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Admin 2020-02-12

12 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Denying Equality


  • CONTEXT: Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case for grant of equivalence in allowing posts of commanding officers to women in the armed forces.

 

  • PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN ARMED FORCES: The issue of bringing women into the armed forces has been contentious for some time, despite Nirmala Sitharaman batting strongly for equality for women, when she was defence minister. 

  • GOVT'S JUSTIFICATION TO NOT ALLOW WOMEN: The government submitted an affidavit, laying out its justification for the alleged unsuitability of women officers to discharge this role:
  • “Psychological limitations”, lower physical standards, domestic obligations and absence due to pregnancy. 
  • The government argued that the “composition of rank and file being male predominantly drawn from the rural background with prevailing societal norms, troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units”. 
  • Stretching the argument even further to exclude women, it argued that “The non-linear battlefield has rendered the erstwhile rear areas as much vulnerable as battlefield. 
  • Therefore, the induction of women officers into the Indian Army, hithertofore a male bastion, needs to be viewed in the perspective of the changed battlefield environment”.

 

  • REGRESSIVE VIEWS: Needless to say, the arguments are regressive and do not meet the yardstick for progressive and liberal values that any modern society ought to aspire for. 
  • The government’s arguments reopen a debate which had been closed nearly three decades ago, when the women officers were first inducted into the armed forces. 
  • All the arguments put forth against giving women more responsibility have been answered by the armed forces by giving women greater responsibility in uniform:
  • The IAF has allowed women to become fighter pilots, and the Army has sent them to tough UN peacekeeping missions globally.

 

  • MISPLACED ARGUMENTS: The current case in the Supreme Court is not about granting a role to women in combat arms but about the denial of equal opportunity in their existing roles for promotion to higher commands. 
  • Women officers are already commanding platoons and companies successfully, with male soldiers accepting orders from them as part of a professional force. 

 

  • CONCLUSION: A professional force does not discriminate on the basis of gender, it works because of training, norms and culture. 
  • There is no need to give women any special dispensations but the government cannot promote discrimination on the basis of gender. 
  • It must move towards gender mainstreaming in the army, and further achieve gender equality by establishing professional standards and adhering to them without any bias.

 

2) On Syncretic systems like Unani offer lessons for sustainable, effective  healthcare 


  • CONTEXT: To strengthen indigenous scientific content and practice of Ayurveda and Unani by bringing them into one institution.

 

  • AYURVEDA: Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927), born in a family of hakims, was an exceptional healer, a freedom fighter, and the founder of Ayurveda and Unani Tibbia College in Delhi and the Jamia Millia Islamia. 
  • His contributions led to his birthday being declared Unani Day. 
  • The Tibbia College was envisaged to strengthen indigenous scientific content and practice of Ayurveda and Unani by bringing them into one institution.

  • EVOLUTION OF UNANI AS A SYNCRETIC SCIENCE: It draws its roots and name from ancient Greek physicians and philosophers, Hippocrates and Galen, also the acknowledged roots of modern medicine in Europe. 
  • Greek knowledge was absorbed and preserved by the Arabs through translation of Hippocratic and Galenic texts into Arabic (and later into Latin, making them accessible to Europe). 
  • The Persian scientist-philosopher Ibn Sina was next in chronology to contribute much to this medical tradition.
  • Translations into Persian expanded its reach. 
  • Scientific growth of medicine in the Muslim world between 8th and 15th centuries was in keeping with the original Greek humoral theories of bodily functions and their imbalance as cause of disease. 
  • A large body of preventive, promotive, therapeutic and palliative (lifestyle, medicinal and surgical) knowledge emerged. 

 

  • INDIAN VERSION OF UNANI: It reached India in the 11th century, receiving patronage since the 13th century from the Delhi sultanate to later Mughal rulers and nawabs. 
  • The then practising hakims’ research on local health problems, medicinal plants and methods for preparation of medicines, and interaction with the vaids, led to generation of an Indian version of Unani. 
  • Translations from Arabic and Persian to Sanskrit and vice-versa was also undertaken, as was translation into Gurmukhi, Tamil, Malayalam and other Indian languages. 
  • Besides treatment of common ailments, Indianised Unani medicine is especially known for its contributions to the knowledge of toxicology, for effective cures in urological and skin diseases, among others.
  • Unani remains alive in practice on the Indian subcontinent. As reported in 2017, there are in India 264 hospitals, over 1,500 dispensaries, 201 colleges and almost 50,000 registered Unani practitioners. 
  • The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library set up by Centre in 2001 includes 98,700 Unani formulations.

  • SCIENTIFIC APPROACH OF UNANI: Important to recognise is the value of the scientific approach of Unani that is diagnostic, prognostic and holistic, with a stated syncretic developmental approach. 
  • All sciences grow by interacting with and assimilating from other knowledges, but most do not actively acknowledge this, instead claiming a superiority and universality of application.
  • Historically, medicine and its effectiveness has been one route to assertion of cultural superiority and political legitimacy. 
  • However, Unani demonstrated a scientific humility by retaining the name that acknowledges its roots.
  • When the first Unani Education Committee was set up in 1964 by the Government of India to formulate a shuddha (pure) Unani curriculum, members argued that “purity” is unscientific and undesirable. 
  • Though the Arabs contributed extensively and made substantial advances by hard work and extensive researches and experiments, they continued to call it Unani. 
  • Later on in India, the hakims, made, during the Mughal period, extensive researches to adapt it to local conditions and took much from Ayurvedic practice, but still, they continued to call it Unani, although in reality it became an Indianised Unani system.”
  • To strengthen this knowledge system, the Committee suggested admitting undergraduate students immediately after school.
  • It suggested for a Pre-Tibb curriculum of two-years and then a four-and-a-half year curriculum of Unani medicine and surgery.
  • It also suggested research including “research on the fundamental principles & basic theories of Unani system of medicine, such as-
  • temperament, the humoral theory and Tabiat Mudabra-Badan (natural healing powers); 
  • and rights, status and privileges for Unani practitioners equal to their Allopathic counterparts.”

 

  • CONCLUSION: We still have a way to go on each of these. Decolonising healthcare with confidence in fundamental principles of AYUSH systems and openness to syncretic adaptations based on sound logic and research has lessons for sustainable and effective healthcare.

 

3) On India-Sri Lanka ties: First call


  • By making New Delhi their first stop abroad, Sri Lanka’s new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who visited in November, and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, after a five-day tour, have signalled hope of beginning a new India-Sri Lanka chapter. 
  • Contrary to their last stint which ended in 2015, when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, and his younger brother Gotabaya was Defence Secretary, and ties underwent a strain for several reasons. 
  • New Delhi too has indicated that it would like to make a fresh start, working on development projects, including a joint India-Japan proposal for the East Container Terminal at Colombo. 
  • Mahinda Rajapaksa has also discussed extending the $400-million Line of Credit and India’s further assistance for nationwide housing. Air connectivity to Sri Lanka’s north and east is already being improved - there is a flight from India to Jaffna, and another one being proposed for Batticaloa. 
  • On security, Mr. Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed intelligence sharing, training and the utilisation of a special $50-million Line of Credit extended by India after last year’s Easter Sunday bombings. 
  • India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are expected to revive their trilateral on security, including joint maritime security talks and anti-terror cooperation. Finally, Mr. Rajapaksa reaffirmed his belief that among Sri Lanka’s friendships, India is seen as a “relative”, given their history and culture.
  • The bonhomie is palpable, but the faultlines were also visible. Prime Minister Modi said India hopes that the “expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect” would be realised and that devolution of powers according to the 13th amendment would be taken forward. 
  • Mr. Rajapaksa has given no commitment on this and said, in an interview to The Hindu, that he favoured the 13A but not solutions that were “unacceptable to the majority [Sinhala] community”. 
  • India’s case for the special status for the North and East also comes across as contrary to the Modi government’s strong stand about removal of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir. 
  • Mr. Rajapaksa has ruled out taking forward the MoU signed by his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe allowing Indian participation in energy and infrastructure projects in Trincomalee; an Indian stake in “Mattala airport” is not on the cards either. 
  • However, of note is his appeal for India to help Sri Lanka deal with its debt crisis - nearly $60-billion outstanding in foreign and domestic, and about $5-billion a year in repayments. 
  • New Delhi must consider his request for a three-year moratorium and be upfront about its response, in contrast to the past when New Delhi did not take up an offer to develop Hambantota port, and ceded space to China. 
  • India and Sri Lanka share close ties, but distrust and differences remain. Ignoring or rebuffing the new request could damage bilateral ties far more.

 

4) On Six years of Lokpal: Non-starter


  • The massive public campaign in 2011 demanding an independent anti-corruption ombudsman resulted in the passage of the Lokpal law. The political dividend of the agitation was reaped at the national level by the BJP, which vociferously supported the demand for an effective Lokpal and rode to power in 2014 on the plank of anti-corruption.
  • More than six years after the Lokpal law received the President’s assent, the institution of the Lokpal is yet to play any significant role in tackling corruption in the country. 
  • The manner in which the Lokpal has been emasculated by the current regime closely mirrors the undermining of other institutions of oversight and accountability.
  • The preambular statement of The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 notes that the law has been enacted to ensure prompt and fair investigation and prosecution in cases of corruption against public servants. 
  • The Lokpal was envisioned to be independent. It was accorded a high stature and given extensive powers including the power to inquire, investigate and prosecute acts of corruption.
  • Delay in appointments: For more than five years, the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were not appointed. The government claimed that since no one could be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the 2014 general election, the committee responsible for selecting members of the Lokpal could not be constituted. 
  • This malady could have been easily remedied by either recognising the leader of the single largest party in Opposition in the Lok Sabha as the LoP, or by amending the Lokpal law to allow the leader of the largest Opposition party to be a member of the committee in the absence of a recognised LoP (this was done for the selection committee of the CBI Director). However, neither recourse was taken.
  • The chairperson and members of the Lokpal were appointed only in March 2019 after a contempt petition was filed in the Supreme Court following the failure of the government to comply with the 2017 ruling of the court to initiate the process of making appointments.
  • A truncated selection committee, without the LoP, was set up. The Prime Minister, Speaker, and the then Chief Justice of India appointed Mukul Rohatgi, who had earlier served as Attorney General of India during the BJP regime, as the eminent jurist on the selection panel. 
  • The leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha was invited for meetings of the selection committee as a ‘special invitee’, which he declined on grounds that it was mere tokenism.
  • The four-member selection committee, having a preponderance of representatives of the ruling party with an inherent bias towards recommending candidates favoured by the government, selected the Chair and members of the Lokpal. 
  • The manner in which the appointments were made raised doubts about the independence of the Lokpal even before it became operational.
  • Despite the fracas over appointments, many had hoped that once constituted, the Lokpal would nevertheless be a significant oversight body to check corruption and the arbitrary use of power by the government. 
  • More than 10 months later, however, evidence suggests that the Lokpal is a non-starter. Till date, the government has not made rules prescribing the form for filing complaints to the Lokpal. The Central government has also failed to formulate rules regarding asset disclosure by public servants.
  • In order to ensure independent and credible action on allegations of corruption, the Lokpal was empowered under the law to set up its own inquiry wing headed by a Director of Inquiry and its own prosecution wing headed by a Director of Prosecution. 
  • However, information accessed under the Right to Information Act has confirmed that the inquiry and prosecution wings of the anti-corruption ombudsman are yet to be set up. 
  • The Lokpal has also not appointed the Director of Inquiry or Prosecution. Further, regulations which the Lokpal was obligated to make under the law are yet to be made, including those specifying the manner and procedure of conducting preliminary inquiry and investigation.
  • The website of the Lokpal states that it scrutinised 1,065 complaints received till September 30, 2019 and disposed of 1,000. Since necessary procedures to operationalise the law are yet to be put in place, the legal veracity of the decisions of the Lokpal could potentially be challenged in a court of law.
  • Failure to meet expectations: without the requisite rules, regulations and machinery in place, it is not surprising that the Lokpal has failed to meet expectations. 
  • In recent times, the only reason for the Lokpal being in the news has been the resignation of its judicial member, Justice Dilip B. Bhosale, for undisclosed reasons.
  • The failure to operationalise the Lokpal in an effective manner lays bare the lack of political will of the BJP government. It took nearly half a century for the Lokpal law to be enacted from the time the need for the oversight institution was first articulated. 
  • The necessary rules, regulations and machinery are still not in place. It is anybody’s guess how much longer it will take before India has an effective, independent and empowered Lokpal.