Help Sampadkiya Team in maintaining this website

इस वेबसाइट को जारी रखने में यथायोग्य मदद करें -

-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief)

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

The liberation of Bangladesh (The Indian Express)

Written by Daud Haider

Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, talks to jawans and officers at Comilla in Bangladesh during the war on December 8, 1971 (Source: PIB)

In April 1946, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad told journalist Shorish Kashmiri in an interview, “I can only spot grave dangers in Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan. Note something else as well. Bengal has so far eluded Jinnah’s scrutiny. And he is yet to know that Bengal simply does not yield to outside dominance and authority. Bengali will protest — sooner or later. I believe East Pakistan can never put up with the supremacy of West Pakistan — the two can never co-exist. Their faiths are disparate; what else is to bind the two? The only reality of being Muslims can hardly be a cohesive factor.”

West Pakistan deprived and coerced East Pakistan in more areas than one. Jute — and other crops — cultivated in East Pakistan had their prices determined in West Pakistan; a mere half of the profits trickled back to East Pakistan. Apples, grapes or woollen garments produced in West Pakistan were sold at 10 times the price in East Pakistan. Discrimination was such that the slightest of dissent branded one an enemy of Pakistan or of Islam. Persecution, arrests, incarcerations were the order of the day.

The Pakistan Resolution was passed in Lahore, March 1940. In 1966, Opposition leaders of Pakistan got together, where the six-point programme was spearheaded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It had the seeds of building a strong Pakistan and, of course, a free Bangladesh. Pakistan’s spies and military intelligence lost no time in gauging the message of secession and self-determination in the six-point programme. Communist leader Moni Singh said after the liberation: “Bangabandhu had the plan of Liberation in his mind right in 1951.”

The Awami League and Bangabandhu launched countrywide rallies in favour of the six-point programme from March 1966. The movement spread. Mujibur, along with many others, was arrested. The prison, however, could not keep them for long and they had to be freed. The Ayub Khan regime charged protesters with the Agartala Conspiracy Case. The people of East Pakistan rose as one and sought Mujibur Rahman’s release. Section 144 was imposed. Slogans soared into the air — “Jai Bangla” (Hail Bangla), “Tomar Amaar Thikana, Padma, Meghna, Jamuna” (Our home is here, do you know?/ Where the Padma-Meghna-Jamuna flow); “Dhaka Na Pindi, Dhaka, Dhaka” (Give us Dhaka, not Pindi/ Give us Dhaka every day!). No placard or slogan mentioned East Pakistan or East Bengal any longer; it was Bangladesh all the way. This author, too, penned a couple of such slogans.

On March 7, Bangabandhu addressed the nation. He made it clear: “This time the struggle is for our freedom.”

At midnight on March 25, Pakistan unleashed genocide in Bangladesh. Refugees streamed into India. India stood by Bangladesh in its freedom struggle and one must salute the contribution of Indira Gandhi – as well as of the Indian Army — in winning liberation for Bangladesh.

As the genocide began on the night of March 25-26 is commemorated as the day of liberation. The Pakistani supremacy lasted two and a half decades — religion and the two-nation theory fell on the way.

Just eight months into Pakistan’s existence, Jinnah had arrived in Dhaka and addressed two rallies. He declared Urdu the state language of West and East Pakistan. He forgot that the people of East Pakistan did not speak Urdu — they spoke Bangla. The seeds of the Bangla Language Movement — as well as the Bangladesh Liberation War — could be traced to Jinnah’s proclamation.

I met a Pakistani novelist in London who said, in jest, “both Pakistan and Bangladesh owe their births to Jinnah. A common religion cannot unite countries and nations. Despite his wisdom and astuteness as a politician he was blind to this issue.”

The Constitution of Bangladesh had four main principles — democracy, socialism, secularism and Bengali nationalism. However, all four have disappeared after the assassination of Bangabandhu. Democracy remains, in name only. Elections take place though.

In place of Bengali nationalism, Ziaur Rahman, an army officer-turned-President, created “Bangladeshi nationalism”, incorporating Muslim nationalism into “Bangladeshi”, doing away with everything Bengali. Rahman wooed the banned Jamaat-e-Islami and offered citizenship to “Amir” Ghulam Azam of Jamaat-e-Islami, on the pretext that he, too, was originally from Bangladesh and had sought asylum in Pakistan only after East Pakistan moved away. Another dictator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, added “Bismillah” to the already redrafted Constitution. Islam became the state religion. Political parties did not protest.

That tradition continues. Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman, has been Prime Minister of Bangladesh for a decade. She has retained “Bismillah” and Islam as the state religion. She had pledged, before coming to office, to restore the four main principles of the Constitution, but has refrained from doing so. In fact, she leans more on Islam, Islamic countries and Islamic parties.

The history of Bangladesh’s liberation is half a century of disparate and chequered aspects. It witnessed the assassination of Bangabandhu, the reigns of two military dictators, the formation of SAARC at the initiative of Ziaur Rahman, a military coup and the assassination of Ziaur Rahman, three caretaker regimes, governments headed by two women prime ministers, the rise of nearly a hundred political parties, all mostly Islamic. The Awami League and BNP and their respective leaders — Sheikh Hasina and Begum Zia — are encumbered by the growing demands of Islamic parties. While these parties are thriving, the progressive ones are barely heard and seen.

Bangladesh is no longer a “bottomless basket”, as described by Henry Kissinger. The country’s per capita income is $2,064. Primary education now stands at nearly 98 per cent. In the 50 years, Bangladesh has moved past religion and the two-nation theory. The country glories in her freedom, in her place among world nations.

Jai Bangla! Jai Bangladesh!

 The writer is a well-known poet. Translated from Bengali by Swati Ghosh.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


An act of diminution (The Indian Express)

 Written by S S Mantha , Ashok Thakur 

The writ of the AICTE does not run in the institutions of national importance like IITs, NITs and IISERs as they are created under separate “acts” of Parliament. (File)

The Approval Process Handbook released by the All India Council for Technical Education for the forthcoming year wherein it announced that physics and mathematics will no longer be compulsory subjects in classes X and XII for entry to engineering and other technical education programmes was a bombshell for academics and scientists all over the country and outside.

National Education Policy 2020 states that the highest priority must be given to mathematics at the pre-primary level and in some ways speaks of making mathematics mandatory at that level to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Mathematics develops our reasoning capability, helps us to cultivate analytical thinking, quickens our mind, and can be applied in day-to-day life. But what has actually happened is the reverse.

The provision of multiple choices of courses in the NEP has been perversely interpreted to mean and include core subjects like physics, mathematics, chemistry and other sciences, whereas it was only to be within electives — a complete misplaced concept of flexibility. A section of students may benefit from this but for the country as a whole it could prove to be the proverbial trojan horse.

Mathematics is one of the most distinguished disciplines which has a “continuum” of applications, from “zero to infinite”. At times, it “differentiates” between “chaos” and “stability” and sometimes it “integrates” different disciplines of knowledge. From basics to advanced concepts, mathematics finds use in all. If engineering is the body, mathematics and physics are its “atma”. There cannot be engineering without physics, chemistry and mathematics. No amount of “bridge” programmes that the Handbook talks about can fill the gap, if the student does not have sufficient mathematics or sciences background.

Ancient India made several important contributions through scholars like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskaracharya and Varahamihira. The decimal number system and the concept of zero was a gift to the world by Indian mathematicians. Trigonometry and modern definitions of sine and cosine were advanced in India. Mathematical marvels like the “Jantar Mantar” located in Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi and the Konark temple are our heritage. The intermix of astronomy and mathematics in these is amazing. Could the engineers of those times have constructed them if they did not learn mathematics? Throughout the ages, emphasis on mathematics and sciences has been enormous in our society. Why do we want to junk this rare legacy and clear advantage?

Mathematics is indeed the mother of all science. In electrical engineering, circuit equations cannot be solved without the differential equations. Electromagnetic theory cannot be understood without calculus, triple integrals and integration over closed surfaces. Linear algebra is the heart of learning circuit theory and signal processing. In electronics engineering, one needs to understand the various mathematical concepts based on differential, integral calculus and complex numbers. In order to use the right material for a project, civil engineers measure the strength of the materials and apply chemical equations to judge strength. Engineering thermodynamics and heat transfer involve concepts of heat waves and gradients as explained by the Laplacian operator.

Divergence, geometrical concepts are needed for analysing shape factors. Logarithm of heat is used to determine the temperature driving force for heat transfer in flow systems like heat exchangers. Can forces and velocities be ever calculated without mathematics? Mechanical engineering uses geometry and algebra for CAD/CAM and rapid prototyping. If programmers are working on high-end technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence or blockchain technologies, they should have a strong foundation in mathematics and subjects such as statistics, calculus and probability besides computer science fundamentals.

What impact would this decision have on the quality of engineering education in general and on the JEE exam in particular? Students may stop studying maths and physics in schools since they will be assured an engineering education anyway. The importance of subjects themselves would plummet, for if the students of engineering do not study them who else would in future. It will reduce the pool of future scientists and engineers in the country, thereby adversely affecting research organisations like the DRDO, ISRO, BARC, TIFR.

Internationally, the credibility of Indian scientists and engineers will take a serious beating.

Fortunately, the writ of the AICTE does not run in the institutions of national importance like IITs, NITs and IISERs as they are created under separate “acts” of Parliament. Their respective councils must be on an overdrive to find ways and means to cushion themselves from the fallout of this disastrous decision, especially the IITs, which will never allow the JEE’s brand equity to be diluted in this fashion.

The reason behind making these subjects optional is not far to seek and seems to be more about commerce than education. Due to the shrinking of the economy, jobs have become few and far between, with the result that the number of seats in engineering colleges that are not getting filled in the last five years has been almost 40 per cent. During the academic year 2020-21 nearly 180 professional colleges, including engineering institutes, were shut down, probably the highest number of closures of technical institutions in the last nine years.

Considering the cost of setting up a typical engineering college at Rs 50 crore without the cost of land, the total amount of investment by these “edupreneurs” put together is a staggering amount and commensurate to that is their clout. An expanded base of intake will surely benefit them as also those aspiring to become doctors but could not, and who can now have a shot at engineering as well. Whereas this may ensure that the tills of the low-end engineering colleges are kept ringing, it is a sure way of tossing the nation’s age-old advantage in a robust scientific and engineering education system out of the window for ever.

 SS Mantha is former chairman AICTE. Ashok Thakur is former secretary MHRD, GoI.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Net-zero isn’t zero-sum (The Indian Express)

Written by Ulka Kelkar

The International Energy Agency predicts that much of India’s future emissions will come from things that have not yet been built — transport infrastructure, industry, and buildings — pointing to the opportunity to build cleaner. (Representational)

Recently 58 countries announced net-zero emission targets. In the next 30 years, they aim to reduce their emissions of climate change-causing carbon dioxide and other GHGs, and remove what they do emit through planting trees or advanced technologies. Together these countries account for more than half the world’s current GHG emissions.

The International Energy Agency predicts that much of India’s future emissions will come from things that have not yet been built — transport infrastructure, industry, and buildings — pointing to the opportunity to build cleaner. The union territory of Ladakh, the state of Sikkim, the cities of Chennai and Bengaluru, and the panchayat of Meenangadi in Wayanad, Kerala are already planning for carbon neutral development. If India were to adopt a nationwide net-zero target, would it come at the cost of our economic growth?

Our analysis shows that actions to reduce emissions in different sectors could be the foundation of a stronger economy and a healthier population. Most of India’s thermal power plants use scarce freshwater for cooling. As India moves to cleaner sources of electricity, water consumption by power plants will decrease from more than 2.5 billion cubic metres per year to less than 1 billion cubic metres per year in 2050. Actions to reduce carbon dioxide will also reduce other pollution.

A strong set of climate actions across multiple sectors can generate 24 million jobs in just 15 years. For example, more ambitious policies to promote electric vehicles along with cleaner electricity and hydrogen electrolysis can create jobs in the auto manufacturing industry and in the electricity and construction sectors. Some jobs may decline in vehicle maintenance and repair, but far more jobs are likely to be induced by government and household spending.

New studies show the daunting scale of the net zero challenge for our country. What technologies will we need and what will it cost? We applied an economic model that includes all major sectors and looked at the combined effect of various policies starting now till 2050. The biggest impact comes from greater electrification and using hydrogen as a fuel in industries like cement, iron and steel, and chemicals.

Other big contributions can come by commercially producing hydrogen from electrolysis rather than fossil fuels, and if we retire existing coal power plants earlier than scheduled. There is considerable scope to improve energy efficiency in large industries, and their supply chains of MSMEs which have the potential to save energy but lack capital.

Such policies would lead to significant fuel savings and dramatically reduce the country’s crude oil import bill in the long run. The catch is that 25 per cent of the Centre’s tax revenue comes from the energy sector, so weaning away from fossil fuels will also deplete the government’s coffers. One way to offset this loss is through a carbon tax on industry, slowly phased in from a small amount roughly equivalent to the existing coal cess (or GST compensation cess) to reach Rs 2,500 per tonne of carbon dioxide by the middle of the century.

We must also prepare for the fact that job gains might not occur in the same locations as job losses. Women, whose participation in the workforce has been harder hit in the pandemic, may not easily be able to access certain new jobs. Most new jobs are expected to be non-unionised, often lacking safety nets. Carbon tax revenues may need to be recycled back to poorer households who spend a large fraction of their income on energy. We need to respect people’s rights to land and common property resources. Just as we need strong climate policies, we also need strong social policies and local institutions to ensure that the clean energy transition is fair and just.

Flattening the emissions curve will not happen by itself. But the important thing is that many of the needed policies are already underway. They need to be accelerated with investments of finance and technology. A net-zero emissions future need not be a zero-sum game. Strong environmental policies can create prosperity and well-being. With imaginative policies, robust institutions, and international finance, India will be able to declare its freedom from polluting fossil fuels in the hundredth year of its independence.

 Kelkar is director, Climate programme, World Resources Institute India. Views are the author’s alone. Inputs by Deepthi Swamy, Consultant, WRI India.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Joined by history, and future (The Indian Express)

Written by Syed Badrul Ahsan

Maintaining stable and friendly relations with India has been to Bangladesh’s advantage in terms of both countries sharing a common position on regional security. Bangladesh’s strong stand against religious militancy and terrorism has resonated with policy makers in Delhi and vice versa. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Fifty years ago, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, through signing a 25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between their two countries, solidified the links that India and Bangladesh had forged in the course of the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971.

Half a century on, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Dhaka to be part of the golden jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence, it is the enduring nature of the ties between the two nations that takes centre stage. Added to that are two complementary realities, namely, the 50th year of close ties between the two neighbours and the centenary of the birth of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Bangladesh’s people, and that includes the generations born and coming of age after 1971, have gratefully recalled the moral, material and diplomatic support India provided in its struggle to free itself of Pakistani repression in a year that began as an annus horribilis but ended as an annus mirabilis. That the Mukti Bahini, the Bengali guerrilla force, was trained in camps in India is part of shared political heritage. That the very first independent Bengali government in history, formed and administered by Mujib’s close political associates and known as the Mujibnagar government, operated from Theatre Road in Kolkata underscores Bangladesh’s historical narrative. Remembered, too, with gratitude are the efforts made by Indira Gandhi toward arousing global concern about the murder of Bengalis in 1971. That 10 million Bengali refugees were cared for by the Indian government and state governments has not been forgotten.

This is the history which is being reinforced as Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina get down to business in Dhaka. On what will be his second visit to Bangladesh since taking office as India’s Prime Minister, Modi can certainly expect a warm reception. And yet, he and his Bangladeshi counterpart are also aware of the hiccups which have sometimes disturbed the waters. For Bangladesh’s people, the failure of Dhaka and Delhi to reach a deal on an equitable sharing of the river Teesta’s waters remains a major concern. With India and Bangladesh crisscrossed by 54 common rivers, Bangladeshis often can’t comprehend why the Teesta issue remains unresolved.

Another concern for Bangladeshis has to do with the killings of their compatriots by India’s Border Security Force along the frontier between the two countries. While it is understandable that smuggling needs to be dealt with firmly, it is not acceptable for Bangladeshis that rather than apprehending or detaining cattle smugglers or people trying to make an illegal entry into India, the BSF has been shooting them. A number of meetings between the BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh have taken place, but not much has changed.

Then comes the broad picture. The ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement by India a few years ago earned the appreciation of Bangladeshis. And with that comes the other reality of the Indian and Bangladesh governments cracking down on terrorism. Sheikh Hasina’s government has ensured that no militant outfit finds space in Bangladesh or engages in subversive activities against Delhi from Bangladesh’s territory. Such cooperation between Delhi and Dhaka has enhanced trust to a point where, in broad perspective, a commonality of objectives defines relations between the two nations. It would, at this point, not be out of place to note that when the BJP took power in Delhi in 2014, fears were generated in Dhaka as to whether a secular Awami League government could handle the rise of a rightwing government in India.

Those fears were neutralised by the warmth which, from the very beginning, characterised links between the two governments. That is not to suggest that people in Bangladesh remain oblivious to such measures in India as the CAA. They remain wary of conditions which might develop in Assam, with probable ramifications for Bangladesh. And, at this point of time, Bangladeshis are keeping close watch on the electoral scene playing out in West Bengal. In Dhaka, fingers remain crossed. Mamata Banerjee, despite her position on the Teesta, has generally struck something of a chord on this side of the political frontier.

Maintaining stable and friendly relations with India has been to Bangladesh’s advantage in terms of both countries sharing a common position on regional security. Bangladesh’s strong stand against religious militancy and terrorism has resonated with policy makers in Delhi and vice versa. In the field of trade, there is certainly a gap in terms of exports and imports, but again, it is geography which has often determined conditions. While India has given duty-free access to a number of Bangladeshi goods, its physical enormity precludes circumstances that could have Bangladesh enhance the quantum of exports. While the gap between the countries’ exports to each other seems worrying, for Dhaka the redeeming factor is its economy, which is currently one of the fastest-growing in the world.

Modi’s visit to Dhaka, as Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has noted, will be an opportunity for the two countries to enhance cooperation through some new MoUs. Meanwhile, the inauguration of the Chilahati-Haldibari railway link has been a significant move in enhancing connectivity between the countries. Bangladesh has received 9 million doses of Covishield vaccines from India — a gesture that has enormously boosted morale in Dhaka as it battles the pandemic.

The Modi-Hasina talks could well be a fresh opportunity for Bangladesh to emphasise to India the need for meaningful pressure to be applied to Myanmar over the Rohingya issue. Dhaka has been disappointed with the inability or reluctance of Moscow, Beijing and Delhi to help it out of its predicament. As the two prime ministers join in the celebrations in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s leader may well find the moment opportune to buttonhole the visiting Indian head of government on the Rohingya issue.

 Ahsan is a senior journalist based in Dhaka author of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: From Rebel to Founding Father.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


1971: War and peace (The Indian Express)

Written by Ashok K Mehta

The frosty relations between Islamabad and Dhaka turned hostile after the recall and expulsion of each others’ diplomats in 2015/16 over allegations of indulging in activities exceeding diplomatic license, that is, spying and subterfuge.

On March 26, Bangladesh will recall three glorious chapters of its young history: Fifty years of the Liberation War of 1971; the birth centenary of the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; and 50 years of India-Bangladesh bonding. This is the story of how peace was brokered by West Germany between Pakistan and Bangladesh after the war.

The frosty relations between Islamabad and Dhaka turned hostile after the recall and expulsion of each others’ diplomats in 2015/16 over allegations of indulging in activities exceeding diplomatic license, that is, spying and subterfuge. These mutually-inimical exchanges were already exacerbated by Pakistan’s condemnation of Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, established in 2010 to prosecute Bangladeshis who actively collaborated with the Pakistan military’s crackdown on March 26, 1971, resulting in war crimes by members of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who were also opposed to the country’s independence and separation from Pakistan. Of the 24 convictions, six death sentences were promulgated between 2015-17. After Pakistan’s defeat in 1971, Bangladesh had identified and separated 195 military personnel from the 90,000 POWs for war crimes who Pakistan had promised to put on trial but which never happened. Unknown to many, including history books, the Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany) played a stellar, transformative role in cooling tempers and creating an environment for the safe passage of 195 Pakistani soldiers, allowing them to return home.

Stanley Wolpert, in his book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times, says that if Bhutto had abided by the election results, there would have been no Bangladesh nor any reason for India to step in. India also facilitated the return of 195 POWs charged with war crimes by persuading Bangladesh to be lenient. But the heavy lifting was done by German Chancellor Willy Brandt and his foreign minister, Walter Scheel, in 1973. Through protracted negotiations with the emissaries of Zulfiqar Bhutto and Mujibur Rahman and by exchanging letters with them, they succeeded in convincing Rehman that he should forego the trials, citing the German experience after the war and the Nuremberg trials.

Bhutto had made the recognition of Bangladesh contingent upon the repatriation of all POWs and Pakistani nationals in Bangladesh. Brandt’s pleas for leniency were laced with Deutschmarks, badly needed by Dhaka. I have read the collection of letters and interviewed leaders of the Brandt regime surviving in Germany in December 2015 and made a presentation in December at the Berlin Centre for Cold War Studies on these little-known facts.

On April 9, 1974, a tripartite agreement was signed by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in which Dhaka showed clemency to 195 Pakistani POWs for war crimes, which, in turn, led to the two countries’ mutual recognition of each other. Bonn played a deeper role in the 1971 war than is known by becoming one of the first western and European countries to recognise Bangladesh on February 4, 1972, with Bhutan becoming the first country to raise the new Bangladesh flag. According to an article in Der Spiegel on November 30, 1975, the price Germany paid for persuading India to delay establishing full diplomatic relations with the German Democratic Republic( East Germany) so that it could be the first to sign a treaty with GDR was its early recognition of Bangladesh, which was not in sync with the US’s thinking, as it would encourage other western countries to follow suit. That is precisely what happened.

Forty years on, between 2015-17, Bangladesh — sensing the international mood towards war crimes and human rights violations as one of zero tolerance — took the cold and courageous decision to bring to retributive justice its nationals who colluded in the perpetration of war crimes. In post-conflict Sri Lanka, the template is different. It is part of the accountability, reconciliation and transitional justice on which the UNHRC voted this week against Sri Lanka and India abstained. In Nepal, due to political instability and lack of willl, the accountability process following the civil war between Maoists and the Nepal Army has not taken off. The recent political turbulence in the Maldives involving paramilitary excesses will also require an accountability mechanism and so will Afghanistan if the war ever reaches an end where the Taliban can be tried.

Many countries have formally apologised for war crimes, including Japan and Germany in World War II. An apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan on behalf of Pakistan on March 26 would be a grand gesture of regional reconciliation. Khan, when he was not prime minister, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, late human rights activist Asma Jahangir and journalist Hamid Mir have all recommended that Pakistan should own responsibility for war excesses in 1971. It would be a victory for accountability and humanity and a new beginning for Pakistan-Bangladesh relations. In his writings, BJP leader Jaswant Singh used to call Bangladesh geography’s revenge over history, in which India lost nearly 2,000 soldiers.

 The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army. He took part in the liberation war of Bangladesh and recently researched the role of Chancellor Willy Brandt in ironing out Pakistan-Bangladesh differences after the 1971 war.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Why Supreme Court must dismiss misguided petition against 26 Quranic verses (The Indian Express)

Written by Manjeet Kripalani , Rajiv Bhatia , Sagnik Chakraborty 

It is a proud moment for Bangladesh, and the Indian subcontinent. Just as Vietnam amazed the world with its fast-paced growth, so too has Bangladesh, which has displayed a will to grow despite odds.

This month marks the beginning of triple celebrations in Bangladesh. It is the birth centenary of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; it is the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence; and it celebrates 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India.

A country that began as a case study for development is now on top of the global GDP charts. Bangladesh’s GDP growth in 2019 was an enviable 8.4 per cent — twice that of India’s during that year — and it is one of the few countries to have maintained a positive growth rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its GDP per capita is just under $2,000 — almost the same as India’s. In five years, by 2026, Bangladesh will drop its least developed country tag, and move into the league of developing countries — on a par with India.

It is a proud moment for Bangladesh, and the Indian subcontinent. Just as Vietnam amazed the world with its fast-paced growth, so too has Bangladesh, which has displayed a will to grow despite odds.

Vietnam instituted market and economic reforms, known as Doi Moi, in 1986, which enabled it to achieve rapid economic growth and industrialisation. It began with the manufacturing of textiles and garments, in which it is now a prominent global player, and moved into making mobiles and electronics. As supply chains diversify from China, Vietnam is a beneficiary. It is now the “+1” in the “China +1” strategy of multinationals and has seen investment rise steadily, especially from Asian countries like Japan and Thailand.

Vietnam has been smart in signing trade agreements and inserting itself into global supply chains. It joined ASEAN and that free trade region in 1995. It has free trade agreements with the US and with India, Japan, and China through ASEAN. This enabled Vietnam to skill-up its population for labour-intensive manufacturing produced at scale, thereby bringing down costs and expanding exports.

Bangladesh has followed a similar strategy. Its rise is directly connected with the textiles and garments industry, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s exports. Bangladesh also enjoys preferential trade treatments with the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan with negligible or zero tax. With India too, Dhaka has a zero-export duty on key products like readymade garments. Over the years, Bangladesh has enhanced its agricultural production, power generation, natural gas exploration and production, pharmaceuticals, and foreign remittances.

Like Vietnam, its foreign investment regime is investor-friendly. For instance, Bangladesh’s liberal FDI policy allows 100 per cent equity in local companies and no limits on repatriation of profits in most sectors. Indian companies are increasingly present in Bangladesh, and Indian products are popular — an outcome of a strong cultural affinity.

Bangladesh scores over almost all other developing countries in microfinance — a model it has exported. The world’s most successful and pioneering microfinance organisations like Grameen and BRAC have aided small businesses in the country, and regionally. Many of these schemes, over the years, were directed at women. This has paid dividends not just in financial independence, but also in encouraging them to work outside the home. Consequently, Bangladesh’s workforce in its textiles sector is almost all women — 95 per cent women in an industry which is 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports. Having a woman Prime Minister like Sheikh Hasina as their champion, helps.

This, along with government schemes like Pushti Apas (Nutrition Sisters) and community health clinics has helped Bangladesh in the development indices: Bangladesh fares better on infant mortality, sanitation, hunger and gender equality than many countries including India.

What can India, South Asia and the world learn from Bangladesh’s successful development trajectory?

Certainly, increasing women in the workforce, liberalising internal and external trade, and making micro lending accessible, are some of the lessons. But so is the goal of being a global hub for the sub region, building special economic zones which requires infrastructure, connectivity and a welcoming environment for investors both domestic and foreign. Domestic entrepreneurs create the base for a nation’s small and medium business strength, and the jobs and innovation that go with it.

On March 26, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Dhaka as the guest of honour for Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary, he will push the button on the long-delayed bilateral connectivity projects, and launch new ones. He can do more. Ahsan Mansur, chairman of BRAC Bank, said at a seminar last week organised by Gateway House and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, that “both countries have suffered since 1947, without connectivity, at huge cost. Now is the time to integrate our power systems, think about free trade, liberalise the visa regime.”

India need not always carry the burden of South Asia’s development alone. It now has a partner with whom to collaborate effectively towards achieving that goal.

The writers are with Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, Mumbai.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Why Supreme Court must dismiss misguided petition against 26 Quranic verses (The Indian Express)

Written by Firoz Bakht Ahmed

While Rizvi is trying to stir a hornet’s nest, the trend of involving the Supreme Court in religious matters is not a tenable one.

In a recent PIL in the Supreme Court, Waseem Rizvi, former chairman of the Shia Waqf Board in UP, has demanded the removal of 26 verses from the holy Quran claiming that terrorists used these verses to “promote jihad”.

Earlier as well, he had written to the Prime Minister, asking him to close down all madrasas since these breed “terrorists”. While Rizvi is trying to stir a hornet’s nest, the trend of involving the Supreme Court in religious matters is not a tenable one.

True, the apex court decided the triple talaq law which was of paramount importance, keeping in view how Muslim women were being divorced in a single sitting. But in the case of the Quran’s verses, the court is not the proper forum or body to decide which verses can be allowed or removed.

This would be a serious interference in the religious beliefs of the community, affecting their right to freedom of religion. If any court entertains such a petition, tomorrow it may be faced with similar petitions for the removal of verses from the religious books and scriptures of other religious communities.

What is positive is that not only Muslims but almost all Hindu brothers believe that the petition is a bogus one. It has also been condemned by eminent people and learned scholars from both the Shia and Sunni communities. Such a bizarre, frivolous and distressing petition deserves to be dismissed forthwith.

There is not a single verse in the holy Quran which promotes violence or terrorism, if read in its proper context. The Quran condemns unjustified violence and terrorism, while permitting self-defence. Only a distorted reading of verses taken out of context can lead to views such as Rizvi’s.

Without having gone through the real purport and the exegesis of the 26 verses, this Islam-baiter has cast unfounded allegations against the three Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman). He completely failed to understand that the 26 verses have been categorised as “war verses” and were in force at the time of the holy wars. No Muslim bases his or her action on these. The very meaning of the word Islam is “submission”. Forget taking somebody’s life, the Prophet (PBUH) believed that the biggest sin was lacerating people’s hearts and hurting them.

Rizvi’s argument is that some terrorists and wayward Muslims quote these verses to justify the slaughter of innocents. But, even if these verses did not exist, terrorists would not cease their violence. Had they read and understood the Quran, they would have been the messengers of peace, not death! When the ISIS terrorists, while recording acts of violence, display the Kalimah on the black flag, they deliberately defile Islam. Unfortunately, for the layman, that becomes symbolic of Islamic tenets, which is a misconception.

The scriptures of a religion are the final wordings of their creator and need to be revered by all means — not even a word, comma or full stop can be changed.

In the past, anti-Islam propaganda by Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie or Danish cartoons have created a lot of turmoil. The killing of the middle school French teacher, Samuel Paty, in Paris was one such condemnable fallout. The perpetrator of the crime never knew that his act would have been severely condemned by the Prophet himself.

These brainwashed killers must learn Islam has no room for such killings. At the same time, why do people provoke a community’s beliefs under the garb of freedom of expression? True, Christians won’t get offended by the cartoons of Jesus Christ but it’s not the same with Muslims or Hindus. The late MF Husain had to face a lot of flak and go into a self-imposed exile in Dubai and UK for the criticism of his painting of Saraswati.

The Old Testament is filled with tales of divinely-ordained slaughter and war, yet about two billion Christians today follow the word of the Lord, coupled with the New Testament, which includes a command from Jesus to “love thy neighbour as you love thyself.” Muslims also face a similar dichotomy of ideas in the Quran.

In one part, the scripture says, “La ikraha fiddeen,” meaning that there is “no enforcement/ coercion in matters of faith.” The Quran also states about other religions, “Lakum dinokum waley yadeen,” meaning, “to you, your religion, to me, mine.”

Nevertheless, the fringe minority that has been indulging in killing the innocent, have turned a god-fearing and law-abiding Muslim person anywhere in the world into an object of suspicion.

It is good that the National Commission for Minorities has condemned Rizvi by sending him a sharp notice for his absurd petition stating that his statement is “provocative and disturbs the balance of communal harmony of a secular nation and has hurt the sentiments of a religious minority community”.

The Supreme Court must not entertain this petition that hurts the religious sentiments of billions of Muslims across the globe and must ask Rizvi to apologise, the chief imam of India, Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, has suggested.

As a law-abiding citizen of this great nation, I would appeal and urge all my co-religionists to maintain discipline, remain calm and to register their protest peacefully against this misguided petition.

The writer is chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Small steps to lasting Indo-Pak peace (The Indian Express)

Written by Khurshid Kasuri , Radha Kumar 

Both governments will benefit from public backing for the steps they have currently taken.

The February 2021 announcement of a renewed ceasefire by Pakistan and India was greeted with both a cautious welcome and considerable scepticism. Tensions between the two countries plunged to their nadir after August 2019, when the Indian government removed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and locked down the former state. Since then there have been close to 7,000 incidents of crossfire across the Line of Control, accompanied by rising invective by the two countries’ leaders. Most Pakistan and India analysts, therefore, see the ceasefire as a purely tactical move serving the short-term interests of both countries (calming India’s western borders while negotiations with China continue; calming Pakistan’s eastern border while Afghan negotiations gather momentum).

Even as a purely tactical move, this small step to de-escalate must be welcomed, especially if it is seen by each country as serving its own interests. In our view, moreover, there is no such thing as a purely tactical move in peacemaking. More often than not, what appears to be a one-step tactical move expands to a series of small steps, which may together set the stage for bolder measures towards a lasting peace.

There are already signs of a further thaw in India-Pakistan relations. The two governments have agreed to cooperate on healthcare under the aegis of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and there is talk of Pakistani cricketers playing in India later this year, and of reviving negotiations on religious pilgrimages.

While these may be small steps, it is difficult to imagine what, other than small steps, could be undertaken. Public and political hostility towards Pakistan in India and towards India in Pakistan is exponentially greater than it was five years ago. It will take time and perseverance to overcome. As past experience shows, even sustained initiatives by Indian and Pakistani leaders have foundered on relatively lower levels of hostility, because openly-expressed distrust kept the field open for spoilers to step in.

The most sustained effort at a Pakistan-India peace process was from 1998-2007. It was initiated by then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and had an extremely rocky first few years. Vajpayee was excoriated in India for persisting through a military coup in Pakistan and the mini-war in Kargil. President Pervez Musharraf was similarly excoriated in Pakistan, for what his detractors on the right regarded as a sign of weakness (there were multiple attempts on his life). Both leaders persisted, however, resulting in the ceasefire of 2003 and the Islamabad Joint Statement of 2004, which together led to the resumption of the peace process and decline in violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

India-Pakistan peacemaking made rapid gains in 2003-2007, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf. Path-breaking CBMs, such as trade and travel between divided Kashmir, were implemented, yielding a draft framework agreement that could have provided a lasting solution to the Kashmir conflict. Both of us were involved in this process, one officially and the other academically. In the decades that followed, CBMs were expanded, though no progress was made on the framework agreement. In the last seven years, however, even CBMs were halted as India-Pakistan conflict escalated.

The two governments have been wise to let their armies take ownership of the ceasefire, despite clear signs of political negotiation at the top (the two army representatives “agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns”, a phrase that previously appeared in India-Pakistan prime ministerial statements). Both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa have reiterated their interest in peacemaking, indicating a welcome degree of coordination between the civilian administration and the military. In India, letting the army take the lead provides a face-saver for the Modi administration. Notably, Pakistan has not been referenced negatively in the state elections in India where campaigning is currently underway, as had become a practice previously.

It would be an exaggeration to say that a new peace process has begun between India and Pakistan. Rather, the small steps discussed above have opened a window of opportunity, which might be further widened by returning diplomatic ties to ambassadorial level, resuming trade and allowing religious pilgrimages.

In order to take advantage of this window, the two countries’ leaders will have to make what are, for them, difficult decisions. India will have to restore the gamut of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir; they do not prejudice its security concerns. On its part, Pakistan will have to abide by its existing commitments under the 2004 joint statement to “not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.”

In this situation, both governments will benefit from public backing for the steps they have currently taken. Our joint article is a small move in that direction. The Indian and Pakistani media have rarely understood that effective peace processes require constant promotion to succeed. Positive international coverage was crucially important to the gains made in 2003-2007. Similarly, while India is over-suspicious of international support for India-Pakistan peacemaking, and Pakistan is sometimes over-eager for international involvement, those of us who were involved in the India-Pakistan peace process recognise that US “facilitation”, as the Vajpayee administration put it, contributed significantly to its progress.

Ideally, India and Pakistan should move to pick up peace negotiations from where they left off in 2007. The draft framework was a win-win which took into consideration the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir along with the requirements of India and Pakistan. It entailed substantial demilitarisation of all parts of the former princely state, and ensuring that its people had the rights, freedoms and self-governance necessary for a sustainable solution.

This is a far cry from where we are today, but it is also historically true that every lasting peace agreement has been sketched years, if not decades, earlier and repudiated endlessly before it re-emerges as a consensus solution.

India and Pakistan have opened a small window of opportunity. Both governments will need considerable encouragement, from their domestic audience as well as their international partners, to widen that window.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 24, 2021 under the title ‘Picking up threads of peace’.

Khurshid Kasuri was Foreign Minister of Pakistan during the crucial peace process years, involved in negotiating the Kashmir framework agreement. He is author of Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove (2015).

Radha Kumar is former director-general of the Delhi Policy Group and was a government-appointed interlocutor for J&K. She is author of Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir (2018)

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Fearless in Egypt (The Indian Express)

Written by Krishnan Unni P 

Three decades ago, I came across God Dies by the Nile, a novel by Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian public intellectual who passed away on Sunday aged 89. It described an intensely patriarchal society where women were treated as pawns in a religious game. As a powerful feminist writer, she stood apart from the many voices that spoke against patriarchy in Egypt.

As a writer and medical practitioner, El Saadawi lived many lives in Egypt. Her time in exile was no different. Her training as a medical doctor was held against her since the orthodoxy was suspicious of women who aspired for a public profile. At Dar El Shefa and Al Zahara hospitals, she primarily treated women whose physical problems had been doubled by mental complications. Her patients spoke of her as “doctor of advice”. Many of her works reveal a deep analysis of women’s issues connected to a series of internal disturbances. Some were, as she said in an interview, deeply related to topographies that make women surrender to the diktats of the state and religion.

The publication of Women and Sex in 1969, a powerful testimony of the voiceless women in Egypt, made El Saadawi a suspect in the eyes of the authorities. The phenomenal impact of the book shook the religious orthodoxy. Her involvement in the publication of the feminist magazine Confrontation further accentuated their ire against her. She was arrested by the Anwar Sadat government in 1981 and lodged in Qanatir Women’s prison. Her much acclaimed novel, Women at Point Zero, is also a document of the lives of several women prisoners.

During her exile in the US, El Saadawi spoke about the West’s lack of interest in analysing Islamic fundamentalism. Some of her colleagues in the University of Washington questioned her notion of oppression. El Saadawi, on the other hand, drew the picture of a deep well of “unknowing”, where they live by imbibing only the textual knowledge of women’s liberation gained from the West.

El Saadawi believed that one became a feminist by learning from lived experience, not from books. She held that western notions of feminism had little space in Egypt and in other Islamist states. Her tireless campaign against female genital mutilation, which she argued was a tool to oppress women, led to a ban on the practice in Egypt.

Prison was another gateway for El Saadawi. The Arab Women’s Solidarity Association was formed in prison. Soon, Egypt witnessed the rise of another powerful voice, sociologist and activist Saba Mahmood, whose Piety movement reshaped the Egyptian society much before the uprising in 2011. When the uprising on Tahrir Square began, El Saadawi mobilised people on the streets. A number of university students and activists gathered to hear her. Many of them carried her controversial book, The Fall of the Imam. In her speeches she drew attention to the inhuman female genital mutilation, raised concerns about contested and dehumanised spaces produced by the Western capitalism. Her critique was aimed at a number of educational institutions in the West, which she felt, manufactured a certain set of rules and principles that chained women. She criticised the US attack on Afghanistan. She also refused to universalise resistance movements and wanted the particular to be more visible. She valued the confessions of women — the pressure placed on the religious institution/state by women’s visionary experience, she believed, devalues patriarchal authority.

El Saadawi’s was a fearless mind ranged against all authoritative tendencies in the world. In her, we see the combination of a Julia Kristeva and a Germaine Greer. Like Kristeva, El Saadawi gave importance to the utterances that somehow escaped the norm, rather than the big voices. Like Greer, she was deeply involved in the study of uneven discourses of identity. For her, feminism was never a Western construct. It was in practice ever since humans started interacting on this planet. The challenges she posed to the world were not Egypt centred. One need not look for eyewitnesses for truth, but the act of confession in any form, would make the world understand. As a novelist, she did not mythify the beauty of the land and passions. As a social thinker, she did not ape her predecessors or the West. And as an activist, she always lived in the present, where she encountered at times the cruelty of loneliness and a visceral participation in the public.

 The writer is associate professor in English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Post covid prescription (The Indian Express)

Written by Praveen Singh Pardeshi 

Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat is a domestic non-trade dependent initiative which will invest over Rs 64,000 crore in setting up 17,800 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centres and 602 critical care hospitals in the country’s districts.(Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

India suffered serious economic contraction due to the COVID lockdown. However, Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat policies in the health sector can check a possible second wave and fuel a robust recovery. The Asian Development Bank identifies India as an outlier, with the country’s GDP growth likely to range between eight and 10 per cent — as against 7.7 per cent for China and seven per cent for the Asian region. The convergence between the rich and poor countries in the 1990s and 2000s was founded on high relative growth rates driven by globalisation and export-led growth. The World Bank and many international think tanks are now projecting a process of de-globalisation, reduction in the demand for exports, and reduced service exports from the tourism, travel and hospitality sector in response to COVID. So, the phenomenon of trade-led catch-up growth is petering out.

Can India maintain its high growth rate beyond the statistical bounce-back from a low base in 2021-22 in the coming decade?

India’s import substituting growth strategy of the 1960s did not succeed because the high protective customs barriers led to the growth of non-competitive industries that were locked into older technologies — the Ambassador car, for example. The current Atmanirbhar Bharat project is different because tariffs are low and public investment is focused on non-tradable infrastructure rather than commodity production.

The Pune-based Serum Institute’s collaboration with Oxford University and AstraZeneca enabled India to book two billion doses of Covishield, even as Europe, Canada and Brazil are struggling to meet their vaccine needs. In the first 18 days of March, India could vaccinate one million people per day. This can be stepped up to three million vaccinations a day on a consistent basis — three million shots were actually administered on March 15. A division of responsibilities between public health facilities and the private sector is essential.

Government hospitals and primary health centres can concentrate on free vaccination of rural populations. Private hospitals can vaccinate all above 40 who can afford to pay. The spike in COVID numbers across India is driven by the movement of professionals and workers above 40 years old. However, this category is currently not prioritised – only people above 45 with comorbidities, senior citizens and healthcare and frontline workers are eligible to receive the vaccine. Corporates — in fact, a large number of offices — can purchase the vaccine and get it administered to their staff without burdening the already-stretched state and municipal health services. The chain of rural sub-district hospitals, small hospitals and primary health centres could focus on the entire rural population above 40 years on a walk-in basis provided they are residents within the PHC’s area of operation.

Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat is a domestic non-trade dependent initiative which will invest over Rs 64,000 crore in setting up 17,800 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centres and 602 critical care hospitals in the country’s districts. Today India has 29 health workers per 10,000 population, while we need 60 such professionals per 10,000 people, as per WHO norms. Creating such a cadre will mean nearly four million new jobs, which can be self-paying as many of the services like laboratory checks, screening for NCDs, X-rays, physiotherapy and drug protocol monitoring can be provided on a cost recovery basis. These professionals can be employed on fixed-term contracts as per the newly-reformed labour legislation.

Like the country’s medical sector, its infrastructure, too, is poised to feel the effects of the government’s emphasis on atmanirbharta. China and emerging markets like Russia and Brazil have a fairly advanced transport and energy infrastructure. India has a huge potential to renew its railways and highways and shift to solar energy from its current dependence on coal. In fact, the country’s long-neglected fourth largest rail network in the world is undergoing rapid transformation. While rail track coverage expanded by 5,000 km during 2010 to 2014-15, nearly 7,000 km of tracks were added between 2015 and 2020. The Railways now aim to lay 9.5 km of track daily and have raised adequate capital for the same by leveraging domestic insurance funds. Railways are also aiming for 100 per cent electrification and zero carbon footprint by 2024. Electrified track has doubled from 20,000 km in 2012/13 to nearly 40,000 km in 2020.

The Centre’s decision to invest heavily in urban mass transit systems since 2014 has led to the rapid expansion of such services. Starting from an estimated length of 380 km in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai in 2014-15, over 500 km of metro rail systems are under construction in 40 large cities of India.

The resolution of financial problems of blocked PPP projects and smooth land acquisition process has increased the pace of construction of national highways from 3,330 km per year during 2009-20014 to nearly 9,450 km in 2020-21.

Today over 55 per cent of India’s energy comes from coal. The country is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement and has agreed to reduce the carbon intensity of its GDP. Starting with only 10 MW of solar power in 2010, India has installed nearly 35 GW of solar power by 2020. This has been propelled by economic reforms which drove solar power prices down from Rs 17 per unit in 2010 to Rs 2.44 per unit in 2020. The strategy of reverse bidding, as opposed to the administered price regime of the past, has paid off. The target of reaching 100 GW by 2022 can drive growth further.

Currently nearly 25 per cent of India’s electricity is used for pumping underground water for irrigation. Providing irrigation energy from decentralised solar grids — solar power can be generated at the points on consumption (unlike coal, hydro or even wind) — will reduce huge transmission losses and the associated carbon footprint of non-renewable energy sources. Incentivising farmers to install their solar-powered pumps or providing state support to PPP projects to establish small local solar grids for local farmer groups and supplying the surplus power to the grid will cut losses of electricity utilities that are forced to supply free power to farmers. Maharashtra and a few other states have piloted this approach since 2018.

The Centre’s shift towards privatising public sector outfits including banks, insurance companies and other PSUs can fund the growth of rail, road and energy infrastructure. This will also foster efficiency in India’s credit system. China’s supernormal growth in infrastructure without access to international financing in the initial decades was seen as an economic mystery. Recent studies have revealed that financial decentralisation and commercial exploitation of state-owned lands was critical to the project. In India, too, regional development authorities like the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority and Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation have financed the metro, trans-harbour links and industrial infrastructure through a similar commercial land allocation model. This model can be extended throughout the country to finance infrastructure expansion — large parcels of idle land under loss-making public sector undertakings can be monetised for public infrastructure and health facilities.

 The writer is global programme coordinator, The Defeat NCD Partnership, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Geneva

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Conditions apply (The Indian Express)

Written by Sanya Kumar , Rakshanda Deka

The 1971 Act reeks of moral biases against sexual relationships outside marriage, adopts an ableist approach and carries a strong eugenic emphasis.

Passed by the Lok Sabha on March 17, 2020, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021 now stands blessed by the Rajya Sabha. The bill is being hailed as a much-needed departure from the existing legal regime under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 for two reasons — first, the bill replaces “any married woman or her husband” with “any woman or her partner” while contemplating termination of pregnancies resulting from contraception failures, thus ostensibly destigmatising pregnancies outside marriage; and second, the time limit within which pregnancies are legally terminable is increased.

The 1971 Act reeks of moral biases against sexual relationships outside marriage, adopts an ableist approach and carries a strong eugenic emphasis. The very Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 1971 Act noted the fact that “most of these mothers are married women, and are under no particular necessity to conceal their pregnancy” as a logical basis for legalisation of termination of pregnancies. Further, in addition to preventing danger to the life or risk to physical or mental health of the woman, “eugenic grounds” were recognised as a specific category for legally permissible abortions.

In this backdrop, the bill’s capacity to fulfil its professed aim of ensuring “dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate pregnancy” merits close examination.

The bill most significantly raises the upper gestational limits for the two categories of permissible abortions envisioned in Section 3(2) of the 1971 Act. While the limit for the first category (pregnancies terminable subject to the opinion of one medical practitioner) is raised from 12 weeks to 20 weeks, the limit for the second category (pregnancies terminable subject to the opinion of two medical practitioners) is raised to include those exceeding 20 but not exceeding 24 weeks, instead of the present category of cases exceeding 12 but not exceeding 20 weeks. However, the second category is left ambiguous and open to potential executive overreach insofar as it may be further narrowed down by rules made by the executive. Further, pregnancies are allowed to be terminated only where continuance of the pregnancy would “prejudice the life of the pregnant woman or cause grave injury to her mental or physical health” or “if the child were born it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality.” Section 3(2B), however, makes the upper gestational limits inapplicable to abortions necessitated, in the opinion of the Medical Board, by any “substantial foetal abnormalities”.

The fact that a woman’s right to abortion is exercisable only in the face of such compelling circumstances renders motherhood the norm, and abortion the exception. As such, the bill seeks to cater to women “who need to terminate pregnancy” as against “women who want to terminate pregnancy.” By not accounting for the right to abortion at will, the bill effectively forces women to feign “grave injury to physical or mental health” to terminate a pregnancy, thus unequivocally crippling their bodily autonomy. Importantly, even while the act requires the woman’s consent to abort in the above-mentioned situations, absent a medical practitioner’s opinion validating her choice, her consent is insufficient.

The special classifications of “serious physical or mental abnormalities” and “substantial foetal abnormalities” also reek of societal prejudices against persons with special needs. Undoubtedly, a woman’s right to terminate the pregnancy of a child likely to suffer from physical or mental anomalies or one diagnosed with foetal abnormalities, on socio-economic grounds or otherwise, merits recognition. However, in treating “physical or mental disability” or “foetal abnormalities” as separate categories amounting to heightened circumstances for termination of pregnancies, the bill reveals its ableist approach. This evidences a presumption that certain people are by default societally unproductive, undesirable and somehow more justifiably eliminable than others.

This ableism becomes stark when the said 24-week limit, which is purportedly dictated by scientific and legislative wisdom, is completely lifted where the termination of a pregnancy involves “substantial foetal abnormalities”. Thus, while the revised upper gestational limit is by itself laudable, when read together with Section 3(2B) of the bill, a strange dichotomy emerges — it is either the case that medical advancement is such that a safe abortion is possible at any point in the term of pregnancy, and hence, the bill permits termination at any stage when “substantial foetal abnormalities” are involved; or that, a 24-week ceiling is scientifically essential and abortions beyond the said limit would pose risks to the health of the pregnant woman or the foetus. If it is the former, then allowing termination only in cases of “substantial foetal abnormalities” is a fictitious and moralistic classification. If it is the latter, then the secondary status of women’s safety and the dominant eugenic tenor of the bill once again becomes evident.

The move from “married woman” and “her husband” to “woman” and “her partner” is appreciable. However, access to abortion facilities is limited not just by legislative barriers but also the fear of judgment from medical practitioners. It is imperative that healthcare providers be sensitised towards being scientific, objective and compassionate in their approach to abortions notwithstanding the woman’s marital status. Absent such steps, progressive legislative amends won’t create meaningful change on the ground.

The bill is at best a tight-fisted grant of fettered autonomy. In the landmark judgment in KS Puttaswamy v Union of India, the Supreme Court recognised women’s constitutional right to make reproductive choices and the right to “abstain from procreating” was read into the right to privacy, dignity and bodily autonomy. The MTPA Bill, which now awaits the President’s assent to become law, falls short of meeting this constitutional standard and its own stated objectives.

 The writers are advocates practising in New Delhi

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Labour wrongs (The Indian Express)

Written by Kaveri Medappa

While Zomato worker Kamaraj has received support from the general public, and, rightfully, a fair chance to defend himself, others continue to suffer platform excesses.

One evening in September 2019, a delivery partner of a popular food app saw a message on his smartphone every time he entered his partner log-in ID: “User not authorised”. His ID had been suspended by the company and he could no longer use the application to work as a delivery partner in Bengaluru. The app did not justify the suspension. However, several other partners whose IDs had been similarly suspended had taken part in city-wide protests challenging the app’s decision to slash their monetary incentives. When a digital news platform enquired about the suspensions, the platform admitted to suspending accounts of partners. Unfortunately, with digital labour platforms lacking the systemic safeguards for “partners” to contest or dispute such decisions, many workers had to simply accept their suspensions. During the course of my field research in Bengaluru, I found that unilaterally suspending IDs was a common tool which platforms like Zomato, Swiggy, Ola and Uber deploy to discipline and punish their partners.

Recently, Kamaraj, a Zomato delivery partner was suspended from the app and arrested by the police (and later released on bail) for allegedly assaulting a woman customer in Bengaluru. But unlike many others, Kamaraj was given the chance to share his side of the story. Noticing the media attention this case had attracted, Zomato agreed to pay for Kamaraj’s legal expenses as well as compensate him for his lost earnings during his suspension.

Worryingly for Zomato and other app-based businesses in India, this particular case and the ensuing debates have laid bare some of the inherent power asymmetries in platform/gig work. App-based businesses like Zomato, Swiggy, Ola and Uber identify themselves as “marketplaces” or “technology platforms”, while labelling workers as “partners” or “self-employed persons”. This framing enables them to evade legislative frameworks which ensure labour safeguards and state-regulated rates for services (e.g. taxi fares as set by the government), while simultaneously allowing them to transfer costs of owning and maintaining assets like cars and motorbikes on to platform workers.

However, far from being mere facilitators of work, these app-based businesses control all aspects of a partner’s work and impose numerous conditions which directly affect earning capacity. Some of these conditions are measured in terms of performance metrics such as order acceptance rate, cancellation rate and customer ratings.

For instance, Zomato currently classifies its partners into blue, bronze, silver and diamond categories based on the performance of partners. Each of these “badges” come attached with certain perks. For example, diamond badge holders are assured 50 per cent more work allocations than other partners and priority support from Zomato’s call centre in case of problems.

Customer ratings is a key measure to decide a worker’s “badge”. One of my research participants was recently downgraded based on bad ratings from a customer. The customer had asked to buy him alcohol, which my participant refused to do. His request to review the customer’s unfair rating did not receive a response.

Far from bringing positive transformations to the world of work, “technology platforms” exercise untrammelled power on partners. Their unilateral decisions are both enabled and obscured by the use of digital technologies. While Kamaraj has received support and sympathy from the general public, and, rightfully, a fair chance to defend himself, others continue to suffer platform excesses. The recent ILO report on digital platforms clearly spells out the long working hours that platform workers from developing countries such as India put in, together with the complete lack of grievance and dispute resolution mechanisms available to workers.

The Code on Social Security passed in India last year creates the possibility for “platform” and “gig” workers to be eligible for certain social security benefits, which is welcome. However, there is an equally urgent, if not more pressing need. Governments must evolve regulatory frameworks which uphold the rights of platform workers to collectively bargain, create clear and effective mechanisms for resolving disputes and grievances, make platforms accountable for workers’ income security and ensure workers access to their data. This is the least that can be done to better the lives of platform workers in India.

   Medappa is a doctoral researcher at University of Sussex, studying the work-life conditions of platform-based drivers and delivery workers in Bengaluru

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


A tale of two frontiers (The Indian Express)

Written by C. Raja Mohan 

Cooperation in countering terrorism built deep mutual trust between Dhaka and Delhi. That trust helped deal with many complex issues facing the relationship. In case of Pakistan, its army has sought to use cross-border terrorism as a political lever to compel India to negotiate on Kashmir. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Dhaka this week to commemorate an important moment in the subcontinent’s modern history — Bangladesh’s Declaration of Independence from Pakistan 50 years ago. There is much to celebrate and a lot to reflect upon, including the different trajectories of India’s eastern and north-western frontiers.

The very impressive economic and social progress in Bangladesh is a source of inspiration not only for South Asia but also the entire developing world. From being one of the world’s poorest countries in 1972, Bangladesh is now racing to be in the world’s top 25 economies by the end of this decade.

It is also a time for deeper reflection — on the inability of the region to come to a closure on the two Partitions of the subcontinent, nearly 75 years after the first in 1947 and 50 after the second in 1971. In the east, Delhi and Dhaka have started finding ways to overcome the tragedy of the Partition to chart a new course of bilateral and regional cooperation. Over the last decade, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has invested much in the transformation of Dhaka’s bilateral ties with Delhi. India has reciprocated in good measure.

In the north-west, however, positive changes in India’s relations with Pakistan have been elusive. Hopes have been rekindled by the agreement late last month between the two military establishments to a ceasefire on the border and to address each other’s concerns. The expectations for change have been reinforced by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s speech last week at a conference in Islamabad, when he called on India and Pakistan to “bury the past and move forward”.

Burying the past is never easy.

The widespread scepticism that greeted the general’s remarks in India is one part of the story. India has been injured by three decades of relentless cross-border terrorism. The picture is not very different in Pakistan, where the idea of turning the page is not accepted by all. Pakistan has its own set of grievances, including the persistent resentment at India’s role in Pakistan’s vivisection in 1971.

Reconciliation is harder between Islamabad and Dhaka. That Pakistani leaders will not be present in Dhaka this week underlines the bitterness that lingers in Bangladesh and a deep reluctance in Pakistan to come to terms with the separation. An academic seminar reflecting on the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, scheduled for this week in Lahore at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, had to be cancelled at the last minute under pressure, presumably from the deep state of Pakistan.

While India celebrates its role in the second Partition, the lingering issues from the first Partition continue to cast a shadow over Delhi’s relations with Dhaka. These include the rights of minorities, cross-border movement of people, and river water sharing. These are not abstract issues, but very much part of bitter internal political contestation as can be seen in the assembly elections this season in Assam and West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh continues the struggle to reconcile competing domestic political perspectives about 1971. There are deep differences in the interpretation of the nation’s history, the nature of its ideology, and preferred ties with India and Pakistan. Delhi will be unwise to underestimate the depth of these domestic contestations or to take the relationship with Bangladesh for granted.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has provided strong leadership in advancing ties with India over the last decade and more. Her success in providing domestic political stability and generating rapid economic growth were critical in providing the enabling environment for the construction of robust bilateral ties with India.

On the Indian side, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invested considerable diplomatic energy into transforming bilateral relations. However, thanks to spoilers like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the UPA government could not advance India’s ambitious agenda with Dhaka.

If the LK Advani-led BJP opposed the boundary settlement with Bangladesh, Modi’s BJP chose to fully back the agreement and mobilised enough political support to get it approved by the Parliament. Modi also backed an international tribunal’s award resolving the maritime territorial dispute with Bangladesh.

The steady improvement in bilateral relations over the last decade has reflected in growing trade volumes, expanding trans-border connectivity, mutual cooperation on terrorism, and widening regional cooperation. Modi was right to proclaim a golden age in bilateral relations. We are only at the dawn of that age— there is much that remains to be done to realise the full potential of the bilateral relationship.

Is there something we can learn from the east that can be applied productively to India’s north-west? First is the importance of political stability and policy continuity that have helped Delhi and Dhaka deepen bilateral ties over the last decade. In contrast, the political cycles in Delhi and Islamabad have rarely been in sync. Pakistan’s mainstream civilian leaders have all supported engagement with India. In fact, it is the military that is yet to make up its collective mind.

Recall that General Pervez Musharraf had negotiated a framework for settling the Kashmir dispute with then PM Manmohan Singh. But General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, despite his association with Musharraf’s peace process, chose to distance himself once he became the army chief. Many in Delhi ask if Gen Bajwa’s successor will abide by any agreement that India might negotiate with him in the days ahead.

Second is the concern for mutual security. Cooperation in countering terrorism built deep mutual trust between Dhaka and Delhi. That trust helped deal with many complex issues facing the relationship. In the case of Pakistan, its army has sought to use cross-border terrorism as a political lever to compel India to negotiate on Kashmir. That strategy may have had its day. If sponsoring terror seemed a smart strategy in the past, it has now become the source of international political and economic pressure on Pakistan. In any event, Delhi has no reason to negotiate with a gun pointed at its head.

Third is to depoliticise issues of enlightened national economic interest. Delhi and Dhaka have steadily moved forward on issues relating to trade, transit and connectivity by dealing with them on their own specific merits. Pakistan, on the other hand, has made sensible bilateral commercial cooperation and regional economic integration hostages to the Kashmir question. It is not clear if Pakistan is ready to separate the two and expand trade ties while talking to India on Kashmir.

The big idea in Gen Bajwa’s speech was about the new desire to put geo-economics above geopolitics. He also underlined the importance of pursuing national well-being through regional cooperation. That is exactly what Bangladesh has done in the last decade to generate major gains at home, transform the eastern South Asia, and elevate Dhaka’s global standing. But can Gen Bajwa walk the talk? If he can, Delhi may be more than eager to join hands.

  The writer is director, Institute for South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and contributing editor for international affairs for The Indian Express

Courtesy - The Indian Express.


Just not about vaccancies (The Indian Express)

Written by Chitrakshi Jain

The Standing Committee has instructed the department to request all the stakeholders including the high court collegiums to expedite the appointment process.

A report tabled in Parliament by the Standing Committee for the Ministry of Law and Justice has details regarding the status of judicial appointments in the high courts. It should be commended for the transparency it has induced in the process.

High courts currently have a sanctioned strength of 1,080 judges and are working with only 661 judges, leaving 419 posts vacant. This approximates to a 39 per cent vacancy and is a worrisome figure given the level of pendency in the courts in India. This is despite the fact that the Department of Justice has been publishing monthly statistics regarding the status of vacancies in each high court.

The report pointed out that as against 419 vacancies in the high courts, 211 recommendations were yet to be received from high court collegiums. Of the 211 vacancies for which the appointment process has not begun, the high courts of Punjab and Haryana, Allahabad, Delhi, and Gujarat, are yet to send recommendations for 30, 27, 23 and 21 posts respectively. Overall, the Allahabad High Court has the most number of vacant posts (64) followed by Calcutta (40) and Punjab and Haryana (37).

The report also identified that out of the total 208 proposals received by the Department of Justice, 92 proposals (44.23 per cent) were pending clearance with the Supreme Court Collegium and 116 proposals (55.76 per cent) are with the Department of Justice for examination. Interestingly, of the total 116 proposals pending with the Department, 48 proposals (41.37 per cent) are awaiting clearance from the Intelligence Bureau.

The Standing Committee has instructed the department to request all the stakeholders including the high court collegiums to expedite the appointment process.

The appointment of the judges to the high courts is governed by Article 217 of the Constitution. In addition to the constitutional provisions, the process of appointments outlined in the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) is a lengthy one. It is initiated by the Chief Justice of the concerned high court who recommends the nominees to the state government. Ideally, this process should begin six months prior to the occurrence of the vacancy. It appears from the data released by the Standing Committee that some vacancies are as old as 2015 and the department has not received a recommendation against the post.

The state government then sends the recommendation to the Union Law Ministry, which then sends it to the Supreme Court Collegium. It is a cumbersome procedure and while timelines for certain stages are contemplated in the MoP, they are rarely adhered to in the absence of an overall time limit for the completion of the process.

It is important to note that the Supreme Court has been monitoring the vacancies in the district judiciary. It had prescribed timelines for the selection of judges at the state level in Malik Mazhar Sultan v UP Public Service Commission in 2006. In October 2018, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the vacancies in the district judiciary and asked state governments and high courts to file status reports with regard to the status of judicial vacancies and physical infrastructure in the states and it has been monitoring the selections since.

While this monitoring might be well intentioned, by focussing solely on the judicial officers at the district level, it has overlooked the delay in filling the high court vacancies.

The other issue with focusing disproportionately on vacancies is that it eclipses deeper questions regarding the way the sanctioned strength has been calculated in the first place. It is assumed that a court working at full strength will be working productively. However, we currently do not have any way to measure the productivity of individual judges and the courts. Judge strength in India has been expanded in an ad hoc manner and there is little transparency regarding the parameters that are considered for these important calculations. We currently do not know if it is revised periodically or who is in charge of the revisions. A well-functioning legal system depends on an accurate calculation of judge strength. A rational method based on strong empirical criteria such as litigation patterns of the state, the volume of pendency and the current disposal rates of judges amongst others should be devised and adopted by the judiciary for all the tiers.

The other area of concern is the composition of the higher judiciary. While data regarding caste is not available, women are fairly underrepresented in the higher judiciary. The Standing Committee in its recommendations has asked the Department of Justice to submit its considered view on making the higher judiciary more inclusive. The Standing Committee has identified the right issues, however, a deeper conversation on the norms governing judge strength and the composition is long overdue.

  Jain is a research fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Copyright © संपादकीय : Editorials- For IAS, PCS, Banking, Railway, SSC and Other Exams | Powered by Blogger Design by ronangelo | Blogger Theme by