Editorials - 21-08-2021

தமிழகம் எப்போதுமே மருத்துவத்திலும், மக்கள் நல்வாழ்வுத் திட்டங்களிலும் இந்தியாவுக்கே முன்மாதிரியாகவும், முன்னுதாரணமாகவும் திகழ்ந்து வந்திருக்கிறது. தமிழகத்தின் காமராஜ் ஆட்சியின் மதிய உணவுத் திட்டமும், எம்.ஜி.ஆா் ஆட்சியின் சத்துணவுத் திட்டமும் பல்வேறு மாநிலங்களால் பின்பற்றப்பட்டு, இப்போது அதுவே தேசிய அளவில் மத்திய அரசாலும் நடைமுறைப்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. அந்த வரிசையில் விரைவில் தற்போதைய மு.க.ஸ்டாலின் தலைமையிலான தி.மு.க அரசின் ‘மக்களைத் தேடி மருத்துவம்’ திட்டமும் இணையக்கூடும்.

ரூ.250 கோடிக்கும் அதிகமான நிதி ஒதுக்கீடு இந்தத் திட்டத்திற்காக பட்ஜெட்டில் வழங்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. முதல்வா் மு.க.ஸ்டாலினால் தொடங்கி வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் இந்தத் திட்டத்தின்கீழ் 18 வயதுக்கும் மேற்பட்ட அனைவருக்கும் ரத்த அழுத்தம், சா்க்கரை நோய், மூன்றுவிதமான புற்று நோய்கள், காச நோய், தொழு நோய், சிறுநீரகப் பிரச்னை, மன நோய் உள்ளிட்ட பரவலாகக் காணப்படும் 10 பிரச்னைகளுக்கான பரிசோதனைகள் மேற்கொள்ளப்பட்டு மருத்துவ சிகிச்சைக்கு வழிகோலப்படுகிறது. மருத்துவரையோ, மருத்துவமனையையோ அணுக முடியாமல் முடங்கியிருக்கும் 45 வயதுக்கும் அதிகமான நோயாளிகளுக்குத் ரத்த அழுத்தம், சா்க்கரை நோய்க்கான மருந்துகள் வீடு தேடி வழங்கப்படுவதும் இந்தத் திட்டத்தின் முக்கியமான அம்சம்.

தமிழகத்தைப் பொருத்தவரை பஞ்சாயத்துக்கள் வரை ஆரம்ப சுகாதார நிலையங்கள் பரவலாகவே உள்ளன. கிராமப்புற செவிலியா்களின் சேவை குக்கிராமங்கள் வரை உறுதிப்படுத்தப் பட்டிருக்கிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக் காலத்தில், நகரங்களில் இருந்த அளவு கிராமப்புறங்களில் நோய்த்தொற்று தமிழகத்தில் பரவாமல் இருந்ததற்கும், உடனடியாகக் கண்டறிந்து தனிமைப்படுத்தப்பட்டு, சிகிச்சை அளித்ததற்கும் தமிழகத்தின் சுகாதரக் கட்டமைப்பு மிக முக்கியமான காரணம்.

ரத்த அழுத்தம், சா்க்கரை நோய் உள்ளிட்ட தொற்றா நோய்களுக்கும், கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக்கும் நெருங்கிய தொடா்பு இருப்பதும் உறுதிப்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது. தொற்றா நோய்கள் கட்டுக்குள் இருப்பதை உறுதிப்படுத்துவதன் மூலம் கொவைட் 19 தீநுண்மித் தொற்றால் உயிரிழப்பு நேராமல் காப்பாற்ற முடிகிறது என்று மருத்துவா்கள் தெரிவிக்கிறாா்கள். இந்தியாவைப் பொருத்தவரை இந்தியாவின் நோய் பாதிப்புகளில் பெரும் பங்கு அதாவது 55% தொற்றா நோய்களால் ஏற்படுகிறது என்பதை 2016 -இல் வெளியான அறிக்கை ஒன்று தெரிவிக்கிறது.

1990 முதல் 2016 வரையிலான 25 ஆண்டு இடைவெளியில் தொற்றா நோய்கள் தொடா்ந்து அதிகரித்து வருவதையும், பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளானவா்களுக்கு முறையான சிகிச்சை கிடைக்காமல் இருப்பதையும் அந்த அறிக்கை வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று காலத்தில் பொதுமுடக்கம் உள்ளிட்ட பல காரணங்களால் தொற்றா நோய்களுக்கு ஆளானவா்கள்கூட முறையான சிகிச்சை பெற முடியாத நிலை ஏற்பட்டது. அதன் விளைவாக ரத்த அழுத்தம், சா்க்கரை அளவு அதிகரித்து, கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று பாதித்தபோது பலா் உயிரிழக்க நோ்ந்தது.

அந்தப் பின்னணியில் பாா்க்கும்போது, அனைவரும் மருத்துவ சேவையைத் தேடி நாடுவதைவிட, அவரவா் வீடு தேடி மருத்துவம் செல்வது ஆக்கபூா்வ முடிவாக இருக்கும் என்று தமிழக அரசு உணா்ந்ததன் விளைவுதான் ‘மக்களைத் தேடி மருத்துவம்’ என்கிற திட்டம் என்று தோன்றுகிறது.

இன்றைய நிலையில் காசநோயால் உலகிலேயே மிக அதிகமாகப் பாதிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் நாடு இந்தியாதான். ஆண்டுதோறும் உலகளாவிய அளவில் ஏழு கோடி போ் காச நோயால் பாதிக்கப்படுகிறாா்கள் என்றால், இந்தியாவில் மட்டும் 26, 40,000 புதிய காச நோயாளிகள் பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளாவதாக உலக சுகாதார நிறுவனம் அனுமானிக்கிறது. இந்தியாவில் 4,36,000 போ் காச நோயால் உயிரிழக்கின்றனா். போதாக்குறைக்கு மருந்துகளுக்குக் கட்டுப்படாமல் காச நோய்க் கிருமிகளின் வீரியம் அதிகரித்து வருவதாகவும் கூறப்படுகிறது.

காசநோய் மட்டுமல்லாமல், சா்க்கரை நோயும் உலகிலேயே அதிகமாகக் காணப்படுவதும் இந்தியாவில்தான். நகரங்களில் வாழும் 40 வயதுக்கு மேற்பட்டவா்களில் 10% சா்க்கரை நோயாளிகள். கிராமங்களின் நிலைமை என்ன என்பது குறித்த முறையான ஆய்வோ, கணக்கெடுப்போ இல்லாததால் புள்ளிவிவரம் இல்லை. சா்க்கரை நோயும், ரத்த அழுத்தமும், காசநோயும் இணையும்போது உயிருக்கு ஆபத்தான நிலைமை ஏற்படும் என்பதை சொல்லித் தெரிய வேண்டியதில்லை.

தேசிய அளவிலான பாதிப்புகளிலிருந்து தமிழகம் தனித்து நின்றுவிட முடியாது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றைக் கட்டுப்படுத்தும் அதே நேரத்தில், ஏனைய பாதிப்புகள் இல்லாமல் இருப்பதை உறுதிப்படுத்துவதும் முக்கியம் என்கிற தொலைநோக்குப் பாா்வை வரவேற்புக்குரியது.

அடித்தட்டு மக்களின் சுகாதாரமும், ஆரோக்கியமும் பேணப்படுவதன் மூலம்தான் ஒட்டுமொத்த சமூகத்தின் நல்வாழ்வு உறுதிப்படும் என்பதை சொல்லித்தெரிய வேண்டியதில்லை. ஏற்கெனவே ஆரம்ப சுகாதார நிலையங்களும், வட்டார, மாவட்ட அளவில் மருத்துவமனைகளும் பெரும்பாலான மாவட்டங்களில் மருத்துவக் கல்லூரிகளும் தமிழகத்தில் ஏற்கெனவே அமைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் நிலையில், ‘மக்களைத் தேடி மருத்துவம் திட்டம்’ வெற்றிகரமாக நடத்துவதில் சிக்கலோ, சிரமமோ ஏற்பட வேண்டிய அவசியமில்லை.

மருத்துவப் பரிசோதனைகள் நடத்துவது, வீடு தேடி மருந்துகளைக் கொண்டு சோ்ப்பது, தொற்று நோய், தொற்றா நோய்கள் இருப்பதைக் கண்காணிப்பது ஆகியவற்றை உறுதிப்படுத்தி விடலாம். ஆனால், பல ஆரம்ப சுகாதார நிலையங்களில் மருத்துவா்கள் காணப்படுவதில்லை. கிராமங்களில் தங்கிப் பணிபுரிவதைப் பலரும் தவிா்க்கிறாா்கள். அதற்கு முடிவுகட்டினால் மட்டுமே ‘மக்களைத் தேடி மருத்துவம்’ என்கிற முன்னோடித் திட்டம் முழுமை பெறும்.

 

 

ஒருவர் குற்றமிழைத்தவர் என்பது நிரூபிக்கப்பட்டால், அவர் யாராக இருந்தாலும், நிகழ்ந்த குற்றம் அவரை அறியாமல் நிகழ்ந்திருந்தாலும் அல்லது விபத்தாக இருந்தாலும் குற்றத்தின் தன்மைக்கு ஏற்ப அவர் தண்டனை அனுபவிக்க வேண்டும் என்பது பழங்கால சமூகத்தில் நிலவிவந்த நடைமுறை. அதில் தற்பொழுது மாற்றம் தென்படுகிறது.  

சுய நலனுக்காக சமூக நலனைப் புறந்தள்ளிவிட்டு கொடுங்குற்றச் செயல்களில் ஈடுபடுவதும், பின்னர் தன்னைக் குற்றமற்றவர் என நிரூபிக்க முயற்சிகள் செய்வதுமான நிலையை நோக்கி இன்றைய சமூகம் பயணிக்கத் தொடங்கிவிட்டது. குற்றம் செய்ததற்காகச் சிறை செல்வது "சமூக களங்கம்' என்று கருதிவந்த சமூகத்தின் பார்வையும் மாறிவருகிறது. 

இந்தியா விடுதலை அடைந்த பின்னர் சிறைவாசிகளின் உணவு, தங்குமிடம், மருத்துவ வசதி, பொழுதுபோக்கு, உறவினர்கள் சந்திப்பு உள்ளிட்டவை மேம்படத் தொடங்கின. மனித உரிமை மீறல்கள் பெருமளவில் சிறைகளில் தவிர்க்கப்படுகின்றன. விடுதலையாகும் சிறைவாசிகள் சமுதாயத்தில் இணைந்து பயணிக்கும் வகையில் தொழிற்கல்வியும் வாழ்வியல் ஆலோசனைகளும் வழங்கப்படுகின்றன.

சிறைவாசிகளின் எதிர்கால நலன் சார்ந்து, மாநில அரசும், சிறைத்துறையும் எடுக்கும் நடவடிக்கைகள் ஒரு பக்கம் இருக்க, சிறைவாசிகளில் ஒரு பகுதியினர் மற்றொரு உலகத்தில் சஞ்சரித்து வருகின்றனர். சமுதாயத்தில் நிகழும் சில கொடுங்குற்றங்களுக்கான சதித்திட்டங்கள் தீட்டப்படும் இடமாக சிறைச்சாலைகள் திகழ்கின்றன என்பது புலன் விசாரணையில் வெளிப்படுகின்றது. 

சிறைவாசிகளுக்கு இடையே ஜாதி மோதல்கள் நிகழ்வதும், அம்மோதல்கள் சில சமயங்களில் கொலைகளாக மாறும் நிலையும் தொடர்கின்றன. அண்மையில் பாளையங்கோட்டை சிறையில் ஒரு சிறைவாசி கொலையான சம்பவம் சிறைவாசிகளின் மனப்போக்கை வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது. சிறைத்துறையின் கண்காணிப்பையும் மீறி சிறை வளாகத்தினுள் தடை செய்யப்பட்ட பீடி, கஞ்சா போன்றவை ஏதோ ஒரு வகையில் கிடைக்கின்ற சூழல் பல இடங்களில் நிலவுகிறது. 

தண்டனை அனுபவிக்கும் சிறைவாசிகளுக்கு தாம்பத்திய உறவுக்கு வாய்ப்பில்லாத காரணத்தால் மனதளவில் பாதிக்கப்படும் சிறைவாசிகளிடம் நல்லொழுக்கத்தை வளர்த்து அவர்களைச் சீர்படுத்த முடிவதில்லை என்ற கருத்தைச் சிலர் பொதுவெளியிலும், நீதிமன்றங்களிலும் வெளிப்படுத்தி வருகின்றனர்.

இந்நிலையில் தமிழ்நாடு சிறைத்துறையின் கீழ் இயங்கிவரும் மத்திய சிறைச்சாலைகளில் "சிறைவாசிகளுக்கான தாம்பத்திய உரிமை' குறித்த கருத்தாய்வு தற்பொழுது நடைபெற்று வருகிறது. சிறைவாசிகள் மட்டுமின்றி சிறைத்துறையில் பணிபுரிபவர்களிடமும் இந்தக் கருத்தாய்வு நடைபெற்று வருகிறது.

தண்டனை அனுபவிக்கும் சிறைவாசியை அவரது வாழ்க்கைத் துணை சிறை வளாகத்தில் சந்தித்து தாம்பத்திய உறவு கொள்ளும் முறையை 'தாம்பத்திய வருகை' (கான்ஜுகல் விசிட்) என்று குறிப்பிடுவார்கள்.  

சிறைத்தண்டனை அனுபவிக்கும் சிறைவாசிகள் தாம்பத்திய உறவில் ஈடுபடாமல் இருப்பதால் மனதளவில் பாதிக்கப்படுகிறார்களா? சிறைவாசிகள் தாம்பத்திய உறவுகளில் ஈடுபட அனுமதிப்பதால் ஏற்படும் பயன்கள் என்ன? இல்லற வாழ்க்கை உறவுகளுக்கென்று அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்படும் தாம்பத்திய வருகை திட்டத்திற்காக சிறைத்துறையின் கீழ் தனி வீடுகள் மற்றும் அறைகள் ஒதுக்கிக் கொடுக்கலாமா போன்ற கேள்விகள் இந்தக் கருத்தாய்வில் இடம் பெற்றுள்ளன.

கொலை, கொள்ளை, பாலியல் வன்முறை, போதைப் பொருள்கள் கடத்தல் உள்ளிட்ட கொடுங்குற்றங்களில் ஈடுபட்டு தண்டனை அனுபவித்துவரும் சிறைவாசிகளிடம் "தாம்பத்திய வருகை' குறித்து கருத்து கேட்டால் அவர்களிடம் இருந்து வெளிப்படும் கருத்து என்னவாக இருக்கும்? பால் வேண்டாம் என்று கூறும் பூனையைப் பார்க்க முடியுமா?   

சமூகம் வெறுக்கின்ற கொடுங்குற்றங்கள் புரிந்து, தமிழ்நாட்டிலுள்ள மத்திய சிறைகளில் தண்டனை அனுபவித்து வரும் சில சிறைவாசிகளின் குடும்பத்தினரிடம் தாம்பத்திய வருகை குறித்து நான் கருத்து கேட்டபோது "பரோலில் 'அது' வீட்டுக்கு வரும்பொழுதெல்லாம் நான் சேமித்து வைத்திருந்த பணத்தைப் பிடுங்கிக் கொள்வதும் குடித்துவிட்டு வந்து கொடுமைப்படுத்துவதும் வாடிக்கை. 'அது' முகத்தில் நான் விழிக்க விரும்பவில்லை" என்று தன் வேதனையை வெளிப்படுத்தினார் சிறைவாசி ஒருவரின் மனைவி.

"அவர் விரும்பும்போது ஜெயிலுக்கு போய் அவருடன் தங்கி வர நான் என்ன வேசி தொழிலா செய்கிறேன்" என்று சீறினார் மற்றொரு சிறைவாசியின் மனைவி. அந்தப் பெண்ணின் ஆவேசப் பேச்சில் தன்மான உணர்வு வெளிப்பட்டது. 

தாம்பத்திய வருகை என்ற பெயரில் சிறைவாசியுடன் தங்கிவர அவரது மனைவி சிறை வளாகத்துக்குச் சென்று வந்தால் சமுதாயத்தில் பல பிரச்னைகளை அவர் எதிர்கொள்ள வேண்டியிருக்கும். அதுமட்டுமின்றி சிறைவாசியின் விருப்பத்தை நிறைவேற்ற அவரின் மனைவி நிர்பந்திக்கப்படும் நிலையும் ஏற்படும்.  

அமெரிக்கா, ஸ்பெயின், கனடா போன்ற பல மேலை நாட்டு சிறைகளில் தாம்பத்திய வருகை நடைமுறையில் இருந்து வருகிறது என்ற கருத்தைச் சிலர் முன்னிலைப்படுத்தி, தாம்பத்தியம் என்ற அடிப்படை உரிமையை சிறைவாசிகளுக்கு மறுக்கக்கூடாது என்று வலியுறுத்தி வருகின்றனர். 
கடந்த நூற்றாண்டு வரை அமெரிக்க மாகாணங்கள் பலவற்றிலுள்ள சிறைகளில் அதிக எண்ணிக்கையில் கருப்பு இனத்தவர்கள் இருந்தனர். அவர்களிடம் கடும் உடலுழைப்பு பெற்றுக் கொண்டு அவர்களின் ஆவலை நிறைவேற்றும் விதத்தில் மாதம் ஓரிரு முறை அவர்களின் வாழ்க்கை துணையுடன் இரவுப் பொழுதைக் கழிக்கும் வாய்ப்பை சிறைவாசிகளுக்கு சிறை நிர்வாகம்  வழங்கிவந்தது. 

காலப்போக்கில்  இம்மாதிரியான நடைமுறைக்கு அமெரிக்க மக்களிடையே கடும் எதிர்ப்பு எழுந்தது. அதைத் தொடர்ந்து  நான்கு மாகாணங்கள் தவிர ஏனைய அனைத்து மாகாணங்களிலும் தாம்பத்திய வருகை முறை இருபது ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முன்பே நிறுத்தப்பட்டுவிட்டது. 

ஸ்பெயின் நாட்டு சிறைகளில் தாம்பத்திய வருகை அனுமதிக்கப்பட்டாலும் தன் கணவனைத் திருப்திப்படுத்துவதற்காக சிறை வளாகத்திற்குச் சென்று வருவது இழிவான செயல் என்ற கருத்து அந்நாட்டு பெண்களிடம் வெளிப்படத் தொடங்கியுள்ளது. சிறைவாசி ஒருவரின் விருப்பத்தை நிறைவேற்ற அவரது மனைவி தாம்பத்திய வருகைக்கு மறுத்த சம்பவம் சில மாதங்களுக்கு முன்பு நிகழ்ந்துள்ளதாகச் செய்தி வெளியாகியுள்ளது. அச்செயல் தன்மானத்துக்கு இழுக்கு என்ற உணர்வு பெண்களிடம் அதிகரித்துவரும் நிலையை இச்செய்தி வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது.

2021-ஆம் ஆண்டு மே மாத நிலவரப்படி, தமிழ்நாட்டிலுள்ள அனைத்து சிறைகளிலும் 14,600 சிறைவாசிகள் தங்க வைக்கப்பட்டிருந்தனர். அவர்களில் 4,332 பேர் தண்டனை அனுபவித்துவரும் சிறைவாசிகள். மற்றவர்கள் விசாரணை சிறைவாசிகள். சிறைத் தண்டனை அனுபவிக்கப்பட வேண்டியவர்கள் யார் யார் என்று கண்டறியும் நீதித்துறைக்கு ரூ.1,403.17 கோடியும், சிறைத்துறை நிர்வாகத்திற்கு ரூ.392.74 கோடியும், 2020-21-ஆம் ஆண்டின் நிதிநிலை அறிக்கையில் தமிழ்நாடு அரசு நிதி ஒதுக்கீடு செய்துள்ளது.  

இந்தச் சூழலில் தண்டனை சிறைவாசிகளாக இருந்துவரும் 4,332 பேருக்கு தாம்பத்திய வருகையின்போது தங்க இடம் ஏற்பாடு செய்து இத்திட்டத்தைச் செயல்படுத்த தேவைப்படும் நிதி எவ்வளவு? தமிழ்நாடு அரசு மற்றும் தமிழ்நாடு சிறைத்துறை கவனம் செலுத்த வேண்டிய முக்கிய சமூகப் பிரச்னையா இது? 

குடியிருக்க வீடு இல்லாமல் சென்னை மாநகர வீதிகளில் தங்கியிருப்பவர்களின் எண்ணிக்கை 50,000-க்கும் சற்று அதிகம் என்றும், அவர்களில் 40% பேர் குழந்தைகள் என்றும் கள ஆய்வு வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது. தமிழ்நாட்டின் மற்ற நகரங்களிலும் பலர் தெருக்களில் வாழ்க்கையைக் கழித்து வருகின்றனர். இவர்களின் பிரச்னைகளை ஒதுக்கி வைத்துவிட்டு, தண்டனை சிறைவாசிகளின் "தாம்பத்திய வருகை' திட்டம் குறித்து அரசு நிர்வாகம் உடனடி நடவடிக்கை மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டுமா என்ற கேள்வி நமக்கு எழுகிறது.

சிறைத்தண்டனை அனுபவித்துவரும் அதிக எண்ணிக்கையிலான ஆண் சிறைவாசிகளின் உடற்பசியைத் தணிக்க அவர்களின் மனைவிகளை அவ்வப்போது சிறை வளாகத்தில் அதற்கென ஒதுக்கப்படும் இடத்திற்கு தாம்பத்திய வருகை திட்டத்தின் கீழ் சென்று வர அனுமதிக்கப்படுவது  பெண்களின் தன்மானத்திற்கு இழுக்காக அமைந்துவிடாதா? இத்திட்டம் சமுதாயத்தில் ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடிய எதிர்மறை விளைவுகள் எப்படிப்பட்டவையாக இருக்கும்? பொதுவெளியில் விவாதிக்க வேண்டிய கருத்துகள் இவை. 

கொடுங்குற்றச் செயல்களில் ஈடுபட்டதற்காக சிறைத்தண்டனை அனுபவித்து
வரும் சிறைவாசிகளுக்கு தாம்பத்திய உறவு உட்பட அனைத்து வசதிகளும் அரசின் நிதியில் செய்து கொடுக்கப்படும் என்ற நிலை ஏற்பட்டால், நாட்டில் குற்றவாளிகளின் எண்ணிக்கை கணிசமாக உயர்வதும், குற்றங்கள் பெருகுவதும் தவிர்க்க முடியாதது.

சிறைத்துறை நிர்வாகத்தில் சீர்திருத்தங்கள் தேவை என்பதில் இருவேறு கருத்துகள் இருக்க முடியாது. நிர்வாக சீர்திருத்தங்களைப் புறந்தள்ளிவிட்டு தாம்பத்திய வருகை திட்டத்திற்கு முன்னுரிமை கொடுக்கும் முயற்சி சிறை நிர்வாகத்தில் பெரும் சீரழிவை ஏற்படுத்திவிடும் என்பதில் ஐயமில்லை.

கட்டுரையாளர்:

காவல்துறை உயர் அதிகாரி (ஓய்வு).

மின் விநியோக நிறுவனங்களின்  மோசமான நிதிநிலை காரணமாக அவை மின் உற்பத்தி - பகிர்மான நிறுவனங்களுக்கும், வங்கிகள், நிதி நிறுவனங்களுக்கும் பணம் செலுத்த இயலாமல் தத்தளித்து வருகின்றன. நுகர்வோரிடமிருந்து வருவாய் பெற்று விநியோகச் சங்கிலியினை தக்கவைக்க மின் விநியோக நிறுவனங்கள் எதிர்நீச்சல் போடுகின்ற போதும் தங்கள் செலவுகளை மீட்டெடுக்க இயலாமல் திணறி வருகின்றன. இந்நிறுவனங்களின் செலவுகளில் கிட்டத்தட்ட 75-80 சதவிகிதம் மின் கொள்முதல் செலவுகள்.

மொத்த தொழில்நுட்ப, வணிக இழப்புகள் பன்னிரண்டு மாநிலங்களில் 25 சதவீதத்திற்கு அதிகமாகவும், ஆறு மாநிலங்களில் 15 முதல் 25 சதவிகிதத்திற்குள்ளாகவும் இருப்பதாக 2020- ஆம் ஆண்டில் வெளியான மின் விநியோக பயன்பாட்டு மன்றம் வெளியிட்ட அறிக்கை கூறுகிறது. இச்சூழ்நிலையில் ஒரு முழுமையான மாற்று அணுகுமுறையே இத்துறையினை மீண்டும் சிறப்புற செயல்படவைக்கும் என்பதனைக் கருத்தில் கொண்டு மத்திய அரசு மின்சார திருத்த மசோதாவை நிறைவேற்ற ஆயத்தமாகி உள்ளது.

இம்மசோதா நிறைவேற்றப்பட்டால் நுகர்வோர் தங்களுக்குத் தேவையான மின்சார விநியோக நிறுவனத்தை தாங்களே தேர்வு செய்யும் உரிமையைப் பெறுவர். முன்கூட்டியே சேவைக் கட்டணம் செலுத்தும் மின் இணைப்பிற்கு மின்மானி பொருத்தப்படும்போது வசூலிக்கப்படும் வைப்புக் கட்டணம் தேவையில்லை. இந்த மசோதா அரசே நிர்வகிக்கும் உலக சேவை நிதியத்தினை உருவாக்கவும் வழிவகை செய்கிறது. இந்த நிதியம் மானியங்கள் வழங்கப்படும்போது ஏற்படும் பற்றாக்குறையினை சமாளிக்க 
உதவும்.

தேசிய காலநிலை மாற்ற இலக்குகளைக் கருத்தில் கொண்டு, புதுப்பிக்கத்தக்க மின்சார கொள்முதலை நிர்ணயிக்கும் பொறுப்பு, மாநில ஆணையங்களிலிருந்து மத்திய அரசுக்கு மாற்றப்படுகிறது. புதுப்பிக்கத்தக்க மின்தோற்றிகளை (ஜெனரேட்டர்) இணைப்பதனால் மின் கட்டமைப்பு சிக்கலாகி வரும் இக்காலகட்டத்தில் மின் பகிர்மான மையங்களின் செயல்பாடுகள் முக்கியத்துவம் பெறுகின்றன.  இம்மசோதா மின் பகிர்மான மையங்களுக்கு முக்கியத்துவம் அளிக்கிறது.

இம்மசோதா மின்சார மேல்முறையீட்டுத் தீர்ப்பாயத்தின் உறுப்பினர்களின் எண்ணிக்கையினை  அதிகரித்து  அதன்மூலம் தீர்ப்பாயத்தினை பலப்படுத்த ஆவன செய்யும். மத்திய மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையம், மாநில மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்களின் தலைவர், உறுப்பினர்களின் பணிகளும் தெளிவாக இம்மசோதாவில் விவரிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன. திருத்த மசோதா  மூலம் மத்திய - மாநில மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்களில் நான்காவது உறுப்பினர் சேர்க்கப்படுகிறார். அந்த உறுப்பினர்  பொருளாதாரம், வணிகம், பொதுக் கொள்கை / பொது நிர்வாகம் அல்லது மேலாண்மைத் துறையில் தகுதியும் அனுபவமும் பெற்றிருக்க வேண்டும்.

முன்பு "பல் இல்லா புலிகள்' என்று அழைக்கப்பட்ட ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்கள் தற்போது இம்மசோதா மூலம் சொத்து பறிமுதல், கைது, சிறையில் அடைத்தல் உள்ளிட்ட தீர்ப்பினை வழங்க இயலும். ஆணையத்தின் சட்டம் சார்ந்த உறுப்பினரின் வழிகாட்டுதலில் இந்த அதிகாரங்கள் சரியான முறையில் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டால் சிறந்த முறையில் இவ்வாணையம் தனது செயல் பாடுகளை நடைமுறைப்படுத்த இயலும்.

நிதிப் பற்றாக்குறை காரணமாக தற்போது இருக்கும் மின் பகிர்மான நிறுவனங்கள் நலிவடைந்த சூழலில் இம்மசோதா புதிதாகப் பதிவுசெய்யப்பட்ட நிறுவனங்களுக்கு அனுமதி வழங்குகிறது. இது நுகர்வோருக்கான மின்நுகர்வில் கடுமையாக பாதிப்பினை ஏற்படுத்தும். 
நுகர்வோர் பாதுகாப்பினை உறுதி செய்யும் பொறுப்பு மாநில மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்களின் வசம் ஒப்படைக்கப்படுகிறது. இதனால் நுகர்வோர் பாதுகாப்பு  வழிமுறைகள் மாநிலங்களுக்கு மாநிலம் வேறுபடும்  வாய்ப்பு  உள்ளது. வீட்டு மின் இணைப்பு, விவசாயம் போன்ற சில நுகர்வோர் பிரிவினருக்கும் சில நேரங்களில் தொழில் பிரிவினருக்கும் மாநில அரசுகள் வழங்கும் மின் கட்டணக் குறைப்பு பற்றி, இத்திருத்த மசோதாவில் எவ்வித வழிகாட்டு நெறிமுறைகளும் இல்லை.

சமீபத்தில் 'மின் கட்டண கட்டுப்பாட்டாளர் மன்றம்' மின் கட்டண விலை கூறுகள் பற்றிய அதன் அறிக்கையில் மின் விநியோக செலவினைக் குறைப்பதற்கான நடவடிக்கைகளை பரிந்துரைத்துள்ளது. அந்த அறிக்கையில் சுட்டிக்காட்டப்பட்ட நிலக்கரி கொள்முதல் செலவுகள், இருப்புப் பாதை சரக்குக் கட்டணம் ஆகியவற்றை ஒழுங்குபடுத்துவதற்கான எவ்வித பரிந்துரையும் இம்மசோதாவில் இல்லை.

இந்தக் கொள்முதல் செலவுகள் மொத்த - சில்லறை விலைக் குறியீட்டெண்களின் சராசரி மதிப்புடன்  ஒப்பிடும்போது கடுமையாக அதிகரித்துள்ளது. மின் உற்பத்தி நிறுவனங்களுக்கு எவ்வித பாதிப்பினையும் ஏற்படுத்தாத, பயன்படுத்தப்படாத மின்சக்தியின் மாறாச் செலவு மின் விநியோக நிறுவனங்களுக்கு ஏற்படுத்தும் பாதிப்பினை குறைக்க எந்தத் தீர்வும் இந்த மின் திருத்த மசோதாவில் இல்லை.

மின் விநியோக ஒப்பந்தங்களுக்கான தகுதி மத்திய அரசாலும் ஒப்பந்தங்களுக்கான பதிவு நிபந்தனைகள் மாநில மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்களாலும் நிர்ணயிக்கப்படுகின்றன. இம்மசோதாவில் முன்மொழியப்பட்டுள்ள இது போன்ற முரண்பட்ட அம்சங்கள் மின் விநியோகத்தில் அரசின் கட்டுப்பாடுகளை நீர்த்துப் போகச் செய்யும்.
மின்சார விநியோக நிறுவனங்கள் மற்றும் மாநில மின்சார வாரியங்களுக்கு தொழில்நுட்ப - வணிக இழப்புகள் குறித்த அளவீடுகளின் கீழ் மானியம் வழங்குதல், இடர் மேலாண் குழுவினை மின் விநியோக நிறுவனங்களில் ஏற்படுத்துதல் போன்ற மின்துறை சீர்திருத்தங்களுக்கான நடவடிக்கைகளை எடுக்க இம்மசோதாவில் எவ்வித வழிமுறையும் இல்லை.

பதினான்கு வருடங்களுக்குப் பிறகு திருத்தப்படும் மின்சாரச் சட்டத்தினை முன்னெடுத்துச் செல்லும் மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்கள் மக்கள் நலனை போற்றி பாதுகாக்கும் என நம்புவோம். விரைவில் மின்சார ஒழுங்குமுறை ஆணையங்கள் வலுவாகக் கட்டமைக்கப்பட்டு எவ்வித தலை
யீடுமின்றி சுயமாக செயல்பட வேண்டும்.

மக்களை ஒன்றிணைக்கும் பாலமாகவே பண்டிகைகள் கொண்டாடப் பெறுகின்றன. பண்டிகைகள் பலவற்றுள் 'ஓணம்' பண்டிகையும் ஒன்று. கேரளாவில் மிகச் சிறப்பாகக் கொண்டாடப்பெறும் இவ்வோணம் பண்டிகை, ஒவ்வொரு ஆண்டும் ஆவணி மாதம் அஸ்த(ஹஸ்த) நட்சத்திரத்திலிருந்து திருவோண நட்சத்திரம் வரை பத்து நாள்களும் நடைபெறுகிறது. இன்று கேரளாவில் மட்டும் மிகச் சிறப்பாக நடைபெறும் இவ்வோணம் பண்டிகை, பண்டைக் காலத்தில் பாண்டிய நாட்டில் குறிப்பாக, மதுரையில் நடைபெற்றுள்ள செய்தியை சங்க இலக்கியம் சுட்டுகிறது.

தலையாலங்கானத்துச் செருவென்ற பாண்டியன் நெடுஞ்செழியன் மதுரையை ஆண்டபோது, அங்கு திருவோணத் திருவிழா நடைபெற்ற செய்தியை மாங்குடி மருதனார் மதுரைக் காஞ்சியில் விரிவாகப் பாடியுள்ளார். ஆவணி மாதம் நிறைமதி நன்னாளான திருவோணத்தன்று திருமால் பிறந்ததாகவும், அதனை மக்கள் அனைவரும் ஒன்றுகூடி விழாக் கொண்டாடியதாகவும் குறிப்பிடுகிறார். இதனை,

"கணம்கொள் அவுணர்க் கடந்த பொலந்தார்
மாயோன் மேய ஓண நல் நாள்,
கோணம் தின்ற வடு ஆழ் முகத்த,
சாணம் தின்ற சமம் தாங்கு தடக்கை,
மறம் கொள் சேரி மாறு பொரு செருவில்,
மாறாது உற்ற வடுப் படு நெற்றி,
சுரும்பு ஆர் கண்ணிப் பெரும் புகல் மறவர்
கடுங் களிறு ஓட்டலின், காணுநர் இட்ட
நெடுங் கரைக் காழகம் நிலம் பரல் உறுப்ப,
கடுங்கள் தேறல் மகிழ் சிறந்து திரிதர'' (ம.கா.590-599)

என்ற மதுரைக்காஞ்சி பாடலடிகள் மெய்பிக்கின்றன. ஓண நன்னாளன்று காய்கறி, கனி முதலிய உணவுப் பொருள்களை விருந்தினருக்குக் கொடுத்து மகிழ்ந்திருந்தனர். வீரர்கள் "சேரிப்போர்' என்னும் வீர விளையாட்டை நிகழ்த்தினர் என்றும், வெற்றி பெற்ற வீரர்களுக்குப் பசுக்களைப் பாண்டிய மன்னன் வழங்கினான் என்றும் மதுரையில் நடைபெற்ற ஓணம் பண்டிகையை விளக்கியுள்ளார் மாங்குடி
மருதனார்.

இறையனார் களவியல் உரைக்காரர் நக்கீரர், தமிழ்நாட்டில் நடைபெற்ற திருவிழாக்களைக் கூறுமிடத்து ""மதுரை ஆவணி அவிட்டமே, உறையூர்ப் பங்குனி உத்திரமே, கருவூர் உள்ளி விழாவே என இவையும்'' என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார். இவர் குறிப்பிடும் மதுரை ஆவணி அவிட்டம், திருவோணத் திருவிழாவையே குறிப்பதாக மு.இராகவையங்கார் கருதுகிறார்.
தமிழ் நாட்டில் நடைபெற்ற ஓணம் பண்டிகையைப் பெரியாழ்வாரும் திருஞானசம்பந்தரும் குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள். திருமாலுக்கு உரிய நாள் திருவோணம் என்ற போதிலும், சென்னை - மயிலாப்பூர் கபாலீசுவரர் திருக்கோயிலில் திருவோண விழா நடைபெற்ற செய்தியை திருஞானசம்பந்தர் குறிப்பிடுகிறார்.

தமிழகத்தில் பண்டைக் காலத்தில் சிறப்பாக நடைபெற்ற இந்த ஓணம் பண்டிகை, பின்னர் ஏனோ வழக்கொழிந்து போயிற்று. ஆனால், இன்று ஓணம் பண்டிகை கேரளா முழுவதும் விழாக் கோலம் பூண்டு இன்பத் திருவிழாவாகக் கொண்டாடப்பெற்று வருகிறது.

தமிழ்நாட்டில் சித்திரைத் திருநாள் போலவே, கேரளத்தில் (நம்முடைய ஆவணி மாதத்தை) சிங்கம் என்பார்கள். சிங்கம் மாதம்தான் முதல் மாதமாகவும் இருக்கிறது. சாதி, மதம், மொழி கடந்து கேரளத்தில் இருக்கும் அத்தனை மக்களாலும் மகிழ்ச்சியுடன் வரவேற்கும் வண்ணமிகுப் பண்டிகைதான் ஓணம் பண்டிகையாகும். நம்மூர் தீபாவளி போலத்தான் ஓணம் பண்டிகையையும் கொண்டாடப்படுகிறது.

"கானம் விற்றாவது ஓணம் உண்" (கானம் - நிலம்) என்ற பழமொழி ஓணம் பண்டிகைக்காக இருக்கிறது. ஒணம் பண்டிகை எதனால், எதற்காக கொண்டாடப்படுகிறது என்ற வரலாற்றை முதன் முதலில் தெரிந்துகொள்வோம். 

ஓணம் திருவிழாவில், அத்தப்பூக் கோலம் கண்டிப்பாக ஒவ்வொரு வீட்டின் முன்பும் போடுவார்கள். அத்தப்பூக் கோலம், மகாபலி மன்னனை வரவேற்கத்தான் அந்த அத்தப்பூக் கோலம் போடப்படுவதாக ஐதீகம். ஆவணி மாதத்தில் பூக்கள் பூத்துக் குலுங்கும். அதனால், ஓணம் பண்டிகையை பூக்களின் திருவிழாவாகவும் கொண்டாடுகிறார்கள். மேலும், ஒவ்வொரு வீட்டின் ஆண் மகனும், அத்தப் பூவைப் பறித்துக் கொண்டு வருவார்கள். அவர்கள் கொண்டு வரும் அத்தப் பூவைத்தான், கோலத்தின் நடுவில் வைக்க வேண்டும் என்பதும் ஐதீகம்.

இதில், இன்னொரு வேடிக்கையும் இருக்கிறது. முதல் நாள் ஒரே கலரில்தான் பூக்கள் வைக்கப்படும். இரண்டாவது நாள் இரண்டு கலரில், மூன்றாவது நாள் மூன்று கலர், நான்காவது நாள் நான்கு கலர் என 10 நாட்களும் 10 வகையில் பூக்கள் வைக்கப்படும். 10 ஆவது நாள் 10 விதமான பூக்களையும் வைப்பார்கள். 

சிவன் கோயில் ஒன்றில் விளக்கு அணையும் நிலையில் இருந்துள்ளது. அப்போது கோயிலுக்குள் எலி ஒன்று நுழைந்துள்ளது. அந்த எலி அங்கிருந்த விளக்கின் மீது ஏறி, அங்கும் இங்கும் ஓடிக்கொண்டிருந்துள்ளது. அப்போது எலியின் வால், திரியின் மீது பட்டு தூண்டப்பட்டது. இதனால், அந்த விளக்கு மிகவும் பிரகாசமாக எரியத் தொடங்கியுள்ளது. தன்னையும் அறியாமல் செய்த இந்த நற்காரியத்திற்காக அந்த எலியை, அடுத்தப் பிறவியில் சக்கரவர்த்தியாகப் பிறக்க சிவபெருமான் அருள் புரிந்தார். தெரியாமல் செய்யும் நல்வினைக்கும் கடவுளின் அருள் மிகப் பெரியதாக அமையும் என்பதையே இந்தப் புராணம் உணர்த்துகிறது.

சக்கரவர்த்தியாகப் பிறந்து நாடு போற்றும் அளவுக்கு இருந்த அந்த சக்கரவர்த்தியைத்தான், மஹா விஷ்ணு ஆட்கொண்டு அருள் புரிந்து உலகம் போற்றும் விதமாக அந்த நாளையே, கேரள மக்கள் ஓணம் பண்டிகையாகக் கொண்டாடுகிறார்கள். சிங்கம் மாதத்தின் அஸ்தம் நட்சத்திரத்தில் இருந்து திருவோணம் நட்சத்திரம் வரை 10 நாட்கள் தொடர்ச்சியாக இந்த திருவிழா கேரள மக்களால் கொண்டாடப்பட்டு வருகிறது. 

ஓணம் பண்டிகைக்கு ஆறு சுவைகளில் கசப்புத் தவிர மற்ற சுவைகளில் 64 வகையான உணவு வகைகள் தயாரிக்கப்பட்டு ஒருவருக்கொருவர் பரிமாறிக்கொள்வார்கள். அதில், புது அரிசி மாவில் தயார் செய்யப்பட்ட அடை, அவியல், அடை பிரதமன்,பால் பாயாசம், அரிசி சாதம், தோரன், சர்க்கரைப் புரட்டி, கூட்டு, கிச்சடி, பச்சடி, இஞ்சிப்புளி, எரிசேரி, மிளகாய் அவியல், பரங்கிக்காய் குழம்பு, பப்படம், சீடை, ஊறுகாய், அவல் பாயாசம், மாவு பாயாசம் என ஏராளமான உணவு வகைகளைச் செய்வார்கள். எல்லா உணவுகளிலும் தேங்காய் நிச்சயமாக சேர்க்கப்பட்டு இருக்கும். சாப்பிடப்படும் உணவுகள் செரிப்பதற்காக இஞ்சிப்புளி, இஞ்சிக்கறி சேர்க்கப்படுகிறது.

பருவ மழைக்காலம் முடிந்து எங்கும் பசுமையும், செழுமையும் நிறைந்து காணப்படும் சிங்கம் மாதத்தை கேரள மக்கள் "அறுவடைத் திருநாள்" என்றும் போற்றி வழிபடுகிறார்கள். முந்தையக் காலங்களில் ஓணம் பண்டிகை தினம் அறுவடைத் திருநாளாகவே கொண்டாடப்பட்டு வந்துள்ளதாகவும் வரலாற்றுச் சிறப்புகள் தெரியப்படுத்துகின்றது. ஓணம் திருநாள் கொண்டாடப்படும் 10 நாட்களும் மக்கள் விடியற்காலையில் எழுந்து குளித்து வழிபாடு செய்வார்கள். அன்றைய நாள் கசவு என்று சொல்லக் கூடிய சுத்தமான வெள்ளை நிற ஆடையைத்தான் உடுத்துவார்கள்.

மேலும், பெண்கள் அனைவரும் வீட்டின் முன்பு பல வகையான பூக்களைக் கொண்டு அழகழகான கோலங்களைப் போடுவார்கள். சின்னக் குழந்தைகள் ஊஞ்சல் கட்டி ஆடுவார்கள். ஓணம் பண்டிகையின் போது கேரளத்தில் படகுப் போட்டிகள் நடத்துவர். இந்தப் படகுப் போட்டி விசேஷமாக இருக்கும். ஓணம் பண்டிகையின் போது பல்வேறு விதமான வகைகளில் உணவுகள் தயாரிக்கப்பட்டு அனைவருக்கும் கொடுத்து மகிழ்ச்சி அடைவார்கள்.

உணவு வகைகளில் பாயாசத்தின் வகையே 10 விதமாக இருக்கும். ஓணம் பண்டிகை கொண்டாடி, பெருமாளை வணங்கினால், பணிவும் குணமும் வளரும். செல்வமும் செழித்து உயர்வடைவார்கள். 

கேரளத்தில் உள்ள திருக்காட்கரை என்ற இடத்தில்தான் ஓணம் பண்டிகையுடன் தொடர்புடைய கோயில் இருக்கிறது. இந்தக் கோயிலில் மஹாவிஷ்ணு, வாமன அம்சமாக எழுந்தருளியிருக்கிறார். அவர் நின்ற கோலத்தில் தெற்கு நோக்கி பக்தர்களுக்கு அருள்பாலிக்கிறார். நான்கு கரங்களுடன், சங்கு, சங்கரம், கதாயுதம், தாமரை ஆகியவற்றை ஏந்தியபடி நிற்கும் இந்தப் பெருமாளை "திருக்காட்க்கரை அப்பன்" என்று அழைப்பார்கள். பெருஞ்செல்வநாயகி, வாத்சல்யவல்லி என்பதுதான் தாயாரின் திருநாமங்களாகும்.

மேலும், இந்தக் கோயிலில் சாஸ்தாவிற்கும், மஹாலெஷ்மிக்கும் தனித்தனியாக சன்னதிகள் இருக்கிறது. கேரளப் பகுதியில் அதிகமாக விளையும் அதிக சுவையுள்ளது நேந்திரம் வாழைப்பழம். நேந்திரம் வாழைக்கும், திருக்காட்க்கரை கோயிலுக்கும் ஒரு தொடர்பு உள்ளது. அப்பகுதியின் விவசாயி ஒருவர் தனது வயலில் வாழை மரங்கள் பயிரிட்டு வந்துள்ளார். ஆனால், அந்த மரங்கள் வளர்ந்ததும் எந்தப் பலனையும் தரவில்லை. அழிந்தும் போய் விட்டது. இதுபோல் பல முறை நடந்து விட்டதால் அந்த விவசாயி மனம் உடைந்தார். உடனே அந்தப் பக்தர் தங்கத்தால் செய்யப்பட்ட ஒரு வாழைக்குலையை திருக்காட்க்கரை அப்பனுக்குச் சார்த்தினார். தனது குறையைச் சொல்லியும் அழுதுள்ளார். 

பக்தரின் வேண்டுகோளை ஏற்றுக்கொண்ட பெருமாள், அருட்பார்வையை வாழை மரத்தின் மீது செலுத்தினார். அதன்பிறகு, வாழை மரங்களில் குலை குலையாக காய்த்துத்தள்ளியது. பெருமானின் நேந்திரங்களின் (நேந்திரம் என்றால், கண் பார்வை என்று அர்த்தம்) அருட்பார்வை பெற்று செழித்து வளர்ந்த வாழைக் குலைகள், அன்று முதல் ''நேந்திரம் வாழை" எனப் பெயரிட்டு அழைக்கப்பட்டது. காலப்போக்கில் நேந்திரம் என அழைக்கப்பட்டு வருகிறது. 

பெருமாளை நேர்ந்து கொண்டு இந்த நேந்திரம் வாழைப்பழத்தை படைத்தால் நேர்ந்தது நேர்ந்த படியாக நடக்கும். கேரள விழாக்களில் அந்தக் காலம் முதல் இந்தக் காலம் வரை யானைகளுக்கு என தனி இடம் இருக்கிறது. ஓணம் திருவிழாவில் யானைத் திருவிழா என்றே ஒரு நாள் திருவிழா நடத்தப்படுகிறது. 10 ஆம் நாளான திருவோணம் அன்று, விலை உயர்ந்த பொன் மற்றும் மணிகளால் ஆன கவசங்களாலும், பூ தோரணங்களாலும் யானைகள் அலங்காரம் செய்து, வரிசையாக நகரத்தின் வீதிகளில் ஊர்வலமாகக் கொண்டு வருவார்கள். மேலும், கேரளத்தின் பாரம்பரிய விளையாட்டுக்களான கயிறு இழுத்தல், களறி, படகுப் போட்டிகள் என 10 நாட்களும் பல்வேறு விதமான போட்டிகளும் நடத்தப்படும்.

படகுப் போட்டியில் அனைவரும் மலையாளப் பாடலைப் பாடிக் கொண்டே துடுப்பை முன்னும், பின்னும் செலுத்துவது கண்கொள்ளாக் காட்சியாக இருக்கும். வாழ்க்கையில் ஒவ்வொருவரும் நிச்சயமாக ஒரு தடவையாவது ஓணம் பண்டிகையின் போது 10 நாள்கள் கேர்ளத்தில் தங்கி, ஓணம் திருவிழாவைப் பார்க்க வேண்டும். கேரள மக்கள் உட்பட ஓணம் பண்டிகை கொண்டாடும் அனைவருக்கும் ஓணம் திருவிழா நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்.

It was a relatively warm monsoon afternoon on July 25 when Arjun Devi, 65, was sitting outside her house, legs stretched out. Her house is located in the middle of an apple orchard in Batseri village in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. It was a picture of calm and quiet when suddenly, Devi sprang up in alarm hearing a rumbling noise. She hurried upstairs. From her rooftop she watched transfixed as boulders came rolling down from the steep hilltop at great speed, not too far from her house. They crashed into a mini-bus on Sangla-Chitkul road, killing nine people, all tourists, Devi learned later. The boulders severely damaged the Sangla-Chitkul and Sangla-Batseri link roads. They destroyed a bridge on Baspa river, on the banks of which Batseri is located. Several mature trees that got in their way fell like ninepins. All this happened in just a few minutes.

“I have never seen such a horrific scene in my life,” says Devi. “The previous day too, some stones fell down the hill, but July 25 was different. When I heard the loud noise and went to the rooftop, I saw huge rocks come thundering down. They fell some distance away from my house. Only when they stopped falling did I heave a sigh of relief.”

This wasn’t a one-time calamity. Nature unleashed its fury again on August 11 in Kinnaur, this time in Nigulsari village. Twenty-eight people lost their lives that day when a State transport bus, a truck, and three small vehicles were completely damaged after they were hit by boulders and mud on National Highway 5. Such was the force of the landslide that the bus rolled down several feet towards the Sutlej river, along with the debris.

The residents of Kinnaur are scared, angry and frustrated. Such incidents are becoming common, they say, thanks to the development model adopted by successive governments. Reports urging a rethink of the development model are frequently brought out but they lead to little change. The beautiful Himalayan region is only becoming more fragile and susceptible to disasters, they say.

A double-edged sword

In the last two months alone, several landslides have been reported in Himachal Pradesh, especially in the tribal districts of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur which have seen incessant rains. From June 13 to August 12, as many as 248 people lost their lives in various incidents relating to heavy rains. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who visited Nigulsari to oversee the rescue work after the incident, said the State government would conduct a geological survey of the area.

Jai Vijender Negi, 45, an orchardist at Batseri, says development has become a double-edged sword. He urges the government to review its policy on hydro power projects. “These incidents are a wake-up call for us. The dams and hydro power projects have brought prosperity to the region, but they have also brought suffering. During the construction of these power projects and dams, the use of rock blasting and heavy machinery in construction sites, besides tree felling, have damaged the fragile hills,” he says.

Om Prakash, who has been working at a tourist camping site in Batseri since the late 1990s, says landslides used to occur earlier as well but their number and intensity have increased in recent times. “For the tourism sector to flourish here, road connectivity is key, but I feel that converting single roads into double lanes and more is not a good idea. When roads are constructed, debris is thrown into the valley and falls into the rivers. The government should focus on the maintenance of existing roads instead of opting for unregulated development. Scientific disposal of debris is very important,” he says.

These are not mere observations of residents. In its 2012 State Strategy and Action Plan on Climate Change, Himachal Pradesh’s Department of Environment, Science and Technology had pointed out that deforestation, landslides, land degradation, desertification and Glacier Lake Outbursts Floods are some of the common but critical environmental issues in the Himalayan region. The environment is facing major challenges given the escalation of such issues due to changes in the atmosphere and interferences by man, it said.

“Himachal Pradesh, though a small Himalayan State, is nevertheless playing a very crucial role in sustaining the livelihoods of downstream areas. The conservation, sustenance of these ecologically fragile regions is the biggest challenge being faced at the moment which can get further aggravated due to financial constraints and limited resources... Therefore, it can be safely stated that climate change will manifest most in Himachal Pradesh,” it noted.

The report also stated that warming, erratic rainfall and rainfall changes, floods, and change in precipitation patterns are commonly observed events or are likely to occur in the region.

In a state of denial

Urni, a tiny village along National Highway 5 in Kinnaur district, witnessed a major landslide in 2014 which resulted in the erosion of several bighas of agricultural land and cracks in many houses. Ramanand Negi, 77, of Urni village, says the signs of ecology degradation are clearly visible, yet successive governments have been in a state of denial. “The key problem is that the government is quick to declare landslides as natural disasters. But these are man-made disasters. In July 2014, a big portion of our village was destroyed and so were several acres of agricultural and horticultural land including the orchards of over 20 families. The livelihoods of people are at stake,” he says. People now live in fear, he adds.

The government gave relief to the affected families, but they have have been demanding compensation, Negi says. “The administration maintains that flood irrigation could have triggered the landslide, but we don’t have any natural water sources here, so how can we use the method of flood irrigation? Our village is situated right above the intersection of the flushing tunnel, head race tunnel and two Adit tunnels of the 1091 MW Karcham Wangtoo project built on the Sutlej River (commissioned in 2011). These tunnels were constructed using heavy machinery and rock blasting. We used to feel the vibrations when the blasting was done,” Negi says. He drops his head in despair as he points to the damaged portion of the hill slope.

Sita Ram, another resident, says he was a sub-contractor on the Karcham Wangtoo project. “During construction, blasting was done for digging tunnels in the mountain. Cracks developed as a result, and the soil got eroded. Later, when heavy rain struck the region, there were landslips,” he says.

Manshi Asher, an environmentalist associated with the Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective, an advocacy and research group working on issues of environmental justice and forest rights in the Himalayan region, says the climate crisis has exacerbated the frequency and intensity of disasters over the past few decades. “But the most critical factor that gets hidden behind the label of ‘natural calamities’ is the kind of development model that we have adopted. It has led to deforestation, increased erosion and slope destabilisation which not just trigger more disasters but multiply the damage caused. The State Disaster Management Authority report on Landslide Hazard Risk Assessment 2015 stated that 90% of the State is in the high-risk zone. Areas like Kinnaur, Chamba and Lahaul-Spiti are particularly sensitive. Yet, the focus of policymakers and government departments is on management rather than prevention,” she says.

The State’s 2015 Landslide Hazard Risk Assessment report, which Asher refers to, reads, “Hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh are vulnerable to landslides due to geological, meteorological and anthropogenic factors. Several devastating landslides have occurred in Himachal Pradesh... The hydro-meteorological conditions and fragile structural fabric of geological strata of Himachal Pradesh increase the possibility of landslides. Anthropogenic factors such as removal of vegetation cover, overloading of slopes by debris also contribute to a great extent. Development activities like construction of roads, tunnels and excavation for hydro projects have further accentuated the problem.” The report was prepared by the Disaster Management Cell of the Department of Revenue.

It adds: “Most of the area under... Himachal Pradesh is under threat of landslides. It is the topographical profile of the state and the extreme climatic conditions which makes it susceptible to landslides. Hazard risk map of the state depicts that the area of the state falling under the three categories of hazard proneness viz. low, medium and high hazard. Most of the area under... Himachal Pradesh is under high hazard.”

There are 932 hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, which include mini, small, large, and mega projects. Most of these projects are in Kinnaur, Chamba and Shimla districts. Asher says there is plenty of evidence on how these calamities are not natural but such evidence is not fed into policy decisions. This is why governments continue pushing for more hydro power projects and four-lane highways, she says.

Protests against projects

Several residents of the tribal districts are now up in arms against the setting up of new power projects. Many assert that the projects severely impact the fragile mountain slopes and cause significant loss to life and property. As Kinnaur continues to bear the brunt of catastrophes, a group of youngsters at Kalpa gathered for a meeting on August 10 to craft a strategy to intensify their State-wide campaign of creating awareness against the setting up of new hydro power projects in the district.

“There should be a ban on such projects. Already substantial damage to the fragile ecology is visible, yet the government in the name of national interest is continuing to play with the lives and livelihood of locals. Today, we have gathered here to discuss the proposed construction of the Jangi Thopan Powari hydroelectric project plant of 804 MW capacity near Jangi village. This project, to be built by SJVN, will impact people and natural resources of at least six panchayats — Spillow, Kanan, Moorang, Jangi, Akpa and Rarang. Our purpose is to create awareness in all the villages about this upcoming project and others as well. Any decision on the commissioning of a project should be based on discussions with the gram sabhas,” says Sunder Negi, a member of the group.

Negi says the group got in touch with youth clubs of different villages. Through regular meetings, they are conveying these villages of the “ill-effects of power projects”. He believes that people should be aware about the impacts of such projects on water, forest and land and should come forward to speak up their mind “before it’s too late”.

The Jangi Thopan Powari hydroelectric project envisages the construction of a concrete gravity dam of 48-metres high from the level of the riverbed across the river Sutlej near Jangi village and an underground powerhouse on the right bank upstream of Tehsil boundary (Kashang Nallah). It proposes to excavate a circular-shaped head race tunnel of 9.40-m wide and 12-kilometres long using tunnel boring machine. The tentative land requirement for the project is 295.93 ha out of which 270.43 ha is forest land and 25.5 ha private land. The construction of the dam will result in the submergence of about 156.2917 ha of land of which 143.2093 ha is forest land and 13.0824 ha private land.

Abhishek Wazir, 25, of Moorang village says this is a “fight to save ‘Zangti’ (golden water) of Sutlej River.”

Dinesh Negi, 32, from Kanan village, remarks that this is more that that; it is a fight for survival. “The indigenous pine nuts (chilgoza) trees are under threat here. As transmission lines of hydro projects pass through forests, trees are cut. This impacts not only the environment but our livelihoods too,” he says.

“We have to save Kinnaur at any cost, and so we are mobilising the youth. We will make it a mass movement,” says Bharat Bhushan, 35, of Kalpa.

Jiya Negi, a Kinnaur-based environmentalist and activist, says the entire stretch of the Sutlej is filled with debris that is thrown into the river from construction sites of power projects, dams and roads. No one, he says, bothers to ensure the scientific disposal of debris.

Deputy Commissioner (Kinnaur) Abid Hussain Sadiq says the administration is always there to look into the concerns of people. “The decision to set up power projects is taken in national interest, but at the same time there’s no doubt that the concerns of people are to be understood and addressed. A balance has to be struck between national interest and the concerns of the local people. We are always willing to work towards that,” he says.

A power sector expert and head of the Jangi Thopan Powari hydroelectric project, Roshan Negi, asserts that the construction of tunnels does not damage the ecology as the work is done in a scientific manner. “All the necessary precautions are taken while we construct tunnels. If the environment was at risk of damage, the Government of India would have not allowed the setting up of these projects. However, I believe that there should always be a consensus with the locals before setting up a project. The projects that have been set up and the allied activities have given a boost to the local economy and infrastructure. They have benefited the residents over the years,” he says.

All these explanations don’t make much sense to Devi. She doesn’t know why, but she knows that landslides in the Sangla Valley have been increasing over the years. “For some 30 years it used to snow heavily in this area, but in recent years I have seen more rain than snow. At the same time, many dams and roads have come up and landslides have become common. Our rivers are turning muddy as they carry debris. The government must take steps to preserve our mountains. Development is welcome, but not at the cost of human lives,” she says.

The fall of Kabul in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove to be a defining moment for the region and the future shape of its geopolitics; it would be as defining, if not more, as the Soviet intervention in 1979 and the American one in 2001. While a lot depends on the Taliban’s actual conduct both domestically as well as on the southern and western Asian geopolitical chessboard in the months ahead, the Taliban are likely to continue as a ‘useful villain’ in the unfolding great power competition. For New Delhi, the fall of Kabul is a moment of reckoning and it must rethink its regional strategies and options. Unfortunately, of the latter, it does not have many.

A vacuum

What is most disconcerting is the regional power vacuum in the Eurasian heartland created by the haphazard manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanistan and its potential knock-on effects. An axis of regional powers such as China, Pakistan, Russia, and the Taliban, have already started filling this power vacuum, shaping, thereby, the contours of the region’s geopolitics based on their individual and common interests. Iran might also jump on this opportunistic bandwagon under the Chinese leadership.

What is abundantly clear is that each of these countries harbour deep anti-American feelings in varying degrees which will further shrink the American influence in the Eurasian heartland. While it is too early to determine whether what these countries have on their hands is an opportunity or a ticking bomb, the U.S., as a direct consequence of the formation of this axis, might decide to explore new ways of working with them to stabilise the region, if it desires to do so, and remain relevant there. If indeed that happens, could it result in a potential softening of the American rhetoric against China, Pakistan, Russia and perhaps even Iran? More so, what would that mean for India? While a healthy conversation among the great powers — the U.S., China and Russia — on global and regional challenges is a good sign, India is neither a great power nor present at the table. New Delhi must ensure that it does not become a casualty on the south-western Asian geopolitical chessboard.

Advantage China; extremism

The post-American power vacuum in the region will be primarily advantageous to China and its grand strategic plans for the region. Beijing will further strengthen its efforts to bring every country in the region, except India, on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative bandwagon, thereby altering the geopolitical and geoeconomic foundations of the region. More so, the much-feared Chinese encirclement of India will become ever more pronounced. Having been further emboldened by the U.S.’s withdrawal and in stamping its writ on the region, Beijing is likely to become less accommodative towards India including on the Line of Actual Control. Even in trade, given the sorry state of the post-COVID-19 Indian economy, India needs trade with China more than the other way round. Unless New Delhi can find ways of ensuring a rapprochement with China, it must expect Beijing to challenge India on occasion, and be prepared for it.

The bigger challenge for India though would be a near-certain increase in terrorism and extremism in the region. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan, international pressure on the Taliban and Financial Action Task Force worries in Pakistan had a relatively moderating effect on the region’s terror ecosystem. With the Taliban now back in Kabul, things are bound to change. The visuals of the Taliban releasing terrorists from Afghan jails would send a powerful message to their fellow travellers, handlers, and sympathisers in the region.

While the neighbouring countries are also worried about terrorism emanating from Afghanistan, the reality is that they are busy making their own private deals with the Taliban to not host terror organisations targeting them. There is little appetite for a regional approach to curbing terrorism from a Taliban-led Afghanistan. This enables the Taliban to engage in a selective treatment towards terror outfits present there or they have relations with. Moreover, given that the international community may have no choice but to recognise the Taliban regime — UN Security Council members such as China and Russia have already indicated their intent to do so — would also mean that the Taliban would hold more power in a bargain on the terror question. Sanctions are unlikely to deter an outfit that does not need to bother about the next election.

It is unlikely that the Taliban will proactively export terror to other countries unless of course for tactical purposes by, say for instance, Pakistan against India. The real worry, however, is the inspiration that disgruntled elements in the region will draw from the Taliban’s victory against the world’s sole superpower.

To that extent, the triumphalism in Pakistan over the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan could eventually become counterproductive for Pakistan itself. Whether Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan refers to them as a force that has ‘unshackled the chains of slavery’ or the country’s deep state considers them as a strategic asset, the reality is that many anti-Pakistan terror organisations would be emboldened as well.

Impact on regional interests

The return of the Taliban to Kabul has effectively laid India’s ‘mission Central Asia’ to rest. If New Delhi could not find its way to Central Asia with encouraging partners such as Iran and the Hamid Karzai/Ashraf Ghani governments, the possibility of New Delhi doing so now is next to nil. India’s diplomatic and civilian presence as well as its civilian investments will now be at the mercy of the Taliban, and to some extent Pakistan. If there is a concerted effort by China, Pakistan and the Taliban to erase the Indian presence from Afghanistan, there is little India can do about it. Had New Delhi, as I had argued earlier, cultivated deeper relations (which by no means would have meant recognising the outfit) with the Taliban, Indian interests would have been more secure in a post-American Afghanistan. New Delhi’s lack of strategic foresight will prove to be costly.

What is perhaps not yet understood is how the rise of the anti-America axis (China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and a Taliban-led Afghanistan) and anti-American sentiments in the region would impact India’s regional interests given that it has become closer to the U.S. than ever before in its history. We have to wait and see what this mismatch between the region’s mood and India’s strategic choices would mean for the country. There is little doubt that because of these developments, India’s regional ambitions will take a major hit in the months and years ahead.

The fall of Kabul and the consequent knock-on effects in the region will have several potential implications for India’s foreign policy and its strategic choices and behaviour. For one, given the little physical access India has to its north-western landmass, its focus is bound to shift more to the Indo-Pacific even though a maritime grand strategy may not necessarily be an answer to its continental challenges. Second, New Delhi might also seek to shed the arrogance it displayed towards its smaller neighbours during Modi 1.0 and cultivate friendly relations with them. Myanmar is a case in point. India has already indicated that it would not challenge the junta on the coup and its widespread human rights violations. This policy is likely to continue even if the Joe Biden administration seeks New Delhi’s help in turning up the heat on Myanmar’s generals. The last thing New Delhi needs now is an angry neighbour rushing to China.

India-Pakistan ties

Third, the developments in Afghanistan could nudge New Delhi to seek stability, if not peace, with Pakistan. While there is little desire in New Delhi today to reopen a broad-based dialogue process with Pakistan, even a ‘cold peace’ would be in India’s interest. For Pakistan too, such a ‘cold peace’ will help it to focus its energies on consolidating its interests and gains in Afghanistan. As a result, both sides might refrain from indulging in competitive risk-taking unless something dramatic happens which is always a possibility between the two rivals. That said, stability between India and Pakistan depends a great deal on how politics in Kashmir plays out, and whether New Delhi is able to pacify the aggrieved sections in the Valley.

The lesson for India in the wake of these developments is clear: It will have to fight its own battles. So it must make enemies wisely, choose friends carefully, rekindle flickering friendships, and make peace while it can.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

In an emerging and new situation, the political mobilisation of Dalits and the marginalised in Uttar Pradesh is now becoming complex. It is no longer simple and unidirectional as it was in the decades of the 1990s.

During my visits to various Dalitbastis(hamlets) in and around Allahabad, Banaras/Varanasi and a few other district towns nearby, I met several people who are Scheduled Castes (SCs) and who used to, for years, cast their votes in favour of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). They were staunch BSP supporters, and without doubt, its vote bank. But things have changed after the advent of the Seva project of the Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh (RSS). They have begun to admire the RSS, with some of them even beginning to send their children to the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, the Vidya Bharati-run chain of schools in India.

The section that is being influenced by the Hindutva mission — which is reaching to them either through the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or theSeva Karya(the social service project of the Sangh) — is growing by the day in Uttar Pradesh. The slums andbastisinhabited by the migrant poor, mainlyDalits, are evolving into a centre of activities of Sangh-inspired organisations who are working for their education, health and microfinance. Various governmental schemes of the BJP government, at the Centre and in the State of Uttar Pradesh, are impacting the BSP’s vote base and finding resonance among the marginalised communities of the State. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (affordable housing), the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana (LPG connections to women of Below Poverty Line families) and various cash transfer schemes are rapidly changing the politico-socio landscape of the Dalits and marginalised communities. The strategies of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, to focus developmental initiatives on the most marginalised communities such as the Mushahars and Bantangiyas are evolving new constituencies for the BJP among Dalits and the marginalised.

Real empowerment

The marginalised need empowerment in a real sense beyond ideologies and political positioning. They are ready to receive their share in developmental opportunities be it in the form of support from the right, left or centre. Those who have to ‘dig a well every day to drink water (roj kuwan khodana, roj pani pina)’ are more aware now, which the middle class with facilities and access to the power of social media may not be able to comprehend. One should not perceive the Dalits and the marginalised as a vote bank for a certain kind of politics. The shift in their voting patterns in the last few years shows that considering them as a homogeneous vote bank of a particular political party may be a myth. They are open to any political party which may offer them an appropriate package which enables them to partake in the country’s developmental projects and representation in democracy.

In the decades preceding the 1990s, the dreams that the national freedom movement evoked more or less worked as a binding thread by keeping them mobilised towards the Congress despite being let down at times in terms of meeting their aspirations.

Gradually, things began to change and became visible in States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; the Kanshi Ram initiated Bahujan movement which later emerged as the BSP in the northern part of India especially in Uttar Pradesh was an example of this. It is true that in the beginning of the 1990s, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement attracted a section of marginalised communities towards Hindutva mobilisation.

Centres of mobilisation

The RSS’s work among these communities, in the form ofseva karya(opening schools, hospitals, highlighting sanitation and cleanliness and other support services), and their cultural project to provide cultural and religious dignity, offered the Hindutva stream as another alternative for Dalits and subalterns in a State such as Uttar Pradesh. So, the Bahujan and Hindutva are the two centres of mobilisation that have emerged in the socio-cultural and political arena of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. Both are reshaping Dalit aspirations in their own way. The Bahujan positioning, which was earlier a socio-political project, has now been reduced to political campaigns that try and create aspirations among the marginalised for their share in power. In contrast,Hindutva mobilisation is trying to provide them socio-cultural religious dignity in various ways and also working to ensure their share in power by providing them space in the politics of the BJP. There are also a few other political options in the form of Samajwadi politics (in U.P.) which also offer them space in the democratic politics of the State.

Other factors

Another side of this growing heterogeneity in terms of their political mobilisation is the result of constant changes that are taking place in the making of the community. The impact of the liberal economy, the rise of the Dalit middle class, and exposure to the mainstream and alternative media have encouraged aspiration among the marginalised and subalterns and working as a motivational force to search for ways to ensure their development and empowerment.

Dalit mobilisation in Uttar Pradesh is undergoing a big churn. One can easily see how multiplicity is emerging in their political choices. This is the result of various changes taking place in the social-political and developmental mobility of the community and the constantly changing nature of politics in Uttar Pradesh in recent times.

Badri Narayan is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. He is the author of the recently published book, ‘Republic of Hindutva’

India’s largest trading partner, and one with whom it has a significant trade surplus, the U.S., is no longer interested in securing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), as per indications from the Joe Biden administration. An official acknowledgement of this, from Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, suggests that years of negotiations towards a ‘mini-trade deal’ followed by a full-blown trade pact that Mr. Biden’s predecessor oversaw may well be infructuous now. The Government will now seek to work on market access issues on both sides, he said, adding that lowering of non-tariff barriers, mutual recognition pacts and adopting common quality standards can also help Indian exports in the interim. There is a possibility that even these issues, which include long-festering dissonances over providing access to U.S. agricultural products or easing import duties on automobiles and Bourbons, would have to be discussed afresh. On Friday, the U.S. envoy to India met Mr. Goyal for what he said was a parley on attaining the $500 billion bilateral trade vision of the U.S. President. The trade target, set when Mr. Biden was the Vice President in the Barack Obama regime, remains unchanged, but the tools for achieving it are no longer clear. India was pulled out of the U.S.’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) that granted some tariff relief to its exports by the Trump government in 2019, and hopes of its reinduction through a mini-trade deal now appear bleak. While India was expected to gain from the Sino-U.S. trade wars under the Donald Trump administration, its retaliation to the GSP status revocation with hiked tariffs on U.S. products had led to frictions that perhaps stymied the conclusion of a mini-trade deal before the change at the helm in the White House.

The U.S.’s no-go stance on the FTA implies ambitions may have to be pared down but also provides an opportunity for India to holistically review its stance on global trade. It is refreshing that Mr. Goyal has signalled a revamped approach towards FTAs and reminded Indian industry there cannot be one-way traffic. This needs to be matched by actions that start unwinding India’s creeping walls of import tariffs. The Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign has further exacerbated that view — as the advent of a protectionist ‘closed market’ project. Strenuous exhortations that the self-reliance drive is one that seeks to integrate with global value chains can only go so far. Trade policy cannot be perpetuated in isolation and, in fact, affects investments too. Having walked out of RCEP, India needs to demonstrate to its potential FTA partners, including the EU and the U.K., with which rivals like Vietnam have already sealed a deal, that it is a viable alternative to China in a post-COVID world. To be a major trading and manufacturing nation, India can ill-afford to keep sending mixed signals.

A regressive and patently unconstitutional feature of recent anti-conversion laws enacted by different States is the criminalisation of inter-faith marriages by treating them as a means to convert one of the parties from one religion to another. While anti-conversion laws, euphemistically called in some States as laws on ‘freedom of religion’, have always sought to criminalise conversions obtained through fraud, force or allurement, the recent enactments or amendments have created “conversion by marriage” as one of the illegal forms of conversion. In its interim order protecting parties to inter-religious marriages from needless harassment, the Gujarat HC has made it clear that the “rigours” of the State’s amendments introduced earlier this year will not apply to marriages that do not involve any fraud, force or allurement. So, it has stopped the initiation of criminal proceedings against those who have married across religious faiths, unless there was any of these illegal elements. A Bench has rejected the State government’s attempt to adopt an innocent reading of the provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, by claiming that inter-faith marriages that did not involve fraud or coercion and leading to conversion would not attract the penal provisions. The argument is obviously contrary to the wording of the amendment, which makes conversion “by marriage” or “by getting a person married” or “by aiding a person to get married” an offence. The court said, “A plain reading of Section 3 would indicate that any conversion on account of marriage is also prohibited.”

It is regrettable that Hindutva votaries continue to believe in medieval-minded laws aimed at curbing inter-faith marriages. Despite clear Supreme Court rulings that it is no more constitutional to police private lives and beliefs, sections in the polity still believe that inter-religious marriages are aimed at religious conversion, that they have an adverse impact on public order and invariably involve coercion or deceit. It was always clear to the secular minded and legal experts that constitutional courts will not see such marriages as events that impinge on public order, and that making their solemnisation a ground for prosecution under anti-conversion laws was unlikely to be upheld. It is clear that the Gujarat law’s provisions “interfere with the intricacies of marriage” and an individual’s right to choice, thereby infringing Article 21 of the Constitution. The principle that the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 flows from the verdict inShafin Jahan vs Asokan. The order stalling criminal action against those entering into a valid inter-faith marriage constitutes a significant judicial pushback against disconcerting attempts by various States to foment communal divides through dubious legislation.

To P T Usha, Nambiar was a father figure. In several interviews, she reflected that she wouldn’t have become half the athlete she was if not for Nambiar’s guidance and perseverance.

Om Nambiar, the Dronacharya award-winning coach who died on Thursday, was arguably the first celebrity coach in the country. Not only because his most famous student was P T Usha, one of the few genuinely world-class athletes the country has produced, but also because he introduced modern methods and drilled in the importance of quality coaching. He brought home the difference a coach could make to an athlete’s career at a time when coaching in the country was amateurish, when retired athletes just filled in the role informally.

To Usha, Nambiar was a father figure. In several interviews, she reflected that she wouldn’t have become half the athlete she was if not for Nambiar’s guidance and perseverance. From spotting her during a district athletics meeting to grooming her for the Olympics, and overseeing her transition to a bold and confident athlete, Nambiar played an influential role in the making of Usha. He was a teacher and also her nutritionist, dietician, recovery expert, psychiatrist, and confidant, who was by her side in triumph and tragedy. He was the support system that helped Usha recover from the near-miss in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and fuelled her push for gold medals in the Asian Games two years later. Two others who bagged laurels in the Seoul Games — Shiny Wilson and Vandana Rao — were his students too.

Later, when Usha herself became a coach, she brought into play what she had learnt from Nambiar. Her style was deeply personal, perhaps to a fault. Just as it was detrimental to her career — she stayed with Nambiar when she could have sought the services of a foreign coach — it was not beneficial for some of her wards that they stayed too long with her. Nambiar, too, reportedly disliked Usha availing the tutelage of other coaches. But that should not tarnish his legacy. Maybe Usha could have been better. But Nambiar will be revered and remembered for the athlete she has been.

Gujarat HC poses a question mark on constitutionality of not just Gujarat's 'love jihad' law but also legislation in other states.

The Gujarat High Court decision staying some provisions of the state’s anti-conversion law, including the one that deems all interfaith marriages as those solemnised for carrying out forceful religious conversion, is extremely welcome. While the decision by Chief Justice of the High Court Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav is only an interim order, even as the larger legal challenge of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 is still pending, the ruling sends out a larger message. It poses a question mark on the constitutionality of not just the Gujarat law but also similar legislation in other states, be it Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, or Himachal Pradesh.

The stated aim of recent anti-conversion laws brought in by BJP-ruled states is to prohibit unlawful religious conversions. But in doing so, the law’s vague and excessively broad provisions give powers to the state to hold a police inquiry to probe the motives behind a woman’s change of religion for marriage and to potentially annul such a marriage. The law also allows the “aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister, or any other person related by blood, marriage or adoption” to lodge an FIR on an allegedly unlawful conversion, essentially legitimising mob interference in an individual’s private life. By shifting the burden of proof on the individual accused of forcibly converting another person, in effect, the law weaponises communal prejudice and paranoia and throws the power of the state behind it. Even as these laws are under challenge before several high courts, they have become a template for harassment of citizens. The interim ruling comes, therefore, as much-needed relief.

The Gujarat HC intervention recognises the unacceptability of law’s intrusion into an individual’s private life even when the state may have a legitimate interest in containing unlawful, forcible conversions. It draws a line and says that the state cannot enter the doors of a marriage where there is no evidence of it being forced or involving violence. However, even with the progressive intervention of the judiciary, decisions are often excruciatingly slow to percolate to the ground. Take the case of the police across the country continuing to file cases under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act despite the apex court striking it down in 2015. Laws that grant the state police powers to regulate freedoms must be rolled back. The Gujarat HC’s reading of the law will hopefully have a bearing on other courts where similar laws have been challenged.

Jaishankar's strong words for a united stand against terrorism contained veiled references against both Pakistan and China — the latter has blocked the designation of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the past.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has added several layers of difficulties to the fraught India-Pakistan relationship. The relationship of the Pakistan Army and ISI with the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, is an open secret. Their influence over the processes that took the Taliban speedily to Kabul when American forces began withdrawing from the country was also apparent. For at least three years, if not more, security officials in the now deposed government of the Republic of Afghanistan and Indian intelligence reports have pointed to Punjabi fighters supporting the Taliban’s military push. By all accounts, cadres of anti-India groups such as Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed made common cause with the Taliban and fought American soldiers and Afghan security forces alongside them. The connections between Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghanistan chapter of ISIL, with LeT came to the fore when after the arrest of its top leader in Afghanistan last year following the horrific attack on a Kabul gurdwara, it was revealed that he was a former Lashkar commander. The National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency in the erstwhile government, other ISKP cadres with connections to the ISI, had been among those arrested for the attack. The links between these groups and their connections to the deep state in Pakistan were always a concern, but the military conquest of Afghanistan by a fundamentalist group and the emboldening effect it is bound to have on outfits such as LeT and Jaish, among many others, has increased that concern manifold.

This was the context in which External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar flagged the threat posed by terrorism at a United Nations Security Council meeting earlier this week. The minister singled out the Haqqani network, which is allied to the Taliban and is known to have the unstinted backing of the ISI, and the LeT, Jaish and ISKP for special mention. His strong words for a united stand against terrorism contained veiled references against both Pakistan and China — the latter has blocked the designation of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the past. It is significant that at the meeting, the third special event organised by India during its month-long presidency of the UNSC, China joined other countries, including the US and UK, in making the demand for holding the Taliban to its commitment that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by terror groups.

As Pakistan is in the driving seat of developments in Afghanistan, and has effectively achieved what it has long wanted — Taliban rulers in Kabul — it too should be prepared for greater scrutiny of its actions. Minister Jaishankar has set in motion a narrative that is likely to dominate domestic debates on Pakistan. In the current situation, the possibility of normalisation of ties with Pakistan, which had come to the forefront with the revival of the ceasefire on the LoC, has receded once again. The benefits of the ceasefire are not small, but it would be difficult to sustain this fragile truce without a wider bilateral engagement.

While the fate of the motion was more or less a foregone conclusion, the intensity displayed by most of the speakers took everyone by surprise.

After a tumultuous five-hour debate, marked by pandemonium and acrimony, the Lok Sabha on August 20 rejected by a voice vote a motion moved by Madhu Dandavate (Janata) calling for urgent poll reforms to make elections free of shortcomings. While the fate of the motion was more or less a foregone conclusion, the intensity displayed by most of the speakers took everyone by surprise. Towards the end, it assumed shocking dimensions when a Congress (I) member Bhagwan Dev tore up certain photographs of the Garhwal poll tabled by Harkesh Bahadur of the DSF. For 10 minutes, total pandemonium prevailed in the House with members from both sides converging on the central table and the photographs strewn on the carpet.

Zail Singh On Assam

Home Minister Giani Zail Singh assured the Lok Sabha that the government would find a solution to the Assam problem that would be acceptable to all, or at least give minimum satisfaction to the maximum number of people. He said that the talks on the foreign nationals’ issue was going on in a cordial manner. He said before taking a final decision on the issue, the government would consult the Opposition members.

DU Violence

A large number of students of Sham Lal College and other colleges in Delhi University raided Dayal Singh College, set fire to scooters, motorcycles and bicycles parked in the campus, broke window panes, beat several students and escaped before the police arrived. 50 to 60 students and six teachers were in the college when the raiding party arrived. The raid is suspected to be in retaliation to the beating up of students of the Janata Vidyarthi Morcha students who had visited Dayal Singh College earlier in the day.

P D T Achary writes: The Rules of the House do not empower Parliament to inflict any punishment on its members other than suspension for creating disorder in the House.

The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha is reportedly contemplating action against MPs who, he thinks, were involved in the fracas in the House. There is speculation in the media about what kind of action will be taken against those MPs. There is also speculation about the formation of a special committee to suggest severe punishment. It appears that the Rajya Sabha secretariat has prepared a report on the incident, which accuses some MPs of assaulting security personnel. The MPs, on the other hand, have alleged that strangers in blue uniform were allowed inside the House who roughed them up.

House rules vest in the chairman all the powers necessary to conduct proceedings smoothly. The rules also provide for the suspension of MPs who “disregard the authority of the Chair or abuse the rules of the Council by persistently and willfully obstructing the business of the House”. However, the power to suspend a member is vested in the House, not in the chairman. The chairman names such a member whereupon a motion is moved by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, or any other minister seeking the suspension of the member. Under the rule, the maximum period of suspension is for the remainder of the session. A suspended member cannot enter the chamber or attend any meetings of the committees. He also cannot give any notice for discussion or submission. By convention, a suspended member loses his right to get replies to his questions. Thus, suspension from the service of the House is regarded as a serious punishment. But, surprisingly, the rules do not spell out the disabilities of a suspended member. These are imposed on them as per conventions or precedent.

Suspension is the only serious punishment provided for in the rules. Rule 256 of the Rajya Sabha’s Rules of Procedure specifies the acts of misconduct: Disregarding the authority of the chair, abusing the rules of the council by persistently and willfully obstructing the business thereof. A member can be punished for any of these acts and, usually, the punishment is immediate. Punishing members long after the occurrence of misconduct is very rare. Suspension for the remainder of the session makes sense only when they are suspended immediately after the misconduct has been noticed by the chair. For the acts of misconduct by the MPs outside the House, which constitute a breach of privilege or contempt of the House, usually the privilege committee investigates the matter and recommends the course of action and the House acts on it.

A special committee is appointed usually when the misconduct is so serious that the House may consider expelling the member. Such occasions have been few and far between. The first case of expulsion occurred in 1951 when a special committee was appointed to investigate the conduct of H G Mudgal, an MP who accepted financial benefits from business houses to canvass support for them in the government and Parliament. The committee found him guilty of misconduct, which was derogatory to the dignity of Parliament. He was expelled. Another special committee was appointed in 2005 to inquire into the issue of MPs accepting money for raising questions in Parliament. This followed a sting operation done by a private body of investigative journalists. Ten MPs were expelled in connection with this episode.

So, special ad-hoc committees are appointed only to investigate serious misconduct by MPs outside the House. No special committee is required to go into what happens before the eyes of the presiding officer inside the House. As per the rules of the House, they need to be dealt with then and there.

An interesting question that arises in the Rajya Sabha case is whether the House can give the MPs more severe punishment than suspension. The rules do not recognise any punishment other than suspension for a specific period. Article 20 of the Constitution prohibits a greater penalty than what the law provided at the time of committing the offence. It is a sobering thought that the rules of the House do not empower Parliament to inflict any punishment on its members other than suspension for creating disorder in the House.

Harsh Mander writes: We must remember always what the politics of religious hate does to a people.

On the eve of India’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that August 14 would now be observed as the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. “Partition’s pains can never be forgotten”, he declared. “Millions of our sisters and brothers were displaced and many lost their lives due to mindless hate and violence.”

The overwhelming majority of Indians alive today were born long after India’s blood-drenched Partition tore the country. They must indeed remember this history: The agony of a million people losing their lives in Hindu-Muslim riots; of trains in both directions piled with corpses; of 14 million people uprooted in the largest distress displacement in human history, except the trafficking of Africans as slaves to the Americas. But the salient questions are — what they should remember, how they should remember, and what lessons they should draw from this recollection.

I recall speaking in a hall in Ludhiana, Punjab, some years ago about the imperative of fighting religious bigotry and hate. An ageing man, older than me, spoke, his voice quivering. He recalled the slaughter and pillage of Partition, which had snatched from him his family and his home. “When I recount this history to my children, how can you expect me to teach them to love and respect Muslims who destroyed us so mercilessly?”

I replied to him, “I understand your pain. I too belong to a Partition family, and the families of my parents suffered traumas identical to yours. But if you must speak of this to your children, and their children, can you at least tell them the full story? Tell them that Hindus and Sikhs did suffer horrendously at the hand of Muslim mobs in places where they were in a minority. But tell them also that Hindus and Sikhs, where in a majority, unleashed identical horrors upon Muslims. No community kept at bay the frenzy of hate in those horrific months. The hands of every community were equally tainted with the blood of innocents. You lost lives and homes, but tell your children that our Muslim sisters and brothers also lost their lives in equal numbers. Partial remembering can only nurture further hate.”

I recalled to him Mahatma Gandhi’s epic fast in Calcutta, just weeks after India won her freedom, trying to restore peace and sanity to a city burning in feverish Hindu-Muslim violence. A Hindu man, torn by grief, went to where Gandhiji lay fasting, and shouted, “What you are doing is utterly unjust and heartless. I lost my son — so small —to Muslim mobs. How can I ever forgive them?” Gandhiji replied, “I understand your pain. But let me suggest to you a way. Find a little boy — so small. A Muslim boy whose parents were slaughtered by Hindu mobs. Adopt him as your son, raise him in the faith into which he was born; maybe you will then be able to heal, even to forgive.”

My parents’ village, Kahuta, near Rawalpindi, was among the worst-ravaged by hate violence during Partition. The Sikhs and Hindus of the village took refuge in a gurdwara with high, fortress-like walls. When Muslim mobs laid siege to the gurdwara, the men in the community decided that all the women and girls would save their ‘honour’ by throwing themselves into a well. When some women refused, men of their own families sliced them with swords and threw them in. I am grateful that I never heard a word of bigotry against Muslims from my parents. My father often told me that the word Allah appears more than a thousand times in the Sikh Holy Book. Their prayer room carried the name of Allah on its walls, along with a crucifix, Buddha and many Hindu gods and goddesses.

Decades later, when I decided to leave behind my career in the IAS in protest against the Gujarat communal massacre of 2002, to fight for justice and healing with the survivors, many relatives of my extended family were furious, and cancelled me from their lives. One of them said to me loudly during a family wedding, “We are ashamed of you. After all we suffered during Partition, you have crossed to the wrong side”. I replied, “After all our families suffered in Partition, who more than us can understand the suffering of victims of the same hate violence? It is, even more, our duty to stand resolutely with them, against the perpetrators of hate. I am on the right side. It is you who are on the wrong side. Don’t you see?”

What is important is not just what we remember from the tangled agony of Partition, but what lessons we draw from these memories.

Can we remember who were the most tragic victims of Partition violence? The women who were treated as property, and battlefields to defend or transgress the “honour” of the community. The Dalit Christians left behind in Pakistan, condemned to continue the work of manual scavenging but savaged by blasphemy laws and religious discrimination.

Can we remember the thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who risked their lives to save their neighbours from the hate violence of people of their own community?

Some of us believe that behind the announcement of the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day are the politics of the ruling establishment. August 14 is celebrated as Independence Day in Pakistan. My social media feed is already choked with messages that blame Gandhi and Nehru for Partition, and maintain that it was Sardar Patel and the RSS that saved India from fragmentation and further dismemberment. The RSS historically played no role in the freedom struggle. Is the announcement of Partition Horrors Day a part of their larger project to rewrite history, with the RSS painted as patriots and the Congress led by Gandhi as traitors? When we remember Partition, we must recall that it was Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha who, long before the Muslim League, imagined two separate nations, of Hindus and Muslims. It was the RSS that sought an India of Muslims as second-class citizens. It was the RSS and communal organisations of Muslims that lit and stoked the horrific fires of communal violence.

Yes, Indians must never forget the torment and horrors of Partition. We must remember so that we never allow hate to partition not just our land, but even more fundamentally, our hearts. We must remember always what the politics of religious hate does to a people.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes: Fundamentalism draws its motivating energy from cultivating grievance against imperial hierarchies. The US management of the withdrawal will give fillip to fundamentalism’s deepest psychological impulses.

American empire has been stuck in a place where, to use Polybius’s words, “it can neither endure its condition, nor the means to overcome it.” In the context of Afghanistan, learned strategic thinkers and broadsheets of imperial privilege like The New York Times, will fulminate over roads not taken. But this exercise, as valuable as it might be, misses the wood for the trees. These questions re-enact the presumption of imperial omniscience, innocence and power. In Phil Klay’s masterpiece, Missionaries, Lisette, a journalist who has spent time in Afghanistan, asks the question: “Any wars right now we are not losing?” She promptly thinks the answer is Colombia. But this answer turns on how one defines “not losing”. The exorbitant privilege of empire is you even get to define what counts as loss and shrug off its costs.

There is a long litany of losses. The wars in Iraq, Libya, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon; the coups from Iran to Chile; the creation of secret instruments of violence in assorted places from Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Laos, Honduras, El Salvador; sanctuary to autocracies and exporters of violent fundamentalism from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, each of whom have subverted the US’s own aims. Ask the question: “Did intervention leave a place in a better condition or achieve an objective with least violence possible?” The answer often turns out to be “no”. The tens of thousands of civilian casualties testify to that.

Often progress was set back. The Middle East had many functioning states, pockets of urbane modernity, till the geopolitics set the stage for worse forms of fundamentalist reaction. The exact shape of the Taliban, ISIS, al Qaeda is no more over-determined by the interventions of great powers, than it is by some more primordial essence of a culture. But it is impossible to deny that they are products of modern imperial politics: Its unsettling of local societies, its encouragement to violence, its support of fundamentalism, its breaking up of state structures.

At the heart of empire is the debasement of moral identity. Empire has seven deadly sins. The first is corruption. Internally, empire always empowers corrupt practices, the legions of lobbyists, arms dealers, hucksters, who begin to constitute the secret sinews of the state and channel its war booties. Externally, the reliance on mercenaries, the sordid deals with all kinds of unsavoury groups, the casual saturation with arms, the implication in illicit trade, make empire resemble a gangster operation that has blowback on the state it represents. Corruption ensured both that the US Treasury was drained and no state was built in Afghanistan. The second sin is self-deception. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, America knew exactly what is going on. But the stakes in keeping the myth of imperial virtue and imperial power produce self-deceptions of the most extraordinary sort.

The third is a morality that, to use Tagore’s phrase, “is split down the middle,” committed to the very things it disavows. What does the rule of law mean when empire itself enacts a regular lawlessness? What does a “humanitarian mission” mean, when it licenses an outsourcing of torture or disregard for civilian life? The fourth sin is its continual expansionism. The omniscience of empire is apt to give every local conflict global significance. But it also has the need to remind the world of its resolve to remain preeminent. That needs war. The fifth is hypocrisy. The more power tries to stretch, the more it deploys double standards. Some hypocrisy is inevitable in politics. But it becomes the defining feature through which the world understands imperial power. The sixth is a cult of violence. There is an abiding paradox in US strategy. The creation of stable states and societies requires the pacification of violence. But there is something bizarre about modern imperial counterinsurgency strategies. From Iraq to Afghanistan to western Pakistan to the drug wars, the abiding legacy of this empire is saturation of societies with arms and militias; as if creating armed factions in society and militarising, running it awash with cash, will ever get you a stable state. The seventh sin is racism. Even the most liberal-minded empire will create a hierarchy of those whose lives matter; even in its emancipatory mission it cannot get away from reinforcing claims of superiority that generate resentment.

There are no easy solutions in Afghanistan. The corruptions of empire made withdrawal long overdue. But the tragedy of the American withdrawal is that even in trying to extricate itself, America ended up enacting the sins of empire, not overcoming them. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an end of the corrupt political economy of violence. The great powers will be new proxies who produce the same cycle of violence and civil war. Withdrawal does not signal a commitment to greater multilateralism or the rule of law. Withdrawal will not produce an honest reckoning with the self-deceptions of empire.

Will the Taliban reinvent itself? There is reason to be deeply sceptical that it will. Will it become like a poor Saudi Arabia in the Eighties — a power the West had no problems with, even when it was internally repressive or exporting jihad? Or will anarchy follow? Or will now the internal fissures of Afghan society produce a new political dynamic? No one truly knows.

But the modality of US withdrawal exuded the fundamental sin of empire: Its reinforcement of race and hierarchy. The tropes used to justify the mess of this withdrawal all underscore this. It is the Afghan president, their army, that is to blame, as if after 20 years of intervening in a society, the US had no responsibility. Suddenly, the pretext of common humanity, and universal liberation, which was the pretext of empire, turned into the worst kind of cultural essentialism. It is their culture, these medieval tribalists who are incapable of liberty. We veiled the fact that they are entirely the creation of modern war.

And finally, this shocking sense of, “Frankly dear, we could not care a damn,” about the Afghans who reposed trust and risked their lives. Fundamentalism has drawn its motivating energy, not from God, but from cultivating grievance against imperial hierarchies. The Taliban’s victory is not just a morale booster for fundamentalists everywhere. The US management of the withdrawal will give fillip to fundamentalism’s deepest psychological impulses. It is an anarchic world, each for their own.

Anurag Singh Thakur writes: Tokyo 2020 was an Olympics of many firsts for the country. Our sportspersons carry the full support of the government in the quest for sporting excellence.

The sight of our Prime Minister offering churma to Neeraj Chopra, ice cream to P V Sindhu, laughing with Bajrang Punia, telling Ravi Dahiya to laugh more and hearing the experiences of Mirabai Chanu brought a smile to every Indian’s face. What was equally encouraging was that he spent time with every athlete who took part in Tokyo Olympics. The next day, he interacted with the Paralympic contingent, discussing their inspiring life journeys.

These gestures indicate a different side to Narendra Modi — a person who is passionate about sports and willing to go the extra mile for India’s athletes. Before the Tokyo Games began, PM Modi held an extensive review meeting to take stock of our preparedness.

Those who have seen PM Modi closely can vouch for the passion he has towards supporting a culture of sports and games among the youth. As CM of Gujarat, he began the Khel Mahakumbh initiative, which boosted grassroots level sports participation in a state that is not historically known for sporting excellence. There is also a method in how he has supported sports and sportspersons, which would make me to argue that he is India’s first and foremost “Sportsperson’s Prime Minister”.

A few days ago, a 2013 video went viral. In that video, Modi was addressing a group of college students in Pune, where he lamented that India has a large and talented population as well as a history of sporting excellence, but in Olympics after Olympics, we have struggled to raise our medal count. He said that there is no reason a nation like ours should remain deprived of Olympic success. But, according to him, the issue was not the players but our inability to create the right supporting atmosphere. The women’s and men’s hockey teams have gone on record saying that the PM’s phone calls after their defeats played a key role in boosting their morale. In 2019, when Neeraj Chopra suffered an injury, PM Modi wished him a speedy recovery, which was widely appreciated.

When it comes to sports, the PM has understood the root of the problem — that sports generate much interest but when it comes to incentives and participation, there is a wide gap. There was both fact and optimism when he remarked after meeting the Olympic winners — “seeing the recent successes in sports, I am confident there will be a shift in parental attitude towards sports.” When parents see India’s medal count rising, one hopes they will be more open to their children pursuing sports. But, more importantly, when they see all arms of the government, and the corporate sector support our players, they will realise that sports makes for an attractive and honourable career.

Amongst the various ways we can enhance India’s sporting success is by looking at encouraging our states towards a “One State, One Sport” outlook: They can prioritise one game or promote a few (while not ignoring others) based on the available talent pool, natural interest, climatic conditions and available infrastructure. This will bring a focussed approach but also allow for optimum utilisation of existing resources in the state.

Further, we must also get on board corporate India to adopt “One Sport, One Corporate”. Across the world, corporates are at the forefront of extending support to budding talent, building leagues, enhancing the fan experience, marketing as well as merchandising to enhance the financial kitty of players. The success of corporates with cricket over the years is a case in point. Additionally, the sponsorship pattern has transitioned from FMCG brands to new FinTech unicorns. This can be a win-win for players, corporates and the game itself.

Another important aspect is to build a grassroots sporting culture. For this, it is imperative to expand the calendar for various games at the local, state and national levels. India needs regional leagues in every sport that will provide an opportunity for young athletes to hone their skills throughout the year at various levels, as well as enhance the sports ecosystem and infrastructure in the country. I also believe our university system can be transformed into an oasis for Olympic excellence.

These measures will fill the gap between interest and participation going forward.

One of the things that has helped Indian sports is the emphasis on quality and global standards. The conventional route was bureaucratic and tiresome; this has changed in the Modi government, where even the PM prefers to receive feedback directly from the players. While meeting the Tokyo 2020 contingent, he asked them to keep sharing their views on ways to strengthen sporting infrastructure. Be it Mirabai or Mary Kom, the PM has personally ensured they got the best treatment for their injuries.

Another issue impacting Indian sports is (ironically) the rise of modern technology. PM Modi has addressed this in his book, Exam Warriors and in Pariksha Pe Charcha townhall programmes. He talked about giving as much importance to the playing field as to the play station. Modi has not dismissed the advent of modern technology. He has sought a healthy balance where the human element of sports — teamwork, togetherness — is maintained. Further, the National Education Policy also consists of mechanisms that will make sports education an attractive option. In the years to come, Manipur will get India’s first sports university, which will be a boon to athletes and harness the rich sporting legacy in the Northeast.

Tokyo 2020 was an Olympics of many firsts for India. We won our first gold in athletics, the hockey team did wonders and there were successes in other sports such as discus throw, golf, fencing, etc. The Target Olympic Podium Scheme, Khelo India and the Fit India Campaign have laid the foundations for greater success. New India has fire in its belly. Our sportspersons have the full support of the government and the PM in their quest for sporting excellence.

Jaya Jaitly writes: If craftspeople’s work, creativity are to be sustained, designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee must use their influence more responsibly.

The current sparks on social media are not just a frothy tussle between some elite persons, who are considered the protectors of craftspeople, daring to come up against Sabyasachi Mukherjee, one of the most successful names in the fashion business. It is about a genuine and much larger challenge for the world of the handmade. On one side are the values that are important to our cultural heritage, which are about community sharing and retaining pride in our diverse identities and skills. It is about a lifelong riyaaz to improve one’s skills and designs. Craftspeople can create, innovate and co-operate with modernity very easily. Their immense value is that their workmanship incorporates specific cultural histories and stories special to each place and skill. They are our living treasures, who need support and opportunity and they need to be prioritised so that their existing and precious livelihoods are sustained. On the other side is the new “market monster” which makes it alright to swallow up the old ways for the sake of fame and profit. Jeff Bezos, who has been accused of exploiting his workers, has the gall to thank millions of Amazon customers all across the world for funding his multi-billion dollar dream trip into space for five minutes. It is an unequal battle. The passing acknowledgement by our designer to hybrid craft forms is something similar.

When it was announced that marketing lines had crashed due to the success of H&M’s tie-up with Mukherjee for a new line, who would not have rejoiced that Indian designers had conquered the world? We have been proud of the typical Indianness of his designs in the Bengal patina, just as we proudly acknowledge Ritu Kumar’s contribution to hand embroidery and hand block prints, when other designers were running the Western way. But on reading Mukherjee’s statement about the collaboration, it was the mention of a Sanganeri block print being digitised that caught the eye of those who have dedicated their lives to ensure that its neglected and often starving practitioners gain respect, recognition and remuneration.

One wonders if Mukherjee knows what’s been going on in the real Sanganer. It is a small edge-of-town kind of colony outside Jaipur, surrounded by garbage and sewage. The block printers there have been struggling to get clean water and to continue staying there instead of being summarily relocated to some unknown and unfamiliar area by the Pollution Control Board. Hand-block printing employs wood carvers and metal block makers, dyers, designers and printers. The charm of hand-block printing is also its “perfection of unevenness”. Now, the block printers are simultaneously struggling with heavy competition from skill-less screen printers, who provide fabric quickly and cheaply, in the same way that power looms have overrun handlooms. They faced the challenge of mill prints on huge machines in large factories when colonialists prioritised Lancaster and Manchester and destroyed India’s tradition of textile production by hand. Then came digitisation, sounding yet another death knell for India’s hand work heritage.

The whole point of the crafts-supporting world, even internationally, is to respect handwork and human endeavour over the machine. This support is not just a hashtag or a hand-on-heart statement. Its purpose is to benefit the makers directly and to respect a distinct heritage that loses sense if hybridisation is considered true design. If fashion designers like Mukherjee used some of their profits to uplift the working environment in Sanganer, it would be a genuine gesture of respect for our craft heritage.

When Mukherjee boasts of “putting Indian design on the map” with his name and his brand, it may be a big win for him and for India, but not for those who are fighting to continue block printing in Sanganer so that people like him can be “inspired” and “create hybrids” from multiple regions including other “ancient world cultures”, as he says. Sadly, there is no humility in such statements. It is no longer really Indian nor Sanganeri craft if it comes out for H&M’s “masses” from a digital version. Yet, he should know that he is a huge “influencer” for all fashion design students in India. He drives the media into a frenzy of adoration. Brides are so desperate for a Sabyasachi lehnga, which can cost up to Rs 25 lakh, that one small-time electrical shop owner had to sell some of his property to please his to-be-married daughter. We came across a zardozi shop owner in Delhi who showed us his “original copy” of a Sabyasachi sari that he “kept hidden from imitators”, he said.

Since the designer’s influence is vast, if he even whispers the word “digitisation” in the context of a precious hand-crafted textile, he could crush the aspirations and livelihoods of all hand-made textile producers and invalidate the work done by those who have struggled to keep crafts and livelihoods alive through a better appreciation of hand skills. Those young people who are turning to support the craft sector now in the name of “organic” or “sustainable” or “slow fashion” will switch paths in a moment if some big fashion name says it’s okay. There is also a risk of dumbing down those customers who are slowly learning to care about and recognise the differences between powerloom and handloom and screen and block prints. One cannot proudly claim to “Make in India” by destroying another creative section of India, and benefiting only multinationals and designer brands.

S Y Quraishi writes: Islamic tenets prescribe equality for women. Unfortunately, Muslims often violate them.

Ever since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, the media has been speculating on how they would conduct themselves, particularly towards women. Images of women wrapped in blue burqas from their earlier rule in 1996-2001 are being flashed. Atrocities on women, especially girls being prohibited from going to school, are being recapitulated.

Mercifully, the Taliban’s first statement gives cause for optimism. “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman told a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday. He declared that “there will be no discrimination against women” adding that “they are going to work shoulder to shoulder with us”.

Questions are being asked: What is the “framework of Islam?” What’s the Taliban’s version of it? Since they claim to act according to Shariah, let’s understand the meaning of Shariah. In Arabic, it means the path to be followed by Muslims. It can be described as Islamic law. The original sources of Shariah are: The Quran, Sunnah or the “Habitual Practices” of the Prophet (PBUH) and Ahadees (recorded sayings of the Prophet). Based on these, and subservient to them, are two other sources — Ijma (The consensus of jurists), and Qiyas (analogy/ interpretation).

The international media often projects Islam as a religion that cages women. These perceptions ignore, or are unaware of, the Islamic tenets with respect to women, as specified in the holy Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad.

Fourteen centuries ago, Islam recognised women as equal partners to men: They participated in business, war and several other activities. Islam was also the first religion to recognise property and inheritance rights for women — which many other religions granted only in the 20th century.

The Holy Quran and Hadith are replete with injunctions on gender equality. Here are some samples from the Holy Quran: “And one of His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourself that you might find tranquility in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy…”(Surah Ar Rum —The Romans 30:21).

“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Surah Al Baqarah — The Cow 2:228)

“They (your wives) are your garment, and you are a garment for them.” (Surah Baqarah 2: 187)

“I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.” (Surah Al e Imran — The Family of Imran 3:195)

“The believers, men and women, are helpers, supporters, friends and protectors of one another.” (Surah At Tawbah — The Repentance, Quran, 9: 71)

The Ahadees supplement the verses of the Quran with explanations and elaboration. Here are some samples:

“Verily, women are the twin halves of men.” (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi). “Men and women are equal halves.” (Abu Dawud). “The most complete believer in faith is the best in morals, and the best among you is the best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi). “Observe your duty to Allah in respect to the women, and treat them well” (Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon). Please note: Respecting women is seen as a duty to Allah.

The following anecdote is also educative: “A man asked the Prophet, ‘Who deserves my companionship most?’ The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next’? The Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ The man asked, ‘Who next?’ Prophet said, ‘Your mother.’ He asked, ‘Who next?’ The Prophet said, ‘Then your father’.” (Narrated by Abu Hurairah-Bukhari and Muslim)

It is well known that many Indians, driven by the traditional preference for sons, continue to have children until they get a male child and end up with a large family. Lately, with the invention of sex determination tests, female foeticide has become rampant, despite stringent laws against it. The Quran forbade female infanticide 14 centuries ago: “When one of them gets a baby girl, his face becomes darkened with overwhelming grief. Ashamed, he hides from the people, because of the bad news given to him. He even ponders: Should he keep the baby grudgingly or bury her in dust? Miserable indeed is their judgement.” (Surah An Nahl — The Bee 16:58-59)

“Do not hate having daughters, for they are the comforting dears.” (Al-Tabarani) “Whoever has three daughters, and cares for them, is merciful to them, and clothes them, then paradise is certain for him.” (Jabir ibn Abdullah)

Abdel Rahim Omran, Professor of Islamic Law at the University of Al-Azhar, Cairo, has summed up the position of women in Islam as enunciated in Surah An Nisa 4:11,12: “Islam championed equality for women in all matters — religious, social, economic and familial. A woman cannot be forced into marriage by her family or guardian — she has to give her consent. Islam endorses a woman’s consent to such an extent that a marriage could be annulled when it has been forced on a woman by her guardian.”

One of the most significant facets of Islam’s recognition of a woman’s individuality pertains to her retaining her maiden name. She can do with her money as she pleases, while her husband — or father or brother — is responsible for providing for her and her children. She has total control of her possessions. As a mother, she is placed ahead of her husband in regard to the children’s loyalty and affection. She has a right to demand, at the time of the marriage contract, the power of divorce and also the power to disallow polygyny by her husband.

Islam gives women equal legal status. This means she has the right to enter into all kinds of contractual arrangements and to conduct business on her own without the need of her husband’s consent. As regards girls’ right to education, Prophet Muhammad told his followers: “Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims, male and female… The person who goes forth in search of knowledge is striving hard in the way of Allah, until his/her return.”

It is unfortunate that not only the Taliban, but also Muslims in many parts of the world do not understand and follow the tenets of Islam. It is clearly a case of Islam versus the Muslims.

Sunanda Mehta writes: Trial by media has taken a toll and tested the tenacity of her family and friends.

Seven-and-a-half years is a long time indeed. A long time to wait for a case to be closed. Even longer when you are waiting for closure.

At least one of these occurred this week when, in a rare and bold judgment, a case was disposed of before a trial had begun. Make that the trial in court. Because, for the very many who were involved, a trial of a different kind had been underway all these years. A trial by public perception, which tested both official machinery and personal tenacity.

On January 17, 2014, when Sunanda Pushkar was found dead at the Leela Hotel in New Delhi, no one expected this to be an easy, open-and-shut case. Because this was not just another woman. She was the wife of one of India’s most well-known and influential politicians, and a woman who held her own, thanks to her bold and commanding presence. Not to forget the scandal that had spilled out of Twitter and onto the national media just a day before the tragedy.

What all of this collectively set in motion was a chain of actions and reactions, twists and turnarounds that converted the mysterious death into a raging controversy. Starting as early as the funeral itself (“held too soon”) to the post-mortem report (doctored or not) to multiple theories about the cause of death (accidental drug overdose/murder/suicide), it was a case that challenged every investigative agency, even as it captured the attention of the nation.

Six police commissioners came and went, four detailed medical reports were drawn up, multiple viscera reports, including one from the FBI, obtained, FIR filed, polygraph tests and even psychological forensic tests conducted, a detailed Vigilance Committee Report filed, SITs formed, over 100 people questioned, raids conducted and a humongous 3,000-page chargesheet presented in the court.

If it strained the system, infinitely more damaging was the havoc it wreaked on the human spirit. And here we are not talking just about Shashi Tharoor, though, admittedly, as the one accused by the police for abetting the suicide of his wife, his was one of the heaviest burdens to carry.

If Sunanda’s death came under a cloud, her life was nothing short of spectacular, marked by an extraordinary display of grit and courage. If there was one thing she had learnt, it was to always land on her feet and bounce back. A single mother, she had changed continents in search of a better life for herself and her young son and transformed their lives from bankruptcy to riches.

At the other end of the spectrum was her son Shiv, trying to balance his irreparable emotional loss with the pragmatic demands of financial stability, given that his mother’s Rs 100 crore-worth assets remained mostly inaccessible to him due to the non-closure of her case and the absence of a will. Two grieving brothers, a father suffering from dementia and eventually passing away in 2019, a sea of friends caught between sorrow and the anguish of not knowing what happened — the Sunanda saga seemed to be an unending tale of mystery and misery.

Till Wednesday, when Tharoor was cleared of all the charges against him. A trial conducted outside the court had been brought to an end.

While the court has deemed what could not have been, there is no revelation yet of what did happen on that fateful day of January 17, 2014. Officials have long complained that high-profile cases, where the authorities are compelled to carry out investigations under the media and public eye, are not just hampered by pressure, but tend to get so complicated that an originally straight-forward situation gets obfuscated, something that is unfair both to the deceased and the family and friends left behind. The Sushant Singh Rajput case is often cited as another example.

As we stop to remember Sunanda’s feisty life and mourn its end, closure will take much longer.

Bhupinder Singh Hooda writes: He worked to liberate the mind, economy and culture of India by shedding the sloth of centuries and infusing them with the dynamism and energy of the youth.

Rajiv Gandhi would have been 77 years old today. As an accidental, reluctant and young prime minister, he piloted India through the tumultuous 1980s and helped shape the new world order. He showed exemplary equanimity and dignity and gave new confidence to the nation. I am fortunate to have watched and worked with him closely.

He had a disarming personality and charm, courage, fortitude, dignity and decency. He was keen to be perceived as a break from the past and symbolised a change in politics, economy and morality in public life, through consent and conciliation, participation and persuasion. He was a determined peacemaker and worked hard to put an end to agitations and violence in Punjab, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland and Kashmir. Ironically, he fell victim to the violence that he had fought all his life.

He said, “India is an old country but a young nation; and like the young everywhere, we are impatient. I am young, and I too have a dream. I dream of an India — strong, independent, and self-reliant and in the front rank of the nations of the world in the service of mankind.” He exhorted the nation, “Our task today is to bring India to the threshold of the 21st century, free of the burden of poverty which is the legacy of our colonial past and capable of meeting the rising aspirations of our people. This will require sustained effort on our part.” He pursued his dream, undeterred and vigorously.

He firmly believed that “India would not hold together without democracy” and did everything to save, strengthen and spread democratic systems, symbols and values. In early 1990, during the Meham by-election (infamously known as Mayhem of Meham), which saw rigging, violence and intimidation, Gandhi, along with young Rahul, visited the house of independent candidate Anand Singh Dangi. Three people had been killed in police firing there. I was with him throughout the visit. He stood with the struggling people and dared the might of the then-chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala, who was seeking election to the Vidhan Sabha to retain his office. After this visit, Chautala had to resign on May 22, 1990.

I feel privileged that, for the 10th Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi chose me as a candidate from Rohtak to oppose Devi Lal, the then-deputy prime minister, who was trounced not once but in three consecutive elections. Alas, Gandhi was no more when election results were announced: The Congress got to form the governments in Haryana and in the Centre.

Gandhi was convinced that peace and political stability are sine qua non for progress and prosperity. Therefore, to check the malaise of political horse-trading and to curb corruption and political opportunism, he got the 52nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1985, passed within a few months of taking over as prime minister. It provided for the disqualification of an elected member of legislature on the grounds of defection to another political party. It was amended subsequently through the 91st Constitution Amendment Act, 2003. Though attempts are being made to circumvent the provisions of this Act, it has succeeded to a large extent.

To make democracy broad-based and to harness the emerging advantage of India’s “demographic dividend”, Gandhi, through the 61st Constitution Amendment Act, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Undoubtedly, the idealism and energy of the youth have changed the political dynamics of the country.

Moved by the abject poverty prevalent in rural Kalahandi, Rajiv Gandhi famously said that of every rupee spent by the government, only 15 paisa reaches the intended beneficiary. He realised that decentralisation of democracy was imperative to magnify the ambit of a democratic system.

He decided to revitalise the panchayati raj framework and introduced the 64th Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1989, which provided for local self-governance. The Congress manifesto for the 1991 Lok Sabha elections promised setting up of panchayati raj institutions. The Congress government fulfilled this dream by enacting the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts. These enjoin the states to establish three-tier panchayats and municipalities with decision-making powers and adequate finance.

To arrive in the 21st century with a fair, just, peaceful and educated society, Rajiv Gandhi emphasised the education of the youth. He established the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 1985 to modernise and expand higher education programmes across the country. He conceived of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV), a free residential school, for providing quality education to the young in the rural areas. The first JNV in the country was opened in a village in Jhajjar district, a part of my parliamentary constituency. At present, there are about 660 JNVs in the country.

Gandhi left the imprint of modernity on this ancient country. He is rightly acclaimed as the architect of Digital India. The seeds of information technology, telecommunication and computer revolutions were planted by him. Several institutions like MTNL, VSNL, C-DOT etc. were established to spread the communication network through PCOs in far-flung rural areas.

Gandhi launched several other institutions to liberate the mind, economy and culture of this country by shedding the sloth of centuries and infusing it with the dynamism and energy of the youth. He changed India forever. His heart throbbed for India and exhorted every Indian to proudly say “mera Bharat mahan”. His memory is etched in the hearts and minds of Indians.

Baijayant Jay Panda writes: The Congress has only paid lip service to economic reforms and prioritised politics over policies.

In a recent statement on the 30th anniversary of the 1991 economic reforms, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indulged in some self-praise, crediting the Congress party and his colleagues for paving “a new path” for the country’s economic policy. However, besides the much-needed and much delayed 1991 reforms under the leadership of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, Singh and his party have little to back their credentials as committed economic reformers.

While claiming credit for the 1991 reforms, Congress leaders must introspect why these reforms were required in the first place. The economic crisis in 1991 was an inevitable consequence of disastrous Nehruvian economics.

Congress was finally compelled to give up on Nehruvian economics when the nation was pushed to the brink of economic collapse and no other option was left. But such are the contradictions within the Congress that on the one hand, it takes credit for the reforms done under compulsion in 1991, and on the other hand, it celebrates Nehruvian economics.

Despite knowing the pitfalls of the Nehruvian consensus, Singh had remained silent while holding many top offices in Congress regimes of the 1970s and ’80s. This was tantamount to being complicit in derailing the Indian economy.

The former PM had quoted Victor Hugo and ended his budget speech in 1991 with the words, “no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.” However, the lack of conviction in those ideas was on display when reforms came to a grinding halt under the decade-long UPA government he headed.

In that disastrous decade, landmark economic reforms like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) remained a distant dream as the UPA government failed to build a consensus among state governments. Similarly, key sectors of the economy like banking, finance, insurance, etc. were starved for reforms.

The government was disinterested in the ease of doing business and entrepreneurs remained pariahs, except their pool of cronies with their scams in telecoms, coal and more. Despite recognising the farmers’ difficulties in selling their produce, agriculture markets were never considered. The UPA government did not even try to initiate reforms in labour and environment laws, considering them too politically sensitive. With so many missed opportunities with Singh at the helm, anybody should think twice before endorsing his team’s reformist credentials.

Numerous Congress leaders have highlighted the importance of reforms by consensus rather than stealth. It is helpful to look back at history to check whether their actions matched their words.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the PMO during 1991, wrote in his book on the 1991 economic reforms — “The two-step devaluation decision was taken purely between the prime minister and the finance minister, and was conveyed to the governor and deputy governor of the RBI. The finance minister had wanted it that way because he felt that given the 1966 experience, the cabinet would never give its consent.” Forget getting various stakeholders on board, the then finance minister and future PM did not even trust his own cabinet colleagues.

In a recent interview, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Secretary of Commerce in 1991, proudly recalled the speed with which trade policy reforms were initiated. He said, “The whole process of abolishing import controls and moving to market-based methods of allocating imports, with an ultimate shift to a market-based exchange rate, was done in the space of eight hours.”

One of the landmark decisions in 1991 was the new industrial policy, announced a few hours before the Union budget on July 24. The draft of such an important policy with far-reaching impact was prepared in a few weeks. A cabinet note was discussed on July 19. Due to opposition within the cabinet, the PM formed a group of ministers. The GoM met the next day itself and many ministers had apprehensions about the policy according to Jairam Ramesh. On July 23, the cabinet eventually passed the policy. To save time, the PM called a meeting of the entire council of ministers and Congress Working Committee on the same day and got it passed.

Despite advocating “reforms by consensus”, did Singh or his colleagues advise the PM to consult various stakeholders with the final draft of the policy? How many state governments gave their suggestions and feedback on this draft policy with far-reaching consequences? Despite the lack of efforts to build a consensus, the Congress party continues to recall the 1991 economic reforms as a glorious achievement.

Economic reforms have always been a matter of political opportunism rather than a policy commitment for the Congress. Due to insecurities over sharing credit for the 1991 economic reforms, the party and its leaders never mention the role of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. In his statement, Singh attributed credit for the reforms to his party and his colleagues and failed to even mention the former prime minister.

The Congress has paid lip service to economic reforms but has never hesitated in claiming credit to appease the middle-class. Singh ended his statement with the poet Robert Frost’s famous line, “But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep”. Perhaps, he and his party need to introspect why they have prioritised politics over policy to prevent the Narendra Modi government from keeping those “promises”.

Pranjul Bhandari writes: It is critical to provide protection to workers via social welfare schemes.

The lack of frequent and up-to-date economic indicators makes it hard to track India’s large informal sector, which employs around 80 per cent of the labour force and produces about 50 per cent of GDP.

A lot is at stake here. Ignoring problems in the informal sector can be costly as it can lead to job and wage losses, higher inflation and even risk the livelihood of migrant workers. For instance, following demonetisation, a disproportionately higher number of jobs were created in rural India which isn’t the positive it might seem as wages are 2.5 times lower than in urban India. As a result, overall wage levels and GDP declined over the next few years.

Informal sector workers suffered far more from the national lockdown in 2020 than their formal sector counterparts. With an inadequate safety net, there were painful accounts of displaced informal workers trying to get back to their rural homes.

Such disruptions can be inflationary too. India was one of the few countries with high inflation throughout pandemic-stricken 2020. Some of this is likely to be associated with the disruption in informal firms, who in normal times are very active in the production of essential goods like food and textiles.

Of the 384 million employed in the informal sector, half work in agriculture, living mostly in rural India, and the other half are in non-agricultural sectors. Of those, about half live in rural India and the remaining in urban areas. Each of these groups have fared differently through the pandemic.

The fortunes of those in the formal sector, who make up 20 per cent of the workforce, have been relatively good. Through the pandemic, large and listed firms have done better than smaller firms. A combination of cost-cutting, a lower interest rate environment, access to buoyant capital markets, and ongoing formalisation are likely to have helped keep profitability high.

The salaries of individuals working at these larger listed firms have also held up relatively better, though they are lower than the pre-pandemic trend. These individuals may also have benefitted from buoyant stock markets.

Will they continue to lead the recovery? Most likely yes, but differently. Recall that the urban affluent class led the rise in demand post the first Covid-19 wave in 2020 by buying consumer durables like furniture, electronics, cars and even houses. These items are generally not purchased year after year. As vaccinations are rolled out, these consumers may instead switch from spending on goods to services.

Over the longer term, the prospects for this group will depend on the progress of policy reforms and economic growth, which are the leading drivers of real wages.

The prospects for the 40 per cent in the informal agricultural sector have been surprisingly resilient too. Rural wages have held up well over the pandemic, led by good monsoons, an exemption to the food trade from the various lockdowns, and more recently, higher agricultural exports. Higher government spending in various social welfare schemes has also helped.

As this group emerges from the second Covid-19 wave, they may want to consume goods that make them feel more secure, such as two-wheelers and home repair services. Longer-term consumption will depend on agricultural reforms which will help diversify income sources and raise agricultural productivity.

The 40 per cent in the informal non-agricultural sector is the most worrying. These workers are most vulnerable as they have borne the brunt of the economic disruption that the pandemic has unleashed.

One half of this group lives in rural India. They have not done as well as their farming counterparts. Most of them involved in construction, trade and manufacturing have seen wage growth fall. The sharp rise in demand for rural unemployment benefits is an indicator of the disruption faced.

The other half lives in urban India and is employed across the trade, hotels, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors. This group has been at the receiving end of formalisation. We look closely at the constituent companies of the FTSE index, who by design, belong to the formal sector.

We find that historically, nominal GDP growth has been a good indicator of the formal sector corporate sales. But during the pandemic and also during events like demonetisation, formal corporate sales have exceeded nominal GDP growth.

We believe this means that some demand, which was previously supplied by the informal sector, began to be supplied by the formal sector. Other data shows how spending has moved from small firms to bigger ones. It is no surprise that employees of large firms have done much better than small and informal firms.

Several surveys over this time also show a rise in urban unemployment and self-employment, with the latter category seeing the highest earnings loss.

What does all of this mean for economic growth? Formalisation can be a double-edged sword. While traditionally associated with efficiency gains, if it comes at the cost of putting small informal firms out of business, and the disruption in the informal sector, it can weigh on demand in subsequent periods.

The constructive way to think about this is to differentiate between “forced” and “organic” formalisation. Formalisation that comes only on the back of external pressure or leads to deep distress in the informal sector, may not be sustainable. By contrast, formalisation that happens on the back of policy changes that help small and informal firms grow over time into medium or larger formal sector firms is more sustainable.

What is, perhaps, needed now is protection for informal sector workers via social welfare schemes so that the disruption they are facing does not lead to a permanent fall in demand. There is a case for remaining generous with programmes such as the rural MGNREGA scheme for
longer.

India doesn’t have an equivalent urban social welfare scheme. Government capex doubles up as one, providing short-term jobs. But this source of expenditure can be unreliable. We believe there is a good case for setting up a more permanent direct urban social welfare structure.

In the meantime, steps to promote reforms that are needed to help small businesses grow are critical. For example, lowering the regulatory burden associated with growing firms.

On a broader level, one big learning from the pandemic has been that India can’t wish away the informal sector. And neither can it be assumed that the fortunes of the formal and informal sectors move together.
Bringing the informal sector to the forefront of policy decisions can lead to a significant payoff for the entire economy for years to come.

Research suggests that far fewer than 1% of all warriors in history have been women. Even today, if we only go by who makes the decisions and who holds the guns, war seems largely men’s business. Absent a crucial diversity in perspectives, war’s impact is also evaluated in gender-neutral terms. Women are thus doubly invisibilised. If only Afghanistan’s convulsions can shine the light on such blindness. Not to minimise what men may suffer as a result of Taliban taking over, it is women who are being shoved back into burqas, ejected from workplaces, schools and government. Being a slave, bearing children as the staple role, is what their future may now hold.

Bangladesh war, Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda … the list is so long of women paying disproportionate costs in conflict situations. But obviously this has not been a big consideration in Washington or other capitals. Wouldn’t the world look different if women were less ‘hidden’ at the high tables of international relations? The 2000 Security Council resolution calling for their equal participation in all efforts to maintain peace and security, was definitely based on this understanding – even if its adoption has been sadly lacking. Its goal was to get more women into peacekeeping, but their participation in war rooms also needs a serious uptick. To the extent that the stakes of peace and security are different for men and women, they could manage conflicts very differently.

In India women getting permanent commissions in the army and being allowed to take the NDA exam, are steps in the right direction. The command structure created by males and for males has failed the world. Let us now experiment with a promising alternative. Just ask the Afghan women how fed up they are of men’s wars and what they would do with the reins instead.

A multiparty delegation is to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week seeking a national caste census. It’s a demand rooted in a mix of politics and deprivation. Indeed, accurate and timely data is central to India’s effort to dent poverty. However, improving existing databases is more crucial to this than caste counts. Poor data hurts efforts to design welfare programmes. If caste is about deprivation, counting the really deprived is more important than identifying the caste of everyone.

India’s National Sample Survey is unique for the extensive and periodic household level data it generates. It’s the foundation of many GoI policies, including the inflation targeting framework that is based on consumer expenditure surveys. The trouble now is that many key welfare schemes are based on work carried out by NSS and other arms of the government way back in 2011-12. The consumer expenditure survey (68th round) and the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 are the bedrock of welfare schemes such as the ones for LPG cylinders and rural housing. There’s been no update to this database in a decade.

We have not had an estimate of even poverty since July 2013. Policies today are being designed on a rather old database. It’s more important for GoI to pay attention to this gap rather than embark on a new exercise when even the Census 2021 enumeration has been delayed by the pandemic.