The Hindu Editorial Analysis
04 March 2020

1) Growing numbers: On India’s COVID-19 preparedness


  • CONTEXT:
  • On Monday and Tuesday, India reported three more coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases — one each from Delhi, Hyderabad and Jaipur (an Italian tourist) — bringing the total number to six.
  • While the first three cases, reported from Kerala, were in young adults who had arrived directly from China, the two new cases were Indians who had arrived from Italy and Dubai.
  • Italy and the UAE have reported local transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), thus marking all the five as imported cases.

 

  • DETECTION:
  • Detection of the three cases is no surprise considering that hundreds of passengers have arrived in India from China and other countries where local transmission of the virus has been going on for the last couple of weeks.
  • On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said that six people in Agra who had come in contact with the COVID-19 index case in Delhi have been “detected with high viral load” and kept in isolation.
  • Their samples have been sent to the Pune-based National Institute of Virology for confirmation.
  • If even one of the six is confirmed to be positive, it would indicate local transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and will automatically change the status of virus spread in the country.
  • The silver lining is that it highlights the ability of the system to trace and test people who have come in contact with the index case.
  • Community transmission should not come as a surprise in light of the fact that the six confirmed cases had come in contact with many people before their infection status was confirmed.

 

  • INTEGRATED DISEASE SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMME:
  • The Health Ministry’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) network is in hot pursuit to trace people who have come in contact with the six people whose samples have been sent for confirmation.
  • Already, about 26,000 arriving passengers have been put under community surveillance of the IDSP network.
  • Care should be taken to ensure that people under community surveillance do not flee, as was the case in Kerala when two adults under observation for coronavirus left the country unnoticed.
  • Thermal screening at airports and seaports helps in detecting people with a fever so that further screening and testing can be performed to ascertain the infection status
  • It is also essential that people who have arrived in the country seek immediate medical care and testing when symptoms show up days after landing.

 

  • EXTENTION OF INCUBATION PERIOD:
  • The median incubation period after infection is three days; the incubation period can also last more than three weeks as per one study.
  • Infected people do not show symptoms during the incubation period and hence thermal screening at airports and seaports will be unable to detect such cases.
  • It is therefore heartening that universal screening of passengers arriving from 12 countries is being undertaken.

 

  • WAY FORWARD:
  • It is also important that people and health-care providers are made aware that molecular testing does not have very high sensitivity and hence may turn up false negatives.
  • It is hence essential that at least two negative tests are obtained before a person is certified as being uninfected.
  • India cannot be complacent while dealing with the possible spread of COVID-19

 

2) A blow against social justice


  • CONTEXT:
  • The recent verdict of a two-judge Supreme Court Bench on reservations and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes promotions —
    • “that no individual could claim reservation in promotions and that the court could not issue a mandamus directing State governments to provide reservation” —
  • This has mainly raised four constitutional questions:
    • Whether reservation in promotions is a fundamental right or not.
    • Whether a court can direct the state to provide reservations.
    • Whether quantifiable data for inadequate representation is a must for giving reservation in promotions.
    • And whether it is the obligation of the state to give reservation.

 

  • HIGHER CONSTITUTIONAL BENCH:
  • In the first instance, as this case involves multiple constitutional issues, it should have been dealt with by a larger constitutional bench that included a SC or ST judge.
  • So, it is the moral responsibility of the Union Government to appeal this case and request a constitutional bench hearing.
  • It must be noted that in 2018 a five-judge Constitution bench had denied reservation for SCs and STs who belong to the creamy layer.
  • The Central government has asked for a review by a seven-judge Constitutional bench.
  • This verdict on SCs and STs promotions has affected social justice and the advancement of the under-privileged.

 

  • FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT:
  • Addressing the first question, the scope for reservation for the Backward Classes is promised in Part III of the Constitution under Fundamental Rights.
  • Articles 16(4) and 16(4A) which empowers the state to provide reservation for SCs and STs are a part of the section, “Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment”.
  • The right to equality is also enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution. Many construe that the reservation is against Article 16 (Right to equality).
  • But one should understand that the absence of equal opportunities for the Backward Classes due to historic injustice by virtue of birth entails them reservation.
  • In other words, the right to equality is the basis of reservation as there is no level-playing field among castes.
  • Articles 16 (2) and 16(4) are neither contradictory nor mutually exclusive in nature. In fact, they are complementary to each other; even Article 16(4) is not a special provision.
  • Now, another question arises as to whether reservation should be applied in promotions?

 

  • DESTABILISING MOVE:
  • The answer is yes, because in India, where there is a peculiar hierarchical arrangement of caste, it is conspicuous that SCs and STs are poorly represented in higher posts.
  • Denying application of reservation in promotions has kept SCs and STs largely confined to lower cadre jobs.
  • This is even seen in the higher judiciary. Hence, providing reservation for promotions is even more justified and appropriate to attain equality.
  • The question of law is not about enabling reservations in promotions or not, but this judgment destabilises the very basis of reservation.
  • When there is no direct recruitment in higher posts, the implementation of reservation is justified at every level to get a reasonable representation.
  • It is not correct to subdivide the scope of reservation at the entry level and in promotions; this delineation will only lead to confusion in the implementation of reservation.
  • Now, by declaring that reservation cannot be claimed as a fundamental right is a dangerous precedent in the history of social justice.

 

  • CAN A COURT ISSUE A MANDAMUS TO STATE FOR RESERVATIONS?
  • This is inappropriate because when the court is empowered to pass orders to create extra seats every year for forward-caste students who claim to be affected by reservation, why cannot it direct the state to provide reservation in promotions?
  • The Supreme Court has extraordinary powers under Article 142, which empowers the Court to pass any order necessary for doing “complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it”.

 

  • QUANTIFIABLE DATA:
  • The next question is about the necessity of quantifiable data to show an inadequate representation of reserved category people.
  • This question has been addressed in the Constitution.
  • Article 16(4) reads:
    • “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.”
  • Here, “in the opinion of State” should not be construed as the discretion of the state to give the reservation or not.
  • On the contrary, if the state feels that SCs and STs are under-represented, then it is in the domain of the state to provide reservation.

 

  • INDRA SAWHNEY CASE (Mandal Commission):
  • The idea of quantifiable data on inadequate representation was applied for exceeding the 50% cap for reservation; within 50% where the existing quotas for SCs and STs are accommodated were not affected.
  • The responsibility of collecting data on representation by the Backward Classes lies with the state.

 

  • CENSUS:
  • Pathetically, the last caste-based census was in 1935, and in the pre-Independence era, by the British government.
  • After Independence, no government has had the inclination to conduct a caste-based census due to political reasons.
  • Even if a caste-based census is collected, the population and proportionate representation of SCs and STs will be low.
  • For this reason alone, a proper caste-based census has not been conducted in independent India.
  • Moreover, Article 16(4) clearly mentions that if the state, in its opinion, feels that SCs and STs are not adequately represented, then it can provide reservation for them.
  • There is no mention of “quantifiable data” in the Constitution. Even after 70 years of SC/ST reservation, their representation is as low as 3%.

 

  • INTERPRETATION OF THE CONSTITUTION:
  • Finally, if the argument is that it is not binding on the state to give reservation, it must be noted that reservation rights are in Part III as Fundamental Rights.
    • Hence it is the obligation of the state to ensure reservation to the underprivileged.
  • This judgment has interpreted Articles 16 (4) and 16(4A) only as enabling provisions.
    • Enabling provisions mean that these provisions empower the state to intervene; it does not mean the state is not bound to provide it.
  • Interpreting the Constitution by paraphrasing and selective reading is dangerous.

 

  • ADMINISTRATIVE EFFICIENCY:
  • More importantly, this judgment has raised a new point — that the decision of the State government to provide reservation for SC/STs should not affect the efficiency of administration.
  • This implies that the entry of SC/STs in the job market can reduce the quality of administration; this by itself is discriminatory.
  • There is no evidence that performance in administration is affected on account of caste.
  • There have been many attempts to dilute reservation in the past. But, this judgment appears to be debatable in the larger context and should be challenged in a constitutional bench.
  • In a country of parliamentary democracy, even the Constitution of India can be amended.
  • If the government at the Centre has genuine concern for SC/STs, it can amend the Constitution using its political majority.

 

3) The legacy of childhood trauma


  • CONTEXT:
  • Everyone who knew Rakesh said he was a monster. He could not handle conflicts at home and often resorted to yelling to get his point across.
  • He would discipline his children by being physically violent. His idea of showing love for his partner was through physical violence and threats.
  • Where did Rakesh learn to be the man he was? Perhaps from his childhood. Rakesh’s story is all too frequent in India.
  • Policies on domestic violence ignore the effect of trauma on children and inter-generational transmission of violence

 

  • IMPACT OF CHILDREN:
  • One in three women faces intimate partner violence, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Each successive government has tried to put in place legal and judicial recourses for these women, but has left children unprotected and exposed.
  • Witnessing such widespread violence at home affects children seriously.
  • First, there are recorded physiological effects of trauma on the brain.
  • CT scans show that children who have been exposed to trauma develop smaller corpus callosum and smaller hippocampus regions, which means that their learning, cognitive abilities and emotional regulation are affected.
  • Second, inter-generational transmission of violence is a disturbing consequence of violence in families.
  • Dr. Byron Egeland, a widely published researcher in the areas of child maltreatment and developmental psychopathology, showed a history of abuse to be a major risk factor for abusing the next generation.
  • Researchers have estimated an average inter-generational transmission rate of 40%.
  • This means that for every 100 persons who were abused as children, 40 transmit this violence to the next generation.

 

  • EXAMPLE OF RAKESH:
  • Rakesh’s own history shows that he was a victim of violence.
  • Rakesh had been a witness to violence between his parents at home every day until he turned 20.
  • He saw his mother being slapped, and learnt to create cover-up stories for the frequent injuries that appeared on his and his mother’s bodies.
  • By the time he was five, he had learnt that violence was an acceptable means to deal with conflict, and that it was important for the man to dominate through power-assertive violence.
  • To cope with the trauma at home, he had also learnt to quickly suppress his childhood fear and deep insecurity.
  • How else could he deal with the complexity of it? The trauma left physical effects on his brain, leading to poor emotional regulation.

 

  • RESEARCH- DEVELOPING ATTATCHMENT THEORY:
  • According to Dr. John Bowlby, a renowned psychiatrist known for his pioneering work in developing attachment theory, the
    • “internal working model” of a child is developed based on familial patterns of showing love and resolving conflicts.
  • Rakesh’s internal working model had been developed based on behaviours between his caregivers in the first two years of his life.
  • How can we teach our children other ways of healthy relationships between partners if this is all they have witnessed all their lives?
  • It is important to note that not all victims of domestic violence become aggressors.
  • We must not victimise young survivors of violence. Declaring that some of these victimised children will end up being violent themselves can, in fact, make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Yet, it is crucial in a country that faces a massive crisis of violence against women to understand that a history of abuse is often a risk factor that points to a likelihood of perpetrating inter-generational abuse.

 

  • DEALING WITH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA:
  • India puts in place reactive policies every time a new case of violence comes to the fore.
  • The country’s domestic violence policies have ranged from declaring certain offences against women as criminal offences, to setting up all-women police stations, to capital punishment for fatal rape cases.
  • These policies have ignored the effect of trauma on children and the concept of inter-generational transmission of violence.
  • As a 2016 report by the U.S. Children’s Bureau explains, “violence and abuse produce trauma symptoms which when left unresolved, increase the likelihood that the individual will engage in violent behaviour as an adult.”
  • We need to provide spaces for children to resolve these symptoms of childhood trauma.

 

  • WAY FORWARD:
  • India has become serious about mental health beginning with the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, but it needs to do more.
  • Policymakers need to link the provision of professional mental health services to families recovering from domestic violence.
  • A prospective policy, working with families to actively provide trauma-informed mental health care, needs to be in place.
  • But for this to happen, India needs more mental health practitioners.
  • It needs accredited systems to train and track the quality of mental health trauma-care providers.
  • Connecting such a network to peer-supportive groups can help survivors integrate their experiences into their lives and finally heal.