India Deserves Better

The Times of India, New Delhi’s prominent national English daily, cited the following as the quote of the day in its November 28 edition:
“Tomorrow someone who doesn’t eat Patanjali biscuits may be declared anti-national”

2.Nothing more than a ludicrous childish pun, its selection as the “Quote of the Day” culled out of the proceedings of the “litfest”(literary festival) where several celebrities made profound observations on issues of the day, downgrades the status of the news-paper as also of the “litfest”. May be it reveals a mind set in the news-paper.

3.The author of the pun was no other than Kanhaiya Kumar, a student leader who won his ticket as political leader in the country after a demonstration by students of JNU under his leadership in which some “anti-national” slogans were shouted. He was one of the student leaders arrested and charged with “sedition”. He is at present out on bail.

4.The process of law is slow in this country and this enables those charged to roam about with their heads high exploiting and availing to the hilt the freedoms granted under the Constitution of the Country and abusing the country at the same time.

5. Not that legal judgments bother them much. One of the slogans shouted in the demonstration mentioned above was: “Afzal, hum sharminda hain, tere katil zinda hain” (Afzal, we are ashamed that your murderers are alive”. Now, Afzal was hanged after being sentenced by Courts, including the Apex Court of the country. So the worthies are ashamed that the judges of the courts still live.

6,While participating in the ‘litfest’ Kanhaiya also questioned his being labelled as “anti-national”. But in the process he gave a definition of ‘anti’national’ which condemned him. He said:”You have to first decide who a nationalist is. ….Only those who don’t believe in the Constitution are anti-national.” Now, does he claim that those shouting the slogans (Bharat tere tukde hon ge”. (India you will be dismembered, “Jang rahe gi”. (There will be war till then) and those who shout they are ashamed of certain judges being alive, believe in the Constitution?

7.The student leader. while participating in the lit-fest also sought to lecture Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his duties as P.M. He said: “Like I am accountable to students I represent, Narendra Modi will have to assure Parliament about demonetisation. Rone dhone se kaam nahin chalgas (Crying about it will not do)” Now, in the first place who is doing “rona dhona”. Certainly not Narendra Modi. If at all, he is roaring at all platforms. The analogy about student leader vs.students and Narendra Modi vs. Parliament is also wrong. It should be Narendra Modi vs. people. Modi is also not shying away from Parliament, Only point of contention is the rule under which discussion in which he is to intervene should take place.

8. One can only say that India deserves better.

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Demonetization in India (2016)

As I sit down to write this, India is already into 12th day of demonetization of 1000 and 500 rupee denomination notes, an event that brought unprecedented gloom and existential challenge into every single household in the country. Yet,as one ponders over the situation, its most outstanding feature is the unimaginable patience and forbearance shown by the common people in bearing the hardship. This, to a very great extent, is ascribable to the people’s faith in the good intentions of the country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his great concern for the welfare of the people, specially the poor.

2. In hindsight one can point out any number of ways in which a scheme of such horrendous magnitude could have been better implemented. Yet while it would be wrong to assume that government did not do its best in framing the scheme and planning its implementation in view of the very grave implications of any slip-up, yet one or two of its aspects point to the familiar feature of governmental working that its left hand does not know what the right is doing.

3. In the Prime Minister’s statement announcing the demonetization, it was acknowledged that 1000 & 500 rupee notes constituted 86% of the total currency in circulation.Thus it was obvious that people had very little, in fact negligible,smaller denomination notes. This realisation had dawned on the Reserve Bank of India and, just a few days before the demonetization announcement, it had issued instructions to all Banks that 10% of all ATMs in the country. should issue only 100 rupee notes. But demonetization came before these instructions could be implemented by Banks. The unfortunate result was seen when, post demonetization, even those people, who could replace their 1000/500 notes with newer 2000 notes, could not use them because those to whom they were offered could not give the required change in smaller notes. This was one of the biggest hardship causing factor in the working of the scheme.

4. The Prime Minister’s statement announcing the demonetization also acknowledged that the scheme would cause some temporary hardship to the people. But the impression gained was that it would be a matter of a few days. The scheme was announced on the 8th of November. It was mentioned that the Banks would remain closed on 9th November and reopen on 10th and the ATMs would start working from 11th November. It led people to assume that their difficulties would be assuaged as soon as the banks opened and the ATMs started working. The Banks did open on the 10th with unending queues of millions of people wanting to replace their outlawed cash but it soon became obvious that banks had very little cash to offer. The people realised that the problem would persist much longer than they thought. The bigger surprise, however, came when it was officially given out that only a fraction of the ATMs had become operational from 11th, as promised and even those were working only at a fraction of their capacity as these machines could not dispense the new 2000/500 denomination notes because the size of the new notes was different from the existing 1000/500 notes which the machines were calibrated to dispense. The recalibration of the ATMs to dispense the new notes would take weeks.

5. Obviously those who designed the new 2000/500 rupee notes were not aware of the impending demonetization because it had to be a closely guarded secret. But, more importantly, it appears that those who framed the implementation of the demonetization scheme were not aware that ATMs will not be able to work as usual from 11th November as mentioned in the PM’s speech and how this factor would upset the schedule for replacement of outlawed money. If they did know, one would assume that there should have been a hint in the PM’s speech.

6. From a few days, the PM had to later revise the duration of the hardships to the people to as much as 50 days. Obviously, the Prime Minister took responsibility on his shoulders for the shortcomings of the bureaucracy and those who worked out the implementation of the scheme.

7. There is still a long way to go for implementation of the scheme and all kinds of unexpected hazards can crop up. It is to be hoped that with government keeping an eagle’s eye on day to day developments and devising immediate responses to the problems that come up, there will be a successful culmination. It will indeed be a great achievement.

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Kashmir & India

As I see it, Kashmir is more a matter of ideology than of territory to India.

2. During the struggle for India’s independence, the Muslim League pressed for the partition of India on the basis of a two nation theory proclaimed by it. It claimed that Hindus and Muslims- the two major religions accounting for most of the population of India – are two separate nations and and the country should be divided into two parts where each of the two ‘nations’ could live independently. The Indian National Congress enjoying the following practically of all Indians, including Muslims not subscribing to the Muslim League’s thesis,opposed the two Nation theory and wanted a United India. Ultimately, however, a separate home land for Muslims was agreed to by the Congress yielding to the intransigence of the Muslim League which was resulting in delaying the country’s independence apart from causing a lot of bloodshed in the country due to Hindu-Muslim clashes caused by the agitations carried on by the Muslim League for the creation of Pakistan. The British left India in 1947 leaving the country divided into India and Pakistan with Muslim majority states (or Provinces) constituting Pakistan. Yet more Muslims were left in India than in Pakistan (belying, in a way, the two Nation theory).India proclaimed itself a secular State with equal rights for all its citizens irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

3. Kashmir was then a princely state which, as per the terms framed by the British, had the freedom either to accede to India or Pakistan or to proclaim independence. The State had a Muslim majority but a Hindu ruler. The major political party of the State, viz. the National Conference,having following of the Muslims of the State, was sympathetic to the Indian National Congress and did not quite subscribe to the two Nation theory. When the Maharaja (or King) of the State took time in choosing out of the options available to him, Pakistan dispatched irregular forces to occupy the State (on its behalf). The Maharaja then decided to accede to India and called for India’s help to resist the invasion of the State. India intervened, keeping in view the inclinations of the State’s population as projected by the National Conference. India’s intervention helped save the State (except for part of it which the Pakistani irregulars did not vacate). The accession of the State to India was accepted by the National Conference who then also took reins of the State’s government as part of a democratic process.

4. Kashmir’s accession to India with the support of its Muslim majority population had a great significance for India in as much as it vindicated India’s stand against the two Nation theory and of proclaiming itself as a secular state. This still continues to be relevant and India just cannot accept the contention that because some separatists in Kashmir are raising a voice against India, Pakistan gets a right to allow terrorists to use its territories to aid and abet the separatists to create violent disturbances in Kashmir. India can be expected to use all its might to frustrate any such deigns of Pakistan. It is more than a question of territory. It is a question of India’s resolve to maintain its secular character which has implications for the whole of its population.

5. Incidentally, while the state of Kashmir as a whole has a majority of Muslims, a major constituent, Jammu, has Hindu majority. Another part, Ladakh, has significant Buddhist population.

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Policy Driven Poverty in India

I was hurt to read a statement yesterday by the Chairman of India’s Niti Ayog (a relatively newly found body in place of the former Planning Commission) that wages in India were 2 or three times lower than in China and it would be advantageous for Chinese industrialists to relocate to India.What hurt me is the knowledge that wages in India today were 2 or 3 times lower than in China even though both the countries started on the road to development practically at the same time.

Another report that appeared in some financial paper yesterday said that salaries/wages in the lowest slabs had remained frozen for the past several decades while those in the highest slabs had risen substantially. Another report said that while the sales of high end consumer items like cars had risen dramatically in recent years, those of lower end consumer items were flat. (I realise that the implication of the last mentioned development may not be entirely negative).

It is often made out that India, ruled by Congress party for most of the past 69 years since Independence, had followed socialistic policies laid down by Mahatma Gandhi and the first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. The results do not support this. In a socialistic regime, tangible policies are made out to level the gap between the highest and the lowest classes. The reverse has taken place in India.
The past regimes have no doubt spent lots of money in trying to provide some relief
to below poverty line people by providing highly subsidised food grains or launching schemes like MNREGA providing low paid work to one member of a family for part of the year. But such schemes were neither intended to nor have they produced sustainable uplifting results. In fact, allegations have been afloat that much of the money that was released by the government for these scheme was swallowed by corrupt intermediaries.It is only after the BJP government came into power in 2014 that the scope for corruption was minimized by introducing direct payments to the beneficiaries’bank accounts. Never-the-less, the schemes remain alleviatory in nature and are no long term solutions.

The policies followed since independence have had the effect largely of benefiting the affluent sections. The expansion of the economic activity, especially in the tech. sector has no doubt created a middle class but it is not due to government’s economic polcies.

The wage earning class in India is mostly in the unorganised sector and accounts for nearly 95% of the labour force. The Government does not concern itself with this sector at all. It only formulates policies for the orgnaised sector which is just about 5%.Even in the organised sector, employers manage to circumvent the government’s rules and policies to the detriment of the working people and the government agencies either collude or look the other way. For example, regular employees of an establishment are mandatorily required to be extended certain benefits like annual increments, provident fund, gratuity, medical reimbursement and earned leave etc. However, to get over these obligations, companies outsource parts of their establishments to companies whose only business is to maintain musters of these outsourced employees and pay their salaries in return for reimbursement of such salaries and commission by the real employer . As most of these entitlements accrue on completion of a year’s continuous service, the rule is circumvented by effecting a day’s break in service of the employee before he/she completes a year of service. The government partially remedied the situation by making the benefit of provident fund accrue from day 1 of service. In respect of rest of the benefits, the government chose to let the immoral and illegal exploitation continue.
The Government must not evade its moral and legal responsibility by not taking any steps to end this exploitation in the organised sector and also frame suitable policies to ensure that labour in the unorganised sector is also saved from exploitation.

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Public (Dis)Services in India

It is too well known that the so called public services in India are anything but public services. It is also well known that the worst sufferers of the apathy of these services, which are paid for from the taxes collected from even the poorest, are the poor.It is also an unfortunate fact that successive governments since independence 69 years ago, have done little to make public servants earn their keep. On the contrary, public services have more and more been oriented to cater to those who wield political power or those having access to power centres.

Instances of denial of due services to the poor or those without influence with the right quarters are routine and legend but the one that takes the cake is that involving a poor tribal whose wife died in a Odisha government hospital and he had to carry the dead body on his back for 10 kms despite government orders that a free transport should be provided to transport the dead bodies of poor patients to their homes. After he had walked 10 km.with the body on his back and his 12 year old daughter by his side, he was noticed by some people who pulled strings with the local administration which then sent an ambulance to transport the tribal, his wife’s body and daughter to his village for the rest of 50 km.

What is more shameful is that the hospital was given a clean chit by the District Magistrate on the ground that the tribal did not ask for the transport.This despite the tribal’s claim that he made all possible efforts to secure help from the hospital authorities. Even otherwise, did the hospital not know that one of its patients had died, that the body would need to be carted away and that the patient’s kin were poor? Are all the patients admitted to the hospital or their kin expected to know all the rules that the hospital has to follow or the facilities that it is obliged to offer? Does the hospital’s responsibility end with declaring the patient dead?

In India, the authorities usually do not take cognizance of any matter, even if it is within their knowledge and calls for action, unless it is formally brought to their notice through a written report or through a specified channel. This helps keep hassles down to the minimum though public may suffer as a consequence. This is the principle that appears to have been followed in denying transport for carrying the dead body of the tribal’s wife and in issuing the clean chit to the hospital thereafter. The Indian public which pays taxes for the upkeep of services, however, deserves better.
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The Dalit Factor

The Dalit problem in India is the outcome of the caste system practiced in Hindu Society for thousands of years. The caste system categorised people according to their pursuits in life, e.g. those pursuing learning and knowledge, especially of scriptures were classed as Brahmins,those pursuing warfare were kshatriyas, thosse pursuing trade and otheer economic activities were Vaish and Dalits were those engaged in menial kind of work. The unfortunate aspect of this system was that it assigned caste on the basis of birth. Thus one born to a Dalit family was condemned to menial work for life and avenues of advancement for him were blocked. This resulted in masses of people categorised as Dalits remaining condemned to economic backwardness which further resulted in their being exploited, oppressed and deprived.

The system has last for thousands of years apparently because of the force of religious beliefs behind it. But it is inherently unjust, irrational and untenable because of applicability of the birth factor. With passage of time , spread of education and awakening, the system has been under challenge for decades and the movement against it has intensified after India’s independence in 1947. The constitution of India abolished untouchability and to accelerate the uplift of Dalits socially and economically, 15% of posts in government services were reserved for Dalits (referred to in the constitution as scheduled caste). Seats were also reserved for these castes in the Parliament, State Assemblies and in educational institutions to help accelerate advancement of these castes.

Discrimination at the hands of conservative sections of the Hindus, including the denial of entry to temples, practice of untouchability etc.have continued even after independence and Dalits tending to defy or confront upper castes have also had to face atrocities of various kinds. This process has continued until the present times side by side with the State’s efforts to end the discrimination and advance the cause of Dalits as per the Constitutional mandate.

Dalits now constitute about 30% of India’s population. In a democracy based on adult franchise, this is quite a large segment of voters and naturally every political party in India takes pains to attract as large a chunk of it as possible. This is quite understandable. One would expect that, discrimination on the basis of caste being a social evil, all parties would evolve common programmes and make joint efforts to eliminate the evil,but what actually happens is that individual events of caste based conflicts are picked up and depending on the perceived political affiliation of the upper caste group involved in the incident, the political parties opposed to the group’s perceived affiliated party organize public agitations further raising tensions and breaching peace. The leaders of such opposition parties visit the homes of aggrieved Dalits travelling long distances at huge expense making a show of their sympathy and try to extract maximum political advantage by seeking political support of the aggrieved groups. Such behaviour is open to the inference that political parties are not interested in the elimination of the evil but taking advantage of it to increase their vote bank.

The present ruling party at the Centre, viz. the BJP, is perceived to have predominant Hindu following.It came to power in 2014 with a huge majority in Parliament with the backing not only of Hindus but other sects also. Although opposition parties projected BJP as anti-Dalit due to its Hindutava base, the party won nearly 24% of Dalit votes on an over-all basis. It also won 41 of the 84 seats reserved for scheduled castes. The opposition parties have tried to fish in troubled waters after some serious incidents like suicide of a student, believed to be Dalit, in the Hyderabad University and attacks on Dalits handling cattle including Carcass of dead cattle occurred in some parts of the country after BJP came to power.

Blaming a political party in India of being anti-Dalit is like blaming it of trying to commit Harakiri. BJP, I am sure, has no such intention.

Meanwhile, the upward march of Dalits in the Hindu Society and the country, as contemplated and facilitated by the Indian constitution, aided no doubt by the awakening within the Hindu Society facilitated by advancement in awareness and education as also the active organised work of certain Hindu organisations like Arya Samaj,is a reality. Reports suggest that there has been a 90% increase in Dalit literacy since 2011. Dalits have occupied the highest positions in the Indian Republic including that of the President and the Chief Justice of India. With their demographic strength, nothing can prevent this upward march specially when more and more Hindus support their struggle for social equality.
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On Freedom

India observed the 70th anniversary of its independence on August 15th this year.
Around this day, there was a lot to read, watch and hear in the media about various aspects of freedom, how it had impacted the country and its people, the achievements of the governments and what further needed to be done to fulfill the aspirations of the people.

2. The weekly magazine ‘India Today’ published the views of a few extra-ordinary Indians about what freedom meant to them, and what they thought about the situation in the country vis-a-vis their expectations. These views were categorized according to the filed of activity of each individual, as freedom to dream, freedom to exist ( for dalits and the downtrodden) freedom to question (the established rituals) to learn (for the unlettered) to demonstrate, to perform, protest, disagree, to know, to breathe (unpolluted air) etc.

3.Freedom of expression and speech expressly provided for in the Indian Constitution were not specifically mentioned by any of the contributors.

4. In the context of the present surcharged atmosphere in the country blaming the Central government and the ruling party BJP of atrocities against dalits, it was refreshing to find two of the dalit contributors among those mentioned in para 2 above painting a favourable picture about their situation in Society. Mehattar Ram Tandon says for example:
“I am welcome everywhere, in every household, every community I am called for bhajans and people don’t distinguish in matters of food when I am around. This quality has a special significance since I come from the Satnami community listed as Scheduled Caste”
Another Dalit contributor, Ginni Mahi says: “It would be unfair to say that the situation for Dalits has not improved over the years. I get immense respect from people all around me. They talk about my talent not about my caste……. What concerns me is that people across castes belonging to economically weaker sections are being exploited..”

5. Reverting to the topic of freedom, people tend to talk about the freedom of their choice with elation as if it were an end in itself. The important thing to remember is that humans live in Society and an individual’s interest has to be subordinated to that of the society, if there is a conflict. As one of the contributors referred to in para 2, T.M.Krishna says:”Independence is a collective experience: it is meant to be about the others,not me.”

6. The line between independence and anarchy and between freedom and licence is thin. A sense of responsibility towards others and discipline are pre-requisites to the enjoyment of freedom.

7. Some freedoms call for denial of some other freedoms. For example, the freedom to breathe unpolluted air, calls for denial of freedom to drive diesel cars, or run factories or even construct houses. Freedom to demonstrate or agitate results in denial of freedom to those not participating in such demonstrations or agitations to carry on with their normal lives or activities including ambulances to carry patients to hospitals. Freedom to question established rituals, though undeniably necessary, may hurt the freedom of some to practice their faith. The Constitution of the country allows freedom of expression and speech but it has to be exercised with reasonable restraint so as not to provoke any sections of the people.

8. Therefore, as humans, we should not aspire for absolute freedoms. But there should be no freedom to treat another human as an unequal human. That should be the only absolute.

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7.

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