A cute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) is a fatal disease that has plagued Uttar Pradesh (UP) for decades, with annual outbreaks reported since 1977. The Japanese Encephalitis ( JE) virus, endemic to at least 38 districts of eastern and central UP, is a prominent source of encephalitis deaths in the state, causing 600- 1000 deaths annually. In 2005-2018, there were over 47,000 AES cases reported in UP, resulting in more than 8000 deaths. However, in 2019, the number of AES cases in the state reduced by nearly 68% and deaths reduced by 88%, when compared to 2017. Cut to 2020, when AES deaths have reduced even further by almost 95%. The analysis of data from Gorakhpur and Basti districts by the international non-profit PATH has revealed this welcome trend.
Amidst allegations of data manipulation in the media over the last three years, we attempt an objective assessment of the available data as well as the UP government’s new approach to tackle AES/JE cases. This multi-pronged approach supplements immunisation programmes for children with a new door-todoor awareness campaign called Dastak. Additionally, efforts have been made to strengthen public healthcare facilities to ensure that patients receive treatment in the fastest possible time, resulting in the response time for managing AES to decrease by almost 80%.
As per a survey conducted in 2016-17, before the intervention, about 54% of AES patients were approaching informal healthcare providers for treatment. To make treatment readily accessible at the nearest location, the government upgraded 104 primary and secondary facilities to function as 24×7 Encephalitis Treatment Centres (ETCs). While these ETCs were supplemented with trained staff, essential drugs and equipment to ensure proper treatment at the block level, the government also equipped district hospitals with paediatric intensive care units (PICU) and trained specialists to deal with treatment complications. Standardized checklists were developed to gauge problems and ensure corrective actions. By 2020, the number of patients approaching quacks declined to 7%, while those approaching ETCs jumped to 72%.
Prior to 2017, Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College in Gorakhpur was the only healthcare facility for paediatric patients suffering from AES/JE. Notably, the facility came under the media spotlight back in 2017 after the deaths of several children, allegedly due to a shortage of oxygen supply. The same year, to address the issue of the non-availability of treatment facilities at the block level, which often led to delays in treatment, a system of mini PICUs was set up. Paediatricians, medical officers, PICU-trained nurses and essential equipment, including ventilators, were made available at the mini PICUs for early management of encephalitis cases. Early detection and treatment through mini PICUs seem to have not only controlled disabilities and deaths among the patients, but also aided in reducing the case burden on BRD Medical College.
At the heart of the state’s new strategy is the UNICEFaided Dastak campaign, under which, frontline healthcare workers, ASHA and Anganwadi workers are deployed for door-to-door sensitisation of individuals, with a greater focus on 617 villages with a higher risk of AES/JE. An assessment of the Dastak campaign revealed that more than 8 million houses were visited by ASHA workers for sensitisation in 2019, which seems to have decisively impacted fatalities. In fact, the mechanism developed for capturing the Dastak campaign data may have also played a crucial role in the state’s management of the COVID pandemic. Village-level sensitisation by frontline workers has been key for the containment of COVID after a large influx of returning migrants during the period. The state’s awarenessbuilding efforts have also included an increased engagement through mass media, social media, and workshops supported by UNICEF and PATH. The impact of the awareness programmes can be gauged to a certain extent by looking at the average days between the onset of symptoms to admission, which decreased from 5 days in 2017 to 0.9 days in 2020. Further, the government is leveraging the reach which schools have by nominating health educators to spread awareness about health, sanitation, and AES prevention and control among students, parents and teachers. Additionally, a mass behaviour change intervention, called the Sanchari Rog Niyantran Abhiyan (SRNA), is being implemented, under which, 12 state departments have conducted inter-departmental activities, trained frontline workers and generated public awareness. SRNA activities in 2019 included, inter alia, about 5,31,281 school rallies, 1,82,104 sensitisation meetings and 7,40,188 drainage clearances in rural areas. Mass vaccination campaigns for JE were first introduced in the state in 2006. However, their impact was limited owing to low coverage and lack of awareness. Immunisation efforts were intensified in 2017 with the introduction of two doses of the JE vaccine for children aged 9-12 months and 16-24 months, followed by routine immunization. In March 2020, the state government launched a follow-up vaccination drive to ensure the immunization of those who had been missed earlier, a strategy that has been lauded by UNICEF. It is to be noted here that the decline in cases in UP is in tandem with similar trends in other states and nationally. Data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) shows that cases and mortality rates have gone down since 2014.
The national death count of AES and JE cases declined from 1,719 and 293 in 2014 to 199 and 68 in 2020, respectively. However, since much of India’s AES/JE caseload comes from UP, the success of a decrease in overall cases can certainly be attributed to UP.
Taking available evidence into account, it is important to take note of UP’s focus on intensifying communication efforts to enable mass sensitisation about AES/JE. Well-integrated and sustained awareness campaigns by the government have aided much of its fight against encephalitis, which is a strategy that can very well be replicated elsewhere.
The writer works with SPRF, a youth-centric policy think tank focused on social and political research.
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ARRANGEMENTS BEING MADE TO BRING KERALA WOMAN REMAINS: DEPUTY ENVOY
NEW DELHI : Israeli deputy envoy Rony Yedidia Clein informed that the Israeli embassy is in touch with the family of a Kerala woman who was killed in a rocket attack in the Israel city of Ashkelon. He added that arrangements are being made to bring her mortal remains to India.
Soumya Santosh, a 30-year-old Indian woman hailing from Idukki in Kerala was among those killed in a rocket attack by a Palestinian Islamist group in Israel on Tuesday. She was working as a caretaker to an elderly woman at a house in the Ashkelon, which borders the Gaza strip. According to her family, she was living in Israel for the last seven years. Her husband and nine-year-old son are living in Kerala.
“We have been in touch with the family. She was talking to her husband when this happened and I can imagine how horrendous it’s for the husband. I can only sympathise with what he must be feeling,” said Clein in an exclusive interview with ANI. “Ambassador [Ron Malka] spoke with the family yesterday and conveyed his condolences and condolences of entire Israel. We’re in touch with the family and with the embassy in Tel Aviv that is arranging to have her body flown back to India, to be properly taken care of,” she added. Israeli ambassador Ron Malka on Wednesday said that he has spoken to the family of Soumya Santosh and extended his condolences on behalf of the state of Israel. Taking to Twitter, Malka said his heart goes out to Santosh’s nine-year-old son, who lost his mother at such a young age. “I just spoke to the family of Ms Soumya Santosh, the victim of the Hamas terrorist strike. I expressed my sorrow for their unfortunate loss and extended my condolences on behalf of the state of Israel. The whole country is mourning her loss and we are here for them,” Malka had tweeted.
AT LEAST 65 KILLED IN GAZA, 7 IN ISRAEL AS CLASHES INTENSIFY
The death toll in Gaza has reached 65, and seven in Israel as the Hamas group launched a new barrage of airstrikes, in the midst of the deepening unrest between Israel and Palestine. Al Jazeera reported that heavy bombardment on the Gaza Strip continued, killing Hamas Gaza City commander, Bassem Issa, in one of the Israeli airstrikes along with our senior members, the Hamas group confirmed.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 65 Palestinians, including 16 children and five women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 365 people have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women.
Meanwhile, a five-year-old boy was killed and at least 20 Israelis were hurt as Gaza launched a fresh spade of rocket attacks that set off warning sirens in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and cities in the south on Wednesday night, reported The Times of Israel.
In a rare incident, rocket shrapnel punctured the shelter’s window, critically injuring the minor and also wounding his mother. He was pronounced dead several hours later, reported local media
With the boy’s death, the number of fatalities has reached seven, including five Israeli civilians, an Indian national and an IDF soldier killed by anti-tank missile fire on the Gaza border.
According to the Israeli army, 180 rockets were fired at Israel since 6 a.m. on Wednesday, of which 40 fell in Gaza. In response to the rocket fire, the IDF launched strikes on upwards of 500 targets in the Gaza Strip, aimed at Hamas personnel, weaponry and infrastructure throughout the enclave
The Israeli police have said that 374 people have been arrested so far tonight in rioting throughout the country, with 36 cops hurt during events, reported The Times of Israel.
The ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine marks a dramatic escalation of tensions linked to the potential eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers and access to one of the most sacred sites in the city, which is a key hub for Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
A senior Hamas official on Wednesday said the terror organisation is ready to end the current intensive fighting with Israel, the Times of Israel reported citing the Russian foreign ministry’s statement.
Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau conditioned it on Israel halting strikes and on the international community pressuring the Jewish state to end “military actions” at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
Tensions between Israel and Palestine are rapidly rising with the ramping up of rocket attacks and the United Nations has warned that the conflict is moving towards a ‘full-scale war’.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, called on both sides to de-escalate tensions the day before.
“Stop the fire immediately. We are escalating towards full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take responsibility for de-escalation. The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid for by ordinary people. The UN is working with all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now,” he tweeted.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday (local time) spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israel-Palestine conflict and said he hopes that the hostilities will conclude.
“My expectation and hope are that this will be closing down sooner than later. But Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory. But I had a conversation for a while with the — with the Prime Minister of Israel. And I think that — I hope that we will see this concluding sooner than later,” Biden told reporters at the White House. The US President spoke on the issue for the first time since the violence erupted at the start of the week.
According to a White House readout, Biden in a phone call to Netanyahu condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people while protecting civilians.
He also conveyed the US encouragement of a pathway toward restoring a sustainable calm and shared his conviction that Jerusalem, a city of such importance to people of faith from around the world, must be a place of peace.
Biden also updated Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with regional countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, as well as with Palestinian officials.
The two leaders agreed to maintain the close consultation between their teams, which has included consistent engagement by their respective foreign ministers, defence ministers, chiefs of defence, and national security advisors, and to stay in touch personally in the days ahead, according to White House.
Earlier on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Netanyahu and expressed his concerns over the ongoing violence.
According to US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken and Netanyahu discussed the ongoing violence in Jerusalem and the Secretary reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.
The ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine marks a dramatic escalation of tensions linked to the potential eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem by Israeli settlers and access to one of the most sacred sites in the city, which is a key hub for Islam, Judaism and Christianity. With ramping up of rocket attacks and airstrikes from both sides, concerns have emerged that the conflict is likely to evolve into a full-blown war.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza rose to 65 Palestinians, including 16 children and five women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. WITH ANI INPUTS
HOW PM KISAN & DBT SCHEME PROVED TO BE EMPOWERMENT TOOLS
According to food and public distribution authorities, Rs 66,896.87 crore was saved due to the removal of over 2.98 crore bogus beneficiaries from the system, with the help of technology. The JAM Trinity has eliminated the web of middlemen and is a fine example of preventing corruption through technology.
“We must ensure that technology is accessible, affordable, and adds value”
—PM Narendra Modi
Farmers have always been at the epicentre of the Modi government’s economic philosophy that encourages enterprise and inclusivity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will release the eighth instalment of financial benefits under “PM-KISAN” on 14 May 2021. This will enable the transfer of more than Rs 19,000 crore to more than 9.5 crores beneficiary farmer families. Under the “PM-KISAN” scheme, a financial benefit of Rs 6,000 per year is provided to the eligible beneficiary farmer families, payable in three equal, four-monthly instalments of Rs 2,000 each. The fund is transferred directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. In this scheme, “Samman Rashi” of over Rs 1.15 lakh crore has been transferred to farmer families so far. This annual financial support is given to farmers having combined landholding or ownership of up to two hectares. Since its inception in December 2018, the Modi government has given seven instalments to these farmers. The Central government’s Rs 75,000-crore annual scheme aims to cover 125 million farmers, irrespective of the size of their landholding in the country.
The scheme defines a family as a husband, a wife, and minor children. The fund of Rs 2,000 is directly transferred to the bank accounts of the farmers/farmer’s family, with no room for middlemen or pilferage of any kind. Who is eligible for the PM Kisan scheme? Well, landholding farmers’ families with cultivable landholding in their names can apply under this scheme. Farmers from both urban and rural areas, small and marginal farmers families, are all eligible. Who is not eligible for the PM Kisan scheme? Institutional landholders, present or retired officers and employees of State/Central government, as well as PSUs and government autonomous bodies, cannot apply for the scheme. Again, beneficiaries with higher economic status are not eligible, either.
Those who pay income tax, farmer families holding constitutional posts, professionals like doctors, engineers and lawyers and retired pensioners with a monthly pension of over Rs 10,000, are not eligible.
How to register for PM Kisan Samman Nidhi?
Farmers have to approach the local revenue officer or a nodal officer nominated by the State government. The Common Service Centres (CSCs) have also been authorised to do the registration of the farmers for the Scheme upon payment of fees. Prime Minister Modi’s ease of doing business (EODB), is not limited to only big corporates.
For instance, on the official website of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana – pmkisan.gov.in, there’s a section called the “Farmers’ Corner”. Farmers can register themselves through the Farmers’ Corner on the portal and know the status of their payment. Apart from Aadhaar which is mandatory, landholding papers and bank account details have to be submitted to the concerned authorities.
During the Nehru-Gandhi era, 85% of what was allocated to farmers or marginalised sections was pilfered by commission agents and nefarious middlemen. However, Prime Minister Modi has completely dismantled the “Cut Money” culture. For instance, recently, while wheat harvesting was in full swing in Punjab and Haryana, farmers, for the first time, started receiving minimum support price (MSP) payment directly in their bank accounts under the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme (DBT).
Over Rs 5,385 crore has been transferred so far in the ongoing procurement season by the Central and State procurement agencies to farmers, against the purchase of their crops in both these states, again a vindication of how the Modi government has made last-mile delivery, a pleasant reality. In Punjab, over Rs 2,600 crore has been paid directly to accounts of farmers till 20 April 2021, under the DBT scheme. Over 54 lakh tonnes of wheat have arrived in ‘mandis’ in Punjab till 20 April, out of which 50 lakh tonnes have been procured and more than 20 lakh tonnes lifted by various government agencies. Amid the ongoing procurement and payments under the DBT, several farmers in Ludhiana Amritsar, Moga and elsewhere are actually relieved that they do not have to run from pillar to post and are very contented with the DBT mechanism. Again, in Haryana, over Rs 2,785 crore has been transferred directly to the accounts of farmers till 20 April 2021.
The Haryana government has procured over 3.11 lakh tonnes through various procurement agencies, at MSP. Of the 64.77 lakh tonnes of wheat that arrived at procurement centres till 20 April 2021, 55.62 lakh tonnes has already been procured.
What the aforesaid numbers clearly highlight is the Modi government’s unflinching commitment to empowering farmers, cutting across political, demographic and geographical divides if any, so that “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”, is not a mere slogan, but an abiding work ethic, that financially strengthens the hands of our “Annadata”. The primary aim of this Direct Benefit Transfer program is to bring transparency and terminate pilferage from the distribution of funds sponsored by the Central Government of India.
Talking of DBT, it was launched in just 20 districts by the erstwhile Congress regime in 2013, but largely remained a non-starter, thanks to lethargy and corruption that has been a part of the Congress DNA. But today, under PM Modi, DBT results in annual savings of over Rs 1.7 lakh crore, with over Rs 13 lakh crore worth of payments made, to the weakest sections of the society, spread across 400 schemes and 51 ministries.
Central Plan Scheme Monitoring System (CPSMS), being implemented by the Office of Controller General of Accounts, acts as the common platform for routing DBT.
The ‘JAM Trinity’ of the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile, has made it easier to identify bogus beneficiaries and preventing leakages in government schemes. In MGNREGA for instance, since job cards and accounts of the labourers were linked to Aadhaar, a large number of bogus beneficiaries were caught. Till December 2019, 5.55 lakh bogus labourers had been weeded out from the scheme. This ensured that Rs 24,162 crore was not misused. Otherwise, this money would have reached the accounts of bogus labourers. Similarly, due to the DBT scheme, 98.8 lakh bogus beneficiaries were caught in schemes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The deletion of fake beneficiaries prevented a possible scam to the tune of Rs 1523.75 crore.
Making the linking of Aadhaar and mobile mandatory, saved more than Rs 66,000 crore in government ration distribution from going into the wrong hands. According to food and public distribution authorities, Rs 66,896.87 crore was saved due to the removal of over 2.98 crore bogus beneficiaries from the system, with the help of technology. The JAM Trinity has eliminated the web of middlemen. This is a successful example of preventing corruption through technology.
DBT scheme transfers money directly to the account of the beneficiary in social assistance schemes such as LPG subsidy, MGNREGA, PDS, old age pension and scholarships. More than 44 crore Jan Dhan accounts, over 100 crore Aadhaar, and over 100 crore mobiles have come in handy for direct transfers to beneficiaries on the ground. To cut to the chase, it would be apt to end with a quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he says, “I see technology as a means to empower and as a tool that bridges the distance between hope and opportunity”.
Sanju Verma is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and bestselling author of ‘Truth &Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal .
Role of crop diversification in India’s agricultural growth
Since Independence, India implemented several policies for agricultural development and farmers’ social improvement. Undoubtedly, the scenario has changed over time, but not in the desired direction. Due to the abysmal performance in rural development in India, it is probably high time for the government to be pragmatic and change its role from that of a direct and dominant interventionist to that of a facilitator and regulator also. The government always tries to help the farmers in two ways, either by the direct or indirect support of agriculture practices or support their livelihood. The government gives the product-specific subsidy for several products, such as rice, wheat, cotton, pulses, etc. Instead of product-specific subsidies, the government gives input subsidies, such as fertiliser, irrigation, and power subsidy. In addition, several ministries are continuing the various policies or programs to develop Indian agricultural practices and farmers’ livelihood.
TREND OF HERFINDAHL–HIRSCHMAN INDEX IN INDIA (1966-67 TO 2018-19)
Source: Authors’ calculations
As a result, India achieved record food grain production from 1950-51 to 2018-19. However, primarily it was restricted to the major cereals only. Although cereal production increased significantly after the green revolution; but, the pulses and oilseed production did not reach the expected position. Consequently, there is a chronic shortage of edible oils and pulses in India.
But, in the recent past, a perceptible change in consumer preferences away from cereals towards high-value non-cereal nutrient-rich diets, including fruits and vegetables, is evident not only in India but also in India and around the globe. Here the question will arise regarding crop diversification, which is a process of reallocation of resources across crops, based on their comparative advantages. After this decades-long crop diversification, a shift has been generally observed, in the agricultural practices from the traditional lower-valued crop to high-value crops. This is an important milestone for agricultural development.
Herfindahl–Hirschman Index is widely used to measure market concentration. The lower it is, the higher is the extent of market diversification, and vice versa. This is typically done for firms as entities and their production values. We calculated the by taking each crop as a market entity in India, to gauge the extent of market concentration. As far as crop diversification is concerned, it is evident from the figure above that the level of diversification is prominent in India due to favourable agro-climatic conditions around the country and the government policies or schemes. An index of 0.01 or below indicates a highly diversified and competitive sector, while the range of 0.01 to 0.15 is considered unconcentrated, which is where we have been for over a decade. So, there is a scope for further improvements in crop diversification. The farm income per cultivator increased from Rs. 12,365 in 1993-94 to Rs. 1,20,193 in 2015-16. However, crop diversification in India enhances the farmers’ adaptability to external shocks and promotes self-reliance and sustainability in agricultural practices.
The connotation of crop diversification becomes more noticeable in the WTO-led globalised regime that restricts the scope for producer prices as an incentive to increase production. Again, the question arises whether farmers or cultivators respond to changes in consumer preferences by shifting their crop portfolio. This is because India is a largely low-income and resource-poor farmer-dominated country, with almost 99.43% of farmers coming under this category. If farmers will not grasp market signals, they will not only be in a disadvantageous position but also will be in a trap.
However, it is evident to enhance the production of high valued crops, which is becoming important for India’s trade regime. For instance, India is one largest importer of palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia. India also imports some other vegetable oils, pulses, fresh fruits, etc. In addition, lower production of some products is not only the problem in India; the competitiveness of the domestic price of some crops is also another problem in Indian agriculture. One of the reasons, Indian farmers are facing an unfair and uneven playing field in the international trade scenario. As per farmer support in India is much lower than the many developed countries. This is because several developed and some developing countries are enjoying the final bound AMS entitlement.
India has also taken some of the great initiatives, besides the MSP and some existing schemes for agricultural development. Such as the National Mission on Oilseed and Oil Palm (NMOOP) is a new program launched during 2014-15 by the Government of India to enhance the production of oilseeds in the country. India has started the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) with the focus of increasing acreage productivity and production of pulses, oilseed with some other products. In addition, the Finance Minister has also unveiled, in the budget session of 2020-21, a 16-point agenda to achieve agricultural growth, reiterating the Union Government’s commitment to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. The points include everything from the liberalisation of farm markets and increased use of advanced technology to the development of an integrated farming system in rain-fed areas and more. In addition, the Indian government is also prioritising the agricultural infrastructure, particular food processing sector, etc. After several efforts through different policies and mechanisms, Indian agriculture and farmers’ progress may only start happening gradually. This is because the most well-intended and well-thought-out policies may not have an impact properly. In keeping this in the mind, Indian agriculture needs a big reform to promote a market-based solution for the farmers.
Suvayan Neogi is Senior Research Fellow (Economics) of Centre for WTO Studies, New Delhi, India. He is also PhD scholar of Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune, India. Dr Badri Narayanan is the founding director of Infinite Sum Modelling, Seattle and a senior economist with the University of Washington Seattle. He is also a Senior Fellow with ECIPE Brussels and Non-Resident Fellow with CSEP New Delhi.
THE EGALITARIAN ‘BUBBLE’ OF INDIA’S FARMERS’ PROTESTS
Within the camps of the farmers’ protests, men and women hold the same rights and responsibilities. The realm of agriculture outside the protests, however, is a different story.
When farmers took to the streets of New Delhi on 26 January 2021 to protest three new farm laws, it was primarily images of men driving tractors that took centre stage.
Since the beginning of the farmers’ protest on 9 August 2020, men have been at the forefront of the movement. Rakesh Tikait, the spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers’ Union), has been the primary face of the movement, with other male farmers’ union leaders spearheading the protests at a more local level. However, these pictures are not representative of the protests as a whole.
Jasween Kaur, a female farmer who lives near the protest camp, arrives at the Ghazipur border nearly every day at 2 pm and jumps right in, chopping vegetables, cooking, and serving food. In an in-person interview, she explained that they hold langar — a community-based food service — all day, with delicacies ranging from lassi (buttermilk) to jalebi (sweet dessert), and that anyone is welcome to have the food, even those who are not part of the camp.
Women can be found not just in the food tents of the camp but also in the administration. Harsharanjeet Kaur, one of the volunteers at the camp, is a 28-year-old cloud consultant from Dubai and has been at the Ghazipur border since the protests started in December. “My current job description is farmers’ protest volunteer,” said Kaur in an in-person interview. She manages the organisation of events at the protest and has organised several different themed events such as “Youth Day” and “Women’s Day”, which includes planning singing and dancing performances and putting together street plays with local acting troupes.
Kaur is also responsible for overseeing the stage built by the farmers on the highway where many of these events take place and says that in her experience, the women at the camp are some of the most enthusiastic and passionate members of the movement. She explained that typically, 11 designated volunteers sit on the stage at the protest every day and fast from morning till evening as a symbol of resistance. On the days that women are designated to sit on the stage, however, there is always an abundance of volunteers. “On Women’s Day, there were so many women that we had to seat 28 women. We had to stop some women from sitting because there were so many already,” said Kaur.
In addition to her administrative role, she aids the women at the protest, finding them bedding, and helping them with sanitary needs. She explained that many women spend months on end at the protest and to accommodate for this, there are women’s tents with sanitary provisions, as well as designated tents for women to sleep in.
This January, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde posed the question, “Why are women and elders kept in the protest?” and asked lawyers, that were representing the farmers, to persuade women and elderly citizens to return home. Since then, other government officials have also called for women present at the protests to return home, given the worsening conditions of the pandemic.
According to Bhupinder Baath, a volunteer at Khalsa Aid, a UK-based organisation that has volunteered to help the farmers in their efforts by providing protest camps air coolers, and mosquito repellent, women at the protests responded negatively to the government’s calls for them to go home and did the opposite. “Even more women started going to the protests,” said Bhatt in a phone interview.
Aasha has been living at the protest camp in Ghazipur for over three months and has no intention of leaving until the farm laws are repealed. “This protest is our family. When our family is here, how can we leave?” she said in an in-person interview. Like other women at the protest, Aasha is managing her family and home remotely, with her children working and studying at home with their grandmother. “I can do everything from here over a video call,” said Aasha, adding, “We’ve spent the winter here, we’ll spend the summer here too.”
In the same tent where Aasha chopped coriander, a group of men ground flour to make rotis in preparation for the evening meal. “In society, women and men have different roles but in the protest, women are showing their presence to the government and are also participating in whatever work there is there such as making food, distributing things, and also leading and going on stage and voicing their opinions,” said Bhatt, adding “Just like men are contributing in all ways, women are too.”
Sitting on stage amid “Youth Day” preparations, Kaur said that despite common misperception, “You’ll find women in every sector from administration to volunteering and making food. This is a farmers’ protest, it is not a men’s protest. There is as much respect for women as there is for men. In the end, it is ultimately for the farmers.”
In stark contrast to the protest camps, however, is the agricultural industry of India. Bhatt believes that within the farming sector itself, there is no difference between men and women. “Farming is not a profession where there is a manager or a clerk. A farmer’s whole family are farmers, including the women,” said Bhatt. According to research conducted by Oxfam, a non-profit organisation focused on alleviating global poverty, the agricultural sector of the country employs 80% of all economically active women in India.
However, this representation does not extend to land ownership. Despite the Hindu Succession Act of 2005 which granted joint-heirship to daughters and equal inheritance rights, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), 83% of agricultural land in the country is inherited by male members.
“Farming in India is patriarchal,” said Sameer Kalia, owner of a store that deals primarily in agrochemicals, seeds, and fertilisers, in a phone interview. According to Kalia, this is “for very legitimate and practical reasons, because of all the hard work involved.” He said, “In farming families, the male farmers, as head of the families, are responsible for the well-being of the family and it’s a big burden. There is very little margin for error.”
For this reason, Kalia said, “In India, most of the landholdings belong to the male members of the family.” He explained that in most cases, the only time land is passed onto daughters is when there are no male inheritors.
“Most of the farmers who visit our shop are males. There are very few female farmers, and whatever female farmers as customers we have, they are involved in organic cultivation,” said Kalia. In his 20 years of experience running the store, out of his female customers, the ones most likely to own their own land are urban, educated women.
One such customer is Seema Jolly. An urban, educated woman, Jolly got into organic farming in 2011 intending to provide healthier food that was devoid of chemicals for her family. “I’ve been growing all kinds of vegetables, fruit, and greens, I have tried almost everything possible in Punjab,” said Jolly. However, Jolly does not own the five acres of land she is farming on. Instead, it is owned by her in-laws. “At the moment in India, there are more women are more, they are equal contributors to the work in the farm, but they have no recognition,” said Jolly.
Jolly is one of the founding members of Chandigarh’s organic market, a place for farmers to gather every Saturday and sell their organic produce. In her opinion, this allowed her to establish herself as a farmer. “Men in India are recognised as farmers as they are the marketers, they become the face, and the women are just behind the scenes, they have no control of the finances,” said Jolly. She explained that the few women whose stories are published on media platforms such as The Better India are those who are able to come forward and take charge of the marketing and have direct control over finances. Jolly believes that once this happens on a larger scale, “that is when this divide will sort of equal out.”
According to Bhatt, the next step is for societal acceptance to catch up to legal provisions. He believes it is only a matter of time before the equality exemplified within the protests will reflect in the land ownership of the country. “Slowly, our society will someday accept that women have a right to property as well,” said Bhatt.
But as it stands today, despite the active role of Jasween Kaur, Aasha, and Harsharanjeet Kaur play in the protests, none of these farmers owns their land. These women are just three of the several female farmers who are facing the same plight. This issue spans beyond the class divide in India and is faced by women across all sectors of society, with women owning a total of 12.8% of the country’s land, according to India Spend.
The disproportionate gap between labour and land ownership has been accepted by Jasween Kaur as a fact of life for female farmers. When asked what her hopes were for the future of her daughters, who are also farmers, she replied, “What will happen by just our wanting it?”
254 civilians killed in Afghanistan during Ramzan
As many as 15 suicide attacks and dozens of other attacks have been carried out in the country by the Taliban since the start of Ramzan on April 13, the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Afghanistan said on Tuesday.
A total of 255 civilians were killed and 500 more were wounded in the attacks during this period and the Taliban were responsible for 200 blasts and 15 suicide bombings during Ramzan, TOLOnews reported the interior ministry as saying. “I thank all security forces. They prevented over 800 incidents and arrested over 800 terrorists who will be trailed and law will be implemented,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday.
This comes after the Taliban on Sunday night announced that they would observe a three-day ceasefire for the festival of Eid. Later on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also instructed all Afghan forces to observe the ceasefire during Eid.
US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday had welcomed the announcements by the Taliban and the Afghan government to uphold ceasefire in the country during the festival of Eid.”I welcome the announcements by the Taliban and the Afghan government to observe an Eid ceasefire. Violence has been horrific in recent weeks, and the Afghan people have paid the price,” Khalilzad tweeted.
Amid the ongoing drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan, the war-torn country has seen a spike in the incidents of violence in recent weeks, leading to casualties of Afghan security forces and civilians.
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