Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h07/mnt/56080/domains/broadmind.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160

About Editor

Author Archive | Editor

Why public policy matters

By Saurabh Chandra

 A visit to an orphanage reinstates the importance of public policy in India.

Last week, a call centre called me requesting for donations to an orphanage. On most occasions, I ignore such calls and since the collection costs charged by intermediaries are high, I prefer to pay directly for such causes. This time, I asked for the details of the place and decided to visit. A personal visit without due notice would be a good way to ascertain if the place genuinely needed support and also find the ideal way to support it.

The orphanage was in a small 3-story house close to the government school. The founder was himself an orphan and on a mission to help 500 orphans. Currently, his orphanage has 50 children, who are fed, schooled and housed. The orphanage is recognised by the child welfare department and had income tax exemptions for donations. My wife and I asked questions and interacted with the founder, a volunteer, a child and another members of the staff. The people involved seemed to have genuine intentions for this cause. Despite the fact that the landlord increased the rent every year and the difficulty of finding an alternative home, those involved in this orphanage were doing good work in the face of all challenges.

The most significant aspect of the orphanage were the children, most of whom were either playing or had gone for vacation and would be back from their native place once the schools reopened. We pondered over the idea of vacation for these orphan children and learnt that most visit their native places. Sometimes, one or both the parents of a child are deceased and extended families often want to find alternative means of providing for the child. Out of the 50 children in the orphanage, around 20 are new each year. Many children get frustrated of staying confined in it and return to their extended families. Some return only when they are old enough to earn a living (13-14 years) to be economically useful to their families. Some children are taught to outright lie about their orphan status, to gain an entry into the orphanage.

There are many parents who find the idea of an alternative body, raising their children for free (for even a year or two) too tempting to pass, especially if they are facing economic hardship. One of the basic challenges faced by this particular orphanage is how to find real orphans who need genuine care, attention and support.

Visiting this orphanage was the first hand experience of why public policy and its analysis are so much more important than merely supporting individual do-gooders. Our focus has to be on one simple question: how does a society care for its orphans? Helping individual orphanages is not the solution. This complex problem can be solved only if the state was to ascertain the background and identity of each orphan. For this, it is necessary that the police get involved and this brings us back to the question of police reforms, as most policemen are already over worked and over burdened. Also linking orphanages and adoption services is a low hanging fruit as at present they are separate. Adoption is woefully tough in India, as the procedure has been created to prevent child abuse rather than facilitate willing families to care for a child.

At the end of this, I was glad that I did not donate over the phone

Comments { 1 }

Turkey and the democracy of protest

by Sarah Farooqui

The worst state of being for citizens of any democracy is the state of apathy- a state where they feel inconsequential to raise a voice to support or oppose the government. Any healthy democracy, no matter how dysfunctional in it psychology, is legitimised when its citizens participate, defend and question its existence.

Over the last few months, the world was starting to fear that Turkey, as a response to its contemporary politics was losing its Kemalist identity. Under the leadership of Turkey’s secular national founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey shed its Ottoman past and caliphate and fashioned a new identity- that of a secular, democratic nation, as opposed to a cleric driven one, imitating its Arab neighbours. This identity appealed to the western world and the new Turkish vision came to be known as Kemalism. Changes in Turkey included establishment of a parliamentary form of a government, promotion of women’s suffrage, conversion of the alphabets from Arabic to Latin and a strong opposition to Islamic fundamentalism long before the world launched its tirade against jihad.

Over the years, Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recip Tayyep Erdogan espoused his Islamic faith freely and the importance he laid to religion became evident across the country and the world. His popularity with the Turks who voted him into power– the religious leaders, clerics, conservative classes, the rural and urban poor, among others– was a result of the alienation felt from the strong, overtly secular and military backed establishment that existed before him. The fact that in the General elections of 2011, Ataturk’s party CHP (Republican People’s Party) drew only 26 percent of the vote as opposed to Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development), which drew 50 percent, portrayed the changes in the country and its society.

Erdogan’s rule has subtly tried to displace Kemalism, and treat it as an outdated ideology, unsuitable for contemporary Turkey. Changes in the country are evident in the strong policy shifts from the past, such as Turkey vying for a stronger position in the Middle East and former Ottoman nations rather than bidding for a membership into the European Union, the public admonishment of the staunchly secular and once powerful military along with its relegation to the barracks since Ataturk’s death. The need to carve out a religious identity and a cultural base outside of the Kemalist narrative can be seen in small but significant changes such as the disappearance of the headscarf ban in academic institutions across Turkey.

The recent protests in Turkey stemmed from peaceful protests by environmentalists in Istanbul, against demolishing the Taksim Gezi Park with a reconstruction of the Ottoman Taksim Military Barracks (demolished in 1940) and a shopping mall. The government use of police force only augmented the protests and turned them violent as the police used tear gas, arrested and injured many. The protests spread across the country and the cause widened beyond the issue of Taksim Gezi Park, expanding into a larger demonstration of the anti government feeling. The protests have been against the changes in the local culture as seen the recent ban on alcohol, the reduction of Kemalist ideologies, Islamicisation, restrictions of the freedom of speech, freedom of press, abortion, right to free assembly along with the Turkish stance on the Syrian crisis.

Locked between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey, with its Kemalist ideology, represented a nation that bridged the divide between the east and the west, standing at the cusp of religion, democracy and secularism. Over the years, fears of slow but noticeable changes in its democracy along with cracks in its secular nature were evident. The dichotomy in the Turkish populations about their past and their future resulted in a skewered perception of what Turkey was and what it would become. A survey conducted a while back showed that almost 90 percent of Turks wanted a secular Turkey and 82 percent wanted it in line with Ataturk’s principles. The present government was slowly challenging this. The recent protests initiated by a small matter– the reconstruction of a park– mirror the sentiments of the people. They throw light on the larger issue– that the Turks are frustrated with these small changes that portray the authoritarian nature of Erdogan’s government and alter the Turkish culture and society. Many, liken him to a Sultan, ruling his nation at his will. In a speech on June 1stErdogan’s strong reaction to the protests raised further question about how he would handle them, if they spread at a fiercer intensity across the country.

Erdogan Yildirim, a sociology professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, in an interview told CNN “Erdogan needs to see that the country needs more “participatory democracy”. People want to influence decisions in public matters … it is ultimately none other than Erdogan who cultivated this anger and who needs to calm it down.” Sule Kulu wrote about Erdogan, in the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman “If he does not return to his pro-democracy stance, this would prepare his fall in Turkish politics. Istanbul, his place of birth in politics, can bring him his political death.”

Like the Arab Spring, these protests are against the government, and towards a reform. But unlike most protests of the Arab Spring, these call for a reform to go back from the present into the past. Whether they sustain and influence a tangible change in Turkey, is something to be seen. At present, they portray the fact that the citizens of Turkey are a part of its politics. That in their dissent and protest, they participate, legitimise and hence strengthen its secular democracy.

Sarah Farooqui is the Assistant Editor of Pragati- The Indian National Interest Review

Comments { 0 }

Strong policy. Meagre spending. And thousands of vulnerable children

By Sarah Farooqui

A complete policy framework for any vulnerable population group should encompass three things- welfare, protection and rights. India’s policy mechanism for children has over the years evolved (tangentially maybe) to include each of these three aspects and provide a robust system for children, atleast on paper.

Despite this, 75 million children have neither featured in numbers on child labour nor do they attend school. Almost 5.19 lakh children are labourers and Delhi alone has approximately 51,000 vulnerable street children.

The 2013-14 budget allocated 4.64 percent of the entire union budget, for children, which is a climbdown from last year’s 4.78 percent. Breaking it down further, Child Health received 0.16 percent of the total allocation, Child development received 1.10 percent, Education received 3.34 percent and Child protection 0.04 percent.

In 2011, the crimes against children reported a 24 percent increase from the previous year. Strangely enough, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS)- the most comprehensive policy on child protection in India – faced a reduction in its allocations by 100 crores this year – one-fourths of its budget.

When child protection mechanisms fail its main stake holders, the children, everyone is appalled and the state promises immediate reforms. The recent protests against the rape of a five year old demonstrated this. The government promises reforms, citizens revolt and expect miracles and policy makers flaunt the pages of existing robust policies. The reality though is that unlike other vulnerable population groups, policies for children are poorly funded and implemented. They come under the most neglected area of public policy and there are four reasons for this.

One, often regarded as the domain for women, bleeding hearts or those who could not find better work in the administrative services, child welfare, protection and rights come under ‘soft’ public policy. Outside of emotions, policies for children are usually unappealing.

Two, a general public apathy towards children in India (unless there is a dramatic, media hyped case of rape, abuse, torture, kidnap or death) ensures that there is a lack of constant and necessary dialogue regarding the deficits in implementation and need to consistently beef up allocation and spending.

Three, direct spending on this population group does not help much with vote bank politics or in easily appeasing the adult voter masses.

Four, the need to survive till the next elections and beyond, ensures a lack of foresight (and ignorance towards this population) on the part of those who govern the country. (According to the 2011 census report, 33 percent of Indians are children. Spending on this segment of population should be viewed as an investment in the country’s future).

There is a dire need to bring child polices into the spotlight. Unless aggressive work is done on improving the child policy mechanisms outside the definitions on paper — in realistic budget allocation and spending along with efficient implementation — there will be no improvement. We will continue to have strong laws and policies, but meagre spending and most unfortunately, thousands of vulnerable children.

Sarah Farooqui is a policy researcher at Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore.

Comments { 0 }

Persuasion: A response to some pertinent questions regarding my previous piece on Delhi university reforms

By Sarah Farooqui

There were some interesting points raised by friends and colleagues to my piece from yesterday. From discussions on a social networking thread, four areas emerged which vaguely covered the multiple comments in the conversation. Regarding the multi disciplinary nature of university education, about the logic behind the multidisciplinary education (“For a one dimensional approach I would rather join a factory and learn”), making a DU degree a 4 year degree and on the American system of education/IITs.

The first, regarding the multi-disciplinary nature of education in India.

A friend stated that the “new curriculum makes complete sense” because for a 4 year B.Tech degree at an IIT, it was mandatory to take courses within and outside the department (in other disciplines as well) over the 4 years. According to him, this structure did not ‘dilute’ the course, the curriculum or the degree. He cited similar examples of multi-disciplinary university curriculum abroad.

I would like to say three things to the points mentioned above. First, at present Delhi University does indeed have interdisciplinary courses in the honours as well as the pass course programme. What it does not have is a wide variety in those courses and the free choice for students to pick and choose. Having said that, I completely agree that multi-disciplinary education is necessary. Delhi University should have explicitly made these reforms to include new courses. I am not against the multidisciplinary nature of education (If anything, I am the living example of why we need it). My problems with what DU proposes are-

  • The courses are simplistic, generic and stupid sounding in subjects of no real academic importance. Does one genuinely want to spend their most important academic years studying vague papers, which neither go in detail nor skim the surface of an academic discipline?
  • The mandatory nature of the 11 courses for students, who have already been segregated according to disciplines, evaluated in board exams based on those disciplines and admitted into university based on the result of those exams (in those disciplines).
  • The two years wasted studying them.

Second, my simple response to those who vociferously advocate for a multi-disciplinary education system in India is that this is a wonderful idea that needs to find primary implementation at the school more than the university level. While I agree with my friends that 18 is too young to decide what you want to do in life, our present school system ensures that you decide that at 15-16, segregating a student into Humanities, Sciences and Commerce. While a multi-disciplinary approach in university is good in conversation, it makes no sense in a system where the foundation is skewed up. Accepting and advocatig for this change only at university, is as good as saying “the education system is flawed. We need to correct it. Lets start at the most inconvenient and irrational end and work not backward or forward but sideway and zig zag.”

Third, regarding whether additional subjects ‘dilute’ a degree, if the number of old core subjects remain the same. If the multiple courses at an IIT do not dilute its degree could also be because of the nature of the inter-disciplinary courses offered. According to the proposed DU reforms, if a student leaves DU after two years, he would leave with an “Associate Baccalaureate” degree, (having studied 11 inter disciplinary courses and 5 in some other discipline). In three years, he would leave, having studied a few courses in a discipline and two non-credit courses on “Integrating Mind, Body and Heart” for a full academic year. And in the fourth year he would have completed 20 courses in a ‘major’ discipline, five courses in ‘Application’ (which are supposed to be “skill-based courses that enable employability for students,” with no further details provided) and six courses devoted to “Cultural Activities.” As Jayati Ghosh points, The only choice for students is in terms of major and minor disciplines: thereafter, everything is given. So, contrary to claims, the proposals actually dumb down the programme and reduce the choice of students.

(Aside- According to the OED, ‘dilute’ (the verb) means “make (a liquid) thinner or weaker by adding water or another solvent to it: bleach can be diluted with cold water.” Hence does the new course dilute a degree by adding more subjects, even if it retains the old few? Semantically speaking, I would say it does.)

The second is regarding the nature of the multidisciplinary degree:

The same friend went on to state

*“In todays world most innovations are at the intersection of various disciplines. It would be blatantly wrong to say “Why should students study other basic courses”. As (another friend) puts it “For a one dimensional approach I would rather join a factory and learn”

* “The word “basic” is relative. “Basic” here means the courses basic to undergraduate studies. “Basic courses” of high school needn’t be same as “Basic Courses” here. “Basic courses” in UG may be advanced when compared with High school “Basic courses””

Since we assume high school to be class 12, most of these multi-disciplinary courses will have to be at a class 11 level, not even an undergraduate level. This is what I mean by ‘basic’. Since these courses cater to students who come from diverse academic backgrounds (where they study 11 disciplines till class 10 and then are put in streams for class 11 and 12) they will need to be standard for everyone- a novice and an expert- to comprehend, understand and excel in. Hence most of these 11 courses, logically, will have to start at a class 11 level. How else will a student who dropped math and science after the class 10, (the current school system even allows students to drop these in the class 8), comprehend it again, that too at the undergraduate level?

If these reforms were really meant to alter the old system and change it from within, then DU should have offered subjects in various disciplines, having a minimum number as requirement for students and giving them the option to study precisely what they choose and what matches their academic background, skill set and interest. Instead of wasting two years on it, they could have ensured a rigourous one-year of multi disciplinary study (covered within two semesters), that makes sense with regard to the students future career goals. My opinion is in no way against multi disciplinary or elementary courses. It is against these particular 11 subjects, the compulsion to study them and the time wasted in doing so.

The third is regarding a four year degree instead of three:

A colleague pointed out that “A 4 year degree makes a lot of sense. It’s the length you need if you want specialisation in a topic, coupled with a broad base of more general, basic subjects. It’s high time that the humanities and the sciences join engineering, medicine and others in switching from a 3 to a 4-year degree. DU’s ideally placed to lead that change. Soon, doing a Masters’ should be about doing the Year 5 and 6 of your higher education. 

Here my colleague raises three points- One, that a four year degree makes sense, two that is the amount of time you need for specialisation, three its high time humanities and sciences join engineering, medicine and others in switching to a change.

The answer to the first, is that a four year degree makes absolutely no sense in Delhi university, simply because the current three year system works- and works well. Had it failed, left students unemployed, rejected from every master’s programme and incompetent in life- one could justify the four-year reform. Now, it is simply a call for reforms for the sake of reforms. What needs work in DU (as the second last para in my piece points out) is the quality and infrastructure of education within those three years. Not the three years.

To the second, is that an intense three-year, discipline oriented degree has been equal (if not more) to a four-year study (with a year or two spent in inter disciplinary) for specialisation. There is nothing that states one needs four years to be a specialist just as there is no logic that says one needs 7 years and not 5 to complete a Phd.

And the third, is the logic behind humanities and sciences joining engineering and medicine. Till now, the humanities and the sciences have been doing well within the three-year system, just as law, medicine and architecture have been doing well in a 5 year system. The prescribed time period is according to the time required to ensure the study of these disciplines. The fact that generations have passed out of this system and thrived proves how there is no need for DU to join the engineering and medicine college band wagon (or call its degree the French term for Bachelors- Baccalaureate).

Can the university ideally offer a four-year degree with no infrastructure or logistics reform? Is DU equipped to keep students on for another year? Can classrooms accommodate an extra batch per year? Are the hostel facilities adequate for more students? Are the colleges equipped with resources to genuinely educate students for four years? What is the cost of an extra year for student expenditure on an undergraduate degree in a non-professional/technical course (when others across India are available for three years)? Is there the need to hurry drastic reforms simply because the VC’s term may end soon? Should the majority opposing professors be taken into account? How thought out is the curriculum design and how much time do professors have to design classes?  There are practical deficits in putting in a four-year degree program and overlooking this is simply of a lack of foresight.

The fourth, is regarding the American model of undergraduate studies and the implicit comparison with the Indian Institute of Technology:

If we genuinely wanted to emulate the best of the American education system we would have done this in two ways:

One, in high school education (at a basic level- removing academic streams, board exams, ensuring regular assessments, introducing aptitude based tests like SAT instead of Boards and in general removing a system of theoretical learning with practical etc.)

Two, by improving the infrastructure, research and output in Indian universities to bring them at par with their American counterparts, before jumping to bring in majors, minors, credits and four year degrees.

Regarding the IITs and their multi disciplinary approach- I find the entire comparison of IITs to DU mildly ridiculous. IITs are institutions offering mainly technical and professional degrees. The entry into an IIT is JEE based, not board exam based. The grading and evaluation within an IIT is different from DU (not a class based system). The years needed to study technical courses differ greatly from the years needed to study disciplines offered in DU. The subjects taught are of a different nature. The aptitude, career goals and aspirations of students in the two institutions are completely different. Hence comparing the two, in terms of a generic conversation makes little sense. But at the level of a specific discourse- it’s absurd.

If one is still not convinced by my humble points, I would suggest they read:

Read the author’s previous post on the topic here.

Comments { 0 }

Sense and sensibility: On Delhi university’s proposed reforms

By Sarah Farooqui

Delhi University’s decision to change its three-year structure into a four year one, with three exit options for students has met with criticism from all sides. Taking a post colonial British education system and restructuring it into a half baked American one will leave it with an identity crisis that will effect the lives of thousands of students and devaluate the quality of the degree. Apart from the logistical and implementation problems, here are three simple points that need to be delved into with regard to Delhi University’s proposed Four-Year Undergraduate Degree.

The first is regarding the value of an undergraduate Honours (or Pass Course) degree from Delhi University.

This looks into two aspects- first, the academic value of a DU degree- which depends on the type of student it caters to. Students, aiming to pursue higher education in a particular discipline, sure about their career goals, extract the most from the present three year undergraduate system, which ensures that one has a rudimentary mastery over a subject (or a set of subjects) on graduation, making one ready for specialisation or an entry into a profession in that field. Even the most uninterested student finds a semblance of an education within the system, simply because of the minimum standards required for attendance, assignments, tests, laboratory work, seminars and examinations. Three years of rigorous training in a discipline, exhausting different areas under a particular subject ensue that if nothing, one develops basic research, analysis and reading habits.

Second is the recognition value of a DU degree. Based on the three year British system of undergraduate studies established over the years, a DU degree is at par with most global undergraduate degrees. Once DU changes its structure, the uniform recognition of its degree gets lost. Did the DU graduate have a two-year degree? A three-year degree? Or a four-year degree? What is his degree called? Is it at par with other global degrees? What is the eligibility of a student to apply for a Masters degree in India and abroad? What is the logic behind adding another year to an undergraduate degree, when one can easily enroll for masters after the present three years? There are multiple unanswered questions regarding this change, especially now, when most countries across the world are contemplating changing their 4 year undergraduate system into a 3 year one.

The second is the structure of the new proposed system.

The complete degree will be a four year degree with three exit options for students. The first after two years (where students leave with an associate Baccalaureate), the second after three years (where the students leave with a Baccalaureate) and the third after four years (where students leave with a Baccalaureate with Honours). This change also gives no real rationale behind removing the B.A Programme, Bsc Programme, B.Com Programme, or any substantial reason to invest in adding a fourth year to a degree. This ridiculous move simplifies higher education to a foolish level- If one is not competent to complete a basic three year undergraduate degree- then DU will award them with a diploma. If one sticks on for another year, then gets awarded with Bachelors. And one more year, then added Honours. This reduces undergraduate academics, into a buffet system, offered by a benevolent institution ready to hand out qualifications at every level. It does not teach students to accept, acknowledge and supersede academic challenges but instead offers them exits from it at every point. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta says “what is actually being proposed at the moment looks like an odd amalgam that makes the DU degree look like part remedial course for a failed school system, part vocational degree, part new age fluffy pedagogy “integrating mind and body,” part honours research degree and part conventionally overloaded syllabi with rote learning.”

The third is the curriculum of the new design-

The four-year course will have 20 courses in a ‘major’ discipline, 4 courses in a ‘minor’ discipline, 5 in skill based ‘application’ disciplines (to enable employablitity of students) and 6 devoted to “cultural activities”. It will also have 11 mandatory foundation courses, spread over the first two years. These would include courses on “Language, Literature and Creativity”, “Information Technology”, “Business, Entrepreneurship and Management,” “Psychology, Communication and Life Skills,” “Governance and Citizenship,” “Building Mathematical Ability” “Geographic and Socio-economic Diversity,” “Science and Life,” “History, Culture and Civilisation,” and “Environment and Public Health.”

There are two arguments against this banality. First, the present system in DU is designed on the British pattern and it complements our contemporary high school system of 10 +2. The 11 foundation courses stem from disciplines that have already been studied at an elementary level in the 10th standard. If universities want radical reforms, then the entire school system needs to be reformed first. While this change offers a comprehensive subject platter (similar to the hallowed American system) its planners forget that students who graduate out of the Indian high school system are streamlined according to disciplines much earlier. Students are hence evaluated in school, based on “subject specific” board exams and not generic tests like the SATs. The water tights science, humanities and commerce diversifications in secondary high school ensure that students pick their academic streams early and stay within them. Such a radical change would have made sense at a higher secondary school level. But in the current system, does studying “Information Technology” make sense for a student who chose purse pure Humanities in class 11? Or studying “Psychology, Communication and life skills” to one who chose pure Sciences?

Second, It assumes that every student who comes into Delhi University is confused and wants a multi-disciplinary education. India has many universities, which offer multidisciplinary courses for a degree. Students across the country flock to DU because it is among the few institutions that still allows rigourous yet research oriented degrees in a particular discipline at an undergraduate level. Offering multiple entry level courses and then majors across the years, not only dilutes this point, it also wastes two years of students who want to pursue a particular discipline (with forcing them to do elementary level courses) and ensures that the intricacy of undergraduate level study of any discipline gets lost.

If Delhi University really wanted a change, it should have spent time introspecting over its present form. What was it that made Delhi University the first choice for students who could choose other institutions in India and abroad? It should have deepened the curriculum in each discipline and added extra multi-disciplinary options for interested students. At present, many colleges in DU have the system of lectures and compulsory weekly tutorials, where small group of students regularly interact with professors at an individual level and are graded accordingly. DU should have made this a strict standardised norm across colleges. The present system of regular assignments, class tests, laboratory work, seminars, (where students write 3000-5000 word papers and present it) and examinations should have been strengthened and regular panel discussions, seminar sessions and peer reviews should have been made mandatory and graded. DU should have invested greatly in infrastructural reforms and in improving the quality and quantity of material in the libraries and laboratories. DU should have found ways to improve its research and output mechanisms and attract faculty from across the world. To ensure that its students are at par with their international counterparts, DU should have designed accessible and funded exchange programs with the best universities across the world, made provisions for students to carry out funded research and present their findings at international conferences. It should have designed summer research programs where interested students could work on intensive research projects under professors over the long holidays. It should have revised its syllabus and evaluation mechanisms. It should have organised aggressive placement drives for graduating students. If Delhi University wanted reforms and restructuring, there were multiple innovative ways of doing so, keeping the established system in place. Over time, it could have decided whether it wanted to change the structure and hence evolved it slowly to a more sophisticated one at par with its reputation.

The current reforms however intentioned are shabby and hurried. They are unfair to students who will come into DU, after working hard in high school, making it through the exceptionally high cutoffs and then facing a system which is not well thought out or structured. Given the dearth of good institutions for liberal arts, humaties and social sciences, DU is one of the established and valued institutions for these and other disciplines. The proposed ‘reforms’ not only dilute its reputation and academic quality but they also provide a mediocre alternative, barely thinking about the ramifications and the generations of students who will pass out of it.

The author of this piece is a graduate of Delhi University. 

Comments { 4 }

Only Women

By Priya Ravichandran


The Telegraph carried an opinion piece on the popularity of recently established women only courts in Mumbai and Bengal with demands to expand them to districts in Maharashtra. The courts with women judges, prosecutors, desk clerks, peons are rooted in the idea that women especially victims of harassment or rape might feel more comfortable talking about the ordeal in a less intimidating environment. The courts have so far, in the Mumbai area been successful, with judges being swift in delivering verdicts on complicated issues that include workplace and marital harassment. The idea of having a woman only court or at least a woman judge at the helm might go a long way in ensuring women litigants feel more at ease within what has traditionally been seen as a male bastion. Having women only courts though is not a viable long term alternative to equal access to justice in the country. We have to be aware that this current system is but a necessity of the times that we live in and separate but equal justice is not a solution. Women only court should be a stop gap alternative, until the Indian public institutions and public officials can make gender equality and equal citizenship a norm.

There are a few things that have to happen to ensure the success of these women courts and also to ensure that gradual phasing out of separate but equal laws.

Universities, public institutions should be made available to everyone. There is an aspect of benevolent sexism that dictates some of these places to be too ‘rough’ or too harsh for women. The dominance of men in certain fields like law and the continued perception of law schools and courts being highly sexist environments deter many girls from joining and succeeding in these universities. Gender education, educating people on sexual harassment laws, ensuring these are applied strictly and sensitising professors and students will automatically take care of bringing in a relatively equal sex ratio in schools, public institutions and the issue of availability of women judges and prosecutors.

Gender Sensitisation must be made mandatory starting from schools. Colleges, universities and public institutions must have regular refresher courses on gender sensitivity. Both men and women have to understand the implications, minutiae of what constitutes a sexist remark, benevolent sexism and explicit sidelining of women from certain parts of the institution and its process. The consequences of gender insensitive remarks have to be high and have to be strictly enforced. Sexual harassment laws, in private or public institutions have to be made available to all the staff. Politicians or higher officers should not be allowed to get away with name calling or making remarks that show women in a poor light or discriminate against the gender.

Reservations should not be seen as the solution to all societal problems, especially gender issues. Citizenship is not a privilege. Seeing reservation as the solution for women implies that they are being doled out favours by the more privileged so they can feel as though they are part of the process too. Equal citizenship means just that. Women should be able take an equal part without being relegated to glass houses.

A harassed or raped woman who was waiting for a “women only” bus after her work her in a “women only” bank should not have to search for a woman police in a “women only” police station and be subjected to women doctors in “women only” hospitals and then wander the corridors of a “women only” courts to live in India.

Priya Ravichandran is Programme Officer for the GCPP programme at the Takshashila Institution.

Comments { 0 }

A Modest Proposal

(Regarding the problem with the female species in India)

At present the Preamble to the Constitution of India begins with “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens…” It goes on to mention terms such as Justice (social, economic and political) Liberty (of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship), Equality (of status and of opportunity) and Fraternity (assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation)

In recent days, many population pockets, (especially the female specie) seem to feel that the terms justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are applicable to the entire Indian population, including them. Apart from statistically proven, high rates of crimes against women (sexual and domestic violence, female foeticide, dowry harassment etc.) simple and daily acts by the citizens ensure that women are discriminated against at a regular pace. A policeman slaps a young girl; another beats up a middle-aged woman. They face social and moral policing, discrimination at work and in even the most evolved of families, the pressures to sign legal contracts between spouses, participate in legal cohabitation and thereof joyful procreation. Despite these regular and intentioned acts of discrimination by most citizens, the female species in India are often in a conundrum, wondering what the problem is, especially given the capital letters in the Preamble to our Constitution, (not to mention every Act of the Constitution) which promises equality, liberty, fraternity etc. to all and serves as the foundation to independent India.

A modest proposal by the author is to include a new term into the Preamble to the Constitution of India, which would ensure that the entire Indian population (including the female specie) understands the country and its guiding principles, as they stand at present. This amendment would solve two problems. One, it would ensure that the female species in the country stop questioning why they are treated in a certain way and formally understand the social principles guiding our society. (It could also maybe ensure the decline in the recent hysterical female rage.) Two, it would formally allow the country to accept its contemporary reality and therefore abandon the schizophrenic attitude (or the exhaustive pretension towards its women) along with narratives on the lines of “women are equal to men” etc. My modest proposal is to insert the term ‘Patriarchy’ into the preamble to the constitution.

The Preamble to the Constitution should then read- “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC PATRIARCHY and to secure to all its citizens…”

Recently Andhra Pradesh, barred women from clubs, pubs and bars after 10 at night. It also banned those under 21 from such places at any hour. The state Government also issued a notification telling clubs, pubs and bars to ask women customers to leave after 10 PM or face cancellation of their liquor licenses. This move was made after several incidents of drunken women quarreling with auto drivers outside bars and clubs at night.

Because our Constitution at present allows the female species to think that they belong to an equal and free society, many may start to question this move made for the good of the citizens (euphemism for the male specie in India). Many may even argue that since most crimes at night, are committed by men, such stringent deadlines should be made for men and not the female species. Many may even go further and ask for an equal deadline or ban for both the genders. Many may say that men get involved in drunken brawls too; hence they too should be banned from pubs and bars. Some may even question the legality of such a move, posing problems for the state. And if such a move is proven to be undemocratic (which in the present circumstances it is), then the state may be labeled, illogical, irrational, discriminatory, delusional, moronic, misguided, inebriated or worse, guided by imbecile loons.

If the Preamble is amended suitably to insert the term ‘Patriarchy’ then by the Wikipedia definition of patriarchy, the female species will have to accept that India is an “institution of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination.” The state could then very simply respond to those citizens who feel that such a move is undemocratic and challenges their equality, liberty and fraternity. If we officially declare India a Patriarchy, then special acts and amendments could later be worked upon, to ensure that India formally adopts all the norms of a patriarchal society and keeps the women as the second citizen, (or just another specie in the diverse Indian animal kingdom) they actually are but refuse to accept at present.

Sarah Farooqui is the Assistant Editor of Pragati- The Indian National Interest Review

Comments { 0 }

A Delhi-centric view

by Karthik Shashidhar

Almost two years back, my wife and I flew to Venice for a holiday. We flew four hours from Bangalore to Dubai, and then another six hours from Dubai to Venice. However, if you go by what experts who are opposed to increase in bilateral seats with the Middle East are saying, what we did was anti-national. For, we encouraged the development of an airport in the Middle East as a hub, at the cost of developing Delhi as a hub.

If we had gone by what these ‘experts’ had deemed to be in the “national interest” we should have flown two and a half hours to Delhi, and then another nine hours to Venice, and that is assuming there existed a direct connection from Delhi to Venice.

The simple fact of geography is that India has a prominent north-south axis, while most international flights primarily demand east-west movement. To again take a personal example, Bangalore and Delhi lie along approximately the same longitude, so the effort that I would incur in order to fly from Bangalore to Delhi does nothing in order to cut down actual flying time to my destination in Europe or the Far East.

The reason Delhi has not developed so far as a hub is a function of geography – the very location of Delhi prevents it from being an effective hub of traffic. Located towards the northern tip of the country, it constitutes a detour for passengers originating from any of the other major cities. It does not do too well as a possible international hub, either. To put it another way, hubs in South East Asia (Singapore/ Kuala Lumpur/ Bangkok) and in West Asia (Dubai / Abu Dhabi / Doha) are already so far ahead of Delhi that even if Delhi aspires to be an international hub, it faces a major uphill task.

And it is not that any other Indian city can do better. The fundamental principle behind changing flights is that you break your journey into two approximately equal halves. And irrespective of where in India you put a hub, there will be little difference in total flying time to the ultimate destination. So people from other Indian cities (those that are not hubs) are always better off in changing flights at one of the hubs of East or West Asia (depending on where they are headed).

Due to the very nature of how international flying rights are designed, some countries have a natural advantage over others in terms of being hubs. The view that Delhi should be a hub for Indian international traffic despite its unfavourable location is a quintessential Delhi-centric view, and can hurt commerce in other Indian cities (by increasing total travel time). It is time for policy makers to acknowledge that Delhi is not geographically ideally located for that. And rather than continuing to clamour for a hub in Delhi, they should allow foreign carriers to put more flights to other Indian cities.

Karthik Shashidhar is the Resident Quant at the Takshashila Institution

Comments { 3 }

Weakening the mechanisms of caste

By Saurabh Chandra

Ambedkar in his seminar, On the Mechanisms and Genesis of Caste, created a succinct definition of caste being primarily an endogamous arrangement (on top of the exogamous rule of gotra). In simple words, the constraint of marrying within a group is enough to create a caste. That he propounded was a necessary and sufficient condition to create castes. This also allowed him to differentiate between the theorem and the corollaries. The corollaries being that the constraint of marrying within a group necessitates solving the problem of having surplus men or women being available for marriage at any point in time. The gives rise to practices such as burning a widow or condemning her to forced widowhood to handle surplus women and in case of men encouraging male widows to stay widows or adding young girls to the marriage pool for compensating numbers. Some folks had earlier thought that such practices are characteristic of the caste system, however, Ambedkar shows these are the result of it and are in a way, important mechanisms to perpetuate it.

If we accept this thesis, then we need to question whether we could create an indirect attack on caste by weakening its mechanisms? Rather than fighting the impossible battle of reforming the Hindu religion, this (weakening the underlying mechanisms) will create conditions for the system to fail. The caste system is one of the most resilient systems as it’s structure has characteristics of anti-fragility as Nicholas Taleb would say. Attempts to break out of the system only create more castes. For example, people of inter-caste marriages would become a caste unto themselves (as matrimonial columns will show you) and so do followers of a reformist saint (say lingayats). So attacks on the system only end up strengthening it. Would a flank attack instead of a frontal attack prove to be a better strategy?

Two other useful questions to ask at this point in time are: One, what’s wrong with caste and Two don’t endogamous groups exist in other cultures? The answer to the second question is endogamous groups do exist in other cultures, for example, till some time back (and to some extent now) blacks, whites and native Americans in America could be called endogamous groups. Answer to the first question is that leaving aside the many moral objections to caste distinctions, the 4000 or so castes in India create social barriers between which information, ideas, and commerce can’t flow easily. The problem can be seen in the US too where black run businesses find it tough to break into the white dominated marketplace. As can be noticed now, in India the problem is compounded by the sheer number of fragments. (Thousands, instead of maybe a dozen in other societies.) Almost like our agricultural problem of fragmentation, castes reduce much of our population into economically non-viable social units. The proponents of social justice have tried to focus on problem of giving equal rights to all castes. This is an important cause that needs attention and addresses the unnatural hierarchical nature of castes. However, it doesn’t solve the important issue of fragmentation that is important from the perspective of national interest since the multitude of non-porous social units finally make us a weak nation. This brings us to an interesting proposition that while the caste-less utopia waits in the future, paving the way for a reduced number of (socially equal) castes is a way to further the national interest. As we will now see, the indirect attack strategy accomplishes exactly this.

We are in fact today living under the conditions of the indirect attack. Although laws have always existed, in practice the problems of child and widow marriage are getting solved with literacy and increased participation of women in labour force. The technological intervention of sex selective abortion has been devastating for the girl child but the resulting poor sex ratio also weakens the fundamental endogamous principle of caste. Counter to these forces are technological forces of better communication and travel which have strengthened castes by broadening the search selection of marriage candidates. In the absence of survey data, I will just venture forth on anecdotal evidence that the flank attack is now winning. The first casualties are the sub-caste divisions within castes. The reluctance of a Chaturvedi agreeing to marry his daughter in a Trivedi household will be laughable in today’s social context. As an example, a particular sub-caste of Brahmins called the Mohyals have another 7-8 sub-sub-castes. The divisions between the 7-8 sub-sub-castes are practically gone now and there is now pressure to break the next level of divisions. In the honor killing news also, usually one party is found to be a dalit. Most likely it points that marriages between other ‘upper castes’ are not resulting in honor killings but milder social objections. Unfortunately, this also means that in the medium term the existing elites will adjust faster to new social realities and it is possible that dalits will suffer. This makes the parallel effort of social justice equally important.

In the absence of data, the anecdotal conclusions that castes are coalescing can be objected to. However, the proposition that weakening mechanisms of castes which create sex-ratio imbalances in smaller endogamous groups will force the group boundaries to expand, stands on solid reasoning. That such expanding boundaries will reduce social barriers and create a stronger nation is one more step in this chain. In light of this the emphasis on female literacy and labour participation becomes a matter of even greater importance than it already is.

Saurabh Chandra is a Bangalore based technology entrepreneur with an interest in public policy.

Comments { 1 }

Something worth fighting for?

By Priya Ravichandran

The protests, mass agitations, hunger strikes and self-immolation that have been adopted by the students in Tamil Nadu in support of the Tamil Eelam cause have gone on for more than two weeks now. At best it represents a group of people who think they are united by a common language and culture but are actually fighting for an alien cause. At worst they are a mob of virulent, misguided, politically instigated, ‘activists’ who continue to espouse a cause that many thought was buried after the Hindi agitations of the 60’s. The protest at its most basic is not just a sorry indicator of how skewed and discriminatory our idea of democracy continues to be, but also symptomatic of the massive failure of our education system.

Universities, especially public universities have always been an ideal launching and breeding ground for politics. The idealism of the students combined with defiance for the authoritative nature of colleges has made recruiting students to espouse political ideologies easier. The last few years have however seen a more virulent form of politics taking root. From murder, assault physical and emotional threats, strikes, agitations, sit-ins, lock outs, mob violence, and using political patronage (for admission, evaluations and exams, to favourable student union results) student politics in this country has been reduced to thuggery and violence.

It begins, however with the dismal quality of our legal and liberal arts education. The syllabus and education of liberal arts that includes history, civics, and literature have fallen short of addressing anything beyond the basics of government and society. They talk about individual rights and emphasise our democratic structure, but fail to situate the student in a republic or talk about the demands of a secular society stressing on the importance of a state or a country. The responsibilities that a citizen owes to his country are singularly absent. Students are pushed ahead without the basic understanding of what differentiates a democracy from a republic or the difference in state vs federal rights.

We now have a group of probable leaders, who do not realise that they are protesting for the rights of citizens of a country that is not theirs. They do not realise that being a Sri Lankan Tamil is an identity and not necessarily a badge of kinship to a group across the isthmus. Should we be fighting among ourselves for the political rights for people in a foreign land? The situational equivalent would be a group of Pakistani students going on a rampage in Karachi for the rights of Urdu speaking Indians, or a group of Chinese students going on a fast for the rights of people in Arunachal Pradesh. A solid grounding in history and civics would have perhaps helped in realising that interference in the sovereignty of another country is not a part of India’s foreign policy.

Our education focuses much on what made our nation and little on what makes our nation. The regional emphasis of history also makes it difficult for students to see beyond the local and realise that we are still a union and states have rights within the union. Increasing pressure from parents and peer groups to adhere to certain fields of study, compulsions due to reservations, marks and exam results leading to enrolling for a field of study for the sake of attending college, absentee professors, syllabus and texts that are obsolete, little research or lab work, lack of infrastructure and courses that are designed to encourage rote learning rather than thinking and more importantly a bureaucracy that requires the power of politics to stay in control are the other factors.  A student burdened by these pressures, built up by the failures of our higher education, seizes the appeal and power of using political clout to further his career.  Name dropping or belonging to a student group that has the muscle of political party behind it has proved time and again to be much more powerful than learning.

The criticism of this protest movement is not to be taken as a mockery of all students run movements.  Student participation and involvement in national politics is an absolute necessity. The lowering of voting age to enable students to have a say is a way of justifying the need for young leaders and as a means for encouraging more youth participation in democratic movements. But, participatory democracy should not degenerate into destructive democracy and power politics.

It has been easier in many ways for political parties to gain trust and following amongst students by appealing to their emotions and use them to advance their political ideologies. The mobilisation and voice that these parties get from standing behind student unions or groups, rivals any other way of gaining support. What is lost in this melee is the need for civil discourse and debates that encourage reasoning, questioning and arguments that highlight issues. Colleges and Universities are the best place to debate the nature of democracy, argue the highs and lows of a republic and appreciate the diversity within student communities. Participatory democracy of this kind would not only encourage a greater interest in politics amongst the youth, but also get more people involved in non-discriminatory policy making.

We need more students to be a part of the national dialogue and not get caught in the ruckus of regional politics. A democratic republic is only as strong as the next generation of voters. These voters need to be informed, educated and balanced. There is a strong need to encourage young people to step up and take an interest in the philosophy of politics and its realities.

Priya Ravichandran is Programme Officer for the GCPP programme at the Takshashila Institution.

Comments { 0 }