STANDOFF CONTINUES DESPITE THE SUPREME COURT INTERVENTION - The Daily Guardian
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STANDOFF CONTINUES DESPITE THE SUPREME COURT INTERVENTION

Priya Sahgal

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The Supreme Court has finally had to step in to mediate between the farmers and the government. It is indeed ironic that our politicians who have always had a turf war with the courts are now looking to the SC to help them find a way out of this standoff. But with both sides adamant, there was little room for leeway. The government was clear that it would not be seen as one that gets cowed down by blackmail and so will not roll back the laws in toto but are open to amendments; the farmers on the other hand want nothing less than a rollback, and then talks for framing new laws to replace these. In the end, what both sides want is talks but also face savers. And so, the government has decided that while it will hold talks for the optics, it will leave the resolution to the courts. Repeatedly, the farmers have been stating that the government ministers come late to the meetings and don›t show much inclination to engage. The farmers also say that the government could have put the laws on hold much earlier when the court first talked about setting up a committee. And perhaps saved them the stakeout in the bitter cold. The court said as much during the deliberations. But the government too had its reasons. Some say that it wants the courts to direct the setting up of such a committee, because if the farmers› refuse to comply then it would be a direct confrontation between the courts and the farmers and the government would be out of the firing line. The protesting farmers have made it clear that they have now picked up a momentum, forming a committee would only push the issue into a cold storage to be revived by the government, whenever the farmers have disbursed and are busy in their fields. Right now, they are ready for a longish stakeout, once disbursed will they be able to revive this momentum again? 

Moreover, the composition of the SC committee is also being viewed as pro-law rather than pro-farmers. Perhaps anticipating this, the farmers had made it clear at the very outset, even before the names were announced that they were not interested in talks of any form or at any fora until the laws were rolled back. As far as the decision of the farmers to join the Republic Day parade on their tractors, the court has left it to the Delhi Police to maintain law and order. Very much like what happened during the Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare protests in the capital during the UPA. And we all know the outcome of that. 

So, those hoping that the court would end the standoff between the farmers and the government will now have to think out of the box for other solutions. The stakeout has, of course, made some social media heroes.

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Opinion

SUNANDA PUSHKAR’S DEATH MYSTERY REMAINS EVEN AFTER SEVEN YEARS

Pankaj Vohra

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It was exactly seven years ago when Sunanda Pushkar, businesswoman, socialite and wife of Congress politician and former Union minister Shashi Tharoor, was found dead under mysterious circumstances at a Leela Palace Hotel suite in New Delhi. Her body was discovered by her husband and his two aides when they returned at night to the hotel after attending the All India Congress Committee session held on the same day (17 January 2014). The deceased had 12 injury marks on her body but her unnatural death was either caused by over consumption of drugs and alcohol or due to poisoning. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had alleged that Sunanda was administered some “Russian poison” even as the police tried to figure out whether it was a case of suicide or murder. Tharoor was sought to be charged under both abetment to suicide as well as under Section 498-A which relates to causing cruelty and harassment to a woman. A day before the death, Sunanda, who had earlier been undergoing medical treatment at the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, had a spat with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar, who she claimed was attempting to gather Tharoor’s affection in order to wean him away from her.

The case hit the headlines in the same manner in which the untimely death of upcoming actor Sushant Singh Rajput had caught the entire nation’s attention in June last year. There were also several conspiracy theories, one of which suggested that Sunanda may have been the victim of the notorious Dubai-based cricket betting Mafia. The crime had also brought back memories of some other mysterious murders that had taken place in January as far back as 40 years ago. The most sensational matter was that of Constable Tejpal Singh, who was found dead inside the Ashoka Road official residence of former Union minister Bhagwat Jha Azad on 25 January 1981. The official version was that the policeman was shot dead by an unknown intruder who had barged into the minister’s bungalow. Curiously, no blood was found at the scene of the crime even though it was claimed that Tejpal Singh had been shot through the heart, lungs and liver. Forensic experts had their own theories which included that Tejpal may have been shot after he was already dead thus explaining why no blood marks were there. The wounds appeared to be post-mortem and not ante-mortem. The case continues to be in the archives of unsolved cases.

Another such January murder was that of Afsar Hussain, a prominent IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh, who was shot dead at the Ambassador Hotel in the capital while he was with a woman companion, on 2 January 1980. Afsar Hussain was the DC of Sultanpur district when Sanjay Gandhi had first contested his maiden election from Amethi in 1977. Investigations revealed that the bureaucrat was apparently killed by a close relative, who suspected him of adultery; interestingly, the gun used for the crime was the same from which shots had been fired on Sanjay’s convoy during the 1977 campaign. The matter was hushed up and very little is known of what happened thereafter. The truth behind Sunanda Pushkar may also similarly never come out.

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Why Hinduism is not Brahmanical

It may be valid to say that there can be a Brahmanical Hinduism, but to say that Hinduism is Brahmanical would be as misleading as any attempt to identify Christianity with imperialism and Islam with jihadism.

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Hinduism is regularly characterised in the Western as well as Indian academia and media as Brahmanical. How does this description measure up against the evidence?

To begin with Hindu myths: A major myth of Vedic Hinduism is that of the Indra and Vrtra, in which Indra slays Vrtra. What are their respective varnas? Indra is a kshatriya, Vrtra is a brahmana; so, it is the Brahmin who gets killed. Similarly, a major myth of classical Hinduism is that of the struggle between Rama and Ravana, in which Rama slays Ravana. What are their respective varnas? Rama is a kshatriya, Ravana is a brahmana; so, it is again the Brahmin who gets killed. In both these myths the Brahmin gets killed, so this raises the question: is Hinduism Brahmicidal or Brahmanical?

A major Hindu doctrine is that of incarnations. In the traditional listing of the ten incarnations, Vishnu incarnates himself in only two of them as a Brahmin: as Vamana and as Parasurama, while his most popular incarnations remain those of Rama and Krishna. To describe this list as Brahmanical is also, therefore, a bit of a stretch.

A third point of interest is provided by the Hindu Trinity—Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. While Vishnu and Shiva are widely worshipped, the worship of Brahma declined in India to such an extent that he is now worshipped in only a handful of places. This fact acquires significance in the present context because if any among the three gods may be said to have a special connection with Brahmins, it is Brahma. Once again, it becomes problematical to describe Hinduism as Brahmanical.

Hinduism, however, could be considered Brahmanical in another sense. It is said that upon seeing a grave injustice being committed, the Brahmin protests by saying: ‘Stop; otherwise, I will kill myself’, while a kshatriya protests by saying: ‘Stop; otherwise, I will kill you’. If Hinduism only adopted the first approach, so well honed by Mahatma Gandhi in our times, then one could argue that Hinduism is Brahmanical in this sense. Hinduism, however, does not confine itself to the first approach alone, despite Gandhi’s heroic efforts to foreground it.

Could it then be considered Brahmanical in the sense that the Brahmins enjoyed a privileged status within Hinduism? After all, they are to be punished the least for the various crimes, are often to be given precedence, are to be supported by the king when in distress, and so on. Such a depiction, however, ignores certain elements of the situation: In the case of theft, they are punished the most (Manusmriti 8.337-338); although they are to be shown preference by others, they themselves are instructed to recoil from such treatment (2.162); the ruler and others are meant to support them because hunger was an occupational hazard with them (4.7-8,133-4; 11.21), and so on. And the so-called privileges are not only subject to limitations, the privileges are balanced by special responsibilities (eg. 6.34). Moreover, there are periods in Indian history during which such privileges had not yet been conferred on them, as seems to have been the case with the early Vedic period, or had been in the main abolished, as in the three nibandhas (medieval legal digests)—Smritichandrika (c.1200), the Madanaratna (c.1400-1450), and Sarasvativilasa (sixteenth century)—seem to indicate. These privileges have of course become obsolete in the modern period, while these previously cited texts suggest that they were already considered so in many parts of India in the medieval period itself. Furthermore, differential provisions are not invariably discriminatory provisions, and even in the case of differential treatment for crimes in classical law, two Smritis, those of Katyayana and Vyasa, impose progressively higher punishments for the higher varnas.

Could Hinduism be considered Brahmanical because the Brahmins bore the brunt when the non-Hindu rulers of India chose to persecute Hindus? It is well documented that Alexander had them gibbetted, Sikandar Lodi had one burnt alive, even Akbar forced some of them to convert on his own admission, and the British executed Nand Kumar by resorting to a legal ruse. This, however, would endow the Brahmins with the halo of martyrdom. This would be inconsistent with the context in which Hinduism is often described as Brahmanical, which is pejorative. Moreover, it is clear from the history of Hindu resistance to foreign rule that not just Brahmins but Hindus from all levels of society participated in its defence. Meenakshi Jain has calculated that seventy percent of the freedom fighters sent by the British to the gallows during India’s freedom struggle were Brahmins, although they constitute under seven percent of India’s population. They may have formed the vanguard of the struggle in this sense but the struggle was, especially in its later stages under Mahatma Gandhi, was characterised by mass rather than class participation. Could Hinduism be considered Brahmanical in a genetic sense, in the sense that all Hindus are derived from the Brahmins? The suggestion may appear far-fetched but there is some textual basis for this.

Some sacred texts state that originally there was only one varna or “caste”. In some accounts these original people are called Hansa, but in other texts it is stated that originally, in the ‘golden age’ as it were, there was only the Brahmin class, and the later varnas arose from it when, for various reasons, the Brahmins abandoned their original vocation and took to other means of livelihood. This carries the implication that the so-called caste system is a product of cosmic degeneration so that if one wishes to restore the ‘golden age’, as the rulers are exhorted to, then all caste and class distinctions need to be eliminated. But perhaps the implications of this view are too radical for those who like to describe Hinduism as Brahmanical, although the convergence of this perspective with some modern revolutionary ideas, which proclaim the need for a caste-free and class-free society, is hard to overlook. Moreover, the fact that the Brahmins constitute the centre and not the top in this scheme may also not be welcomed by all.

Could Hinduism be considered Brahmanical in yet another sense. Hinduism has been repeatedly characterised as Brahmanical in modern times, when its social system was identified as the ‘caste system’ under British rule. This process gained momentum after the institution of the British census from 1881 onwards. The Indians on whom the British relied during this process were largely Brahmins, as documented by Nicholas Dirks (in Castes of Mind, p. 225-226). One could then say that, in this sense, the modern caste system is Brahmanical. It could also be considered Brahmanical during this period in another sense. Two parts of India where the popular sentiment against the Brahmins was quite strong are Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. In these parts it was the Brahmins who first took to English education with alacrity as a source of employment under the British government and thereby came to dominate the lower echelons of British administration. People thus came in contact with them as employees of the British government and arguably came to resent the power they seemed to have over them. Such exposure on their part of the myrmidons of the law then either reinforced the traditional caste dominance, or the hostility felt by the people has been mistakenly attributed to religious factors. It is doubtful, however, that those who describe Hinduism as Brahmanical have such considerations in mind.

Could not modern Hinduism, however, be considered Brahmanical in another sense. Hinduism is often represented as undergoing a renaissance during the modern period, which is frequently depicted as the outcome of the work of a series of Hindu reformers from Raja Rammohun Roy (d. 1833) to S. Radhakrishnan (d. 1975). Most of these were of Brahmin lineage, and modern Hinduism could be considered Brahmanical in this sense. There are, however, notable exceptions to this in the figures of Keshab Chunder Sen, Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo. Moreover, if we take a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to the issue and ask—who are the most influential among these reformers?—then probably Gandhi would be considered the most influential. And if we asked for two of them to be named, then Vivekananda will probably be included in this roll of honour. This consideration generates the paradox of an allegedly Brahmanical tradition being influenced by non-Brahmins the most!

It could be argued, however, that although these modern reformers are not Brahmins themselves, what they were propagating was a religion shaped by Brahmins, and that Hinduism is Brahmanical in this sense. And that this holds true for the whole history of Hinduism. This raises the question: Who shaped Hinduism? Vedic Hinduism was shaped by the rishis or seers, many of whom had origins sometimes unorthodox to the point of being unnatural as in the case of Agastya and Katha. There is also the danger of anachronism in viewing the social reality in terms of ‘caste’ distinctions during a period when the system may not be in place. Later, Kshatriyas appear as teachers in the Upanishads. Classical Hinduism was shaped in Tamil Nadu by the Alvars and the Nayanmars who came from different social backgrounds including the untouchables. The point may even cut deeper, that spiritual saints and not Brahmins are the generating centres of Hinduism.

But could it then not be claimed that Hinduism is Brahmanical because Brahmins are its transmitters, that Hinduism may not be Brahmanical in terms of its mythology, theology, ethics, or even history, but may be considered so because it was mainly transmitted by the Brahmins over the centuries. Hence it should be described as Brahmanical.

If the Brahmins transmitted the sacred texts of the Hindus then it makes sense to ask: Who transmitted the texts of the early Buddhists and the Jainas? These texts were originally transmitted orally in the case of these two traditions as well, like the Vedas, so it is quite a relevant question to ask. According to a well-known study cited by A.L. Basham (in The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism p. 130) about forty percent of the monks in early Buddhism, whose origins can be ascertained, came from a Brahmin background. Similarly, the twelve Ganadharas, who decoded and transmitted the teachings of the last Jaina Tirthankara, Mahavira, were all of Brahmin lineage. So, it turns out that the Brahmins were involved in the transmission of the texts of all the three members of the classical Indic religious tradition: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. So, if Hinduism is Brahmanical, should the early Buddhist, Jaina traditions also be so characterised?

But perhaps one has been looking for the Brahmanical nature of Hinduism in the wrong places. It is in its sociology that Hinduism is Brahmanical, for the Brahmins are the first to be mentioned in the list of the four varnas, which spells out a hierarchy. These four varnas are those of the (1) Brahmanas (Vedic scholars, priests, and so on), (2) Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, bureaucrats, and so on), (3) Vaishyas (traders, businessmen, agriculturists and so on) and (4) Shudras (servants and so on). What then, one might ask, is this hierarchy based on? Is it based on power? If that were the case the Kshatriyas would be heading it. Is this based on wealth? If that were the case the Vaishyas would be heading it. Is it based on service? If such were the case the Shudras would be heading it. It is obviously based on ritual and moral purity and scriptural learning, as these are associated with the Brahmins who have been placed on top. This problematises the point under discussion on account of the common perception that those at the apex of a social system tend to monopolise wealth and power in their hands. It is possible to argue that the Brahmins, as a class, may have cornered these in some parts of India or during certain periods of its history, but it is certainly not a feature of the scheme itself.

The classical formulation of this scheme is usually located in the Manusmriti, which is assigned by scholars to the second century. One look at the title of that text also seems to problematise the point further. The text is named after Manu, who was a kshatriya! So, it may be a Brahmanical text but it seems to appeal for its authority to a non-Brahmin. Incidentally, Manu is also considered a major legal authority in Burmese Buddhism. This could suggest that the Brahmins and the rulers, the Kshatriyas, joined hands in exploiting the other classes. This could well be the case. But in that case Hinduism should not be described as Brahmanical but rather Dvijaite in character. This verbal oddity results from one’s desire to couch the exploitation of the lower castes and classes by the three higher varnas, those of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas together, into traditional idiom in which all three are called dvijas or twice-born, on account of their right to wear the sacred thread, a right denied to the Shudras (and to women). This would correspond somewhat to the ‘Brahmin-Bania conspiracy’ in modern ideological name-calling.

But then Hinduism will have to be considered as characterised by a Dvijaite rather than a Brahmanical conspiracy. Support for this point comes from a surprising source. Readers may be familiar with the concept of WASP, short for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who constitute the dominant component of American culture. This concept was apparently developed by E. Digby Baltzell, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania before he died in 1996. He was a sociologist as well as a student of Hinduism. If the category of WASP was developed by him on the prototype of the Dvijas (the male members of the three higher varnas) in Hindu sociology, as is generally accepted, then those who describe Hinduism as the hotbed of Brahmin-Bania conspiracy may be closer to the mark than those who describe it as a Brahmanical conspiracy.

This has the support of the Hindu dharmasutras, one of which, the Apastamba, concludes by stating in the penultimate shutra or aphorism that, in matters of dharma, the norms set by the twice-borns or dvijas should be considered authoritative. This seems to clinch the issue, but for the fact that the last aphorism of the same text also says: Others are of the opinion that in these matters the views of all the varnas and of women should be taken into account.

It is clear therefore that Hinduism contains two streams of thought within it. According to one, the male members of the three higher varnas are meant to be arbiters of dharma. According to another school of thought, however, all the varnas, and women as well, had to be part of the process. As Hinduism encompasses both these views it would be incorrect to claim that Hinduism is Brahmanical even if the term is used as a synecdoche and the Brahmins, who constitute a part of the dvija category, are made to stand for the whole of it which consists of kshatriyas and Vaishyas as well. One could also identify such a ‘Brahmanical Hinduism’ in a neutral, a positive, and a negative sense. A neutral version will be purely descriptive. The positive version would denote the version of Hinduism which the dvija, or a narrower ‘priestly class’, may identify as the ideal version of Hinduism from its point of view which it might wish for, or favour, or espouse. One could similarly think of a Kshatriya or a Vaishya or a Shudra (or a Dalit) version of Hinduism. In a negative sense it could denote how these groups may have manipulated or seek to manipulate Hinduism in their favour at the expense of its other constituents.

Thus, it may be valid to say that there can be a Brahmanical Hinduism but not to say that Hinduism is Brahmanical as this statement misrepresents Hinduism. The situation in this case is not very different from the one we encounter in the case of other religions. It seems valid to say that there is a jihadist Islam, but if one were to describe Islam itself as jihadist one would be overstating the case. One could identify what one might call Christian imperialism, but to identify Christianity with imperialism would be misleading.

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

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RACIAL ABUSE MUST END IN AUSTRALIA

Pankaj Vohra

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The spectators’ behaviour at the Gabba in Brisbane during the fourth Test match between India and Australia needs to be condemned in the strongest words. It is evident that the Australians refuse to learn and in every series that has been held Down Under, some incident or the other always takes place. Mohammad Siraj, the upcoming bowler who has left his impact on the Tests, is the latest target. He has been subject of racial comments as well as abuse, and unless the Australian authorities act in a stern manner and initiate action against the guilty persons, nothing is bound to change.

Any team that has visited the continent has been a victim of sledging since that is the way the game is played there. However, since the past few years, the Indians have been as aggressive, and have retaliated in their own manner. The animosity amongst players has come down, largely because many leading cricketers from around the world play together in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and have thus established cordial relations amongst themselves. This does not mean that the players do not compete with each other fiercely since as professionals, they are expected to play the game, both in its spirit and with the objective of winning. Even the England team has had some forgettable experiences there and the episode involving two former captains, Ian Chappel and Ian Botham, is often quoted in cricket circles as an example of distasteful comments that get generated in the heat of the moment.

The cricket and sports associations in Australia need to be held accountable like they were several decades ago in South Africa. Despite being the best team of its time, the South Africans were banned from competing in Tests. For sports lovers, it would have been a dream to watch them pitted against the West Indies, by far the most successful side for a long period. Thus, Dr Ali Bacher, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, the Pollock brothers, Proctor and many talented and gifted players of their era, never got to display their cricketing prowess on an international platform. It is another matter that subsequently, the South Africans after relaxing their one-sided racial laws, became a cricketing power under Hansie Cronje and are regarded as amongst the toughest competitors of the game.

Racialism has existed in sports for a long time and what prompted Olympic gold medallist Cassius Clay to become Mohammad Ali is a story that shall never be forgotten. The Mexico Olympics in 1968 witnessed unusual scenes when two American Black athletes after their victory flashed the Black power sign while on the Podium. Indians have never rubbed anyone the wrong way on the sports field except when Harbhajan Singh was accused of making fun of Andrew Symonds, leading to the Monkeygate affair. Fortunately, the issue was sorted out.

The Australian government must not allow the Indians to be made victims of any further abuse and should enforce their laws if there is any infringement. Australia may enjoy the advantage of wresting the Border-Gavaskar trophy, but it would be of no use if they have violated the spirit in which cricket should be played. 

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Heralding Sweet Revolution

The National Honey Mission is aimed at creating harmony between the environment, economy and society. By achieving its primary goals of protecting bees and increasing the production of honey in India, it is generating employment and income among rural populations and furthering the visions of a self-sufficient and sustainable economy.

Vinai Saxena

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“That land is barren, whose air falls silent of the buzz of the bees.”

Small things affecting our world in a big way is not a new perception. We know how micro-nutrients in ever small quantities influence biomass production, how mosquitoes and insects can cause and spread pandemics and how the accumulation of small amounts of carbon in the atmosphere over time has resulted in the gigantic phenomenon of climate change. Similarly, the relevance of the honey bee to the life system on the planet is critically important.  And even great minds like Albert Einstein have said that if honey bees disappear, it could threaten the very survival of humanity.

The fact that honey bees can pollinate flowers and effectively author agricultural production makes the interdependence of man and nature a sustainable characteristic of organic evolution.  So, simply put, as many have done in the past, if bees exist, we exist.  And if they don’t, it will not be too long before the life system’s sustainability begins to crumble.

India has not been an exception to this global appreciation of the bee.  In a general sense, what is said about the world is what applies, in a very critical manner, to highly productive tropical systems like the kind in India. Bees pollinate 90% of the flowering plants and over 70% of the main agricultural crops on which we sustain ourselves. India forms about 18% of the world’s population, and about 60% of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture and rural enterprises. With this fact in the picture, it does not require much imagination to assume that the spiral of eventualities caused by a decline of bees in India alone can affect human welfare around the world significantly. In fact, the industrial economies of the world owe it to the agricultural economies when it comes to survival and prosperity.  And as such, bees must be seen as a potential single-point failure system in which, if we fail them, they could fail an entire civilisation.

India has a National Honey Mission, executed by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, functioning under the auspices of the Ministry of MSME, Government of India. This National Honey Mission became necessary due to a few critical factors of global importance as they unfolded around us in the decade between 2000 and 2010. 

First, climate change-related warming was suspected to have shifted the niche domain of both forest and agricultural ecosystems to some extent, which not only displaced the biodiversity to newer landscapes, but also exacerbated species loss and productivity loss.  Although not well recorded in terms of numbers, it became very noticeable that tribal communities that traditionally harvested honey from well-known trees, groves and locations had to move to newer micro-climates in the forests in search of honeycombs.  The bumblebee had already been listed as endangered and several honey bee species came under watch.  India is known to have some 796 species of bees and 40% of them are endemic to our geography.  However, the species conservation debate largely focused on big cats, elephants and rhinos but the overarching importance of these creatures was underestimated.  And hugely important ecosystems, apart from farmlands, like the Sundarbans, Western Ghats and the verdant Northeastern landscapes, remained fragile with the possibility that the effect of climate change on bees could disrupt their integrity in the long run.

Second, the last decade saw an increasing incidence of ‘colony collapse disorder’ (CCD) concerning bees, especially the four or five species in India which have high relevance to bee farming. Being in the middle of a communication revolution, with mobile phone networks as well as television channels booming and enlarging national signal footprints, the CCD was suspected to be the handiwork of invisible electromagnetic signals. No conclusive evidence is available on this, but the CCD is a recorded fact and large populations of Indian bees of high commercial importance for beekeeping as well as agriculture have witnessed sharp declines in several geographic locations.

Third, the enormous increase in the application of insecticides in agriculture, especially the neonicotinoids, has been blamed for destroying honey bee populations to a very large extent in India in the past. 

With these, the bee situation, over a period of time, had come to be a really complex consideration. The desire to increase agricultural productivity, however, did not come with the desire to conserve and protect the diversity and population of bees in India, especially in the first decade of this century, spilling into the middle of this decade till about 2015. The policy horizon on agricultural development in the first decade did not include the importance of restoring and increasing bee populations.

By the middle of the current decade, India’s ranking on the food security index and global hunger index were not too impressive. India’s position among the biggest honey producers in the world was just the 8th and there was a need to explore the issue, if it could be raised. 

The Government of India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had begun to work on several areas of resurgence of India in a very focused manner, and the fields of agriculture, environment, biodiversity and sustainable development as a mutually linked quartet had already emerged as a significant direction of development. Among many other priorities, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) was encouraged to take up the Honey Mission as an important programme. By then, the Honey Mission was a point of focus for the National Bee Board of the Ministry of Agriculture as well, along with the sporadic efforts by the state governments.

However, KVIC had the unique advantage of being the lead agency under the government for the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) and it was envisaged that beekeeping is best suited as an entrepreneurial activity, benefiting under the PMEGP and other related initiatives.  The urgency before the nation in the context of the mandate of the National Honey Mission for KVIC was about increasing honey production, bee population, conservation of bee biodiversity and building related advantages for agricultural productivity. Further, reining in the rising unemployment rate, increasing the income of small farmers, building entrepreneurial spirit, ensuring self-sufficiency as well as increasing the export of honey were all equally required objectives. With this background, the KVIC established the National Honey Mission in 2017-18.

The National Honey Mission at KVIC thus came with significant expectations, such as increasing the production of honey, promoting the vocation of beekeeping, employment generation and assistance to agricultural development. Alongside, India has been addressing other highly relevant issues, so that there is a comprehensive approach to improvement in food security, biodiversity, environmental protection and entrepreneurship among the rural populations. Twenty-seven pesticides were also seriously reviewed to be banned from agricultural use in the country, which was a very good supporting legislation for the Honey Mission by the Government of India. The Paris Declaration on climate change had been signed too, so that the incidence of CFC was being controlled as per India’s international obligations, protecting fragile ecosystems from stress and directly helping bee populations to thrive. The Prime Minister of India and the Indian Finance Ministry also began emphasizing on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), whereby the proliferation of the benefits of the Honey Mission would be possible. More recently, the Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme, emphasizing on self-reliance, has given further impetus to these efforts.

With an all-round support system being evolved in the national mainstream flow of policy horizon, the KVIC launched the Honey Mission during 2017-18 with the simple goal of training people in beekeeping, providing bee boxes with hives, giving technical support till full establishment, developing cluster facilities of honey extraction and processing infrastructure and creating marketing facilities for the sale of honey products. The KVIC also evolved a gender equality policy and particularly encouraged women to take up entrepreneurship. As for pan-India equality in development as well as for strengthening the provisions of the social justice framework, special emphasis on Northeastern and northern hilly states of India and other socio-culturally underprivileged communities were prioritized and given higher access to the benefits of the Mission.

In the past three years, the National Honey Mission of KVIC has distributed about 150,000 bee boxes with live colonies across the country.  With each trained individual receiving a hamper of 10 bee boxes, a tenth of that number is the quantum of apiaries established.  If each of these 15,000 apiaries employs even three or four local people and two or three people for sales and distribution of honey, the wider employment opportunities will keep expanding. Further, through the associated national programmes of cluster development and assistance, the KVIC has established dozens of infrastructure pools, where entrepreneurs can avail facilities for honey extraction, processing, bottling, ancillary product development and knowledge exchange.

The National Honey Mission of KVIC is an aggressive nationwide programme, which has already resulted in the increase of bee populations by around 7,500 million individuals and is helping the nation take honey production to the level of $400 million. 17 classes of pesticides have been banned by the Government of India in recent months, out of a list of 27 under consideration, which will lead to the retention of the bee population that KVIC’s Honey Mission has generated. Skill development, training in beekeeping, marketing of honey and cluster-based infrastructure development have increased self-reliance in the sector to a large extent. Due to the increasing abundance of pure honey within the country, the contamination of honey by profiteers by way of adding imported rice syrup from neighbouring countries has been largely checkmated. During the current financial year, it is estimated that the food grain production would be about 300 million tonnes, which is a gradual increase at the rate of 2-3% in the past two financial years during the operation of the National Honey Mission.

The National Honey Mission of the KVIC is an integrated effort for multi-goal achievement, directly contributing to several national priorities like increasing bee population, enhancing food security, developing skill sets, establishing nationwide infrastructure, employing rural youth and women, ensuring self-sufficiency in honey and subtly build robustness into environmental systems across the geographies of the country for climate change adaptation and sustainability of resource dependent society.

The Prime Minister has called this the “Sweet Revolution” of the century and holds this as an important initiative, gradually strengthening the core competence of India. The KVIC has been expanding its efforts, year after year, and the National Honey Mission is evolving as a harbinger of harmony between the environment, society and economic system. It has also become a leading example of rural entrepreneurship and sustainable development through multiple indicators tagged to international programmes like UN-SDGs.

The writer is Chairman, Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

DECLINING CHILD SEX RATIO IN THE COUNTRY IS A SILENT EMERGENCY

Dr Anahita A. Bhatt

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For years, the Indian census has shown a marked difference between the number of males and females. It has been common wisdom in Indian society that a son should be preferred because he provides for financial and emotional support to the family, especially when the parents get old. Another idea which has been cultivated is that a son adds to the wealth and property of a family while daughters drain out the same. India’s skewed sex ratio is a consequence of this discrimination. In a country where females are worshipped in the form of idols, considering daughters a burden is paradoxical. 

Following the Census of 1991, a rapid decline in sex ratio due to pre-natal abortion of girl children was reported. To check this issue of illegal termination following pre-natal sex determination and misuse of technology, the Parliament enforced a special act in 1994. In accordance to various directions issued by the Supreme Court, the Parliament further amended the act in 2003, which is now called The Pre-conception and Pre-natal  Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act). According to this Act, genetic clinics are banned from directly or indirectly revealing the gender of the foetus. Only genetic abnormalities or sex-linked diseases are to be revealed. Although the rules and regulations of the act are sharply in place, a decline in the sex ratio was again observed in the 2011 Census. As per the 2011 Census reports, the child sex ratio in India declined to 919 females per 1,000 males, which is the lowest since Independence.    

On the occasion of the 68th Independence Day on 15th August 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech emphasized the critical issues of female infanticide, protection of the girl child and the declining sex ratio in the country. On 22nd January 2015, PM Modi’s extensive vision led to the launch of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme. During the launch of this campaign, PM Modi said that “for every 1,000 boys born, 1,000 girls should be born”. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Scheme (BBBPS) is a Government of India campaign that aims to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of services intended for girls in India. The vision of BBBPS is to promote social and economic empowerment of women and create an environment free from violence and discrimination against women.

Yet, PM Modi’s native land of Gujarat seems to be moving rearward with regard to the Beti Bachao campaign. The city of Surat, known as the diamond city all across the globe, tops the list of all cities in India for the widespread misuse of pre-natal diagnostic tools to determine foetal sex.  The literacy rate in Surat is exceptionally high (87.89%) – in fact, it is the highest among all districts of the state. Normally, according to the principle of population, wherever there is an increase in literacy rates, a rise in the child sex ratio (number of females born per 1000 males born) is evident. However, the contrary is seen in Surat. The child sex ratio in Surat, according to the 1991 Census, was 944, which declined to 871 during the 2001 Census and further declined to 835 during Census 2011. This decline in female births directly points towards the exploitation of modern science and technology for pre-natal sex determination and selective abortion of a female child.  Ironically, Surat is also among the other cities of Gujarat which worship and celebrate Goddess Amba during the nine days of Navratri in full swing. 

Surat is now steadily emerging as the IVF (in-vitro fertilization) hub of India. At present, a large number of cases have been registered against such centres in Surat for the illegal usage of technology under the PCPNDT Act. Out of the 17 cases decided so far, only two have found people guilty, while the others have been either acquitted or dismissed and no appeals have been lodged by authorities. This clearly is in violation of Rule 18 (A) of the said Act, which also mandates appropriate authority to file appeals immediately. It is a matter of pity that some of these clinics are making a fortune out of the ruthless killing of unborn girl children and hiding their misdeeds by organizing activities under the banner of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao mission.  

In-vitro fertilization(IVF), pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and pre-implantation genetic screening technologies, if misused, pose a challenge to PM Modi’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme and his vision of ‘1,000 girls born per 1,000 boys born’. With the rise in the number of IVF centers and genetic clinics, the inclination of Indian society towards having a male child also seems to be on a rise. As per data released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) for 150 countries over 40 years, India and China are the only two countries in the world where female infant mortality is higher than male infant mortality. The data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an India boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.

In a world where women represent over 40% of the global labor force, 43% of the world’s agricultural force and more than half of the world’s university students, a declining sex ratio in India is worrisome. The declining sex ratio in India is a silent emergency which needs to be brought to light. The persistence of this crisis presents serious implications on the future of society as well as humankind. This is happening despite legal provisions, government schemes and social media messages. The artificial alteration of the demographic landscape has adverse effects on not only gender justice and inequality but also on overall social progress.

Decades of policy efforts have not achieved any positive change with regard to the preference for sons. In fact, the declining sex ratio indicates that the situation is worsening. Many families in India continue to consider boys as an asset and girls as a liability. It is equally important to address the parental motivation than to just reduce sex-selective abortions. Female foeticide and excess female mortality are important manifestations of the preference for sons, but so is discrimination against living girls. Besides the misuse of technology, patriarchy in India has translated its prejudice and bigotry into a compulsive preference for boys and discrimination against the girl child.

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Sending chocolate to the soldier at Siachen

It is no secret that the Indian Army is dedicated to protecting the nation fiercely. But it is a lesser known fact that the Army also takes great care of its own, especially troops deployed in the most harsh and remote locations, providing them with both ‘bullet’ and ‘chocolate’ with precision and determination.

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The Siachen Glacier has attracted global attention for being the highest battlefield in the world where the Indian Army has been in a state of fierce conflict with the Pakistani Army since 1984. The Siachen Glacier, a remote location in Jammu and Kashmir, has become a household name because of the harsh climatic conditions in which the Indian Army has been conducting operations for more than three decades. It is no secret that sheer survival in glaciated terrain at such an altitude can be the biggest challenge for human beings. Fighting a battle pushes soldiers to the limits of their mental and physical capacities.

The Indian Army has done the nation proud by exhibiting the highest levels of professionalism, dedication, bravery and selflessness against all odds. A lot has been covered by the media, both print and electronic, about the fighting prowess of the Indian Army deployed on the glacier, but little has been discussed about how the frontline soldier on the glacier is cared for. We stand to salute those who have served on the Siachen Glacier and convey our gratitude to those who have made the supreme sacrifice of their lives while upholding India’s honour and defending this remote part of the country.

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, which was presented as a play, is set in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. The author talks of two soldiers, one of them had romantic ideas about love and war, and the other took pride in calling himself a ‘chocolate cream soldier’ because he felt that keeping survival ration in his pouch was as important as carrying ammunition. He believed in living to fight another day. He believed that he would rather fight and live for his country than just die for his country. This book is part of the curriculum at the National Defence Academy—probably to make a young cadet learn his soldiering lessons in a light-hearted manner because the girl in the book ultimately prefers the ‘chocolate cream soldier’ over the flamboyant one.

The Indian Army prides itself of being one of the most professional armies in the world, where soldiers are trained to fight as a cohesive whole, looked after by their commanders, and the logistic echelons contribute to maintaining them in the highest state of morale. As a tradition, the frontline troops are always made to feel cared for and are accorded the highest priority while providing stores, food and other facilities. Everything within the powers of the formation commanders and higher authorities is done to help the troops overcome the vagaries of nature, difficult living conditions and the hardships which come with operating in the conflict zone, away from their families. The soldiers deployed in difficult areas are always made to feel special and rightly so. A rule of thumb for logistical support is that fighting troops should never have to look over their shoulders for any item of operational logistics support.

The famous saying by Napoleon Bonaparte, “An army marches on its stomach”, still holds true. Resultantly, the Indian Army gives due priority to the aspect of food and rations for the troops, especially those deployed in high altitude areas and difficult terrain. It may be news to some that a special committee periodically reviews the scale of rations that soldiers need to consume in different operational environments which is then sanctioned by the government. Keeping in mind the effect of terrain, troops are authorised different scales of ration.

A jawan deployed at altitudes up to 9,000 ft should consume about 3,500 calories in a day, those deployed between 9,000 and 12,000 ft should have an intake of 3,900 calories and those above 12,000 ft need upwards of 4,000 calories. It has been scientifically proven that a human being needs to consume food with higher calorific value to survive in higher altitudes due to the lack of oxygen and other factors. The irony is that there is a loss of appetite due to several factors such as the rarified atmosphere, inability to exercise and lack of movement. Soldiers deployed at such altitudes crave to eat fresh ordinary vegetables than the most exotic tinned or dehydrated items of food which they normally get because of being cut off from the bases.

The Indian Army caters for special rations for the soldiers deployed at altitudes above 12000 ft. The ration scale has provisions to purchase some items as per the choice of the troops deployed in that area. It can vary from chocolate to chikki (brittle) to gur (jaggery) or even pre-cooked idli, primarily for the palate.

Provisioning these rations for troops deployed in high altitude areas is a very elaborate exercise every year. Due to snow, most of the difficult posts are cut off from the rest of the world for a period varying from 180 to 365 days. Hence, the rations which are procured need to have a shelf life of more than a year in many cases and must be sent up to the forward posts last among all the stores, forming part of the ‘Advanced Winter Stocking’, so that the items stay edible till the road reopens the following April or May. The dates of procurement are so fine-tuned that production by the factories, food inspection by the Army and transportation from the hinterland is precisely timed. It is evident from this exercise that operations and operational logistics of the Indian Army are so intricately meshed that the outcome can only be excellence. There is no room for failure because “a war has no runners up’.

There is no substitute or comparison to the hardship faced by the fighting soldiers but the synergy between the various arms and services of the Indian Army has to be seen to be believed and the results are for the nation to see. The Indian Army caters both the ‘chocolate’ and the ‘bullet’ for its soldiers with equal precision in planning and execution. It makes us feel extraordinarily proud to have been part of such a professional army where commitment is a prerequisite and challenging situations get the best out of them. And the lessons learnt here hold good for life.

During 39 years of military service, Lt Gen Balbir Singh Sandhu secured the apex appointment of Director General of Supplies & Transport of Army, headed a force of approximate 75,000 officers, JCOs, jawans and civilians deployed across India. He also served as the Director General of Information Technology of the Army. He is actively involved with think tanks such as USI, CLAWS, IDSA and ORF. The views expressed are personal.

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