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Outside the law

18 May

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN THE FRONTLINE

Khap panchayats want the Hindu Marriage Act amended to prevent same-gotra marriages.

ON May 9, Naveen Jindal, the young and highly educated Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra in Haryana, was in a dilemma over having to take a stand on the issue of same- gotra marriages after khap panchayats, or caste councils, threatened to lay siege to his residence. The next day, in order to avoid an impending political embarrassment, he attended a meeting of the sarva khap panchayat at Kaithal district as if to extend support to their demands. That ruffled a few feathers.

Of late, khap panchayats have been demanding an amendment to certain sections of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to prohibit same- gotra marriages. The immediate context is the March 30 verdict in the sensational two-and-a-half-year-old Manoj-Babli murder case in which a Karnal court awarded the death sentence to five persons. The court also sentenced to life imprisonment two others, one of whom was a khap panchayat leader of the Barwala gotra. Manoj and Babli, both Jats, had apparently violated the norms of village and gotra exogamy and were brutally done to death. A dominant khap in the area had ordered that the couple be killed.

Ever since the judgment, khap panchayats have been on the offensive, perhaps fearing similar verdicts in other cases of honour killing. On April 13, representatives of over 20 khaps met at Kurukshetra and demanded a ban on same- gotra marriages.

Section 29 of the Hindu Marriage Act validates same- gotra marriages. The section, titled “Savings”, says that “a marriage solemnised between Hindus before the commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belonged to the same gotra or pravara or belonged to different religions, castes or subdivisions of the same caste”. Though the Act lists degrees of prohibited relationships, it accepts that under customary law certain marriages are valid. For instance, in certain parts of South India, marriages between cousins (children of a brother and sister) and between a man and his sister’s daughter are common and valid by custom.

Also, recognising the plurality of customs in the country, Section 5 (Sub-section 4) of the Act says that a marriage between two Hindus can be solemnised if the parties are not sapindas (meaning, of the same body) of each other, unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two. The sapinda relationship with reference to any person extends as far as the third generation in the line of ascent through the mother and fifth in the line of ascent through the father. Khap panchayats want the Act to be amended to disallow same- gotra marriages and it is in this context that they met their elected representative.

A cornered Jindal, in a letter to the khap representatives, acknowledged the existence of khap panchayats since the time of rulers such as Asoka and Harshavardhana and said they had always given a “new direction” to society. He declared his support to them by saying that the panchayats had been rendering yeoman service to society by resolving people’s problems even before the present-day legal system came into existence. As if to balance his unqualified support of their undemocratic diktats, he urged them to take up issues such as female foeticide and dowry.

The young MP made certain pronouncements that indirectly supported the actions of such panchayats. What is shocking in the entire episode is that while khap panchayats have been known to impose their cruel writ on young couples going for inter-caste, inter- gotra or even inter-religious marriages, enforce social and economic boycotts and humiliate families – more so if they happened to be poor as well – this was the first time that an elected representative was bulldozed into taking a position on same- gotra marriages.

Significantly, no one in the Congress party to which Jindal belongs condemned or protested when the khap panchayats threatened to lay siege to his house. It was as if Jindal had to fight his own battle.

However, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda broke his silence a few days later, clarifying that khaps would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands. But he remained non-committal on the issue of same- gotra marriages.

The central leadership of the Congress took a more radical view of the matter and broke its silence when confronted with Jindal’s stance. It claimed that his statements were an “expression of opinion by an honourable Member of Parliament” and that there was no change in the party’s stand on the matter, which, according to party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, was that “no customary law or practice can be excused or condoned in any manner if it involves killing of any kind in the name of honour, tradition or heritage”.

The Union Law Ministry has refrained from taking a head-on position regarding the banning of khap panchayats. But, in what seems to a progressive move, in line with what women’s organisations have been demanding for long, the Ministry appears to be seriously contemplating to do away with the 30-day notice period required to register marriages, including inter-caste, inter-community and inter-religious ones, solemnised under the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The one-month time was often used to track down and harass couples. Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily has overruled the question of making any change to the Hindu Marriage Act, and indicated that a strong deterrent against khaps issuing death diktats would be set in place. However, khap panchayats have been aggressive in their demand to amend the Act. The representatives of 20 khaps who met at Kurukshetra on April 13 challenged the Karnal court judgment and declared that they would collect money on behalf of those who had been sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

Observers feel that the forthcoming panchayat and municipal elections are one reason for the sudden caste-based mobilisation. On May 2, khap panchayats, in a meeting held at Pai in Kaithal district, gave all elected representatives in the State a month’s notice to support their demand.

On May 4, Satbir Chahal, the organiser of the Akhil Bharatiya Jat Swabhimaan Sangathan and the Sarvajatiya Committee (all-caste committee), said that if the demand to amend the Act was not met, tough decisions would be taken at the all-caste panchayat meeting at Jind on May 23. He also announced that the panchayat would not allow the hanging of those who had been sentenced to death in the Manoj-Babli case. According to newspaper reports, representatives from 84 khaps attended the meeting.

The organisation also expressed annoyance with the Congress leadership for labelling Jindal’s views as personal. It has asked the Congress to clarify its position on same- gotra marriages.

Not surprisingly, former Chief Minister and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala has taken up the issue. He not only supported the demand for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act but opined that such marriages were not right “medically or scientifically”. His stand is surprising as his own village, Chautala, has witnessed such marriages.

Om Prakash Chautala also said that he would bring up a proposal in the Assembly regarding the same. He has found an ally in Congress Rajya Sabha member Shadilal Batra, who has supported the demand for an amendment to the Act.

That leaders of the two mainstream parties in the State have taken a stand favouring khap panchayats is a matter of concern. This will have repercussions in neighbouring States such as Rajasthan and Punjab and in western Uttar Pradesh, where Jats as a caste group are dominant.

“It is ridiculous. If couples in love are willing to give up their lives to get married, they will find ways of marrying one way or the other, including outside the Hindu Marriage Act. I don’t know what these groups and political parties are trying to prove,” said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), adding that the current trajectory of caste identity politics was worrisome.

Parallel system

It maybe recalled that soon after the infamous Mirchpur incident on April 21, where 18 Dalit homes were torched and a physically challenged girl and her father killed, khaps rallied in support of those arrested in the arson. Many quarters view with concern the attempt to create a parallel law and order system that goes beyond honour killings.

“After a long history of struggles, the Special Marriage Act was amended to allow for inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-community marriages. Under the Hindu Marriage Act too, the consent of a person to get married became essential and gotra marriages were not included within the degrees of relationships that were prohibited. It was recognised that a gotra involved a large number of people – their numbers running into lakhs – who were not necessarily direct or indirect relations of each other. Section 29 of the Act specifically provided that marriages between persons of the same gotra or pravara would not be invalidated,” said Kirti Singh, senior lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.

Formerly a member of the Law Commission of India, Kirti Singh said that the issues at stake included the rights of young people to get married according to their choice and to decide when they should get married. Khaps, she said, wanted the Act amended in order to justify their violent acts against young couples in the name of protecting custom and tradition.

http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20100604271111800.htm

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Audit shock

18 May

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI IN THE FRONTLINE

A social audit on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors reveals a sorry state of affairs.

LIKE any normal child, Illyas from Varanasi, a 13-year-old, wanted to go to a regular school and become an important man some day. But poverty forced him to start working at an eatery for Rs.200 a day so that he could feed his younger siblings. He, however, continues his studies as well and is in class V. But his naive question stupefies all who hear it: “Shouldn’t the government help children like us to go to a school without working?”

Sanjay from Kursela, Bihar, has not been so lucky. Almost the same age as Illyas, he had to give up studies after class IV, when his father took ill, to take care of his three younger siblings. He earns Rs.900 a month, gets free food and supports his two younger brothers’ education.

Fifteen-year-old Nagaraju from Alware village, Nalgonda, Andhra Pradesh, works as a cleaner at a hotel for Rs.1,500 a month plus abuses and beatings. This poor boy supports the education of his elder sister, who has completed her intermediate and is planning to go for higher studies. His sister’s education, he hopes, will one day end his troubles.

Pooja, 13, from Lohanipur, Patna, cooks for a living and earns Rs.800 a month. Her three siblings work for food. She supports her mother, who turned mentally unstable after her husband abandoned her.

These heart-wrenching tales of real children were narrated at a public hearing on the working of the ban on child labour in the domestic sector and in the hospitality industry, which has been in force since October 2006. The public hearing, which was held in New Delhi on April 30, was the culmination of a nationwide social audit.

Looking at the sorry state of affairs in the country as far as child rights are concerned, one can see why there is an anguished cry for justice for children. The social audit, carried out by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and the Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT) in association with over 30 non-governmental organisations working for child rights, covered 12 States – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. It brought out a mind-boggling, countrywide tale of apathy, insensitivity and indifference.

Quoting official sources such as the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, the social audit report puts the number of children employed in the domestic sector at 1.86 lakh and in the hospitality industry at 70, 934. In all, over 2.56 lakh children work in the domestic and hospitality sectors. Unofficial sources, however, put the figure at around 20 million.

Compared with the enormity of the problem, the response of the authorities to the social audit was poor, even hostile, the report says. This is evident from the figures given of the number of children rescued in various States since the ban came into effect. Andhra Pradesh, which was more forthcoming with information than other States, rescued five children in 2006, 97 in 2007, 242 in 2008 and 62 in 2009. Bihar, which gave the figures for 2008 and 2009 only, rescued 474 and 1,404 children respectively. Delhi, where roughly 50,000 child workers are engaged in these two sectors, four children were rescued in 2006, 91 in 2007, 33 in 2008, and no figures are available for 2009. In Jharkhand, only 12 children from domestic sector and 15 from the hotel industry have been rescued since 2006. Madhya Pradesh simply gave no information. It was discovered by those carrying out the audit that either the States did not have the information or they did not want to divulge it and, therefore, kept shunting the auditors from one department to another.

On the basis of the meagre information received from the States (only 10 out of 12 responded), the auditors figured out that out of a total of 5,096 children rescued since October 2006, only 3.04 per cent of the children were reported to be from the domestic sector and the rest were from dhabas and roadside eateries\hotels. The figures for the number of children rehabilitated are equally dismal. “This speaks volumes about the attention being paid to the problem by our law-enforcement agencies,” one of the auditors said.

The public hearing once again threw light on the stark realities of an apathetic society, a callous government machinery and toothless laws, which have resulted in the social malaise called child labour. This is rampant across the country, in homes and in innumerable eateries, dhabas and hotels, though such employment has been banned by law.

The jury at the public hearing comprised Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission; R.K. Raghavan, former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation; Vimala Ramachandran, educationist; Ashok Arora, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court; and Arvind Kejriwal, Right to Information (RTI) activist and Magsaysay Award winner. Its unanimous verdict on the functioning of the ban on child labour in the domestic and hospitality sectors: “A failure.”

The public hearing was attended by eminent citizens, senior members from the media, senior government officials and child rights activists; 68 children were present, and 20 of them deposed before the jury. The jury noted: “It was clear that many children were forced into employment because of extremely adverse economic conditions at home. Some were orphans and some had only a single parent. The majority wanted to pursue education but had no option but to work to earn and support the rest of the family.… What was galling was the physical treatment meted out to some of them in a domestic environment. Those who perpetrated violence on the child workers included a software engineer and a banker. This indicates the gravity of the problem. Even those who are educated and are well employed are insensitive to child rights and the latter’s need to be treated with kindness and extreme care.”

With regard to the poor implementation of child rights laws, the jury observed: “The enforcement of existing laws has been tardy. For example, there are about 50,000 child workers in Delhi; only 23 of them are known to have been rescued. The need of the hour is to sensitise the enforcement machinery in order to make sure that the existing laws and provisions are well implemented in letter and spirit. At present, there is little accountability for implementation. The Ministry of Labour should devise means for bringing in this accountability.”

Stating that the existing laws on child rights were ineffective even in the rare circumstances when they were implemented, the jury noted that these could be made stringent so that they acted as a deterrent. It recommended making offences under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, cognisable and emphasised the need to sensitise the community at large on issues relating to child rights.

“Aren’t we all guilty? When we haggle with the autorickshaw driver and pay him Rs.2 less, or when we pay our maid a few hundred rupees less, aren’t we forcing them to send their children out for work?” asked Kejriwal. According to him, we are all directly or indirectly responsible for the current sorry state of children in India, and unless the attitude of society changes, child labour will continue to be prevalent. Added to this is the obfuscation of laws, which makes even existing provisions almost ineffective. “The law should be made more effective, offences under child labour laws should be made non-bailable, and the law-enforcing agencies should be made more accountable for their implementation,” he said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little clarity about its real nature. Should it be treated as a labour issue or as a child rights and protection issue? “Child labourers are children in need of care and protection… but the Labour Ministry continues to deal with the issue of child labour by way of regulating it in some sectors and limiting its role to the rescue of children from hazardous sectors only, whereas the need of the hour is to address the problem in a holistic manner as an issue of children’s right to protection,” said Rajmangal Prasad, national convener, CACT. Moreover, he said, recognising the criminality of the offence would also lead to a shift in the attitude of the authorities and civil society at large, and that would happen only by making it a cognisable offence.

Another aspect that needs to be taken care of is the rehabilitation of children who are taken off work. “Most of the children employed in the domestic and hospitality sectors are there because of adverse financial conditions at home, so rehabilitation should be a key component of any programme aimed at such children,” said Rajmangal Prasad. The report says that rehabilitation programmes for children rescued from work are extremely inadequate, resulting in children falling back into the same trap after being rescued. The audit report cites the annual report of the Ministry of Labour, which itself says that under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), catering to children rescued from hazardous sectors, the 9,000 schools being run for them have an enrolment of only 0.45 million children, and only 0.48 million have been mainstreamed since the NCLP was initiated in 1998. This gives rise to the big question: “Where is all the money being put into such programmes going? Who are the children benefiting from such projects?” The social auditors of the CACL and the CACT got no answer from the authorities, nor do government reports say anything about it.

“Revamping the existing child labour elimination programmes and investing adequately in new and holistic and need-based interventions is the need of the hour,” the audit report says.

But, as Kejriwal puts it, are we not all, as members of a responsible civil society, responsible for the sorry state of many such children? Unless the attitude of society as well as the law-enforcing agencies changes, nothing will change for these Illyases, Sanjays, Nagarajus and Poojas.

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

5 May

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

They slog and slave, yet get a pittance

MEERA RAMESH IN THE HINDU

We have a housemaid. She is less than 45 years of age. But she is already a grandmother. She would be barely reaching five feet at her highest and tipping the scale at maybe 50 kg. She lives in a single-room tenement on the fifth floor of one of the apartment complexes constructed by the previous governments with so much fanfare, but now sadly lacking in maintenance and is a source of worry for all the inhabitants as to when suddenly the whole structure might come down.

Lifts are unheard of in tenements, so she has to climb up and down the five flights of stairs at least three or four times a day. She was married once. But her husband turned out to be a great devotee of liquor shops, where he blew the family income. She left him. Her daughter and her granddaughter stay with her. Her son-in-law followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and turned out to be another ardent devotee of liquor. She rises at 4.30 in the morning so that she can supply milk sachets to about 30 households. This is an everyday chore whether it rains or shines or she feels sick. Excuses could mean her losing a client and income. She manages to earn about Rs 1,500 a month on this enterprise. When she completes the delivery of milk, she will have some time to have her morning meal of rice soaked in water along with salt, chillies, onion and, maybe, coconut chutney. If she is lucky, she would have something a little more nutritious, depending on the generosity of the women in whose households she works.

She works in four households where she has to sweep and swab the floor, and wash dirty dishes and used clothes. In the mornings and quite often in the evenings too. It does not leave her with much time to eat in peace or rest. Or do any of her own chores. She manages to earn about Rs. 3,000 from these jobs as a maid. In the present day and age, a sum of Rs. 4,500 is not enough to make both ends meet. So irrespective of how tired she is, to supplement her income, she visits the wholesale market for flowers to supply households and make some extra cash.

She has no leave. No holidays. No medical benefits. No PF or gratuity. She ekes out a living as long as she has good health. But this woman brings comfort to four households and makes a qualitative difference to them. They are spick and span. They escape the drudgery of menial chores. They have time to do their own work. To be neat and tidy, and to enjoy themselves. All because of one overworked, underfed and underpaid woman! There are thousands and thousands of such persons bringing comfort and ease to millions of households. In the evenings, I watch the IPL matches with my husband. It is a battle between the ball and the bat. The ball is a white, round leather object. And the bat is a piece of wood with a handle. The wielders of the bat and the ball are paid humungous amounts of money. For a pursuit, an exercise which in no way has any qualitative impact on the lives of me or the other millions of households. Apart from being a spectacle, it has no relevance to or impact on our day-to-day life. My question is why a person like my maidservant, or an auto driver, a bus driver, conductor, and many others who bring comfort to us and make our lives so much easier get such meagre earnings. While a useless pursuit like throwing around a leather object or hitting the object with a wooden implement should be rewarded so exorbitantly. Mind you, if there is no IPL it would make no difference to our lives, But without the maid and the others I mentioned, life would be miserable. Is this injustice god-made or man-made? If it is god-made, then god has a weird sense of justice. If man-made, then it is time something is done about it. Is it any wonder that radical philosophies have so many takers?

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article419466.ece

Gendercide

7 Mar

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

IMAGINE you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard physical labour is still needed for the family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old. Perhaps she needs a dowry.

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Now imagine that you have had an ultrasound scan; it costs $12, but you can afford that. The scan says the unborn child is a girl. You yourself would prefer a boy; the rest of your family clamours for one. You would never dream of killing a baby daughter, as they do out in the villages. But an abortion seems different. What do you do?

For millions of couples, the answer is: abort the daughter, try for a son. In China and northern India more than 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls. Nature dictates that slightly more males are born than females to offset boys’ greater susceptibility to infant disease. But nothing on this scale.

For those who oppose abortion, this is mass murder. For those such as this newspaper, who think abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” (to use Bill Clinton’s phrase), a lot depends on the circumstances, but the cumulative consequence for societies of such individual actions is catastrophic. China alone stands to have as many unmarried young men—“bare branches”, as they are known—as the entire population of young men in America. In any country rootless young males spell trouble; in Asian societies, where marriage and children are the recognised routes into society, single men are almost like outlaws. Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, even female suicide rates are all rising and will rise further as the lopsided generations reach their maturity (see article).

It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions—aborted, killed, neglected to death. In 1990 an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, put the number at 100m; the toll is higher now. The crumb of comfort is that countries can mitigate the hurt, and that one, South Korea, has shown the worst can be avoided. Others need to learn from it if they are to stop the carnage.

The dearth and death of little sisters

Most people know China and northern India have unnaturally large numbers of boys. But few appreciate how bad the problem is, or that it is rising. In China the imbalance between the sexes was 108 boys to 100 girls for the generation born in the late 1980s; for the generation of the early 2000s, it was 124 to 100. In some Chinese provinces the ratio is an unprecedented 130 to 100. The destruction is worst in China but has spread far beyond. Other East Asian countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, former communist states in the western Balkans and the Caucasus, and even sections of America’s population (Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, for example): all these have distorted sex ratios. Gendercide exists on almost every continent. It affects rich and poor; educated and illiterate; Hindu, Muslim, Confucian and Christian alike.

Wealth does not stop it. Taiwan and Singapore have open, rich economies. Within China and India the areas with the worst sex ratios are the richest, best-educated ones. And China’s one-child policy can only be part of the problem, given that so many other countries are affected.

In fact the destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus. In societies where four or six children were common, a boy would almost certainly come along eventually; son preference did not need to exist at the expense of daughters. But now couples want two children—or, as in China, are allowed only one—they will sacrifice unborn daughters to their pursuit of a son. That is why sex ratios are most distorted in the modern, open parts of China and India. It is also why ratios are more skewed after the first child: parents may accept a daughter first time round but will do anything to ensure their next—and probably last—child is a boy. The boy-girl ratio is above 200 for a third child in some places.

How to stop half the sky crashing down

Baby girls are thus victims of a malign combination of ancient prejudice and modern preferences for small families. Only one country has managed to change this pattern. In the 1990s South Korea had a sex ratio almost as skewed as China’s. Now, it is heading towards normality. It has achieved this not deliberately, but because the culture changed. Female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal-rights rulings made son preference seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. The forces of modernity first exacerbated prejudice—then overwhelmed it.

But this happened when South Korea was rich. If China or India—with incomes one-quarter and one-tenth Korea’s levels—wait until they are as wealthy, many generations will pass. To speed up change, they need to take actions that are in their own interests anyway. Most obviously China should scrap the one-child policy. The country’s leaders will resist this because they fear population growth; they also dismiss Western concerns about human rights. But the one-child limit is no longer needed to reduce fertility (if it ever was: other East Asian countries reduced the pressure on the population as much as China). And it massively distorts the country’s sex ratio, with devastating results. President Hu Jintao says that creating “a harmonious society” is his guiding principle; it cannot be achieved while a policy so profoundly perverts family life.

And all countries need to raise the value of girls. They should encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life—using everything from television newsreaders to women traffic police. Mao Zedong said “women hold up half the sky.” The world needs to do more to prevent a gendercide that will have the sky crashing down.

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15606229&source=hptextfeature&fsrc=sky|IPoltis

Media greed during elections poses serious ethical questions

6 Nov

Electoral malpractices such as bribing voters, impersonation, intimidation of voters by the goons of rival candidates, tampering with vote lists, and manipulating the location of polling booths to suit the needs of particular contestants have been as old as the Indian Republic.

Many of these complaints were heard in the first General Election, held in 1952. Every subsequent election saw new additions to this list of improprieties, which included abuse of power by bureaucrats and the police in support of the ruling group.

The 1970s saw a spurt in electoral violence, large-scale rigging of polls, booth capturing, ballot stuffing, and the mass removal of the names of voters from the electoral rolls. That has been checked, to a large extent, by the various measures adopted by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to clean up the electoral process.

But the ECI has completely failed in one area, that is, in curbing the corruption of elections through money power. The 2009 elections witnessed the worst in this regard.

Truly shocking was what happened during the run-up to the Maharashtra Assembly elections in mid-October 2009 and the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh earlier in the year. In both cases, the authors and chief perpetrators of the election-related malpractices are sadly from the media — which ought to have been, and actually were in the not-so-distant past, in the forefront of the campaign for free, fair, clean, and violence-free elections.

Selling news space

In both States, influential sections of both the print and broadcast media sold their news space or news slots to electoral candidates or their parties, throwing to the wind all professional and ethical norms and probably violating the law as well. In both States, the media, mostly Indian language newspapers and TV channels reportedly made hundreds of crores of rupees in these deals. The transactions enabled the contestants to buy space and publish all they wanted to project themselves in favourable light to the electorate. Those who refused to purchase the “coverage packages” were reported to have been denied publicity.

While P. Sainath exposed this shockingly extensive malpractice witnessed in Maharashtra in his edit page article, “The medium, message and the money” ( The Hindu, October 26, 2009), the “cash transfer scheme” in Andhra Pradesh involving influential sections of the media, was actually brought to light in May this year by the Press Academy of Andhra Pradesh and the Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists based at Hyderabad. But somehow this failed to get wider attention.

Thanks to the efforts of the two organisations, the Press Council of India (PCI) is looking into the matter. It has constituted a two-member committee to go into the phenomenon of “paid news.” The Press Council’s intervention followed a representation to its Chairman, Justice G.N. Ray from a group of senior journalists, who included Kuldip Nayar, Ajit Bhattacharjee, and Harivansh.

Many journalists have expressed their anguish over the “selling of news space,” which would jeopardise public trust in the media and lower credibility. The Council expressed serious concern over the phenomenon of paid news. It could cause double jeopardy to Indian democracy through a damaging influence on press functioning as well as on the free and fair election process. There was an urgent need to protect the public’s right to information so that it was not misled in deciding the selection quotient of the candidates in the fray, the Council said. PCI Chairman Ray described the media “scheme [of] paid news” as “nefarious.”

In Maharashtra

As for Maharashtra, the Election Commission is yet to take any initiative in going after this malpractice. Towards the end of his article Sainath appreciates the “fine job” done by the Commission in curbing “rigging, booth capturing and ballot stuffing” through its “interventions and activism.” However, he comments: “On the money power front … and the media’s packaging of big money interests as ‘news’ … it is hard to find a single instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These too, after all, are serious threats. More structured, much more insidious than crude ballot stuffing. Far more threatening to the basics of not just elections, but democracy itself.”

The intervention of the Press Council of India and hopefully of the Election Commission can go some way in reiterating the responsibility of the media in putting its house in order, not to speak of its role in ensuring that the play of money power in one of its crudest forms is exposed and curbed.

However, the issue needs to be taken beyond this. This may entail taking a fresh look at the functioning of the self-regulating mechanism in the media. More truths have to be brought to light, for instance, the role of journalists in such shameless media misadventures and how far they can be used for or forced into such questionable assignments. Do journalistic ethics concern only journalists? Do they relate solely to the news and editorial functions of the media or also to their business side?

These and many other questions may surface in the months and years ahead if such tendencies continue and spread to more sections of the media. The strengthening of the self-regulatory system of the media is certainly an urgent imperative.

The link to the article

Media greed during elections poses serious ethical questions

Electoral malpractices such as bribing voters, impersonation, intimidation of voters by the goons of rival candidates, tampering with vote lists, and manipulating the location of polling boo… »

For a better life

20 Oct

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI IN FRONT LINE

The United Nations’ Human Development Report of 2009 paints an idyllic picture of migrations.

MIGRATION IN INDIA

MIGRATION IN INDIA

THE recently released United Nations Development Report-2009, titled “Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development”, presents a strong case for governments all over the world to encourage human mobility. Migrations, including those of low-skilled workforce, pay dividends all round, the report says. However, it does not quite attempt to seriously understand why people migrate, sometimes subjecting themselves to horrific situations in destination countries or even within their own countries. The report cautions that migration cannot be a solution to all economic ills or a major factor in development though remittances from migrants may complement and enhance human and economic development. In many countries, the money sent home by migrants often exceeds official aid. For India, such remittances add up to 1.5 times more than foreign direct investment. Then there are the so-called social remittances. These may be in the form of reduction in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and empowerment of women.

These benefits, however, can also be achieved by countries that invest sufficiently in these areas. The report seems to see migration as a boon in disguise for low-skilled and underpaid sections. But to view migration as a strategy for development is to offer a short cut where what is needed is long-term investment by governments. The emphasis on low-skill migration is also slightly disconcerting.

The report presents a core package of reforms, the “six pillars”, as it calls them: opening existing entry channels for more workers, especially those with low skills; ensuring basic human rights for migrants, from basic services such as education and health care to the right to vote; lowering the transaction costs of migration; finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants; easing internal migration; and adding migration as a component of the development strategies of the countries of origin.

The question is why can the origin countries not address the livelihood issues of low-skilled workers and provide them with long-term solutions that not only enhance their personal well-being but also boost overall growth? Indeed, the report seems to see the need for migrations from the point of view of developed countries. It says that there is a strong case for increased access to sectors with a high demand for labour, particularly for the low-skilled and that this is particularly important for developed countries because their populations are ageing. Therefore, it is in the overall interest of developed countries to end discrimination against migrants.

The world’s population will grow by a third over the next four decades, and much of this growth will be in developing countries. The report says that in one in every five countries, including Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation, populations are expected to shrink. It argues that a demographic transition has begun; the ageing of populations is a widespread phenomenon, a natural consequence of a decline in death rates and a slower decline in birth rates that has occurred in most developing countries. It is also estimated that within the next 15 years, new entrants to the labour force in developing countries will far exceed the total number of working-age people. These trends will put a burden on wages and increase the incentives to move among potential employees in poorer countries.

In developed countries, the proportion of the elderly will rise markedly so that there will be 71 non-working age people for every 100 of working age. This, argues the report, will make it more difficult for developed countries to pay for the care of their children and old people as publicly funded education and health systems are paid with taxes levied on the working population. These demographic trends, the report concludes, go in favour of relaxing the barriers to the entry of migrants.

The report presupposes that people have an innate urge to migrate. Even if that is true, it does not alter the fact that the compelling circumstances that lie behind this phenomenon should be addressed. The report also presupposes that much of migration takes place voluntarily. It is not a voluntary decision that forces a villager in India, used to living under the open skies, to take up residence in a congested urban slum. The report does not adequately explore what makes people decide to migrate.

The report, however, does not advocate wholesale liberalisation of the migration process, arguing that people in the destination countries have a right to shape their societies. It argues that research commissioned by the UNDP shows that people in destination countries are generally supportive of further migration when jobs are available and appreciate the gains – economic, social and cultural – that increased diversity can bring. Therefore, migrants are welcome in a country that has already many jobs to offer.

RECESSION DOWNPLAYED

The report seems to downplay the impact of recession. Jeni Klugman, the lead author, argues that a job crisis is bad for migrants and admits that several destination countries are taking steps to encourage or compel migrants to leave. “With recovery,” he says, “many of the same underlying trends that have been driving movement during the past half-century will resurface, attracting people to move.” But it is futile to suggest until such a recovery that developing countries should encourage their low-skilled workers to migrate.

The 1997 Human Development Report had observed that the principles of free global markets were applied selectively and that the global market for unskilled labour was not as free as the market for industrial country exports or capital. There has not been much change in the situation since then. The 2009 report admits that the current recession is likely to have long-lasting, maybe even permanent, effects on incomes and employment opportunities. It says that the financial crisis has turned into a job crisis. Quoting from studies, it says that the unemployment rate has already exceeded 8.4 per cent in the United States, which by May 2009 had lost nearly six million jobs since December 2007, with the total number of jobless people rising to 14.5 million. In Spain, the unemployment rate climbed as high as 15 per cent by April 2009 and topped 28 per cent among migrants.

The report corrects certain popular misconceptions. It says that most migrants do not even cross national borders but move within their own countries: “Nearly 740 people are internal migrants, almost four times the number of international migrants. Among international migrants, less than 30 per cent move from developing to developed countries.” For instance, only 3 per cent of Africans live outside the country of birth. Intra-country migrations are also fraught with problems, especially when migrants have to face questions regarding their identity.

Instead of making out a strong case for governments to address the root causes of migration by the very poor, including what is now called distress migration, the report seems to present an idyllic picture. It claims that migrants from the poorest countries saw an average 15-fold increase in income, doubling in education enrolment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a country with more opportunities.

Quoting recent research, the report claims that the health of migrants improved markedly during their first year in the destination country. Is migration, then, the policy that poorer countries should evolve to bring about an improvement in the health of their populations? Does the solution not lie in policies that enable such population to build better lives in their own countries?

The ranking of India, a developing country, in the Human Development Index, released each year as part of the annual Human Development Report, is a pathetic 134 out of 182 countries, the same as it was in 2006. People’s lives, then, have not changed much during this period of high growth in the country. The report attempts to see migration of certain sections from the developing to the developed world as a positive thing. But that may not be the perception of governments or even people, especially in a context of economic hardship. It is no coincidence that jingoism, xenophobia and inclusiveness are accentuated in an economic crisis that takes away jobs.

In such a situation, large-scale migrations from developing countries to developed countries without legal commitments from the host and guest nations may not result in the kind of benefits presupposed throughout the report.

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20091106262209500.htm

Social and political dividends from NREGA

19 Oct

Vidya Subrahmaniam, IN THE HINDU

In the final analysis, what makes any NREGA social audit worth all the pain and effort is the awareness it creates among poor beneficiaries.

It is a measure of the hard labour that awaits NREGA activists in other States that a social audit conducted under blazing arc lights, and with so much official support, such as the one in Bhilwara in Rajasthan, could run into so many roadblocks. Virtually all of the Rajasthan government ( in September Rajasthan became the second government after Andhra Pradesh to set up a Directorate of Social Audit) was at the disposal of the Bhilwara audit team which also had the full backing of C.P. Joshi, Union Minister for Rural Development, elected to Parliament from Bhilwara.

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey said they chose Bhilwara for the audit exercise because they wanted to see if the Minister could face up to an NREGA audit in his constituency; after all, there was no knowing what the audit would reveal. Yet a question arises: Would Mr. Joshi have shown interest in the Bhilwara audit had he not been its MP? Secondly, what happens to NREGA work in States that lack men and women of the calibre and commitment of Ms Roy, Mr. Dey and other MKSS activists? Can a programme’s success be made dependent on a few individuals? What happens when the government shows no interest which is the case in most States?

Mr. Dey argued that the MKSS social audit had visibly and strongly demonstrated the positive effects of civil society-government collaboration. The unity of purpose shown in Bhilwara by social auditors, government, media and the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General was replicable in other States. Indeed, if Minister Joshi took the trouble to watch over the audit in his constituency, it only showed that there was huge political capital to be made from pushing NREGA.

Through the audit the Bhilwara team was inundated by calls from people impressed by its work in the district. And a day after the gargantuan exercise wound up, Congress MP from Alwar, Jitendra Singh, turned up in Bhilwara asking that the MKSS organise an NREGA audit in his constituency.

The Rajasthan experiment is itself based on the Andhra Pradesh government’s success with conducting NREGA audits. The A.P. government did this off its own bat, at the urging of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whereas in Rajasthan the push came from civil society. The A.P. government was the first to institutionalise social audit by means of a Social Audit Directorate. Since then the state government has gone a further step with a committed budget for social auditing and provisions to host audit results on its NREGA website.

At a meeting the Bhilwara audit team had with Rajasthan government officials and other experts, Sowmya Kidambi, an MKSS activist deputed to work with the A.P. government, strongly advocated bringing audit results into the public domain via computerisation, arguing that this had greatly increased transparency in Andhra Pradesh.

In the final analysis, what makes any NREGA social audit worth all the pain and effort is the awareness it creates among poor beneficiaries, who slowly but surely learn to hold the programme’s managers to account. A quick survey by The Hindu in a cross section of Bhilwara’s villages showed that the village people had fully internalised their rights and entitlements. But because of the patriarchal, dominating nature of the panchayat set-up, most of them lacked the courage to speak up. This situation would gradually change if accountability was built into the system.

Accountability could also impact social evils like untouchability, which the audit team found was widely prevalent in NREGA sites. In many panchayats, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe NREGA beneficiaries were given separate utensils and prevented from accessing common resources.

The social and economic spin-offs from even partial implementation of NREGA were only too evident in Bhilwara. NREGA beneficiaries were unanimous that the programme had improved their lives. For years the Bhil tribal community in Malanas in Gram Panchyat Jindras had battled hunger and poverty, travelling out of the State in search of work. Today, most Bhil wives are employed under NREGA, bringing stability and assured incomes to families that were until recently desperately poor. NREGA also made valuable contributions in times of drought which was the case in Rajasthan this year. Though poor, few families in Bhilwara seemed on the brink of starvation. Besides, as many villagers pointed out, the minimum wage of Rs. 100 a day under the NREGA had increased wage levels across the private sector, benefiting both families that could not avail NREGA work and families that had completed the NREGA quota of 100 work days per family. As MKSS activist Shanker Singh remarked: “NREGA has greatly increased the bargaining power of poor people. They are no longer willing to work cheap.”

Poverty reduction potential

One has only to look at the funds the NREGA has placed in the hands of local administrators to understand its poverty reduction potential . Bhilwara alone drew Rs. 330 crore from the NREGA budget in 2009-2010. As MKSS activists stress, “funds are available for the asking now. Assuming the programme is properly utilised, NREGA can change the complexion of poor India.”

Yet the Bhilwara social audit also revealed that funds can easily get into the wrong hands. Indeed, even as the MKSS team deservedly takes credit for the massive Bhilwara social audit, it must know that it can hardly rest on its laurels. On the concluding day of the audit, a Rajasthan Minister suggested that while sarpanchs caught with their hands in the till must be made to refund the misappropriated funds, they ought not to be punished. This is exactly what the sarpanchs demanded at the various jan sunwais (public hearings). If this point were conceded, the social audit would lose its purpose, irreversibly damaging NREGA. Other dangers include threatened official amendments to a job programme hailed far and wide as progressive and empowering.

Even with all these ifs and buts, the Bhilwara exercise is worth emulating by other States. For as the audit and the responses to it showed, there is political dividend to be had from investing in NREGA. If politicians can use NREGA to win elections that will surely be the job guarantee programme’s best guarantee for survival.

Which politician would not like that?

http://www.hindu.com/2009/10/19/stories/2009101955520900.htm

HONOUR KILLINGS IN INDIA

15 Aug

READ THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES FROM THE FRONTLINE  ON HONOUR KILLINGS

Honour killings

Interview: Brinda Karat, MP

U.P.: Death by decree

Interview: Kirti Singh, Member, Law Commission

Nothing honourable

Feudal roots

Tamil Nadu: Demons and gods

Media: journalists and the right to silence

16 Jun

Peter Preston

These were journeys down a menacing memory lane. The BBC journalist Alan Johnston talked about life in the dark with his Gaza kidnappers. Giuliana Sgrena from Il Manifesto talked about her month of captivity in Iraq. Hamid Mir from Geo TV Pakistan and Peter Bergen from CNN relived their various interviews with Osama bin Laden. The world’s biggest press freedom congress this year was talking about talking to terrorists. But we didn’t get round to discussing Suzanne Breen. Breen works in Belfast for the Dublin Sunday Tribune. She got the phone call from the Real IRA claiming responsibility for killing two British sappers at Massereene Barracks this March. The police want her to hand over her notebooks and computers. They’ve won one stage of that case already. Breen is hoping to win round two this week. Not watchdogs All journalists will hope she does. It’s a matter of simple principle. Reporters can’t operate as watchdogs and investigators if they and their informants have no protection when detectives knock on the door. Information sources wither along that road.

If you want to understand what’s going on in perilous places, you need contacts and the freedom to cultivate them. Breen has to say no to the cops and the law. It would be utterly wrong to send her to prison for doing a job that Northern Ireland needs doing. Yet principle, however straightforward, is seldom the whole of the story. Every affair has its individual problems. Every dilemma comes with a fresh twist. And that’s why it’s sensible to talk about talking to terrorists, because Breen offers two arguments, not one. She believes that she and her family stand at imminent risk if she complies. Assassination threats have been issued already. She could be the next victim of Massereene. Her own life is on the line, too. Nobody who knows her doubts her sincerity, nor the peril she perceives; but this argument has little to do with defending RIRA identities.

To the contrary, it merely confirms what killers they are. Breen, on this ground, is like any other citizen with testimony the police want to hear. Help them and the men they want to catch may wreak bloody revenge: simple intimidation to set alongside a principle growing more complex by the minute. If you ask Mir why Pakistan’s army is clearing the Taliban out of Swat and pushing deep into Waziristan, he’ll say that the media did it. Perplexed politicians and reluctant generals needed an outraged press and TV to spur them into action at last — and thus, in some small way, to avenge the death of Mosa Khankhel from Geo TV, shot three times in February as he tried to cover the Swat peace negotiations that failed. Khankhel’s murderers tried to hack off his head as well. Now: where’s the duty to defend them? These people kill journalists. One reporter or editor a month died in 2008. Do they, and their sources, deserve due confidentiality and all the ethical courtesies of our trade? Where does reporting turn to campaigning in self-defence? You may look at Mir and Bergen’s interviews with Bin Laden and ask related questions. Did they have a duty to debrief authority on their secret route to Osama’s caves in 1998 or 1999? If that was true in 1998 or 1999, after early al-Qaeda attacks but long before 9/11, was it also true after the World Trade Centre destruction and so many dead? And after the destruction of the World Trade Centre? Does the scale of the tragedy trump acceptability? Wider dilemmas If Sgrena had the right to refuse official reporting authorisation in Baghdad, did she then have a right to appear in a kidnap video pleading that Italy get its troops out of Iraq? Where, as Alan Johnston tells us about his ordeal with the Army of Islam, does Johnston the journalist end and Johnston the victim begin? Here are principles caught in a grey zone of debate, tossed by the winds of public opinion, always beating against precise circumstance. Watch for the Breen decision. There are vital verities attached. But press freedom (in the way that the International Press Institute constantly seeks to define it) is increasingly lumbered with wider dilemmas in the uncharted territory where the law is both enemy and friend — and where terms like “citizen journalist” contain the seeds of visceral ambivalence. It ought to be so simple. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

Media: journalists and the right to silence

16 Jun

Peter Preston

These were journeys down a menacing memory lane. The BBC journalist Alan Johnston talked about life in the dark with his Gaza kidnappers. Giuliana Sgrena from Il Manifesto talked about her month of captivity in Iraq. Hamid Mir from Geo TV Pakistan and Peter Bergen from CNN relived their various interviews with Osama bin Laden. The world’s biggest press freedom congress this year was talking about talking to terrorists. But we didn’t get round to discussing Suzanne Breen.

Breen works in Belfast for the Dublin Sunday Tribune. She got the phone call from the Real IRA claiming responsibility for killing two British sappers at Massereene Barracks this March. The police want her to hand over her notebooks and computers. They’ve won one stage of that case already. Breen is hoping to win round two this week.

Not watchdogs

All journalists will hope she does. It’s a matter of simple principle. Reporters can’t operate as watchdogs and investigators if they and their informants have no protection when detectives knock on the door. Information sources wither along that road. If you want to understand what’s going on in perilous places, you need contacts and the freedom to cultivate them. Breen has to say no to the cops and the law. It would be utterly wrong to send her to prison for doing a job that Northern Ireland needs doing.

Yet principle, however straightforward, is seldom the whole of the story. Every affair has its individual problems. Every dilemma comes with a fresh twist. And that’s why it’s sensible to talk about talking to terrorists, because Breen offers two arguments, not one. She believes that she and her family stand at imminent risk if she complies. Assassination threats have been issued already. She could be the next victim of Massereene. Her own life is on the line, too.

Nobody who knows her doubts her sincerity, nor the peril she perceives; but this argument has little to do with defending RIRA identities. To the contrary, it merely confirms what killers they are. Breen, on this ground, is like any other citizen with testimony the police want to hear. Help them and the men they want to catch may wreak bloody revenge: simple intimidation to set alongside a principle growing more complex by the minute.

If you ask Mir why Pakistan’s army is clearing the Taliban out of Swat and pushing deep into Waziristan, he’ll say that the media did it. Perplexed politicians and reluctant generals needed an outraged press and TV to spur them into action at last — and thus, in some small way, to avenge the death of Mosa Khankhel from Geo TV, shot three times in February as he tried to cover the Swat peace negotiations that failed. Khankhel’s murderers tried to hack off his head as well. Now: where’s the duty to defend them?

These people kill journalists. One reporter or editor a month died in 2008. Do they, and their sources, deserve due confidentiality and all the ethical courtesies of our trade? Where does reporting turn to campaigning in self-defence?

You may look at Mir and Bergen’s interviews with Bin Laden and ask related questions. Did they have a duty to debrief authority on their secret route to Osama’s caves in 1998 or 1999? If that was true in 1998 or 1999, after early al-Qaeda attacks but long before 9/11, was it also true after the World Trade Centre destruction and so many dead? And after the destruction of the World Trade Centre? Does the scale of the tragedy trump acceptability?

Wider dilemmas

If Sgrena had the right to refuse official reporting authorisation in Baghdad, did she then have a right to appear in a kidnap video pleading that Italy get its troops out of Iraq? Where, as Alan Johnston tells us about his ordeal with the Army of Islam, does Johnston the journalist end and Johnston the victim begin? Here are principles caught in a grey zone of debate, tossed by the winds of public opinion, always beating against precise circumstance. Watch for the Breen decision. There are vital verities attached. But press freedom (in the way that the International Press Institute constantly seeks to define it) is increasingly lumbered with wider dilemmas in the uncharted territory where the law is both enemy and friend — and where terms like “citizen journalist” contain the seeds of visceral ambivalence. It ought to be so simple. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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