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Archives for : Asia

Torture is an ‘expanding scourge’ in Asia

by

Phil Robertson

June 26, 2014

In several countries across Asia, torture is used on a regular basis. Bringing perpetrators to justice is notoriously hard, especially in nations where the practice is state-sanctioned, HRW’s Phil Robertson tells DW.

Inflicting pain by using physical force, breaking people’s will, trying to annihilate their personality – those are three forms of cruel treatment that fall under the definition of torture. Torture is a crime under international law. Still, in a number of countries around the world, the practice hasn’t been eradicated. On the contrary, some governments use it systematically as a means to stifle even the slightest dissent.

In order to draw global attention to the issue, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. But more than 15 years later, the international community still has a long way to go to achieve their ultimate goal of eradicating torture altogether.

Throughout Asia, human rights organizations accuse several nations of using torture. Among the countries listed are not only authoritarian or single-party states such as North Korea or China, but also India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Japan. In a DW interview, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, says in many of these countries, there is apparently broad immunity for government officials who use torture.

DW: Which Asian countries use torture on a regular basis?

Phil Robertson: The sad fact is that police forces across both Southeast and South Asia, as well as East Asia, consistently use torture as a standard part of their interrogation techniques in order to exact confessions. In Southeast Asia, we’ve seen this in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries, and in every South Asian country.

In fact, the problem is so rife that it’s hard to know where to start to try and combat police use of torture, but we have noted that one of the continuing themes of our work has been examining police torture. For example, in Malaysia we found systematic torture of persons in police custody, often resulting in custodial deaths have been a central reality for years.

Human Rights Watch has also found that torture regularly occurs in drug detention “treatment” centers in China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, so even in cases where persons are supposed to receive help, they get the lash or worse. Even in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, whippings are a regular part of the judicial system which is a practice that Human Rights Watch considers cruel and unusual punishment.

And of course, the high profile “political prisoner” cases that we often think about are certainly still an important part of the discussion in places like Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and other totalitarian states – in which, of course, North Korea leads the way.

What is profoundly disturbing about all this torture is how infrequently any of the perpetrators are held accountable for it. In many of these countries, there is apparently broad immunity for government officials who use torture. As one Cambodian migrant told me: “In Thailand, the Thais can beat us for free.”

What different practices of torture are most applied?

The use of the foot and fists to beat a person into submission is very common, as are electric shocks, hanging persons in various positions, burning with cigarettes and other sources of flame, sexual abuse and rape of both men and women, use of stress positions, and beatings with various rods.

Have there been any positive developments throughout Asia and the Pacific region over the last year?

Well, certainly the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights abuses in North Korea, headed by Justice Michael Kirby of Australia, was a very positive development in the region.

By exposing the systematic torture that takes place in various prison camps in North Korea and demanding international accountability for this and other crimes against humanity that Pyongyang has committed, the COI helped launch long overdue action on one of Asia’s worst human rights abusing governments.

The release of significant numbers of political prisoners from Burma’s notorious prisons is certainly also good news, especially given how systematic the use of torture was against such prisoners during previous military governments. However, whether Burma will continue down the path of rights respecting reforms needs to be seen, and this year and next will be critical in determining the future for that country.

How difficult is it to actually bring to justice those responsible for torture?

In countries across Asia, bringing perpetrators of torture to justice has been notoriously hard. Where the torture is state-sanctioned, as in countries like North Korea, Vietnam, and others, there is little daylight for justice to occur. The fact that torture often occurs in prison systems that are opaque in their operations and hard to access compounds the problem.

For instance, many have suspected that one of the worst prison systems among ASEAN countries is in Laos, and that torture and mistreatment of prisoners is common-place. But it is very difficult to comprehensively prove that when external monitors hardly can get any sort of sustained access to those prisons and the prisoners locked away there.

Even when there is the capacity to prosecute persons for committing torture, and the evidence available, getting countries to muster the political will to prosecute senior policemen or top level army officials who permit torture to happen is very difficult. At the most, it’s sometimes possible to get lower level officials to court for crimes, but often those prosecutions are ad hoc and limited to particularly high profile cases.

What about punishment – to what extent is torture liable to prosecution in Asian countries?

In many countries, torture is a prosecutable offense, and where it is not, other charges connected to causing bodily harm can be employed to hold a person responsible. But the reality is that only a few persons are ever prosecuted for committing torture because to prosecute one threatens to unravel systems of police investigation that regularly use torture, or expose prison systems where torture is common – and the simple fact is that most governments don’t want those matters exposed. So instead one sees strong rhetoric against torture from governments, followed by weak or non-existent follow up.

The work of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea was a very positive development in the region, says Kirby

Is there any personal story told by a torture victim you would like to share with us?

Over the years that I have worked for human rights, I’ve interviewed many persons who have suffered torture. What I can say is that many of them are still scarred physically and emotionally by the experience and by what one told me was the “total loss of control over my life” that he felt.

There is a good reason that the prohibition against torture is a human right that governments cannot derogate from because it tears apart people’s lives, and those of their families, in the most brutal way possible. Despite that, torture is an expanding scourge in Asia, so we have to re-double our efforts to fight to end torture absolutely and prosecute in a court of law any and all who employ it.

Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

 


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#India: In Aftermath of Riots, Support Sexual Assault Victims #Vaw #Justice #mustread

pic courtesy- reuters
Victims Fear Reprisals; Authorities Need to Map Relief and Rehabilitation Plan
October 4, 2013

(New York) – Indian [2] authorities should properly investigate all crimes, including allegations of sexual assault and gang rape during last month’s communal violence in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Human Rights Watch said today.

Authorities should also develop a plan for prompt relief, return or resettlement, and reparations for the riot-displaced and create a secure environment for investigation and prosecution.

Reports of sexual assault have started to surface following the September communal violence in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh that killed more than 50 people and displaced tens of thousands. Many, including girls, are still missing. So far, five criminal complaints of gang rape and two cases of sexual harassment have been registered by the local Uttar Pradesh police.

Indian activists who have visited riot-affected communities report that other Muslim women may have suffered sexual assault, including rape, but have not registered criminal complaints because of the fear of reprisals, stigma, and a lack of faith in state institutions. They are therefore unable to access crucial services including psychosocial counseling, legal aid, emergency medical care, and reproductive health services responsive to the effects of sexual violence.

“The Uttar Pradesh government needs to urgently create an environment for victims to come forward and seek justice,” said Meenakshi Ganguly [3], South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape victims in communal violence take time to find the confidence to come forward, leaving them without crucial psychological, medical, and other support.”

The September 7 outbreak of communal violence between Hindu and Muslim communities occurred in Muzaffarnagar and spread to surrounding districts of Uttar Pradesh state after a violent altercation that killed two Hindus and a Muslim. The incident, however, sparked rumors of threatened Muslim violence. Hindus from the Jat community, incited by inflammatory speeches from political leaders in a massive gathering, started attacking Muslim communities.

The violence lasted three days, a curfew was imposed, and the Indian army was deployed to restore law and order. By then thousands of Muslims had fled their homes and many are still housed in makeshift relief camps.

Read more here – http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/04/india-aftermath-riots-support-sexual-assault-victims

 

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#India -Bhopal gas victims take out rally and demand “no Justice, no Vote”

29th June 2013

By TCN News,

Bhopal: In an attempt to awake political parties from there stupor, today several hundred gas victims staged a rally from Ganesh Mandir, Chhola to Bhopal Bus Stand for their long standing demands of compensation, punishment of guilty individuals and corporations. In the upcoming elections of state and central government, Bhopal gas victims have resolved that they will only vote for those political parties who will ensure their compensation and end the continuing injustices against them. Residents from J.P. Nagar, Shakti Nagar, Kainchi Chhola, Risaldar Colony and Rajgarh participated in this rally and shouted slogans “No compensation to Gas Victims, then No Vote of Gas Victims”, “No Justice, No Vote”.

Several residents of J.P. Nagar, Kainchi Chhola and Rajgarh have painted slogans “Compensation First, Second Vote” on their houses. “This time we will tell representatives of political parties visiting our communities that first secure our compensation and then ask for vote”, says Anees Qureshi from J.P. Nagar who lives right across from the Union Carbide factory.

Several gas victims believe that this is the right time to get answers from political parties towards resolving the lingering issues of compensation, punishment of guilty, medical and social rehabilitation. “This time we will only vote for that political party which ensures compensation and justice for Bhopal gas victims and we want to see result before the elections not after,” says Premlata Chowdhary of Kainchi Chhola,

In March 2013, five organization working among the survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster had written a letter to dozen political parties seeking their response and support to their 8 demands on additional compensation for the gas disaster, correction of figures of injury and death caused by the disaster, cleanup of contaminated soil and ground water, compensation for injuries and birth defects caused by toxic contamination, setting up empowered commission for rehabilitation and stopping Dow Chemical from doing business in India till it presents Union Carbide in the ongoing criminal case on the disaster. Except Aam Aadmi party, none of the parties have bothered to respond to the demands of gas victims.

Gas victims participating in this rally appealed to gas victims living in 36 wards to make judicious and strategic use of their power to elect candidates so that that the lingering issues of the disaster are resolved in their favor. They also said that similar rallies should be taken out by all gas victims in their own communities, Paint slogans on houses and shops, and question all the political representatives that come in their community on what steps they have taken in ensuring there compensation from the state and central governments.

Photo Credit: Sanjay ‘KunKun’ Verma

Bhopal gas victims take out rally and demand "no Justice, no Vote"

By TCN News,

Bhopal: In an attempt to awake political parties from there stupor, today several hundred gas victims staged a rally from Ganesh Mandir, Chhola to Bhopal Bus Stand for their long standing demands of compensation, punishment of guilty individuals and corporations. In the upcoming elections of state and central government, Bhopal gas victims have resolved that they will only vote for those political parties who will ensure their compensation and end the continuing injustices against them. Residents from J.P. Nagar, Shakti Nagar, Kainchi Chhola, Risaldar Colony and Rajgarh participated in this rally and shouted slogans “No compensation to Gas Victims, then No Vote of Gas Victims”, “No Justice, No Vote”.

Several residents of J.P. Nagar, Kainchi Chhola and Rajgarh have painted slogans “Compensation First, Second Vote” on their houses. “This time we will tell representatives of political parties visiting our communities that first secure our compensation and then ask for vote”, says Anees Qureshi from J.P. Nagar who lives right across from the Union Carbide factory.

Several gas victims believe that this is the right time to get answers from political parties towards resolving the lingering issues of compensation, punishment of guilty, medical and social rehabilitation. “This time we will only vote for that political party which ensures compensation and justice for Bhopal gas victims and we want to see result before the elections not after,” says Premlata Chowdhary of Kainchi Chhola,

In March 2013, five organization working among the survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster had written a letter to dozen political parties seeking their response and support to their 8 demands on additional compensation for the gas disaster, correction of figures of injury and death caused by the disaster, cleanup of contaminated soil and ground water, compensation for injuries and birth defects caused by toxic contamination, setting up empowered commission for rehabilitation and stopping Dow Chemical from doing business in India till it presents Union Carbide in the ongoing criminal case on the disaster. Except Aam Aadmi party, none of the parties have bothered to respond to the demands of gas victims.

Gas victims participating in this rally appealed to gas victims living in 36 wards to make judicious and strategic use of their power to elect candidates so that that the lingering issues of the disaster are resolved in their favor. They also said that similar rallies should be taken out by all gas victims in their own communities, Paint slogans on houses and shops, and question all the political representatives that come in their community on what steps they have taken in ensuring there compensation from the state and central governments.Photo Credit: Sanjay 'KunKun' Verma

 

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Vietnam: Escalating Persecution of Bloggers

Recent Arrests, Physical Attacks Require Strong Diplomatic Response
JUNE 19, 2013, HRW
Vietnam’s strategy of repressing critics big and small will only lead the country deeper into crisis. The latest arrests and assaults on bloggers show how afraid the government is of open discussion on democracy and human rights.
Brad Adams, Asia director

(New York, June 20, 2013) – The Vietnamesegovernment should unconditionally release recently arrested bloggers and end physical attacks on critics, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s donors and trading partners should publicly call on the government to end the use of the criminal law against peaceful activists.

Human Rights Watch called for the immediate and unconditional release of recently arrested bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Pham Viet Dao, as well as internet activist Dinh Nhat Uy, and an investigation into allegations that police assaulted internet activists Nguyen Chi Duc, Nguyen Hoang Vi, and Pham Le Vuong Cac, whose security the authorities should protect.

“Vietnam’s strategy of repressing critics big and small will only lead the country deeper into crisis,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The latest arrests and assaults on bloggers show how afraid the government is of open discussion on democracy and human rights.”

Many of the arrests have come under Vietnam Penal Code article 258, one of several vague and elastic legal provisions routinely used to prosecute people for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Recent cases of arrest and assault include the following:

  • On May 26, 2013, Ministry of Public Security officers arrested blogger Truong Duy Nhat for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” according to the Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien. The arrest at his home in Da Nang of the 49-year-old followed his posting on his popular “A Different Perspective” blog of a call for the resignation of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and ruling Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, blaming them for leading Vietnam into worsening political and economic difficulties.
  • On June 7, 2013, five men believed to be police officers assaulted 26-year-old blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi (also known as An Do Nguyen) and legal activist Pham Le Vuong Cac on a Ho Chi Minh City street. According to Vietnamese bloggers, the attackers had been monitoring Nguyen Hoang Vi and her family for several days and beat her into unconsciousness, leaving wounds requiring hospital treatment. Nguyen Hoang Vi is a prominent Internet personality who was also attacked on May 5-6, 2013, after playing a leading role in an attempted “human rights picnic” in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • On June 13, police arrested 61-year-old blogger Pham Viet Dao at his Hanoi home, also for “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to an announcement by the Ministry of Public Security, thus signalling his likely prosecution under article 258. His website, like that of Truong Duy Nhat, had been critical of a number of Vietnamese political leaders.
  • On June 15, Dinh Nhat Uy was arrested pursuant to article 258. His younger brother,Dinh Nguyen Kha, had been sentenced to eight years in prison on May 16, 2013, for distributing leaflets critical of state foreign and domestic policies. Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, was arrested in Long An province after launching an Internet campaign calling for his brother’s release and posting pictures and notes on his Facebook account. He was accused of “distorting the truth and badly influencing the prestige of state organizations,” as the official news Agency VNA put it.

Article 258 is used to prosecute those whom the government maintains “abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” and provides for up to seven years’ imprisonment for those who commit this supposed offense “in serious circumstances.” Vietnam’s politically controlled courts routinely apply such provisions to imprison people for peaceful expression.

The government is increasingly cracking down on criticism of corruption and authoritarianism, Human Rights Watch said. Those recently targeted represent a spectrum of public opinion, as Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao, and Nguyen Chi Duc formerly worked for the ruling authorities, Truong Duy Nhat worked in the official media, Pham Viet Dao was a government official, and Nguyen Chi Duc was a member of the Communist Party. Dinh Nhat Uy, Nguyen Hoang Vi, and Pham Le Vuong Cac reflect dissent among those in the younger generation without such ties.

“Donors and trading partners need to stand with those in Vietnam struggling for their rights and make it clear that no one should be arrested or assaulted for their opinions,” Adams said. “They should insist that the only future for countries trying to develop and modernize is a free and open society in which the authorities accept that criticism is a normal part of the political process.”

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One woman in three , worldwide suffer domestic violence: WHO #Vaw #Womenrights

VAW

Agence France-Presse | Updated: June 20, 2013 20:55 IST

Geneva: More than one woman in three around the globe is a victim of domestic violence, with those in Asia and the Middle East most-affected by the scourge, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.


In what it billed as the first-ever systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women and its health impact, the UN agency said 30 percent worldwide faced such abuse at the hands of their partners.

“These to me are shocking statistics,” said Flavia Bustreo, head of the WHO’s family, women’s and children’s health division.
“It’s also shocking that this phenomenon cuts across the entire world,” she told reporters.

The WHO blamed taboos that prevent victims from coming forward, failings in medical and justice systems, and norms that mean men and women may see violence as acceptable.
The findings were extrapolated from figures provided by 81 countries which maintain data, and did not single out individual nations.

The scale of abuse was highest in Asia, where data from Bangladesh, East Timor, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand showed that 37.7 percent of women were affected.
Next was the Middle East, where prevalence averaged at 37 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa followed, with 36.6 percent.

An average of 23.2 percent were affected in a group of high-income countries including North America, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
“These data really show the tremendous toll violence has on the health of women,” said Claudia Garcia-Moren, a WHO specialist on gender, reproductive rights, sexual health and adolescence.

Underlining the impact of such abuse, the WHO said that globally, 38 percent of female murder victims were killed by their partners.
In addition, it said, violence also leaves scars long after bruises disappear and broken bones heal.

Women with a violent partner were twice as likely to suffer from depression and develop an alcohol problem, compared to women who did not experience abuse.
Victims of violence were also found to be far more likely to contract a range of sexually-transmitted diseases, from syphilis to HIV.

The study also flagged the higher likelihood of abused women having an unwanted pregnancy, an abortion, or an underweight baby — and their children were more likely to become abusers or victims in adulthood.

 

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How to Complaint Against errant Auto-Rickshaw Drivers in Delhi

It is very common with metropolitan of India that an auto-driver refuses to take you to your destination or does not follow meter installed or over charge from customer. Now, Delhi Traffic police is advertising the complaint policy and also started message service in which you can complaint about auto-driver by just noting his auto-rickshaw number and SMS to 56767. There is not only this step that you can follow but you can also use help of popular social networking sites like Facebook and twitter.

Steps to complaint against Auto-driver:-

1. SMS to 56767- if auto rickshaw refuses service, harasses in any way, does not go where you want to go, you can complaint by using Delhi traffic police SMS service. Send SMS OVC or MIS or HAR vehicle Registration Location Time> on 56767.

Eg. Send SMS <REF DL1RC3000 Janapth 1000hrs> to 56767.

  • REF- Refusal – If auto-driver does not allow you to take any where, you can use this code to send SMS.
  • OVC- Over Charging- if an auto-driver charges without measuring meter and over charge from you, you can use this OVC code to send SMS.
  • MIS-  Misbehavior- If an auto-driver misbehave with you during your journey, immediately send MIS code SMS to 56767.
  • HAR-  Harassment- If an auto-driver harass with you, you can complaint immediately to Delhi Traffic Police. For, harassment, the auto-driver can more hard punishment than any other complaints.

2. Use Helpline Number- If problem is worst for you while travelling in an auto-rickshaw, you can immediately call on 1095 or 25844444. It is 24×7 started helpline by Delhi Traffic Police and complaint will be listened and reacted as soon as possible.

3. Follow Social Networking Sites– You can also register complaint later on against the auto-driver. Only you have to note down his auto-rickshaw number. Page on Facebook is Delhi Traffic Police and follow on twitter – @delhipolice2. One can also use an email address-[email protected] provided by Delhi Traffic Police.

4. Online Complaint Card- You can use online complaint card started by the Delhi Traffic police on their website. One has to fill all details related to complaint and can also mention brief description of 100 character against auto-rickshaw driver attitude.

Delhi Traffic Police has decided to take action against auto-rickshaw drivers within 24 hours of complaint registered. They are also working out on modalities to send an auto-generated text message to the complainant, acknowledging the receipt of the complaint along with a complaint registration number, so that he/she can follow up on the action taken.

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Babu Bokhariya, minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet, convicted for illegal mining

Edited by Shamik Ghosh | Updated: June 15, 2013 , NDTV

 Babu Bokhariya, minister in Narendra Modi's cabinet, convicted for illegal mining
AhmedabadBabu Bokhariya, a senior minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet in Gujarat, has been convicted for illegal mining. He has been taken into custody.

Mr Bokhariya, who is Gujarat’s water resource minister, along with three others, has been sentenced to three years of imprisonment by a sessions court.

The three others convicted in the case are former MP Bharat Odedara, Bhima Dula and Laxman Dula. They all were accused of illegal mining of limestone from the land where Saurashtra Chemicals Limited holds mining rights.

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Maruti Suzuki – What a sham #Ileadindia , you must say #ImisleadInida

kama3F

 

क्यूँ घर नही सवारते
क्यूँ घर मे सब को मारते,
क्यूँ परिवार का बना हिस्सा,
मजदूरो के  गर्व को दुतकारते …

घर मे सब बिखरा सा है,
अहंकार और दमन दिखता  है ,
मजदूरो के मानवधिकारो का ,
उड़ा दिया चिथड़ा- चिथड़ा है..

तुम मजदूरो को प्रताड़ते,
चक्रव्युह रचा रचा,
जेलो मे मजदूर थूसते,
बुनियादी मांगों पर झाड़ू मारते…

छवि तुम्हारी धुल गई,
रही सही मिट्टी मे घुल गई,
अब I LEAD INDIA कह ,
किस छवि को तुम सुधारते..

ज़रा सी , तुम करो शरम,
जो करना ही है कोई करम,
जाओ ! माँगो माफी इक इक मेहनतकश से तुम,

सब मारुती यूनियन के मजदूरों को वापिस काम पे लो

जो जेल के अन्दर हैं उनको आजादी दो ,

सारे झोठे केसेस वापिस लो

इज़्ज़त करो मजदूर की तुम…

जन जन देख रही है तुम्हे,
नारा कर रही बुलंद,

MARUTI SUZUKI – I MISLEAD INDIA !!

MARUTI SUZUKI – I MISLEAD INDIA !!

By- Rahul Yogi Deveshwar,  a contribution to #IMISLEADINDIA JOIN US ON FACEBOOK  group

https://www.facebook.com/IMisleadIndia

 

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Delhi University’s caste counters spark outrage

 

Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 07, 2013

 First Published: 01:10 IST(7/6/2013)

“I feel I live in South Africa of the apartheid era.” The segregation is not along racial lines but at Delhi University‘s form counters, the caste divide is too evident and “humiliating” – as is obvious from the statement of a student who belongs to one of the reserved categories and doesn’t wish to be identified.

The university has segregated the sale counters on the basis of caste, a move antithetical to principles of social justice and inclusion.

On Thursday, at the faculty of arts, the busiest centre for sale of forms, paper slips in bold letters above the sale windows indicated the category of students the counters were meant for.

While two of the windows were marked general/OBC (other backward classes) forms, the remaining two had SC/ST/PWD (persons with disabilities) written on them.

Students, understandably, are not happy.

 

“I came here with a group of friends. While they are standing in the line for the general category, I have to stand in a different line,” said a student, who did not want to be named.

The university said they realised the mistake and assimilated the centres on Wednesday, the first day forms went on sale.

“It was decided in a meeting of the centre heads that no such distinction was to be made. We have informed everyone about the decision,” JM Khurana, dean, students’ welfare, said.

“It seems the change was not made at the faculty of arts. We will ensure that the notes are removed.”

 

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#India – The Neglect of Health, Women and Justice #Vaw #Womenrights

A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

A basket weaver at work with her baby at her side, in Tamil Nadu. The infant mortality rate is very high for working women, particularly those in the primary sector, a large proportion of whom are labourers.

Vol – XLVIII No. 23, June 08, 2013 | A K Shiva Kumar , EPW
A report on the 2013 deliberation of the Kolkata Group at its 10th workshop which focused on healthcare, the status of women and social justice in India.
A K Shiva Kumar ([email protected]) is convener of the Kolkata Group workshops which are organised by Pratichi (India) Trust, the Harvard Global Equity Initiative and UNICEF India.
At the 10th annual Kolkata Group workshop in February this year, 40 policymakers, development practitioners, non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives, scholars, activists, journalists, politicians and development experts convened to take stock of the state of women, health equity and social justice in India. The group focused on two major areas of concern. First is the abysmal state of healthcare in India driven by the lack of strong governmental policies, investments and direct operations, and the growing size and exploitive practices of commercial providers. And second is the limited progress in women’s rights, indeed sometimes retrogression, that is reflected by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices.
The Kolkata Group is an annual forum that deliberates on ways of advancing social justice, human development and human security in India. The group examines available information, seeks positive solutions, and shares its recommendations with wide audiences – government, civil society, the media, and the public. The group believes that bringing together outstanding people from different walks of life to discuss “good practices” and “lessons learned” can blend values, knowledge and discourse as part of a process of public reasoning for social action. Every year the group discussions have a particular focus. Themes in the past have included equity, security and basic education, rights and resources, child rights and development, economic progress and social values, and eliminating injustices in India. The theme in 2013 was “Public Action and Its Future”. The main focus was on health and nutrition as well as the alarming status of women in Indian society.
Balancing Economic Growth
Amartya Sen opened the workshop by underscoring that economic growth in India is good and necessary, because average incomes must be raised to achieve reasonable living standards and extensive income redistribution alone would not be sufficient for shared well-being. Growth generates private income, and even more importantly, it generates public resources which can be spent on the provision of a host of essential goods and services that contribute to decent living standards. Having noted this, Sen argued that it would be a mistake to “sit back” and rely on economic growth alone to transform the living conditions of the unprivileged. While India has much to learn from growth-mediated development elsewhere in the world, it must avoid unaimed opulence – an undependable, wasteful way of improving the living standards of the poor. Even today, after 20 years of rapid growth, India is still one of the poorest countries in the world, something that is often lost sight of, especially by those who enjoy world-class living standards thanks to the inequalities in the income distribution.
On several health indicators, India has fallen behind many of its neighbours. Overall in 1990, India had the best social indicators in south Asia, next to Sri Lanka. But now India ranks second-worst, ahead of only Pakistan. This is despite the fact that during the last 20 years, India has grown richer much faster than its neighbours. Take for instance Bangladesh. India’s per capita income was estimated to be 60% higher than Bangladesh in 1990. By 2010, India’s was 98% higher (about double). However, during the same period, Bangladesh overtook India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators: life expectancy, child survival, fertility rates, immunisation rates, and even some (not all) schooling indicators such as estimated “mean years of schooling”. Bangladesh’s relatively rapid transformation of social indicators seems to relate closely to the much greater participation and agency of women in the social services as well as in private economic activities, compared with India.
Equally intriguing is that Nepal is also catching up rapidly with India, even overtaking India in some respects. Around 1990, Nepal was way behind India in terms of almost every development indicator. Today, social indicators for both countries are much the same (sometimes a little better in India still, sometimes the reverse), in spite of per capita income in India being about three times higher than in Nepal. Looking at their south Asian neighbours, the Indian poor are entitled to wonder what they have gained – at least so far – from the acceleration of economic growth.
Even though India is still managing to achieve comparatively high growth rates, despite its very insufficient public provision of basic services, this is undoubtedly a source of future concern, and may already be playing a part in India’s contemporary slowdown. High growth in east Asia has been led by, and reinforced by, rapid formation of human capabilities, and this is the shared experience of Japan, China, South Korea and other fast moving economies and societies in Asia. The contrast with India cannot be sharper. Apart from the very limited reach of good quality healthcare and basic education, even today 48% of the population do not even have toilets in their homes. India suffers a chronic power shortage as the breakdown of the grid in north India last year highlighted, but it is also worth bearing in mind that a third of the population in the “black out” area did not ever have any electricity connection anyway. But Sen said you would not think that power supply was a problem in India if you visited government offices where the air-conditioning is kept at a bone-chilling 16 degrees celsius in the summer. This was quite unlike government offices in other Asian countries, which keep the temperature around 23 degrees, which is comfortable enough. It is hard to detect any sign of power supply being a problem if one visits over-chilled offices, restaurants, or hotels, patronised by the comparatively rich, and it would be hard to guess that a third of the Indian population is without electricity altogether. Is it also not ironical – or worse – that political parties support, rather than object to, subsidising electricity for the “middle class” in the name of the aam aadmi? This goes along with support for other middle-class consumptions, such as diesel, cooking gas, and other ingredients of a lifestyle from which the poor are excluded.
Health Inequities
Discussions drew attention to the Asian experience, beginning with Japan in 1860 after the Meiji Restoration, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and China, where economic progress was driven by rapid human capabilities formation. We, in India, are trying to target a high growth rate without investing adequately in basic health, nutrition and education. In this connection, several participants pointed to the appalling state of India’s health system. Public healthcare has been relegated to low priority by the government, given that public spending on health in India is around 1.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) – and has remained so for the past five years – whereas it is 2.7% of GDP in China.
The Kolkata Group reiterated that the most urgent need in healthcare in India today is for an affirmative approach that advances universal health coverage through reversing the financial neglect of public healthcare and the removal of debilitating illusions about what private healthcare and commercial insurance can achieve without firm and active public policies. Influential policymakers in India seem to be attracted by the idea that private healthcare, properly subsidised, or private health insurance, subsidised by the state, can meet the challenge. However, there are good analytical reasons why this is unlikely to happen because of informational asymmetry (the patient can be easily fooled by profit-seeking providers on what exactly is being provided) and because of the “public goods” character of healthcare thanks to the interdependences involved. There are also major decisional problems that lead to the gross neglect of the interests of women and children in family decisions. Nearly every country in the world which has achieved anything like universal health coverage has done it through the public assurance of primary healthcare (whether in Europe, Canada, or much of east Asia).
India’s leaders ought to recognise the necessity for the state to ensure comprehensive quality primary healthcare for all. Related to the main focus of the recommendations, the Kolkata Group urged the government to increase public spending on healthcare to achieve its well-considered pledge of devoting at least 3% of GDP to healthcare. It is particularly important to recognise that there are good reasons for demanding universal entitlements to primary healthcare for all. Effective regulations and ethical professionalism are also essential. The steady increase in public revenues generated by economic growth can and should be fruitfully committed to this extremely important cause.
Child Nutrition
Related to health is India’s worrisome record in reducing child malnutrition. Noting the unusually high levels of under-nutrition in India, the Kolkata Group argued for a firm recognition of the Right to Food in general and legislation to guarantee the entitlements to food for all. Recent experience (including Supreme Court orders on the right to food as well as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) shows the value of putting economic and social rights in relation to a legal framework. Legislation should recognise that food and nutritional security depends not just on food but on a set of related interventions that promote women’s health and nutrition, safe drinking water, proper sanitation and healthcare.
The Kolkata Group had earlier endorsed the proposal for creating durable legal entitlements that guarantee the right to food in India. A Right to Food Act covering justiciable food entitlements should be non-discriminatory and universal. Entitlements guaranteed by the Act should include foodgrains from the public distribution system (PDS), school meals, nutrition services for children below the age of six years, social security provision and allied programmes. Ensuring non-discriminatory access and universal entitlements requires special initiatives that focus on the discriminated, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. Last but not least, design and implementation should include effective public participation, grievance redress provisions and independent oversight.
Women’s Rights
The Kolkata Group also drew attention to the limited progress in women’s rights that continues to be plagued by a host of inequities, insecurities and injustices. Discussions were grounded in the developments following the incident of gang rape on 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya’s statement, “I want to live”, provided a very strong emotional impetus to the protests by large numbers of women and men from different sections of society. The fact that many people went past without helping when Nirbhaya was lying there with her friend wounded reveals something awfully callous about us. Similarly, it is not to our glory that dalit women have been violated and raped again and again. And there has been relatively little noise or protest. Underlying causes for the neglect and abuse of women include patriarchy as well as deep cultural factors.
Increasing the enormity of punishment in cases involving crimes against women does not necessarily solve the issue of rising crime against women. Awarding the death penalty, for example, can serve the purpose of revenge but it does not help in social reform. Society needs to ensure that the police are serious about such crimes, there is a system that will punish those responsible for the crime, and that such matters are tried expeditiously in a court. Indian women experience much greater difficulties in getting help from the police, and consequently do not trust the police to work in a professional manner. Protocols should be adopted to protect female complainers and in moving the court swiftly enough to get a judgment quickly.
The Kolkata Group noted that the violations of women’s rights are related to the continuation of early child marriage, violence against women, discriminatory practices, the impunity and bias that permeate the functioning of the legal and police systems, malnutrition of women and children, increasing prevalence of sex selection at birth as well as inadequate women’s autonomy, health, education, and freedoms. The steps ahead must recognise the recommendations of the Justice J S Verma Committee report promoting women’s bodily integrity, dignity and sexual autonomy. Serious attention should be paid to health, education, nutrition as well as the lack of adequate recognition of women’s well-being and agency. The group also underscored the importance of public protests and the need to keep raising the demand for a police and legal system that protects the rights of women. Women’s needs have to be more centrally recognised as a political priority for their voices to be heard.
[Chaired by Amartya Sen, Kolkata Group attendees this year were Sabina Alkire, Louis-Georges Arsenault, Shabana Azmi, Abhay Bang, Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, Lori Calvo, Achin Chakraborty, Gregory Chen, Lincoln Chen, Abhijit Chowdhury, Asim Dasgupta, Keshav Desiraju, Antara Dev Sen, Jean Dreze, Shiban Ganju, Dilip Ghosh, Joaquin Gonzalez-Aleman, R Govinda, Shaibal Gupta, Pratik Kanjilal, Manabi Mazumdar, Surjya Kanta Misra, Nachiket Mor, Poonam Muttreja, Sridhar Rajagopalan, Kumar Rana, Sujatha Rao, Srinath Reddy, Nidhi Sabharwal, Abhijit Sen, Amartya Sen, Nandana Sen, A K Shiva Kumar, Amarjeet Sinha, Shantha Sinha, Sukhadeo Thorat and Sitaram Yechury.]

 

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