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Archives for : August2018

Kerala defeating Npayoff of social spending’

Vinod ThomasVinod Thomas

Economist stresses on investment in education and health

The quick and effective response to the Nipah outbreak recently in Kerala is a clear demonstration of the benefits of investment in education and health over a long period, said development economist Vinod Thomas.

Mr. Thomas, currently visiting professor at National University of Singapore and at Asian Institute of Management, Manila, was talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a discussion at the World Bank on his latest book, Climate Change and Natural Disasters: Transforming Economies and Policies for a Sustainable Future. Mr. Thomas has earlier worked with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

“Kerala’s recent experience with Nipah shows that payoffs are possible when you invest in education and health. It has been argued that Kerala has not been reaping the economic benefits of all the investment in education and health it has made over decades. When the Nipah episode happened, it showed the awareness, knowledge and the ability of officials and the public to participate in an exchange of information and communicate with other experts elsewhere. All this was a demonstration of the capability that Kerala as a society has acquired. It showed the payoff, aside from straight economic growth,” said Mr. Thomas, who has authored 16 books.

The economist said though the State has made strides in improving social indices, “on economic growth, it has put so many impediments.”

On the other hand, Mr. Thomas said the current focus on economic and infrastructure aspects of growth at the cost of social side needs to be corrected quickly for the country as a whole to progress.

Quick response

“If Nipah had happened in some other parts of the country, it could have been an epidemic, if not a pandemic. Kerala was much faster in responding, compared to even Malaysia, which faced an outbreak 15 years ago. If the detection or the response had been slower — in this case, the gut feeling of a well-read doctor — he had never seen a Nipah case, but he remembered that he had seen a journal where it was discussed,” he said.

“The quality of education will have to be the key priority for India, particularly, skill development. When you add health to the educational crisis, there is a real problem. Malnutrition and potential of epidemics is so alarming in India, as India’s urban centres are under heavy pressure. The health-environment-education axis needs to click, for India to reap the benefits of globalisation, and that is still a long shot. Shifting the focus to the social must be huge priority. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka have bridged that gap to a large extent, but still not sufficiently. For instance, Karnataka has a large number of medical colleges but very poor attention to rural health needs,” he said.

United societies

Mr. Thomas said there was enough evidence that better-educated and less-divided societies are much more equipped to deal with natural disasters and epidemics.

“Natural disasters often demand imaginative responses and for that, we need as a root, education and inclusiveness. We see that in societies that are very divided, the impact of natural disasters is that much worse. When the divisions are less, the resilience to deal with crisis is better,” he said, warning that social disharmony could derail India’s growth ambitions.

Citing the case of Singapore’s focus on maintaining ethnic harmony, Mr. Thomas said: “People of Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic origins have been made to live together, mechanically or genuinely, in harmony for a long period of time.”

Noting that the hallmark of the Singapore model was its communal harmony, he said, “That is a concern for India now, even in Kerala. Unless that is addressed, all the talk about economic growth will add to nothing.”

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Justice for Shanavi Ponnusamy- Condemn Gender Discrimination and Transphobia



Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) strongly condemns the denial of a job by Air India to Shanavi Ponnusamy on account of her identifying herself as a transwoman.  In a shameful but sadly commonplace instance of gender discrimination and transphobia, Shanavi was rejected multiple times by Air India for the cabin crew post once her identity as a transwoman was revealed. Twenty six year old Shanavi comes from a deprived background and is the first graduate from her family in Tiruchendur in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. She graduated as an electronics and communication engineer in 2010 and had been denied employment almost twenty four times because of her gender identity before she managed to secure a job with a private company, Sutherland Global Services (airline sector). She worked for over a year to gain experience during which she also served in customer care services for Air India (domestic and international) in Chennai, before applying for the post of female cabin crew in Air India for its Northern Region. Shanavi applied to the cabin crew post in Air India four times within a span of two years and has been repeatedly denied the job without any explanation, despite her possessing all the necessary qualifications and fulfilling the eligibility criteria.

Since Shanavi identifies as a woman, it is in this category that she applied for the job. As per the NALSA judgement “transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender” is upheld. However, most education boards are in violation of the NALSA judgment because they have not changed the names and genders on the educational documents of transgender people to reflect their preferred name and gender. It is saddening that Shanavi was forced to disclose her personal history as a transgender woman to Air India, just by submitting her documents. From this point onward, she was subjected to enormous ridicule and hostility for identifying as transgender during the qualifying process for the job. In the context of this ridicule, is it any surprise that the examiners gave her a low score in the entirely subjective category of “personality”? When Shanavi wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office for redressal, her complaint was forwarded to the Ministry for Civil Aviation to seek redressal where she was blatantly told that the transgender category “does not exist in the recruitment policy and if this category is introduced anytime in future we will advertised vacancies accordingly”! This is in clear violation of the landmark NALSA judgment of the Supreme Court of India passed in 2014 which unequivocally directs ‘the Centre and the State Governments to extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments’ to transgender persons in an effort to remedy the extreme marginalization and oppression experienced by the community. In Shanavi’s case, where she identifies herself primarily as a woman, applying under transgender category becomes important in order to avail of the affirmative action programme as promised by the landmark NALSA judgment of the Supreme Court of India passed in 2014. However, the absence of such a category can not be cited as a barrier to her employment. Significantly, the NALSA judgment also upholds the right to identify with the gender of one’s choice. Therefore, we believe that people should be able to apply as women/men/transgender based on their self-declared gender identity, regardless of whether they were assigned that gender at birth. Secondly, if there is any discrepancy with the name and gender on education certificates, or if the candidate were to reveal their transgender identity, they should be considered for affirmative action – that is, hired in preference over other applicants who have similar qualifications. Hiring under such affirmative action policies should not be revealed in the workplace by the employer after the employee is hired so that they can work in a stigma-free environment if they choose, and persons hired in the transgender category should be able to chose the gender of their choice to function in the workplace without being forced to stick to the transgender category. Finally, some employees may transition after joining a workplace under a different gender category and the workplace should support this transition.

With no scope for redressal in sight, Shanavi eventually approached the Supreme Court in November 2017 following which the apex court sent a notice to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India directing them to respond to Shanavi’s grievances within four weeks. However, in utter disregard to the court directive, both the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India continued to remain apathetic and unresponsive which compelled Shanavi to take a drastic step and write a letter to the President of India seeking mercy killing. In the letter, which was written in February 2018, Shanavi describes her inability to continue with this arduous legal battle especially since she is struggling to meet even her daily expenses due to lack of employment. Most importantly, she asserts that by denying her employment, the government is also denying her the fundamental constitutionally guaranteed right to live her life with dignity and self- respect. Shanavi’s ordeal was only exacerbated when Air India made public statements citing her low scores on the  entirely subjective “personality test” as an excuse for not hiring her, despite the fact that any subjective measure would be subject to bias and prejudice against transgender persons. They further began a vicious slander campaign against Shanavi, debunking her case as an attempt to “arm twist” Air India and a “gross abuse of the process of law”. In their abhorrent counter-affidavit filed months past the stipulated time in the Supreme Court as a response to Shanavi’s petition, Air India disparagingly described Shanavi as “inefficient” and “lacking in merit”. The meritocratic argument has been used historically against the assertions made by the socially oppressed groups and it only goes on to expose the deeply pervasive casteist and brahminical attitudes prevalent in our society.

They even stated they would want to file a defamation case  for damages against her over the perceived loss to their reputation. Do they even imagine what it means for a transwoman, who has suffered indignity, discrimination and rejection all her life to assert herself and struggle and come to this stage!? Here’s the country’s first ever transperson, in our 70 years of independence, who could be a potential cabin crew and this is how AI seeks to treat her! Is this how the Central Govt. seeks to implement the directions of the Supreme Court in the NALSA Judgement, 2014, that states that transgender persons must not be discriminated against and that the State must take all possible measures to pro-actively provide employment through affirmative action and even reservations?

Shanavi’s ordeal is indicative of the larger oppression faced by the transgender community within the country. The discriminatory practices against them have continued unabated despite the presence of progressive legislations such as the NALSA judgment. The judgment significantly posits gender identification as an ‘essential component required for enjoying civil rights’. Due to their stigmatized and disadvantaged position in society, a widespread exclusion from most forms of employment, and the lack of recognition of their chosen gender identities, transgender persons have been historically deprived of their legitimate natural and constitutional rights. Transgender persons are most vulnerable to sexual violence and other forms of discrimination and social exclusion which include lack of access to education, employment, housing, basic medical facilities, etc. The degree of vulnerability increases in case of individuals belonging to the bottom of the caste and class hierarchy and many transgender women are left with no option but to self organize and eke out stigmatized livelihoods such as sex work and begging for basic subsistence. Furthermore, vast numbers of transgender people are driven out by their families and the lack of familial and peer support aggravates their precarious social existence. In addition, persistent experiences of misgendering, shame, stigma, lack of recognition, rejection and a general lack of sensitization and awareness about their lives increases the risk of severe mental illnesses and suicide within the transgender population.

It is, therefore, shocking that despite being one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups requiring legal protections, the transgender community has become a subject of mockery by the lawmakers themselves. On July 31, Alka Lamba, the serving MLA from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) derisively described transgender persons as ‘beech wale’ (middle-ones) who clap loudly (“thaali peetna”) in a tweet. The remark was made in her apparent criticism of a political rival on Twitter in which she condescendingly stated that, “Even the ‘middle ones’ don’t clap so much as this person does single handedly… Clever people understand by a mere gesture”. For her to reiterate stereotypes in a bid to insult someone, and to further describe the hijra community as “beech vale” smacks of bigotry. This comes at a time when her party, AAP, has pushed for a transgender welfare board to be created in Delhi, and her stand flies in the face of the stand of the Delhi government. A few days prior to this in July, Maneka Gandhi disparagingly referred to the transgender persons as the ‘other ones’ during the parliamentary debate on the Anti- Trafficking Bill, 2018. Her comment was received with widespread laughter by the male Members of Parliament who were also seen smirking and thumping the tables. The comments made by Ms. Gandhi, who is ironically the Minister for Women and Child Development, are reflective of how the legislature is deeply implicated in perpetuating the worst kind of stereotypes against transgender persons. Ms. Gandhi had to later issue a public apology and retract her statements following huge outrage over her comments. WSS condemns in the strongest possible terms the crude and irresponsible remarks made by Ms. Gandhi which not only serve to trivialize the dehumanizing treatment routinely meted out to transgender persons but also reinforces the existing prejudices and the social exclusion which they face as a stigmatized community.

The comments made by Ms. Gandhi and Ms. Lamba are reflective of how the legislature is deeply implicated in perpetuating the worst conceivable stereotypes against transgender persons.  The ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018’ which was passed in the Lok Sabha on 26th July 2018, criminalizes sex work and begging, which are very often the only source of livelihood for transgender persons owing to their precarious socio-economic condition. The Bill creates a new category of ‘aggravated trafficking’ which elevates begging as a crime over other forms of trafficking and also criminalizes the supply of hormone therapy commonly used by transgender persons while transitioning. The punishment for ‘aggravated trafficking’ offences is rigorous imprisonment ranging from ten years to life imprisonment along with a minimum fine of one lakh rupees. The bill also criminalizes “fraud for procuring or producing, printing, issuing or distributing unissued, tampered or fake certificates”, which could be used to penalize transgender persons whose gender or name doesn’t not match with that on the legal and ID documents they have acquired in good faith. The Bill also recommends patronizing solutions under the garb of ‘protection and rehabilitation’ such as sending adult victims to rehabilitation homes or repatriating them to the places of their origin within the country. The Bill calls for creation of additional bureaucratic apparatuses and gives arbitrary powers to the judiciary and the police. It must be noted that the drafting of the anti-trafficking bill was not preceded by any study or research conveying the ground realities and was passed hurriedly without holding any discussions with the stakeholders. The recommendations made by the Supreme Court- appointed panel suggesting community-based approach to rehabilitation and revising outmoded laws such as Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) were also ignored entirely in the course of the drafting. The Anti-Trafficking Bill, thus, reduces trafficking to a law and order problem by ignoring its socio-economic dimensions and grossly violates the dignity and autonomy of the persons identified as ‘victims’. WSS demands that this bill should be referred to a standing committee of the Parliament and not allowed to pass the Rajya Sabha without extensively consultations with begging and sex work communities, including transgender and cisgender members of these communities.

The ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’ which is pending in the parliament displays an extremely problematic understanding of transgender identity and calls for the creation of lengthy and bureaucratic hurdles for the recognition of transgender identity by the state. The Bill even encodes discrimination by prescribing lower punishments for physical and sexual assaults upon transgender persons than upon cisgender women. While not providing any reservations or anti-discriminatory punitive measures for transgender persons, in complete violation of the leaps made by the NALSA judgment, the bill criminalizes the tradition of community begging and community living which sustains the transgender community in the wake of exclusion from all other spaces and sources of livelihood. WSS demands that the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 be revisited in the framework of NALSA and should be extensively discussed with the transgender community before it is passed in haste.

WSS reiterates its support to Shanavi Ponnusamy and upholds her constitutionally guaranteed right to identify with the gender of her choice. We also extend our solidarity with Shanavi’s struggle for trans-inclusive and non-discriminatory workplaces in both public and private sectors. We demand that:

  • The NALSA judgment must be implemented and upheld  in both letter and spirit in the court of law not only through the recognition of the discrimination by Air India but also by assuring Shanavi of her livelihood and her right to live with dignity as already enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
  • We demand that transgender persons be allowed to select the category of their choice while applying for jobs and that a transgender category be provided instead of just male or female while seeking employment in accordance with the NALSA judgment passed by the Supreme Court of India in 2014.
  • All educational boards should immediately comply with the spirit of the NALSA judgment and change the name and gender of the past education certificates issued to transgender persons, upon receipt of their changed government identity documents.
  • Shanavi’s fundamental right to privacy and that of all transgender persons applying for jobs, with respect to the revelation of their transgender identity, should be upheld. The outing of Shanavi’s identity as a transwoman in the course of the struggle has already hampered her prospects of seeking alternative employment, thereby exacerbating her vulnerability.
  • The ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018’ in its current form must be withdrawn and should be reviewed by the Standing Committee of the parliament in deliberation with all the stakeholders.
  • The ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’must be revisited in the framework of NALSA and should be extensively discussed with the transgender community before it is passed in haste.
  • AAP MLA Alka Lamba must issue a public apology and withdraw the insensitive and highly problematic comments made by her against the transgender community.
  • Reporters who cover these stories are urged to move beyond describing all transgender persons as “third gender” and instead use “transgender persons”, with an understanding that these persons’ primary identity may or may not be transgender – they must be asked the preferred name and gender and be consistently referred to in that name and gender. The media should please note that transgender people do not “become” the gender of their choice and stop using the wrong pronouns to refer to transgender people prior to any medical transition – transgender persons may have identified with the gender of their choice for years before any medical intervention and when they choose to have medical procedures is a deeply personal decision that is irrelevant to reporting on transgender persons.

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Afghan national in Pune, who managed to get Aadhaar card and Indian passport, sent back

Qadiri had come to India on a student visa in 2014 and lived in Kondhwa area, said police sources. His details were registered with the Foreigner Registration Office of Pune City Police

by Chandan Haygunde | Pune |

Aadhaar, Aadhaar data for crime investigation, UIDAI, Aadhaar data for crime investigation, Aadhaar Act, Indian express


In the verification report submitted to the Passport Office, the police marked ‘no’ to the question “Is there any reason to believe that the applicant is not a citizen of India?” (File Photo)Pune City Police have issued a ‘Leave India’ notice to a youth from Afghanistan who had come to the country on a student visa, but later married a woman from the city and even procured an Aadhaar card and Indian passport illegally. Police said the Afghanistan national, identified as Qadiri, was sent back to his country by flight on Thursday.

The investigation has revealed that in his passport application, Qadiri had stated that he was a resident of India by birth and had even attached the copy of an Aadhaar card as his identity and address proof. Police suspect that Qadiri procured the Aadhaar card, which had an address of Bhawani Peth, Pune, via fraudulent means. The inquiry is on to ascertain how Qadiri managed to get an Aadhaar card and clear the police verification process, which is essential for procuring an Indian passport.

Qadiri had come to India on a student visa in 2014 and lived in Kondhwa area, said police sources. His details were registered with the Foreigner Registration Office of Pune City Police. While still on his student visa, he got married to a woman from Pune, which is a violation of visa norms, said police. He then procured an Aadhaar card and applied for an Indian passport. In the passport application, Qadiri mentioned details of his father, mother and spouse. Police suspect that Qadiri applied for a passport as he wanted to continue to live in Pune as an Indian national with his wife. His police verification process was completed by personnel from the Khadak police station in November 2017.

In the verification report submitted to the Passport Office, the police marked ‘no’ to the question “Is there any reason to believe that the applicant is not a citizen of India?” Sources confirmed that after considering the police verification report, a passport was issued to him by the passport office in Pune, in the name of ‘Abdul Hameed Noor Mohammad Qadiri’.

After the issue came to light, Qadiri was questioned by Pune City Police and following an investigation, he was issued a ‘Leave India’ notice. Joint Commissioner of Police, Ravindra Kadam, confirmed that Qadiri was sent back to Afghanistan. A senior police officer said the investigation had revealed that the Afghanistan national was not involved in any anti-national activities, but he was found committing “undesirable and illegal activities”, so action had been taken against him.

The case, however, has revealed the lapses in the system and police are going to initiate action against those who helped Qadiri procure the Aadhaar Card and Indian passport.


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UIDAI’s #Aadhaar Helpline Creeps Into Contacts Of Smartphones #WTFnews

UIDAI’s Aadhaar Helpline Number Is Getting Mysteriously Added To Your Contact List And Nobody Knows How

Aadhaar Helpline Creeps Into Contacts Of Smartphones, Twitter Buzzes

The UIDAI recently changed its helpline number recently. (Representational)



  1. The new number has been pushed into people’s phone books
  2. On Twitter, people are posting they saw the new number

Thousands of smartphone users in India woke up puzzled on Friday with a Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) toll-free helpline number saved in their phonebooks by default.

UIDAI, which is yet to issue an official statement on this, has replaced the earlier helpline number — 1800-300-1947 — with the new number — 1947, which got into people’s phonebooks without their consent.

“This is no joke as it is on my phone too. I didn’t save this number. Check your phone asap, feeling worried,” a user tweeted with a screenshot.


The Aadhaar helpline numeber, 1800-300-1947, got into people’s phonebooks without their consent.

A French security expert, Elliot Alderson, asked UIDAI on Twitter: “Many people, with

Amid all the debate and confusion about Aadhaar, and its data safety, thanks to TRAI Chairman RS Sharma’s recent adventure on Twitter, now it has emerged that UIDAI’s Aadhaar Helpline number is being automatically added to the contact list on people’s phones.

Across brands and carriers, the number has been added under the name UIDAI and has listed the toll free number 1800-300-1947 with the contact.

Aadhaar Helpline Number


Since it was first reported by French cyber security expert Elliot Alderson on Twitter on Thursday, we at Indiatimes searched across mobile networks and manufactures and found that a good majority of them do have it already saved on their devices. While most of the phones we checked were android, a couple of iPhone users also said they too have it.

Elliot Alderson@fs0c131y


Many people, with different provider, with and without an card, with and without the mAadhaar app installed, noticed that your phone number is predefined in their contact list by default and so without their knowledge. Can you explain why?


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India – Govt drops the Plan to monitor Social Media

 Monitoring Social Media Dropped: Centre To SC; Hearing On Plea Against It Closed

The Centre today submitted before the Supreme Court that it has dropped the proposal to create social media hubs to monitor social media including WhatsApp after which the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra disposed of as “infructuous” a plea filed by a TMC MLA Mahua Moitra challenging the move.

On July 13 SC had warned Centre against any plan to snoop into one’s whatsapp, email accounts or social media posts in facebook, twitter or Instagram.

At the outset of today’s hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud: “The petition has become infructuous. We are withdrawing the RFP (Request For Proposal)”.

The submission ironically came 17 days before the tender was to be issued.

After AG’s submission, the bench recorded: “the Union of India submits that it has withdrawn its request for proposal to set up social media hubs. In view of the aforesaid nothing remains to be adjudicated”.

The Centre’s plan had got into trouble as the Supreme  Court warned that it amounted to nothing but creating a “surveillance state” and amounts to “sheer intrusion into privacy”.

SC had taken a strong note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision and sought its response by today.

Significantly, it had also sought Attorney General K K Venugopal’s assistance in the matter remarking: “It seems the government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state”.

The proposed ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ was for collecting and analyse digital and social media content.

The court order came on a petition filed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, had said the government has issued request for proposal for social media hubs and the tender will be opened on August 20.

“They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub”, Singhvi had argued.

The counsel for Moitra had said that the government is trying to monitor the social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.

A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs… In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data, the tender document says.

Under the project, media persons were to be employed on a contractual basis in each district to be the eyes and ears of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground.

The tender document says the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights, and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.

The platform may be used to disseminate content and hence, should support publishing features, the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room, according to the tender document. It should also help the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centre-run schemes, it says.

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Modi Rule of 4 years- 3,000 Communal Incidents in India, 389 Dead


A scene of violence during communal riot in Kasganj of Uttar Pradesh in January 2018. (Photo – IANS)

Caravan News

NEW DELHI: In the last four years, from 2014 to 2017, some 2,920 communal incidents took place in the country and at least 389 people were killed. This fact is in sharp contrast with the claim of a Union Minister of the BJP-led NDA government that there have been “no big communal riots” in India over the past four years.

BJP came to power in the centre in May 2014 and Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of the country.

This past Monday (2nd July), Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Union Minister for Minority Affairs, had said that there have been no big communal riots in the country in the last four years. But his claim runs contrary to the government data about the communal incidents in the last four years.

According to, as many as 2,920 communal incidents were reported in the country over four years ending 2017, in which 389 people were killed and 8,890 injured. This figure was given in the Union Home Ministry’s reply to the Lok Sabha on February 6, 2018 and February 7, 2017.

Three “major” communal incidents were reported in (Baduria-Basirhat district North 24 Parganas, West Bengal) in 2017, (Hazinagar, West Bengal) in 2016 and (Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh) in 2014.

A “major” communal incident is one that results in more than five deaths or leaves over 10 people injured. An incident that results in one death or 10 injured is termed as “important or significant”.


Communal Incidents in India 2014-2017
Year Incidents Persons Killed Persons Injured
2014 644 95 1,921
2015 751 97 2,264
2016 703 86 2,321
2017 822 111 2,384
Total 2,920 389 8890

Source: Lok Sabha, February 6, 2018February 7, 2017.


As per the government data, Uttar Pradesh reported the most incidents (645) over the last four years, followed by Karnataka (379), and Maharashtra (316).

UP also reported the most deaths in these communal incidents (121) between 2014 and 2017, followed by Rajasthan (36) and Karnataka (35).

In Four Years of Modi Rule, 3,000 Communal Incidents in India, 389 Dead

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Genetically modified food: Whose health, whose business

People are concerned about the possibility of eating GM food.  Can we not expect the government to ensure that they have the right to choose?

Illustration: Ritika Bohra

The minimum we expect from the government is to differentiate between right and wrong. But when it comes to regulating our food it’s like asking for too much. Our latest investigation vouches for this. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s pollution monitoring laboratory tested 65 samples of processed food for presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

The results are both bad and somewhat good. Of the food samples tested, some 32 per cent were positive for GM markers. That’s bad. What’s even worse is that we found GM in infant food, which is sold by US pharma firm, Abbott Laboratories, for toddlers with ailments; in one case it was for lactose intolerant infants and the other hypoallergenic—for minimising possibility of allergic reaction. In both cases there was no warning label on GM ingredients. One of the health concerns of GM food is that it could lead to allergic reactions. In 2008 (updated in 2012), the Indian Council of Medical Research issued guidelines for determining safety of such food, as it cautioned that “there is a possibility of introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes which may in turn have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer”.

This is why Australia, Brazil, the European Union and others regulate GM in food. People are concerned about the possible toxicity of eating this food. They want to err on the side of caution. Governments ensure they have the right to choose.

The partial good news is that majority of the food that tested GM positive was imported. India is still more or less GM-free. The one food that did test positive is cottonseed edible oil. This is because Bt-cotton is the only GM crop that has been allowed for cultivation in India. This should worry us. First, no permission has ever been given for the use of GM cottonseed oil for human consumption. Second, cottonseed oil is also mixed in other edible oils, particularly in vanaspati.

Under whose watch is GM food being imported? The law is clear on this. The Environment Protection Act strictly prohibits import, export, transport, manufacture, process, use or sale of any genetically engineered organisms except with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) reiterates this and puts the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in charge of regulating use. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 mandate that GM must be declared on the food package and the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 says that GM food cannot be imported without the permission of geac. The importer is liable to be prosecuted under the Act for violation.

Laws are not the problem, but the regulatory agencies are. Till 2016, geac was in charge—the fssai said it did not have the capacity to regulate this food. Now the ball is back in FSSAI’s court. They will all tell you that no permission has been given to import GM food. In fact, they will say, there is no GM food in India. But that’s the hypocrisy of our regulators—make a law, but then don’t enforce it. On paper it exists; we are told, don’t worry. But worry we must.

So, everything we found is illegal with respect to GM ingredients. The law is clear about this. Our regulators are clueless. So, worry. Get angry. It’s your food. It’s about your health.

What next? In 2018, FSSAI has issued a draft notification on labelling, which includes GM food. It says that any food that has total GM ingredients 5 per cent or more should be labelled and that this GM ingredient shall be the top three ingredients in terms of percentage in the product. But there is no way that government can quantify the percentage of GM ingredients in the food—this next level of tests is prohibitively expensive. We barely have the facilities. So, it is a clean chit to companies to “self-declare”. They can say what they want. And get away.

The same FSSAI has issued another notification (not draft anymore) on organic food. In this case, it says that it will have to be mandatorily “certified” that it does not contain residues of insecticides. So, what is good needs to be certified that it is safe. What is bad, gets a clean bill of health. Am I wrong in asking: whose interests are being protected? So, take charge of your food. Your health is your business.

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Marital Rape Debate: Justice DY Chandrachud on Right to say “no” after Marriage

marital rape

The hearing in the challenge to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises adultery is progressing before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

The matter is being heard by a Bench of Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra and Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

The hearing witnessed debate and discussion on jurisprudence which forms the basis of the provision, gender discrimination and violation of Article 14.

However, the most endearing aspect of today’s hearing was Justice Chandrachud’s remarks towards the fag end of the day, when advocate Sunil Fernandes was advancing his submissions.

While the hearing today revolved mostly around Article 14, arbitrariness and lack of reasonable nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the provision, Fernandes ventured to bring in Article 21 into the picture.

Fernandes told the Court that the provision should be struck down not on the basis of violation of Article 14 alone but also on the basis of violation of Article 21. His argument was that if the Court strikes down the provision on the ground that it is violative of Article 14 and hence discriminatory on the basis of gender, the Centre might bring in a gender-neutral law criminalising adultery to get over the Court’s judgment.

It was Fernandes’ argument that making adultery a criminal offence is violative of dignity under Article 21.

It was at this point that Justice Chandrachud, who had been vocal throughout the day, weighed in.

“Does a woman or man lose their degree of sexual autonomy after marriage. According to me ‘no’”, said Chandrachud.

He even went so far as to state that,

“The right to say “no” (to sex) should be there after marriage also”.

These remarks might have come at an opportune moment for the petitioners before the Delhi High Court who have challenged the validity of Exception 2 of section 375as per which non-consensual sexual intercourse by a man with his wife will not amount to rape.

The petitions filed by the RIT Foundation and the All India Democratic Women’s Association, which have challenged the constitutionality of Section 375, IPC on the ground that it discriminates against women who are sexually assaulted by their husbands.

On its part, the Central Government has expressed its reservations on amending Section 375, opining that the concept of marital rape itself has to be defined precisely before criminalising the same.

In submissions made before the Court, the government has cautioned against criminalising marital rape, on the apprehension that doing so could destabilise the institution of marriage, apart from being an easy tool for harassing the husbands.

Last year, the Supreme Court had read down this exception to criminalise marital rape when the spouse is a minor. Hence, while child marital rape has been outlawed, the concept of marital rape between adult spouses is not recognised.

Marital Rape Debate: Justice DY Chandrachud on Right to say “no” after Marriage

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Scrap Bullet Train Project Now ! Political Parties Lend Support to Farmers Workers Protest Against Bullet Train Project

Bullet Train Feasibility Report Omits Crucial Chapters, Shrouded in Secrecy

Political Parties Lend Support to Farmers Workers Protest Against Bullet Train Project

Scrap Bullet Train Project Now !

New Delhi, August 2 : Bullet train is pure megalomania of a despot and symbol of misplaced priorities of NDA government. India needs Mass Rapid Transport Systems which is affordable and efficient and truly green, not these white elephants which will push the country in further debt trap for a long time to come. This was conveyed at the public meeting organised by Bhumi Adhikar Andolan at Constitution Club, Delhi which saw participation of activists, researchers and parliamentarians.

Amid the ongoing protests against forcible land acquisition in Gujarat and Maharashtra for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship bullet train project, the Feasibility Report of the Mumbai-Ahmadabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) prepared by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) came under sever criticism for omitting four crucial chapters.

A report released by National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) at the meeting found that Chapter 12 to 15 went missing in the feasibility report. These chapters deal with crucial details on project costs, implementation plan, financing options, and economic and financial analysis. The report named as Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (Bullet Train), A People’s Critique cited that the government’s report did not illuminate any sustainability model and did not mention the costs and its financial burden upon the citizens.

The bullet train project which the PM Modi mentioned as his dream has attracted criticism for not following the procedures stipulated in the Land Acquisition Act 2013. The report questions that if the government is using data collected in 2011 as the feasibility report was based on the data collected then. Apart from that the also report do not contain the detailed project report (DPR) for the bullet train project.

The report citing a Right to Information Act (RTI) mentions “the concerned authority simply cited ‘secrecy’ reason that might affect business completion” to justify the withholding the crucial information.

The bullet train project’s scheduled completion date fixed for August 15th, 2023 have been accused that the due process such as social an environmental assessment has not been carried out as mentioned in the Land Acquisition Act 2013. A number of projects including expressways, industrial corridors, dedicated flight corridors, existing expansion of the railway line and now the Bullet train is all coming within a short stretch, creating havoc in lives of the people. The protests till now have fallen on deaf ear and met with more propaganda. However, it has also forced stopping of survey and acquisition processes. The meeting vowed to continue and increase the resistance against this unnecessary and unrequited project.

According to government estimates the bullet train will have 40,000 passengers in a year in 2013, a claim which the people’s critique out-rightly debunked citing the present day passenger traffic data from the feasibility study. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad route sees a footfall of 4700 per day in the airports and to assert their point about over estimate figures of commuters Geeta Tiwari, a professor at the Delhi IIT said that 98 percent of travelers who use Airways choose bullet train which means that only those who have certain income they seem to opt for the high speed train.

Releasing the report, Gujarat based environmentalist and social activist Rohit Prajapati termed the consultation report on environment as mockery and said, “notification for the consultation were issued just 24 hours before which appears as a mere formality and it is not in compliance with the Land Acquisition Act.” It is astonishing to note that for consultations around environment and social impact, Ministry of Environment and Forest or any other department of the government of India is not being involved, it is being done primarily because the JICA funding guidelines require it. This is utter shame when our own laws are not applied and constantly violated.

The meeting was also addressed by Ulka Mahajan (Sarvhara Jan Andolan), Krishnakant (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti); Brian Lobo and Raghunat Sutar (Kashtakari Sangathana); Jayesh Patel (Khedut Samaj, Gujarat); Ashok Chowdhary (AIUFWP); Ashok Dhawale and Vijoo Krishnan (All India Kisan Sabha); Anil Chaudhary (INSAF); Ashok Shrimali (Setu – Mines Minerals and People); Madhuresh Kumar, Nishant and Rajendra Ravi (NAPM) and Sanjeev Kumar and Shweta Tripathi (Delhi Solidarity Group).

Quotes from speakers

Hannan Mollah, General secretary, All India kisan Sabha: Since Modi government came into power they have tried their best to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, famously known as Land Acquisition Act 2013. They introduced an Ordinance to do away with the important clauses which provide crucial stake to the land owners , but as peoples’ coordinated protests pushed them to withhold the Ordinance. It might appear that the government shelved its regressive effort but in reality they asked state governments to implement the centre’s suggestions. And it is no wonder that the BJP ruled states were the first ones to follow. Thus to protect the rights of farmers, Adivasis various progressive organization formed Bhumi Adhikar Andolan and started their struggle against much hyped Bullet Train project.

Naseer Hussain, Congress: Modi does not care about the people, steep fall in industrial production, farmers’ suicide, students’ struggle but then he emphasizes bullet trains. He assured that the Congress party will take the farmers’ struggle against the bullet train project in the parliament.

Mohammad Saleem, Jitendra Chaudhary, CPM: The country needs mass, rapid transport system, not bullet trains. He assured that the CPM will take the issue in the parliament.

D P Tripathy, NCP: Our jawans on the border are facing scarcity of Bullets but the ruling government’s priority is bullet trains. 508 km distance through 1200 hectares, it will impact the farmers directly. When we are facing massive environmental problems, this project would deteriorate the situation as as many as 80 thousand trees will have to be cut.

Manoj Jha, RJD: Government says they do not have funds for scholarships for SCs,STs, and OBCs but they are willing to invest 1.1 lakh crore rupees for high speed train. This project is not this country’s priority and is not meant for the common man, even Modi himself would have not been able to afford it if he was not the PM.

D Raja, CPI: The CPI supports the movement against this disastrous project and assures that they will also take it up in the parliament. There is a need for us to come together and think of creative and comprehensive strategies then only we can defeat this. We are in the struggle and we have to fight this on many fronts.

Jai Karan and Ramesh Sharma (SUCI) : The Bullet Train project needs to be fought and its an assault on the farmers and workers of this country. We have to come together and expose these frauds in the name of the development.

Prem Singh (CPIML) : The challenge we posed together to the Land Ordinance we have to do the same to these mega projects including industrial corridors. These are unleashed on the people in the  name of development and have to be resisted. Our priorities are basic services and not these projects designed for rich.

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India – When the rural elite hijacks welfare schemes

Although there are multiple factors that interfere with the fair implementation of rural welfare programs, it is important to break the stranglehold of the rural elite and often co-opted local administration

Women working to build a pond under the rural jobs guarantee scheme (Photo by Gaganjit Singh)

I have repeatedly heard stories of how beneficial schemes of the federal and provincial governments are hijacked by so-called unscrupulous elements and reduced to ineffectual status. I first heard of these in connection with the integrated rural development programs in the eighties, when I was cutting my teeth on rural issues.

The nineties saw the enhanced attention to liberalization, and rural stories were in the background, but still, I heard such stories about watershed development programs and Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana. In the last decade stories, about hijacking of the rural jobs guarantee scheme and trivialization of accredited social health activist programs did the rounds. Now under the present regime, stories about hijacking of Jandhan bank accounts and direct benefit transfer are doing the rounds.

What can help halt and push back this tide of negativism and cynicism? Do we understand why every possible welfare scheme is getting hijacked and trivialized on the ground? We need a wider discussion on this subject, a discussion devoid of finger pointing. Here is my initial position.

Five key factors

To my mind, there are five key factors of the rural situation on the ground that may be seen as common across the ruin of all government schemes.

The first is a large and chronic deficit in the revenue streams of a bulk of rural households. This deficit arises from many factors. Three of the major ones are uncertain and depressed farm incomes, high cost of receiving health services, and highly unsuitable social customs of marriage and death ceremonies.

The second is disempowerment of women and widespread prevalence of irresponsible behavior of men who tend to ignore their family responsibilities and blow up money (as well as incur debts) on liquor. I am not a teetotaler, but I can in no way sympathize with a man who snatches money from his wife, and hence food from his kids, to get drunk.

The third is unstable leadership, weak administrative systems and human resource in development administration in general and particularly at the cutting edge of governance through Panchayati Raj institutions in villages.

Caste-class-power nexus

The fourth is the infamous caste-class-power nexus, which renders most program implementation vulnerable to hijack through the unholy conspiracy among the rural elite to the detriment of the rural poor and finally, lax oversight and soft mechanisms to check and to correct inappropriate program implementation.

While the first two factors are about household matters — patriarchal culture, the grip of old obscurantist beliefs and irresponsible hedonism of men, the last three factors deal with the prevalence and perpetuation of socio-political order. This perpetuation of the socio-political order renders chances of meaningful reform and development reaching the poor to near zero. Where well-meaning local leaders like Anna Hazare or Popatrao Pawar can devise smart mechanisms to counter the last three factors, rural situations show much improvement.

What follows is the depiction of the scenario of the central and eastern states, where governance levels have been traditionally poor. I am told that the situation in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is much better but have no concrete evidence to assert that.

The general course of events and developments is somewhat as follows. The chronic and large revenue deficit of poor households made much worse by avoidable expenditure and debt incurred by men on alcohol; renders them indebted, subordinate and vulnerable to the local rural elite (shopkeepers, traders, school teachers and others with regular cash flows, large farmers and local political heavyweights).

Exploitative gatekeepers

This elite becomes the gatekeeper of all development exploiting the caste-class-power nexus to the hilt. Its earthy ingenuity enables it to defeat every possible mechanism chosen by the designers of the scheme to reach the poor. For examples, MNREGA required job cards to be given to the poor. The elite group ensures that the poor have got to keep their cards with the contractor and then feel satisfied with such crumbs of MNREGA wages as the elite thinks necessary to keep them the poor alive.

Jandhan and DBT have in turn found the elite forcing the poor keep their passbooks and Rupay cards where given and withdrawal slips with their thumb impressions with them so whatever is deposited can be syphoned off perfectly legally. The ration-shop dealer confiscates and keeps all ration cards of the poor with him. The agro-service Centre dealer has a cupboard full of original land ownership documents in his possession to rip the poor household of the benefit of any debt waiver or insurance payment or the subsidy under any other scheme.

Biased administration

In part, the local administrative structure is staffed by persons from the rural elite. Even when it is not, the lax oversight caused by inadequate and overloaded, if also not corrupt HR at intermediary districts, fails to reverse their grip. Since the local development administration under decentralized governance reports to local leadership, this grip becomes a stranglehold.

The result of all this is embodied in Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement that only 15% of all spending by the government reaches the poor. Nothing much has changed since he said that in the late eighties.

Promise of technology

State and non-state actors still want to make positive changes happen to the conditions of the poor. These proponents devise newer methods of directly reaching out. Among other things, they tend to believe that technology holds much promise and make efforts deploying it. These include things like a digital identity to the poor, use of GIS-enabled decision making, DBT and so on.

Possibly, it does result in more of the poor getting some benefits for some time. This good effect perhaps happens until the rural elite discovers a way of circumventing the innovation to regain its grip. For example, if Jandhan combined with DBT gives rise to the possibility that state benefits will reach the intended woman, the interlocutor has already made her sign or put her thumb impression on withdrawal slips for removing the money in return for a loan she needs to save her daughter from some illness.

Even if the household gets the money, there is no guarantee that the husband would not torture his wife into submission and hijack the sum to blow up on drinks that evening. Technology does not seem to be able to fight the power imbalance between the rural poor and the rural elite nor between men and women. And the game continues.

Is there a way out of this situation? Do women’s collectives trained and aided by tech-savvy professionals offer a countervailing force to the stranglehold of the rural elite? Does trying to create responsible community leaders who will act as rallying points for the mobilization that could result in controlling the rural elite’s rapacious tendency help?

Will creating better protocols and well-trained personnel at village council level help? Or, do we surrender to the force of this phenomenon, hope and wait for the general yet slow and widespread improvement in rural governance, and of course, the famous trickle-down effect?

Sanjiv Phansalkar is associated closely with Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

Village Square

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