Editorials - 11-05-2021

Technological changes in education and health are worsening inequities

Virginia Eubanks’ widely acclaimed book,Automating Inequality, alerted us to the ways that automated decision-making tools exacerbated inequalities, especially by raising the barrier for people to receive services they are entitled to. The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies in India, even for essential services such as health and education, where access to them might be poor.

Economic inequality has increased: people whose jobs and salaries are protected, face no economic fallout. The super-rich have even become richer (the net worth of Adani has increased; https://bloom.bg/3bhlh3B). The bulk of the Indian population, however, is suffering a huge economic setback. Several surveys conducted over the past 12 months suggest widespread job losses and income shocks among those who did not lose jobs.

Worse than the immediate economic setback is that well-recognised channels of economic and social mobility — education and health — are getting rejigged in ways that make access more inequitable in an already unequal society.

The switch in learning

For a few, the switch to online education has been seamless. Notwithstanding the Education Minister’s statement in Parliament that no one had been deprived of education because of online learning (https://bit.ly/3vT578y), at least two young students took their own lives because they could not cope — a college student studying in Delhi and a 16-year-old in Goa whose family could not afford to repair the phone he used.

According to National Sample Survey data from 2017, only 6% rural households and 25% urban households have a computer. Access to Internet facilities is not universal either: 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas (https://bit.ly/2RIKeOp). Sure, smartphones with data will have improved access over the past four years, yet a significant number of the most vulnerable are struggling. Surveys by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Azim Premji Foundation, ASER and Oxfam suggest that between 27% and 60% could not access online classes for a range of reasons: lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc. Further, lack of stable connectivity jeopardises their evaluations (imagine the Internet going off for two minutes during a timed exam).

Besides this, many lack a learning environment at home: a quiet space to study is a luxury for many. For instance, 25% Indians lived in single-room dwellings in 2017-19. If between two and four people share a single room, how can a child study? For girls, there is the additional expectation that they will contribute to domestic chores if they are at home.

Peer learning has also suffered. When students who did not study in English-medium schools come to colleges where English is the medium of instruction, they struggled. Yet, surrounded by English speakers, however falteringly, many managed to pick up the language. Such students have been robbed of this opportunity due to online education.

While we have kept a semblance of uninterrupted education, the fact is that the privileged are getting ahead not necessarily because they are smarter, but because of the privileges they enjoy.

Need a bed? Have an app

Something similar is happening with health care. India’s abysmally low public spending on health (barely 1% of GDP) bears repetition. Partly as a result, the share of ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) health expenditure (of total health spending) in India was over 60% in 2018. Even in a highly privatised health system such as the United States, OOP was merely 10% (https://bit.ly/3xZh2mZ). Moreover, the private health sector in India is poorly regulated in practice. Both put the poor at a disadvantage in accessing good health care.

Right now, the focus is on the shortage of essentials: drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines. In several instances, developing an app is being seen as a solution for allocation of various health services. It is assumed that these will work because of people’s experience with platforms such as Zomato/Swiggy and Uber/Ola. We forget that those work reasonably well because restaurants/food and taxis/drivers are available for these platforms to allocate effectively.

Patients are being charged whatever hospitals like, and a black market has developed for scarce services (such as oxygen). The sensible response to such corrupt practices would be to clamp down on the handful who indulge in them. Instead, those in power are looking for digital options such as making Aadhaar mandatory.

Digital “solutions” create additional bureaucracy for all sick persons in search of these services without disciplining the culprits. Along with paper work, patients will have to navigate digi-work. Platform- and app-based solutions can exclude the poor entirely, or squeeze their access to scarce health services further.

In other spheres (e.g., vaccination) too, digital technologies are creating extra hurdles. The use of CoWIN to book a slot makes it that much harder for those without phones, computers and the Internet. There are reports of techies hogging slots, because they know how to “work” the app. The website is only available in English.

Online sharks

It is also alarming if the pandemic is being used to create an infrastructure for future exploitation of people’s data. The digital health ID project is being pushed during the pandemic when its merits cannot be adequately debated. Electronic and interoperable health records are the purported benefits. For patients, interoperability (i.e., you do not have to lug your x-rays, past medication and investigations) can be achieved by decentralising digital storage (say, on smart cards) as France and Taiwan have done. Yet, the Indian government is intent on creating a centralised database. Given that we lack a data privacy law in India, it is very likely that our health records will end up with private entities without our consent, even weaponised against us (e.g., private insurance companies may use it to deny poor people an insurance policy or charge a higher premium). There are worries that the government is using the vaccination drive to populate the digital health ID database (for instance, when people use Aadhaar to register on CoWIN). No one is asking these questions because everyone is desperate to get vaccinated. The government is taking advantage of this desperation.

The point is simple: unless health expenditure on basic health services (ward staff, nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians, medicines, beds, oxygen, ventilators) is increased, apps such as Aarogya Setu, Aadhaar and digital health IDs can improve little. Unless laws against medical malpractices are enforced strictly, digital solutions will obfuscate and distract us from the real problem. We need political, not technocratic, solutions.

More than 10 years ago, we failed to heed warnings (that have subsequently come true) about exclusion from welfare due to Aadhaar. Today, there is greater understanding that the harms from Aadhaar and its cousins fall disproportionately on the vulnerable. Hopefully, the pandemic will teach us to be more discerning about which digital technologies we embrace.

Reetika Khera is Associate Professor (Economics) at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. The views expressed are personal

There are many lessons from the results of the recent Assembly elections, the focal point being West Bengal

The Assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are over, the results are out and governments are in place. And there are lessons for the victors, the vanquished and the also-rans.

Calling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee a Bengal tigress as she leads West Bengal for the third time is no exaggeration. An increased steadfastness despite the odds, a rare self-possession when things seemed to fall apart when allies and friends were deserting you, relying on one’s own counsel when at the crossroads, possessing a raw courage combined with perseverance and, above all, being fearless are all characteristics of valour. Ms. Banerjee showed all those traits in abundance, leading from the front.

A case for unity

Among the many lessons, there are two overriding common messages: first, that arrogance and hubris will destroy you whether you are dealing with a virulent virus or dealing with people. Second, humanity must unite to conquer the virus. To build a happy and prosperous nation, politicians and people must come together, rising above caste, creed, gender and blinkered ideologies and pursue inclusive politics.

Governance so far

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trounced in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala but it registered wins in Assam and Puducherry. It increased its seat tally in West Bengal but seen in the blazing light of Ms. Banerjee’s crushing victory, any claim by the BJP to accomplishments are invisible and immaterial. The entire focus of the world and the media was rightly on West Bengal. Many feared that a win for the BJP here would have emboldened the party leadership to pursue more vigorously its bulldozing methods of majoritarian politics, which was becoming increasingly divisive along ideological and communal lines. Enforcing its own ‘Hindutva’ ideology which is antithetical to the oceanic all-embracing core Hindu philosophy, pursuing a brand of jingoistic narrow nationalism that considered anyone who disagreed as anti-national, exhibiting utter disregard for academic and press freedoms and a contempt for science while wallowing in the glories of our past accomplishments in mythology, diminishing the autonomy of institutions and investigating agencies and using them to intimidate critics and political opponents, and resorting to crude moral policing that coerced people to adhere to its ideology are the factors that led to the gross vulgarisation and degradation of the polity and society which was also scarred by violence and vigilante justice. The real threat to India’s vibrant democracy, its rich variegated culture and diversity were the crude attempts to homogenise it into a depressing monochrome.

Not inclusive

In its relentless pursuit of such politics, the party leadership, in its arrogance and hubris and blinded by power, did not realise that it was alienating a large population of its voter base, voters from across non-traditional vote banks who had switched to the BJP over the years after being disillusioned by the venal politics of the Opposition parties, both at the Centre and in the States. The politics of the BJP did not pave the way for an inclusive development model. It failed to recognise that no other model can deliver equitable growth. People eventually tire of politics that is always on the boil and which is not accommodating and reconciliatory. In the end, they want harmony, peace and freedom to pursue their faiths, professions and their individual proclivities with freedom. If there is constant conflict and strife between various sections of society, no business, big or small, will thrive. Considering all these, the Bengal elections in particular were a watershed moment for the party and the country.

Advice for the TMC leader

However, in Ms. Banerjee’s massive victory, there is also a lesson from her defeat — a cautionary tale that should bring her down to earth. The BJP has been steadily breaching her citadel which began during the parliamentary elections in 2019. And she ought to be reminded that she has been no less autocratic than the BJP. She single-handedly put an end to Left rule of over three decades. In the process, Ms. Banerjee welcomed many lumpen elements into the TMC’s fold and the violence continued under her patronage. She was accused of nepotism within the family and favouritism in the party and for rewarding loyalty over honesty or competence. She turned a blind eye to widespread corruption and scams.

Now that she has won the mandate for a third term, she must show maturity and sagacity. She must administer through wide consultations and deliver on her promises. She can be reminded that minority appeasement vote bank politics can boomerang and give rise to a majoritarian backlash. She must not undermine and misuse the institutions and the agencies of the state against her opponents and critics, a charge she often makes against the BJP. The BJP has now won 77 seats in the State which is no mean achievement. The venom and the ugliness of this election must be put behind and Ms. Banerjee must work with the Opposition. If she does not heed the writing on the wall, the BJP is sure to breach the palace gates in the next elections.

In the other States

The same lessons apply to Kerala and Tamil Nadu too, with Pinarayi Vijayan winning a second consecutive term and M.K. Stalin making his debut as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The past tenures of the Left Democratic Front and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have not been free of controversies and scandals, high-handedness and strong-arm tactics.

A look at the Assam vote too which, under the BJP, has been riven along communal and ethnic lines and divided on citizenship and registration rules; its citizens have had a harrowing experience. The Bengal defeat will hopefully teach the BJP that laws and rules must unite communities and the nation.

A few last words to the also-rans, especially Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. He should be aware of what General Douglas MacArthur said: “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”

Captain G.R. Gopinath is a soldier, farmer and entrepreneur

It is time to revive a plan that is modelled on the British National Health Service

“When we fall sick, we die.” The villager who said that to a student of mine may have got unpleasantly close to the truth about the condition of healthcare in India. The current surge in COVID-19 infections has exposed problems amounting to near-chaos throughout Indian healthcare, even if the pandemic has also brought to light Herculean attempts by medical staff, patients’ families, and governments to try and cope with what has been called a tsunami, one which is rapidly getting worse.

While those involved in the clinical response are clearly doing their often-desperate best — care staff are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 — the Central and State governments are now coordinating measures within and across their respective jurisdictions. For example, the railways are running special trains carrying oxygen supplies, and the military is also involved in supply chains. The Karnataka government has ordered private hospitals above a certain size to reserve 75% of their beds for COVID-19 patients who will be paid for under a public scheme. Other States have taken similar measures. The Supreme Court has,suo motu, called for a national plan to deliver oxygen and vaccines.

The responses to the worsening COVID-19 crisis are, nevertheless, not free of tensions. Some private healthcare providers have objected to public authorities’ orders on widened patient access, and the Supreme Court’s call for a national supply plan has been publicly criticised in the political sphere. Some of the problems have occurred on previous occasions. At least one private hospital chain has lost a court action over its failure to treat a government-specified quota of poorer patients; the quota was a condition of help with land allocation to build a hospital.

System under strain

Yet the current crisis may well redirect national attention to what is only barely recognisable as a system of healthcare. India’s fragmented, often corrupt, urban-centred, elite-focused and wretchedly underfunded agglomeration of clinics, hospitals, and variably functional primary health centres can look like no more than an accidental collection of institutions, staff, and services. India’s public spending on health is set to double in the 2021-22 financial year, but that is from a figure that has long been only a little over 1% of GDP. In certain rural areas, the doctor-population ratio is over 1:40,000.

India’s healthcare providers, however, have the task of serving 1.4 billion people, for the overwhelming majority of whom sickness or serious injury of any kind is a matter of lifelong dread. Medical expenses constitute the major reason for personal debt in India, whether the causes are episodic afflictions or, for example, those caused by environmental conditions which none can escape, such as air pollution (which the journalLancet Planetary Healthsays this accounted for 1.7 million deaths in India in 2019; the annual business cost of air pollution is currently estimated at $95 billion, which is about 3% of India's GDP).

An idea whose time has come

In effect, COVID-19 may bring about serious consideration of an Indian national health service. National public discussion of that would be almost unprecedented in India, but the idea itself is not new. In 1946, the civil servant Sir Joseph Bhore submitted to the then government a detailed proposal for a national health service broadly modelled on the British National Health Service or NHS, which was on the way towards legislative approval in Britain. Bhore went further by recommending that preventive and curative medicine be integrated at all levels. The British plan had been drafted in the 1930s, as problems worsened in healthcare services. The fact of the Second World War, in the darkest hours of which a plan was prepared to transform Britain into a post-war social democracy with a comprehensive welfare state and a universal free public health service supporting a mixed economy, may therefore have been catalytic rather than decisive in the creation of the NHS.

The result is a mighty achievement in public policy, politics, and the provision of top-class universal healthcare, including training, research, and changing engagement with the public as society changes. The service is funded entirely from general taxation. The budget includes payment to general practitioners, most of whom remain private providers but are paid by the state for treating NHS patients. Items listed in general practitioners’ prescriptions incur no charges in the devolved regions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and in practice only a proportion of patients in England have to pay for prescription items. All hospital treatment and medicines are free, as are outpatient and follow-up appointments. The British public share the costs through their taxes, and almost without exception receive treatment solely according to their clinical needs. With about 1.1 million staff, the NHS is the largest employer in the U.K. Its current budget is about 7.6% of GDP, but despite its size and scale, it provides highly localised access to care.

Problems in the NHS

Of course, problems have arisen. Among them are largely unintended inequalities in the time and attention given to patients of different social classes (this discovery resulted in substantial changes), huge and frequent reorganisations imposed by Central government, and often ideologically driven underfunding. Nevertheless, many senior hospital consultants who were opposed to a public health service when the NHS started have declared unreserved support for it in at least one national conference resolution. An authority on the NHS has said that it is the most loved and trusted institution in the country and is held in even higher regard than the monarchy.

India now faces a very serious health crisis, possibly the worst since Independence. By all accounts, several areas of the Indian healthcare provision are under severe strain. The precise structure envisaged by Bhore may need some adaptation for today’s society and conditions but dealing effectively with the pandemic may itself require the urgent creation of an Indian National Health Service.

Arvind Sivaramakrishnan is a former Visiting Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Madras

Data indicate that the vaccination programme has been effective in reducing infections among those aged 60 and above

Pandemics happen in waves. During the last century, this was the case with the Spanish flu. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India was managed through lockdowns and improvements in medical infrastructure for diagnosis and treatment. Now there is a vicious second wave of infections. This is related to the easing of lockdown restrictions and a large number of people who have remained uninfected until now returning to their normal lifestyle. In addition, mutant strains of the virus are contributing to the spread. This has impacted a large number of States including Tamil Nadu.

As in the case of any infectious disease, vaccination is the only way to reduce infection and control this pandemic. That effective vaccines became available within a year since the beginning of the pandemic is an incredible achievement. In India, too, vaccination against the virus is being offered. Vaccination with either Covishield or Covaxin was available from January 16 of this year. Initially, these vaccines were offered to front-line staff including doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital staff. From March 1, people over 60 years of age and also those over 45 years with co-morbidities became eligible for vaccination. Further, vaccination was expanded to cover all those above 45 years from April 1, 2021 and all those above 18 years from May 1.

A positive effect

In large trials, administration of Covishield reduced significantly the number of people who were infected compared to control. However, not everyone is convinced of the efficacy or necessity of the available vaccines. There are many reasons for this reluctance to get vaccinated. At a public health level, the negative side effects of vaccinating 100 million Indians remain low compared to the overall benefits of vaccination. Analysis of the available data from November 2020 and the second wave in Tamil Nadu suggest that the vaccination of people over 60 years of age has already started showing a positive effect.

The proportion of new COVID-19 positive patients in this age group has fallen since vaccination started. In comparison, the number of positive cases among those in the age group below 60 years shows an increase. This is illustrated in the accompanying graphs for Tamil Nadu and Chennai. The first graph shows the data for daily infections for the whole of Tamil Nadu according to each age group and the second shows the number of active patients for Chennai (according to available data). The Y axis on the left shows the proportion of daily infections or active cases while that on the right shows the numbers vaccinated.

Numbers that bode well

An analysis of the absolute numbers shows an increase in cases across all age groups. However, the percentage of infected people over 60 years of age shows a definite decrease. At present, in Tamil Nadu only 16% of those above 60 years and 4% of those below 60 years (projected population in 2021) have been vaccinated (one dose). However, there is a 7% decrease ininfectionsamong those above 60 years of age. These results strongly suggest the positive impact of vaccination. Similar reduction can be expected in the number of deaths among those above 60 years of age. However, analysis of death data is not meaningful at this stage owing to large scatter in reported deaths.

This bodes well for the future. Increasing the population which can be vaccinated is a definitive way to control the pandemic. The government has now allowed vaccination of all people above 18 years, a good step forward. However, educating the public about the benefits of vaccination and explaining that major side effects are rare will be important to ensure acceptance. Vaccinating a large number of people will take time and effort but is necessary to prevent further waves of infection and the possible emergence of new mutant strains. While the vaccination programme will help in reducing the effects of the second wave, the only way to contain it quickly is an increased adherence to COVID-19-appropriate behaviour.

T.S. Ganesan is Professor, Medical Oncology and Clinical Research, Cancer Institute (WIA), Chennai; R. Rajaraman is Professor, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; and Dr. R. Shankar is Honorary Professor, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai

Besides the two vaccines in use in India, three vaccine candidates look promising

The unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases has changed vaccine hesitancy to vaccine advocacy. Even as the government has allowed those aged 18 and above to get vaccinated, the availability of vaccines has become an issue. Many extraneous issues such as Centre-State relations have clouded the picture. Given the rise in cases and deaths, COVID-appropriate behaviour has to be strictly implemented from now on and vaccination has to take place on a war footing.

Production capacity

The main issue is of volume of vaccines. Bharat Biotech (BB) was making about 8-10 million doses of Covaxin a month. Serum Institute of India (SII) makes about 70 million doses of Covishield a month. We need about 1,500 million doses (two doses per person) to vaccinate the target population. India has covered about 10% of the target population. BB is expanding its capacity and hopes to reach a target of 50-60 million doses a month in four months. SII has stated that it will push production to 100 million doses a month. Sputnik may chip in with 50 million doses a month in about four months.

Besides these, three vaccine candidates look promising. The DNA vaccine (for spike protein) by Zydus Cadila, the recombinant spike protein (Biological E), and self-amplifying messenger RNA (Sa-mRNA for spike protein) by Gennova can reach field application in four months. All the three may need emergency approval from the DCGI. With the availability of five approved vaccines, with some outside help perhaps, and with an aggressive timeline, India should be able to vaccinate the target population in six months from now.

What are the riders and imponderables? Despite the unfolding tragedy, there are some major outcomes. The DNA vaccine, if successful, will be the first DNA vaccine that goes into human application for any disease. The 10,000L bioreactor for mammalian cell expansion, to be commissioned by BB, will be largest by global standards. But it is not easy to scale up the micro-carrier technology used by BB. Sa-mRNA, being developed by Gennova, is the first of its kind (uniquely, stable between 2-8°C), even for a mRNA vaccine, already commercialised by Moderna and Pfizer (require -20 and -70°C for stability). Sa-mRNA can amplify itself and so a lower dose may be adequate. In the context of ‘variants’, mRNA vaccines provide the greatest flexibility to tweak and make a new vaccine in the shortest time. Interestingly, the five vaccines would represent five different platforms and eventually need not be confined to a single company for production. Several research publications have shown that vaccines produced using different platforms are all effective in preventing severity of disease and hospitalisation, although infection may still happen.

The way forward

It is possible that when 60% of the target population is reached in terms of vaccination (in addition to the infected and recovered individuals), herd immunity may kick in and cases may go down drastically. But people and the system may once again get complacent and a third wave may become a reality. We also do not know how long the antibody-mediated protection lasts. We need to look into T-Cell memory and its role in long-term protection. The issue of vaccinating children will become a priority, since, being asymptomatic, they are the largest carriers to spread the disease. This would call for independent trials based on age groups.

A few other public sector units have also been supported for capacity building and can become major vaccine manufacturing centres over time. Viral variants will evolve, especially under vaccine pressure, and pose challenges to vaccine efficacy. Constant tweaking may be needed or a new vaccine strain may be added each year. Vaccines produced using different platforms may be priced differently and it is possible that we may have a poor man’s vaccine and a rich man’s vaccine since the government may not subsidise the cost forever. One hopes that these efforts will also prepare India for a future pandemic.

G. Padmanaban, former Director, IISc, is Senior Science Innovation Adviser, Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India

IPR waiver will not bring immediate benefits; the effort must be to share the stockpile

The Biden administration’s announcement that it would support a waiver on intellectual property rights (IPR) for the production of COVID-19 vaccines appeared to catch the world off-guard, on both sides of the argument. The original proposal for the relaxation of TRIPS for such vaccines in the context of the ongoing pandemic was drafted at the WTO by India and South Africa last year. Months before it was tabled, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, erstwhile candidate Joe Biden vowed that should he win, he would “absolutely positively” commit to sharing vaccine technology with countries that needed it, perhaps anticipating the deep chasm of inequality in vaccine access. Now that his administration has proclaimed its intent to fulfil that promise, it must come as a bitter realisation that what sounds like a well-intentioned, pro-developing-countries policy stance has been rebuffed by major EU nations and met with counter-suggestions that might make even the most liberal U.S. Democrats uncomfortable. The first pushback salvo came from Germany which said that it would create “severe complications” for the production of vaccines, echoing the view of major pharma corporations. While French President Emmanuel Macron had appeared relatively less hostile to considering the proposal earlier, he lashed out at the “Anglo-Saxons” for impeding vaccine availability globally by blocking the export of ingredients.

There are merits to the argument that an IPR waiver, even if it were to become a reality, may not entirely resolve the vaccine deficit issue in countries suffering the worst of the pandemic now. First, the grant of a waiver would have to be accompanied by a “tech transfer” that provides generic pharmaceutical manufacturers with the requisite trained personnel, raw materials and hi-tech equipment and production know-how. Second, there must be a scientifically convincing answer to the question of how any vaccine then produced by these generic manufacturers — in all likelihood, years from now — would pass the tests of safety, immunogenicity and protective efficacy. Third, the impact on global supply chains for vaccine production should be examined so major disruptions might be avoided. Finally, alternative options to urgently address vaccine shortfalls should be considered, including developed nations sharing a significantly greater part of their vaccine stockpiles, particularly in cases where the latter exceed projected domestic need. Indeed, there is speculation that the intention behind Mr. Biden’s waiver proclamation might be in favour of the last outcome, essentially a tactic to persuade pharmaceutical companies to accept less painful measures including sharing some of their technology willingly, agreeing to joint ventures to increase global production expeditiously, and simply produce more doses at affordable prices to donate directly to where the need is most severe, especially India.

There must be international pressureon Israel to treat Palestinians with dignity

The ongoing violence in Jerusalem is a culmination of the tensions building up since the start of Ramzan in mid-April. When Israeli police set up barricades at the Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the occupied Old City, preventing Palestinians from gathering there, it led to clashes. Last week, close to a scheduled Israeli Supreme Court hearing on the eviction of Palestinian families in an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, tensions escalated. Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif compound (Noble Sanctuary), which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, to disperse the protesters, injuring hundreds of Palestinians. A Jewish settlement agency has issued eviction notices to Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, claiming that their houses sit on land purchased by Jewish agencies in the late 19th century (when historic Palestine was a part of the Ottoman Empire). Arab families have been living in Sheikh Jarrah for generations. The Israeli Supreme Court postponed the hearing on Monday on the advice of the government. Despite the volatile situation, the Israeli authorities gave permission to the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, traditionally taken out by Zionist youth through the Muslim Quarter of East Jerusalem to mark the city’s capture by the Israelis. More violence broke out ahead of the march on Monday morning.

Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel, which captured the western part of the city in the 1948 first Arab-Israel war and the eastern half in the 1967 Six-Day War, claims sovereignty over the whole city whereas the Palestinians say East Jerusalem should be the capital of their future state. Most countries have not recognised Israel’s claim over the city and are of the view that its status should be resolved as part of a final Israel-Palestine settlement. Israel’s tactic till now has been to hold on to thestatus quothrough force. A peace process is non-existent and the Palestinians are divided and weak. Withcarte blanchefrom the Trump administration, Israel expanded its settlements and extended repression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The move to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem is seen as an attempt to forcibly expand Jewish settlements in the Arab neighbourhoods of the Old City. Israel’s actions have triggered condemnations from across the world, but it is unlikely to mend its ways. The international community, which largely overlooked Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians, should pressure Tel Aviv to at least treat the Palestinians with dignity, if not to ease the yoke of the occupation. U.S. President Joe Biden has said that America’s commitment to human rights would be at the centre of his foreign policy. In West Asia, he faces a reality check.

With the ever-increasing stress of over-population, under-production and the displacement of manual labour by machinery, we are being gradually faced with the problem of unemployment in an acute form. No country in the world seems to be free from its virulent manifestations, in some form or other, and the recent intensity in the agitations among the masses all the world over is partly due to this malady. Capitalist industrialism, although it has tended, on the one hand, to organise and increase production by exploiting the material resources of the world — even sometimes at the cost of the natural freedom and justice due to many millions of human beings, belonging to less aggressive and more contented nationalities — has also, on the other, created extremes in the human scale and widened the gulf between them.

Mr. Abdus Salam Azad, Special Envoy of the Government of Bangla Desh, to-day [Somewhere in Bangla Desh, May 10] appealed to the U.N. Secretary-General, U Thant, and world powers to secure the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman so that his life could be saved. “We are afraid our leader is being tortured by the West Pakistani Army,” he said. He hoped that the U.N. Security Council would allow a representative of Bangla Desh to present their case before the world body. “We, in the name of humanity, expect that the people of the world will extend their full support to the freedom struggle of the suffering masses of Bangla Desh,” he said. Mr. Azad described the propaganda by the West Pakistani military regime that India was interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan as a “tissue of lies.” He told PTI in an interview that it was the West Pakistan Air Force, Army and Navy which were strafing, bombing and shelling the population in Bangla Desh. They were on the rampage in various parts of Bangla Desh. He said the people of Bangla Desh were forced to take shelter in India as it was the only country bordering Bangla Desh. “We are really grateful to the people and the Government of India for their not driving our people back into the clutches of the West Pakistani butchers and plunderers and for accepting the evacuees with all sympathy and cordiality,” he added.