Devika Balakrishnan, a 14-year-old daughter of a daily wage labourer in Kerala committed suicide on 1st June of this year since she was unable to attend online classes because she did not have access to the internet or television. In another incident, 14-year-old boy from Chennai also committed suicide for same reason.
These disgraceful incidents were seen as a product of failure of government to ensure means of internet connectivity to masses. It was also surmised from these incidents that ‘Digital Divide’ and ‘Digital Inequality’ have negative impact on people belonging to downtrodden section of society.
Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented compulsions to stay indoors due to inherent contagiousness and pervasive nature of the disease. In order to keep continuing daily chores as before, it was utmost important to replace physical connectivity with virtual connectivity. Internet connectivity played a crucial role in achieving such objectives which were constrained by physical connectivity due to impending pandemic.
PENETRATION OF INTERNET
At global level, more than 60 percent of the total world population have access to internet. But this percentage varies from country to country as developed countries like USA and Scandinavian countries more than 80 percent people have access to internet when compared with least developed countries where only around 20 percent population can access internet.
India is the second largest internet using country after China with around 700 million internet users. However, penetration rate in India is only about 40% compared to 80% in case of USA. In a reply to a question in Rajya Sabha, Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Communications, Education, and Electronics & Information Technology, said Broadband penetration in rural India is limited to a mere 29.2 per cent, as on 31 March 2020.
‘The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators’ report of TRAI dated 30 June 2020 cited that Bihar (21.69), Uttar Pradesh (21.64), Jammu & Kashmir (16.58), Madhya Pradesh (23.88), and West Bengal (25) are the states that have the least number of internet subscribers per 100 persons.
A CASE FOR RIGHT TO INTERNET
Like any other infrastructural connectivity, internet connectivity is of vital importance for development of human being in the age of information and technology. The necessity of internet and its access to all populace in judicial manner cannot be ensured until and unless it is guaranteed by state itself. State plays pivotal role in granting equal access to communication technology and can ensure equal opportunities of development to all citizens.
Citing all these reasons, in 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council General Assembly articulated access to the Internet an essential human right by releasing a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments. The same resolution reaffirmed that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online” in particular the freedom of expression covered under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Several countries like Costa Rica, Finland, France, Estonia, Greece and Spain have adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure the internet access is broadly available or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual’s access to information and internet.
INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND RIGHT TO INTERNET
Constitution of India is the sovereign law of land and part three of the it enumerated various justiciable rights which are of indispensable nature in the sense that they are most essential for the all-round development (material, intellectual, moral and spiritual) of the individual. Although, right to internet has not explicitly been mentioned in constitution, it has been construed under ambit of various rights incidental to freedom, equality and right to dignified life.
Indian constitution is a profound blend of virtuous principles enshrined in various constitutions across the world. It tries to strike harmonious balance of rigidity offered by US constitution and flexibility offered by British constitution. This envisaged flexibility in constitution meant to incorporate changes owing to prevailing need of time.
Right to internet incorporated in the Constitution and it evolved as a product of various judicial pronouncements from time to time which are in nature equal force of statutory provisions. The Constitution called Supreme Court of India as a ‘Custodian’ and ‘Guardian’ of constitution. Higher Judiciary (High courts and Supreme Courts) entrusted to oversee execution laws in consistent with constitutional values in the country.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION THROUGH INTERNET
Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression which inherently include right to access and distribution of information. K.M. Munshi while drafting the Constitution held that “freedom of speech and expression constitute the essence of democracy”. In People’s Union of Civil Liberties v. Union of India case, Supreme Court held that, ‘Freedom here means the right to express one’s opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, picture, or in any other manner’. In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the Supreme Court recognised the internet as an essential medium to further the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
This issue came again on forefront on 5th August, 2019 when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Constitution of India was revoked by a Presidential Order. Due to possibility of exacerbating law and order problem in the valley, internet services were suspended prior to promulgation of the Presidential Order. Several writ petitions were filed before Supreme Court including one by Anuradha Bhasin, the then editor of daily Kashmir Times demanding restoration of internet access inter alia calling for judicial review of the internet shutdown order in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court held that expression of one’s views and practicing any profession through the internet is a protected right under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g).The Court also went on to elucidate that such online speech can only be impeded under the recognized restrictions under Article 19(2) and Article 19(6) and that the proper standard of review would be the test of proportionality.
In judgement Supreme Court observed that,
Law and technology seldom mix like oil and water. There is a consistent criticism that the development of technology is not met by equivalent movement in the law. In this context, we need to note that the law should imbibe the technological development and accordingly mould its rules so as to cater to the needs of society. Non recognition of technology within the sphere of law is only a disservice to the inevitable. In this light, the importance of internet cannot be underestimated, as from morning to night we are encapsulated within the cyberspace and our most basic activities are enabled by the use of internet.
Freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) can only be restricted with reasonable restrictions only on eight grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) viz. in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or the security of the State, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of Court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
In S. Rangarajan Etc v. P. Jagjivan Ram case, Supreme Court observed that exercise of conditions in article 19(2) for curbing freedom of speech and expression should not be based on convenience but on necessity. Further court concluded this list of grounds is exhaustive one so that state must not encroach over freedom of speech and expression of citizens beyond these eight grounds.
Therefore, the Supreme Court extended the proportionality test which was earlier applicable to judging legality of curbing freedom of speech and expression laid down in Justice K.S.Puttaswamy(Retd) v. Union Of India to internet disruptions. This four-pronged proportionality test include firstly, the restriction should serve a legitimate goal, Secondly. it must be a suitable means of furthering this goal, Thirdly, there must not be any less restrictive but equally effective alternative and Fourthly the measure must not have a disproportionate impact on the right-holder. Court further held that ‘…Proportionality is an essential facet of the guarantee against arbitrary State action because it ensures that the nature and quality of the encroachment on the right is not disproportionate to the purpose of the law.’
FREEDOM OF OCCUPATION, TRADE AND BUSINESS WITH INTERNET
Since last few years e-commerce offering viable option of trading to people having limited capital and resources at their disposal. E-commerce industry becoming more and more popular in recent years. In the latest rankings of the world’s top websites illustrate the dramatic rise of Asia’s ecommerce platforms. In its latest list, Alexa ranked China’s Tmall in third place in the global website rankings – that’s ahead of both Facebook and Baidu.
Article 19(1)(g) guarantees freedom of occupation trade and business subject to restrictions laid down under article 19(6) of the constitution. In Chintaman Rao v. State of Madhya Pradesh Supreme Court held that, the phrase “reasonable restriction” under Article 19(6) connotes that the limitation imposed on a person in the enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature, beyond what is required in the interests of the public. This restricts power of state from doing any unreasonable activity which directly or indirectly circumvent freedom of occupation, trade and business with internet.
In Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Others. The Supreme Court held that freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys Constitutional protection and therefore is requisite to Article 19 of the Constitution subject to reasonable restrictions. Suspending Internet service not only obstruct conducting online businesses but also deprive individual from their source of livelihood.
RIGHT TO LIFE WITH DIGNITY AND INTERNET
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution reads as “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law”. This right is so sacrosanct that can not be infringed even in the state of emergency. According to Justice P. N. Bhagwati, Article 21 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in a democratic society.” Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer has characterized Article 21 as “the procedural magna carta protective of life and liberty”.
Over the years, arena of Article 21 substantially expanded through interpretational judgements of Supreme court and various High courts to accommodate various aspects of life that needs to protected for ensuring dignified life of individual. It incorporated Right to livelihood, right to health, right to pollution free air, right to live a quality life, right to go abroad, right to privacy, right against solitary confinement, right against delayed execution, right to shelter and right against custodial death after enactment of constitution.
Right to internet can be construed as an inherent part of Article 21 from various judgements. In Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court quoted and held that, By the term “life” as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by amputation of an armoured leg or the pulling out of an eye, or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world.
Right to access internet came again in limelight when petitioner, Faheema Shirin, a female student at Sree Narayaguru College who was residing at the Women’s Hostel run by the college. She was expelled from hostel on a ground that she was using internet beyond permissible hours mandated by college authorities.
In this Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala case, Single judge bench led by Justice P. V. Asha held that right to internet is part of right to life with dignity which emanates from right to privacy and right to education in the light of development of students and their learning process. Hon’ble justice observed that, “the enforcement of discipline shall not be by blocking the ways and means of the students to acquire knowledge. They should be left to choose the time for using mobile phones. The only restriction that can be imposed should not cause any disturbance to other students.”
Court came to these conclusions by referring to international conventions and directive principles. Here relying on Vishaka & Others v. State of Rajasthan & Others court held that,
“the international conventions and norms are to be read into the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of India in the absence of enacted domestic law occupying the fields when there is no inconsistency between them” in the light of Articles 51(c) and 253 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly, the Court concluded that “the right to have access to Internet becomes the part of right to education as well as right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
Another landmark judgement of Supreme Court came in the case of Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir popularly known as 4G case which sought restoration of 4G internet services in Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Here court concluded that there should have been balance between national interest and human rights and every move of restoration such human right should be qualified with national interest.
HOW RIGHT TO INTERNET CAN MAKE CHANGE
Internet has opened a new world for many people around the world since it is a manifestation of never-ending innovation and creativity. It brought world much closer and integrated multiple cultures through fusion of information and made territorial boundaries almost oblivious.
According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Measuring digital development: Facts and figures 2019 report, more than 4.1 billion people were using internet in 2019 with 5.1% growth from previous year. There are more than 3 billion social media users worldwide. With right to internet, state can ensure bridging ‘Digital Divide’ gap between those who have access to internet and those who don’t have such access.
Recognition of right to internet would facilitate state to promote Digital literacy and get rid of digital inequality which is evident from the fact that more than 70 percent of rural population do not have broadband internet access. In a difficult time like global pandemic, the internet is not just a medium of expression but a key element of access to healthcare, public information, education policy, and an offshoot of the right to life. So, it can contribute affirmatively in efficient implementation of policies in critical times.
Internet access can significantly contribute in accelerating all social development objectives and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital India Programme, which aims to transform India into digitally empowered society and knowledge economy has nine pillars, of which six are directly related to internet access.
THE OTHER SIDE
Despite numerous positive aspects of granting right to internet, there are some issues that needs to be addressed before effectuating any step further in this direction. Right to access internet is a freedom at its core and no freedom can be absolute one. It should be subject to rules and regulations framed in good faith.
There are also some legal complications of incorporation of right to internet since there is no consensus where to compartmentalise this right. Such complexity can burden judiciary with litigations and have potential to hamper its implementation in good faith. State can resort to technical tactics of “Bandwidth throttling” to vitiate purpose of granting this right.
In recent times, many countries have attracted opprobrium for the sheer number of internet clampdowns imposed. For protecting any such move by any authority, it is necessary that such right to be recognised at global level and encapsulated in constitution of each country.
Internet has been so embedded in the lives of people, acting as the main way for information exchange, that to deny access to everyone in the world is a breach of human rights. It is in fact the undiscovered ocean of information and in present the greatest supplier of knowledge. Right to internet access and digital literacy will alleviate situation and allow citizen to avail better opportunity and lifestyle.
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INDIA SHOULD TAKE RECIPROCAL ACTION AGAINST THE BRITISH BULLY
It would have been amusing to see the United Kingdom flexing its muscles over allowing entry to fully vaccinated Indians—considered unvaccinated by the UK—but for the price Indian students and others have to pay for taking expensive Covid tests, apart from the inconvenience of quarantining for 10 days. Amusing because it’s a case of a has-been world power, which became rich by siphoning off India’s wealth, and is now trying to stay relevant holding on to the coattails of President Joe Biden—the New Atlantic Charter being a case in point; even AUKUS is more about Australia than about Britain—daring to challenge a rising nation, which is running one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world. The UK did some damage control on Wednesday after triggering an uproar by not recognising Covishield as a valid vaccine, even though it is the same Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured with a different name in India. It issued a new travel advisory, recognising the India manufactured vaccine, but with a catch. Indians vaccinated with Covishield are now “less vaccinated—or “unvaccinated”—than nationalities who have been administered the Indian Covishield, and will have to take Covid tests and quarantine after reaching the UK.
The British high commission in India clarified UK’s position by saying, “We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India.” So effectively, the British ended up casting aspersions on India’s vaccination process and the vaccination certificate given by Co-Win. It is not known which “irrelevant” public health body in India is administering vaccines to Indian citizens, for the British to issue a statement like this. Last heard, there was no “relevant public health body” higher than the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in charge of India’s vaccination programme. Also, apparently unbeknownst to the British, India’s Co-Win certificate is taken as a valid proof of vaccination by most countries, including in the European Union; apart from the fact that several countries are lining up to seek Indian assistance to set up a system similar to Co-Win. One of the most fool-proof systems, Co-Win is QR code based, with layers of security checks and is linked to a person’s Aadhaar and passport numbers. It’s not like the vaccine cards given by the United States that can be tampered with easily. If the UK has a problem with Co-Win, it’s not based on any empirical evidence, but on the UK’s perception about India as a “third world” country. It’s a case of implying that India’s vaccination system is inefficient and corruption ridden, without any proof.
Coming from a country with one of the worst records of handling Covid-19 and a lethargic vaccination drive, this is a bit rich. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, UK’s case fatality ratio is 203.18 per 100,000 population, compared to India’s 32.62. UK’s total vaccination is around 9.31 crore till date, compared to India’s 83.27 crore. In other words, there is no comparison. So, the more one looks at it, it appears to be a case of racism and colonial hangover, which is rather ironic given the Indian students UK is planning to fleece in the name of Covid tests are also the ones their universities are wooing by holding education fairs and the like in India.
Also, despite Indian origin people ruling the roost in that country and Indian companies having substantial business interests there, UK media has always peddled a toxic anti-India narrative, which adds to the negative perception about India. This was amplified during India’s second wave, when pure canard was spread about India by the British media to impact public opinion. Some of this found their way into their political debates as well. Hence, one should not be surprised if domestic political considerations too played a part in the decision to quarantine Indians.
In a world where the Indo-Pacific is at the centre of geopolitical gravity, with China being the clear threat, it takes a very generous President Joe Biden of the US to keep the Atlantic alliance (Nato) against Russia alive for the sake of old times. The New Atlantic Charter between the US and UK is a reflection of that make-believe world. The UK may be trying to navigate the waters of the Indo-Pacific as an exercise in great-power projection, but it does not really matter if it is in that region or not. That is a bitter truth, which the UK will have to come to terms with. It has long ceased to be a great power and behaving like a petty bully does not bring back the glory days of the British empire. The Indian government should carry out its threat of taking reciprocal action against the bully.
Courtroom’s visionary indigence on professional women
Answers to myriad perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
Women’s issues never die out of news like patriarchy which remains an inexhaustible product of human creation. On one hand the UN’s gender equality and empowerment organisation publishes a feminist roadmap to tackle triple crisis of jobs, care and climate on the other a leading national party of India embraces a #MeToo accused as a leader of a prominent state in India. Do our legislators irrespective of being man or a woman even believe in the laws they formulate? Apparently, the deficiencies embedded in women’s laws which has disturbed social equilibrium by putting men and women as two blood thirsty enemy states, armed with gross vengeance derails enforcement by shedding off respect, relationship or responsibility so integral to man-woman relationship. Nonetheless, worry for policy makers is that despite the plethora of laws women may suffer decreasing work participation and their own advancement since laws offer little when they are reduced as Gustav Hugo a German legal philosopher wrote, “into an algebra of legal concepts.”
How would a judge expect a woman seeking redressal from a bad marriage to look like in a courtroom? Definitely women of rank and stature or who are brave, forthright and speaking for themselves without tears or a choking throat ever walk out with a just verdict from the judge’s desk. This perception exists irrespective of male or female judges. In an appeal filed in the Case of Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh 2017,the court had to see whether any directions are called for to prevent the misuse of sec 498A.While the court submitted that Sec 498A was enacted to check unconscionable demands by greedy husbands and their families which at times result in cruelty to women and also suicides it also indicated a growing tendency to abuse the said provision. Almost any relative from the man’s family including parents of advanced age, minor children, siblings, grand-parents and uncles become accused on the strength of vague and exaggerated allegations without there being any verifiable evidence of physical or mental harm or injury. The judges referred to the Reports of National Crime Record Bureau which brought out that in 2005, out of a total 58,319 cases reported under Sec 498A, 6,141 cases were declared false and in 2009 for a total 89,546 cases reported, 8,352 cases were declared false on account of mistake of fact or law. In 2012 and 2013 an exponential rise of 93.6% cases occurred under sec 498A but the conviction rate was low at 14.4% only and in 2017-2019 a 21.3% increase occurred but conviction rate stood at 15% only. The two states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh which bring the highest number of reported cases still nurture a justice system which is attuned to treat women either as a deity or a slave. This data does prove the misuse of law but not its irrelevance in providing protection to women since only one tenth of the filed cases were found false. In many other sections of IPC this number of false cases is much higher,to name a few such as unlawful assembly(Sec 141), Sec 146 (rioting), Sec 171 E(bribery), Sec 302 (murder), Sec 306(abetment of suicide). The Court decided that all State governments must instruct their police officers not to automatically arrest under sec 498A complaints but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down for police officers along with Sec 41 of CrPC. So the Court handed over Sec 498A cases to the police which is well known for its patriarchal approach will now wear additional power of prima facie investigations.
Courts are governed by a bad perception about a deserted wife seeking justice in divorce and maintenance as the object of the provisions for grant of maintenance becomes a charitable act rather than a just distribution of assets, liabilities in physical and emotional spheres. Courts provide speedy remedy towards a supply of food, clothing and shelter to the deserted wife and to prevent vagrancy and destitution. In Pratibha Rani case of 1985, Justice Fazl Ali described the case as a ‘sad story of a helpless married woman who, having been turned out by her husband without returning her ornaments, money and clothes despite repeated demands…’ So the Courtroom perspective about women seeking justice in a broken marriage is that she “should be suffering and in destitution, penury, vagrancy, impecuniosity and appear emotionally fractured.” This leaves away a large majority of modern, professionally qualified and emotionally confident women from receiving any legitimate attention from courts. The judiciary’s repeated commitment to treat maintenance as a basic right to life enshrined in Art 21 of the Constitution of India since the 1980 Case of Hussainara Khatoon v.HS Bihar has failed to provide justice to this modern class of women who are still looked as privileged even though their struggles post divorce stifle their livehood as even a basic primary necessity of getting a house on rent becomes an impossible act for a single women who is potentially looked as a danger to any residential locality.
Notwithstanding, maintenance being treated as basic human right by Courts, the wedge against modern professional women is clear in the delivery of justice when courts made them pay maintenance to their unemployed husbands and his family. In a 2011 case of Rani Sethi v. Sunil Sethi,a trial court in Delhi directed the wife to pay maintenance of Rs. 20,000 per month, and Rs.10,000 as litigation expenses along with a Zen Car to the husband. In a 2020 case a family Court of Mujaffarnagar ordered a wife who retired from Army to pay a monthly maintenance from her pension to her husband Kishori Lal Sohankar a tea shop worker. However, sermons sometimes are hard to satiate and the judges on their own inadvertently reflected upon the true path of law regarding professionally employed women. While pronouncing judgement in Bhuwan Mohan v.Meena 2014 the Supreme Court in an emotionally charged judgement strongly condemned delays and denials of maintenance as “frustrating to the hope of wife and children who are deprived of adequate livelihood , whose aspirations perish like mushroom and possibly the brief candle of sustenance joins the marathon race of extinction.” The Court came up with a dictum which it probably had no idea would become its own biggest trial. It ingeminated that Sec 125 CrPC was conceived to ameliorate the agony, anguish, financial suffering of a woman but simply ‘sustenance does not necessarily mean to lead the life of an animal, feel like an unperson to be thrown away from grace and roam for her basic maintenance somewhere else’. The Court said that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband,” that is where the status and strata come into play vis a vis obligations of a husband. Yet, Courts have considered qualified status of a wife as a shortcoming and have denied grant of maintenance to her.
However, this justice as fairness was attempted by the bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and R Subhash Reddy in Rajnesh v.Neha case 2020 while laying guidelines to determining quantum of maintenance. The guidelines raised questions related to the status of the parties, reasonable needs and the applicant’s education and professional qualifications. It later turned out that this was being queried to limit the amount of maintenance and lessen burden upon men. These guidelines further endorsed an extremely unjustified and illogical stand taken by Justice Bhanumathi and and M M Santanagoudar in Kalyan Dey Chowdhury v. Rita Dey Chowdhury case of 2017 when the court put a cap of 25% on the ex-husband’s net salary for maintenance to be provided to wife and children.The court interestingly considered ex-husband’s remarriage and increased expenses as a reason for capping maintenance for ex-wife. The Courts have however been closed to problems of an employed and professionally qualified woman who may still have to find a new house in a decent locality, contest social stigmatization and compromise her earning ability for child care needs. This is where an interesting concept of ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ (betel box expenses) is found in Mohammedan law which operated in families of rank.The husband or his father on divorce would pay to the wife a personal allowance for continuance of a lifestyle need. In 1910, Nawab Khwaja Muhammad Khan was made to pay Rs. 500 per month to Nawab Husaini Begam from Moradabad as her ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’. In another Allahabad High Court case, a Lambardar (Zamindar estate owner) paid Rs.25 as ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ to his estranged wife Mojiz Fatima Begam. The relevance of this law amongst the rich and powerful in a community reflects upon the fact that certain habits of luxury are acknowledged even in law. When Justice Deepak Mishra in Bhuwan Mohan Case of 2014 had observed that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband”, little did he know if he could also include ‘Kharcha-e-Paandaan’? Even rich women bear burden of a differential impact of divorce upon their lives and judges including women judges as above, have always failed to address remedies to ameliorate this additional burden borne by women of rank, status and position.When The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019 was brought in two years ago on 19th September, Court had once again absolved itself of addressing maintenance of a divorced wife once the sacred task of reclaiming her honour was achieved. Criminalization of divorce and subsequent homelessness without measures for restorative justice kills a law. A differential impact of a broken marriage upon women is far more injurious but laws need to understand an underlying world view of the problem they address.
Due to social narratives which surround marriage in current times, faith in it as a social institution is breaking down. One would be shocked to hear that in agriculture dominant states like Punjab and Haryana divorce rate in the last 10 years has increased by 150% while it has risen to 350% or more in the most professionally superior states of Kerala or the metropolis of Delhi, Bangalore,Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. Apparently, as per the 2011 Census, more Muslim women (3.7 per thousand)than Hindu women (2 per thousand)are divorced every year. The Times Report’s shocking revelations about Chinese society found 850,000 Chinese couples applying for divorce within the first six months of 2010. Their courts were dealing with a staggering 4,600 divorce cases per day. The divorce rate in Sweden and USA is the world’s highest at around 58%.
The burden of dissolution or aftermath of marriage is so complicated that more women prefer to stay single. In the 2011 Census of India there was a 39% increase to 71.4 million single women or 12% of total population of women. Out of this, around 12.3 million single women reported as never married. Research surveys reveal that this is only going to increase as divorce rates shoot up in coming times. Any rushed and regressive reaction that thwarts the noble intentions behind women’s laws is dangerous to the voice of feminist jurisprudence in India.
The young believe and have resigned to the idea that marriages are neither ‘made in heaven’ nor a destination beyond which ‘one can live happily ever after’. It may involve immense litigation at the cost of their professional life. Marriage as an institution is irretrievably breaking down as patriarchy advances from homes to work spaces and gets legitimized in Court rooms. Answers to many of these perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
THE HIGH COMMAND STRIKES BACK
We are seeing the rise of a very centralised High Command both in the Congress and the BJP. Of course, with the BJP this has been firmly in place for the last seven years, ever since Narendra Modi took office as Prime Minister. Hence the shuffling of Chief Ministers, from Karnataka to Uttarakhand to Gujarat did not raise too many eyebrows. It was also very neatly executed with little dissidence from the state leaders.
The Congress is another story. In fact, this is the party that invented the High Command culture (byline goes to Indira Gandhi). But over the years and especially ever since the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle we have seen the Gandhis losing hold of the party. Earlier party dissidents would whisper their dissent off-the-record; now they are writing letters directly to the High Command and releasing them in the media. Dinners are being organised where the Gandhis are not invited but every other opposition leader is present. What is worse, the loyalists who would usually counter the rebels by affirming loyalty to the High Command are now deserting the party for greener pastures. The word was out— the Gandhis were losing control. Something drastic had to be done.
And, then something drastic was done. The sacking of the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was not just limited to state politics. The larger message behind the move was to once again place the Congress’ first family back on the throne. The midnight call for a Congress Legislative Party Meeting, the signature campaign that preceded it, Captain Amarinder’s resignation that followed, and the carte blanche to the High Command to choose his successor was all part of a well-choreographed act. The same Captain whose supporters had refused to give Rahul Gandhi the credit for the party’s 2017 win in Punjab was now ‘humiliated’ in public and forced to resign. Earlier there was a narrative that while the Gandhis may rule over the rest of the Congress, the Republic of Punjab was under the Maharaja’s rule with the MLAs owing personal allegiance to him. In one stroke, their allegiance has been transferred back to the High Command as is obvious by the fact that all of them signed a piece of paper authorising Sonia Gandhi to choose their next leader.
Party sources say that this is not Sonia Gandhi but the work of the Gandhi siblings— Rahul and Priyanka, aided and advised by Prashant Kishor. Whatever the source, one thing is clear that there is now a much more ruthless High Command at the Congress. We can argue whether it was a politically shrewd move to replace the Captain with Navjyot Singh Sidhu (he may not be CM but there is no doubt that Sidhu will be the face of the Congress campaign). But the move has sent a tacit message to other state leaders as well, including Ashok Gehlot. The Rajasthan Chief Minister was one of the first to react, when he reached out to the Captain in a very public tweet, asking him not to do anything drastic. He is probably worried that Rajasthan may be the next focus. So far Gehlot has been defying the High Command’s missive to undertake a cabinet expansion and accommodate some of Sachin Pilot’s team. Will he continue this defiance or play ball post Punjab?
It is also interesting to note that not one Congress leader of note has come out in support of the Captain and taken on the High Command for this action. (The exception being Sanjay Jha, who remains a suspended leader— perhaps for this very reason). The message has been delivered and the Gandhis will be back on the Punjab hoardings (until now Captain enjoyed solo space). Now, it is their turn to perform. Because nothing reaffirms power and authority better than an electoral win. Ask Narendra Modi.
Making a perceptible change in Uttar Pradesh
The Yogi Adityanath-led government has performed admirably in all spheres because the Chief Minister led from the front. Success has not been accidental. He has been a forthright, upfront and a dedicated leader, and his efforts have culminated into deliverables.
No Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh has arrived at a moment of greater urgency than Yogi Adityanath, at least in recent decades. The man who took that oath of office seemed cut from his predecessors—a math mahant, a firebrand young angry man who became a politician to subsequently be named as the Chief Minister, a prodigious orator from Gorakhpur whose unconventional persona can hardly go unnoticed, is either deeply revered or hated by one and all. Though a politician from Hindi heartland, he believes not in camouflaging his narration, but taking even a wild bull by its horns.
My own first and the only encounter with the Yogi, the Chief Minister, was no less unconventional and fiery. Soon after assuming the reins, he started pursuing the “skeletons” of previous regimes. The sale of sugar mills seven years back was referred to CBI to investigate. Peeved at the politics, rather than facts, driving his decision, I protested at an audience I had sought from him. His blunt response drew an equally blunt response from me. Told him on his face, that as none in the Government had checked the facts before referring to CBI, my team would come out spotless in the agni-pariksha.
This brush with Yogi notwithstanding, his focussed and resolute approach to root out corruption, particularly in government employment and, to check high-profile crimes and criminals has been most impressive and a game-changer.
CRIME AND JUSTICE
At the outset of his term, Yogi Adityanath had declared his intention to make criminal justice reform a substantial part of his legacy. He reiterated his “Zero Tolerance” mantra towards corruption, criminals, and gangsters.
Crackdown on gangsters has been relentless, booking record number of criminals under the Gangster Act and attaching record value of the property. At the same time, as many as 139 hardened criminals were killed in an exchange of fire with police. My in-confidence conversation with some knowledgeable persons confirms the sigh of relief being felt by people of the area.
Handling of State’s economy by the Monk who became Chie Minister, speaks for itself. The Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Uttar Pradesh grew at a CAGR of around 8.43% between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to reach Rs. 17.06 trillion (US$ 234.96 billion). The Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) grew at a CAGR of around 8.42% between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to reach Rs. 15.12 trillion ($208.34 billion). It is Yogi’s ambition of powering UP into a $1 trillion economy State, behind organising one of India’s biggest ‘Investors Summit’ in 2018 which attracted 1045 intents with investments worth INR 4.28 lakh Cr.
Four and a half years after occupying the office, the unemployment rate of Uttar Pradesh reached 4.4% which was the lowest it has been in a decade. The current unemployment rate in Uttar Pradesh stands at 7.0 % as per the September 2021 report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) which is better than Maharashtra, which has 11.8% unemployment rate while Kerala has 7.8% unemployment rate. Before 2017, unemployment was above 18% and with the Yogi’s resolute style of functioning, the figures have remained well below 10%.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh has emerged as the top investment destination and has received 98 investment proposals worth Rs 13,408.19 crore in the manufacturing sector during the past four years. The state, ranked number 2 in the country for ‘Ease of Doing Business’ has become the hotspot for foreign investors as well. Investment and development projects have become the medium of employment generation on a large scale.
The reason why Samsung moved its large display unit from China to Noida, why the footwear giant Von Wellx shifted production from China to Agra, and why Adani shut its logistics park in Punjab and is now investing in Noida’s data centre is not difficult to understand.
‘Women’s empowerment’ has been a quintessential subject in Yogi’s development agenda since he took office in 2017. Women are seen as the catalysts for development and it is for the same reason the state government launched its ‘Mission Shakti’ programme last year to create awareness about women empowerment and rights and to ensure their safety, dignity, and self-reliance.
Yogi government started ‘Kanya Sumangala Yojana’ as part of which a sum of Rs 15,000 is deposited at the time of the birth of a girl child under this programme. The initiative has benefited over 9.91 lakh girls in Uttar Pradesh through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).
Yogi-led government has so far given jobs to over 4.5 lakh youths under its own aegis and by the end of the government’s present term, the number will cross five lakh. More importantly, these government jobs are free from any corruption charges which were rampant earlier and more often than not, were dragged to Courts of law and matter of criminal investigation.
Building a world-class transportation system (expressways, metros) is part of what has made Uttar Pradesh such a formidable force. Uttar Pradesh, earlier known for poor infrastructure is now accelerating towards expressway success by building India’s longest expressway network (approx 1,321 kilometers network). The UP’s road network and its wider transport infrastructure are crucial in the state’s efforts to foster connectivity and they generate massive employment.
Yogi Adityanath has tasked Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) to build four expressways— 340 km Purvanchal, 296 km Bundelkhand, 91 km Gorakhpur Link, and 594 km Ganga. These expressways will bring existing production centres or the ones to come up now, within a few hours’ distance of major consumption centres or industrial hubs far away; paving way for cascading economic development of even remote areas of the State.
Transparency is central to good governance and the Yogi government has made it a cardinal rule. The state government has set a record in timely procurement of cane and payment to sugarcane farmers besides taking a big step in giving slips to the farmers from the information technology (IT) centres. This was possible because the government had decided to set up IT Centres at all the 145 Sugarcane Cooperative Societies of the state to provide sugarcane slips to the sugarcane farmers in a timely and systematic manner which has given a big relief to 4.5 crore farmers selling sugarcane to sugar mills.
This was another endeavour of the government to connect farmers with modern technology towards a larger goal of doubling their income. The issuance of slips online has been one achievement in the sugarcane industry that has brought transparency in the system to a great deal.
All the money transfers are taking via Direct Benefit Transfer leaving no scope for any leakages. The state government also implemented an online single window system ‘Nivesh Mitra’in Feb-2018 to facilitate digital clearances to start and operate a business in the State.
As a result, in the last 3 years, more than 345 services of 27 State Departments are being provided through its online platform. With the number of services and licenses applications, Nivesh Mitra has become one of the largest single window systems currently available in India. It has been developed as a complete end-to-end online system eliminating the requirement of any human interface between applicants and departments.
The State Government has performed admirably in all spheres because Yogi led from the front. Success has not been accidental. He has toured the State most intensively. His visits have not been ceremonial. Ask any officer in districts that he visits, to know how sharply he dissects and how well he knows all about their subject.
The writer is the former Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal.
The Yogi government has so far given jobs to over 4.5 lakh youths under its own aegis and by the end of the government’s present term, the number will cross five lakh. More importantly, these government jobs are free from any corruption charges which were rampant earlier and more often than not, were dragged to courts of law and matter of criminal investigation.
INDIA MUST SHED RETICENCE ABOUT QUAD AS A SECURITY ALLIANCE
Beijing is angry that the first in-person Quad summit among the leaders of India, United States, Japan and Australia is taking place this week in Washington, on 24 September, Friday. Beijing is unnerved at the possibility of the Quad taking a formal shape and is calling it a grouping based on Cold War ideology and thus “detrimental to the international order”. Ahead of the meeting, a significant defence and intelligence sharing pact was announced among the US, UK and Australia. Clearly directed at countering People’s Republic of China, AUKUS introduces an element of security in the Indo-Pacific construct, where Australia is provided with nuclear submarine technology by the US. AUKUS, being described as one of the biggest defence pacts for Australia, also covers AI and other technologies—all of which will likely go a long way in countering China. It goes without saying that China is livid at this latest development and has described AUKUS as a reflection of a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice” apart from being “extremely irresponsible”. Almost in the same breath Chinese commentators are describing AUKUS as a case of US snubbing India and Japan by selecting Australia to be its “watchdog”—a term used by the PRC propaganda rag, Global Times—in the Indo-Pacific. Also according to GT, AUKUS has inflicted a “psychological blow on Japan and India” (as Quad members), which “will last for a period of time”. In fact, much of the Chinese commentary is now revolving around how Quad has lost relevance because of AUKUS and why India has taken a hit.
This is indicative of the focus that the Chinese are devoting to Quad, while simultaneously trying to run it down. In this is hidden PRC’s fear of Quad’s potential—the fear of Quad metamorphosing into a formal alliance of like-minded democracies that are not willing to see the world fall prey to PRC’s cannibalism.
However, will the Quad ever reach its potential? It is ironic that this question is being asked in the week when the first meeting of the Quad leaders is taking place. But there is reason to be sceptical about the summit, given the Quad’s currently diffused focus. It is almost certain that the summit will speak of issues such as vaccine manufacturing and climate change, supply chain resilience and free and open Indo-Pacific, but there is no indication that the Quad, even if it is formalized, will take the dragon by its tail by metamorphosing into a security alliance. And that is the only way to contain China—forming a security alliance. AUKUS came into existence with lightning speed. The Quad has been dragging on for years. How much longer will this continue?
There is no reason to believe that AUKUS makes Quad irrelevant or that it is a snub to India and Japan. Rather, AUKUS ought to be seen as a force multiplier for the democracies, and as some analysts have been saying, it can also be regarded as an extension of the Quad, where there is a convergence of interests, with countering China being the focus. Also, India’s relevance for any anti-China grouping can never diminish, courtesy it being China’s immediate neighbour, sharing a land border of 3,000 kilometres, apart from its economic and military might. No one understands this better than China, whatever be the public posturing by Chinese analysts.
But all that talk about the Quad developing into a Nato-like security alliance prevalent during Donald Trump’s presidency somehow has fizzled out. So much so that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear during his visit to India in July that the Quad was not a security alliance, but a means “to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, stability in the region”. Although he did not explain what all those military exercises among the Quad countries are about.
So what is the Quad? An alliance of do-gooders? A pressure group? But when the power to be contained is China, a country that has made grabbing a neighbour’s territory its state policy, and which is trying to overthrow the established order by trying to Sinicise the world in a toxic manner, can pressure groups without a formal security pact deliver the desired results? There is a view that India’s insistence on multilaterism—the latest avatar of the old and discarded nonalignment—is preventing the Quad from becoming a “sword arm” of the free world. India is good at fence-sitting in the name of multilateralism and strategic autonomy, although these two aspects need not be in conflict with any security alliance that may come into existence. India will have to shed its reticence and factor in the security aspect in the Quad construct, as else the Quad is not going anywhere.
Time’s 100 list: PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed
One would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in any list prepared by any select people in the list of influential global leaders. But equally surprising is the opinion of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria wherein he has said that PM Modi “has pushed the country (India) away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism”.
Time’s list in itself is not very objective since it is based on opinion and recommendations of its international staff and alumni numbering 100. This is not based on an international anonymous poll and is an opinion of a select few elite. For credibility’s sake, they can’t ignore certain leaders but inclusion of Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar raises eyebrows.
The bias is clear in Zakaria’s description. One can imagine that America’s biggest debacle will need to be assuaged by Western media by projecting Baradar as a more presentable face of the Taliban. It is also a way to tell the Taliban who is acceptable to the West. Not that the Taliban are bothered.
Most interesting is the description of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She is described as “the face of fierceness in Indian politics”. “Of Banerjee, it is said, she does not lead her party, the Trinamool Congress, she is the party. The street fighter spirit, and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart.”
One wonders why this description was not given in 2012 when she appeared in the same Time’s list. Banerjee was then described as a “mercurial oddball and a shrieking street fighter”, however, what she has proved to be is a “consummate politician”. “Banerjee, 57, spent years struggling on the margins, her Trinamool Congress party a feisty rabble compared with the leviathan of West Bengal’s communists…”
It did not mention her mesmerising spell on the electorate that uprooted the Left Front’s 34 year of misrule in West Bengal in 2011. Time’s list in 2011 had come a month before election results. So, in 2012, it definitely merited a strong mention which was sadly missing.
Banerjee is hugely popular no doubt, but not for the right reasons. She has adopted the technique of the Left Front to stay in power and has adopted minority appeasement and violence to intimidate adversaries. One wonders whether the West has this as the ideal type for their society.
Although the Left and the Congress bundled themselves out to enable a Trinamool victory in West Bengal in May, they together failed to prevent the BJP from becoming the single largest Opposition in the state with victory on 77 seats, a remarkable improvement from its tally of three in 2016. The BJP secured a vote percentage of 41 per cent which was a mere three per cent less than that of the Trinamool Congress.
And to say that she stood out despite a patriarchal culture is a feat she achieved a long time back. In fact, the US took a long time to field a woman—Hillary Clinton—as a presidential nominee. In India, there is a rich culture of women rulers and leaders who have etched their names in history despite patriarchy. Razia Sultan, Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Gaidinliu—historical figures—are household names.
Suchita Kriplani, the first woman chief minister of any Indian state (Uttar Pradesh), Indira Gandhi, Mayawati are examples who have made their mark in politics by dint of their hard work. And we should not forget the late J. Jayalalithaa who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for quite a long time. Patriarchy never came in their way.
If you ask a person like Fareed Zakaria to write a profile, you don’t expect him to hide his bias. In fact, this suits the narrative Western media tries to peddle to feed vested interests. PM Modi is in the Time’s list but something must be given to Islamists and Leftists who may not like this. Zakaria has done just that. He has tried to cater to those who dominate the media and policy making and tries to see India in a particular way.
In April 2012, Zakaria had predicted that Narendra Modi would not become a national leader in India. Modi could never become the face of India, he had asserted. He keeps looking at opportunities to hurl punches at Modi without trying to get into details. His credibility as an impartial observer is very low, except among so-called secular journalists, because of his Congress links and also because of intellectual dishonesty. You cannot form an opinion based on a few reports here and there. The India of today definitely thinks differently than Lutyens’ elite.
Even credible international agencies make their reports on India not based on facts but perceptions after talking to a few individuals favourably inclined. There are media persons who are paid handsomely to write against the Modi government. An organisation wanted to hire a journalist who would be anti-Modi. Only such narratives suit the West that try to paint India in a bad light.
Let us try to analyse Zakaria’s specific criticisms: “Pushing India away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism” and mishandling of Covid-19. A Prime Minister who worked over time to ensure that cryogenic tankers were imported from wherever possible and liquified medical oxygen filled cylinders were supplied to various Indian states using oxygen express trains cannot be spoken so loosely. Zakaria is speaking like Indian Opposition parties who have to criticise to score a political point and live for another day.
Such irresponsible writing is not expected from a journalist who would like to call spade a spade. His bias is there even when he describes Indian media as servile to the government and cannot show mirror to the ruling dispensation. The same media publishes or broadcasts his interview freely and nobody objects.
In the second wave, because of insistence by states, the management of Covid was handed over to the states. The role of the Centre was limited to setting protocols and providing resources and advisories. A real assessment would emerge only if someone prepares an unbiased, objective and fact-based narrative of what happened in those two months—April and May 2021—that appeared like dark clouds and took toll on even the most empowered houses. Needless to point out that Zakaria in an interview to CNN News in May had spoken about why a nationwide second lockdown was not possible.
On secularism, the entire country is debating what should be described as secularism—appeasement of minorities or equal opportunities to all. If you say that India is being pushed away from secularism, you are holding something that is beholden to you and you have reasons to lament. Are you talking of secularism that existed in India before the word “secularism” was inserted in the constitution’s Preamble by the 42nd amendment in 1976? First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and chairman of the Constitution drafting committee Dr B.R. Ambedkar decided after due debate to keep the word out of the Preamble because the word was a Western evolution and not suited to Indian context. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi thought otherwise and she even amended the vision enshrined in the Preamble.
There are no concrete examples to demonstrate Zakaria’s views even if the criticism is taken at face value. The Minority Ministry is working remarkably well. Crores of scholarships have been allocated for students from the minority community for “secular” education and not madrasa-type education. Due to the introduction of biometric Aadhaar cards (that was opposed by secularists) so many bogus names have been taken out of the fake enrollment list of students in many States. This has happened in the case of ration cards and also other lists that get subsidies from the government.
Zakaria has special abhorrence for the CAA legislation as evidenced in his quoting a tweet from another secularist Shashi Tharoor. On 15 December 2019 Zakaria tweeted: “India’s new citizenship law is just the latest evidence that under PM Narendra Modi, the country is departing from its founding principles as a secular, open democracy, says opposition MP @ShashiTharoor”. Is his profile analysis a reflection of this tweet? Can he prove that CAA legislation is anyway opposed to Indian Muslims, or is in any way taking away any rights of any community? It is a legislation that confers citizenship on original Indian subjects residing in neighbouring countries but are persecuted due to Islamic radicalisation.
Saying that the country is being pushed to Hindu nationalism is baffling? It sounds like an Indian Leftist or Islamist bewailing unity of people for national cause. There used to be a time when it was fashionable among secular analysts of Indian affairs to see Hindus in terms of caste divides and Muslims as one monolithic entity. Their phraseology and understanding stemmed from that. By that count 14 per cent Muslims would be bigger than any caste Hindu grouping. Even the Jatavs (SC caste) constitute only about 14 per cent. Hence some of the caste Hindus who have their own community practice would fall in the category of minorities.
When there is nothing to unite people here, they vote on caste lines or other issues of mass mobilisation. At times they have risen to speak as one despite differences. When people have dreams of a strong India through the vision of PM Modi, they have reasons to vote for the country. This explains why social divisions don’t come in the way of a new national polity. They all want India to play its role in the world.
India cannot be India if it is divested of its rich cultural heritage. For example, yoga, which the world has accepted as one of the best ways for wholesome health. Even followers of Islam follow their traditional roots. For anything rich is Islamic culture, people would look towards other countries that are Islamic and have a serious history to claim a unique place. For example, Saudi Arabia. Where 80 per cent of the population is Hindus, one cannot grudge if they feel glorified and have started taking pride in their cultural roots.
And one must know that it is the Hindu culture and not the police or state that guarantees the safety of minorities in this country. The culture that has allowed experiment and does not consider anything blasphemous—even sage Charvaka who advocated bohemian existence was considered a saint—has given shelter to world religions. While separatists are trying to inject virus of communalism, the second largest Muslim population of the world lives in India in perfect peace and harmony. One needs to be truly Indian to appreciate this and not ones who try to judge India from Western stereotypes. Modi rising has scripted an India rising story. Doomsayers would be proved wrong. PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed.
The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.
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