A Job At Hand: Conclusion

EDITOR: Aditya Prakash Singh

In contemporary economic parlance, there is a multitude of ways in which unemployment as a concept is described and defined, given your school of thought. Contemporarily, it’s the cardinal business, up for discussion and debating at the global high tables of diplomacy and policy making and it’s gotten everyone’s attention as well given the scope of cascading ramifications. Continuing from the first part of the two-essays series, herein we take a look at the larger emerging trends in the employment outlook across the globe and societal and political ramifications of the same.

When India’s longest bridge was inaugurated in Assam earlier this week, the fact that went unreported was that the opening of the bridge meant loss of livelihood for more than 2,000 boatmen and their families on account of their services not being needed anymore. In no way do I intend to discount the vitality of the infrastructure addition, but my emphasis here is on the fact that the jobs temporarily created by say the construction of the bridge, in a sense had been at the expense of the sudden loss of means of sustenance for more than 2,000 poor households, a fact which remains no matter how you look at it. That’s not where it stops. An entire industry of boat manufacturing, repair and servicing had spawn in the region over time given demand. All had to shut shop in a flash, resulting in loss of means of employment for thousands more. This is just one such example.

Today, there are innumerable threats to the most prevalent conventional, low-skill requiring, sustainable employment avenues of all hues. 3D printing, manufacturing efficacies, increased automation, self-driving vehicles, mechanization of farms and so on. We mustn’t undermine the fact that the disruption cause by the emergence of newer, profound technological advancements affects fields which have traditionally employed a majority of Indians, especially the emerging low-skilled ones; be it in agriculture (which employs half of our workforce), or chauffeurs or even factory wage workers in the field of manufacturing and allied industries. Just to cite one example, Amazon today employs more than 45,000 robots (that number is almost doubling every year) in its fulfillment centers across the US, at the expense of an estimated 90,000 human laborers who’d have been required for the same job otherwise.

Interestingly, there are counter theories offered to job losses arising out of automation. For example, during the Industrial Revolution more and more tasks in the weaving process were automated, prompting workers to focus on the things machines could not do, such as operating a machine, and then tending multiple machines to keep them running smoothly. This caused output to grow explosively. During the 19th century, in the US, the amount of coarse cloth a single weaver could produce per hour increased by a factor of 50, and simultaneously the labor required per yard of cloth fell by 98%. This made cloth cheaper and increased its market demand, which in turn created more jobs for weavers. Cascading, their numbers quadrupled between 1830 and 1900. Technology, in this case, gradually changed the nature of the weavers’ job, and the skills required to do it, rather than replacing it altogether.

Though the example cited and the rationale behind it seems rather convincing, one must keep in kind that the machinery interventions of today are a lot more wholesome. These are replacing human intervention in the fields of usage and not merely complimenting it. Their nature and scope of application and effect is wholly different and hence merits scrutiny as such.

Automation and overt mechanization indeed is the new normal in sectors like engineering, manufacturing, automobiles, IT and banking. As their adoption increases, all high transaction and labor-intensive jobs will take a hit. It is the new norm across sectors and will affect the bottom of the pyramid so much so that four out of every ten jobs globally would be lost due to this by 2021. The effects will be secularly disastrous for most stakeholders, especially emerging economies like India with a young and lowly skilled labor force. More focus has to be given on long-drawn needs such as converting more than half of India’s labor force, which is informal and unaccounted into an increasingly formal one. At a separate level, reskilling of the existing workers who are at the perils of such industry trends is the key so they can be absorbed by the new jobs being created as offsets of automation which have needs for different, more advanced skill-sets altogether.

The larger structural shifts in the labor markets and subdued hiring prospects across the globe have serious social and political ramifications. Politicians and their politics are increasingly geared towards a convenient advocacy of protectionism and populism. Supra-national transfer of services and capital continues but that of human resources is under severe scrutiny. Prolonged unemployment can have disastrous consequences for a human society. Idling, unproductivity of its human resources, lower spending capabilities, increased crime rates, loss of faith in administration and lowering of incentive for societal stability, recession, insecurity, lower standards of living and so on. Given its scope of implications, it’s far too important that unemployment is tackled sustainably and on a war footing for global stability and growth at large. A job at hand, indeed.

A Job At Hand

India is facing a crisis of Jobs. I should correct myself, a crisis of productive, respectably-paying jobs. Further correction. Jobs and labour market the world over are facing a crisis. What’s worse is that the crisis is both circumstantial and structural in nature and origins and this has epochal societal and political ramifications. Let see what all is being implied here.
The ILO recently released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook trends report. It merits a perusal for its got insights on, with atavistic accuracy, a lot many emerging trends and persistent fault lines in hiring practices and employment outlook the world over. Speaking of the conditions in India, to begin with, according to official figures the unemployment rate in India decreased to 4.90 percent in 2013 from 5.20 percent in 2012. Unemployment Rate in India averaged 7.32 percent from 1983 until 2013, reaching an all-time high of 9.40 percent in 2009 and a record low of 4.90 percent in 2013. Our unemployment rate hovers somewhere around 4% at present. The statistics are painting a picture which is false.
From the figures cited above, it becomes evident that at present what we need to worry about is the absolute lack of jobs at large. What should be a lot more worrying is the lack of well-paying productive jobs which actually are meaningful, engage the employee in productive work and contribute to growth in some form, instead of having people employed just for the sake of it whilst ensuring bare minimum survival and nothing more. What’s even more interesting is how governments define employment. The definition is laced with vague terms like “actively seeking jobs” and “working age population”. Such subjectivity in definitions is something those in power adore given the room they allow to be played around with and selectively interpreted to escape accountability.
Official government reports suggest those earning below Rs.47 a day in cities and Rs.32 a day in villages be considered poor. Works out to around 1400 a month in cities and barely a 1000 rupees a month in villages. Also remember that in large swathes of the country this income might actually translate into the earnings of an entire household, so it further gets divided amongst at least four more people on average. Would be nonsensical to term even those earning double this amount as not poor. It’s this variant of chronic, poor-quality employment that helps cook up the rosy employment figures where none exists, comforting policymakers and helping none.
Contemporarily, below potential economic performance in 2016 and the down-trend outlook for 2017 raises concerns about the ability of the economy on a lot of fronts. Be it generating the sufficient number of jobs urgently needed, or an improvement in the quality of already existing employment alongside ensuring that the gains of such growth are secularly shared in an inclusive manner given wider ramifications.
Unemployment in India is projected to increase from 17.7 million last year to 17.8 million in 2017 and 18 million next year. In percentage terms, unemployment rate will remain at 3.4 per cent in 2017-18. The government’s facing the twin challenges of repairing the structural damage caused by emerging global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year simultaneously.
Presently in India, employment laws for companies that have more than about 100 staff are stricter than all but two of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, resulting in a disorganized economy composed mostly of small businesses where employees have few rights. Imagine the irony, you enforce stringent regulations on businesses and employers \if they employ more people and relive them if they remain small and inefficient and employ fewer people!?
India’s 44 federal labour acts—the oldest of which dates back to 1923 when the British ruled the subcontinent—and more than 150 state laws govern how workers can be hired and fired, their safety and compensation. There are laws on how many times a factory must be painted, how the toilets must be tiled and the correct place for an employee to spit.
The government should on a priority basis legislate to ease some of those rules in a given framework whilst not compromising on worker rights at the same time.
“Revamping labour laws and encouraging urbanization could add as many as 110 million jobs over the next 10 years,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates. “That’s enough to absorb the 100 million Indians that the United Nations says will enter the workforce in the coming decade, a demographic that Goldman estimates could contribute as much as 3 percentage points to annual economic growth from 1.7% now.
About 94% of Indian workers are in what the government describes as informal sectors, including agriculture, construction, or home-based activities like pickling and tailoring. Most of the country’s labour rules don’t apply to these small businesses, leaving millions with little or no protection to speak of. “Too many small firms stay small and unproductive,” the government said in its Economic Survey 2012-13. “Too many large profitable firms prefer relying on temporary contract labour and machines than on training workers for longer-term jobs.” A logical progression of ill-planned regulation.
At present, achieving the right policy mix is essential. In tune with it, policies that address both the root causes of secular stagnation and structural impediments to growth need to be incorporated into macroeconomic policies and placed at the forefront of the economic policy agenda. Well-planned, coordinated efforts and policy interventions, including but not limited to – Increased public investment, Enhanced capacity utilisation and stimulating private demand would definitely provide the much-vaunted push the job-cycle needs today, alongside complimenting and consistent structural reform process.
Having taken an overview of the India-specific jobs and employment scenario in this part of the essay, in the next part we shall delve deeper into global perspectives on the same and the political and societal ramifications of chronic employment and unemployment the world over.

A cauldron of a count

‘Census’ as a term is of Latin origin, from ‘censere’ which means to assess, originating in early 17th century denoting a poll tax which was applied to the registration of citizens and property in ancient Rome.

Conducting a census once in a decade is a global norm, and it’s a widely followed trend for a simple reason that it helps ruling dispensations across the world keep a tab on, inter alia, all facets of demographic changes within their territories, which in turn affects their policy-making, resource allocation among other facets of administration. For the purpose of this article, we shall focus entirely on neighbouring state Pakistan’s – 6th National Census, one being conducted after a gap of almost 2 decades.

Pakistan had last conducted a census in the year 1998, when it had recorded its population to be 134.7 million, with the population having exploded since its first census in 1951 when it had 33.8 million inhabitants. In 2015, the World Bank estimated Pakistan’s population to be 188.9 million citizens, making its world’s sixth-most populous country already. Also, this, remember is an estimate and the absolute numbers might be even higher, given the country is also home to a massive number of refugees, both documented and undocumented, including the largest Afghan refugee community in the world which has historically settled in the south-east Asian nation (given various events and the chaos that ensued – the Soviet invasion in 1979, then the Taliban’s excesses in the 1990s, and, finally, the 2001 US-led invasion of the country in 2001).

Given the weak government structure, inadequate state capacity and perennially volatile security situation, as just like most other spheres of public administration the Pakistani army shall be a part of this exercise as well. Starting March 15th, up to 200,000 military personnel have been deployed to assist around 100,000 civilian counters to complete the 70-day data-gathering campaign, armed with 55,000 forms will be deployed to record the demographic changes that have occurred since 1998.

As per norms, Pakistan should have had conducted a census almost a decade back at least, and if not then sometime in the subsequent years given the nature and need for the exercise. For example, during 1950–2011, Pakistan’s urban population expanded over sevenfold, while the total population increased by over fourfold. But much of it is estimates and proper documenting and analysis is thus needed. There are reasons, mostly political so as to why this wasn’t done.

The census comes at a particularly precarious time, coming just a year before the national parliamentary elections, complimented by the political uncertainty arising out of the Pakistani HC’s verdict on the Panama Papers scandal involving the Prime Minister and his closest associates to be delivered almost contemporarily.

What troubles the ruling classes about the exercise is how it has profound and far-reaching implications. Parliamentary seat allocations, Constituency delimitations, federal funding, and political boundaries will all be altered by the census, unless the rampant changes are not recorded with accuracy. Inflating the size of a population in a given province will lead to more funding, more seats in Parliament and the availability of more jobs. The various ethnic groups have every reason to bribe officials into recording higher numbers. Political heavyweight state of Punjab, for example, may lose its political power as its population has not increased at the same rate as the rest of the country. The country’s other provinces, such as Baluchistan, fear the census. A nationalist party has suggested the arrival of Pashtuns in the province will make the ethnic Balochs a minority. The number of religious minority groups will also be recorded in the Muslim-majority country.

Conducting a census, in its own right is a mammoth challenge for the strife-raven republic of Pakistan. At the time of publication of this article, the exercise would have been almost half-way through, and it’s already had its due share of controversies and hiccups, with suicide bombers having attacked Pakistani soldiers escorting census workers on the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore on April 5th, killing at least five army personnel and two civilians. However, the more interesting and challenging part for the powers that be would be to actually make the findings of the exercise public. It’ll be a huge gambit and politically ominous for many, and if the fears of certain sections were to come true and the results transform conjectures into conviction, one can only vouch for even more instability in what is already a fragile state devoid of any capacity.


Lingering Around For Hunger


Bhavani on her way

Walking past the heaps of garbage, which produces pungent smelling hillocks on either side, 13-year-old S. Bhavani, fearlessly moves around collecting scraps in the landfill site of Kodungaiyur. With a single glove and a pair of grubby shoes, she leads the way for the reporter towards one of the main points, where several others too hurriedly engaged in a labour, which happened to be an inferior economic activity in the urban informal sector. The recycling industry has flourished over the years with an increasing number of rag pickers, belonging to different age groups.

Toiling hard under the scorching heat with no proper meals, the teenager was reluctant to open up about her life inside the vast 300 acres of “treasure trove”, which is considered to be the largest dump yard in the city of Chennai. With hundreds of families, depending primarily on the income obtained from picking up the waste, which has recycle value, the dump yard is the breeding ground of innumerable assets, which include used plastics, tins and bottles. As they get 3 to 4 rupees for every plastic bottle, they manage to earn 300 to 500 rupees in a day

This in fact, accelerated the number of rag picking children who became school dropouts to support their families.

Kodungaiyur dump yard

Akash who left the school at the age of fourteen carried a gunny bag on his shoulder. Accompanied by his sister who is in her late teens, he picks up waste bottles and tins to run his family. His father, who is an alcoholic, never bothers about his studies. By working from dawn to dusk, he earns a living, manages to save a bit to buy his favourite motorcycle.

Though rag picking by children is nothing other than child labour, there are no substantial efforts by the government to curb the tendency. Further, there is no effective implementation of law, which outlines rag picking as one among the 63 other activities banned under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) (A) Bill, 2012. With no significant consideration for the rights of children which also include the right to education, the life of children living beside the dump yards are at peril with continuous exposure to the toxic waste. However, what seemingly hazardous, happen to be of lesser implication compared to the stark reality yet to be unveiled.

It was a small sachet of Ganja that a young man carried opened up a plethora of issues, which otherwise would have been conveniently hidden in the colossal graveyard of garbage. He simply took it from the pocket and it was hardly 100 gm. On seeing this, Malar, a middle aged rag picker shooed him away but it was well captured.

A warning or what!

With a little persuasion, John said that there were many drug dealers outside the dump yard. The distributors collect the material mostly from Salem and Ambattur areas and supply it to those who demand. It appears as though only men are addicted to drugs, but a tête-à-tête with a boy at the dump yard has proved otherwise. Under the condition of anonymity, he uttered that even children below the age of 18 are widely using drugs.

Though the reporter was unable to get in touch with the boys who consume drugs, the search for a Non Governmental Organization who works for the street children provided relevant information regarding the drug addiction of rag picking children.

Arunodhaya is a centre for street and working children located in R R Nagar, Kodungaiyur. Together with the Chennai Corporation, they started a shelter home for boys in 2013. According to R Vasantha, project coordinator and caretaker of the Chennai Corporation shelter, 178 children have been rescued so far. Last year, Arunodhaya has rehabilitated 41 rag pickers from the Kodungaiyur dump yard.

Speaking about the drug addiction, Vasantha shared the stories of Shiva Kumar and Guhan, child rag pickers at the Kodungaiyur landfill. Though the workers at NGO rescued them, the duo currently lives with their families.

Guhan who was addicted to alcohol, ran away from the shelter home and lives with his father. According to Chelammal, the Councillor at Arunodhaya, he still goes to dump yard to pick bottles for earning money. However, she has undertaken measures to trace him out with the help of security guards at the dump yard and the child help line. She also shared the story of an eight-year-old child who drinks three bottles of alcohol and sleeps in his home all throughout the day. He was brought to the shelter home and with proper treatment, he was back into normalcy.

With his alcoholic and abusive mother, Shiva Kumar, whose father has died, strives hard to make a living. Though he wishes to continue his education, his mother has compelled him to work. As she threatens to commit suicide, the seventh standard boy does not have any option left, other than to work. Vasantha thinks that he should pass at least eighth standard, so that he can apply for a driving licence later, to earn a living.

Initially, when the shelter home began its functioning, 99 percent of the admitted children were addicted to drugs. They consumed Mava, Ganja, Tulip and most of them were alcoholics as well. However, with better treatment and proper awareness, the workers at the shelter home were able to bring a phenomenal change in the children.

The habits of consuming drugs and alcohol are prevalent among rag picking children. Initially, they consume it to get rid of the foul smell of the dump yard and to get intoxicated. Gradually, they became vulnerable to use drugs like Ganja and Tulip. The easy access to the drugs in and around the dump yard aggravates the scenario. Soon, they wish to go to dump yard only to get Ganja. Vasantha has also said that the children are getting the drugs even at 50 rupees. They pick the garbage for 300 rupees and then spent it for the drugs. There were also complaints from the residents of the street regarding the misbehaviour of the drug addicted children as they lay intoxicated on the road sides.

Almost half of the children in the shelter home don’t have families. The broken family relationship in fact drives the children to drugs. Many a times, the financial problems in the families compels the children to rag picking and then later to drugs. The alcoholic parents also play a crucial part in forcing children to become dropouts. The rehabilitated rag picking children are given intensive awareness and treatment to bring back to normal life. The NGO takes the initiate to enrol them in schools and only when they realise he is able to live a normal life, allows him to go back to his family.

Though Arunodhaya does a remarkable work in bringing back the children, the fund allocation towards the rehabilitation of street children is significantly low.  As the school enrolment and daily expenses cost a considerable amount of money, the shelter home finds it difficult to meet the expenses. With 30 children currently living under the shelter, it receives only 22 rupees per day for a child. This is, in fact, 3 rupees less than the previous year budget allocation which paid 25 rupees for a child.

As the expense exceeds the budget, the workers at NGO are trying to get sponsors for the admission expenses of children. The normal school kit which includes uniform, school bag and books cost around 2500 rupees for a child. As most of the children wish to continue their studies, Arunodhaya is trying to fund their expenses.

However, the negligence of the government is evident in the allocation of money. The Greater Chennai Corporation grants money once in three months. However, the corporation has not provided the money for the last three quarters. This fund which amounts to a six digit number has consequentially affected the regular functioning of the organization.  Nevertheless, Virgil D’sami, executive director at Arunodhaya, manages despite the laxity of the government.

Rag picking by children is another form of child labour. As it is a voluntary act taken up by the children for their survival and for supplementing the family, it is not even considered as a social evil. The government has not taken strong initiatives to counter the issue. Further, the reluctance of the government to issue adequate funds for the rehabilitation of the rag picking children reflects the inefficiency of the government to tackle the problem.  This has resulted in the less number of projects meant for the protection of street children making children susceptible to the external environment. By de facto, the inability of the government to restrain rag picking has indirectly helped in making them prone to drugs.


A peep into the life of child rag pickers at Kodungaiyur dump yard:-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhoxTMr8ZZI


The Crusader with a Vision – In conversation with M G Devasahayam

M G Devasahayam

Sitting in the apartment next to the Thiruvanmiyur Beach, with radiantly beaming eyes and sublime confidence of youth, the visionary with a dream, M G Devasahayam traces his journey from an ordinary village in Nagar Kovil to the coveted seat of Indian Administrative Service.  A noble crusader, who spearheads innumerable strategies to bring phenomenal change, if words alone could describe who he is.

His sheer perseverance and indomitable gusto has brought a remarkable change in every nook and corner of the society. An economist turned administrator, he has engraved his foot prints in several fields which ranges from public arena to social activism. Whether it is working in the army or operating in private and public sectors, he has curved a niche for himself.

When Devasahayam began his career as a teacher in Loyola College, after completing his post-graduation in Economics, little does he knew that destiny has other plans for him. It was during the Indo-China war in 1962, Indian army came to his college to inspire young minds to take up the army service. From the numerous applicants, he was one among the two who got selected and later he was trained in Officers Training School in Pune.

He was commissioned into the 17 battalion Madras Regiment after the training. During his meritorious Army service, he had participated in the Indo-Pak War (1965), anti-insurgency operations in Nagaland and also worked as an Aid to Civil Power in Assam and Madras State. He has won awards such as General Service Medal, Samar Seva (War Service) Star and Special Service (Nagaland) Medal.

Life has its own way to deal with a man’s life and so does, it played with Devasahayam. He describes it as a “pure coincidence” when he applied for the IAS exam for the people commissioned in defence services. It was a fine evening and he was there after the duty, when he found the advertisement for the exam in a national newspaper which was left in the army canteen. As he always does, he gave a try. Completely forgetting about the exam, the very next day he moved to Nagaland where he participated in counter- insurgency operations. He was badly injured twice and once narrowly escaped death.

It came as a surprise for him that he has passed the exam and he left for Delhi with just a single week to prepare for his interview. It does not matter where you are, but when life calls, one just need to answer it. Recounting it as the major turning point in his life, Devasahayam narrated that he was selected for the Indian Administrative service and he began his invaluable service as a sub collector in the Haryana Cadre in 1968 and he was allotted 1964 batch due to Army service.

During his term in the Administrative service, he has done a remarkable work by successfully taking up several challenging and demanding positions in the Government which includes Collector of two Districts, Administrator of Chandigarh Capital Project, Transport Commissioner of Excise and Taxation and Chairman of Haryana State Electricity Board.

Whatever or wherever he was assigned to, he had an exceptional way of making matters into better. With his exemplary skill, he initiated several programs like Integrated District Development program and he took breath-taking efforts for the creation of a new district. Further, he played a crucial role in raising profit from the Electricity Board, which was functioning badly and causing severe financial burden to the government.  Through a regulatory control by suspending corrupt officers and by introducing need based energy management system, he changed the entire power distribution system and within six months, he brought an unbelievable change in the department. Similarly, the transportation department too, witnessed an overwhelming change under his modus operandi.

It was during his administrative service, he met two of the incredible personalities of his life time, Jayaprakash Naryanan and Mother Theresa. Vividly describing them as role models, Devasahayam happily shared his close connection which brought a remarkable change in his perspectives.

Devasahayam with Jayaprakash Narayanan
Devasahayam with Jayaprakash Narayanan

During the Emergency in 1975, when Jayaprakash Naryanan who was fondly called as JP was jailed at Chandigarh, Devasahayam was in charge of him. Protesting against the draconian laws imposed by the government of Indira Gandhi, JP was resorted to fast and the timely intervention of Devasahayam helped in persuading him to withdrew the fast. Further, the life of “Second Mahatma” was threatened by the political plot and it was due to Devasahayam, who suspected a foul play, JP’s life was saved. Devasahayam’s personal association with JP, the architect of ‘India’s Second Freedom’, drew his attention towards politics. He was active in politics as Secretary General of Tamil Nadu unit and later All-India General Secretary of Janta Party. His involvement in politics helped him to understand the political process and its relevance and relationship to Democracy and Governance.

He has recently published a memoir of Mother Teresa, ‘a drop of love’. He has worked with Mother Teresa and Missionaries of Charity for more than six years. He was in the forefront of setting up a home for the abandoned and dying destitutes, Shanti-Dan, at Chandigarh and also a sanctuary for lepers

Devasahayam with Mother Teresa
Devasahayam with Mother Teresa

The two unique personalities imparted immense values and morals to his psyche. It is from them, he imbibed that power is just a means to serve the people. Following the footsteps of the astounding personalities, he took voluntary retirement from the IAS in 1985. By actively involving in the Private Sector and Voluntary Organisations, Devasahayam for the past 32 years is living a life of his passion.

Being a prolific writer, several of his articles have been published in leading newspapers and he has also written books. His area of interest for writing ranges from resource efficiency to topics like freedom, democracy and corruption.

As the Founder and Managing Trustee of the Chennai based Citizens’ Alliance for Sustainable Living (SUSTAIN), he leads several other initiatives too, to bring out change. The NGO Sustain is meant for the cause of advocating and promoting Sustainable Resource Management and ‘Participatory Governance’. In 1990, he was appointed as a member of Government of India’s High Power Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes that dealt with the issue of “transforming Agriculture into an Industry”. But he expressed the pathetic state of affairs when he says there were “interesting policies and solutions but none of them implemented”.

However, he is not ready to accept defeats. He came forward with initiatives meant for conserving water and democracy through children and youth. Highly concerned about the corruption and the bad management that engulfs the Chennai Water system, recently, he has formed a Forum of Civic Association collaborating with Chennai Metropolitan Water Bodies and Water Rejuvenation Forum to fight against the poor implementation of government water supply schemes.

Living in a water “starving” city, Devasahayam points his fingers directly to the corrupt civil servants and engineers. Further, he says, “We are adopting most unsustainable and uneconomic method of desalinating sea water, which is absurd. We are begging other states for water…So water management has been the most miserable failure as far as Tamil Nadu government is considered in Chennai metropolitan city”.

He has adopted a strategy for conserving water for the future. He proposes to create a coalition of schools and children wherein the students will be demand for water which is more fundamental than any other right.

Deeply worried about the damage done to the very edifice of democracy, he puts forth an agenda whereby advocating youth to demand for participatory functioning and decentralized governance which are currently lacking in the democracy.

As a man of outstanding courage and calibre, Devasahayam is concerned about the increasing “fear psychosis”, which is inimical to the concept of democracy.

“For youth, there is nothing to be afraid of. They should break the system which instils the sense of fear in them”, he says further. As they are buried in the technology driven world, which is the hand tool of corrupt corporates and politicians, he is extremely anguished to see that the youth are not willing to question. “Unless you start questioning, how will you innovate?” raising a valid query, he advocates them to be like Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar who sang,

Achamillai, achamillai, achamenbathuillaye
Achamillai, achamillai, achamenbathuillaye

(I have no fear, I have no fear, There is not even a speck of fear in me!
Even if every human in this world stands up against me,
I have no fear, I have no fear, There is not even a speck of fear in me!)

Sabarimala: Truth Untold – A Case Study

India, notable for its rich diversity and plurality, has been known to be an egalitarian society. With the right to equality enshrined in the Indian constitution, the discrimination based on caste, class, gender and religion, is seemingly obsolete in the modern era. Nevertheless, the blatant injustice suffered by the marginalised sections in the hands of the patriarchal world, unveils the fact that inequality is still a palpable truth in the so-called “progressive” society.

Right from the segregation on wages among men and women at work to the denial of access to women to certain places of worship, inequality lingers around the nook and corner of the society. Apparently, the religious institutions which ought to have ensured impartiality among the people explicitly created a barrier discriminating the opposite sexes. Sticking to the age-old customs and traditions, the vehement opposition of religious heads towards the entry of women in certain religious places like Sabarimala in Kerala foregrounds the breach of fundamental rights manifested in the Indian constitution.

The restriction regarding the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 in the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in Kerala traces back to the time immemorial. But the constraint became a law, following the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a devotee on the ground that Lord Ayyappa was a celibate and the entry of women belonging to the aforementioned age group should be prohibited to prevent the deviation of idol from celibacy. In 1991, Kerala High court issued directions preventing the entry of women in the particular age group.

In the year 2006, another PIL was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association in the Supreme Court against the rules and regulations provided by the Travancore Devaswom Board, the authority which controls Sabarimala Temple and the State Government. This was based on the fact that the regulations which restrict the entry of women in Sabarimala violate the right to equality (Article 14 and 15) and the right to freedom of religion (Article 25) of women (Lawyers Collective). The State governments which ruled over the years took contradictory stands with government under United Democratic Front supporting the prohibition whereas Left Democratic Front opposing it.

Recently, the controversy regarding the prohibition was brought into spotlight with the change of stance by the State Government deviating from the additional Affidavit filed by the previous government which advocated the ban. The Supreme Court has reserved the decision on whether the Constitution Bench has to be instituted or not. Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board, Ayyappa Dharma Sena and Ayyappa Devotee Associations vigorously oppose the current stance of the state government which favours the entry of women in the temple. The questionable aspect lies in the constitutional provision regarding the religious freedom which is highlighted in the Article 26 (A). It reads, “Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion”. The ambiguity regarding the extent to which religious denominations can exercise its power on matters like the entry of women in temples is evident in the provision which is essentially used by the people supporting the ban.

Though the ban regarding the entry of women belonging to the age group 10-50 is widely reported by the media, it can be noted that majority of the media doesn’t go beyond what have been fed to them. The media has quoted the statements by the Supreme Court and the opinions on both sides verbatim but it failed to analyse the real issue. The media did not even carry the real reasons behind the practice that was imposed centuries ago.

The age group on which prohibition is imposed clearly denotes the physical condition which is during when the women menstruate during her life time. This can be directly linked to the notion of “purity” that prevails in the mind-set of patriarchal world. The concept of “impurity” with respect to the menstruation provokes the conservative society to discriminate women as they attain the age of puberty. This preconceived notion regarding menstruation is what reflected in the prevention of entry of women in the temple. However, majority of the media reports that have been taken for study had not mentioned this fact.

As the tradition belonged to the bygone era when the transportation and the travel through the forest were difficult, it appears to be senseless to hold the same tradition when the times have changed. The restriction on menstruating women on earlier times was primarily due to the fear of the attack of wild animals while travelling through the hilly region. But, as the times have changed, the restriction which was meant for the safety of women has turned into a prohibition.

Some of the media appear to have been supportive of the restriction on women. The article by Dinesh Unnikrishnan appeared in First post (dated Nov 8, 2016) says:

Sabarimala is not a case of caste or colour-based oppression or ostracisation of any particular community from the mainstream. It is also not an institution that has upheld any social evil like Sati or child marriage. The reason why for centuries, the temple has not encouraged women in the age group of 10-50, to enter within its walls is an age-old faith that has been the cornerstone of the very existence of temple.

Faith says that the deity of the temple, Lord Ayyappa, is a brahmachari (a celibate God) and he is averse to the presence of women of the menstruating age group. Women outside this age group can enter the temple and that has been always so.

Similarly Rahul Easwar, president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena who wrote an analysis on the issue in Hindustan Times (dated Nov 8, 2016) points out: “The deity in a temple is a legal entity who is a perpetual minor, according to Indian law, the Constitution and dozens of Supreme Court verdicts. The deity has rights like you and me.”

But both the articles did not look upon the breach of constitutional right of women. What mirrors in these write ups is their inability to perceive the concept of God. By the personification of God, what Easwar conveniently ignored is the perception of God that is often beyond human understanding. Further, when he writes, “Article 25 and dozens of Supreme Court judgments protect the right to faith, temples and deities”, he forgets the fact that right to equality is as important as right to faith.

The article by Satya Prasoon which appeared in The Wire (dated Nov 7, 2016) throws light into important constitutional provisions. It clearly states:

According to Article 25(2) (b), the state has the overriding power to bring a legislation to provide for social reform or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. This power can be used to reform all retrograde aspects of religious practice and customs, especially in matters of temple entry.

Article 25(2) (b) is living proof that the constitution-makers were quite wary of unfair, discriminatory practises within religious customs and committed to purging them.

The social media campaign #ReadyToWait which supports the ban on women did not really substantiate the logic behind their stance. Padma Pillai, the campaigner simply says that the deity “prefers” it.

Charmy Harikrishnan in her article which appeared in Economic Times (dated Sept 4, 2016) observes that the restriction was just 25 years old. When she says, “The queen of Travancore is also reported to have visited the temple in 1940 when she might have been just 45”, it is evident that the recent restriction is nothing but a curb inflicted upon the women by the orthodox patriarchy.

The reportage on Sabarimala issue has not taken into account several factors including the causes that led to the restriction. Except for a few media, others tend to support the prohibition. As the people have a tendency to follow the band wagon, the media too, haven’t really taken the initiative to make them understand the violation of fundamental rights in the name of religion. The people who advocated the ban made use of the vagueness in the Article 26 of the Indian constitution. Further, even the women consider the discrimination faced by them as a part of tradition and the media appears to be supporting it.


The Sabarimala Case Has the Potential to Be a Constitutional Watershed

Women activists not be allowed inside Sabarimala: Kerala govt

Important and Idiosyncratic

PM Sheikh Hasina and PM Narendra Modi


Sheikh Hasina Wazed, current Prime Minister of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and daughter of the country’s founding father – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was in West Germany along with her sister Sheikh Rehana when her father and the then-President of the state was assassinated in a coup d’état in the early hours of August 15th , 1975, just three years after the long-drawn liberation war which granted independence to the territory which was then called as East Pakistan and led to the creation of the state of Bangladesh. Following the incident she was flown into India and she took refuge in the country. She lived in a self-imposed exile in New Delhi for the next six years and returned to Bangladesh only in May 1981.

PM Sheikh Hasina and PM Narendra Modi
PM Sheikh Hasina and PM Narendra Modi.
Source: www.narendramodi.in

She’ll be on a state visit to India starting April the 7th in capacity as the Prime Minister of a neighbouring friendly nation, almost 7 years after her last such visit in 2010 and a much deferred one given prior domestic and international commitments on part of both the leaders, be it her or even more so Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom she is scheduled to meet on the second day of her visit. Much groundwork has already been done prior to her trip given there’s simply a lot of crucial business to attend to given the sheer multifacetedness of the ties the two states share.

India and Bangladesh share much in common, beyond culture. They represent one of the most important, defining relationships in South Asia and, for India, it is a vital element in its Act East Policy and a major chunk of its larger foreign relations doctrine. Otiose cavilling has had impacted the potential of their bilateral ties for long, especially in decades following the creation of Bangladesh, first with the military takeover of the government and Islamist generals taking over the reins of the government, formation of the anti-India Bangladesh Nationalist Party in 1978 by then president Ziaur Rehman and subsequent constitutional amendments and major foreign policy reorientations in the country. It’s PM Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League alone which has historically advocated stronger Indo-Bangladesh ties and worked to that effect.

For the upcoming visit, Bangladesh has prepared a draft of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence co-operation with India involving defence industries, space technology, technical assistance and development of sea infrastructure. The draft of the MoU has been prepared taking into account national policies and security of both the countries, sources in Dhaka said quoting from a copy of the draft. The proposed co-operation framework will be the first defence deal between the two close-door neighbours, and it is among the 10 MoUs likely to be signed between Bangladesh and India during the visit, as per which both the parties will arrange training, exchange of military experts, trainers and observers, military courses and information, provide mutual co-operation on maintenance of military equipment, arrange treatment, organise sports events; impart training on disaster and relief co-operation, hold discussions at the staff level of the armies, navies and air forces of both the countries and resolve bilateral military issues through discussions; and hold annual talks between the military organisations of the two countries. Clearly a paradigm change in terms of military cooperation and assistance. India is also willing to commit up to $500mn under a line of credit (LoC) for military co-operation with Bangladesh, inter alia other mechanisms of furthering bilateral growth.

What further adds impetus to and strengthens the relationship is the fact that both countries are keen to enhance connectivity not just between them, but also with other countries in South Asia, in view of regional connectivity and trade at large. The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) corridor will be high on the agenda during PM Hasina’s visit. Apart from the SAARC region, Bangladesh is an important conduit for almost all supra-national infrastructural and diplomatic initiatives of India in the medium and long term, for example there have been some proposals of a strong trilateral between India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, such as a gas pipeline (although the current security situation may not permit it). Both countries are also part of a number of groupings that seek to expand South Asia’s connectivity with Southeast Asia and China; these include the Mekong Ganga Cooperation Initiative, BIMSTEC, and the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor project.

Another perspective and factor has been the role of India’s Northeast in India-Bangladesh ties, which has long been delinked from security and migrant issues. It is time that Northeast India and Bangladesh built not only strong economic links, but also greater cultural and educational ties, much of which seems more feasible now with the ruling BJP gaining political power and currency in the region of late. Be it access to higher speed broadband from Bangladesh for the seven-sister states of India in the remote region, or supply of electricity from India to power-deficit Bangladesh, there is simply a lot of scope to collaborate upon.

Contemporarily, there used to be a lot many irritants in their ties which the two countries have had settled, be it the historic Land Boundary Agreement ratified by the Indian parliament in 2015, the progress on maritime border disputes, plethora of agreements on cross-border transit options to and through the two nations, use of each other’s infrastructure for purposes of trade and commerce, strengthening of security cooperation and intelligence sharing, joint military exercises; the list is exhaustive.

As with almost every other south-Asian neighbour, the China factor looms over Indo- Bangladesh ties as well, albeit to a smaller extent. Although scope still remains for more cooperation in furtherance of common policy objectives between the two nations and despite the complexity of lingering issues, be it the Teesta river pact or the unfinished land boundary business, and the ever dynamic nature of foreign ties, recent history bears testimony to the solid foundation the ties have been built upon. With two rather supportive leaders firmly in charge of domestic policy-making and the foreign affairs of their respective states and even deeper collaboration and not conflict, simplify the way ahead, that there’s just one direction Indo-Bangladesh ties are destined for, up and up.