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad but none in Gurgaon and Faridabad. Surely, the virus is not region specific. People must cooperate and make this fight against the pandemic a success.

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Opinion

What ‘emancipation’ is China celebrating today?

Even after the bloody events of 1959, which saw the massacre of Tibetans, led to the flight of the Dalai Lama and established the Communist Party’s chokehold on Tibet, how can the Chinese administration and media celebrate the region’s ‘emancipation’ and ‘peaceful liberation’?

Claude Arpi

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During the recent US-China Summit, Yang Jiechi, member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and senior-most Chinese diplomat, bluntly told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The Chinese people are wholly rallying around the Communist Party of China. Our values are the same as the common values of humanity. Those are: peace, development, fairness, justice, freedom and democracy.” He continued for several minutes criticizing the US for its human rights record, “We do not believe in invading through the use of force, or to topple other regimes through various means, or to massacre the people of other countries, because all of those would only cause turmoil and instability in this world.”

India has recently had a different experience with China in Ladakh. However, there is an abyss between the Chinese leader’s words and what is happening in the Middle Kingdom. One typical example is the grand celebrations of the so-called Serf Emancipation Day on March 28. It is the greatest lie ever told concerning Tibet. 

What is this ‘emancipation’? March 28, 1959, marks the end of the massacre of the Tibetan population in Lhasa and the placing of tight control over the Tibetan capital by Beijing. The Dalai Lama was sacked as chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), was replaced by a more pliant Panchen Lama and had just fled the Roof of the World to take refuge in India.

The Communist Party, which has forgotten the 40 or 50 million deaths during the Great Leap Forward, the 10 million or so Chinese who perished during the cruel Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or closer to our times, the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, still ‘celebrates’ the Emancipation of the Tibetans. 

Several non-Tibetan accounts of the events of March 1959, including the popular uprising, the flight of the Dalai Lama, the massacre of the Tibetan population and finally the so-called ‘emancipation’—all this in less than three weeks—are today in the public domain. In his ‘Report for the months of March, April and May 1959’ sent to the Ministry of External Affairs, Maj S.L. Chibber, the Indian Consul General in Lhasa said, “In the history of movement for free Tibet, the month of March, 1959, will be most historic… during this month Tibetans high and low, in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, openly challenged the Chinese rule… the might of [the] PLA, who on March 20, 1959, started an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped and untrained Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, was short-lived.” Chibber continued, “On March 28, 1959, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China dissolved the local Tibet Government and transferred all its functions and powers to the Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).” 

R.S. Kapur, another Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his Annual Report for the year 1959, “The year 1959 will go down as the most important year in the history of Tibet. It marked an end to the way of life of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama, who felt that he could no longer function effectively, left his country in March. …With Opposition out of the country, Chinese got a free hand and they went all out to subjugate the country. People have been deprived of their movable and immovable property.” He further asserted, “While the heart of Tibet was bleeding, the free world only made speeches. With the end of the debate on Tibet in the United Nations, Tibetans lost all hopes of their survival, stared at the sky with blank eyes and asked: Where is God? Where is Buddha?”

Another publication, The 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents: The Chinese Army Documents, released a few years ago, used documents from the PLA’s Military Intelligence, which corroborated Chibber’s version of the bloody events of 1959.

But sixty-two years later, the Chinese media is full of the ‘liberation and emancipation’ of the serfs in 1959. A number of interviews have been published by Xinhua and its affiliates; one mentions a place called Khesum, “the name of a manor in Tibet, and also the name of a living hell for 302 serfs there.” The actual fact is that it was the ordinary people, the ‘masses’ in Communist jargon, who revolted against the occupiers in 1959. The Chinese propaganda wants us to believe that “the misery and serfdom that defined the Khesum of old are [today] nothing more than a distant memory.” Everything is fine in Tibet, according to Beijing.

Another article in China Daily notes, “This year marks not only the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, but also the 70th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet… Seventy years ago, under the guidance of the CPC, Tibetan people started to enter a new era of progress, prosperity and openness.” Quoting a puppet legislator, it continues in the same vein: “Over the past 70 years, Tibet has stepped out of the primitive society of agriculture and animal husbandry, and transformed into a society of industrialization and information.”

Xinhua quotes a former ‘serf’ Pasang, born in 1934 in a village near Shigatse, “In the old times, the family of Pasang had to pay various taxes to serf owners, under whom the family led a miserable life. The taxes imposed were more numerous than ripples in the water and stars in the sky.”

Today all over the Land of Snows, the Tibetans have to take oath and swear by the Party. Take the case of Nyalam, close to the Tibet-Nepal border, where there has been “an upsurge of learning and propagating the Communist Party history” says China Tibet Network. The people in Nyalam are actively promoting the study of the Party’s history; “Learn Party History, Increase your Confidence [in the Party], Inherit the Red Gene,” is the motto. 

Everyone has to learn from the Party’s history, “so that everyone deeply can feel the Chinese Communists’ hard work, perseverance, and wholeheartedly seeking happiness for the people.”

Even the PLA is not exempted: “Events marking the Party’s centenary will include theoretical seminars and themed forums, as well as a massive exhibition at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. All activities will display the military’s love of the Party, the nation and the people” notes a PLA communiqué. 

Referring to Xi Jinping’s leadership: “Every soldier should be loyal to the core, uphold the core, follow the core”. The objective is to make soldiers “appreciate the glorious truth about Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The American society (like the Western) might not be perfect, but can a totalitarian regime, like the present one in China, lecture others about ‘emancipation’ or ‘liberation’? The fact is that Tibetans, like the Uyghurs, have been enslaved by the Communist Party.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

R.S. Kapur, an Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his Annual Report for the year 1959, “The year 1959 will go down as the most important year in the history of Tibet. It marked an end to the way of life of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama, who felt that he could no longer function effectively, left his country in March.”

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Opinion

THE INTRIGUING DEBATE OF NEO-GENDER EQUALITY

Yuvraj Pokharna

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The recent case of a Zomato delivery boy allegedly punching a social media ‘influencer’ he was delivering food to has brought to the fore a grotesque but rather imperative debate. While at the surface, the case is swinging between assault on a woman and a woman making false accusations—a classic case of ‘he said, she said’—recent developments have also brought out a class issue.

Whilst our law is supposed to provide for both a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty, do we really see that happen? Especially when the victim is a woman? Even the ones with memory like a sieve may recall a few of the countless number of such cases—at least the case in Rohtak where two sisters beat up three men in a bus, alleging that they were being ‘harassed’. They were quickly praised and nicknamed ‘bravehearts’ by the media, but as it turned out, the fight was over a seat dispute. The sisters subsequently failed a polygraph test while the ‘accused’ passed it and all charges were dropped eventually. But they haven’t been able to find employment due to the label and stigma attached to the case. In fact, a media report on the charges being dropped against them had the word ‘molesters’ as the first word in its headline. So much for objectivity.

In the ongoing Zomato controversy, ‘Instagram influencer’ Hitesha shared a horrendous video on her social media claiming that a Zomato delivery boy assaulted her after she tried to cancel her food order as he arrived 59 minutes late. As claimed, she suffered a nasal bone fracture during the scuffle. From the public to the media, everyone took her side and the Zomato boy, Kamaraj, was swiftly booked by the Bangalore Police. Later, Kamaraj busted Hitesha’s allegations and said that it was she who berated and abused him in filthy language and hurled slippers at him. When he tried to defend himself, the ring on her own finger hit her nose, added Kamaraj. The ‘victim’ fled the city out of the jurisdiction of the Bengaluru City Police after a counter FIR was lodged based on the complaint of Kamaraj. The police learnt of her disappearance after they tried to contact her for questioning following Kamaraj’s complaint. On the same day, she got support from an unexpected source—Bollywood.

Now common logic dictates that whenever Bollywood comes out in support of something or someone, it warrants some due diligence. Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who had dropped off the radar several years ago, resurfaced to support the influencer, calling everyone who supported the delivery agent “adumbass” and reiterated that an “educated urban woman ordered food” and that “since she ended up with a bleeding nose, there wasn’t supposed to be another side to it.” Note Dutta’s choice of words here—educated, urban and woman. Not only is this a case of “he said, she said” but also one of “she’s educated and urban, she can’t be wrong”: A clear-cut case of class issues.

As in every case, the principles of natural justice have been thrown out of the window and the ensuing media and the social media trials have ensured that Kamaraj is labelled for life. As I write this, Hitesha’s original video on Instagram has amassed nearly 2.5 crore views and her follower toll has reached lakhs. A cursory Google search for ‘Zomato Kamaraj and Hitesha’ will bring forth numerous reports from her side of the story. But when was the last time we heard from him?

There are three main takeaways from this case, up from the usual two that invariably arises out of such cases. The first is that of media trials and declaring one party guilty even before the facts are known. In many cases, the man is automatically deemed to be guilty, and in this case, the class difference is being used to add fuel to the fire.

The second and more important takeaway is the law itself. Our laws, in the matter of sexual assault and similar crimes, explicitly describe the victim as a woman and the perpetrator as a man. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, passed in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 only protects women from sexual assault, voyeurism, stalking and disrobing. Prior to the act becoming a law, it was a gender-neutral ordinance which attracted heavy flak from feminists and activists, resulting in the government retaining only acid attacks and attempted acid attacks as gender-neutral crimes.

The third takeaway from this case is a new one—the actual influence of “influencers” on social media. Hitesha’s case became viral only because she has nearly one lakh followers on Instagram. Influencers are to social media what film stars and celebrities were to traditional media. Social media users need to be made aware and should question what they see. After all, if influencers can ask their followers to question the government, why can’t normal users ask people to question influencers as well?

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Opinion

PM Modi’s war against Covid-19 and Opposition’s vaccine politics

Sanju Verma

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India has surpassed the US to become the country with the fastest vaccination rate globally, with the number of people vaccinated on a single day, 5 April, 2021, exceeding 4.3 million people, vindicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s measured and calibrated approach on this front. 

Overall, till date, since the vaccination program started in India on 16 January 2021, over 91 million or 9.1 crore people have got the jab, 2.4 crore vaccine dosages are in stock and we have another 1.9 crore in the pipeline. India has vaccinated the third highest number of people globally. Humanitarianism has been amplified by the generous outreach of the Modi government, which has exported well over 60 million or over 6 crore Covid vaccines to over 76 nations under the WHO-monitored vaccine sharing initiative, COVAX. Naysayers who allege that India should not have sent vaccines to other countries conveniently forget that exporting vaccines is not merely about “vaccine maitri” or vaccine diplomacy. Coronavirus is the worst global pandemic to hit mankind in 102 years. International diplomacy apart, even from a humanitarian standpoint, India, given its status as a rising economic superpower, is obligated to assist and support those who are less fortunate. Don’t countries help each other when there are earthquakes, cyclones or catastrophic floods? So why should helping other nations during a debilitating pandemic be viewed any differently? Clearly, Prime Minister Modi’s war against the Wuhan virus has been guided by the abiding principles of “India First” and “Neighbourhood First”. 

Experts opine that India should scale up the vaccination drive to stem the recent spike in cases by ramping up the inoculation drive in areas of high transmission to prevent the virus from spreading. What experts need to also understand is that it would be chaotic to simply make the jab a “free for all” kind of an exercise where anyone who wants the jab gets it. The issue at this stage is not a supply-side one to start with. Eight out of the ten high-risk zones reporting the highest number of daily cases are from the state of Maharashtra alone, which has the unique distinction of wasting 5 lakh vaccine dosages. Effectively, what this means is that states like Maharashtra need to reduce vaccine wastage and inoculate on a war footing. Despite availability, Maharashtra has had an average weekly positivity rate of 23.2%. To conveniently blame the Central Government for inadequate supplies, when the problem is actually that of inadequate and incompetent management by the utterly apathetic Shiv Sena-led MVA alliance, reeks of a poor attitude. Another example of gross mismanagement is Congress-ruled Punjab. On February 3, 2021, Punjab had only 2,122 active cases. Two months later, the number became 24,458, with cases rising exponentially in places like SAS Nagar, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Patiala.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan summed up Maharashtra’s criminal lethargy succinctly when he said, “When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different. Maharashtra has vaccinated just 41% of healthcare workers with the second dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 41% and 27%. There are 12 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 60%. When it comes to senior citizens, Maharashtra has vaccinated just 25%, Delhi has vaccinated 30% and Punjab has vaccinated only 13%. There are four States/UTs that have already vaccinated more than 50%.” Maharashtra, Delhi or Punjab, all three are non-BJP ruled. In fact, with a weekly positivity rate of 13.8%, Chandigarh, like Maharashtra, is a textbook case of how shoddy governance can cause irreparable damage. Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, is clearly overrated, given his absolutely dismal track record, be it in tackling farm issues or Covid, with Punjab reporting a high active caseload.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, elaborating on Maharashtra and Punjab further, said, “Doesn’t it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goalposts? Politicising such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better. I have seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about a shortage of vaccines. This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of the pandemic. The inability of the Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis and state governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless. It is shocking to see how the state government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape the institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal vasooli. Overall, as the state has lurched from one crisis to another, it seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheel.”

The Union Health Minister also exposed the Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, and rightfully so. “Similarly, we have seen regular comments by leaders from Chhattisgarh that are intended to spread misinformation and panic on vaccination. I would like to humbly state that it would be better if the state government focusses its energies on ramping up their health infrastructure rather than on petty politicking,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan. The Chhattisgarh government, in fact, refused to use Covaxin despite it being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Drug Controller General of India. Not only this, by its actions, Bhupesh Baghel’s government has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the world to have incited vaccine hesitancy.

Maharashtra, with only 8% of India’s population, has recorded the highest number of Covid deaths in India, accounting for 34% of the total country-wide deaths, in a classic case of embarrassing misgovernance under the MVA alliance. Again, Maharashtra, accounting for 60% of India’s active caseload, is currently a non-BJP-ruled state and led by a Congress-centric alliance. It is, in fact, one of the worst performing states, having reported almost 57,000 fatalities, with the corrupt MVA netas busy trying to ward off allegations of vasooli (extortion), rather than caring for the citizens of the state. In sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state, which has a massive population of over 200 million people and is almost the same size as Brazil, has reported less than 9,000 deaths. Brazil, in the meanwhile, has reported over 3.41 lakh mortalities.

On 16 January 2021, India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.38 billion people, kickstarted the world’s largest Covid vaccination drive, with 2.07 lakh people vaccinated in a single day, across 3,351 sessions, involving 16,755 vaccinators. What makes India’s vaccination drive against Covid unique is its sheer size, scale and meticulous planning, guided by the humanitarian concept of “Jan Bhagidari”, or peoples’ participation. The plan is to inoculate 300 million or 30 crore “priority population” in the first two phases by July-August 2021, including 3 crore healthcare and frontline Covid workers. From March 1, 2021, the eligibility criterion was expanded to include people over 60 years of age and those between 45 and 59 with comorbidities. The third phase of the vaccination drive aimed at everyone above the age of 45 was launched on 1 April.

The calibrated approach of the Modi government is both practical and the need of the hour. A vaccine is not some kind of a “life jacket” that can prevent a person from getting infected, but it certainly reduces the severity of the infection and helps in breaking the transmission chain. It is important to inoculate vulnerable age groups first and therefore prioritising some demographic age brackets over others, which is exactly what the Modi government is doing. Those who allege that India should start vaccinating everyone above 18 fail to realise that the vaccine has to be given at this stage to those who need it, not necessarily to all those who want it. Not everyone who wants the vaccine needs it! The Central Government is spending around $5 billion on free doses at state-run clinics, public health centres and hospitals.

Inoculating 300 million people within six to seven months is akin to vaccinating almost the whole of the US or equal to vaccinating the combined populations of Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, and in record time! India has a national recovery rate of over 92.48% and the case fatality rate (CFR) of just 1.3%, the lowest globally. India’s cumulative positivity rate too is hardly 5.07%, which is commendable given that many states in the US like Florida and Connecticut, till recently, were reporting daily and weekly positivity rates in the higher double digits. It is indeed noteworthy that despite having a population density of 455 per square kilometre, amongst the highest in the world, India, which has tested over 250 million people, has done an unprecedented job of reining in the total number of cases at barely 13 million. In sharp contrast, the US with a population density of just 36 per square kilometre, has reported a staggering 31 million coronavirus cases and over 5.59 lakh deaths. 

The Modi government has built a war kitty of 2,360 master trainers, 61,000 programme managers, over 2 lakh vaccinators and over 3.7 lakh vaccination team members so far. Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which it has developed with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), are homegrown vaccines that vindicate PM Modi’s clarion call of “vocal for local” and are reflective of the country’s innovative and scientific temper. Both the vaccines have been approved by the DCGI.

In effect, India’s vaccine roll-out is not only the largest in the world, but also the most affordable, with no compromises whatsoever on any standard operating procedures (SoPs). The PM-Cares fund will bear the entire cost of the first phase, which will innoculate 30 million or 3 crore frontline Covid workers. Earlier, in June 2020, over Rs 2000 crore was allocated from the PM-Cares fund for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made-in-India’ ventilators to government-run Covid hospitals in all states and UTs. Out of the 50,000, 30,000 ventilators were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited, yet again showcasing India’s indigenous manufacturing prowess. While a jaded, directionless and clueless Rahul Gandhi keeps taking needless jibes at the Modi government, the fact of the matter is that for over six decades, India just had 47,000 ventilators. However, in one go in June 2020, the Modi government made available 50,000 ventilators to ensure that no life is lost for want of life-saving equipment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s food security scheme for the needy, called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY), provided free ration to 81 crore or 810 million people every single month, for nine months in a row, during the pandemic. Effectively speaking, this means that a population 2.5 times the size of the US was fed, showcasing the Modi government’s generous, welfarist and people-centric approach.

Contrast this with the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China, with the probity and transparency shown by India, in taking Covid head-on. Be it building over 116 million toilets under the “Clean India” or “Swachh Bharat” mission, making India’s 5.5 lakh villages open defecation-free (ODF), giving free health insurance to 50 crore Indians under the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme, producing over 60 million PPE kits and 150 million N95 masks between April and October 2020, bringing home over 3.9 million stranded Indians from different parts of the globe via the “Vande Bharat Mission”, or extending medical and humanitarian assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against the pandemic, the Modi government’s fight against the Wuhan virus was made easier by the fact that a huge amount of effort went into ramping up India’s health infrastructure and making cleanliness a way of life in the last 6.5 years. What is worth mentioning here is that, during the initial days of the Covid outbreak, there was only one lab in the country that could undertake testing for the infection. But today there are over 2,000 testing laboratories. 

A key concern now is vaccine wastage. What is vaccine wastage? While wastage cannot be fully eradicated, it has to be within recommended limits. In general, high vaccine wastage inflates vaccine demand and increases unnecessary vaccine procurement and supply chain costs. Vaccine wastage is directly linked to vaccine usage, which is the proportion of vaccines administered against vaccines issued to a vaccination site. What is causing the wastage? For instance, each Covishield vial has 10 doses in total, while a Covaxin vial contains 20 doses—each dose being 0.5 ml (for one person). Once opened, all doses have to be administered within four hours, otherwise it goes to waste and the remaining doses have to be destroyed. The vaccine wastage in India can be largely be attributed to low turnout of beneficiaries, which is due to inadequate planning of sessions by a few states. For instance, if a vial contains doses for ten people and only six turn up, four doses would go waste. In a few Opposition-ruled states, opening vials, despite an inability to mobilise a critical mass of people, has led to vaccine wastage. Till date, around 6.5% of Covid vaccines have gone to waste nationally, according to Central health officials. Over 23 lakh vaccine doses have been wasted, translating into a wastage rate of 6.5% nationally, with the wastage rate being as high as 18% and 12% in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, respectively.

The second reason accounting for vaccine wastage, identified by the Centre, is inadequate training. Officials said some vaccinators are drawing only nine doses against ten doses. “We are seeing that trained vaccinators know how to draw a vaccine. These trained vaccinators will tell you that even in a vial of ten doses, you can actually take out 11. This is a crucial aspect to reduce vaccine wastage,” the official said. Also, open vial policy guidelines have to be strictly followed to minimise vaccine wastage. In the Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Health Ministry factsheet sent to the states mandates that both Covishield and Covaxin have to be discarded after four hours of opening.

The Modi government’s CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) app, owned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, was earlier the platform used for conducting Pulse Polio and other crucial and highly successful immunisation programmes across the country. The same platform has been expanded for doling out Covid-19 vaccines and the Ministry of Electronics and IT along with the National Informatics Centre are handling the backend and the tech infrastructure for it. CoWIN is again an example of how the Modi government has seamlessly embraced technology to ensure last-mile delivery. When it does become open to everyone, it will have four modules—user administrator, beneficiary registration, vaccination and beneficiary acknowledgement and, of course, status updation. The CoWIN app is likely to be made accessible to the general public for registration by the end of March-April 2021.

“Good governance is not firefighting or crisis management. Instead of opting for ad-hoc solutions, the need of the hour is to tackle the root cause of the problems”; this is a famous quote by PM Modi. Better words have not been said. Undoubtedly, India’s outstanding and successful war against Covid will go down in history as a textbook case of what a sensitive and nimble-footed leadership can accomplish. It would be apt to conclude with a quote by John F. Kennedy, who said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Undoubtedly, while a reckless China foisted the Wuhan virus on an unsuspecting mankind, a visionary leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi utilised this unprecedented global crisis as an opportunity to reach out to and heal millions, both in India and outside, showcasing India’s true spirit of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which means, “the world is one family”.

The author is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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