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Sabarimala’s ban on women isn’t a black and white matter

Viewing the ban on the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple in terms of the simplistic binaries of equality vs inequality, tradition vs modernity and feminism vs patriarchy might not be favourable for people on both sides of the debate.

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The current situation at Kerala’s Sabarimala templehas its genesis in the application made by S. Mahendran against the apparent violation of the traditional ban upon seeing the picture of former Devaswom Commissioner Chandrika conducting a rice-feeding ceremony of her granddaughter in the presence of her daughter at the Sabarimala temple in 1990. He filed the public interest litigation (PIL) before the Kerala High Court which upheld the ban in 1991. This formalisation was challenged in 2018 by the Indian Young Lawyers Association before the Supreme Court which delivered its judgement in favour of the petitioners declaring the restriction on women as invalid on 28 September 2018.

The judgement of the Supreme Court led to a movement which vigorously opposed the judgement. It must be kept in mind that the Supreme Court treated the case as one of gender discrimination and thus saw itself as striking a blow for emancipatory modernity against discriminatory tradition. The elite discourse in India is overwhelmingly in favour of modernity and Kerala is considered one of the most progressive states in India. This agitation must be considered extraordinary in view of the fact that the state of Kerala, by several indices, such as literacy (94%), life-expectancy (74.9 years, and the highest), rate of infant mortality (5.59 per 1,000 live births) and so on, is considered one of the most progressive states in India. It is also, perhaps, India’s most religiously diverse state with the following religious demographic: Hinduism 55%, Islam 26% and Christianity 18% (Census 2011). Furthermore, the ratio of unmarried women to the population is also the highest in India while the per capita income is sixty percent higher than the national average. In other words, Kerala is among the most literate, prosperous, progressive, and modern states of India. Its daily paper Malayali Manoroma, published in the language of the region, Malayalam, almost matches the nationwide circulation of The Times of India, India’s most widely read English daily (Trak.in, 2014). One would therefore expect that the decision of the Supreme Court would be welcomed by such a state.

The response from Kerala, however, was counterintuitive and took the form of state-wide protests against the decision of the Supreme Court. Women particularly were active participants in this agitation and many of them joined it in large numbers with the slogan ‘Ready to Wait,’ the obvious implication being that they were ready to wait till they were past the reproductive age to embark on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala (Ranipeta, 2018).

Right after the Supreme Court decision of September 28, 2018 a voice of protest was raised by a Hindu outfit on October 15, 2018 when the Shiv Sena threatened to stage mass suicide, a threat which was not followed up (IANS, 2018). Protests intensified with the formal opening of the temple when some women within the reproductive age bracket tried to enter the shrine in conformity with the decision of the Supreme Court but were forced to return from the halfway point. A New York Times female journalist was also forced to return as well despite heavy police protection. A women’s rights activist, Rehana Fathima, managed to go up to the Valiya Nadappandhal but was forced to return owing to violent protests. Emotions ran so high that even a woman past her reproductive age was forced to return (Deepika, 2019). The next noteworthy incident took place on December 17, 2018 when four transgender women were allowed to enter the temple after being initially blocked. No biologically-born woman had been able so far to uphold the verdict of the Supreme Court. That happened on January 2, 2019 when two women Bindu and Kanaka Durga ‘made history’ by setting foot inside the sanctum santorium of the Sabarimala temple. They were escorted under heavy police protection, which included a posse of one hundred policemen under the direct supervision of Malappuram Deputy Superintendent of Police, Jaleel Thottathil (Deepika, 2019). This outcome, however, was secured through a ruse, after these two women had been passed off as transgenders to get them past the agitators (BBC News, 2019).

The state government of Kerala then tried to counter this agitation by organising a Women’s Wall as to express solidarity with the Supreme Court judgement. It consisted in forming a ‘620 km human chain’ stretching from the Kasaragod to Thiruvanthapuram in favour of the removal of the ban (BBC News, 2019). The agitators, against the Supreme Court judgement, responded by organizing their own version of the wall as a counter-protest. In anticipation of the left-wing coalition government’s Wall scheduled for January 1, 2019, the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, backed by the BJP, organised the Ayyappa Jyothi—their own human chain with lamps from Kasaragod to Kanyakumari on 26 December 2018—in protest against the decision of the Supreme Court (TNM Staff, 2018). 

As protests mounted, a number of petitions were made to the Supreme Court to review its decision on Sabarimala which it had thrown open to women of all ages. On February 6, 2019 it relented to review its judgment in the matter at a future time, but without suspending the operation of its existing decision. These petitions urging reconsideration of the judgement were opposed by the Kerala’s Left Democratic Front government. Another interesting development around this time is represented by the decision of the Travancore Devaswom Board to inform the Supreme Court that they no longer opposed the original decision. It should be noted that the Devaswom Board is not a totally autonomous body and includes appointees on it by the government (Mathur, 2019).

The Sabarimala Temple then opened from February 12-17, 2019 for the five-day monthly poojas for the Malayalam month of Kumbhom under heavy security. Thereafter, the Sabarimala issue gradually receded into the background as campaigning for the national elections, scheduled for April 11 to May 23, 2019, intensified. The attitude of the BJP, which went on to prevail electorally, is worth noting in the context. According to some observers, the BJP was a bit ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, the Hindu configuration of the case had an obvious appeal for the BJP at the regional level. However, the BJP seemed to have held back for fear of being portrayed as opposed to women’s rights at the national level if it backed the agitation too enthusiastically. Now that the elections are over, and that the new parliament is in place, the issue shows signs of surfacing again. One of the earliest items for consideration before Parliament is a private member’s bill tabled by Premachandran on 14 June 2019 urging the government to undo the decision of the Supreme Court through legislation (Chatterjee, 2019). The election results in Kerala did not see a breakthrough of the kind the BJP expected, and which it did achieve in West Bengal where it is perceived to have made remarkable gains. Interestingly, the electoral beneficiary of the agitation turned out to be the Congress. The incumbent government, however, suffered badly in the elections and the new Kerala government has toned down its stance on the Sabarimala issues following the election.

CONCLUSION: THE BAN, THE RESTRICTION AND HINDUISM

The ongoing controversy surrounding Sabarimala is of great potential significance for Hinduism. It involves several historical, legal, social, political and other dimensions.

The rest of this paper will examine only one issue, namely, whether the exclusion of women of reproductive age at Sabarimala involves gender-discrimination. In other words, does the restriction placed on women of reproductive age from participating in the Sabarimala pilgrimage violate the principle of gender equality? In order to answer this question, we will need to have a clearer understanding of the equality principle, or egalitarianism. It is important to distinguish among three forms of egalitarianism: monothetic egalitarianism, polythetic egalitarianism, and synthetic egalitarianism.

As these descriptions are perhaps being introduced for the first time in this discourse, it might be useful to say a few words by way of explanation.

Let us take the hypothetical case of a father who has a son and a daughter of approximately the same ages and decides to make a settlement of his property. If he divides his one house equally between his son and his daughter, then it would be a case of monothetic egalitarianism. Let us now suppose that he has two houses, more or less similarly equipped and in the same locality. He now divides these houses between his son and his daughter assigning one to each of them. This is a case of polythetic equality. The point to note here is that if he had decided to divide both his houses down the middle to his son and his daughter, then this would have been a case of monothetic egalitarianism. If he now gives one house to his son and another to the daughter while also allowing free access to both houses to each of them on special occasions, then it would be a case of synthetic egalitarianism.

It might be helpful to clarify the distinction between the three forms of egalitarianism further, as they are crucial to the argument of the paper, this time with the cruder example of bathrooms. If men and women have equal access to a unisex bathroom, then it would be a case of monothetic egalitarianism. If, however, men and women both have separate bathrooms assigned to them, equipped with similar facilities, then it would be a case of polythetic egalitarianism. Finally, if men and women have separate bathrooms with the understanding that each could use the bathroom of the other in a crisis, then that would be a case of synthetic egalitarianism.

How do these distinctions help us understand the Sabarimala impasse on the issue of gender equality?

Those who insist that both men and women should have equal access to the Sabarimala shrine are advocating monothetic egalitarianism. Those who insist that there is no need to do so are arguing that just as the Sabarimala shrine of Ayyappan is open only to men, there are also other shrines of Ayyappan which are open only to women are arguing for polythetic egalitarianism. The main point to keep in mind here is that both these forms of egalitarianism are non-discriminating. It is, therefore, possible to argue that the real issue of Sabarimala is not equality versus inequality, it is really a case of monothetic equality versus polythetic equality.

It does not take one long to see how the complexion of the case under discussion is altered by the introduction of these distinctions. Here are some of the issues which arise if the concept of polythetic egalitarianism is taken on board along with that of monothetic egalitarianism. Consider for example the question of tradition and modernity. Sometimes the Sabarimala issue is considered as one of clash between tradition and modernity. But, by now, modernity itself has become a tradition with its own agenda of monothetic equality, while tradition seems to finetune the concept of equality in a way which might help modernity deal with the issue with greater sophistication. It is also ironical that perhaps the most modern state of India, in terms of education, infant mortality rates and female empowerment, namely Kerala, witnessed such a vigorous defence of the Hindu tradition and that too, by women, against a law which was supposedly intended to liberate them. The West seems to intellectually acknowledge, only a notion of monothetic equality, while Indian ethics contains conceptions of both monothetic and polythetic equality. Does gender equality, in other words, mean that only unisex bathrooms are non-discriminatory? Feminism also becomes involved in this issue. Is feminism too white and Western for India? Would ‘womanism’ answer India’s needs better? Or does India need a feminism of its own?

This is the second and concluding part of the article, ‘Women and the case of Sabarimala pilgrimage’ (27 February).

The writer is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at the McGill University in Montréal, Canada. He is also associated with the Nalanda University in India. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

BORDER DISPUTES BETWEEN STATES CANNOT BE LEFT UNRESOLVED

Pankaj Vohra

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The dispute between Assam and Mizoram needs immediate attention and the Centre must step in to ensure that the mini-civil war does not escalate any further. It is indeed most unfortunate that the police forces of the two states were involved in an armed confrontation that left several people dead.

The Mizoram authorities have registered an FIR against the Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma and an early resolution to this sensitive issue does not seem to be in sight. The genesis of this confrontation may lie in the colonial past of our country but it does not mean that differences cannot be ironed out amongst disputing parties. The Centre has to play a pro-active role in bringing the two sides together even though the meetings between the DGPs and the Chief Secretaries of the two states, have not made any headway. It is shocking that two States of India are involved in this kind of violent altercation. One could have understood if these clashes pertained to Indian forces on one hand and the soldiers of other countries on the other on our international borders. This inter-state squabble is unacceptable from all counts and demonstrates that the intelligence agencies were unable to anticipate this build-up and take remedial measures much before this armed confrontation took place. There have been disputes in the past between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh and sharing of waters but despite being emotive issues, the matter did not end up in a physical fight. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have often quarreled over the quantum of their share over the waters of the Cauvery river and Maharashtra has had a different viewpoint regarding the areas that fall within Karnataka and touch its borders. Andhra and Telangana have a different perceptions regarding some territories but never have any of these states resorted to the use of arms. The elected governments of the two states—Assam and Mizoram—need to behave more responsibly instead of making a public spectacle of their inability to sort out things amongst themselves. Indeed, regional pride often thwarts any attempt to drive sense in the heads of disputing parties but violence has no place in our country. There have been instances where Chauvinistic feelings were aroused in the past over re-organisation of states. When Punjab was sought to be divided in the mid-1960s into lingual lines, the members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh listed their mother language as Hindi instead of Punjabi in multiple instances. The result was that when Haryana and Himachal were carved out of Punjab in 1966, several Punjabi-speaking areas found themselves to be parts of Himachal and Haryana instead of Punjab. This anomaly exists till today but all the three states progressed on their own steam and the misrepresentation of language at one stage, is a forgotten matter. The creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat from the Bombay State also led to bitterness and led to the birth of Shiv Sena in the early 1960s. Over time, a lot of things have come and gone. Similarly, Mizoram and Assam need to come to a solution acceptable to both sides as early as possible in the national interest. 

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Opinion

India must revisit Tibet policy to stop Beijing bullying

Xi Jinping visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. His objective was to ‘implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau’.

Claude Arpi

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The last few weeks have been eventful as far as Tibet is concerned.

From June 21 to 23, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. When the Chinese president landed in Nyingchi City (previously called Prefecture), near the Indian border of Arunachal Pradesh, it immediately rang bells in the security establishment in India.

The China Daily reported about his stage-managed arrival: “He [Xi] was warmly welcomed by local people and officials of various ethnic groups.” Xi inspected the ecological preservation in the basin of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and its tributary, the Nyang River.

For India, this was an important part of the visit because first, the Chinese President was accompanied by Gen Zhang Youxia, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (chaired by Xi), and second, due to the proximity of ‘Bayi’ (which means ‘8-1 or August 1’, a term reserved to the People’s Liberation Army which was founded on August 1). Bayi is the Headquarter of the forces facing India in Arunachal Pradesh. Though no details have filtered, Xi was probably briefed about the situation on the border (a meeting with the PLA top brass of the Western Theater Command and the Tibet Military District was later organized in Lhasa).

The visit has to be seen in the context of the CPC’s 100th anniversary and the 70 anniversary of the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion’). The People’s Daily resumed the objectives of the visit: “to implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau.” This refers to the 7th Work Forum held in August 2020 which defined the development policies for Tibet for the five next years, particularly the sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Chinese President’s tour was hardly over, that another development took place in Delhi: on July 28 morning, US Secretary of State Blinken ‘briefly’ met the Dalai Lama’s representative Ngodup Dongchung during the former’s maiden trip to the Indian Capital.

Later photos of a meeting with members of the Indian ‘civil society’, attended by Geshe Dorjee Damdul, Director of Tibet House, the Dalai Lama’s cultural centre in Delhi were released. Confusion was created between the two meetings, because Dongchung was called ‘a’ representative of the Dalai Lama, while he is the ‘The’ Representative in Delhi. The US embassy should have certainly given the full name of the Representative, to avoid such ambiguity.

A couple of days earlier Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State had met State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China.

A State Department communiqué said: “The Deputy Secretary and State Councilor Wang had a frank and open discussion about a range of issues… [She] raised our concerns about human rights, including Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; abuses in Tibet; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press.”

All this is fine and welcome, but one question remains: has India a Tibet Policy?

It is India that has long and tense border with Tibet from Demchok in Ladakh to Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh; is it not high time for Delhi to have its own ‘Tibet’ Policy and start immediately engaging Dharamsala?

At first, Indian officials should meet the newly elected Sikyiong Penpa Tsering; it has not helped India to keep the relations with Dharamsala at a low key (or non-existent). Both India and the Tibetans need to seriously discuss several issues, whether of common interests or problems facing the Tibetan refugees in India.

The election of a new Sikyong Penpa Tsering as the head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is an ideal time to sit together.

Contentious issues, if any, should also be brought to the table (for example, why, nearly three months after the result of the elections, half the recently elected members of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies have still not yet taken the oath? Is there a Chinese angle behind this?). This should be frankly discussed (and not necessarily made public).

Several areas of Indian interests need to be discussed.

First, the recruitment of Tibetans in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Militia; it has been reported in the Indian media that China wanted to match India by raising a Special Force composed of Tibetans. It is doubtful if this can succeed as Beijing’s trust in the Tibetans remains extremely low, even 70 years after the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion), but Delhi should ascertain Dharamsala’s views; and the CTA should eventually issue a statement stating its views.

Exchanges should also take place about some aspects of the Tibet-Indian border, whether in the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh), Central Sector (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) or the eastern part of the Western Sector (Demchok area); what is Dharamsala’s historical take on these issues?

This is particularly important at a time when it has been reported that the Chinese have erected tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala near Demchok in Ladakh. The Tibetans are certainly aware of their traditional border with India and can hopefully openly state their position.

Another area of interest (not to say worry) for India, is the demographic change on the Indian frontiers. Since 2017, the mushrooming of ‘model’ villages in Tibet, at the proximity of the Indian border, is disturbing; hundreds of ‘xiaogang’ (‘moderately well-off’) villages have come up in the last four years with a mixed population of Tibetans and Hans.

Further, the authorities in Tibet have started to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party. A new formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps, the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.” Officially, this development is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.

There are other areas of common interests, for example how to communicate with the Tibetans inside Tibet? Once the Ladakh episode is over, Delhi should facilitate cultural contacts between Tibetans in India with those in Tibet and why not invite the latter for religious or cultural happenings in India.

Environmental issues are also of concern for India, particularly the mega hydropower plants to be developed by China on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra; what are Dharamsala’s views on this?

From India’s side, assurance should be given that Delhi will stand by the Dalai Lama’s choice for his succession.

Finally, a mechanism should be set-up for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilization cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

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

A mechanism should be put in place for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilisation cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

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Opinion

MOHAMMAD RAFI LIVES ON AND REMAINS THE VOICE OF INDIA

Pankaj Vohra

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There has perhaps been no singer anywhere in the world whose songs, even 41 years after his passing away, continue to feature prominently in all radio shows of that particular country. Mohammad Rafi breathed his last on July 31, 1980, and his immortal renderings dominate virtually every station presenting Hindi melodies. In a way, he continues to be the voice of India, having done playback singing for almost every top hero of his time. His versatility was such that he could bring to life any song, happy or sad, romantic or patriotic that he was asked to sing. In other words, the reason for his immense popularity was the range of music that he could easily adjust to. Along with Lata Mangeshkar, he symbolised the best in Hindi film music in particular.

Rafi was generally the first choice of every leading composer purely because he could put his soul into any kind of composition he was asked to sing. Having made his debut in a Punjabi film in the early 1940s, this gifted crooner graduated into the top league after Kundan Lal Saigal’s era ended. Incidentally, Saigal had identified Rafi as a singer with immense talent, when he heard him for the first time in Lahore, and predicted a great future for him. After Saigal’s death, there was a void in the music world. Music lovers had heard off Rafi but he came on to the centre-stage after he sang the tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, “Suno Suno ae duniya walo, Bapu ki yeh amar kahani”, shortly after the Father of the Nation was assassinated. Rafi’s next two most popular numbers were, “Yeh zindagi ke mele” under Naushad’s baton and “Mein zindagi mein hardam rota hi raha hoon”, composed by Shankar Jaikishen in their debut making film, Barsaat. At that point of time, both Talat Mehmood and Mukesh were also very popular, with the former occupying the number one slot. It so happened that Talat decided to go for Haj pilgrimage which used to take three months at that time. In his absence, Rafi became the preferred singer of virtually all composers and also became the voice of Dilip Kumar. Thus, he was the number one male singer.

Dev Anand had once told me that so far as rendering of ghazals was concerned, no one could match Rafi but for romantic songs, Kishore Kumar was also his favourite. Not many are aware that Rafi also did playback singing for Kishore Kumar for at least four songs, and amongst them were “Ajab Hai Dastaan teri hai zindagi’’ composed by Shankar Jaikishen and “Man Mora Bawara’’, by O.P. Nayyar. In the early sixties, a feud over royalty broke out between Rafi and Lata. Both of them stopped singing together and the consequence was that for many duets, music directors roped in Suman Kalyanpur and Mubarak Begum in place of Lata since Rafi was indispensable and was the voice of all top heroes.

Over the years, many young singers have tried to emulate his style and voice but none has succeeded. He is perhaps also the only singer whose clones cannot come up to his exacting standards when the pitch gets higher. Rafi shall be always remembered as a versatile and gifted singer who was also a great human being. He died too young but his voice lives on forever. 

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Opinion

Covid pandemic and the failed Kerala model

Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%.

Sanju Verma

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Has the Kerala model failed? The answer is a vehement yes, with no ifs or buts whatsoever. Kerala has been reporting more than half of the country’s total Covid-19 cases for the past few days, kicking up a heated exchange between the state’s ruling CPI(M) and other stakeholders. While health experts and policymakers in the state, including former Finance Minister of Kerala, Thomas Isaac, cited the state’s low seroprevalence of 44.4%, to mask the failures arising from spike in daily cases, Isaac and the Leftist lobby cannot mask the hard truth. And the hard truth is this—Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for over 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%. Again, compared to India’s active caseload of merely 1.2%, Kerala’s active caseload is abnormally high at 1.50 lakh cases, with Kerala now accounting for 38% of the country’s overall active cases. In the last three days alone, Kerala has reported 66,000 new cases, with bulk of those cases coming from Muslim-dominated areas like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad. Needless to add, there is a clear and direct correlation between the Bakrid celebrations, which were held by flouting social distancing norms with impunity, and the sharp rise in Covid cases in Kerala.

Uttar Pradesh, more than seven times bigger than Kerala, with a population of 24 crore, in sharp contrast, has a positivity rate of just 0.02% and has done an outstanding job in reining in Covid, with the average daily new cases at barely 42. The uncalled for and “unscientific” relaxations during Bakrid, by the Leftist, Pinarayi Vijayan government, in a clear bid to appease Muslims, for political gains, has been the single biggest reason for the huge surge in coronavirus cases in Kerala. Leftist lobby in denial has been claiming that the rise in cases in Kerala is only because it is testing more, which is again a lie. In the first week of June this year, Kerala was testing 1.1 lakh people on an average, but that number now has fallen by 13.5%, to below 96,000 people. In the last eight weeks, despite a minuscule population, Kerala has been reporting between 150 to 227 deaths, on a daily basis, much higher than Uttar Pradesh. Again, in UP, out of 75 districts, 37 have been reporting no fresh cases and another 37 districts are reporting cases only in single digits. Only one district is reporting cases in double digits in UP.

In Kerala, at least 10 districts have a positivity rate in excess of 10%, with some reporting a positivity rate of as high as 14.8%! Kerala on an average has been reporting anywhere between 17,743 and 22,456 fresh Covid cases, on a daily basis, with the 15-day moving average in excess of 30,000. The number of daily cases in Kerala was 43,000 on an average in mid-May 2021 and then it declined. However, from mid-June, cases started rising again in Kerala and despite this, the Pinarayi Vijayan government eased lockdown restrictions during Bakrid, in July 2021, in a classic display of criminal apathy and appeasement-based politics. With cases continuing to soar in Kerala, especially the Delta-variant, the neighbouring states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are also now at risk of an onslaught of another wave of the pandemic, thanks only to the incompetence and criminal negligence of a failed “Kerala Model”, practised by the utterly incompetent and insensitive Left government that is ruling Kerala currently.

The “Hathras Lobby”, which was vocal in its protest against the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Uttarakhand in April 2021, fell completely silent when it came to the Eid-Ul-Fitr celebrations in May 2021, which were celebrated by flouting every Covid protocol in the rulebook. While most of the “shahi snans” were cancelled by the Uttarakhand government and the Kumbh Mela was truncated amidst huge outcry by the Leftist lobby, the deafening silence of the “Left-liberals”, who chose to not condemn, either the Eid Ul Fitr celebrations in Hyderabad in May this year, or the Bakrid festivities in Kerala in July this year, has raised many questions. Is Kumbh Covid-unfriendly but Eid-Ul-Fitr Covid-friendly? Is Kanwar Yatra Covid unfriendly, but Bakrid Covid friendly? Are large namaaz gatherings every Friday outside the Mahim Dargah in Mumbai Covid friendly, but Holi celebrations that were cancelled Covid unfriendly? Why did the “Khan Market Gang” choose to clap, abet and encourage the thousands who gathered at the Charminar in Hyderabad during the Eid-Ul-Fitr festivities in May this year, rather than reprimanding them?

The “Lutyens Lashkar” lobby that condemned the Kanwar Yatra even before it began, has been left completely exposed. The Kanwars or devout Shiv bhakts, who wait for an entire year, for the Kanwar yatra, which is the only source of livelihood for scores of people, cooperated and collaborated with the UP and Uttarakhand governments, in a remarkable display of “life over livelihood”, by calling off the yatra. In sharp contrast, with every caution thrown to the wind, Muslim-dominated districts of Kerala like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad saw a massive surge in Covid cases, immediately after the Bakrid celebrations, with Muslim-centric Malappuram seeing a massive 93% rise in infections. Some of the worst affected districts in Kerala are Malappuram (3,931 daily average cases), Thrissur (3,005), Kozhikode (2,400), Ernakulam (2,397), Palakkad (1,649), Kollam (1,462), Alappuzha (1,461), Kannur (1,179), Thiruvananthapuram (1,101) and Kottayam (1,067).

Attempts to deflect attention from the criminal apathy and gross mismanagement of the Covid pandemic in Kerala by the Left government there, is akin to adding salt to the injury of Kerala’s hapless citizens. The fifteen-day moving average of fresh cases in Kerala is over 30,000 cases, in contrast to a tiny number in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Over 45.60 crore vaccine doses have been administered cumulatively so far by the Modi government under the world’s fastest and biggest vaccination drive. More than 41 lakh vaccine doses have been administered in the last 24 hours. Testing capacity has been substantially ramped up, with 46.46 crore tests totally conducted, till date, nationally. India has vaccinated with the first dose, a population equal to roughly 92 New Zealands put together, and this has been made possible only due to the visionary prowess and foresight of Prime Minister Modi, besides of course our medical fraternity that has been toiling day and night. India’s low fatality rate at 1.1% and high recovery rate at 97.4%,are commendable indeed.

More than 47.48 crore vaccine doses have been provided to states/UTs. Further, 53.05 lakh doses are in the pipeline. More than 2.88 crore balance and unutilised doses are still available with states/UTs and private hospitals. Hence flimsy and baseless allegations by the Left dispensation of Pinarayi Vijayan that enough vaccines were not being supplied by the Centre, leading to a slowing down of the vaccination process in Kerala and thereby a rise in fresh cases, are just a bunch of vicious lies. Kerala, the “Hathras Lobby” claims, is recording the sharpest rise in cases in the country, fuelled by the Delta variant, only because it has a seroprevalence of merely 44%, thereby implying that 56% lacked antibodies and consequently remained vulnerable to the infection. However, this reasoning is weak. For instance, Assam with a low seroprevalence rate of 50.3% is doing a pretty good job and a far better job than Kerala. Also, the antibody levels reported state-wise as part of the ICMR survey do not distinguish between those in response to a natural infection or through vaccination.

Clearly, God’s own country has become the epicentre of India’s fresh Covid surge. In sharp contrast, with fresh daily cases at merely 42, positivity rate of 2.6%, total active cases at just 729 and a recovery rate of 98.6%, Uttar Pradesh has done a phenomenal job in reining in Covid. Undoubtedly, the command-and-control model adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, which is now being replicated elsewhere in UP, has been a resounding success and is a textbook case of how to manage a global pandemic.

Since the onslaught of Covid-19 pandemic in the country last year, Kerala has remained one of the two biggest epicentres of Covid-19 infections in the country, along with Maharashtra. Maharashtra has, at any given point, accounted for over 30% of the total Covid fatalities in India and is yet another classic example of how a Congress-centric alliance wreaked havoc with the so-called “Mumbai Model” falling apart; Maharashtra reported over 1.32 lakh Covid deaths thus far. Despite raging infections in Kerala and the state government’s inability to manage the pandemic, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government gave in to the pressures of the Muslim community and lifted lockdown restrictions for three days to celebrate Bakrid from July 18 to July 21. Interestingly, the Supreme Court, which had ruled against conducting Hindu religious events such as Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, stepped in pretty late when it came to issuing similar directions to the Kerala government and by the time the apex court stepped in, enough damage had been done, with things in Kerala spiralling out of control.

Apart from the excellent job done by UP, which has reined in fatalities, Kerala has seen over 16,585 Covid-related deaths despite a far smaller population. Another state which has shown tremendous maturity and alacrity in dealing with the pandemic is Uttarakhand, where the active caseload is only 672 cases and the recovery rate is pretty high at 95.89%. Unfortunately, recovery rate in Kerala is below that of the national average and also below that of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, clearly showcasing how the vacuous “Kerala Model” has crumbled in the face of a man-made crisis—a crisis made by the incompetent Left government in Kerala, led by the equally inept Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, who is the MP from Wayanad, is also culpable. Apart from taking potshots on Twitter at the Modi government, Rahul has done precious little during the pandemic for either Wayanad or the people of Kerala.

Around 2,000 seers of the Joona, Agni, Avahan, Kinnar, Udasin, Bada and Naya Udasin, Nirmal and Niranjani akhadas and three Bairagi akhadas kept the ‹shahi snan’ on April 27, 2021, only symbolic on Chaitra Purnima, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the seers on April 17, 2021, to refrain from a physical “shahi snan”. “The people of India and their survival is our first priority. In view of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we have duly immersed all the deities invoked on the occasion of Kumbh. This is the formal immersion-conclusion of Kumbh on behalf of Joona Akhara,” Swami Avadheshanand Giri, the ‘mahamandaleshwar’ of the Joona Akhara, said in a tweet in Hindi on the decision to cancel the last “shahi snan”.

From “vaccine hesitancy” propagated by the likes of Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel, to “vaccine wastage” encouraged by the utterly inept Congress led Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, to “vaccine profiteering” by the Congress-led Amarinder Singh regime in Punjab, to the failed “Kerala Model”, thanks to the criminal apathy of the Left government in Kerala, the Covid pandemic has been a revelation. And the biggest revelation is this—if India is progressing rapidly towards vaccinating its entire adult population of 94 crore (940 million) people, it is only due to the tireless efforts of the Modi government, which has repeatedly displayed tremendous courage of conviction in ensuring that the world’s largest vaccination drive proceeds seamlessly and steadfastly.

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

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GOVERNMENT MUST MAKE A DEDICATED DECISION ON CRYPTOCURRENCIES

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An NFT or non-fungible token is a one-of-its-kind asset that is not interchangeable in nature. It is essentially a certification of ownership of assets, and like cryptocurrencies operate using the blockchain technology. In lay man’s language, NFTs are digital blockchain tokens that represent ownership of unique items, whether digital or physical. NFTs can represent a wide array of assets such as real estate, art and even music. Since each NFT is unique, they are unlike any fungible assets or currencies (for eg. rupee, dollar and bitcoin), where each unit is interchangeable with another.

NFTs debuted on the Ethereum network in August 2017 and among the first tokens was the digital collectible game called CryptoKitties. Since 2017, NFTs have evolved to include digital real estate, video games, digital art and music. The majority of NFTs function majorly on Ethereum’s blockchain as they create permanent digital records of all transactions using that cryptocurrency. They also create an indisputable ledger of NFT transactions. The creator of the NFT has the right to retain the copyright for it, as well as the right to duplicate it as many times as he/she wants. The creator may produce multiple copies of the original and if the buyer of the NFT wants to make copies, he/she needs to get permission from the creator and each is considered a unique NFT. 

Similar to physical collectibles, replications are not as valuable as the original, and supply and demand impact the NFT’s worth. And in some cases, the creator also receives royalties each time an NFT is sold, though there is currently no universal system in place.

NFTS IN INDIA

India’s cryptocurrency exchange, WazirX, launched India’s first marketplace for NFTs. The platform allows the exchange of digital assets and intellectual properties, including art pieces, audio files, videos, programmes and even tweets alongside other digital goods and services. Indian creators can place their digital assets for auction over the blockchain-based NFT marketplace and earn royalty thereafter.

For transactions, i.e., sale-purchase of the NFTs, the crypto exchange charges a 5% fee to the seller, while no fee is charged at buyer’s end. When the transaction is complete, the NFT investment is credited to the buyer’s wallet.

NFT LAWS IN INDIA

While the government has not expressed clearly about its desire to ban NFTs, quandary over the details of the upcoming cryptocurrency Bill have cast doubt on its potential legality. In the absence of these details, one can look up to the draft of the ‘Banning of cryptocurrency and regulation of official digital currency Bill’ of 2019 to determine the steps that the government is likely to adopt in 2021.

In addition, there have been comments from the RBI and the government, that there is a framework being put up for cryptocurrencies or digital currencies. But there is no general prohibition as of now preventing an Indian resident from buying or selling NFTs. Also, for digital assets, as a whole, there is no framework for taxation, reliance on regular principles of the Indian Contract Act for the sale/purchase of goods is adherable.

Moreover, from the Indian perspective, the structural situation is unclear. As NFTs function like derivative contracts (contracts which derive their value from underlying assets) as per the Securities Contract Regulation Act. Legally, one can only trade derivatives on authorised exchanges such as for stocks or commodities but, to trade an NFT, there is a need for a decentralised exchange (DEX) which would work only as a matching platform for buyers and sellers. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are high-risk assets and retail investors should not indulge in them.

MONSOON SESSION 2021

The government is expected to present the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 in Parliament during the monsoon session that begins on 19 July. The crypto bill, according to its description on Parliament’s website, aims “to create a facilitative framework for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India. The bill also seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India; however, it allows for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses”.

Ultimately, what is apparent is that given the ambiguity within the NFT and overall digital asset space, any future Bill would have to specify the legality of cryptocurrency-related assets. This would require the government to make a dedicated decision on cryptocurrencies.

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‘Khela Hobe’ of retributive violence

Mamata Banerjee’s slogan of ‘Khela Hobe’ has been manifested violently in West Bengal in the last two months; this is a model she hopes to replicate across India. It is a retribution-driven dream that ought to be resoundingly rejected.

Anirban Ganguly

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While she chases her pipe dream of heading a ‘Federal Front’ as Prime Minister in 2024, Mamata Banerjee’s newly elected government in West Bengal is beginning to slip on a number of fronts. That she lost in the just concluded Assembly elections in the state and is thus both a ‘non-MLA’ Chief Minister who has also faced defeat, is just one part of the story. The fact that she has lost has jolted and rankled her so badly that she is unwilling to engage with the BJP or the Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari on the floor of the House. A sore loser who has taken defeat personally, Banerjee has displayed her limited or non-existing capacity to face democratic opposition.

To those who have been following Mamata Banerjee’s political trajectory, her political conduct both in the state and in Parliament—in the past—her intolerance to democratic opposition is nothing new. That the BJP could garner the support of a sizeable portion of the electorate and emerge as the single largest Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly has irritated the Trinamool Congress leader and she has, in the last two months, repeatedly displayed a stubborn unwillingness to adhere to legislative norms and engage with the party in the Assembly.

While the state is reeling under a cycle of premeditated post-poll violence unleashed on BJP workers and supporters by her party, while people across the state continue to suffer because of a mismanaged vaccination drive by her government, while higher-secondary students across the state protest against the announced results, while a series of internecine clashes among TMC workers are being reported from across the state, while the National Human Rights Commission’s report on the post-poll violence has severely indicted her government on its atrocious track record of human rights and enforcing rule of law, Mamata Banerjee has suddenly air dashed to Delhi in order to launch herself on the national scene by quite openly declaring her national ambitions of becoming Prime Minister of India.

But that is a proposition which is easier said than done since no one really knows what the West Bengal model is except that the TMC model of ruling West Bengal is propped up on political coercion, intimidation, issuing of doles and patronage and ensuring that a select few belonging to the ruling party or affiliated to it thrive. Surely, this is not a model that anyone, except the extreme purblind, would want to be replicated across the country. So precarious is the law-and-order situation under Mamata Banerjee’s watch that the Members of the NHRC in course of their visit to the affected areas were attacked and nearly assaulted by the ruling party’s supporters.

The NHRC’s recent report submitted to the Calcutta High Court has been a severe indictment of the Mamata Banerjee government’s human rights record. No other state government, perhaps, since Independence, has been so severely called out for its disastrous record of protecting human rights. The NHRC report has starkly brought out the situation in West Bengal and speaks of retributive violence against political opponents especially against workers and supporters of the largest political party, in this case the BJP and speaks of the manifestation in West Bengal of the “Law of Ruler” instead of the prevalence of the “Rule of Law.”

It speaks of the apathy of the state government “towards the plight of victims” and describes the cycle of violence, as “retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main Opposition party.” The TMC unleashed violence has deliberately aimed to economically maim and socially isolate supporters of the BJP and has economically and socially disrupted their lives and means of livelihood of “thousands of people” leading to their “economic strangulation.” Most of the violent incident saw murders, rape, molestation, assault, vandalism, looting, dispossession, arson, extortion, threat and intimidation. A number of TMC leaders at the local level were involved in planning and egging on their supporters to indulge in mayhem. A large number of shops and houses were destroyed and looted and the violence was, as the NHRC report noted, “neither sporadic nor random” and instead “targeted specific persons (those associated with the main Opposition party). The violence was in retaliation “to those who “dared” to vote or support the major Opposition party. An examination of those who were affected by this violence show that members of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste communities were most affected by it, their heads were tonsured in public and many of them were coerced into issuing public apology for having supported the main Opposition party.

The Commission’s report describes how there was palpable fear among those who wanted to depose before it, since they were convinced that they would be victimised later on and many among them had been threatened already asking them not to meet the members of the Commission. Interestingly, those human rights activists who make a living out of selling anti-Modi human right narrative have been silent on this report; in fact, they have made a studied silence on the entire post-violence issue in West Bengal. It ought to shock one no end to know that families—women and children are being victimised for supporting the principal Opposition party in West Bengal by being put through a planned and deliberate social boycott which sees their essentials being cut off. The NHRC report notes that apart from vandalisation and loot, a large number of houses of workers of the main Opposition party across West Bengal, saw their water and electricity connections being severed, “resulting in disruption of life and livelihood”.

For those of us who saw it on the ground, not alone workers of the main Opposition party, even the ordinary voter, the ordinary citizens who had exercised their democratic right and voted and voted in favour of the BJP were victimised. How? Many ask who have not seen or been exposed to such debasing levels of politics: wards, panchayats, or localities in which the TMC lost have seen their water and electricity connections disrupted for having not voted for the TMC.

The NHRC team noted how “many victims were also asked to cough up large sums of money as a precondition to their return to their homes. Many have not yet returned. Several victims complained about their identity cards, like ration cards, Aadhaar cards, Swastha Sathi cards (health cards) being snatched and destroyed by goons of the ruling party”; this prevented them from the benefits of various schemes. Reports have also come in, and it has also been corroborated by the NHRC report, of discrimination against administering vaccines to supporters of the main Opposition party. The message was to fall in line or leave the state.

The report also indicted the state police for being apathetic, partial, inactive or at times to be colluding with the perpetrator of violence and failed to take confidence building measures. The poor and marginalised, especially, the report noted, have lost faith in the police. On the Mamata Banerjee administration, the state administration, the report minced no words when it noted that it had no empathy, did not condemn the violence, provided no relief and most of its officers and leaders were inactive. The most alarming aspect of the report was its flagging a “pernicious politico-bureaucratic-criminal nexus”, it spoke of how “criminals indulged in violence against political rivals while the bureaucratic edifice was complicit in various degrees”.

This is how Mamata Banerjee’s slogan of “Khela Hobe” manifested in West Bengal in the last two months, this is a model she hopes to replicate across India, this hope propels her to fly to Delhi after long years. It is a retribution driven dream that ought to be resoundingly rejected.

Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

The NHRC’s recent report submitted to the Calcutta High Court has been a severe indictment of the Mamata Banerjee government’s human rights record. No other state government, perhaps, since Independence, has been so severely called out for its disastrous record of protecting human rights. The NHRC report has starkly brought out the situation in West Bengal and speaks of retributive violence against political opponents especially against workers and supporters of the largest political party, in this case the BJP and speaks of the manifestation in West Bengal of the “Law of Ruler” instead of the prevalence of the “Rule of Law.”

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