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Admin 2020-01-31

31 Jan 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) India’s civil society moment


  • The strength of civil society is its spontaneity, collective mobilisation. Its weapon is the Constitution; its demand is respect for constitutional morality
  • CONTEXT: Leaders of the ruling party claim that the Citizenship Amendment Act does not take away citizenship from any Indian, therefore, the protests across the country are ill-informed and misplaced. 
  • FAILURE OF LEADERS TO GRASP DEMANDS: Leaders are unable to grasp the demands of thousands of students and citizens who march and demonstrate against government policies. 
  • Their message, blazoned on posters, and articulated in innovative language, creative songs, art and graffiti is unequivocal: 
  • We the people of India, will not tolerate the fusion of religious identity and citizenship, will not sanction dilution of secularism and equality, will not accept irresponsible amendments to the Constitution, and will not endure vicious attempts to divide us.
  • POLITICAL MIRACLE: The terms of engagement between the government and the people have been transformed. 
  • Today our young people hammer home the fact that they will not tolerate any policy that violates the democratic and secular ethos of the nation. 
  • Students now instruct rulers — do not tamper with constitutional principles that were forged in the heat of the freedom struggle. This is our inheritance, and this is our culture.
  • The substantial movement in support of constitutional supremacy and morality trumps arguments put forth by the ruling party leaders; that the CAA, the proposed National Register of Citizens, and the National Population Register are part of their manifesto. 
  • Manifestos do not override the Constitution. In mid-December, thousands of university students rose in protest. 
  • They seem to be unfamiliar with the recent history of mobilisation by civil society that has shaken power and dismantled states.
  • CONCEPT OF CIVIL SOCIETY: The concept of civil society is normative, insofar as it specifies that associational life in a metaphorical space between the market based on profit, and the state that embodies power, is a distinct good. 
  • Associational life neutralises the individualism, the atomism, and the anomie of modern life. 
  • Social associations enable the pursuit of multiple projects and engender solidarity. 
  • The projects can range from developing awareness about climate change, to discussing and dissecting popular culture, supporting needy children, organising neighbourhood activities, and safeguarding human rights. 
  • Above all, the concept recognises that even democratic states are imperfect. Democracy has to be realised through sustained engagement with the holders of power. 
  • Citizen activism, public vigilance, informed public opinion, a free media, and a multiplicity of social associations are indispensable for this task.
  • MOBILISATION AGAINST AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES: It is, however, the minimal avatar of civil society — that of mobilisation against authoritarian regimes - that has proved politically effective since the last decades of the 20th century. 
  • This concept has motivated thousands of people across the globe to stand up and speak back to a history, not of their making. 
  • In the first decade of the 21st century, from Nepal to Libya, huge crowds, driven by a distinctly anti-authoritarian mood, assembled and agitated in public spaces to demand an end to monarchies, dictatorships, and tyrannies. 
  • The mobilisation of civil societies against undemocratic governments again, after 1989 and the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe, demonstrated the competence of the political public to command an activity called politics. 
  • Notably, the objective of civil society is not to takeover the state. That is left to political parties. 
  • Vibrant civil societies are born out of complete disenchantment with the party system. They are, and remain, the public conscience of society. 
  • Little wonder that powerful states have collapsed like the proverbial house of cards before street assemblies and demonstrations.
  • SUCCESSFUL EXAMPLES IN SOUTH ASIA: In 2006 in Nepal, a massive anti-monarchy movement developed into a pro-democracy movement and brought an end to rulers who had claimed the divine right to rule, motivating Maoists to lay aside their weapons and take part in elections to a constituent assembly — catapulting the transition of the Nepali people from subject to citizen. 
  • For two years, 2007 and 2008, a pro-democracy movement led by lawyers shook up Pakistan, then under military rule. The movement forced the military government under General Pervez Musharraf to its knees, and heralded, once again, the return of electoral democracy to the country.
  • RISE OF CIVIL PROTEST IN ASIAN COUNTRIES: The most spectacular assertions of civil society occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, and other countries in West Asia from December 2010 onwards. 
  • Protests that coalesced into the “Arab Spring” were sparked off when on December 17, 2010, a 26-year old vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire before a government building in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. 
  • He committed self-immolation in protest against the public humiliation heaped on him by a police officer. The act sparked off major protests across the country, and resulted in demands that President Zina El Abidina resign. A month later the president fled the country.
  • Some countries that were rocked by protests were under military regimes, others under individual despots-----The inhabitants of these societies had been denied basic civil liberties such as freedom of expression and right to association. 
  • Protesters identified perpetrators of injustice and insisted on retributive and remedial justice. 
  • What had been thought of as unthinkable and improbable had been translated into the probable and the achievable. 
  • A number of successful autocrats were forced to demit office — Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
  • Since June 2019, Hong Kong has been rocked by a movement that has brought together huge numbers of people. 
  • The movement initially came together as a protest against the government proposal that suspected criminals would be extradited to mainland China. 
  • It has developed into a major pro-democracy movement inspired by deep-rooted antipathy against authoritarian rule. 
  • Protests continue to escalate in the island in the face of police brutality, repression and crackdowns.
  • CURRENT ROLE OF CIVIL SOCEITY IN INDIA: We do not need to worry about who should lead civil society mobilisation in India. Nor should we worry about where it is heading. 
  • It is enough that citizens have gathered in public spaces to fight a government increasingly seen as authoritarian and divisive. 
  • Moreover, civil societies eschew organisation, leadership and goals. Organisation leads to bureaucratisation, leaders rapidly become tyrants, and no one agent is capable of defining what the goals of a complex society should be. 
  • The task of civil society is not to wage a revolutionary war. Its task is to awaken people to the fact that they have a right to hold governments responsible for acts of omission and commission. 
  • When it takes on authoritarian states, the strength of civil society is its spontaneity and collective mobilisation. 
  • Its weapon is the Constitution; its demand is respect for constitutional morality. 
  • Finally, civil society is not an institution; it is a space, the site for many projects that restore democracy. This is India’s civil society moment. It needs to be celebrated.


2) On Matter of her right


  • Amendments in abortion law are welcome. Its stated aim, giving agency to women, will depend on the fine print
  • CONTEXT: The Union cabinet has done well to approve a Bill that seeks to amend India’s outmoded abortion law. 
  • On Tuesday, it gave its nod to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020. If it gets Parliament’s sanction, this piece of legislation will amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. 
  • Slated for introduction in Parliament’s budget session, the Bill seeks to increase the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for termination of pregnancy. 
  • Significantly, this provision applies to unmarried women and therefore, relaxes one of the regressive clauses of the 1971 Act — single women couldn’t cite contraceptive failure as a reason for seeking abortion. It also has a provision to protect the privacy of the person seeking abortion.
  • DRAWBACKS IN MTP Act, 1971: The MTP Act, 1971 was replete with unclear language, which resulted in doctors refusing to perform abortions even within the stipulated 20 week gestation limit. 
  • Women had to seek the approval of the judiciary, which, by most accounts, did not always come in time. “As a result”, notes a 2015 study in the India Journal of Medical Ethics, “10 to 13 per cent of maternal deaths in India are due to unsafe abortions”. 
  • One of the criticisms of the MTP Act, 1971 was that it failed to keep pace with advances in medical technology that allow for the removal of a foetus at a relatively advanced state of pregnancy. 
  • Moreover, a number of foetus abnormalities are detected after the 20th week, often turning a wanted pregnancy into an unwanted one. 
  • MUCH NEEDED AMENDMENT: The proposed MTP law intends to address such medical complications. But matters related to women’s agency over her womb get complicated by the social milieu in parts of the country: 
  • The ante-diluvian preference for a male child keeps sex determination centres in business in spite of their illegal status. 
  • There are concerns that a more liberal abortion law can aggravate this state-of-affairs. 
  • The litmus test of the proposed MTP law’s claims to being women-centric lies in addressing all such concerns.
  • Introducing the proposed law, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said that the MTP Bill 2020 “will help reduce maternal mortality”. 
  • Extending the gestation period to 24 weeks is a significant step in this regard. 
  • However, the government should also learn from the experiences of the 1971 Act: The new piece of legislation should be worded in a manner that obviates frequent appeals to the judiciary. 
  • Such fine print would - more significantly - be essential to accomplishing one of the Bill’s main goals, as emphasised by Javadekar: “Giving reproductive rights to women”.


 

3) On pregnancy termination bill: A deliverance


  • The borders of viability of a particular process are often only as restrictive as the technology on which it rides. In some cases, as science advances, the elastic borders of viability will weave out to accommodate much more than they did in the past. 
  • The Centre’s move to extend the limit of medical termination of pregnancy to 24 weeks is a sagacious recognition of this, and needs to be feted. The extension is significant, the government reasoned, because in the first five months of pregnancy, some women realise the need for an abortion very late. 
  • Usually, the foetal anomaly scan is done during the 20th-21st week of pregnancy. If there is a delay in doing this scan, and it reveals a lethal anomaly in the foetus, 20 weeks is limiting. 
  • Obstetricians argue that this has also spurred a cottage industry of places providing unsafe abortion services, even leading, in the worst of cases, to the death of the mother. 
  • When women take the legal route to get formal permission for termination after 20 weeks, the tedium is often frustrating and stressful for a mother already distressed by the bad news regarding her baby. 
  • The extension of limit would ease the process for these women, allowing the mainstream system itself to take care of them, delivering quality medical attention. 
  • The question of abortion needs to be decided on the basis of human rights, the principles of solid science, and in step with advancements in technology. A key aspect of the legality governing abortions has always been the ‘viability’ of the foetus. 
  • This indicates, in human gestation, the period from which a foetus is capable of living outside the womb. As technology improves, with infrastructure upgradation, and with skilful professionals driving medical care, this ‘viability’ naturally improves. 
  • In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court judgment in Roe v. Wade, the judges held that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy and defined viability as potentially the ability to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid. 
  • “Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.” Ultimately, nations will have to decide the outer limit also based on the capacity of their health systems to deliver care without danger to the life of the mother; there is no uniform gestational viability for abortion. 
  • Even as the government has struck a winner with its decision, it needs to ensure that all norms and standardised protocols in clinical practice to facilitate abortions are followed in health care institutions across the country. Since everything rests on the delivery, stopping short would undoubtedly make this progressive order a mere half measure.

 

4) For the rural poor, a manufactured crisis


  • The National Population Register (NPR) and a possible National Register of Citizens (NRC), which will unleash a humanitarian crisis, are being pushed at a time when rural distress is acute. With the Budget due soon, let’s look at how the BJP-led government has served the interests of the rural poor.
  • A grim picture: The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) is meant to be conducted once every five years by the National Statistical Office (NSO). The CES contains details about the spending patterns of households. 
  • Data collected from this becomes a vital source of information to improve economic planning and budgetary allocation. However, the Central government suppressed the release of the most recent survey data from 2017-2018. 
  • According to the report, leaked to and published by Business Standard, consumer spending fell for the first time in 40 years. A remarkable analysis of the report by Professor S. Subramanian in ‘The India Forum’ compares the Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure (MPCE) from the CES 2011-2012 and 2017-2018. 
  • It presents a grim picture of rural India. According to his article, if we rank the rural population from the poorest to the richest, and divide them into 10 groups (or deciles), we find that the MPCE fell for every group. 
  • This means that consumption - and so income - in the entire cross-section of the rural society decreased. For example, the average monthly consumption levels of the poorest 50% of the rural population was ₹1,138 in 2011-2012. 
  • This came down to ₹1,082 in 2017-2018. Overall, the average monthly household consumption reduced from ₹1,430 in 2011-12 to ₹1,304 in 2017-18, a sharp decline of around 9%. 
  • In other words, more people have become poorer and hence have less money to spend. Observing such inconvenient truths, the government tried to shun the survey results citing “data quality issues”. 
  • This tendency to move from transparency to opacity when confronted with uncomfortable facts is not new. The government had kept delaying the release of the 2017-2018 Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data. 
  • In January 2019, the PLFS data was leaked, revealing that unemployment under the BJP-led government had reached a 45-year high. The government responded that the leaked report was “a draft report” and didn’t release the data until after the general election results were announced. 
  • The truth, however, didn’t change. Years of struggle for transparency is routinely being undermined. Such systemic crushing of data corrodes institutional values and the political economy.
  • Recent NSO reports suggest that Consumer Food Price Index inflation increased from 2.99% in August 2019 to more than 14% in December 2019. The sharpest rise was noted in vegetable prices (more than 60%) while the price of pulses spiked by more than 15%. 
  • While the rise in prices might benefit some farmers, and the vegetable price rise might be seasonal, how will it impact the landless and small farmers? As per these reports, considering a family of four, even for the richest 5% of the rural population, the expenditure on cereals and pulses is less than ₹2.50 per day per person.
  • For the poorer sections, the ability to spend is around ₹1 per day per person. To put this in perspective, the cost of one egg is ₹5 and one litre of milk is ₹30. As per the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census, 56% of the households don’t own land and around 51% of the households depend on casual manual labour for income. 
  • For this segment, the MGNREGA can serve as a lifeline. However, in the last five years, the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA has been abysmal. One-sixth of each year’s allocation are pending wage payments from previous years. Payments of most States haven’t been released by the Central government since October.
  • Continued delays in wage payments, in violation of Supreme Court orders, and low wage rates discourage workers from taking up MGNREGA work. Indeed, the twin evils of low incomes and high food prices means that the landless poor have to further reduce their food consumption. 
  • This might have consequences of low nutrition leading to lower physical and mental growth. Accounting for work demand, pending payments and inflation, any allocation for MGNREGA less than ₹1 lakh crore would be insufficient.

  • Wrong focus: It is distressing that instead of focusing on increasing rural wages and improving the functioning and payments of MGNREGA, the BJP-led government is wasting resources on divisive policies such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Population Register (NPR). 
  • The estimated cost of the NPR is ₹4,000 crore, an amount that can support 2.2 crore landless labourers through MGNREGA for 100 days at current wage rates. Further, since the arbitrary dilution of Article 370, according to reports of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, Kashmir Valley has incurred losses of around ₹18,000 crore, and about 5 lakh people have lost their jobs since August 5. 
  • The losses would be amplified if Jammu and Ladakh are added to this calculation. More than 4 lakh migrant labourers from parts of India, mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, were made to leave Kashmir Valley on August 5 rendering them jobless overnight. 
  • Add to these the costs of running detention centres for those categorised as ‘stateless’, and we are staring at a manufactured crisis of epic proportions. Women, in particular, would pay a huge price as they relocate after marriage and hence don’t have relevant documents. 
  • When the Central government can’t get cash transfers correct for rural women under the PM Matru Vandana Yojana programme, owing to variation in documents, implementing NPR-NRC would be a monumental catastrophe. Instead of focusing on increasing rural wages, the BJP-led government is wasting resources on the NPR and NRC.