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India needs gender justice, not draconian laws
What has happened?
While the government has permitted people who wield power to defend rapists and obstruct due process, and while some of India’s lawmakers are under a cloud, we have been presented with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, as a deterrence against the commission of rape
Sex and Gender are two different constructs
- Refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women
- Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies
- Refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women
- While aspects of gender may vary greatly
Real cause of sexual violence
It is the lack of gender equality that leads to sexual violence, and not biological constructs
Attacking women journalists
- The law-enforcement system never really moves against the blatant misogyny of ruling party members
- But it misses no opportunity to move against women journalists who seek accountability from the ruling regime
- The term ‘presstitute’, popularised by a sitting Minister, is not only an insult but a call to instigate violence against women journalists
Example: Based on a complaint by a self-styled organisation, the Hindu Sangathan, there is an FIR against journalist and cartoonist Swathi Vadlamudi for her stinging cartoon referring to the recent incidents of sexual assault
The time has come to conduct gender-sensitive training workshops for those in power so that we are not left with draconian laws and no justice.
CHOGM again failed to make a casefor its relevance in the 21st century
- The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in London came with hopes of a “re-energised Commonwealth”.
- Britain looking to revive the 53-nation grouping as Commonwealth 2.0, amidst Britain’s rocky exit from the EU
India and CHOGM
After Manmohan Singh skipped the summits in Australia (2011) and Sri Lanka (2013) over bilateral differences, and Mr. Modi skipped the summit in Malta (2015) out of indifference
So it was widely expected that India would step up to a bigger role, and help chart a future course for the Commonwealth
Reasons for the failure of CHOGM meet
Britain’s tightening of visa rules: Failed to convince most members of the Commonwealth that Britain would reverse its policies on immigration e.g. Windrush generation issue
Indian illegal immigrant issue: The U.K.’s hard line on Indian “illegals”, which prevented the signing of a bilateral agreement on immigrant “returns” between Mr. Modi and Ms. May, too indicates that post-Brexit London is likely to welcome trade in goods from the Commonwealth, not services
The Commonwealth remains a great platform for development aid, democratic values and educational opportunities, but its relevance is unlikely to increase unless it adopts a more egalitarian and inclusive attitude to its next generation of Commonwealth citizens, to partake in a prosperity their forefathers built.
Resetting ties with China
What has happened?
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a two-day informal summit from April 27 in Wuhan, to impart firm strategic direction to Beijing-New Delhi ties, amid profound changes in the global system
- The expected re-set after last year’s Doklam standoff comes amid a larger conversation within Asia on the need to realign ties with Beijing in view of the growing protectionism in the United States
- Set the general course, identify new goals and create a new dynamic for the growth of China-India relations
- China and India had overlapping interests in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific. There was therefore an urgency to align our world views through a broader across-the-board dialogue
Two broad themes:
- A final settlement of the India-China boundary, and collaboration between India and China for the fruitful emergence of an “Asian century.”
The focus must be on enhancing rape conviction rates and taking steps to rehabilitate and empower survivors
What has happened?
Amid belligerent demands for capital punishment for rapists, on Sunday the President signed an ordinance that introduces the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12. But this clamour for introducing the most stringent punishment has conveniently sidestepped the more logical criticism of the systemic failures in addressing increasing sexual violence against women and children
Why capital punishment is not the answer?
- Decreases chances of survival of the victim: Stringent anti-rape laws like, the death penalty are perceived not to be deterrents but measures that further instigate rapists to do more harm to the victims
- Severity not an adequate deterrent: Severity of law is an adequate deterrent to crime being committed is a highly contested one, given that brutal rapes in India have not decreased despite enforcement of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 — a piece of legislation which prescribes the death penalty and life imprisonment for sexual assaults that result in death or the victim being reduced to a persistent vegetative state
- Patriarchal undercurrent: The populist knee-jerk “solutions” to curbing sexual violence are highly patriarchal which overemphasise the sexual aspect of the assault and reinforce the stigma attached to rape
Issues which need to be addressed
- Delay in police action: Unwarranted delay by the police in filing missing person complaints and registering written complaints of sexual assault survivors
- Insensitive agencies: Such harassment tends to come under the spotlight only in extreme cases, such as the one where a child, after being sexually assaulted and left bleeding, was kept waiting for hours at a civil hospital in Gurugram in March this year
- Low conviction rate: It is precisely this which contributes to the culpability of rapists and nurtures the growing impunity with which sexual crimes are committed. This is a reality well captured in National Crime Records Bureau data that show high figures of repeat sexual offenders.
What will work?
For the wheels of justice to start turning, it is essential to recognise that the crisis lies in the precise manner in which the existing criminal justice system unfolds
- Enhancing conviction rates: India’s growing rape culture is best reversed by enhancing conviction rates through reforms in the police and judicial systems, and by augmenting measures to rehabilitate and empower rape survivors
- Greater allocation of state resources towards the setting up of fast-track courts
- More one-stop crisis centres
- Proper witness protection
- More expansive compensation for rape survivors, and an overhaul of existing child protection services
What has happened?
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has decided to approach the government for granting it Constitutional status to protect the rights of minority communities more effectively
Effect of granting constitutional status
- If granted such a status, the NCM will be able to act against errant officials who do not attend hearings, follow its order or are found guilty of dereliction of duty
- If granted constitutional status, the NCM can penalise or suspend an officer for two days or send him/her to jail
NCST & NCSC already have this status
Only the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes enjoy constitutional status
In its present form, the NCM has powers to summon officials, including chief secretaries and director generals of police, but has to rely on departments concerned to take action against them
- The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (2017-18), in its 53rd report noted that the NCM is “almost ineffective” in its current state to deal with cases of atrocities against minorities
- The committee recommended constitutional status to the body “without any delay”.
Natural forests have multiple ecosystem functions, none of which can be provided by commercial plantations
What has happened?
The latest Forest Survey of India report has changed the calculation method for India’s forest cover to include plantations on private lands. It is common knowledge that private plantations of teak, eucalyptus and poplar are undertaken to earn incomes. Such plantations can’t be substitutes for natural forests with their wildlife and immense biodiversity. Natural forests have multiple ecosystem functions, none of which can be provided by commercial plantations
Revenue generation seems to be an objective, but perhaps more important, the scope to siphon off a large amount of money in the name of plantation
No need for profit seeking
- Protecting and restoring natural forests is one of the best ways to mitigate climate change
- In this perspective, replacing forests with plantations raised by the private sector, as proposed in India’s just-circulated Draft National Forest Policy, is a terrible strategy
- There is no need for profit-seeking private investments in forests as more than $7 billion of public compensatory afforestation funds are lying unused
Encouraging people to protect forests
- To marshal people to tackle climate change through forests, we need to work with these communities and turn protection and restoration of India’s forests into a forest rights-based movement of gram sabhas and local communities
- The $7 billion compensatory afforestation fund should be given to the gram sabhas of the forest dweller and tribal communities empowered to protect and restore forests through the Act
- This will help restore forests and mitigate the impact of climate change, while also meeting India’s international climate obligations.
What has happened?
The Dudhwa-Pilibhit tiger landscape is where the paths of tigers, leopards and humans cross, often with fatal consequences for both sides. Around 180 cases of conflicts leading to human deaths and injuries were recorded here between 2000 and 2018, data from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which works with the State Wildlife Department, show.
Of these, 98 pertain to tigers
- Tiger attacks were mostly in forests or on their fringes (54.79%), while (31.5%) were primarily in sugarcane fields
- Only a small proportion (13.7%) were within or near homes.
Lying in wait
- Seasonally, tiger attacks were higher in winter (42.5%) probably due to a high influx of people collecting fuelwood in forests, followed by summers (39.7%).
- Attacks on livestock were the highest, involving leopards and tigers – 45 to 50% – during monsoons.
- A third of tiger attacks occurred when people were in their farms, but the highest (77.8%) of leopard attacks took place when the victims – mostly children – were sleeping, sitting or idle or doing odd jobs or using fields as a toilet.
Draft of new policy to be out soon; Centre eyeing free trade pacts to drive exports of small electronics
What has happened?
In a bid to make India an export hub for electronics, the government plans to set up at least one SEZ or special economic zone in every State under the proposed electronic policy
Africa, Europe focus
Under the new policy, which was earlier expected to be out by March 2018, the government also plans to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries, including those in Africa and Europe, to which India can export smaller electronic products.
Push for CEZs
- It had also recommended that Costal Economic Zones (CEZs) be set up, similar to what China has done.
- Pointing out that India’s numerous SEZs have not taken off in the way they did in China due to issues such as size and location, the Aayog had said large areas near the coast can be set aside for CEZs “in which a sound ecosystem for healthy growth of export-oriented firms is fostered.
Researchers say it is time India moves on from hybrids
What has happened?
Pink bollworm infestation in Bt cotton in India has turned the spotlight on an important question: has hybrid cotton lived up to its promise? India was a pioneer in this technology in the 1970s; today, it is the only country that exclusively grows cotton hybrids.
By 2011, over 95% of cotton in India was under hybrids, from less than 50% before 2002. Bt cotton’s insecticidal traits helped raise Indian yields further
India’s average yield is around 500 kg of lint per hectare, about a fourth of Australia and Turkey which plant OP varieties
Reasons for low productivity
Going overboard with the number of hybrids approved after Bt cotton arrived
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) simplified the process for hybrid approval leading to poor quality hybrids in the market
- An unsuitable hybrid: What was the problem with an inadequately tested hybrid? Sometimes the seeds were of poor quality, sometimes the hybrids didn’t express enough Bt toxin, and sometimes hybrids meant for one agro-climatic zone were approved in other zones. For example, many hybrids that were meant for irrigated farmlands ended up in areas with no irrigation, a recipe for disaster
- Indian hybrids couldn’t be planted in high densities: Many were designed to be tall and bushy, unlike OP varieties which are short and straight. This meant that hybrids could not be planted in large densities — one of the contributors of high yields in Australia and Brazil.
- Low harvest index: Some of these hybrids also had a low harvest index, meaning that the mass of their seeds and lint was low compared to the mass of the rest of the crop, like shoots and leaves
Can OP varieties save the day?
- Some cotton researchers believe that it is time to ditch hybrids and return to OP varieties, at least in rain-fed regions
- Varieties are compact and can be selected for resistance against pests like whiteflies
- When planted at high densities, they can rival hybrid yields