Covid-19 has caused immense disruption to the education sector. It has literally forced the universities to reimagine every aspect of higher education right from curricular provisions, instructional materials, pedagogical processes, mode of delivery to mode of assessment and award of degrees. In certain manner it has exposed the fragility of the system to the extent that some of the universities are indecisive about the conduct of examination and declaring the results of the final year students.
The revised guidelines of the UGC, which have asked the universities to conduct the final-year examination within 30 September 2020, have further complicated the issue. It has resulted in an avoidable standoff between the regulators and good-sized stakeholders. The issue would have been conveniently resolved had individual universities been allowed to exercise their autonomy keeping in view their social and physical realities, coupled with knowledge of technical and professional aspects of assessment of learning in which area the university system has ample scholarship. Sadly, this stalemate has now reached the doorsteps of the Supreme Court because the system does not have the capacity to adapt to such changes.
Those who are opposing the UGC guidelines are genuinely scared of the consequences of the unstoppable Covid-19 pandemic which has created mayhem all over the world. Furthermore, they seem to be convinced with the alternate mode of assessment which suggests that the final-year students may be awarded degrees or diplomas on the basis of the average performance of their previous semesters coupled with the sessional evaluation of the last semester provided it turns out to be above the minimum criteria of passing laid down by the universities in their statutes or ordinances. The rationality of this argument needs to be analysed in a more dispassionate manner for the benefit of all the stakeholders.
Universities are expected to assess the performance of the individual students on the basis of three criteria, namely the performance of the students with regard to self, with regard to peer group, and with regard to intended learning outcomes. When a student is continuously and comprehensively assessed over a period spanning five semesters, it is presumed that her performance in the sixth semester is not going to be drastically different from the earlier five semesters and therefore averaging her performance for the purposes of awarding the degree, under the present life threatening situations, will be as fair an assessment as that of the summation of all the semesters. A lot of merit can be seen in this argument if the process of awarding marks or grades in the current evaluation system is further clarified.
It is a known fact that most universities are essentially using the 101 point interval scale for the evaluation of students in terms of marks and grades. This scale is based on two tentative assumptions. First, it assumes that the entire scale is divided into hundred units of equal sizes, which means that the difference between 40 and 41 is as much as the difference between 99 and 100. Second, it assumes that the zero on the scale represents the nothingness of an attribute and that 100 represents absolute 100. Both these assumptions are incorrect because the difference between any two subsequent units on the scale does not remain the same because it gets wider and wider as one moves on the scale from left to right. Similarly, zero on the scale does not represent the nothingness of an attribute, nor 100 represents absolute 100. If someone is awarded zero mark, it may not be appropriate to infer that she knows nothing and similarly it may be equally inappropriate to presume that one who gets 100 marks has mastered every competency to the level of hundred percent. These are the limitations of this scale which do not allow us to add the marks of one subject with another subject, nor permit us to compare the marks or grades across the subjects nor across the years.
Furthermore, the marks awarded in any examination, called the raw scores, never reflect the true scores of the learners as they get contaminated because of plethora of subjectivity which creeps into assessment procedures due to inter-examiner variability, imperfection of sampling of test contents, difficulty levels of questions, arbitrary time limits, etc. And, there is hardly any university which might be using statistical methods for transforming the raw scores into standard scores and using the latter for declaring the results. Further to this, it is also empirically proved that the magnitude of errors in measurement, which are called Standard Error of Measurement (SEM) might vary from 10-15% in a hundred marks paper. In such a situation, if a student is awarded 60 marks and the SEM is taken as 10, her marks are likely to be anywhere between 50 and 70 in two out of three cases and between 40 and 80 in nineteen out of twenty cases and between 30 and 90 in all the cases. It is precisely because of this reason that grading is considered a better system of evaluation than the numerical marking system wherein students are placed in certain predetermined ability bands which can be represented by letter grades. If there are such wide variations, then the assessment of students in one of the semesters should not be accorded such a monumental priority and that too during such unusual times.
While the universities have been asked to conduct the examination in offline, online or blended mode, the fact remains that most of them do not have the capacity to go in for a proctored examination. One of the premier universities in Delhi tried to do it but could not succeed even whilst conducting the mock examination due to technical glitches at the levels of both students and university. It is easier to say that students can write their examinations from the place of their residence. But the fact remains that Internet connectivity, speed, scale and availability of smart devices are serious issues which will continue to frustrate such moves for some time to come. It is not possible for most universities to invent the framework required for the conduct of proctored examination within a couple of weeks.
When the country is constantly witnessing a monumental surge of fatalities and infections and when there is no hope of any respite soon from Covid-19 pandemic in the near future, it may be appropriate to go in for a single policy at this point in time so that there is some sort of standardisation across the universities. It is advisable that the universities may be allowed to go in for the aforementioned measures.
Our university system has thus far remained too obsessed with offline mode of assessing students’ learning, now the time seems to have come to incorporate into our curriculum the contours of online and blended modes of examination with all their technological perspectives. Universities, on their part, must focus on how the examination needs to be morphed over time to allow these kinds of things to happen in a natural manner. It is necessary to invest energy more on things like how to scale teachers and put a qualified, competent and caring teacher in each class, how to design curricula and syllabi with futuristic orientation so that it prepares youth for tomorrow’s world, how to decentralise the decision-making process, and how to bring in technology into education at a scale.
The writer is former Chairperson, University Grants Commission.
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REMEMBERING BANGABANDHU’S GLORIOUS RETURN TO INDEPENDENT BANGLADESH
10 January 1972 will always be remembered as a golden day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, Father of the Nation ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman retuned to the land free from tyranny and anarchy. The reign of terror and destruction, aimed at wiping off the very identity of the Bengali people at the brutal hands of the West Pakistani military establishment, which was predominately Punjabi, in connivance with the local collaborators, had finally ended. He came back to the sacred soil of Bangladesh after spending a whole day under execution threat since he was arrested by the West Pakistani establishment.
Bangabandhu was first flown to London, then to Delhi – where he was given a reception accorded to a head of the state, before arriving back. In Delhi, he met Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, who stood with the Bangabandhu through the thick and thin and the Bengali people at their darkest hour ever in the recorded history. Even the so-called liberal and enlighted superpower stood alongside the Junta of West Pakistan, with a myopic, convoluted version of the genocide which was going on unabated with active patronage. It was the Iron Lady of India who held her ground, deploying all her arsenal, in solidarity with the people of East Pakistan. It is believed that the Indo-Soviet alliance not only deterred the aggressive 7th Fleet from entering the Bay of Bengal during the decisive days of the war of liberation, the diplomatic offensive also ensured that the West Pakistani establishment was prevented from carrying out the death sentence of Bangabandhu.
The Guinness Book of Records, March-December 1971, lists the atrocities on Bengalis as one of the five largest genocides of the twentieth century. Senator Kennedy wanted to visit East Pakistan at the height of the crisis. His visa was refused by the West Pakistani administration. Senator Kennedy however visited the refugee camps in India and was appalled by the conditions there. He also surveyed the bordering areas of East Pakistan to see for himself the condition of the mass exodus. USA officials working in diplomatic institutions within Bangladesh used the terms ‘selective genocide’ and ‘genocide’ (Blood telegram, from Archer Kent Blood who was last American Consul General to Dhaka, East Pakistan 1971) to describe events they knew of at that time, especially during the beginning of Operation Searchlight in March-April 1971.
However, these reports were deliberately downplayed by President Nixon, so advised by Henry Kissinger. The reason behind it was primarily because the USA wanted to protect the interests of West Pakistan as Kissinger was apprehensive of India’s friendship with the USSR, and he was seeking a closer relationship with China. The Chinese supported the West Pakistani administration in 1971 wilfully aware of the campaign of genocide in East Pakistan. Faced with insurmountable losses, the West Pakistani military capitulated in less than a fortnight. On 16th December 1971, the Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan surrendered. The Instrument of Surrender was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka at 16:31 hours IST (Indian Standard Time) by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army, and Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. After a gruesome and bloody nine months’ struggle, a free Bangladesh was born, thus effectively burying the hypothetical two-nation theory at the bottom Bay of Bengal.
Bangabandhu’s charismatic and iconic leadership had consolidated the focal points of the aspirations of the Bengali people. People of East Pakistan wanted freedom from the clutches of the deep state and being treated as a second-class citizens subjected to catastrophic marginalisation and exploitation. Upon his return, approximately half a million people came to greet him at the Race Course Ground, interestingly this was the same venue of the historic 7th March 1971 speech after which he came to be known as ‘Bangabandhu’ (friend of Bengal).
The year 2022 marks the golden jubilee of Bangabandhu’s return, and presently under the capable leadership of his daughter Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is determined to achieve and maintain the ‘Pluralistic Principals’ as laid down by Bangabandhu himself.
Tackling global temperature rise with simple innovations
People must abandon eating beef and the reasons are not belief-based. There is a direct link between shooting demand for beef and increase in earth’s temperature as beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint.
To begin with, ‘manmade’ climate change should not have happened. If it has, then easy solutions exist and it is certainly not as difficult as is being made out by the polluters.
Global powers, who manage perception management around the world frequently, insert too much information including false or misleading ones in digital and physical environments to alter the truths. They are the first ones to discard solutions, and that makes climate change a topic of politics more than anything else.
TACKLING CO2 EMISSIONS IS SIMPLE
With 2020-21 witnessing the world’s largest halts, people have realised the need to slow down the pace and conserve our environment. During the pandemic, suppressed social and economic activities led the global carbon dioxide emissions drop by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tonnes. But, with people adapting to the new normal, things are getting back to motion.
Isn’t it ironic that the so-called ‘leaders’ of global warming travel around the world in their energy-guzzling jets to assemble and suggest to the hapless citizens of the world to cut down on emissions? Isn’t it something that they themselves hypocritically do not follow?
Simple solutions are available that require no major investment to resolve global warming. These solutions come with added holistic answers to other facets that the common man might not even understand. Let us take a look at a few such practices that can bring down manmade climate change.
Global warming can be tackled using simple natural systems. In an energy-intense society, we generate energy to produce more energy. This is a perpetually unsustainable system where we create problems to solve existing ones.
Assuming that humans will keep living in an energy-intensive society, we will have to stop producing pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG). To achieve targets for mitigating global warming, we require large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There are four ways in which carbon withdrawal can take place and none of them include conferences, travelling for million miles, preaching without practice and manipulation. These are: (i) using carbon storage, (ii) growing seaweeds, (iii) Kelp farming and (iv) accentuating basalt weathering.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured by natural systems. CCS gets retained in the soil, vegetation, peat bogs, forests, wetlands, geological reservoirs, rivers, and seabed sediments. A whole array of technology options are available that capture and cut off CO2 artificially.
They help cut down emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, industrial processes like cement production and natural gas processing facilities. CCS in natural systems should be encouraged and improved upon to lessen the effects of climate change. A massive improvement is needed in the management of our natural systems.
SHIFT IN FARMING METHODS
We have to move away from intensive farming to increase the amount of carbon held in soils. Tilling should halt and growing practices should move towards ‘cover cropping’. Cover crops are specific crops grown solely for fertilising and building the soil as they improve the physical properties of soil in just one growing season. Biomass that is being used as fuel to produce electricity or heat should return to the soil. Non-chemical herbicides must replace glyphosate-based ones. Crop rotation is an age-old method to keep soil fertility and productivity in check.
During an energy-intense future, renewable energy deployment should replace carbon reliance. Solar, wind, hydropower and bioenergy sources will have a significant impact on reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. On a positive note, wind and solar have outpaced investments in fossil fuels for the last three years running. They now offer electricity at a cost close to or equal to that of fossil fuels. Solar is the future of energy as electric energy is the future fuel.
CONSERVING & EXPANDING AREAS OF WETLANDS
Wetlands are one of such natural systems that can completely disrupt sin carbon in a store. Wetlands cover about 6% to 9% of the earth’s surface and have sequestered approximately 35% of the global terrestrial carbon.
Wetlands capture and store carbon in several ways that include the accumulation of organic matter in soils and photosynthesis. Carbon enters the leaves in gaseous form as carbon dioxide, where it is converted through photosynthesis into sugars and starches. This has served to slow the rate of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere and thus the rate of climate change. Wetland soils tend to remain “waterlogged”, thereby inhibiting the diffusion of oxygen. Decomposition rates slow down leading to the accumulation of large amounts of carbon within wetland sediment profiles.
Wetlands are unique in their own way. The Irrawaddy dolphin is the flagship species of Chilka Lake while the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan is a centre of environmental tourism and picnicking! Some wetlands even possess the ability to distribute carbon horizontally to adjacent wetland environments. Distinct wetlands like peatlands capture and store more carbon than others.
Wetlands International estimates that though peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface area, they currently store about 30% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. Other wetland ecosystems that play a key role in carbon sequestration include seagrass meadows and mangrove swamps.
SEAWEED IS THE NEW SAVIOUR
Forests were considered the best natural protection against climate change. Recent research shows that seaweed is the most effective natural way of absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Seaweed has a huge role to play in fighting climate change. They absorb carbon emissions, create biofuel and renewable plastics, regenerate aquatic ecosystems and produce marine proteins.
India has launched a farming project off the Lakshadweep archipelago that aims to produce 30,000 tonne of seaweed a year. It has the technical support of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and will soon become the seaweed farming hub of India. CMFRI studies revealed an enormous potential for the production of quality seaweeds around pollution-free lagoons of Lakshadweep for high-end utilisation in food processing, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.
Oceans are major sinks of carbon and seaweeds are well known for their carbon sequestration properties. Such a scale of seaweed farming would sequester nearly 6,500 tonne of carbon dioxide each day. This would add huge carbon credits to our nation and provide a climate-resilient livelihood to the islanders.
Seaweeds add a lot of advantages. Unlike trees, seaweed does not require freshwater or even fertilisers. They grow at a faster pace than trees, often extending up to 2 feet a day. Seaweed contains a small amount of Asparagopsis Taxiformis, a red algal species. Cows burp the greenhouse gas methane that develops from their foregut fermentation. However, if only a tiny percentage of their diet is Asparagopsis Taxiformis, methane gets hugely diminished. When added to cattle feed, it has the potential to reduce methane production from beef cattle by up to 99%.
And above all, kelp can really transform carbon storage in the world. Kelp is actually a type of seaweed. Kelp farming is considered to be a remedy for all the ills associated with global warming. The tremendous potential of seaweed farming as a tool to combat environmental change was described back in 2012.
Kelp’s miracle is hidden in a lot of advantages. Carbon dioxide acidifies seawater. Kelp absorbs carbon dioxide using the same principle as land plants take out CO₂ from the air. In the oceans, it also de-acidifies the water making it less acidic. By drawing CO₂ out of the waters they allow our oceans to absorb more CO₂ from the atmosphere. This is how kelp helps fight climate change.
These waters make it easier for anything with a shell to develop and that makes kelp important for shellfish production. Kelp in itself has value as feedstock in agriculture and has various industrial purposes. Kelp cleans wastewater from fish processing plants and does not require fertiliser to grow. They grow very fast, 30 times quicker when compared to land-based plants.
Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon. It is a principal component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas. Biogas is a mixture of methane, CO2 and small quantities of other gases produced by bacteria that break down organic matter in an oxygen-free environment. Methane is the principal gas in biogas and is also the main component in natural gas, a fossil fuel.
If 9% of the ocean were to be enveloped in seaweed they could generate 12 gigatonnes of bio-digested methane each year. Biogas production is carbon-neutral and does not add to GHG emissions. This could be burned as a substitute for natural gas, coal or firewood. The seaweed growth would further capture 19 gigatonnes of CO₂.
A further 34 gigatonnes per year of CO₂ could be taken from the atmosphere if the methane is used to generate electricity and the CO₂ generated is captured and stored. Seaweed can produce enough biomethane to substitute all of today’s needs in fossil-fuel energy. It can potentially remove 53 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year from the atmosphere.
Basalt weathering has never been thought of. The world’s largest basaltic accumulation in the form of Deccan Basalts can actually alter the world’s carbon storage management. When silicate material like crushed basalt is combined with soil, it slowly dissolves and reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonates. These carbonates either remain in the soil or move towards the oceans.
This method would allow between 0.5 billion and 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to be separated from the atmosphere each year. This rate of removal is comparable to that of other land-based approaches like carbon trapping and sequestration in geological deposits, the accrual of organic carbon in the soil and adding biochar (a carbon-rich material) to the soil.
Enhanced basalt weathering in soils has important technical and economic potential and can be part of a global strategy to extract atmospheric CO2. Enhanced rock weathering could lead to the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In terms of cost and CO2 removal, this approach is as promising as other potential strategies.
Yet even under optimistic assumptions, enhanced rock weathering will sequester only some of the annual global carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use. The other method is prevention by enforcement and inducement.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES & A SHIFTING DIET
It may be hard to believe that the Butterfly Effect also functions directly or indirectly on our lifestyles! It’s all about driving small changes for large differences! So the choices we make about the food on the plates of our family determine what happens in the farmlands. Celebrities influencing the demand for leather jackets or fur hoodies tend to topple the balance of the wild animals in the Polar regions. It’s a Domino Effect! You become what you consume – the consumption in food or clothing being equally influential on the global market trends.
Let us take an example of how beef consumption creates too much carbon footprint. Why should people abandon eating beef or at least reduce it drastically? The reasons for this suggestion are not belief-based. Carbon reduction methods are needed to achieve a sustained future for feeding the growing population in the coming years. There is a direct relationship between how the shooting demand for beef increases the temperature of the earth.
People consume far too much protein than they require for their daily needs and this is a waste. This is roughly true across all the world’s regions and is the highest in developed countries. An average adult weighing 62 kg needs no more than 50 g of proteins per day.
An average American, European, Russian or Canadian eats up to 75 to 90 gram of protein per day (about 30 g from plants and more than 50 g from animals). In comparison, Indians and other Asians consume around 52- 55 g/day. Their proteins originate largely from legumes, fish and poultry. So do the Sub-Saharan Africans, though they eat a bit more meat than the world does.
Beef-eating in the US has dropped, thanks to health concerns about eating “red meat.” But the problem now is that more people from emerging economies like Brazil or China are now aping the West and adding more beef to their diet. The global demand for beef may increase by a whopping 95% by the year 2050.
Cattle breeding impacts the temperature on earth and contributes to global warming. It takes up a lot of land for pasturing and it is estimated that 25% of the earth’s landmass (minus Antarctica) would be needed for pasture. It is also estimated that a third of the global water is used for farm animal production.
HOW MUCH IS ‘TOO MUCH’?
How much do we really need to get through our day? Most of us are misinformed and hence eat more or starve ourselves for a lean physique! The first suggestion is not to overeat or simply put, reduce the overconsumption of calories. Second is limiting protein consumption by cutting down the consumption of proteins and we should include more plant-based proteins and lesser meat-based ones. Why consume 75-90 gram when we need only 55 gram of protein per day?
The third is compulsively undergoing lifestyle change – The basis of bringing a lifestyle change would be to reduce, reuse and recycle. We should include changes in design to make it sustainable by commuting habits towards sprawls and farmhouses, along with our weekend spending.
A check on our day-to-day living will harmonise the miscalculated spending on food, fashion and lifestyles. Incidentally, this is all enshrined in Sanatan Dharma, the eternal religion of humanity and lifestyle.
The writer is a strategic thinker, educationist, earth scientist, author, mentor, and advisor to various governments. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
DIGITAL INNOVATIONS CAN DEMOCRATISE EDUCATION IN INDIA
Education is the backbone of any country be it developed, developing, or underdeveloped. A crucial role has been played by education in technological advancements and imparting skills and awareness. People have realised the importance of education for a better living. Innovative initiatives like free primary education, mid-day meals, and other facilities at school have encouraged the unprivileged to send their children to schools.
Since the schools and colleges have been shut for more than two years, the majority of students have minimal access to education considering several factors like lack of access to resources, poor internet, absence of strict measures, and so on. Due to these obvious issues, most of the students have unlearned what they had learned over the years. A long-term outlook of digital innovations in education will truly democratize education in India.
Numerous novel ways are being devised, experimented with, and adopted by the stakeholders in order to attempt to deliver the highest quality education to students. Digital innovations delivering education at scale can solve issues to democratize education in a developing country like India. This model seamlessly integrates digital capabilities along with physical assets.
BLENDED LEARNING APPROACH
We as citizens of India should equally contribute to solving the gaping education crisis that emerged during the pandemic. We need to put our shoulders to the wheel and create a system where students don’t just have to learn via e-books and audio-visual lessons but also have access to physical resources and centers nearby in order to take hands-on training that can’t be attained by sitting at home. Such innovations will help students to continue pursuing education. This blended learning approach would enhance their learning experience, inspire them to explore, and foment innovation.
The process of blended learning has democratized education in several sectors of our society. Educational technologies (edtechs) are playing a crucial role in democratizing education in India, they went the extra mile to help learners amid the pandemic. The pandemic has demonstrated that parents and teachers are adopting a more practical approach to imparting education. Curriculum designs are now personalized and more practiser-oriented paving the way for the continuation of the hybrid mode of learning.
INNOVATION IN TEACHING METHODOLOGY
High-quality content is abundant in education, even our teachers can be trained online and get access to high-quality global training. Also, the teachers are now coming up with more innovative ways to deliver lectures to students via Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR). This way digital innovations can successfully enable a higher literacy rate across India. A nation with a higher literacy rate will lead to a lower unemployment rate and improved GDP growth.
The creation of free standardized content would prove beneficial for learners to grasp knowledge. The medium to disseminate it could be the widely used mediums like radio, televisions, etc. To support the traditional teaching method, parents, volunteers, and senior students are joining their heads in supporting the continuity in the learning process. Apart from this, redefining the term ‘teacher’ and decentralizing community-based solutions can create a new learning model.
The writer is the Co-founder and CEO, Careerera.
Why we need humanitarian law in disaster management
The origin of humanitarian law suggests its close linkage to human sensitivities. Law is an outcome of collective rationality of ‘we the people’, which is the real sovereign.
In one of the consultative meetings of the World Food Programme on disaster management organised by Sphere India recently, somebody raised objections to the role of humanitarian law in disaster management on the logic that this is already a part of the regular legal responsibility of governments. Should this be or not be? How would governments demand compliance to humanitarian responsibilities (not law) of the State when their own track record on human rights has always been a concern?
The dilemma reminds me of Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, or not to be” in contemplating death and suicide or bemoan the suffering due to the pain and unfairness of life? Hamlet’s mind, while envisaging an answer to the question, muses on… “Whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks, that flesh is heir to… For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause…” He reconciled that the alternative to suffering was worse. The humanitarian laws or its robust cousin, the human rights laws, are alternatives to a charitable State where charity finds meaning only within the province of the State so the logic for alternatives becomes strong.
It would be clear in subsequent arguments that by questioning humanitarian laws in disaster management, one would prevent deepening government action and resilience building at the most vulnerable levels. The UN Charter prohibits war and use of force to resolve conflicts. Should then nations stop war preparations and formulation of rules that regulate and terminate armed conflicts? Wars have not been completely outlawed as wars in the shape of internal armed conflicts continue incessantly. So a mere existence of rules and Acts on disaster management does not prevent the State from bypassing, overlooking, or skirting liabilities related to human rights. Whatever happened to the rural poor migrant workers during the pandemic is a public tragedy.
Those who built the big cities and special economic zones which filled State treasuries with FDI and FII, built smart cities, and a stamp of progress across the country’s metal road network was made to flee from cities without any help and on top of it, a Chief Minister treating them as pathogens even sprayed them with sanitising chemicals as a condition to any further mobility. These citizens of India have been given rights to the free passage under Article 19 of the Constitution and also protected against starvation, death, disease and abusive action by government authorities under Article 21. Yet it was all done against a vulnerable poor with disproportionate power against the State.
Jurisprudential evidence depicting the stark reality of legal abuse of vulnerable sections by States is enormous. NATO bombed Yugoslavia in the early morning of 23rd April 1999 in response to the conflict in Kosovo region of Serbia. The bombing killed 16 people in the radio and television station, Radio Televizije Srbije (RTS) in Belgrade. Six citizens, who approached the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, were the daughters of the first and second applicants, the sons of the third and fourth applicants and the husband of the fifth applicant who were killed, and the sixth applicant who was injured. They alleged violations of Article 2 (Right to Life), Article 10 (Freedom of Expression) and Article 13 (Right to an Effective Remedy) of the European Convention.
The court dismissed their claim by taking an extremely narrow and limited recourse to a pre-colonial law which segregated between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ rather than adopting the true spirit defined in The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, more commonly known as the European Convention of Human Rights, which explicitly states in its Preamble that one of its purposes is to “take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain rights stated in the Universal Declaration.” This is one of the most misconstrued and egregious cases in the history of humanitarian law but on the other hand, just a few years later this court actually evolved to match the spirit of human rights.
Soon after, a group of citizens approached the same European Commission under the same Article 2 of the European Convention to allege that the State failed in its responsibility to provide them protection against natural hazards that caused deaths in Tyrnauz during July 2000. The court, in addressing this case of Budayeva vs Russia 2008, turned to State failure, first in maintaining mud-protection engineering facilities, notably to restore the mud-retention dam damaged in 1999 and to clear the mud-retention collector blocked by the leftover debris, secondly, in maintaining a public warning (or Early Warning System) about the approaching disaster that would help to avoid casualties, injuries and mass panic.
In contrast to the previously referred Bankovic case, the court ordered that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts, to be converted into Russian roubles at the rate applicable at the date of settlement, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, plus any tax that may be chargeable on these amounts:
(i) EUR 30,000 (thirty thousand euros) to the first applicant;
(ii) EUR 15,000 (fifteen thousand euros) to the second applicant;
(iii) EUR 10,000 (ten thousand euros) to each of the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth applicants;
(iv) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
The origin of humanitarian and human rights law tells a touching mission of humans with higher than normal sensitivity towards life. During the mid-nineteenth century, Europe’s two goriest battles of Solferino (1859) and the Crimean War (1853-1856) the traditional aristocratic frame of the Army that always stood up to block humanitarian legal reforms gave way. Both these wars were iconic failures in their planning strategies and in medical aid. An author of Russian history Alexis S. Troubetzkoy (2006) describes the Crimean War as ‘a notoriously incompetent international butchery’ by the French alliance with Ottoman Empire, UK and Sardinia against lone Russia.
The cause of the war was to protect Christian minorities in Palestine which was part of the Ottoman Empire. This deadly war led by Napoleon III provoked rules for the care of the vulnerable in wars. The two English nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole were described as great healers who left behind any best surgeon in care and treatment of wounded in the battlefield. The Solferino battle saw the same military alliance standing against the Austrian army which abandoned its position by afternoon as the haunted battlefield was strewn with 6,000 dead and 40,000 injured crying for help which was nowhere possible.
Henry Dunant’s account as a war reporter shocked the conscience of the civilised world but it was this account that launched (i) International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (ii) creation of humanitarian law to protect the vulnerable due to wars or human calamities. The Geneva Conventions also grew from a minimalist to broader terrain starting with the first in 1864 for military victims of warfare to the second in 1899 for wounded and sick in sea warfare, in 1929 on prisoners of war, in 1949 on war victims, combined with Protocols additional to Geneva Conventions in 1977.
While both the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Human Rights Law (HRL) prescribe to the protection of life, health and dignity to human beings, the former focuses on obligations of the State towards war victims but the latter indicates those primordial rights inherent in human beings that define and limit boundaries of State power. It is believed that the two are complementary as HRL does not stop during wars nor does IHL turn away when other warlike devastating disasters occur.
The origin of humanitarian law suggests its close linkage to human sensitivities. Law is an outcome of collective rationality of ‘we the people’ which is the real sovereign. Any constitution, however voluminous or concise such as the Indian Constitution with 448 articles in 25 parts and 12 schedules, US Constitution with just seven Articles or the UK Constitution with none, would not assign a threshold for government’s observance of humanitarian law. This field is growing with human knowledge and sensitivities. The identification of the vulnerable and their vulnerabilities increase with evolving human sensitivity as that which started with wounded soldiers today extends to enemy spies and victims of civil wars, racism and religious minorities.
As the dust of ignorance and biases gradually gets wiped off, the same civilisations, which killed and persecuted lepers, women, slaves, Blacks, disabled, and atheists, become human rights campaigners. Since sensitivity is a constantly evolving domain of humanity, it is likely to evolve further and discover more areas of abuse and cruelty to be prohibited by law. Notwithstanding the Non-Human Rights Project, which had petitioned before the US Supreme Court on rights of animals against their encaging, abuse and experimentation, Justice Barbara Jaffe of the Manhattan Supreme Court even granted a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two non-human plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo – chimpanzees used for medical experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Several rulings from Indian courts have acknowledged the rights of pet and homeless stray animals.
Courts in India have bestowed rights to even rivers and trees notwithstanding eyes which shut on sobbing and screaming hens transported in stuffed cages, disrobed in markets like public rape of young girls. I cannot insist that law be made to reclaim hen’s legal protection against what I see as a crime as ‘this is my sensitivity, may not be yours’ but I retain my right to sustain my level of sensitivity that suggests co-existence, will set a direction for evolution in law. Despite a nation with an embedded philosophy of Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Jainism proscribing animal slaughter, brutality, and their enslavement, yet it took our Constitution three decades to add two austere words ‘compassion’ and ‘coexistence’ in Articles 48-A and 51-A and that too as mere suggestive guidelines, not as law. This reveals the inertia of the State towards ideals belonging to higher sensitivities in contrast to authority driven diktats.
Why humanitarian law and, for that reason, why women’s law, environmental law or law for the differently-abled? Under what law would the State take note of the fact and also make houses for the 15% homeless human population (2011 census) with 4 lakh children and 8 crore dogs and cats on streets (Report of State of Pet Homelessness Index 2020) shivering in freezing temperatures and enduring rains and winds in the open. Their death is also insignificant to governments. In 2020, except for Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala, those 16 States with 40% homeless made no mention of them on the contrary have forcefully evicted more than 2,60,000 people with homes in 2017 alone for city beautification and infrastructural development projects. The 2022 World Inequality Report uncovers how global inequality has been exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic in which the top 1% took 38% of all additional wealth accumulated since 1995 with an acceleration in 2020.
As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this; you must first enable the government to control the governed and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” So how would citizens oblige the government to control itself? That is where a need for ‘rule of law’ enters body polity justifying humanitarian laws as an indispensable prerequisite in war, in peace and in disasters.
The author acknowledges with thanks inputs from the rich discussion she had with two colleagues from JNU, Dr P. Puneeth and Dr Deepa Kansra.
The author is president of Network Asia Pacific Disaster Research Group (NDRG), Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this; you must first enable the government to control the governed and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” So how would citizens oblige the government to control itself? That is where a need for “rule of law” enters body polity justifying humanitarian laws as an indispensable prerequisite in war, in peace and in disasters.
DESPITE COVID, ELECTION FEVER RIDES HIGH
Election fever is at an all-time high in the five states that are slated to go to the polls. In the build-up to the assembly elections, it was the farmers’ bill that was high on everyone’s radar, especially when these were rolled back. They were supposed to impact the elections both in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. As the elections drew closer, one finds that these are not making the same kind of headlines. One reason for this is of course that these have been rolled back. The second is that in Punjab where this was a hot ticket issue, the BJP is not really a player. Every other party has come out in support of the farmers’ protests in their own way, be it the Aam Admi Party, the Akali Dal that walked out of the NDA on this issue, and the Congress. As for Western Uttar Pradesh, the farmers’ protests, low MSPs are an issue specially in the sugar cane belt. But since it’s the hind heartland, caste equations also have equal heft, as do religious divides. For the SP and the RJD, getting the Jats and Muslims to vote together on the same issues, overcoming the communal faultlines will be a challenge.
Moreover, let’s not forget that these elections are taking place during Covid times. The economic downturn of successive lockdowns has taken its toll on everyone. Hence the promise of 300 units of free electricity has hit a chord both with Arvind Kejriwal’s voters in Punjab and Akhilesh Yadav’s voters in Uttar Pradesh. Other parties have followed suit. What is also interesting is that the PM’s security breach has not blown up into a big-ticket issue despite the BJP playing it up both on social media and on the ground.
If we take a look at the two big high profile states, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, we see that four different parties are dominating the election narrative. The state of Uttar Pradesh is witnessing a high voltage battle between the BJP and Samajwadi Party; while the AAP & Congress appear to have the edge in Punjab. In UP the narrative is one of Kamandal Vs Mandal, while in Punjab both parties are fighting to prove which one is the real aam admi. While Kejriwal has dibs on that tagline, Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is out to prove that he is more of a people’s person. He gives interviews on charpais, in a mustard field, he stops his cavalcade to help accident victims, and reaches out to protestors in the streets. Plus he is a Dalit face, taking the edge away from Kejriwal’s promise to prop up a Dalit Chief ministerial candidate from AAP.
To distract from the fact that he was going back on his word, the AAP held a referendum amongst the people of Punjab and came up with Bhagwat Mann, the party MP from Sangrur as its CM face. In fact, Mann was also the party’s state president but he resigned in 2018 when Kejriwal apologised to the Akali Dal leader Bikram Majithia for alleging he was involved in drug trade. A stand-up comic, Mann is the party’s star campaigner, he gets the crowds but this is the first time his leadership mettle will be tested. However, this is clear. If the AAP does come to power, it will be Kejriwal himself who will be running the state and not Mann. This is evident from the AAP campaign which says Ik Mauka Kejriwal Nu (give Kejriwal a chance). And the manifesto that he is taking to the people of Punjab is the Delhi Model of Governance.
This has put pressure on Congress to announce its CM face – whether it shall be Channi or the PCC Chief Navjyot Singh Sidhu. A Sidhu Vs Mann fight would make great TRPs as both are stand-up comics and come up with great oneliners. However if the Congress props Channi then it will be Kejriwal who will take him on, and both will play up the optics of being an aam admi.
In the end, it’s the poll season and despite these being Covid times, it’s also a time for some old-fashioned politics.
A campus murder, an errant actor and acquittal of a bishop
On Friday Kottayam Additional Sessions Judge acquitted Father Franco Milakkal, the former Jalandhar Bishop of the Catholic Church, of all charges in the alleged rape of a nun.
A cold-blooded murder that ended on a farcical note, a high-voltage murder plot that is turning murkier by the day, a bomber of a sensational acquittal of a bishop— It was an eventful week for Kerala and the Left Front government. The murder of a 21-year-old engineering student-supporter of the ruling CPM’s student wing Students Federation of India on Monday sent shockwaves across the state and paved way for a slanging match between the CPM and the opposition Congress but degenerated into a Thiruvathirakali, a traditional Kerala dance form, that made the CPM see red. By Wednesday, the murder had been pushed back with a popular film actor, who is under trial for his role in a high-profile abduction and rape of a colleague actress, being framed on charges of conspiracy to kill the investigation officer probing his case. By Friday, a sessions court judge in central Kottayam dropped a bombshell by letting free a bishop charged with multiple rape of a nun in a nunnery in Kuravilangad, 45-minutes drive from Kottayam town, over a period of two years. All three incidents put the government and the ruling CPM at the centrestage even as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan set off to the US for medical treatment.
The murder of the young engineering student was most foul, no doubt about that. But what followed the return of politics of murder on the campus was demeaning. Within hours of the murder, a prominent Youth Congress leader of the area was arrested and as the investigation began the CPM accused the current Congress leadership of plotting the murder and declared martyrdom for the student, Dheeraj Rajendran, who is barely known outside his friend circle in the college in Idukki. The Congress president K Sudhakaran, not given to niceties, shocked Kerala by saying that the CPM had “intentionally grabbed this martyrdom. They are not sad, but happy about it.”
But before the all-round condemnation died down, the decision of the CPM to take the body of the SFI activist by road – the funeral procession was supposed to stop at every prominent town to give floral tributes to the slain student– to his native Thaliparambu in CPM stronghold Kannur raised many eyebrows. It was clear that the party was out to capitalise the murder to the fullest, like one squzzes a lemon to take out the last drop of juice. Out came the news that overnight CPM had bought eight cents of land next to Rajendran’s house at Pattapara village in Thaliparambu. Rajendran’s body was cremated with “full party honours” there early Wednesday with the CPM announcing erection of a memorial there. Kannur is littered with such memorials, most of them lying uncared for. But the party, over the years, had made a killing in the name of raising funds for such memorials. But the hypocrisy of the CPM came to full light when it was revealed that as the funeral procession crawled its way, in state capital Thiruvananthapuram party functionaries were enjoying a Thiruvathirakali performed by 502 party women supporters singing paeans for Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan. a la North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Not only was it in violation of Covid norms prevailing in the state, but also it was an insult to the memory of the young student for whom the party was supposedly grieving. Such is the stuff politics is made of in Kerala. The trial against popular cine actor Dilip for his involvement in the abduction-rape of a fellow actress way back in February 2017 has been on closing stages when a new allegation against the actor plotting the murder of an investigation officer has come up. This has now paved the way to the reopening of the case where almost all the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile over the years. But this has put the focus straight on the state government which is sitting on the report of a commission it had set up to look into the shady dealing in the state film industry in the wake of the assault on the actress. The Justice Hema commission of which two-time Urvasi winner renowned actress Sharada is a member submitted a 300-page report to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 31, 2019. However, the government was sitting over it for the past two years on the contention that the report is “too explosive and dangerous” and would put the “reputation of many bigwigs at stake”. As questions on who all the government was trying to shield were raised in the light of new revelations against Dilip, the government on Wednesday constituted a three-member panel to further study the Hema commission report. This has come as a cruel joke on all those actresses who have been fighting for justice for their colleague. The government has to clear the air of suspicion surrounding the case.
But the icing of the cake came on Friday when Kottayam Additional Sessions Judge acquitted Father Franco Milakkal, the former Jalandhar Bishop of the Catholic Church, of all charges in the alleged rape of a nun. There was outrage and celebration (crackers and distribution of sweets) at the same time as a divided Kerala tried to live through the verdict. Unlike in the actor’s case not one of the 37 witnesses turned hostile despite the lure of money and threat from the Church. Still the court found no concrete evidence to convict the bishop, though the full report is yet to be released. “This is a case in which the grain and chaff are inextricably mixed up. It is impossible to separate the grain from the chaff,” the court said. The order further said that “this court is unable to place reliance on the solitary testimony of PWI (Primary Witness) and to hold the accused guilty of the offenses charged against him.”
It was on June 27, 2018, that a nun, currently residing at the St Francis Mission House, Kuravilangad, had approached the District Police chief, Kottayam, with a complaint against Bishop Franco Mulakkal. As per the prosecution’s case, Bishop Franco had raped and forced her to have unnatural sex on many occasions between 2014 and 2017. The Church vehemently denied the charges and stood solidly behind the Bishop. The Church even tried to depict the nun as a ‘loose woman.’ The Left Front government, too, fearing backlash from the community, tried to ignore the case. It took five sisters from Kuravilangad House to stage a dharna in Kochi, forcing the government to act. Soon after, a special investigation team was formed, which arrested Mulakkal after several rounds of questioning. Subsequently, he was removed from the post of bishop. After weeks in judicial custody, Mulakkal secured bail from the Kerala High Court. Still the Church and the Bishop used their money power to silence the protesters. A month after the rape trial begun, the police officer who investigated the charges was summarily transferred, triggering allegations that the move was aimed at weakening the case. A key witness, also a priest, died in mysterious circumstances. A prominent casualty being Sister Lucy Kalappurakkal who was in the forefront of the agitation for justice for the nun, being a part of the Save Our Sisters Forum (SOS), an outfit formed in the wake of the nuns’ protest, was expelled from the Franciscan Christ Congregation (FCC). She is still fighting her case, refusing to quit the congregation. Even as the SOS is determined to move the higher court, the government is yet to react. Pinarayi Vijayan as Home minister has to take the final call. The next 60 days, the time given for further filing of petitions, is crucial for the nuns who, as some say, are worse than those Dalit and Adivasi women violated day after day.
OVERHEARD: Now, Chinese leader Xi Jinping can breathe easy (On CPM Politburo member, S Ramachandran Pillai’s comment that attacks on China in India is actually aimed at the CPM)
The trial against popular cine actor Dilip for his involvement in the abduction-rape of a fellow actress way back in February 2017 has been on closing stages when a new allegation against the actor plotting the murder of an investigation officer has come up. This has now paved the way to the reopening of the case where almost all the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile over the years. But this has put the focus straight on the state government which is sitting on the report of a commission it had set up to look into the shady dealing in the state film industry in the wake of the assault on the actress.
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