Showing posts with label The Indian Express. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Indian Express. Show all posts

Book of Unfreedom

Written by Kavita Krishnan

In a webinar on “Periyar and feminism”, Thol. Thirumavalavan, president of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), quoted Periyar on the Manusmriti, to say that the “Manu Dharma” demeans women, holding them to be prostitutes by nature. In her newfound avatar as a BJP acolyte, actor Khushbu Sundar claimed Thirumavalavan’s words insulted women. On cue, a case was filed against the VCK leader in Chennai.

It is the Manusmriti that insults women: Thirumavalavan merely quoted from it. What Khushbu and her party know, but cannot admit, is that they are outraged on behalf of the Manusmriti and not on behalf of women. That is why Khushbu claims that the Manusmriti has “not a single word that demeans women.”

At public functions in India, it is common to hear people sententiously cite the Manusmriti to say, “The deities delight in places where women are revered, but where women are not revered all rites are fruitless” (The Laws of Manu, 3:58, Doniger and Smith, Penguin Books, 1991). The same Manusmriti says, “It is the very nature of women to corrupt men here on earth; for that reason, circumspect men do not get careless and wanton among wanton women.” The idea of women as sexual tempters, corrupters or gateways to hell is not unique to Manu. The Christian, Islamic and Buddhist texts also warn against women, portraying them as sexually promiscuous, secretive, sly and out to entrap men.

Saying that the Manusmriti “treats women as prostitutes” is misleading. Such a description of the Manusmriti implies that the harm it causes is because it refers to women as sexually “loose” and, thus, insults women. But, in fact, the harm of the Manusmriti lies in its prescriptions of tight control of women’s autonomy. Manu says, “A girl, a young woman, or even an old woman should not do anything independently, even in (her own) house. In childhood a woman should be under her father’s control, in youth under her husband’s, and when her husband is dead, under her sons.”

Our critique of the Manusmriti should take care to challenge rather than reinforce the notion that the worst thing one can say of a woman is that she is sexually “loose” or a “prostitute”. It is important to recognise that the harm of the Manusmriti lies, not in the fact that it asks us to treat women as “prostitutes”, but that it asks us to treat women as daughters, wives, mothers who must be tightly controlled by fathers, husbands, sons. In fact, Manu encourages us to see this control as “reverence” and “protection” rather than as repression and oppression.

This obsessive control over women is needed to prevent a breakdown of caste hierarchies and caste apartheid. The Manusmriti lays down the law that a woman who makes love to a man of a higher caste incurs no punishment; a woman who makes love to a man of a “lower” caste than hers must be isolated and kept in confinement. If a man from a subordinate caste makes love to a woman of the highest caste, he must be put to death.

But, some ask, does anyone really read the Manusmriti in India, let alone obey it? The facts show that the spirit of Manu’s laws continue to inform and shape modern society, as well as modern politics in India. The National Family Health survey 2015–16 (NFHS-4) found that just 41 per cent of Indian women aged between 15 and 49 are allowed to go alone to the market, to the health centre, and outside the community (NFHS-4, table 15.13). Startlingly, 40 per cent of “what is classified as rape …is actually parental criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples” (Rukmini S., ‘The many shades of rape cases in Delhi’, The Hindu, July 29, 2014.)

In caste lies the key to understanding India’s obsession with controlling and curbing women’s autonomy — and in the Manusmriti lies the key to understanding the codes of caste and gender that are hardwired into our societies and selves. In every household where women are surveilled, their movements restricted; in every opposition to inter-caste, inter-faith marriage; in every attack on Dalits’ villages after a Dalit man has married a non-Dalit woman, in the Sangh’s campaign to brand love between Hindu women and Muslim men as “love jihad” — it is the Manusmriti that you see in action.

Today, Khushbu Sundar on behalf of the BJP is leading the pack in attacking Thirumavalavan for his remarks on the Manusmriti, which they construe as an insult to Indian womanhood. In 2005, Khushbu herself had been at the receiving end of similar patriarchal moral outrage. She had remarked that pre-marital sex was cool as long as it was safe sex — for this, 22 cases were filed against her accusing her of “defaming Tamil womanhood and chastity”. The attack on Khushbu was led by the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a party now known for its violent campaign against marriages between Dalit men and women of intermediate castes. And at the time, Thol. Thirumavalavan and his organisation, too, had joined the fray, with Thirumavalavan saying that her remarks were “against public order”. It would strengthen the movement against the Manusmriti today, if he were to acknowledge how his 2005 remarks reinforced the same Brahminical patriarchal notions of female purity and chastity that he, and we, are fighting today.

One cannot be a feminist in India if you are not fighting the Manusmriti — and one cannot fight the Manusmriti without being robustly feminist, and asserting women’s unconditional autonomy.

  The writer is secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and politburo member, CPI(ML)

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Riders to the sea

Written by Arun Prakash

Navies are, indeed, fortunate in that, unlike armies and air forces, they have many roles to play, even in peacetime. This was driven home by Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, many years ago, when he said, “Demonstrative actions by the fleet, in many cases, have made it possible to achieve political ends without resorting to armed action, by merely putting pressure… Thus, the navy has always been an instrument of policy and an important aid to diplomacy in peacetime.” This unique attribute of navies enables their use in support of foreign policy objectives, to deliver messages of reassurance to friends and of deterrence or coercion to adversaries.

The fact that it has taken a border confrontation in the Himalayas to bring focus on India’s maritime domain clearly indicates that the salience of maritime power is not yet understood in India. The stark reality is that given the huge economic, military and technological asymmetry between China and India, and the active China-Pakistan nexus, the best that India can hope for is a stalemate on its northern and western fronts. Attention has, therefore, been focused on the maritime domain, where it is believed that India may have some cards to play.

This is the lens through which one must see the progressive evolution of Exercise “Malabar”, from a bilateral event involving just the Indian and US navies, to a tri-lateral that embraced Japan in 2015, and now to a four-cornered naval drill that will also include Australia. Apart from its geo-political significance for the Indo-Pacific, this development poses two conundrums. Firstly, given the same composition, what is the distinction, now, between “Malabar” and the “Quad”? Secondly, if Malabar 1992, was emblematic of India’s emergence from its chrysalis of non-alignment, does Malabar 2020 mark the release of Australia from China’s thralldom?

China’s extreme concern about Malabar as well as the Quad arises from the suspicion that they are precursors to “containment” — America’s Cold War geopolitical strategy which eventually brought about the collapse of the USSR. China’s intimidatory conduct has aroused trepidation amongst Quad members, and marked caginess has been evident in their actions and articulations. For India, which faces a massive Chinese military mobilisation on its borders, accompanied by blatant territorial claims, the time for ambivalence is over. While preparing to fight its own battles with determination, it is time for India to seek external balancing — best done via the maritime domain.

While Malabar is the code name given to a naval exercise, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad has its roots in the Core Group of four senior diplomats representing the US, India, Japan and Australia, formed to coordinate relief efforts after the Great Asian Tsunami of December 26, 2004. Hailing it as “a new style of diplomacy”, its US member, Marc Grossman, says “…it was an organisation that never met… never issued a communiqué, never created a secretariat, and took as one of its successes, its own demise.”

The present Quad has obviously retained this tradition and its members have neither created a charter nor invested it with any substance, leading China to describe it as a “headline grabbing idea which will dissipate like sea-foam”. The Quad is 16 years old now, and Malabar 28. Both have served a useful purpose, and a reappraisal of the roles and relationship of the Quad-Malabar concepts is, therefore, overdue. Since it is India which faces a “clear and present danger”, it should boldly take the initiative to do so.

Given China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and its predicted trajectory as an economic and military superpower, it is clear that no nation would like to burn its bridges with Beijing. At the same time, in order to rein in China’s hegemonic urges, there is need for affected nations to come together to show their solidarity and determination in a common cause. In this context, there is need to create a broad-based “Indo-Pacific Concord”, of like-minded regional democracies, not as an “Asian NATO” but as an organisation with a maritime security charter, which has no offensive or provocative connotations.

Using the Quad and Malabar templates, a shore-based secretariat can be established in a central location like Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, which would schedule and conduct periodic multinational naval exercises. The exercises could be structured to hone the skills of participating navies in specialisations like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, countering non-traditional threats, undertaking search-and-rescue operations and establishing networked maritime domain awareness. The Concord could also designate forces to uphold maritime security or “good order at sea”.

Returning to the current context of Quad, there are muted expressions of satisfaction in New Delhi on two counts — the prospect of Australia belatedly joining the Quad and of India signing the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) with the US. These are expected to reinforce the Quad and enhance its credibility, but there are reasons for India to be circumspect in both cases.

While Australia’s admission to the Quad is to be welcomed, memories are still alive of its past political ambivalence towards India, its trenchant criticism of our naval expansion and its vociferous condemnation of the 1998 nuclear tests. Nor should one overlook Beijing’s recent influence on Australia’s foreign policy, which prompted its flip-flops over the sale of uranium to India as well as its peremptory withdrawal from the Quad in 2008.

The signing of BECA, last of the four “foundational agreements”, after more than two decades of negotiations, would eliminate a source of frustration in the Indo-US defence relationship and enhance interoperability between the respective militaries. However, there is need to pay heed to valid concerns, regarding the possible compromise of information impinging on India’s security and whether these agreements will barter away the last vestiges of India’s strategic autonomy.

To conclude, Indians, given our history, should never lose sight of the truism in international relations, that it is the unerring pursuit of national interests that guides the actions and policies of every nation.

 The writer is a retired chief of naval staff.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


The worst affected economy

Written by P Chidambaram 

Finally, the fake narrative that was peddled by the government through 2019-20, and even thereafter, has been exploded by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). Those are indeed harsh words in a column but the realities are harsher, the disdain of an uncaring government is so provocative, and the suffering of the people is so enormous that one is compelled to use harsh words. The intention is not to cause offence but to sound a loud wake-up call to those who are in power and those who support those in power.

The provisional estimates of GDP for the quarter April-June 2020 (Q1 of 2020-21), released by the CSO, tell us a grim tale. GDP in the first quarter has declined by a whopping 23.9 per cent. That means, about one quarter of the gross domestic output as on June 30, 2019, has been wiped out in the last 12 months. Note that when output is lost, the jobs that produce that output are lost, the income that those jobs provide are lost, and the families that depend on those incomes suffer. According to estimates made by the CMIE, between the economic slowdown and the pandemic, at its peak, 121 million jobs were lost. These included regular salaried jobs, casual jobs, and self-employment. If you wish to do a reality check, just look around or ask questions of other households in your street or neighbourhood.

At 23.9 per cent, India is the worst affected major economy (among the G-20) in the period April-June, 2020 (source: IMF).

Don’t Blame God

The only sector that has grown is Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing at 3.4 per cent. The Finance Minister who blamed an ‘Act of God’ for the decline should actually be grateful to the farmers and the gods who blessed the farmers. Every other sector of the economy has declined sharply, some precipitously. Manufacturing is down 39.3 per cent; Construction by 50.3 per cent; and Trade, Hotels, Transport and Communications by 47.0 per cent.

The estimates did not come as a surprise to any one who has closely observed the Indian economy. What we have is an economic tragedy. It was foretold by many economists, most recently by the RBI in its Annual Report released last week. Look at the salient conclusions of the RBI:

– High frequency indicators that have arrived so far point to retrenchment in activity that is unprecedented in history;

– the total stimulus package (liquidity and fiscal measures) for G20 countries averaged 12.1 per cent of GDP (5.1 per cent of GDP for EMEs and 19.8 per cent of GDP for AEs). India’s fiscal stimulus was about 1.7 per cent;

– the shock to consumption is severe, and it will take quite some time to mend and regain the pre-Covid-19 momentum; and

– a majority of respondents (in an RBI survey) reported pessimism relating to the general economic situation, employment, inflation and income.

Slide Predates Pandemic

The Indian situation is different from other countries’ because our economic slide started long before the first case of Covid-19 was identified. Our slide started with demonetisation. For eight successive quarters in 2018-19 and 2019-20, GDP growth declined every quarter, from a high of 8.2 per cent to a low of 3.1 per cent. This point was made a zillion times, but the government pretended that India was the ‘fastest growing economy in the world’! And in a barren desert without any sign of water, the Finance Minister and the Chief Economic Adviser saw green shoots!

We are still in a dark tunnel. Many economists believe that we can find our way out of it, even at this stage, if the government took the fiscal measures necessary to arrest the slide, boost demand/consumption, and, consequently, revive production and jobs. The key is expenditure — government and private consumption expenditure. It does not matter how much is spent under which head as long the money is found and spent. The government can find the money from many sources — disinvestment, more borrowing by relaxing the limits under the FRBM Act; using the generous funds to fight the pandemic promised by the IMF, World Bank Group, ADB and others (USD 6.5 billion); and, as a last resort, monetising part of the deficit.

Three Bold Moves

Part of the money must be transferred in cash to the poor; part should be used for government capital expenditure in infrastructure; part used to bridge the GST compensation gap; and part used for re-capitalising banks and enabling them to lend. Once there is an indication of revival of demand, private corporates, that are cash-rich and have de-leveraged, will invest and produce.

The next bold move should be to use the mountain of food grain to put food in the homes of poor families and to pay wages-in-kind to start massive public works. The godowns will be full again soon thanks to the record-breaking harvest expected this year.

The third big move will be to decentralise powers to the states and empower them financially. The Centre should abandon its ill-timed attempt to interfere with agricultural produce marketing, regulate supply of essential commodities, and control district central and urban cooperative banks. One Nation, One Everything is a very bad idea.

My proposals do not factor two unknowns — the course of the pandemic and the intentions of China —because, as I write, they remain unknowns.


Digitising the state : The Indian Express Editorial

Written by Manish Sabharwal , Deepak Phatak 
In a 2015 visit to Silicon Valley — the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the US West Coast since the semiconductor revolution in the 1970s — PM Modi suggested that “digital platforms were advancing citizen empowerment and democracy that once drew their strength from constitutions”. COVID demonstrated how one element of Digital India — Aadhaar enabled Direct Benefit Transfer — facilitated quick and targeted action. But COVID also demonstrated how large parts of the Indian state continue to resist, underinvest in, and delay digitisation. We make the case that the three-phase transition to mandatory digital payments, accounting, and transactions for government proposed by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) under a new project and law called DATA (Digital Accountability and Transparency Act) uses the COVID policy window for an empowering, elegant, and overdue reform with delightful consequences.

The Union budget grew from Rs 197 crore in 1947 to Rs 30 lakh crore last year and total government expenditure may be higher than Rs 70 lakh crore. But the form and manner of keeping accounts have more or less remained unchanged since Independence; manual transactions and manual payments often lead to manually entered data at different stages in different databases on different systems. This makes data unreliable, violates the principle of “single source of truth” and sabotages transparency and good governance. DATA recognises that digitally empowered citizens require digital public utilities that not only provide e-services but make all government revenue and expenditure data electronic, machine-readable, granular, comprehensive, purpose linked, non-repudiable, reliable, accessible and searchable.

A challenge for DATA is that government “computerisation” has often mechanised manual processes rather than “re-engineered processes”. This has created siloed IT systems with disparate databases that lack modern data sharing protocols for organic linking like APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and breed valid concerns of fiscal data being incomparable (as basic as salary expenditure across states), obscure (large expenditures booked under omnibus head called other), non-traceable (actual expenditure against temporary advances drawn or funds drawn on contingent bills), and misclassification (grants in aid as capital expenditure and bookings under suspense heads). But data underlies all transactional, accounting, and payment information and a national framework and dictionary to consistently and accurately capture, record, report, publish and analyse data both vertically and horizontally across government is now possible. DATA has many other upsides; recognising off-budget transactions (the last Union budget took steps towards this fiscal transparency and consolidation), business continuity (electronic records cannot be lost or misplaced like files or paper records), and an incontrovertible audit trail. Most importantly, it will enable Parliament and legislatures to draw “assurance” that each rupee due to the government has been collected, and each rupee has been spent for the purpose it was allocated.

The start point for DATA is mandatory and common data standards for all entities receiving government funds in all forms of funding and the endpoint is a single searchable website to ascertain total government funding by element and entity. But covering the distance between these needs three elements: 100 per cent end-to-end electronic data capture, data governance for standards across all government entities, and technology architecture. The first is clear; all receipts and expenditure transactions including demands, assessment, and invoices should be received, processed, and paid electronically. The second is complex; data standards are rules for describing and recording data elements with precise meanings and semantics that enable integration, sharing, and interoperability. Prescribing data elements for all transactions will ensure standardisation, clarify ambiguity, minimise redundant data, and create protocols for integration across different databases across entities receiving government funds, collecting revenues on behalf of the government, and those discharging core functions on behalf of the government.

The proposed government-wide data standards coupled with real-time data captured end-to-end will enable the use of cognitive intelligence tools like analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, which in turn will support the establishment of budget baselines, detecting anomalies, data-driven project/activity costing, performance comparisons across departments and agencies, and benchmarking. The third element of technology architecture must ensure that all IT government systems should conform to a prescribed open architecture framework (for instance, IndEA) while ensuring robust security and maintaining privacy.

A citizen-centric view of a single source of truth encompassing every rupee of public money would make the 299 remarkable people who wrote India’s Constitution proud of this 21st-century citizen empowerment innovation. Recurring operations will require a Data Governance Authority and the proposed three-year timeline is doable; one year for standard-setting by the data governance authority, two years to ministries/departments of the Government of India and states, and three years to all other recipients of government money such as local and autonomous bodies. A big gift to this project could be a 12-month mandatory deadline for all government payments to go digital; bad behaviour currently costs the RBI Rs 4,000 crore in bank agency commissions because many parts of the government do not use the RBI’s free e-kuber system.

A wonderful new book Midnight’s Machines: A Political History of Technology in India by Arun Mohan Sukumar chronicles a lesser-known political project that began on August 15 1947; the Indian state’s undertaking to influence how citizens thought about technology and its place in society. He suggests that Madan Mohan Malviya’s 1916 dissent note as a member of the Indian Industrial Commission seeded the Indian state’s interest in technology and drew a blueprint for India’s modernisation. India’s current gap between the digitisation of the private sector and government often reflects the 1972 Dandekar Committee recommendation that no entity install a computer without first “justifying” its use to employees and their trade unions. This means our rights as consumers are higher than our rights as citizens. But 100 years after Pandit Malviya’s forceful note, the digitisation of the Indian state proposed by the government and CAG imagines a giant leap in empowering our citizens.

Sabharwal and Phatak are with TeamLease Services and IIT Bombay respectively

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

The Fallacy Of Rankings : The Indian Express Editorial

Written by Chandrachur Singh 

The onset of a fresh academic session coincides with the release of institutional rankings. Meant primarily to guide and assist prospective students in choosing from among the best institutions and the courses offered by them, the ranking system comes off as an innovative attempt at quantifying excellence.

With 30,000 institutions of different types and standards, the Indian Higher Education System (IHES) is the world’s third-largest system. The need to map institutional unevenness and the inherent qualitative disparities in standards make rankings significant. This explains the importance of the MHRD-led National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). The other system of ranking that has got traction is the India Today rankings. However, when read in conjunction with each other, they produce conflating results.

For example, the NIRF for 2020-21 in the colleges’ category declares Miranda House as the best college, assigning Lady Shri Ram College and Hindu College second and third positions respectively, while the India Today rankings declare Hindu College as the best college for arts and science and the second-best college for commerce following Shri Ram College of Commerce. It is interesting to note that Miranda House does not have a commerce department and despite being ranked behind Hindu College as per India Today rankings, it gets the coveted top position in the NIRF rankings. While such confusion accrues on account of divergent weightage accorded to parameters, all the rankings end up assigning the top positions to a few select institutions.

According to the declared methodology (2019) in the college category, the NIRF allocates 40 per cent weightage to teaching-learning outcomes, which is derived from a mathematical calculation of student strength, students-teacher ratio, permanent/temporary appointments, number of PhD holders in faculty positions as well as financial resource utilisation. It accords 10 points to outreach and diversity quotients, another 15 and 25 per cent to research output and graduation outcomes respectively, and 10 points to perceptions amongst employers and academic peers.

However, I would argue that despite being based on a strong methodological platform, the NIRF rankings fail in accomplishing the mandate of segregating the chaff from the wheat. This is because the so-called top colleges top the charts largely on account of archaic perceptions, triggering the best intakes, which makes them score high on academic parameters. The student strength or the faculty-students ratio is not something these colleges can do much about. Being government-funded, they are bound to admit all those who make it past their declared cut-off marks.

The same is true of the diversity quotient. None of these colleges has any say in designing any policy parameter that would encourage or discourage students’ recruitments from varied backgrounds. In terms of resource use, most of the resources are rigidly fixed and even the slightest deviations attract penal action. The appointments and promotions of faculty members are controlled by their respective affiliating universities, and entirely independent of any merit-based distributive mechanism. The point is that the existing regulatory mechanisms of the IHES do not allow any flexibility to develop innovative pedagogy or outreach and diversity formulae on their own. All they need to do is to stick to the government-set policy directions and feel lucky if it rains.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find almost the same set of colleges topping the charts. They do well because they have a feeder cadre of the best. The application of a ranking methodology designed for an open and dynamic system when applied to a closed one only ends up conflating and confounding realities. It is not to say that the so-called top colleges in India do not have the drive or the capabilities to excel independently. But for a real assessment, they would need to be freed from inherent structural rigidities and be brought at par with each other.

The writer teaches Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Views expressed are personal

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Who is caring for children? : The Indian Express Editorial

Written by Ameeta Mulla Wattal
“March 20, 2020, has been a turning point in my life. All that I valued, the human touch, tangible connections, programmes, engagements, get-togethers, festivals and assemblies seem to have lost all meaning. In fact, I think I have grown up very fast as compared to any other generation of my age. Today, more than ever, I feel triggered, flooded and overwhelmed by this situation. The question that wells up in my mind is what happened to yesterday? What will happen today? How will I step into tomorrow? My dreams have been replaced by stress, anxiety and uncertainty.”

This cry of help came from an adolescent in school, who was unable to cope. The coronavirus apocalypse has been devastating for adults, but adolescents have been impacted by it in a much greater manner.

Between the ages of 13 to 17, teens and tweens have increased developmental motivation that makes it hard to isolate them. The hormonal changes during puberty combined with adolescent dynamics make them highly attuned to social status and peer groups.

Caught in a vacuum, at a time when they were ready to launch themselves, many teens are wading through complicated emotions. They have had to adjust to online learning, isolated from their friends, and eliminate meaningful events from their calendars. They mourn the loss of school groups, sports and informal get-togethers. The ritual of going to class and hanging out with people who they have grown up with, even if they have not been close friends, seems over.

Till now, the majority of children were in a vacation mode, but the reality of not going back to school has suddenly dawned upon them because the pandemic shows no signs of abatement. Levels of frustration, nervousness and disconnection have become much greater. A nostalgia of events pre-March has become intense.

A lot of adolescents hope to get back so they can have a little time to officially close the book on their lives in school. Due to this pandemic, children are afraid of venturing outside their homes. Suddenly, their safety and security has been threatened and challenged from multiple angles.

The more common stressors that teens are facing are loved ones becoming ill, non-stop pandemic news, family economics with their parents losing jobs, loss of traditional milestones in their school activities that are significant rites of passage, fear of catching a flight, visiting a grocery store or even going to a dentist. All these have impacted their mental health.

Adolescence is a state of major transition. It’s when they start finding their identity, their sense of self from their peer group. If at this crucial period, they are caught up in processing a range of very intense emotions from fear and anger to sadness and grief, the result can lead to a chronic anxiety disorder.

Different teens are having different reactions. For introverted adolescents, the current situation is giving them a sense of calm or relief. The extroverts, whose energy is recharged by communication, are devastated by the quarantine.

It is very important to be on the lookout for warning signs of depression, which range from emotional changes, feelings of despair and emptiness, mental changes, difficulty in focusing and thinking, physical changes including eating habits, weight and sleeping patterns. It is imperative that we take very seriously, actions of self-harm or even words that may lead to it.

Disorders have emerged affecting mood swings, behaviour and sleeping patterns due to the excessive use of technology. This 24-hour rhythm has now become the new norm, and has broken up the space between waking and sleep.

Parents are trying to balance their own work and the remote-learning schedules of their children, trying to find ways to help them cope. Parents have to acknowledge the anxieties of their children and have an open and honest discussion about the struggles they are facing, but with a level of reassurance.

Adolescents watch adults for psychological cues. If parents are calm, the children, in turn, will be more confident of their wellbeing. What may seem trivial to an adult may be very important to a teen or a tween. Dismissing or minimising their feelings is not the best approach: Parents must show compassion and validate their concerns because they will not get the moments they are missing back. The citation ceremonies, farewells, annual days, school carnivals, all of these make up the sights, sounds, feelings and fragrances of the growing-up years. It is their participation and reaction to these that will make them the adults of tomorrow.

Schools and the homes have changed roles. The online teaching model has to be embedded with an emotional compass more than anything else as mental health issues have already pinnacled and the domino effect is going to be felt across time. Social-emotional learning will help children to cope and prevent arousal symptoms and strong negative emotions. Capsules of meditation, yoga, motivational conversations will help to deconstruct the conflict that children are facing. Identifying their areas of stress, detachment and confusion should become an integral part of the teaching-learning experience.

In the immediate now, and forever, we must stop worrying about the learning gaps, but think about how our children will cope with anxiety, uncertainty and change. Can our children breathe, meditate, relax, experience tenderness, trust, and do they know if they have a self to find? If what is being taught in school and at home is not connected with the child’s happiness, survival and sanity, then, who is caring for our children?

The writer is principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, New Delhi

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Quid without a quo : The Indian Express Editorial

India’s trade agreement with China was one-sided to begin with.
Written by Bibek Debroy 

Bilateral agreements are an outcome of negotiations. To get something you want, you yield on others. There is quid pro quo and reciprocity. Thanks to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), since 1948, reciprocity has been built into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Gains and losses needn’t always be defined in narrow economic terms — the quid and the quo can be strategic. However, a quid without the quo doesn’t sound rational. Outside the then socialist bloc, India was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This happened on January 1, 1950. Pakistan followed a few days later. India followed through, in October 1954, with a trade agreement with PRC, apparently based on “equality and mutual benefit”. At least, that’s what the preamble to the agreement said. This trade agreement over-rode many historical rights India possessed (trade missions/trading posts) in Tibet. They were signed away. Therefore, for the benefit to be mutual and not unilateral, India must have gained something. This was a narrow trade agreement. Unlike contemporary times, there was no talk of cross-border labour or capital movements. The gains could have been trade, or non-trade.

In any such trade agreement, while negotiating, negotiators try to identify products where their country has a comparative advantage, though comparative advantage is necessarily dynamic and changes over time. I try to get market access for items where my country is competitive and try to bargain and prevent market access for items where my country is relatively uncompetitive. This is the principle behind trade negotiations. As broad heads, China was allowed to export — cereals, machinery, minerals, silk and silk piece-goods, animal products, paper and stationery, chemicals, oils, and miscellaneous items. India was allowed to export — grams, rice, pulses, kyanite, unmanufactured tobacco, raw materials and unmanufactured ores, wood and timber, hides and skins, chemicals, vehicles, and miscellaneous items. At that time, both countries were planning to industrialise, China with a first five-year plan in 1953, India with a first five-year plan in 1951. That being the case, you would expect industrialisation aspirations, and moving away from agriculture, to be reflected in items either side was trying to push. If you look at those broad heads, this is not the impression you get. For example, India would export wood and timber, but China would export paper and stationery. China would export machinery, but India would export raw materials and unmanufactured ores. That is, barring chemicals and vehicles, India would remain a primary produce exporter to China, a continuing trend this trade agreement contributed to. However, China’s exports would be broad-based and have manufacturing items.

So far, I have stuck to broad heads and these are heads as mentioned in the trade agreement. Those weren’t days when trade negotiators followed harmonised customs nomenclatures with digits pinning down items. Such physical descriptions sufficed. Let’s look at sub-heads, under those broad heads.

Under paper and stationery, we find newsprint, mechanical pulp-free printing paper, packing paper, stencil paper, blotting paper, fountain pens, pencils, ink, printing ink, and numbering machines. At that time, India had a strong domestic base in producing all these. Indeed, when Article XVIII of GATT was amended in 1954 to introduce Article XVIIIB, justifying quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports on the balance of payments grounds, one of the eight items India imposed QRs on was fountain pens. China’s fountain pen manufacturing base in Shanghai, other than Hero, is of later vintage. The Shanghai Hero Pen Company traced its antecedents back to 1931. That is when the Wolff Pen Manufacturing Company was founded, renamed Shanghai Hero Pen Company later. Companies like Jinhao didn’t exist then. Given India’s fountain pen and ink base, it was a bit strange that in 1954, it was pre-decided that China would have a comparative advantage in exporting fountain pens and ink and India would not. To reiterate, we clamped down on imports of fountain pens from the rest of the world, allowed them specifically for China and didn’t wish to export our own to China. If Hero pens became ubiquitous in later decades, that wasn’t only due to smuggling through Nepal. Those were legitimate imports. This is only an example to illustrate the broader point about a biased trade agreement.

Trade is not based on narrow notions of comparative advantage. A country can simultaneously export and import the same item. However, if an item figures in one country’s list and not on the other’s, that suggests an odd kind of preference. In market access schedules, items specifically mentioned are important. What’s dumped into a “miscellaneous” basket is relatively insignificant. If you scrutinise the schedules, you will find non-manufacturing items in China’s miscellaneous list, but many manufactured items in India’s miscellaneous list (light engineering, plastic manufactures, cement, agricultural implements, paper). By any yardstick, the 1954 agreement was one-sided. Today, any negotiator who agreed to this would be hauled over coal. Nor, since GATT was already been established in 1948, could one claim that India lacked in relative negotiating capacity.

I mentioned the quid pro quo gains of trade or non-trade. Obviously, there were no trade gains. One gave away and received little in return. Non-trade gains are also dubious. “Equality and mutual benefit” was picked up from the trade agreement and incorporated into Panchsheel later in the same year.

The writer is chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the PM. Views are personal

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Crime and impunity : The Indian Express Editorial

Written by Husain Dalwai , Sameena Dalwai

The brutal torture and death of a father and son in custody in Tamil Nadu brings the issue of police impunity to the fore once again. The deaths were not caused by bullets, which might have been less painful, but by organ damage that shows how merciless the policemen were. The victims were dragged to the police station for a non-violent crime — a civil offence of keeping the shop open longer than allowed — very similar to the George Floyd case in America. But where is India’s Floyd moment?

Earlier this week, the Maharashtra government reinstated four policemen accused in the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus in 2003. Yunus’s mother has filed a contempt of court petition since a suspension done by a court order cannot be legally revoked by the government. Her son, an IT engineer, was taken by the police and never returned. She could not even see his dead body.

The family went to the Bombay High Court. A CID enquiry revealed that while the police claimed that Yunus had absconded, he had died in police custody. He was allegedly stripped and beaten on the chest and abdomen with a belt in a lockup. Out of the 14 indicted policemen, only four were charged by the Maharashtra government. The case for murder, voluntarily causing grievous hurt to extort confession, fabricating evidence, and criminal conspiracy, is still pending.

We feel awed and overwhelmed seeing the uproar in the US, followed by rallies in London and Paris in support of Black Lives Matter. This has been long overdue. The US police reportedly shoot and kill around 1,000 black people every year. Racial profiling marks African-American youth as “criminals” and fills American prisons with them. Historically, some of America’s first police units were actual patrols to catch runaway slaves. Later, police units participated in or abetted lynching and enforced Jim Crow laws. Floyd was handcuffed and pushed down on the road with the policeman’s foot on his neck. His last words were “I can’t breathe”.

Marathi journalist and writer Samar Khadas wrote a story called Bakryachi Body (The body of the goat) based on the Yunus case. In the story, a Muslim youth is arrested and tied to the chair in the police station. They put a towel on his face and keep throwing water on it. The man struggles, keeps begging, then slowly his pleas and voice become guttural. In the end, only silence. All the while, the policemen are sitting around joking, eating and watching TV.

Successive governments have failed to charge policemen indicted by Srikrishna Commission for their inaction or direct violence in the Bombay riots of 1992-93, for shooting Muslims point-blank, for sending families back to rioters.

This kind of police behaviour often gets justified as “stress” or because “the police are common people too”. This is a twisted argument that allows the police on one hand, to be egoistic, vengeful macho men, and on the other hand, provides them with arms, closed spaces and immunity from consequences.

In India, the structures that enable police brutality date back to the British Raj, when the colonial government used bullets, torture and branding as criminals to discipline the lowest strata of Indians, including tribals, Dalits and Muslims. After Independence, the police departments continued to be brutal, prejudiced and bereft of scientific policing techniques. A survey by Common Cause, a non-governmental organisation, and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Delhi, showed that 14 per cent of police personnel feel that Muslims are “very much” naturally prone to committing crimes, while 36 per cent feel that Muslims are “somewhat” prone.

This bias comes handy when the current right-wing political regime tries to “teach a lesson” to its political opponents. From Kashmir to Northeast Delhi, from JNU and Jamia to Aligarh Muslim University, we have seen aggressive police actions against protesters.


The Hindu-Muslim rift that started before Partition has been successfully fuelled by the right-wing in the past three decades. The “dangerous minority” discourse overshadows that systemic discrimination and economic deprivation of Muslims has resulted in Muslim OBCs (lower castes amongst Muslims) sinking on social and economic indicators — as revealed by the Justice Sachar Committee report in 2006. The propaganda that portrays Muslims as villains creates impunity for the police.

India does not follow the “command responsibility” principle for police chiefs — the commander of forces is not held guilty for failing to curb illegal activities of those in his charge.

Nor does the law permit common citizens to sue a police officer – only the government has that discretion. Governments and superior officers have been alleged to shield the guilty, making the path to justice thorny for the survivors of police brutality.

Black people in the US are now demanding the total dismantling of police departments, not token reforms within existing structures. They have been marching the streets chanting, “I can’t breathe” in memory of Floyd. I can’t breathe also means, “with their foot on my neck, I can’t be free”. I can’t move around, I can’t hold a job, rent a place, pray, go to university. I can’t be a citizen.

Thousands of white people are on the streets of Europe and the US, supporting black people in their demands, saying, “No Justice, No Peace”. Can we hope the Indian majority classes and governments will follow suit?

 Husain Dalwai is a former Rajya Sabha MP and Sameena Dalwai is professor, Jindal Global Law School.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

‘A safety net, post Covid : The Indian Express Editorial

In the post corona crisis situation, India has to address many problems, of which two stand out. First, the improvement of our healthcare system and second, the need for the institution of a scheme to provide minimum income support to the weak and vulnerable groups. In this article, we address the second issue.

There has been considerable discussion on universal basic income (UBI) in recent years. It is true that a universal scheme is easy to implement. Feasibility is the critical question. The Congress had suggested NYAY to help the poor. The problem with non-universal targeted programmes is the problem of identification. Narrowly-targeted programmes will run into complex problems of identification and give rise to exclusion and inclusion errors.

In order to avoid the identification problem, we have three proposals which meet the objective of providing a minimum basic income to the poor and vulnerable groups in both rural and urban areas. These are: One, give cash transfers to all women above the age of 20 years; two, expand the number of days provided under MGNREGA and three, have a national employment guarantee scheme in urban areas. In all the three proposals, there is no problem of identification. A combination of cash transfers and an expanded employment guarantee scheme can provide a minimum basic income.

On the proposal of cash transfers, one way of doing it will be to give it to all women say above the age of 20. This is an easily identifiable criterion because the Aadhaar cards carry the age of the person. The female population above the age of 20 is around 42.89 crore. Making available a minimum of Rs 4,000 annually as a cash transfer to all of them will cost Rs 1.72 lakh crore — 0.84 per cent of GDP. This is in addition to the income from an expanded MGNREGA as given below. The cost of the scheme to the government will be less if the well-off women choose not to take the cash transfer.

The second and third approaches are expanding MGNREGA in rural areas and introducing an employment guarantee programme in urban areas respectively. At present, MGNREGA is availed of only for 50 days of employment, although the Act guarantees 100 days of employment. One way to help the poor and informal workers is to strengthen it. We have two proposals here. The first is to increase the number of days under the scheme from 100 to 150 in rural areas. The second is to introduce an Employment Guarantee Act in urban areas and provide employment for 150 days. In 2019-20, the government spent Rs 67,873 crore for providing 48 days of employment to 5.48 crore of rural households. Out of this, the wage expenditure was Rs 48,762 crore.

The government has increased the per day wage rate from Rs 182.1 in 2019-20 to Rs 202.5 in 2020-21. Using this wage rate, we estimate the expenditure for 150 days of employment to 5.48 crore households in rural areas and 2.66 crore households in urban areas — together they account for 33 per cent of total households in the country. As shown in the table, the total wage expenditure for 150 days is Rs 2.47 lakh crore (1.21 per cent of GDP) while total expenditure (wages and materials) is Rs 3.21 lakh crore (1.58 per cent of GDP) in 2020-21. It may be noted that this estimate includes the current expenditure of generating around 50 days of employment in rural areas which is already committed by the government. Therefore, the proposed additional expenditure for 150 days of employment in both rural and urban areas would be Rs 1.91 lakh crore (0.94 per cent of GDP) as wage expenditure and Rs 2.48 lakh crore (1.22 per cent of GDP) as total expenditure on wages and materials. In other words, the additional expenditure needed for our proposal is Rs 1.9 to 2.5 lakh crore, around 1 to 1.22 per cent of GDP.

Apart from expanding rural MGNREGA, we are proposing a nation-wide urban employment guarantee scheme to improve livelihoods. The design can be slightly different from MGNREGA. In urban areas, employment can be provided to both unskilled and semi-skilled workers as there is demand for the latter workers also.

The first proposal of providing cash transfers to women above 20 costs Rs 1.72 crore (0.84 per cent of GDP). The total cost on MGNREGA for providing 150 days of employment in rural areas and the cost for 150 days of work for the Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme is around Rs 3.21 crore in a year (1.58 per cent of GDP). The total cost of the three proposals would be Rs 4.9 lakh crore or 2.4 per cent of GDP. A person working in MGNREGA and in the urban programme can get Rs 30,000 if 150 days are provided.

It may be noted, however, that the total expenditure of the proposals could be lower due to two reasons. First, the number of days availed by the employment guarantee programmes could be lower as it is a demand-based programme. This is happening even now. Second, on cash transfers, some women, particularly from richer classes, may voluntarily drop out of the scheme or alternatively, we can provide that everyone receiving cash transfer must declare that her total monthly income is less than Rs 6,000 per month. In addition, it may be noted that the government is already incurring a total expenditure of Rs 67,873 crore on MGNREGA.

The feasibility of raising an additional Rs 4.2 lakh crore is not an easy one. Some analysts have suggested that we can remove all exemptions in our tax system and that would give enough money. Apart from the difficulties in removing all exemptions, tax experts advocate removing exemptions so that the basic tax rate can be reduced. Perhaps, out of the Rs 4.2 lakh crore which is needed, Rs 1 lakh crore can come out of phasing out of some of the expenditures, while another Rs 3 lakh crore must come out of raising additional revenue. Some of the non-merit subsidies, another item of expenditure, can be eliminated.

To conclude, in the post-COVID-19 situation, we need to institute schemes to provide a minimum income for the poor and vulnerable groups. For this purpose, we propose here cash transfers for women, increasing MGNREGA from the present 100 days of work to 150 days in rural areas and the introduction of 150 days of work as an urban employment guarantee scheme. This will cost around 2 per cent of GDP and will help the poor, informal workers, including the migrant workers, significantly reducing poverty.

 Rangarajan is former chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and former Governor, RBI. Dev is director and vice-chancellor, IGIDR, Mumbai.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Take care, Diego

In 1976, when Diego landed on the Galapagos islands, his fellow Espanola giant tortoises faced extinction. There were just 14 of his kind in the wild, 12 of them female. In a little more than 40 years, Diego sired more than 800 Espanalo tortoises and, along with his mates, helped mitigate the crisis of his species. Galapagos today is home to more than 2,000 Espanola tortoises. And Diego can now retire from the island’s captive breeding programme, a poster boy of conservation.
In the mid-20th century, Galapagos’s giant tortoises were hunted by sailors and whalers for food. The sailors also introduced goats to the islands that depleted cacti — food, water and shade for the giant tortoise. When Diego was brought in from a zoo in San Diego, the ecological integrity of the islands was threatened. Not much is known about his pre-Galapagos life. Estimates about his age vary. One thing we do know for sure: His sojourn at Galapagos established Diego as unique to his species. The Espanol tortoise is known to be shy and reserved. Diego, however, wasn’t just a playboy. There are accounts aplenty of the long-necked, yellow-faced tortoise looking warmly at tourists. A fundamental tenet of evolution is that adaptability holds the key to species survival. At Galapagos, Charles Darwin’s famous observatory, Diego seems to have vindicated the sage of evolution.
There are worries that with limited genes, the Espanol tortoise’s revival could be cut short. But nature lovers need not worry. They could, instead, spare a thought for Diego’s colleague at the breeding programme, known by the nondescript moniker, E 5. According to gene tests, the less flamboyant creature, who is also going into retirement, has fathered nearly twice as many giant tortoises as Diego. Species survival — indeed the domain of evolution — is not always about charisma. For every Darwin there is a less-celebrated Alfred Russel Wallace — for every Diego, there is an E 5.
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