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U.S. Political Candidate Padma Kuppa Criticizes “Attacks on Hindu Nationalism”

U.S. Political Candidate Padma Kuppa Criticizes “Attacks on Hindu Nationalism”

Admin | On 28, Oct 2018

Human rights group calls Kuppa’s writings on India “an assault on the fabric of a free society”

TROY, Michigan: Oct. 28, 2018 — Longtime Indian-American activist Padma Kuppa is running for Michigan’s State House of Representatives, but some Americans of Indian origin are concerned that her prolific writings represent an endorsement of India’s religious nationalists.

“Padma Kuppa’s support for Indian laws which criminalize people who change their religion without government permission is an assault on the fabric of a free society,” remarks Arvin Valmuci, a spokesperson for Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). “The United Nations and the U.S. State Department have warned about these laws, which lead to violence and pogroms, especially against Indian Christians. But it doesn’t matter to Kuppa: she’s busy demanding American votes and seeking the $70,000 salary of a Michigan state representative.”

Kuppa has written multiple articles about what she calls “predatory proselytism” in India, arguing, “Faced with aggressive conversion tactics, some Hindus may become intolerant or defensive.” In a 2012 article for Hinduism Today, she claims that “proselytization tears apart the fabric of the communities where it occurs.” One example she gives is that a Christian convert’s “daughters now wear Western clothing.” As a source, she cites a book by Arun Shourie, a former Member of Parliament from India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Comparing proselytism to sexual harassment, she endorses India’s anti-conversion laws.

Nine Indian states have adopted anti-conversion laws, which typically require notification or even permission of local authorities before a person is allowed to change their religion. In 2012, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported, “States with these laws have higher incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minorities…. The laws require government officials to assess the sincerity of conversions.” In 2014, Heiner Bielefeldt, who was then the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, called such laws “disrespect of freedom of religion or belief.” He said that converts “have to undergo, I’d say, a humiliating bureaucratic procedure, exposing themselves and explaining the reasons [for their conversion] as if the State were in a position of being able to assess the genuineness of conversion.”

In 2018, watchdog group Open Doors USA ranked India as the world’s 11th most dangerous country for Christians, stating, “While the source of Christian persecution in India depends on the location within the country, most of it comes from a variety of Hindu radical groups and organizations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).” One of the most recent incidents of large-scale violence against Christians occurred in 2008 in Odisha, which was the first Indian state to pass an anti-conversion law. Over a several week period, at least 40 Christians were killed, churches and homes were burned, and tens of thousands were made refugees. Odishan Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who was in office during the pogrom, reported in 2009, “Members of RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal were involved in the violence that took place last year.”

“Laws which empower the government to permit or deny a person’s right to convert are the very definition of a denial of religious freedom,” says Valmuci. “Yet there is much more about Kuppa that worries us. Not only does she excuse intolerance in response to people exercising their right to free speech by promoting their religion, but Kuppa glamorizes Hindutva and justifies Prime Minister Modi’s 2002 Gujarat Genocide, which killed thousands of Muslims.”

Hindutva, reports USCRIF, is an ideology “which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.” Conceived in 1923 by V.D. Savarkar, it became the foundational ideology of the RSS in 1925. The RSS, the largest paramilitary in the world, entered politics in the 1980s with the formation of the BJP. Modi, who joined the RSS at the age of eight, declared in 2014, “My identity is of a Hindutvawadi (follower of Hindutva).” As of 2016, a third of Modi’s cabinet ministers were from the RSS; the BJP regularly holds coordination meetings with the RSS to plan policy. The RSS and its affiliates have been implicated in multiple incidents of large-scale violence against minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, since the 1980s. It has also been linked to acts of terrorism such as a wave of bombings from 2006 to 2008 as well as assassinations, such as the 2017 killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

According to Kuppa, however, the experts are wrong for “attempting to attribute sectarian divisions in India to the BJP or Hindu nationalism.” She especially criticizes the media for being “focused primarily on the 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat — making it the centerpiece of any story on India or its newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi.” She highlights a preceding incident, the deaths of 59 Hindus when a train in Godhra, Gujarat caught fire, allegedly after being set ablaze by a Muslim mob. This incident, she says, caused “retaliatory violence in Gujarat, where both Hindus and Muslims were killed.”

Kuppa’s position puts her in conflict with Human Rights Watch (HRW), which stated in 2002: “The Gujarat government chose to characterize the violence as a ‘spontaneous reaction’ to the incidents in Godhra. Human Rights Watch’s findings, and those of numerous Indian human rights and civil liberties organizations, and most of the Indian press indicate that the attacks on Muslims throughout the state were planned, well in advance of the Godhra incident, and organized with extensive police participation and in close cooperation with officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, BJP) state government.” According to Amnesty International, approximately 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, while figures from the U.S. State Department suggest that up to 2,500 Muslims were killed.

“Even if the Godhra train was actually burned by a Muslim mob, that’s just as irrelevant to justifying a state-sponsored genocide of an entire community as the 1938 assassination of a German diplomat by a Jewish refugee is irrelevant to justifying the Kristallnacht pogrom against German Jews,” comments Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian affairs. “It’s despicable to justify an anti-minority massacre on the basis of provocation of a majority population. Kuppa’s writings appear to be lifted directly from the RSS’s talking points. For instance, just two weeks after the Gujarat Genocide ended, the RSS passed an ominous resolution warning, ‘Let Muslims understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority.’ When Kuppa excuses the genocide as ‘retaliatory,’ she sounds a lot like the RSS.”

Since the BJP took power in 2014, there has been a sharp rise in violence targeting religious minorities as well as India’s 200 million Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables or outcastes). According to 2018 reports by HRW, “Vigilante violence aimed at religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government — often carried out by groups claiming to support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — became an increasing threat in India in 2017. The government failed to promptly or credibly investigate the attacks, while many senior BJP leaders publicly promoted Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism, which encouraged further violence.”

However, Kuppa again contradicts HRW. She dismisses concerns that a conservative Hindu nationalist government would lead to increased violence, saying such worries are “misrepresentative at best, and are also easily debunked.” She insists that religious conversion is a greater threat than nationalism, denouncing “the Western bias that incites fear of Hindu activism and attack[s] Hindu nationalism while glossing over the challenges that conversion creates in developing nations such as India.”

“Padma Kuppa’s support for anti-conversion laws is a great offense to the First Amendment freedom of religion we have as Americans,” says Balbir Singh Dhillon, the current president of West Sacramento Sikh Gurdwara. “These anti-conversion laws treat people who just want to change their religion like criminals. I know from my own experience of fleeing religious persecution in India that it puts religious minorities in danger to require them to ask the government for permission to convert.” Dhillon explains that, during a 1996 pilgrimage to holy sites in India and Pakistan, he was arrested under false charges, jailed for three months, and tortured. “If I wasn’t an American citizen, I would have been killed for my faith,” says Dhillon.

He was only released after over 50 U.S. congressional representatives signed a letter to the U.S. State Department which pressured India to admit it had no proof he committed any crime.

Besides endorsing anti-conversion laws, Kuppa also criticizes how “a hue and cry is raised about Ghar Wapsi,” which she calls “the effort to bring Hindus ‘back to the fold.’” Campaigns of “Ghar Wapsi” — meaning “homecoming” — are attempts to “reconvert” non-Hindus to Hinduism under the premise that India is the land of Hindus, that the ancestors of all Indians were Hindus, and that all Indians should be Hindus.

Reconversion campaigns have drawn staunch support from BJP politicians like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has boasted of leading “purification drives” to “reconvert” thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims. In 2015, while serving as a Member of Parliament and drafting a bill to introduce a national anti-conversion law, he declared, “An aggressive campaign is required for Ghar Wapsi of those Hindus who had converted to other religions in the past.” After a December 2014 Ghar Wapsi conversion of several hundred Muslims (who later reported they were threatened with violence and told they had to convert to receive government ration cards), Adityanath said the new converts will “be placed in the same caste and gotra [clan] to which their Hindu ancestors belonged.”

“We’re deeply concerned that Kuppa embraces the idea that Indian equals Hindu,” says Maryam Mirza, a Kashmiri Muslim from Michigan. “She has called herself an ‘ethnic Hindu,’ which is not a real thing, and says that India’s Republic Day is part of the Hindu religious heritage — can you imagine a candidate calling America’s Independence Day part of their Christian heritage? She defends use of the ‘Hindutva’ word, and I’ve seen she even quotes from sources like Koenraad Elst, an Islamophobic writer who wants to uproot Islam from India.”

“Hindutva is a Sanskrit compound word, Hindu + tva… which a century ago didn’t have any negative implications,” writes Kuppa. She also quotes from Koenraad Elst’s book, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, in which he asserts that Hinduism’s “enemies” include “Islamic and Christian religion, along with secular ideologies like Nazism and Marxism.” Elsewhere, Elst writes that “Islam is reprehensible” and states, “The liberation of the Muslims from Islam should be a top priority for all those who care about India’s and the world’s future.”

Furthermore, Kuppa writes, “While I often use the term Hindu-American to identify myself, I am nearly as likely to use the term Indian-American. The two terms have much overlap for me as an ethnic Hindu, since faith and culture are so intertwined.” She adds, “India and Hinduism are so intertwined that I must reconsider the importance of celebrating India and in identifying as an Indian-American.” She additionally claims that “proud Hindus of Indian origin” can “celebrate India’s Republic Day as part of their religious heritage.”

In another article, she criticizes an event where Hindu women wore hijab while Muslim women wore sari. “There are many women in America who choose to wear a hijab, but there are activists who don’t – voices from within who may push beyond what people in the Islamic community want to hear,” she writes. “There is in fact no choice for Muslim women in many parts of the world about wearing not only a hijab, but a burka.” Saying the activists should not “sell out” by wearing hijab, she claimed that Muslim women “cannot escape a culture that oppresses them.”

Valmuci concludes, “Does America truly want or need elected representatives who pen apologetics for religious nationalists, endorse the Hindutva agenda of supremacy, and justify violence against religious minorities and marginalized peoples?”

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Following protest, Karnataka Forest Department Cancels Workshop to evolve its Vision Document-2030 in collaboration with KPMG

The Karnataka Forest Department has decided to put together a ‘Vision Document-2030’ that would outline the governing principles of its efforts for the next several years. While the initiative itself is laudable –and unprecedented amongst our country’s states- the process in which it is being undertaken has caused serious alarm amongst concerned sections of the public.

On 30th of October, a mail was sent out inviting a few organizations and individuals to a workshop on the 2nd of November to help draft this document. Two key issues were: that less than a dozen organizations were invited to the workshop and this ‘Vision Document-2030’ is to be drafted by the Forest Department in collaboration with Dutch based consultancy KPMG, an agency that has been mired in controversy due to fraudulent entanglements in South Africa and elsewhere.  The process of enlisting KPMG appears to have overlooked many Government agencies (Eg. EMPRI – Environmental Management Policy Research Institute, or Administrative Training Institute) and publicly funded research and academic institutions (Institute for Social Economic Change, for eg.) who have conducted such exercises in the past.

Leo F. Saldanha of Environment Support Group, who was invited to the workshop, raised these concerns in reply to the invitation email sent by the Forest Department. Considering the critical importance of the task, he shared these concerns with the offices of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Chief Secretary, the Union Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forests, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, and various research and civil society organizations, as well as retired forest officials.  These concerns gained considerable traction.

Dr. Nitin Rai of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Dr. Kshithij Urs and Diya Deb of Greenpeace India, Nayana Udayashankar of Equations, Santosh Martin former Hon. Wildlife Warden (Bellary), naturalist Sheshadri Ramaswamy and several others were not invited to the consultation, but nevertheless came to participate in the discussion at Aranya Bhavan this morning. Twelve minutes before the meeting was to commence, the Forest Department sent an email which read, “In continuation to the email sent on the 31-10-2018, this is to inform that due to administrative reasons, the Workshop on the Forest Vision Document previously scheduled on 02nd of November … has been cancelled.”

In any case, those present met with Mr. Rajiv Ranjan, IFS, Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Personnel and Recruitment) who anchored the process, and listed their concerns about the overall undemocratic manner in which this Document is being drafted. The senior official was receptive to the concerns raised and stated these would be noted and discussed with senior officers. The concerns raised were that:

(i)              The terms of contract with KPMG, and the process by which the agency was selected, must be shared suo moto by the Karnataka Forest Department,

(ii)             The shallow understanding of forests and dependencies on forests and natural resources, is exhibited in the questionnaire circulated (possibly developed by KPMG)

(iii)            A rational, transparent, accountable and democratic process must be instituted, in compliance with Constitutional requirement (Art. 243ZD/ZE), to accommodate divergent and scientifically rigorous views, and thus produce a Vision Document that secures the interests of all publics and future generations as well,

(iv)            The agency tasked with assisting the Forest Dept. in so developing the Vision Document should have no ‘conflict of interest’, such as representing clientele who have active engagement in forest destruction and industrial extraction of natural resources.

Enclosed is the correspondence leading to the cancellation of the workshop on the developing of Karnataka Forest Department’s Vision Document – 2030.

Ahan Bezbaroa

Environment Support Group

[email protected] (for clarifications)

Encl.: As above.


Letter from Leo Saldanha to Karnataka Forest Department:


Mr. Rajiv Ranjan, IFS

Addl. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests

Karnataka Forest Department

Aranya Bhavan

Bangalore 560003


01 November 2018


Dear Mr. Ranjan,


Thank you for inviting me to a consultation to be held in Aranya Bhavan tomorrow for developing a ‘Vision Document 2030’ for the Karnataka Forest Department.  I thank you for privileging me with this invitation   However, I must  express my deep trepidation over what this consultation process indicates, the manner in which it is being conducted and the quality of agency which is entrusted with this critical task.


As someone who has worked with several leading foresters over the decades, I never imagined a day would come when the task of developing a Vision Document for conserving Karnataka’s forests, forest resources and protecting forest rights, would be outsourced by the Forest Department to an international corporation – KPMG. Even if the task has to be outsourced, there are several leading public funded institutions that should have been requested to take up the task. An alternative could be to trust serving officers of the Department to develop the policy – for it is their duty to work with people to develop such polices. If even they were not considered capable of this job, then retired officers of the Forest Department could have been entrusted with the task.  Needless to state, several of us who work with independent and autonomous research and civil society bodies, and who work to protect forests and wildlife tirelessly, could have been asked to assist the Department in this task.


None of these obvious choices seem to have been considered. Instead, it is KPMG which has been chosen to develop Karnataka’s Forest and Forest Rights Protection and Wildlife Conservation ‘Vision Document 2030’.  And we are not even aware if there was a due process involved in selecting this agency for the task.


KPMG is a global consulting firm mired in controversy in South Africa over its collusion in corrupt and fraudulent deals involving the former South African President Jacob Zuma (who was forced to step down) and the Guptas family which is close to Zuma.  (Please see: KPMG South Africa woes continue after Nedbank bails on embattled auditors, South Africa’s Nedbank becomes latest firm to drop KPMG, KPMG South Africa loses clients over audit scandal – Accountancy Age…/kpmg-south-africa-hit-hard-as-more-clients-sever..., New report highlights scale of KPMG’s losses in South Africa › News › Banking, and


In India too, the firm has been accused of serious crimes and fraud. In Kerala, the Congress party has urged the Kerala Government to not engage the firm, even if it offers its consultancy services free, in the rehabilitation efforts post flood as “numerous complaints .. have surfaced against the KPGM” ( The Caravan magazine has also reported earlier this year that a senior officer of the Government of India has written a letter to Prime Minister Modi providing details of fraud and corruption this firm has been engaged in. (


Even if the firm was in no way involved in any controversy, we must be very worried of their understanding of the forests, of forest rights, of biodiversity conservation, of wildlife protection and management, etc., as the questionnaire prepared by them in preparation for this Consultation reveals the agency is quite ill-equipped for the task. Please see a sample that I have received, which is copied below, along with my comments in parenthesis.


It is clear to me that this consultation is being conducted as a ritual.  I urge you to stop this consultation. Most importantly, it is crucial that you take a decision today to not proceed in any manner in entrusting KPMG in developing the Vision Document. The quality of the questionnaire is sufficient for us to deduce the firm knows next to nothing about Karnataka’s forests. It is also indicative of the firm’s, and also the Forest Department’s, ignorance, of the extraordinary efforts that have been invested in protecting forests, wildlife, forest rights, natural resource, rivers, lakes, coastal commons, etc, across these state, and over decades.


It is because of the largely unacknowledged services rendered by the foot soldiers of the Forest Dept. (the watch and ward staff, mainly, who rarely get paid and are rarely taken care of, and yet are overworked) and several dedicated officers of the Dept., that much of Karnataka’s forests remain today.  Equally importantly, we must not forget the sincerity and dedication with which hundreds of village and urban communities, civil society organisations, researchers, etc. have worked to protect  and conserve forests and wildlife, and for protecting the rights of tribals and forest/natural resource dependent communities.


If Karnataka Forest Department needs a Vision Document, it must be evolved in consonance with the existing National Forest Policy, Forest Rights Act, Forest Conservation Act, Wildlife Act, Environment Protection Act and Biodiversity Act, Convention on Biological Diversity, etc., and following the procedures laid down in Art. 243 ZD/ZE of the Constitution of India.  Only such an exercise will serve in truthfully surveying the state of our forests and wildlife, and in developing a Vision that will truly help develop resilient methods for protecting our forests and wildlife, for its own sake, and in the process safeguarding the rights of Adivasis and natural resource dependent communities whose lives and livelihoods are intricately linked to forests and natural resources.  Future generations will look back with considerable regard and acknowledge the wisdom with which you and your colleagues undertook the task of guiding such a democratic public consultation process, in which the interests of the future generations were considered above those of the present generation. But that would entail you must now abandon the current process of developing the Vision Document guided by KPMG.


I am copying my response to your letter of invitation to the Chief Minister of Karnataka and Forest Minister of Karnataka, and to Mr. Anand Sharma, MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Forests and Environment. Former Indian Environment Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh and Dr. Rajeev Gowda, MP, are copied.  Also copied is Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP, who is developing the Environment Manifesto for the Congress Party.


This letter is also shared with Secretaries of Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forests Ministries of India, and with the Chief Secretary and others Senior Officers of the Government of Karnataka. Besides, officials of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, researchers, civil society organisations and the media are copied.  I find it necessary to share this correspondence so all copied are aware of the seriousness of this matter, and may guide you appropriately.


In the event tomorrow’s meeting is not called off, and a new process is not instituted in democratically evolving Karnataka Forest Department’s Vision Document, several of us will participate in the proceedings to hopefully persuade you to take the right decision.


Thank you for your cooperation and support.


Yours truly,



Leo F. Saldanha


Environment Support Group (Trust)

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India – Mothers of 57% newborns not entitled to maternity benefits

Central government’s maternity benefit scheme excludes more women than it covers


Only 3.2 million of the country's 25 million pregnant women have received cash under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana since it was implemented in January 2017 (Credit: Vikas Choudhary) Only 3.2 million of the country’s 25 million pregnant women have received cash under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana since it was implemented in January 2017 (Credit: Vikas Choudhary)

Nazarin has a two-and-a-half-month old daughter. Born this July, two months before the due date, the girl looks extremely frail as the two wait for the doctor at a community health centre in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh.

In March, Nazarin registered for the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY)—the Union government’s maternity benefit scheme that seeks to ensure pregnant women get proper nutrition—and should have received Rs 1,000 in her bank account by May. The rules of the scheme say that the first instalment of Rs 1,000 should be transferred before the completion of the fifth month of pregnancy, the second instalment of Rs 2,000 after the first antenatal checkup and the third instalment of Rs 2,000 when the birth is registered and the first set of vaccination done. But even by the end of September, Nazarin says, she has not received any money.

Nazarin’s is not an isolated case. Y K Sandhya from Sahyog, a non-profit working on issues related to reproductive health in Uttar Pradesh, says there are reports from all districts of the state about women not receiving any money. According to Sachin Jain from Vikas Samvad, a non-profit in Madhya Pradesh, a majority of the babies born in the state are not getting the benefit under the scheme. Since the Cabinet approved the scheme in May 2017, with effect from January 2017, over 25 million babies have been born in the country, as per Health Management Information System, an online portal run by the Union government. But only about 3.2 million women have received cash under the benefit scheme till August 26, 2018, according to a query filed under the Right To Information (RTI) Act by Delhi-based journalist Somrita Dude.

PMMVY was announced by the prime minister on December 31, 2016, when he said that all pregnant women across the country will get an incentive of Rs 6,000. The scheme was in accordance with the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, which makes it mandatory for the government to provide Rs 6,000 to every pregnant and lactating mother to ensure nutritional support to women and children.

But when the scheme was cleared by the Cabinet, its form and shape had changed. First, it was only applicable to the first live birth. Second, only women over 19 years were eligible. Third, it was limited to only institutionalised deliveries.

And fourth, instead of Rs 6,000, the cash incentive was reduced to Rs 5,000. The Cabinet announcement said that Rs 1,000 were to be used for the services provided during institutional deliveries under the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY). All these clauses have resulted in exclusion of a large number of pregnant women from the crucial benefit scheme.

Why just firstborns?

Limiting the scheme to only the first live birth excludes a majority of pregnant women in the country. On an average, 43 per cent of children born every year in India are firstborns, says Sample Registration System (SRS) 2014, undertaken by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. This means that the remaining 57 per cent would be out of the purview of the scheme. “It is strange that the government does not deem it necessary to ensure nutrition of the second or third child,” says Sejal Dand from Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch, a Telangana-based informal forum working on issues related to women farmers. Moreover, limiting the scheme to firstborns is contradictory to NFSA, which guarantees all pregnant and lactating women Rs 6,000. “A government scheme cannot be in contravention of an Act of Parliament. Only Parliament can amend an Act,” says Dand.

The firstborn norm also means that states with high fertility rates would face greater exclusion. For instance, states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which are underdeveloped, malnourished and poor, have fertility rates of 3.4 and 2.7. But these have not benefitted much from PMMVY. In Uttar Pradesh, not a single woman had received money under PMMVY in Uttar Pradesh till August 26, 2018, as per the RTI query filed by Dude. The figures for Uttarakhand and Assam were 7,670 and 1,503. The best performing states were Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Telangana (see ‘Malnourished and sidelined’).

Source: Sample Registration System, Census 2011; National Family Health Survey 2015-16; Right To Information query

Also, the fertility rate in rural India is 2.5, while the figure for urban India is 1.8, according to SRS 2015. There-fore, the scheme will hurt women in rural areas more. Even the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 says that women in the lowest wealth quintile have an average of 1.6 more children than women in the highest quintile. As a result, the poor will face greater exclusion.

Penalising underage mothers

According to Census 2011, about 30 per cent of women in the country are married before they turn 18. They would be excluded from the benefit if they become pregnant before turning 19. “A large number of women in India have no control over when they marry or conceive. They are being punished for no fault of theirs,” says Dand.

As per NFHS 2015-16, about 80 per cent deliveries in the country do not take place in hospitals. Since the scheme is only for institutionalised deliveries, these women will not be covered. “Those who do not come to hospitals are the ones who really need monetary help. Why are they excluded? A majority of states are still struggling to ensure 100 per cent institutional delivery,” argues Jain.

Even the clubbing of PMMVY and JSY to reach the figure of Rs 6,000 is problematic. Dipa Sinha from Right to Food Campaign, a Delhi-based network dealing with a variety of public issues, says it is wrong to club the two schemes because they are for different purposes. While PMMVY is to ensure nutrition, JSY is to encourage institutionalised deliveries. Moreover, there are many states, such as Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra, that offer only Rs 700 under JSY. The sum of cash benefits under the two schemes in such states will not reach Rs 6,000, which is the minimum amount mandated under NFSA. “NFSA is the umbrella law and PMMVY has to be guided by it. It cannot be the other way round,” says Sudeshna Sengupta, a Delhi-based activist working on issues related to food security.

Tamil Nadu, Odisha show way

Only two states in the country—Tamil Nadu and Odisha—have their own maternity benefit schemes and these offer more benefits than PMMVY. In Tamil Nadu, the government runs Dr Muthulakshmi Maternity Assistance Scheme which provides pregnant mothers Rs 14,000 in cash and a nutritional kit worth Rs 4,000 for the first two pregnancies. When the scheme was launched in 1987, the cash incentive was Rs s 300.

Rubina Khatun of Ghaziabad is pregnant with her third child and will not be eligible for the maternity benefit scheme which covers only the first live birth

The Odisha government runs Mamata maternity benefit scheme which provides Rs 5,000 for the first two pregnancies of all women. “For vulnerable groups, like tribals, the money can be given for even the third birth,” says Bidyut Mohanty, secretary of Society for Promoting Rural Education and Development, an Odisha-based non-profit working on issues related to the marginalised communities. The success of Mamata was also corroborated in a study published in PLOS One in December 2017. The study found that over 95 per cent women spent the money provided under the scheme on food and medicine. However, like PMMVY, the maternity benefit schemes of Tamil Nadu and Odisha are only applicable to women above 19 years of age.

Government unperturbed

The ill-conceived scheme has even drawn the attention of the Supreme Court. In July 2018, while hearing a 2015 petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a Delhi-based human rights organisation, the court asked the government to respond to issues related to the exclusion of a large number of women and the delay in the implementation of the scheme. “The government is yet to file a response,” says Aditya Shrivastava, an advocate fighting the case.

(This story wasa first published in Down To Earth’s print edition of October 1-16)


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