The HINDU Notes – 26th December 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 26th December 2019

πŸ“° Mind the gap: On gender gap

A rounded approach is necessary to ensure women’s access to resources, opportunities

•Assessing women’s access to equal opportunity and resources against the access that men have would be a scientific way of evaluating a nation’s commitment to the advancement of its citizens. But going by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020, released last week, questions can easily be raised about whether this government is doing the right thing by the country’s women. India has dropped four points from 2018, to take the 112th rank on the Index. The Index measures the extent of gender-based gaps on four key parameters — economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Notably, it measures gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in countries, rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities. Despite a small score improvement, India has lost four positions as some countries ranked lower than India have shown better improvement. The country has reportedly closed two thirds of its overall gender gap, with a score of 66.8%, but the report notes with concern that the condition of women in large fringes of Indian society is ‘precarious’. Of significant concern is the economic gender gap, with a score of 35.4%, at the 149th place, among 153 countries, and down seven places since the previous edition, indicating only a third of the gap has been bridged. The participation of women in the labour force is also among the lowest in the world, and the female estimated earned income is only one-fifth of male income. An alarming statistic is India’s position (150th rank) on the very bottom of the Health and Survival subindex, determined largely by the skewed sex ratio at birth, violence, forced marriage and discrimination in access to health. It is on the educational attainment (112th rank) and political empowerment (18th rank) fronts that the relative good news is buried.

•There is no question that the Gender Gap Index presents India with an opportunity to make the necessary amends forthwith. Doing what the government is currently doing is clearly not going to be sufficient; it needs to engage intimately with all aspects indicated by the Index to improve the score, and set targets to reduce the gender gap in the foreseeable future. It will have to drastically scale up efforts it has introduced to encourage women’s participation, and increase opportunities for them. To do so it also needs to make sure there is actual implementation at the ground level. While a good score on any global index is a target worth pursuing, what is being questioned here is basic — is the state reneging on its commitment to half its population? A commitment to ameliorate the conditions for women is a non-negotiable duty of any state.

πŸ“° The return of the secular

Young protesters across India have brought Gandhi’s vision of the secular into the public discourse

•It was both touching and comforting to hear the reply of Nikhil, a young student from Jamia Millia Islamia, to an unexpected question put to him last week by a TV anchor — “What does Jamia mean to you?” After a long pause, he said, “It has given me tehzeeb (refined civility), an understanding of the samvidhaan (Constitution) and taught me to read, write and think. When I joined Jamia, I had no understanding of India. This university has made me understand my country. I will work to the end of my life to realise Gandhi’s vision. I want my secular India back,” he affirmed.

•Mentioning Mahatma Gandhi was entirely appropriate. For, Gandhi’s contribution to an everyday understanding of secularism is massive, one different from at least three other understandings. First, the political secularism of Western Europe and North America in which some form of separation between church and state is required to defend equality and individual liberty but has no room for the idea of fraternity or community, crucial in deeply diverse societies. Second, the more legal and philosophical, constitutional secularism of India, one that is immensely complex, nuanced and comprehensive, cognisant of deep diversity as well as oppression within communities. Here, the state is required to maintain a principled distance from all religious communities. This is concerned with preventing inter-religious domination as much as fighting religiously grounded hierarchies and fanaticism within religions.

•Finally, the secularism practised in recent times by most political parties in India, what I have called ‘party-political secularism’. This secularism does not really deserve to be called so because it is unprincipled and opportunistic, plays footsie with the most orthodox, bigoted and regressive elements of all religions, is concerned solely with seeking and maintaining power, and is willing to engineer riots or capitalise on inter-communal estrangement.

•In contrast, Gandhi made secularism simple. All religious communities inhabiting a particular territory must live with continuing ease and comfort with one another. This is a people-dependent notion, one that Gandhi believed was already part of popular Indian consciousness but jeopardised in modern times by communal politics. To counter it, he felt, support was needed from the state that is not partial to any one particular religion. Moreover, whenever any estrangement or hostility ensued, then the state must help restore communal harmony. To perform its primary duty of maintaining fraternity, to prevent political alienation, the state must distance itself equally from all religions.

Against discriminatory laws

•It was heartening to find so many young women and men all fired up about this Gandhian vision of secular India, and be out on the streets to defend their idea of constitutional secularism. Four things about what they conveyed are noteworthy. First, the fundamental injustice of policies with unambiguous discriminatory intent. This is unconstitutional. And offends the dignity not only of those discriminated against but also of every citizen in the polity. In major nationwide protests in which countless people participated, it was made clear that any law or policy that discriminates on the basis of religion is not acceptable. Besides, the whole idea of proving one’s citizenship by producing documents before government officials is abhorrent — anyone born in India must be presumed to be an Indian citizen and should not be compelled to demonstrate this. Many protesting students are convinced that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is discriminatory. Article 14 provides for equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Suppose that a foreign national from Europe commits a grave crime in India. Should he be treated differently from other Indians? Would the law be differentially applied simply because he is, say, a European Christian? No. Analogously, suppose that illegal immigrants fleeing persecution in their own country enter Indian territory, need to be identified and investigated for possible deportation. A uniform criminal law should apply here too. Either all should be given refuge or all deported by due process of law. No one within the territory of India, Indian citizen or foreign national, must be treated differently. The students appeared to have imbibed this logic.

•Second, a rejection of the politics of hate and revenge. Such policies, the peaceful protesters seemed to suggest, disrupt peace and stability by generating a vicious cycle of resentment and mutual hostility. To be sure, conflicts and skirmishes have not been uncommon between communities in the past, but a deep division between them occurred only when a pernicious ethno-nationalist ideology was imported into India in the 19th century, with tragic results in 1947. Young people appeared to have realised that leaders of the current government have not learned any lessons from those dark events and continue with policies aimed at consolidating a pan-Hindu identity defined by hostility to the ‘other’.

•Third, the public acknowledgement by young Hindus of the contribution of Muslims to Indian culture and civilisation, to constructions of Indian notions of civility. Young women and men asserted that their religious identity is not defined against other religions. One can be Hindu without being anti-Muslim and vice versa. Indian citizens cohabit a shared social and public space not through mutual toleration but by actively accepting one another, and are committed to participating in each other’s suffering and destiny. They conveyed that they shall not tolerate attempts to breach civic friendship.

Composite culture

•Likewise, norms of public etiquette, civility and refinements in culture have been shaped in India by multiple religious traditions in which Muslims have played a prominent role. For example, the qawwali and the ghazal are as much a part of our culture as the bhajan. Are not some some of the greatest bhajans in Hindi films written by Sahir Ludhianvi and Javed Akhtar, sung by Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and others to compositions by Naushad and A.R. Rehman? It is not for nothing that even a known Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sympathiser, the actor Paresh Rawal, was compelled to remark that he was stunned by the ‘idiocy’ of the demand that Firoz Khan not be allowed to teach Sanskrit at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). There is a whole tradition of such scholarship alive today that harks back to Dara Shikoh and Amir Khusro, and continues in Modern India with renowned Sanskrit scholars such as Mohammed Hanif Khan Shastri and Pandit Ghulam Dastagir. Finally, the protesters made it clear that an obsession with religious identity takes focus away from pressing issues of everyday life. No more divide and rule, as one of the posters averred; the business of government is to facilitate a better everyday life for all ordinary citizens, including Hindus and Muslims, not to destroy it.

•The reappearance of secularism in Indian public discourse, initiated by young Indian students, is surely a matter of relief and joy to those who aspire to protect India’s diverse cultural heritage, defend India’s Constitution and wish every Indian to have a better standard of living.

πŸ“° An Act that fails the constitutional test

The government needs to display an accommodative approach in its reaction to the protests against the Citizenship Act

•After reading opinion page articles in this daily such as Time to defend India’s secularism, by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (December 18, 2019), and  A premature denouncement of the Citizenship Act, (December 21, 2019), by Member of Parliament and former Union Minister Subramanian Swamy, one cannot avoid the feeling that the issues require more corroboration and expansion.

•Mr. Vijayan has argued that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution and impinges on the very ideals of our freedom struggle. He tries to establish that the CAA, being divisive and discriminatory, manifestly violates human rights, and is an attempt to impose the politics and philosophy of Hindutva, to accomplish its vision of a “Hindu nation”.

•Dr. Swamy has attempted to rebut these arguments on three premises: that of the aims and objects of this piece of legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament with a large majority; the historic context for the legislation; and the equation of “Hindutva” with ‘secularism’. The arguments in the December 21 article appear hollow on multiple grounds and mandate rebuttal.

•Quite often, conceivably discriminatory laws are camouflaged by language. What requires analysis is a reasonable scrutiny of the cumulative effects of the legislation, read not in isolated silos. Dr. Swamy argues that the need for this Bill arose partly because the Islamic theocratic nations, of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, have brutally persecuted non-Muslim minorities since 1947. However, India’s official position on a number of occasions necessitate us to make a nuanced observation. While exercising its Right of Reply at the 38th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, in 2018, the Indian representative said of Pakistan’s stand: “In its obsession with puritanism, it has unleashed systematic persecution against its own Muslim minorities including Shias, Ahmadiyas, Ismailia and Hazaras, who have been reduced to second class citizens.”

It is about rights

•In the course of justification, Dr. Swamy has argued that “no Muslims or Jews came to India over the last 70 years on grounds of religious persecution”. It is devoid of constitutional logic because as per the Indian Constitution, even in the absence of an actual claim, rights of an individual persist. The Supreme Court of India has held that “Article 14 was founded on a sound public policy recognised and valued all over the civilised world, its language was the language of command and it imposed an obligation on the State of which no person could, by his act or conduct, relieve it.” It signifies that even if a Muslim or a Jew might not have approached for last 70 years, it cannot be considered as a ground for waiver of right to equality enshrined in Article 14. In order to vindicate the patently unreasonable classification under the CAA, Dr. Swamy appears to have misquoted the Congress Party Working Committee’s resolution of 1947 and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement of 2003 in terms of intent. It is worth noting that their premise for a lenient and humane approach was not based on the specific ground of religion, but persecution.

Defining persecution

•Dr. Swamy’s opinion that “on religious persecution, the Muslims of Pakistan, etc., are not similarly placed” lacks academic rigour. Arriving at a concrete definition of “religious persecution” is a difficult task.

•In the context of persecution, religion has to be understood not from the believer’s point of view; rather it is about what it means to its adversaries. For instance, the treatment meted towards an atheist or agnostic gets completely ignored under the parochial understanding of the CAA. Even the agents of persecution can be of various types, including state agencies persecuting one or more religious communities, religious organisations persecuting other religious communities or, individual puritans enforcing conformity on their own people.

•As an illustration, UN experts and special rapporteurs have reported, inter alia, that “the current legal requirement for a separate electoral list for the Ahmadis, who have to declare themselves as non-Muslims in order to vote, is of particular concern”.

•On the aspect of human rights, the words of statesman-philosopher Dr. Radhakrishnan should suffice: “This view of religious impartiality, of comprehension and forbearance, has a prophetic role to play within the national and international life. No group of citizens shall arrogate to itself rights and privileges which it denies to others. No person should suffer any form of disability or discrimination because of his religion but all alike should be free to share to the fullest degree in the common life.”

Basis of Partition

•Drawing parallels between Hindutva and secularism appears to be a complete misadventure as minor incidental overlappings may exist between two diametrically opposite philosophies. Contrary to many misinformed, aggressive and irresponsible statements made by some parliamentarians on the issue of Partition and a Hindu Rashtra, let us remind ourselves that the Partition of 1947 did not take place on religious lines. Rather, it was based on a philosophical understanding of the nature of society citizens and leaders wanted. Pakistan opted for a theocratic nature of governance, but our founding fathers coveted a plural, inclusive and modern society based on democratic and secular credentials. The CAA has witnessed large-scale, non-violent protest by both the masses and intellectuals. It is hoped that the Government will display an accommodative approach. To conclude by paraphrasing Edmund Burke, “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great democracy and little minds go ill together.”

πŸ“° Dangerous doublespeak: On government’s NPR-NRC talk

The government’s position on the NRC appears designed to create confusion

•The Centre appears to have marginally mellowed its position on rolling out a National Register of Citizens (NRC), going by the statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah this week. But the Prime Minister’s contention that the widespread concerns about the NRC are merely fear-mongering by his political opponents is disingenuous and lame. The Prime Minister said no discussion on NRC had taken place in the government, which may be a clever statement but is certainly not reassuring. The plans for a countrywide NRC were announced repeatedly by senior functionaries of the government including Mr. Shah, even in Parliament. The concern that such an exercise, in combination with the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, could lead to disenfranchisement and harassment of the poor and undocumented segments of the population was not born out of anyone’s imagination. Such a link has been stated by the ruling dispensation. The political thought behind the CAA-NRC fusion is the distinction that Mr. Modi makes between “infiltrators” and “refugees”, as if they could be separated on the basis of their religion. This argument was advanced in the 2014 campaign and it is ironical that the Prime Minister reiterated it in the same speech in which he accused the Opposition of spreading misinformation on the NRC. If the government has a rethink on its strident position on the NRC, it must say so upfront, and at any rate desist from denigrating critics. So far, what has come as clarification has only added to the confusion.

•In fact, the government must seriously reevaluate its position. India has a host of serious national challenges to tackle, the economy being the most critical. In his first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, Mr. Modi had in 2014 called for a 10-year moratorium on communal and caste conflicts. He also promised to run the country on the basis of consensus and not of legislative majority. It is time he redeemed that pledge, and worked to heal the deep wounds inflicted by his misguided policy priorities. The intolerance towards opposing views and political opponents is expressed in horrifying terms down the ladder. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, vowed to take “revenge” against CAA-NRC protesters who turned violent. The Uttar Pradesh police have not explained satisfactorily how several people died of bullet injuries, while claiming that their personnel did not fire a single bullet. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA threatened to “wipe out” critics of CAA-NRC. Several other BJP functionaries have continued to make menacing statements regarding the NRC, even after the Prime Minister blamed the Opposition. The Prime Minister must demonstrate he is a man of his word, and that his writ runs in the party and the government.

πŸ“° Home Ministry officials say Karnataka Foreigner Detention Centre ‘not linked to NRC’

A facility to hold foreigners ahead of their deportation is to become functional in Karnataka

•A Foreigner Detention Centre (FDC) is all set to become functional from January 1, 2020, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, in a building that was meant to be a student hostel. While this is being linked by many to the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), top Home Ministry officials have said that the facility will only be a ‘transit home’ for foreign nationals illegally in the country ahead of their deportation.

•“The FDC coming up in the State is nationality-neutral and will act as a temporary detention home for foreign nationals illegally staying here and detained by police, till they are deported. The process to set up the facility began in 2009 following directions from the Union Government. There have also been directions from Karnataka High Court regarding this,” said T.M. Vijay Bhaskar, Chief Secretary, Karnataka.

•The topic of detention centres, and their possible connection with an NRC, has attracted multiple comments from top Central and State officials. While on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flatly denied the news on the existence of any detention centre anywhere in the country, a few days later, Home Minister Amit Shah confirmed the existence of one such facility in Assam but said it had not yet become functional and had no connection with the Assam NRC. In Karnataka, while top officials and functionaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government said the facility is not connected to an NRC, no one was willing to speak on record for fear of attracting controversy.

Two categories of inmates

•The Karnataka FDC is likely to host two categories of migrants: one, foreign nationals who have registered with Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and have violated visa terms; and, two, those who do not have valid documents, are not registered with the FRRO and have been arrested for crimes. These migrants would be detained at the centre till their deportation. In its current capacity, the FDC can host 24 persons, “not matched for a detention Centre required if NRC is implemented,” an official pointed out.

•The Centre has the power to deport foreign nationals staying illegally in the country under Section 3(2)(c) of The Foreigners Act, 1946. State governments have also been entrusted under Article 258(1) of the Constitution to take similar steps. Arrested illegal immigrants being granted bail by the courts often become untraceable, making the state contemplate the need for detention centres. In line with this, the Union government issued directions to all States and Union Territories to build FDCs in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2018. Delhi has three such detention centres, and Bengaluru began the process of setting up such one in 2009. But this was mired in differences on who should run the centre. This was resolved in 2017, following a High Court directive.

•Later, the Karnataka High Court, while hearing a bail petition of two Bangladeshi nationals in November 2019, pulled up the State government over the non-provision of FDC facility. On the court’s directions, the State police submitted an affidavit listing around 35 facilities in the State that could act as temporary detention centres. “This has only added to the confusion, creating a perception that the State wants to build a detention centre in every district, again being linked to NRC. But these are only temporary, a sort of contingency plan till the FDC becomes operational as directed by the High Court. They will cease to be so on January 1, 2020. Not a single foreigner has been lodged in any of the 35 centres,” said a senior police official. While there is no data on illegal immigrants in the state, FRRO data says 837 foreigners from 20 countries registered with them are overstaying their visa tenures in the State. Most of them are African nationals and less than 200 of them are from Bangladesh.

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