Thursday, 29 September 2016

#IndiaStrikesBack - Part 1 | Striking Parallels

#IndiaStrikesBack – Finally! Something that was long overdue.

For my uninitiated readers across the globe, for the first time since India’s Independence in 1947, Indian Army has crossed the unresolved Line of Control [LoC] in Kashmir and entered Pakistan occupied Kashmir [Pok], neutralising 7 terrorist launch pads across 4 locations. It is a proud moment for any Indian that loves peace. Finally, an answer back to the instigators that adventures like Uri and Pathankot attacks on Indian army instalments, killing scores of Indian soldiers without provocation would not go unpunished. Today, being a proud Indian, I can state that India does and can attack at its own will and choosing of a time and place against any adversary that works against the interests and integrity of India. It looks good on text-books when one reads that India has never been an aggressor in the last 5000 years of its existence. Now when the existence and more importantly the ideologies are threatened that makes up the very nation, it is high time, the polices are reviewed, revised and updated.

Every surgery aims to cure the patient. In this case, the surgery precisely took out a tumour [terrorist launch-pads] and rendered the patient [Pakistan] in a coma as a fallout, albeit temporarily – a first of many firsts to come. It is the coming of age of India as a stronger nation in the current geo-political set-up where foreign policies are concerned. But the cancer has spread far and wide. It needs regular chemotherapy at different parts of the body – starting with Baluchistan, NWFP, Gilgit-Baltistan under PoK, etc.

There are many areas that I would like to touch upon but is not possible to compile into a single blog post. This is the first of the series that touches upon how Pakistan as a state has failed and has remained unchanged over the last 70 years despite its ideologies and failing as a state every time when its time to rise and shine came and went away; the similarities between the situation of 1971 and 2016 are starkly similar!...

For any Army in a Democratic set-up, Political backing is must [Pakistan doesn’t fall into this category; it is the other way around in case of Pakistan]. An army is what it’s political masters wants it to be. It can be a destructive lethal weapon, like German SS in World War II leading to Blitzkrieg or it can be completely apolitical like Indian Army which hardly meddles in the political affairs of the country. Indian Army had almost lost its edge and was toothless in its effectiveness after Independence due to Nehruvian policies of pacifism and NAM; believing China to be too docile to attack India. Jolt – rather a rude shock came in the form of humiliating defeat of 1962 Chinese aggression that left India red-faced and was caught pants down; showing that if you value peace, one cannot compromise with its defence. It’s easy to preach about love and compassion when the borders are secure. Henderson-Brooks report was instrumental in highlighting the deficiencies that were rectified to an extent by 1965 and finally fully implemented before 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War under the stewardship of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Indian Army, has been always held under a tight leash with poor political will throughout its 70yrs of existence, except during brief periods of Prime-Ministership of Mrs. Gandhi. Hopefully, Mr. Modi’s Prime Ministership  would bring back that old glory that every major power yearns to achieve.

There are many parallels that can be drawn in this regard, between 1971 situation and 2016.

Firstly, Pakistan was in a similar situation of instigating conflict in both the occasions. Massacre of Bengali intellectuals and mass genocide and meddling in the affairs at provincial level then, overriding the federal government in East Pakistan was the chief cause of 1971 conflict; that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh. In current scenario, it’s the low intensity conflicts and now continuous disturbance in Kashmir since the killing of Hizbul Commander Burhan Wani, which are alarmingly occurring at regular intervals within India.

Secondly, India was and is almost perceived a weakling globally; India had lost the 1962 war; From 1966-1969, India was in a constant state of famine and also had to fight a costly war in 1965. We had to import wheat from US which were not fit for human consumption under PL-480 where Mrs. Gandhi had to face humiliation from Kissinger and Nixon; which ultimately gave rise to the Green Revolution. Presently, India has gone through a political logjam of UPA2 that throttled Indian growth to a huge extent being a coalition government with an extremely poor track-record with scams to gloat about. After 2001 Parliament Attack, followed by 26/11, Indian response has been largely muted. Every possible trick in the book in accordance with diplomacy and Track-II dialogues have been explored to cajole Pakistan, but without any success.

Thirdly, in a bi-polar and pluralistic world, there were NATO and Warsaw Pacts during 1970’s that influenced the world engagements. US clearly sided with Pakistan while India had the backing of USSR in the 1971 conflict. Today, while US is in a difficult position to side with Pakistan out of little choice, Pakistan’s real ally is the new super-power in rising – PR China. India still has the backing of USSR and USA – a reversal of policies [which I will cover in Part 2 on this topic]; but the point that I want to drive home is that there are clearly 2 groups that has to gain out of this engagement; One is China which is a now behemoth in its own rights with enough economic clout and the other is US that has a natural ally in India as it stretches itself thin across the world and cannot do without India given the decline in the world authority that is has seen over the past decade. America’s glory days are well over and is in slow decline.

Fourthly, the brazenness with which India had intervened in 1971 and now proactively conducted the surgical strikes inside Pakistani territory when the world, and especially Pakistan least expected it. Pakistani army was actually caught napping; Pakistani army and terrorist casualties in the recent surgical strikes by India were being passed as cross-border firing by Pak DG-ISPR; too humiliated to accept the fact that a surgical strike indeed has been conducted by India, that stains the reputation of Pakistani Army, which is sacrosanct.

Fifthly and rightly so – a strong personality based Indian leadership. Mrs. Gandhi left a lasting impression on the history of Independent India during her tumultuous rule. So does Mr. Modi who had to face enough political challenges to rise and become the PM. Both became the PM due to their charismatic personality and being able to move the masses. Both have uncanny similarities in the way they function.

Lastly, the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s existence [a topic in itself]. Pakistan [which is an acronym] was created based on Jinnah’s “Two Nation Theory” propagated by Iqbal but actually initiated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. During 1971, it was a nation still in experimentation, going though alternate coups and civilian government leadership and subjugating the more learned and intellectual East Pakistanis under the rules, culture and traditions of West Pakistan. Urdu was declared the national language without taking into account the rich Bengali literature and traditions that has given a Noble Laureate and ultimately the National Anthem of both Bangladesh and India; basically a culture clash between two groups in the same country separated by a thousand miles that were broadly dissimilar in every possible way but united by a common faith. After the humiliating loss of half the territory in 1971 which India had to intervene giving rise to the independent nation of Bangladesh, Pakistan then focussed single-handedly on bleeding India through thousand cuts that started at the fag-end of eighties and have continued to this date, unabated – reaching its pinnacle during the Kargil misadventure. In reality, Pakistan as a state, in my opinion, failed in 1971 – unable to uphold the tenets of ‘Two Nation Theory” advocated by the founding father, Mr. Jinnah.

Today, Pakistani intelligentsia and military elite have been subjugated under a systemic pressure and culture to identify India as a common enemy, to the extent that history has been completely re-written in school text-books that identifies India as the aggressor in the all the wars that has been fought with India and none of the wars where Pakistan has conceded any defeat. Pakistan officially denies any defeat at the hands of India and has been able to brain-wash generations through its education system. There are enough proofs of the same – the most vocal being Ms. Christine Fair who has done extensive studies on Indo-Pak relationship, having written numerous books and spent a number of years in Pakistan; at the moment she is banned to travel to Pakistan at behest of Pakistan’s infamous ISI. She has even lambasted a Pakistani Fulbright scholar on his ignorance that Kashmir is not an integral part of Pakistan based on UN resolution when he foolishly tries to portray that Mr. Fair’s evidence of Pakistani legitimacy on Kashmir is questionable. The video below is the proof in itself!

So what is next for Pakistan? Now, that it is no longer a functioning state like it should? The thought is scary indeed. It is a melting pot of terrorists – Specifically, Wahhabi ideologies funded by Middle East and sympathizers of Al-Qaida, Haqqani Network and then you have Good Taliban [Anti-India] and Bad Taliban. Not to forget and mention that some of the Uighur dissents that keeps China on their toes in Western China had their training in Pakistan. Pakistan today stands out like a sore thumb where terrorism is concerned. Most of the terrorists across the globe have some link or other with Pakistan. Shia-Sunni is another complex matter/dimension that would take up an entire discussion altogether.

It is not in India’s interest that Pakistan fails as a nation. But when the national ideology, the basis on which a nation was formed has failed, it is pertinent to ask the question – is it relevant to prop up a nation on ventilator? Or let the patient die? For long Pakistan has solely survived on the aids provided by USA that has gone into arms procurement to deter India. Today, if one delves in finding out what Pakistan exports, it will not be wrong to say that, “Terrorism as a service” [TaaS] is the only thing that comes to mind.

It needs to be pondered!

To be Continued...

Game of Anarchy, touches upon few of the points of backdoor diplomacy in such tricky situations...

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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Brexit & Britain's Colonial Past - The Causal Relationship

The dawn of the Industrial Age started with Britain. This initiated a race to find new colonies and conquer new worlds amongst the European powers - The French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese all joined the bandwagon. New continents were explored, messengers and diplomats were sent to the famous and legendary kingdoms far and wide - notwithstanding India, new markets were opened that brought in riches, unheard of previously.

But human greed is insatiable. Soon, the economic vision was replaced with a political vision to dominate these markets, turning them into colonies, serving their European masters. India was considered the crown jewel of the British Empire — the Empire where the Sun never sets! India suffered harshly under the British rule no doubt, draining of wealth, turning one of the wealthiest nations into a nation of poor and beggars. All we had intact was a bit of our past culture & heritage and a new found feeling of nationalism of India as a nation - that was missing in India's history for the last 5000 years of its existence. Never ever was India united in the manner as it was at the time of our independence.

Now, what benefits arose out British Rule in India? Many or none as all would argue, depending on your level of nationalistic feelings at that moment and the side you are arguing for. But it is undeniable that English is the Lingua Franca of the world today and Indians are the largest English speaking population outside of England which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without the British ruling us and replacing the Brahmanic schooling with Victorian curricula. English has benefited us tremendously. It is the sole reason why India is ahead of China in the Services sector. It is a paradox and a case-study how we grew at such a fast pace without manufacturing sector - jumping almost directly from agriculture one day to services the next.

But why am I blabbering about these details… one may wonder? Because when osmosis happens, so does reverse-osmosis. There is a direct causal relationship of the British ruling us and in return impacting them in a manner they couldn’t imagine which would bite them back - so much so that it would be a subtle cause for Brexit.

Imagine a country, who got the taste of tea from India and China which now is part of their daily morning and evening ritual. A country whose national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala, which is so bland in the spices compared to the roadside Chicken Tikkas in India. A country which invented Cricket, but its England and Wales Cricket Board is dependent on BCCI to agree on matches and slots and bow down to them periodically. A country which ruled us through its proxy for almost a century, East India Company, is now owned by an Indian. A country which receives the third largest FDI from India, except US and France. India and its culture has permeated into many aspects of British life - which now no longer can be called uniquely British. So in short, India culturally dominates Britain today, without even sending a single soldier across the border.

Shakespeare would not have imagined even in his wildest dreams that one day his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be hosted at the renovated Globe Theatre at Bankside - with lead actors of Indian origin, the background music score dominated by Veena and supported by Dholak played by Indians resembling a Bollywood ensemble.

A snap-shot of the play: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare's Globe, London

In London, when you walk into a Tesco or Sainsbury's, any of Her Majesty's Post Office, board a bus or a train or tube, the servers at major restaurants and the list goes on - majority of staffs are of Indian descent. That ought to say something. Britain would not have had such a bustling Indian population had it not been for the colonial past...

And when a survey was conducted amongst the Indian expats who were eligible to vote for the Brexit Referendum, they voted for Exit as Indian and South-East Asian expats had to go through a more stringent process of immigration as compared to the Europeans and they voted for Exit en masse! It was the point of inflection that resulted in Brexit - where Remain camp lost by only 4 percentage points; it was that close.  In a different context, it may be worthwhile to note that, a fellow South-East Asian, a Pakistani to be precise, Mr. Sadiq Khan has been elected as the Mayor of London, which is no mean feat. And that my friend, as an Indian, makes me feel proud.
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New Form of Entertainment: Journalism!

Journalism and social media today have converged together as a powerful medium. Flurry of news channels have cropped up in the last decade, which dish out the same news over and over again, albeit in a different format, but the content mostly remains the same. The threshold has been breached wherein no news channel today stands unique and has rather turned itself into a commodity.

And what can help sell this commodity? Sensationalism! The tiniest uninteresting point is displayed as the most important facet of the news; forget even if it is relevant at all or not, it is BREAKING NEWS still! All in the hope to garner few more TRPs than the rivals – to feed in the 24 X 7 news generating machine. And sometimes to create sensationalism, the news editors overlook the ethical aspects and undermine the consequences – putting a lot at stake, their lives, careers and even their country. Welcome to the dawn of new era of irresponsible journalism;

Excerpt from the book "Game of Anarchy"

Media today is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. That is a very important role indeed, especially in democracies like India and USA where capitalism has taken over socialism in most of its forms. Though there are social policies that govern the core of the government objectives, it is fuelled through capitalistic means, thus creating a conflict between benefits provided vs benefits that actually reach the intended. Hence, it is imperative that Media should act as a watchdog and remain apolitical bringing in unbiased news coverage to the masses. Judiciary and Legislature are often bound by rules and regulations that prevent them to go beyond certain boundaries; and hence may not be able to check the excesses of the Executive. But Media can and it does. It has been a very effective tool that has formulated public opinions and has changed the course of history in many countries.

But how reliable is the media today in the fast paced world of digitization ruled by few conglomerates? Majority of the media are owned by few of the wealthy patrons who often have ulterior motives in swaying public opinion for their own desires. Media acts as a very powerful medium in building up a persona where none may exist. It may help create a facade for more sinister objectives. There have been allegations of some western media overstepping the bounds in gathering information – Rupert Murdoch’s Sun is one such example. Ambani’s of Reliance fame in India created a furore in media circles when they became majority stakeholders in TV18, resulting in exodus of top journalists from the channels who believed, they cannot remain unbiased under new bosses or at the least, there will be clashes of ethos that they conceived.

At the same time, there have been numerous instances where media has behaved as the judge, jury and executioner without even letting a fair trial. Powerful journalists have been able to sway public opinion on key political issues driving wedge and creating chasm amongst the masses. They have acted against the very ethos they are supposed to protect; no wonder the term “#Presstitutes” have gained a lot of prominence in India. Gone are the days where the citizens were gullible. In this digital age with information overload, the common citizen is now more critical of receiving each news and analysing it in his own terms of reference. The public is no longer isolated and openly voices their opinions on social media platforms. Heckling of reputed journalists like Barkha Dutt is now a regular phenomenon on twitter if any tweet promotes certain ideologies that are against the societal norms. Thus public scrutiny itself has now become a safety-valve against the errant journalists who earlier used to get away with such arm-chair activism.

This thus gives rise to a very vibrant democracy. With the annulment of the draconian Sec 66A of IT Act by the Supreme Court of India, it has been proven that the masses have the power to criticise each and every aspect of governance without fear; it includes the media as well. Alas, we haven’t achieved much more in areas of RTI to rein in the political parties, but the day is not far where public pressure will force the government of the day to pay heed and make the necessary changes.

But the question remains – How neutral is today’s media? #PaidMedia is a common twitter hashtag. That in itself demonstrates public confidence. There always has been a nexus between the business and the politicians – giving rise to crony capitalism. Media has remain divided on these issues depending on whose interests to defend; given the difficult situation that the patrons of the media houses tend to be either politicians are businessmen.

Lastly and most importantly – the media circus. It is more of an entertainment channel where scores of panelists/experts are brought in to air their views to have a meaningful debate. Instead, it’s turned into a high octane drama with chest thumping and mud-slinging, raising the volume of fervor of pure unadulterated idiocy and lowering the bar of journalistic ethos. It is a shame that such channels garner more TRP than real news channel where meaningful debates are performed. These channels on prime-time give the staple Saas-Bahu serials a run for their money!

In short, journalism doesn’t enjoy the respect once it commanded. Reputed journalists were respected and feared by all even few decades back. Today, there are rarely any journalists who can be unanimously voted to remain unbiased and true to the journalistic ethos, atleast in India – barring the small cities where the reach of influential hasn’t penetrated much. Every citizen is aware of the news that is being fed and questions it authenticity. It is not far when even journalists will be brought down and discredited in public. It has already started happening in India and it is a revolution in itself – unique in nature, fascinating to observe.

So, the fourth pillar of democracy as we call it – today, unfortunately is crippled. Thanks to online social networks, truth travels much faster in the midst of coordinated chaos and as time will pass, online scrutiny will hold these travesties of journalists accountable and responsible. It is the only glimmer of hope in this era of information overload.

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Women Empowerment: Challenges & Prospects

Human beings are the most advanced life form on this planet that sits atop the pyramid of all sentient beings. Being sentient, puts the onus of moral duty on us to be just, altruistic and compassionate to fellow beings and lesser life forms, taking a lead in ensuring peace and order to sustain the balance on Earth.

While present day Homo sapiens are considered more civilized than their barbaric ancestors, it is disquieting to note that, the blessing of a civilized brain did not automatically render the virtues of liberty and equality to be bestowed on all fellow humans across the globe since the first rational human being descended some 40,000 years ago. Whether be it the exploitation of black versus white, poor versus rich or women versus men, human history is replete with innumerous examples of savagery, cruelty and suppression of weak, that defies the very attribute of being sentient. The best example of which being gender inequality and suppression of women even to this day of twenty-first century, so much so that it has become a buzzword both at  global and national forums.

Women empowerment refers to the conducive environment that provides the basic rights and a level playing field to women to excel in all spheres of life – social, political, economic. This also includes extension of specialized treatment by all stake-holders of the society, viz., government agencies, private institutions and NGOs in the areas of health, education, legal, etc. where there has been traditional neglect with respect to women. The crux being the ability to make free and fair decisions by women without being coerced by undue unfavorable circumstances allowing them to perform at par with men.

If one delves into the root cause of why women are treated as inferior sex even today at many parts of the world including India, it directly points out to the informal division of labour that has been the norm in our societies since eons. The quintessential role of men has been to take care of livelihood and protect the family while for women it has been about taking care of children, household chores and other activities within the boundaries of four walls. There have been exceptions though but these are few and far between. India and world as a whole were more tolerant of women a few thousand years ago, than it is today. If one talks about the glyphs of Egypt, Mesopotamia or Indus Valley civilizations, it depicts the various freedom that the women enjoyed – many of which went missing during the subsequent medieval and dark ages of our civilization. Even in India, women during Rig Vedic Period enjoyed greater freedom in all forms including the right to remain spinster and spend entire lives with parents, study and contribute to the hymns of Vedas which vastly diminished during the later Vedic periods. Thus, it is the traditional mindset of thousand years that needs to be broken free to empower women and bring them at par with men in all aspects. In a country like India where people are deeply religious and traditional in nature, it is a greater challenge to percolate the values and ideals of women empowerment, who constitute 49% of Indian population.

Firstly, men are the biggest stakeholders in Women Empowerment. Without their participation, it is bound to fail since it is the men who mostly formulated the rules of engagement with women in the societies. In one of her UN speeches on Women Empowerment, Hillary Clinton noticed that less than 30% of the audience were males. This is a big concern since awareness creation and gender sensitization needs to start with men. This was taken up so seriously that at the recent UNGA, Iceland and Suriname announced that they will be conducting men-only conference on gender sensitization campaign to secure greater cooperation and understanding from men. A welcome move indeed.

It must be mentioned here that some of the greatest reformists of modern India were men, whose contribution has immensely helped to transform the lives of Indian women. The crusade of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule against the evils of child marriage & sati and promotion of education of girls, widow remarriage are extremely commendable in a period where going against the norm could mean potential isolation from the society at large. They had the courage, will and determination to set the wrongs of Brahmanical tradition right which in turn gradually changed the conditions of women in India to a large extent. Still there is a long way to go.

Secondly, right to equality has to be implemented in earnest where women have equal rights just like men. A little over hundred years ago, New Zealand became the first country to allow universal adult suffrage that included women, ahead of other western countries. The first European country to do so was Finland followed by other Nordic countries. Today if one takes stock of the situation, Nordic countries are far ahead in terms of social well-being and rights granted to women along with other HDI factors. In every sphere of the society, women there today occupy important positions and have demonstrated their capabilities directly contributing to the growth of these nations. An example to put it in perspective – Major General Kristin Lund of Norway became the first female force commander of UN Peacekeeping Mission in Cyprus.

Major General Kristin Lund with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

The scenario in India is vastly different despite our constitution having provisions to ensure gender equality. The apex democratic institution of India – the Indian Parliament is yet to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill that reserves 33% [and not 50%] of the seats for women at both central and state legislatures. Due to prejudice, aborting female fetuses was a very common recurrence in India, which exists even to this day despite enacting Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. The incidences have tapered down, but has not stopped completely. This has resulted in a skewed sex ratio in India where there are 940 females for every 1000 males – an alarming trend that has other ramifications like purchasing brides especially in north Indian states; a complete devastating infringement on women’s right and a direct challenge to women empowerment.

While India is ahead of many nations for right to equality at workplace, for example, providing mandatory maternity leaves to all female employees for a period of 84 days by law, it is not universally implemented, especially for those women working in informal sectors. Additionally, latest NSSO survey reveals that 2 out of 3 Indian women in their prime working years are engaged in unpaid housework. There is also an informal discrimination of wages and promotion even in formal sectors as well.

In most of these cases, the biggest roadblock seems to be education and poverty eradication – the third reason why women needs to be empowered in these areas that are critical for their upliftment in the society. Government and NGOs have taken definitive steps to battle the same. But it is happening in pockets. Social sector schemes like MNREGA have given definite employment to a big percentage of rural women, who otherwise would have had to look for jobs at a lower wage. Various women centric self-help groups and micro-finance institutions have sprung up to help women earn their own livelihood, making them less dependent on others. Swayamsidha Programme run by Ministry of Women and Child Development is one such example. Similarly, there are various state run schemes that focus solely on women, especially those working in informal sectors. But unfortunately, many of these schemes are mired in corruption which needs to be checked while the real beneficiaries are left high and dry.

It is encouraging to note that the introduction of Mid-Day meal scheme has not only reduced the school dropouts especially among girls, their participation is also increasing. Many of the state governments have further encouraged girl child to enroll in schools by providing special assistance programmes like gifting bicycles, books, etc. – such social welfare schemes need to be stepped up further. If Malala Yousufai, the youngest recipient of Nobel Peace Prize can fight for her right to education in Taliban infested North-West Pakistan, India, which enjoys democracy and freedom can definitely achieve goal of 100% education of girl child through proper implementation of RTE Act.

Fourthly, women’s health and sanitation is a big concern. Though India has been able to reduce MMR to 178 deaths per lakh live births, a key Millennium Development Goal, but it still falls below the target of 100 per lakh live births. Women have been empowered by government to be able to go for institutionalized deliveries as envisaged in Janani Suraksha scheme and take care of her livelihood during her pregnancy and post-pregnancy through Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana Scheme where government compensates wage loss for expecting mothers. Similarly, government’s latest movement of building clean India through construction of toilets in rural areas and important public places, preventing open defecation is a welcome move for sanitation needs of women and general population as a whole.

Shakti Devi being felicitated by UN officials
Last but not the least, an important area of focus should be women’s safety and legal assistance. While India has to cause to be proud of Shakti Devi of J&K police, serving in UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan who has been awarded UN International Female Police Peacekeeper Award, 2014 for her efforts towards helping victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Afghanistan, India as a nation has been put under scanner due to poor performance related to women’s safety. The Nirbhaya incident of Dec 16, Badaun Rape in UP, recurrent rapes and sexual violence against females not even sparing infants & toddlers are turning our society back in time. In a recent judgment, the honorable Supreme Court mentioned that the women are not even safe in matrimonial homes where there are instances of dowry deaths, physical violence, etc. Despite passing the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, on the recommendations Justice Verma committee, things have changed little. Those clamoring for capital punishment for these crimes against women have seen a spike of such incidents in the recent past. The only remedy lies in changing the mindset of the society, especially males, imbibing in them the values of respecting women, in addition to enactment of stringent laws, putting in place an expeditious judicial and sensitive police system.

Even when it came to succession of properties, only recently, wives and daughters of the deceased have been given the legal right to claim property which otherwise was the dominion of male members of the family only.

If one takes a holistic view of the entire situation currently, India is ranked 132 out of 187 in Gender Inequality Index according to 2013 report of GHDR, even below Pakistan. This is a definitive cause for worry, but does not essentially mean that our efforts so far went in vain. There are imperceptible changes that have taken place, but in order to bring in a visible dynamic change, there needs to be cohesiveness in the plans and schemes that are being executed by the government. Our honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has often emphasized on India’s Demographic Dividend as an edge over other countries. If we have to utilize it effectively, women empowerment has to be the most serious challenge that new government must face since women form 49% of our population. Keeping women empowerment out of development ambit will essentially be a stumbling block in India’s development despite launching radical and new schemes of financial inclusion, poverty elimination, National Rural Health Mission, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Make in India, etc.

A lot has been done so far and still a lot remains to be done to reach a stage where an Indian woman can proudly proclaim to the world that she is truly empowered and free from the clutches of family, society, poverty, inequality and illiteracy. To conclude the prospect of women empowerment presently, the following lines from Robert Frost’s poem aptly sums it up in my opinion:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Child Labour is India's Shame

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”
—     Agatha  Christie

Childhood, as Agatha Christie the famous writer says, should be enjoyed. It is supposed to be the most carefree phase of life when the child gets to explore the world with all its eccentricities and quirks and question each aspect of it. It is the most important development phase in the life of a human being when values and morals develop through knowledge and education being imparted. Guidance of elders at this stage defines the place in the society the child is going to occupy in future. Childhood is akin to platform of life, often waiting to board the right train in the quest for a human being’s ultimate goal in this material world – even though the child is too young to comprehend the importance of the same.

But, what happens, when the child boards the wrong train or inadvertently gets to the wrong platform – say bonded labour at a very tender age of six, even before he understands what this is all about? What is the root-cause that drove the child to earn his livelihood when he should be in school learning the basics? Who is responsible? What repercussions does it have on the child and on the society as a whole? What steps should be taken to address the same? These questions should intrigue us as moral responsible citizens who are often witness to such instances in our daily life but have come to accept it as a norm. We need to understand that it not only derails the entire future of the child, but also has a disastrous effect on the mental well-being of the child which steers much of his adult life. Such grownup adults often have a distorted outlook about life and may pose a threat to the very society that pushed them in the wrong path.

Child labour is a serious blot on our society and our tolerance towards it shows our cold-heartedness in tackling this serious issue. Each underprivileged child, if empowered to learn and study during the crucial formative stages of life can advance our nation to the next level – we very well could have a high probability of the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sachin Tendulkar, Chetan Bhagat, Mary Kom, Kiran Bedi, future Prime Minister, President, Chief of Army or Chief Justice of India rising up from among them. It should give one much pleasure to ponder on the fact that so much talent could be harnessed by diverting the right resources and environment to the needy.

Though there has been conscientious effort by both government and private organizations [NGOs] to address the issue of child labour, it has borne little fruit. Every other day, we get to read in the newspapers about children being rescued from factories, industrial units, hotels and urban homes. This, despite the fact that Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 has been passed, which clearly articulates that any child below 14 years of age cannot be employed in hazardous or menial occupation enforcing Article 24 of Constitution related to fundamental right against exploitation. The amendment to the act in 2006, also prohibits children to be employed as domestic workers and servants in households. Still, we do come across numerous instances wherein children are toiling day and night for a decent livelihood whilst they should be playing around with their peers.

We first need to understand the magnitude of the problem. UNICEF estimates that India has 12.5 million child labourers according to 2001 census, the highest number of child labourers in the world. This number is a huge increase from 11.3 million as per 1991 census and is a worrying trend. One aspect is clear – there has been little curtail on child labour, indirectly pointing to the fact that the measures taken to curb including penalties are not deterrent enough to stem the tide. An article published in the Hindu dated 21st July, 2014 mentions 4,300 child labourers being rescued from Delhi alone since 2009 – most of them employed in barred places like factories and hotels. If this number is compounded with the number of metropolitan cities, mega-cities and tier-1 cities taken into account, the count would increase exponentially, ignoring the count of unreported cases.

 Copyright: The Hindu

The issue needs to be looked at from a 360 degree view rather than a piece-meal approach. One needs to understand what forces the child to work at such a tender age, often at places far away from their families and the most basic reason would be the meagre pecuniary condition of the family – the divide between the rich and the poor has increased drastically since the advent of globalization, where the government pegs the BPL limit at measly Rs. 32 for rural and Rs. 47 for urban spend for an individual. For the poor, getting two square meals a day becomes a daily hurdle to be crossed which ultimately drives the child to fend for himself. Desperation also plays an important role, taken advantage of by the hawks aka agents of human trafficking on whose behest the child is often sold at few thousand rupees by needy parents; such is the real value placed on the child.

The child if lucky enough lands up with a good employer, but more often than not has to work under unbearable circumstances for long hours and no holidays. For girls, the situation is even worse where they are at the mercy of their employers and are targets of sexual predators; molestation and at times rapes are recurring events of their life. Many of the unfortunate girls, directly land up in the flesh trade, which has the most serious consequences on their mental well-being. Human Trafficking is one of the worst crimes that can be imagined and the perpetrators should be punished strictly according to Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956 enforcing Article 23 of Constitution related to Fundamental right to Prohibition of Traffic in Human Beings and Forced Labour.

The prevalent solution in most of the cases where children are rescued is repatriation to their native place for rehabilitation. It is to be noted here that most of the rescued children are from poor families of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh; all belonging to the bottom quartile in the list of states as per Indian Human Development Index while Kerala leads the pack with highest HDI. The Labour Department sends Rs. 25,000 to District Magistrates annually for the welfare of each rescued child, but there are no effective tracing and tracking mechanism. More, importantly, the money is often not enough to sustain the basic requirements of each child. The family situation of the child remains same as before and the family still has to struggle to make both ends meet. It does not solve the real problem.

The government has to develop a multi-pronged solution to address the root-cause. Much has been done, but it must be fool-proof solution. First and foremost being poverty alleviation. MNREGA is one such initiative that touches the bottom of the pyramid directly. But it is mired with corruption that needs to be tackled strongly. More such initiatives need to be taken to improve financial condition of the poor. Secondly, ensuring that all children attain primary education which is their fundamental right as per article 21a of the Constitution. Various incentives like Mid-day meal schemes has been a huge success in most of the states. It has not only resulted in the decline of school drop-outs in primary classes, but has also provided a cost-effective means for the under-privileged child to continue his education, who otherwise may have been forced to take up a job. An additional aspect is rewarding family of girl child. For example, in Punjab, girl students have been gifted bicycles to travel comparatively larger distances to reach school along with free education. It also needs to be mentioned that though RTE has been passed, it needs to be implemented in earnest at all levels. Thirdly, with the passage of Food Security Act of 2013, it is expected that the poor is supposed to derive most of the benefits of subsidized food items through targeted Public Distribution System [PDS]. This should provide some respite to the poor so that they are not forced to send their wards to work. Fourthly, the judiciary and police needs to work hand-in-hand to curb this menace. All cases, pending before the National Commission and State Commissions for Protection of Child rights and Children’s courts should be fast tracked. Lastly, all Labour Inspectors should be held accountable for any child labourers being employed under his area of jurisdiction. Any lackadaisical approach should be done away with stringent punitive measures in place.

But one cannot put the onus on the government alone. Given the vast size of our country, huge population and the economic imbalance, the responsibility to address the issue of child labour lies equally with the citizens of our country. We, as responsible human beings, have to be conscious of the impact of child labour and the negative impact on our society and cannot afford to turn a blind eye. All instances of child labour should be promptly reported to the concerned authorities. To achieve this, we need to alleviate ourselves to cherish the ideals that the founding fathers of our nation envisaged, by developing a strong sense of moral character within ourselves and ensuring that the children from underprivileged families also lead a happy and joyous childhood.

For the growth of any nation, youngsters play a very crucial role. Nation rides on the well-being of these youngsters who are ultimately responsible for leading the nations in the world-stage. It is upto us, what kind of future, we as responsible citizens imagine for our successive generations – one, that is compassionate and upholds the freedom for all, foregoing the rooster coop mentality and pulling up the deprived ones by the more fortunate citizens as Gandhi-ji envisioned, or remain self-centered and concerned with the well-being of self, taking full advantage of the deprived sections of our society, to the extent of forcing a child to forego his childhood. In case of latter, future of our society will be pretty bleak indeed unless we strive towards eradicating the blot – the child labour in all its forms.

As Franklin D Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.

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