Group Blog: The Indian National Interest
Women need more than equality. Women need upliftment and support in every space and corner.
Recently a colleague shared a talk by Josh Whedon and an interesting piece on people’s discomfort with ‘feminism’ and ‘feminists’. The piece goes on to state “being a feminist does not actually require a background in academic study and specific terminologies. All it demands is your personal desire for men and women to be treated equally in all aspects of life. That’s it. You don’t have to “become” anything—if you believe that men and women should be treated exactly the same, you already believe in feminism.” Earlier this month, I also had an intense discussion with a friend, who likes to believe that she is an ‘equalist’ (a self coined word) and not a ‘feminist’. She believes in equality for all and feels that she does not need fashionable terms such as ‘feminist’, to define her belief.
Desired as it is, ‘equality’ in the utopic sense is not a way of the world. Gender discrimination exists at every level and is layered and nuanced in its offence. Today women battle discrimination at all levels of life—existing as perennially exoticised and sexualised objects of male desire, familial relations in dire need of male protection and care, as competent professionals, not paid equal to the men at their work places or simply as young girls not allowed the luxury of elementary education or a bathroom. The problem is that because of the diversity of class, religion, culture and region, along with clear demarcated urban and rural spaces, the understanding of discrimination against women has also diversified.
What we face in India today is an example of this fact. In sections of the Indian society, women struggle to access education at all levels. If fortunate, they enter a workforce, to support multiple children they birthed as minors themselves and an abusive husband. Honour, virtue, chastity and virginity go hand in hand with their gendered role as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. In some traditional set ups, women are required to be covered from head-to-toes in dark garb, where their greatest offence is showing their face, while on others, they are untouchables during the period of menstruation, unable to enter a kitchen or eat with their own family.
In urban and liberal sections of the society, discrimination is of a different kind. Even in the most modern of setups, spinsterhood, divorce and single motherhood are unacceptable. The media portrays women as one of the two species—vamps, whores, seductresses and arm candies. Or submissive, sweet natured flowers, the men obviously take fancy towards. In professional setups, the most qualified women have to fight and work twice as hard, to be taken seriously. The lack of women dominating the workforce along with a setup that encourages most workplaces to be more male friendly, allows for the crystallisation of the so called glass ceiling. Women, who do make it in their careers, struggle to balance life at work and home because of the lack of a robust support infrastructure at either place. In many cases, the societal pressures to settle down, conform and support only the spouse’s career along with an uncooperative family ensure women give up the hope of long-term careers, settle for odd jobs, or simply quit.
Along with this is the discrimination that finds voice in sexual harassment and assault, lewd jokes and behaviour, and inappropriate body language. The opposite of that is the creation of all men’s club and the segregation of women, where women are sidelined or put in women only compartments because dealing with them, their intricate problems and easily offendable modesty becomes an organisational or a social burden.
In the contemporary age, when people say they are not feminists, or that they do not agree with ‘feminism’, I somehow fail to understand their logic. Yes, equality in gender is what we must strive for. And that there is no apparent need to cushion this fact under the layers of feminism, feminist or gender theory, especially if you want this message to percolate down to the bottom of the societal pyramid, to the layman. Except that, this precisely is why there is a need. The tragedy of contemporary life is that ‘equality’ is not the state of nature or order. Whatever we may say, the world functions not through equals but through unequal binaries. First we need to strive towards treating women as mere human beings, before they can dream of equality with their opposite halves.
To the many, who fail to understand it, feminism was not an accidental bra-burning movement stemming from female hysteria, hormonal imbalances or post-partum depression. Feminism is a movement that has deep roots, a resonating history and political struggle at its core. Spread over continents, centuries and generations, it encapsulated ideologies, beliefs and revolutions and led to the creation of theory that has shaped and defined intellectual thought beyond just the hope for ‘equality’. Whether it was voting and political rights, sexual and reproductive rights, employment opportunities and equal pay, literacy or even the basic freedom to choose their own clothing—women have had to relentlessly rebel and fight to have the basic rights to live. Rights that men in their life, simply on the basis of their gender, have historically taken for granted.
Assuming this movement to be something esoteric, confined to the spaces of liberal arts colleges and enlightened humanities class rooms, is simply ignoring the weight and magnitude of a discourse that has defined the world for half of the world’s population. Ignoring the theory that has emerged, is assuming that it has no practical relevance in intellectual discourses or day-to-day life. It is the trivialisation of feminism as a movement and practice, that leads to individuals, otherwise claiming to be proponents of equality, to often overstep the line and justify it as paternalistic concern or an “untoward incident”. It supports the narrow-minded perceptions that investment in the study of gender and women is irrelevant and that the world revolves around what men think right.
The last few days in India have been frightening and depressing. While it is evident that discrimination of every nature is gently trickling back into the national discourse, incidents over the last few days have revolved particularly around gender. The core of power and authority at different levels has been questioned and the crux of this remains embedded in the fact that men and women are not equals. At this point in India, the need to talk about women– about the dire need to treat them as human beings above all– is what is necessary. Yes, it would be ideal to say that we want equality for both gender, but the fact remains, that women need more than equality. Women need upliftment and support in every space and corner. There has to be a term, less generic and more burdened and articulate than just ‘equality’. Therefore understanding the importance of a feminist and feminism becomes necessary. Until women and men– at homes, work places, in positions of authority and decision-making—don’t start to acknowledge or understand it and then accept and internalise it for what it is and what it stands for, there is little hope.
Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve and proponent of the Volcker Rule following the financial crisis of 2008 once remarked that the only useful financial innovation in the last twenty years is the ATM. The biggest advantage of the ATM is that because you can get money at any point of time on demand, you don’t need to keep too much of an “emergency stash” at home. For example, you are now extremely unlikely to find more than five thousand rupees in hard currency in my house at any point of time (including my wife’s and my wallets, and our “emergency stash”). In the pre-ATM era, when we would have to wait to visit a bank branch to withdraw money, we would have to keep a much larger sum at home as an emergency fund.
So how does this help the economy? Lesser cash in people’s homes and wallets means more cash in the banking system. Which means that at any given point in time, the banks have more money to lend out, and so the supply of credit is higher, reducing the cost of credit. Reduction in the cost of credit improves investment and thus leads to higher economic growth – which is good for everybody. The ATM is thus pareto-positive in stimulating economic growth.
And this is not all. The presence of the ATM has meant that one of the basic activities for which people would visit bank branches – to withdraw money – has now declined massively. Thus, it is possible for banks to run with much leaner branch infrastructure and this again pays back to the general public in the form of a lower “spread” between the cost of a deposit and the cost of a loan. I read on twitter yesterday (unable to find link now) that the average cost of servicing a customer at a teller counter is Rs. 176 while at an ATM it is Rs. 6. This order of magnitude difference is hard to ignore.
And we are not done yet, for we haven’t yet factored in the ease of drawing money now in the age of the ATM. Ten years back I remember having to wait at the bank branch at IIT for about twenty minutes to withdraw cash. I would have to fill up and submit a form, collect a token and wait till my number was called before I was handed my money. The transaction cost (for the customer) of withdrawing money was way too much. And one had to go during the branch timings. It is all so different now!
Now that we have established that ATMs have a socially and economically useful purpose, let us get to their security. On Tuesday this week in Bangalore a woman was mugged at an ATM when she had gone to withdraw money. The assaulter threatened her with a pistol and a machete, and assaulted her anyway and decamped with her money. The event was caught on the CCTV camera at the ATM and the footage was played out on national television.
Following this incident the Home Minister of Karnataka has given a directive that banks appoint security guards at ATMs or shut down the ATMs. Initially he gave an ultimatum of three days to implement this rule, but then the impracticality of the suggestion dawned on him and the deadline has now been extended. The question, however, arises on who is responsible for safety of the ATM.
There are two components to safety at an ATM – safety of the cash and safety of the customers who visit it. The cash at the ATM is the bank’s private property, and the bank has chosen to put the cash there (and not somewhere else), so it can be argued that security of the cash inside the ATM machine is the bank’s responsibility. I don’t think there needs to be too much debate on this.
What is debatable, however, is the responsibility of security of people visiting the ATM. The question is if it is the responsibility of the bank or as a public good it is the responsibility of the government. Let us draw an analogy. Let’s say you are visiting my house, and at exactly the same time a robber happens to pay a visit. In the course of the robbery you get injured. Can the state hold me liable for your injury for not securing my house enough against the robbers? Isn’t it the state’s responsibility in the first place that the robbers were on the prowl and they just happened to rob my house when you were visiting?
Public safety is a public good. To get technical, it is non-rival (by keeping the streets safe for you, the streets are also kept safe for me) and non-excludable (having kept the streets safe, you cannot exclude me from enjoying the safe streets). And it being a public good, it is the responsibility of the state to provide it. It also means that it is the responsibility of the state to provide public safety everywhere – be it private or public places. Arguing that the ATM, since it belongs to the bank, is not a public space and hence the state is not responsibility for security there is thus wrong. So the state has no right to demand that banks employ private security guards to guard the ATMs.
So if it is the state’s responsibility to keep ATMs safe does it mean that police be appointed to guard the ATMs? Of course not, for the police’s job is not to guard private property that is the ATM – their job is to ensure public safety. Effective policing would mean that the thug who attacked the woman at the ATM wouldn’t be in business at all, and that he wouldn’t have thought of committing this crime.
So if we don’t have private security guards or cops guarding the ATMs how are we going to keep them safe? I argue that it is a matter of design. If you were to watch the video above, you will notice that the first thing the thug does on entering the ATM behind the victim is to pull down the shutters – thus the happenings of the ATM is shielded from the public eye. If ATMs are by definition perennially open what is the purpose of the shutter? You might also notice in the video that the thug pulled down the shutter once again while exiting. Consequently the victim was found only three hours later and that might have had serious consequences in terms of her health. Would the ATM not be better off without that shutter?
Then, there is the question of whether we need a room at all to house the ATM. Here in India, everywhere except in malls, ATMs have their own rooms, and it was in one such room that the mugging happened on Tuesday. On my few visits abroad, however, I’ve noticed that ATMs there never have their own rooms – they are simply holes in walls on the street from which you can get cash. That automatically puts the ATM in a public space and makes them safer (especially if they are on busy streets). The ATM rooms only provide a false sense of security and can prove counterproductive like in the case we just saw.
As we saw in the first part of this piece, ATMs perform a socially valuable function and it is in the interest of banks to encourage customers to use them. That, however, doesn’t mean that banks appoint guards to all ATMs – there might be an alternate solution that might be cheaper and easier to implement, and it is for the banks to find it. It is NOT the state’s business to mandate how the banks get customers to use their ATMs – the state has to concentrate on maintaining public safety.
In June last year the Reserve Bank of India allowed non-bank entities to run “white label ATMs” – cash dispensing machines that are not affiliated to any banks. The first such ATM came up earlier this year. I’m hopeful that some of these ATM companies will gain enough scale that they can solve the ATM design issue and make them safer and more customer friendly.
The Tehelka editors and their ridiculous ways of dealing with sexual assault.
Whenever the Managing Editor of Tehelka comes on television, I get the feeling that she comes out with a sole objective of provoking me. The kind of the statements that she has been giving to the media related to the incident of sexual assault should make all human beings collectively cringe. She has no understanding of justice and no clue about the rule of law.
Going by the contents of the email from the victim, there was a serious sexual assault (and many suggest that according to the new amendment, it amounts to a rape). But Ms Choudhury thinks that this is completely an “Internal Matter” of Tehalka and the victim was “Satisfied” with the response. On any further questions, her quick retort is “Are you the aggrieved person”?
The incident clearly is a cognizable offense and the judicial process in this country is neither based on a khap panchayat model nor can it be settled through “blood money”. There is no provision in the statute where a victim and the perpetrator, brokered by a powerful media house, can do private treaties to settle this kind of offence. It seems Ms Chaudhury was (ill) advised by certain feminists that the victim has “complete autonomy”, her privacy is more important than justice and the choice of remedies that the victim chooses is completely up to her discretion. While many feminists tend to think they are even above the constitution to settle things at will, this kind of understanding of the legal process from a serious journalist like Ms Chaudhury is shocking.
A crime is committed against the society (or state), and not just an individual. There is thus every reason for the society to be aggrieved by it. To say that the victim is not interested in vengeance is preposterous. There is no room for vengeance in a society which does not believe in retribution. All that we are asking for is justice.
A couple of weeks back, Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari vs Govt.Of U.P.& Ors said that it is mandatory for police to register an FIR for all cognizable offences, once a crime has been reported. The court also dismissed the arguments of various state governments that a preliminary inquiry is required before registering an FIR. So it is absolutely clear that Goa police can register an FIR even if the victim is not interested in the probe. It may be harsh, but all these cases will be State Vs defendant and not Victim Vs defendant. The victim is a source of information who can aid justice but she herself cannot administer justice.
If Ms Chaudhury thinks that she can escape police investigation into this case, she is living in denial. She would be better advised to start consulting her lawyers and not feminists. There are only two ways in which charges against the alleged perpetrator can be dropped now:
- The victim backtracks from her complaint given to the Tehelka and gives a statement that no such incident took place. (Ideally, even if victim backtracks, police can still question Ms Chaudhuri and other journalists involved in the case because there is so much circumstantial evidence in this case)
- During the course of investigation/trial, it comes out that the charges were falsely levelled.
However, both of these are very remote possibilities because the alleged perpetrator has indeed recognized the crime as a “misreading of the situation” and “lapse of judgment”.
In any case examination of charges and convictions should be decided in a court of law and not by the victim or the perpetrator or the institution. If the victim chooses to backtrack, then we all can keep our mouths shut and settle down. But justice must be done according to the law and not according to the whims and fancies of any person (even if that means the victim concerned). Justice is not something that can be settled as a private deal between perpetrator and the victim. Let’s hope the Goa government goes ahead with its investigation and in the process if any person or institute obstructs the administration of justice or destroys evidence, they must also be charged accordingly.
And to all the feminists advising on the autonomy, my only comment — I am not sure if you are comfortable living in the midst of alleged rapists but we certainly are not!
A small step for ISRO, a giant leap for building consensus around space exploration in India.
Humans have looked up at the stars even before language was invented, and the lights above us have always been a part of human imagination and curiosity, be it in religion, philosophy, science or the arts. What changed in the last century is that not only could we look up, but humanity got the ability to go up high and look down. The photograph Earthrise by astronaut William Anders is easily among the most iconic images to date, where a blue earth rises above the scarred lunar surface.
Exploration in general and space exploration in particular has always excited and inspired people in a manner that few other ideas could. Organisations like NASA figured out early on that beyond any scientific or utilitarian purposes, beautiful images from space have immense value in and of themselves. With human spaceflight, astronauts could take photographs manually. But with improvements in photography, image processing and visualisation technologies, even satellite images can now have great aesthetic and communicative value.
Anyone who has glanced at Google Earth or seen any of NASA Earth Observatory’s exquisite pictures already knows the value of visually observing the earth from space.
ISRO and the Indian space programme has been quite slow in realising the same and acting on it. Though India has been sending satellites to space for over three decades now, there are hardly any memorable images one can think of. Rakesh Sharma in his cosmonaut comes to mind, and the other is of space launches. Little from the satellites themselves. While several Indian satellites have imaging capabilities of various kinds, they have been put mainly to technical and scientific uses and almost never for public consumption.
India’s Mission to Mars providing the above simple and elegant image of the Indian subcontinent is the latest step in establishing a culture of communicating with the public on the national space programme. Compared to NASA’s high quality, you can see that the image is far from perfect – the clouds are overexposed, the image has been rotated and cropped, and resolution is sub-optimal. But instead of descending into snobbery, we really need to appreciate the increasing effort ISRO is putting in doing this. Earlier in the year ISRO provided some stunning images of the Kumbh mela and the disaster at Kedarnath. Nothing illustrates the changing mindsets at ISRO better than the contrast of these examples to the best photograph of the earth from Chandrayaan – shared below.
Space exploration is a very public affair – for better and for worse. It is exceedingly difficult to hide success or failure from the public eye, and one has to constantly address questions of poverty while spending public monies on space. Visually engaging the public is essential if ISRO wants to think bolder, aim higher and go farther. One picture from above can help people understand floods or urban growth or complex natural phenomena like no amount of explaining can.
The good news is that NASA has already paved the way for ISRO, and they could also possibly help the latter in setting up a team in-house which can work on a visual exploration of India from space. Below are a curated set of images of India from space, taken by various NASA spacecraft and satellites. Here’s to hoping that their tribe grows larger.
Having a country level conversation about what can be done to safeguard the rights of the elderly and the utility of the Convention in particular would be useful.
“May you live a long life” has gone from being a blessing to reality. Thanks to a host of factors, almost 700 million people in the world are now over the age of sixty and in 2050, this number is projected to jump to 2 billion when for the first time in human history, there will be more people over the age of 60 than children in the world. What these numbers mean is that we need to prepare for an ageing nation. Part of this preparation is addressing questions on who is responsible for the care and well-being of older persons and to what extent. Issues like affordable access to health care and caregiver support, giving informed consent to medical treatment and in financial matters including property and inheritance and age related employment discrimination also need to be tackled.
Over the last few years, there have been many discussions on how best to protect the cultural, economic, legal, civil, political and social rights of older persons whose vulnerabilities grow with age. One of the several ideas proposed has been to come up with a new international treaty safeguarding these rights. There are two opposite points of view about this idea – the “normative gap” group believe that the present legal structure concerning the rights of the older persons is patchy and uncoordinated and an international instrument specifically guaranteeing these rights is key while the “implementation gap” group is of the view that there is already an adequate framework in place and the problem is that of poor implementation resulting in the lack of protection of the elderly. The scope of this post is to discuss whether there is a need for a new international convention tailored to protect the rights of older persons.
At present, there are three main documents devoted to ageing and old persons: The 1982 Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, the UN Principles for Older Persons and 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). These instruments are non-binding. The “normative gap” group point out that due to their non-binding nature, these instruments have a limited impact. They also point out that none of the foundational human rights instruments explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of age.* Of the nine core human rights treaties, only the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Articles 1.1 and 7) prohibits discrimination based on age and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Article 11.1.e) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Articles 25.b and 28.2.b) mention older persons in a restricted context.
The “normative gap” group believes that the result of the lack of an international instrument is the problem of not having a single set of minimum standards. While most countries have some sort of protection in place, national policies vary widely with regard to the rights afforded to older persons. An example of this would be the right to social security. The argument that existing human rights instruments don’t explicitly refer to age is weak. The grounds of discrimination are only illustrative and not restricted to those enumerated. Interpreting ‘age’ as a ground in a non-exhaustive list isn’t a stretch for those well versed in the interpretation of laws especially in the light of various clarifications been made by treaty body monitoring mechanisms regarding the applicability of human rights instruments to older persons. Further, it has been observed that there are limits to the enforceability of international conventions, the accountability system is weak and overburdened and there are no effective sanctions.
The MIPAA already acts as an international standard albeit a voluntary one. Most countries already have protection systems prohibiting discrimination under the Constitution and special laws, schemes, policies and concessions for the benefit of the elderly. For the time being, the focus should be less on matching basic requirements with other countries / regions and more on the implementation of the existing structure. The heart of this dispute is the issue of consensus. The large number of abstentions by countries including India, on Resolution 67/139 (to receive proposals for negotiating a new ageing convention) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly highlights the fact that most countries don’t want a new treaty. What’s more, negotiating a new instrument will cost significant time and money which, given the poor consensus, seems wasteful.
In conclusion, a new treaty isn’t going to resolve all existing concerns about protecting the rights of older persons but neither is relying on implementation alone given that many countries have limited resources and inadequate legal systems to ensure proper implementation. It is best to address this using time-based goals. In the long term, it is important to build global consensus so that there is a uniformity of protection afforded t the elderly all over the world. In the meanwhile, this issue is better served by closing the implementation gaps locally. Having a country level conversation about what can be done to safeguard the rights of the elderly in general and the utility of the convention in particular would be useful.
In addition, as suggested in a joint report between UNFPA and HelpAge International, making available better quality of data on older persons at a national level, using available resources to implement and better monitor existing policy, developing and implementing coordinated responses to ageing across all government ministries and agencies and investing in capacity building to respond to the demands of the demographic transition, ensuring that existing sectoral policies are age-adjusted and reflected in national budget priorities, strengthening ageing mainstreaming into all sectors of public policy, ensuring that resources are available for the bottom-up evaluation of policies and programmes and sharing and communicating good practices in policy implementation, legislative action, data collection and analysis are achievable but solid steps that can be taken towards preparing for an ageing nation.
*The term “other status” has to be interpreted to include age. “[…] without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”
Malaveeka Chakravarthy is a graduate of Columbia Law School, New York City.
K C Chakrabarty, a Deputy Governor at the Reserve Bank of India recently made a presentation on the credit quality at Indian banks (HT: Deepak Shenoy). In this presentation Dr. Chakrabarty talks about the deteriorating quality of credit in Indian banks, especially public sector banks.
What caught my eye as I went through the presentation, however, was this graph that he presented on “Gross” and “Net” NPAs (Non-Performing Assets). Now, every bank is required to “provision” for NPAs. If I’ve lent out Rs. 100 and I estimate that I can recover Rs. 98 out of this, I need to “provision” for the other Rs. 2 which I expect to become “bad assets”. Essentially even before there is the default of Rs. 2, you account for it in your books, so that when the default does occur, it won’t be a surprise to either you or your investors.
Now, NPAs are measured in two ways – gross and net. Gross NPAs is just the total assets that you’ve lent out that you cannot recover. Net NPAs are gross NPAs less provisioning – for example, if you expected that this year Rs. 2 out of Rs. 100 will not come back, and indeed you manage to collect Rs. 98, then your Net NPA is zero, since you’ve “provisioned” for the Rs. 2 of assets that went bad. If on the other hand, you’ve expected and provisioned for Rs. 2 out of Rs. 100 to be “bad”, and you manage to collect only Rs. 97, your “Net NPA” is Re. 1, since you now have Gross NPA of Rs. 3 of which only Rs. 2 had been provisioned for.
This graph is from Dr. Chakarabarty’s presentation, indicating the movement of total NPAs (across banks, gross and net) over the years:
What should strike you is that the net NPA number has always been strictly positive. What this means is that our banks, collectively, have never provisioned enough to offset the total quantity of loans that went bad. I’m not saying that they are not forecasting accurately enough – loan defaults are mighty hard to forecast and it is hard for the banks to get it right down to the last rupee. What I’m saying is that there seems to be a consistent bias in the forecast – banks are consistently under-forecasting the proportion of their assets that go bad, and are not provisioning enough for it. This has been a consistent trend over the years.
This fundamentally indicates a failure of regulation, on the part of both the bank regulator (RBI) and the stock market regulator (SEBI). That the banks are not provisioning enough means that they are misleading their investors by telling them that they are going to have lesser bad assets than actually are there (SEBI). That the banks are not provisioning enough also means that they are exposing themselves to a higher chance (small, but positive) of defaulting on their deposit holders (RBI).
How would this graph look like if the banks were provisioning properly?
The Gross NPA line would have remained where it is, for it doesn’t depend on provisioning. However, if the banks were provisioning adequately, the Net NPA line should have been hovering around zero, going both positive and negative, but mean-reverting to zero! This is because banks would periodically over and under-forecast their bad assets and provision accordingly, and then dynamically change the model. And so forth..
Read the full post by Deepak to understand more about our bank assets.
By Dr K D Singh
The evolution of India’s foreign policy over the last 60 odd years since its Independence has been marked by periods of idealism, pragmatism and realism, in varying degrees, but the pursuit of bipartisan consensus was a sine qua non for the governments of the day. However, that began to erode around the turn of the century when the BJP-led coalition was in power and it continued into the first decade of the new millennium after the Congress-led alliance wrested power. If the first five-year term of the Congress-led government between 2004 and 2009 was consumed by the protracted negotiations over the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the current term (2009 -2014) of the government has drawn sharp reactions from political parties over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan policy. Ironically for a man widely acknowledged as a scholar and a gentleman politician, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s attempts to invest political capital into improving India’s relations with Pakistan has polarised the nation and invited criticism from sections of the elite and civil society alike. Compounding the woes of the government and its foreign policy advisers is a more recent phenomenon of how a combination of federalism and competitive politics is allowing certain states and/or regional parties to exercise a veto over the conduct of foreign relations, especially with countries in India’s neighbourhood that share a contiguous border with them.
The recurrent ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts by Pakistan, which coincided with the meeting of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the margins of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, has exercised the people and encouraged some of them to call for a review of engagement with Pakistan. Critics of the government’s Pakistan policy would argue that they saw it coming when an Indian soldier was beheaded at the Line of Control in January; when five more Indian soldiers were killed in August; and the 26 September twin terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir claimed more lives. However, the government has maintained that engagement with the elected civilian government in Pakistan must be kept up; also, that the New York meeting was but one in a long list of bilateral engagements starting with the 2006 NAM summit at Havana in Cuba, the 2008 Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) at Beijing in China, the 2008 United Nations General Assembly session in New York, the 2009 SCO summit at Yekaterinburg in Russia, the 2009 NAM summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh and the 2010 Saarc summit at Thimphu in Bhutan.
I believe India needs to forge the broadest possible national consensus on the way forward for relations with Pakistan. More importantly, the government must make efforts to return to the bipartisan foreign policy that has stood India well for half a century and more. In an increasingly federal polity, it behoves of the government to heed public opinion. And if it follows that talks with Pakistan should be reviewed, then the least the government can do is to put it into a holding pattern (if moratorium is a less acceptable term) till conditions become conducive for resuming engagement with Pakistan. More so, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself told the media accompanying him on his two-nation tour to Russia and China in October that he is disappointed by Pakistan’s response to his peace overtures in spite of a general agreement on both sides that peace and tranquillity should be maintained on the Line of Control and the international border.
Dr K D Singh is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. He is also the President of Indian Hockey Federation and North India Head of All India Trinamool Congress. He is a philanthropist and a columnist
The latest issue of The Economist carries an article which talks about the “eroding trust in national governments”. This article is based on a poll conducted by Gallup in 2007 and again in 2012 with one simple question “do you trust your national government?”. World over, the proportion of people answering “yes” to this question has dipped significantly between the two years.
Now, this graph has been sorted by the orange dots (2012 data) so India is lost somewhere in the middle. What if, however, this graph were sorted by the 2007 numbers (white dots)? Notice that the white dot for India is very close to the 90% mark – the highest ever achieved among all countries surveyed in this poll!
This just goes to show the kind of confidence the Indian National Government (UPA-1) enjoyed back in 2007, perhaps a result of the populist schemes it had launched such as the NREGA. This was before any of the scams hit, and this goodwill might have resulted in the government getting voted back into power in 2009. The interesting thing, though, is that the number for India is still higher than that of a large number of OECD countries.
PS: I would have drawn this graph differently. Rather than using a scatter-plot like this, I would have rather used a slope-graph, which would have shown the relative standings in both years and also the way the ratings have moved.
Varnam | Indian History Carnival–71: Persian Ramayanas, Cantonments,Alakzandar Hadarli sahib, Medieval Deccan, Koh-i-noor, World Wars, Anthropology
- Rana Safvi writes about the Persian Ramayanas which number around 23. Some of these were translated from Sanskrit and others from Awadhi.
The Ramayana of Masih is a true exposition of our composite culture – innumerable words and allusions related to the Quran and Iranian literature have been used to enrich this masnawi and to lend colour to the story. Sanskrit and Hindi words sanyaasi, darshan, jharoka, rasta and paan have been assimilated to enrich Indo-Persian literature. This assimilation was indispensable for the Persian language to serve as a mirror reflecting our sentiments and environment. His Ramayana was in the style of a Persian masnavi and not in the tradition of Valmiki’s division into cantos or kandas. Masih was targeted by fanatic Muslims for writing the Ramayana and had to justify his stance in the beginning of the book under the heading Dar Mazammat-e-Hussad (Condemning the jealous).
- Erica Wald understands the British Empire through the space of the cantonment in 19th century India
The visible presence of a European corps of soldiers was thought to be essential to the maintenance of empire. From the daily drill and parade to his imposing uniform, the European soldier’s importance was as much symbolic as physical. However, medical and military observers attacked these same men for their supposedly wanton and ‘inferior’ behaviour, and display of dangerous tendencies which openly threatened not only military security, but broader imperial discipline.
- A painting of the court of Nawab ‘Abd al-Rahman of Jhajjar of 1852 shows a young European officer seated next to the Nawab. Malini Roy decodes his Persian name — Alakzandar Hadarli sahib — and tells his story
Alexander Heatherly Azad was in fact well known in Delhi poetical circles under his pen-name Azad as a pupil of ‘Arif and he took part in the musha’iras arranged by Bahadur Shah Zafar and the princes. He is mentioned in Farhatullah Beg’s Dehli ki akhri shama, translated by Akhtar Qamber as The Last Musha’irah of Delhi, as sitting among the 40 poets gathered in the courtyard of a great house for a night of poetry presided over by Mirza Fakhr al-Din, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favourite son and, under the name Ramz, a fine poet in his own right. Azad was ‘one of the great poets of the Urdu language’ (Saksena 1941, pp. 73-4).
- At 3 Quarks Daily, Gautam Pemmaraju writes about a trip to Medieval Deccan
The rich, complex synthesis of the arts, culture, mysticism, shared sentiments, and indeed, of serendipitous winds passing through the open doors of history and influence, are more than amply evident at Ibrahim Rauza, the mausoleum of the medieval sultan of the Bahmani succession state of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II. From the striking domed entrance gateway, the serene lawns, to the two structures upon a plinth (the tomb and the adjacent mosque), all fecund with the intense intermingling of a staggering range of ideas, Ibrahim Rauza is truly, a feast for the eyes.
- The Virtual Victorian has a post which tells the story of Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria and the Koh-i-noor
But Victoria’s advisors would never consent to giving the diamond to Duleep. They would not relinquish any part of their Indian territories. They knew what the diamond symbolised and, dreading another Mutiny, Duleep was followed by British spies and eventually exposed as a traitor for consorting with various dissidents; mainly those Russians and Irish men with whom he had been making plans to march an army on the Punjab by route of Russia and Afghanistan. In response Duleep was exiled from England as well as India. He was forced to live out the rest of his life on the European continent, where he died at the age of 55 in a Parisian hotel.
- Sidin Sunny Vadukut writes about two frequently ignored episodes in Indian history: the Japanese occupation of Andamans and Indian participation in the First World War.
At least 75% of Indian people I speak to have no idea the Japanese occupied the Andamans. And even fewer know how brutal the three-year long occupation was. The only book I have been able to source on this is Jayant Dasgupta’s Japanese in Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Red Sun over Black Water. It is a very short book that does little more than push the door ajar on a fascinating chapter of Indian history. The period deserves much greater coverage and analysis. I am not exactly sure why it remains ignored. Perhaps because it happened at the fringe of an irrelevant theatre of war and had very little participation from the countries that dominate popular WW2 historiography.
- Dr. S Gregory has a write up on Anthropology and anthropological teaching in Kerala. 2013 marks the 25th year and he has a history.
The department had also taken initiatives, under the guidance of Prof Rajendran, Archaeologist and UGC Research Scientist (Kerala Univeristy), in the identification of certain archaeological finds in the region. Notable among these include the following: 1) Visited the site at Karaaltheruvu at Kodiyeri near Thalassery and identified the archaeological finds such as pots, skeletal remains and iron pieces from the laterite dome at the site as belonging to the megalithic culture and added to the collection of the Department Museum (2011); 2) Visited the site at Cheruparamba near Panoor and identified a Megalithic Urn Burial which also contained small bowels, skeletal remains and iron pieces, and were later transferred to the Department Museum. The Megalithic urn burial was dug out by a team of M.A. Anthropology students and Transferred from the Site to the Department Museum (2011); 3) Identification of a laterite Dome at Melathiyadam of Cheruthayam Panchayath, Kannur District as belonging to Megalithic culture during the field tour undertaken in the Department in April 2013; 4) Identification of a megalithic lateriet dome at Antholimala near Kodiyeri, in Thalasseri Municipality during a field trip undertaken in June 2013
The next carnival will be up on Dec 15th. If you have a link, leave it in the comment.
- Indian History Carnival–63: Ramayana, Shiva Linga, Koya Pakki, Mughal Map, Gowramma Daljit Nagra is writing a version of Ramayana drawing based on all available English versions. In this post, he writes about a particular version he came across One of the...
- Indian History Carnival – 53: RISA, Kurgan Theory, Indian Coins, Bhajana, Edward Lear, Indian Soldiers, Corruption Last year there was a big brouhaha over the so called censoring of A K Ramanujan’s text on Ramayana. Deepak Sharma, the moderator of RISA, wrote an article in the...
- The history of Guru Granth Sahib On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Sikh Holy Book, Guru Granth Sahib, the Times of India has an article about the history of it. The Adi Granth,...
- Indian History Carnival-68: Linguistics, Perumals, Peacock Throne, Cotton Textiles, Wazir Khanam Giacomo Benedetti writes about Indo-European linguistic theories, specifically some issues he finds in the Indo-Iranian branch It seems that the average linguist is not aware of the problems of this...
- 400 years of Guru Granth Sahib It is the 400th year of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The daily times has an article about this book, which tells us about the Sikh Gurus...
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
The Protest and the Long March for the missing Balochs needs International support and attention.
The distance from Quetta in Balochistan province to Karachi in the Sindh province of Pakistan is 700 km. It takes 18000 abducted Balochs and more than a 1000 killed and dumped Balochs to get there.
The Pakistan Frontier Corps (FC) with support from the government of Pakistan, have been for more than a decade systematically murdering, maiming and torturing people and dumping them in various parts of the province. In a bid to highlight these atrocities and to perhaps have some attention turned to their disaster hit province, the people from the province have undertaken a march to Karachi.
Under the aegis of Voice for Baloch Missing Person (VBMP) men, women and children started walking on the 27th of October 2013. Today, on the 16th of November, they complete 20 days of walking almost 25 kms a day. Many of the people walking the 700 km stretch have been at the receiving end of untold violence, extreme brutishness and apathy from both national and international agencies. The media blackout by Pakistan has ensured that these people have little to no voice to talk about their plight on national platforms and very little support from outside organizations. The political and military establishment have made the areas around the province hard to reach for aid organizations and relief agencies. An entire province in essence has been isolated and cordoned off to the world and very few have taken notice.
The march comes on the back of a 1300+ day sit in protest that the VMBP undertook outside the Quetta press club. The sit in protest and the long march have been led by the Vice Chairman of the VMBP Abdul Qadeer Baloch whose own son was abducted on 2009 and found dead two years later. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry has found evidence against the FC and directed the government to take action. Nothing has come out of that. 592 bullet riddled bodies since 2010, 132 missing person cases and many more that have gone unreported according to the VMBP.
The lack of attention to this grueling march and to the state sponsored kill and dump policies is unconscionable. Willful ignorance of an ongoing genocide is unforgivable. The US, EU, UN and other countries have been very apathetic to the situation of the Balochs. India has also maintained a staunch silence on this issue. The silence is even more telling, given its very public stance on the issue of the Lankan Tamils. For these countries dealing with the many layers of a government that tends to blow hot or blow cold, has been complicated enough. Like Hina Baloch points out in her piece in Dawn
For most international powers, talking about Balochistan and the human rights abuses occurring there, adds to the complexity of dealing with Pakistan. With most western powers already in a dysfunctional relationship with a rapidly spiraling Pakistan, raising or discussing the Baloch cause is seen as not worth the headache nor does it, in the short run, directly affect their own national security interests.
At a time when governments around the middle east continue to turn their backs on their own people, it is easier to pretend that the government and the military complex in Pakistan are only doing this to defend itself against terrorism. It has ben easier for the US and other NATO powers to buy into the narrative that Pakistan has been suffering due to these seperatist movements. Unfortunately, this policy of turning a blind eye and the failure to bring Pakistan to task for violating the rights of its own people has resulted in more than 18000 people missing in the last 10 years and more and more people turning up dead with each passing day.
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons are made of people who have lost a great deal in their lives to both man made and natural disaster. For the international community to ask more of their voice, more of their dignity and more of their lives in order to take notice and give them justice is not acceptable.
Fatima Bhutto’s novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is an attempt to portray life in Pakistan—oscillating between the fundamentalist savagery of the Taliban and the apathy of the state—and how it affects the people who live under its shadow. The novel is set in the imaginary village of Mir Ali in Waziristan, in northern Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. It attempts to touch on multiple issues that perplex and haunt the tribal locals of a fragmented nation. The novel is set over 3 hours, with ample sprinklings of flashbacks and a disjointed narrative strategy. There are five characters defining the novel—three brothers– Erum Anum, Sikandar and Hayat, Sikandar’s wife Mina, and Samarra.
Stories of violence, bloodshed and fundamentalism in rural Pakistan flood contemporary media. Statistics and numbers of those affected by them have percolated into every discussion on the country. In this novel, Bhutto attempts to humanise those statistics and numbers—give them names and portray a day in their life. While reading this novel, one feels sympathy for the characters and the situations they face. But somehow, the empathy and heartbreak that such a novel should encompass, is missing. While one understands Mina’s hysterical grief on losing her only son to a Taliban shootout, one cannot taste it. A central character, Mina drifts through the pages of the book, haunting multiple funerals of strangers, searching for an answer to her child’s death, lost in grief, anger and hysteria. Her climatic altercation with some members of the Taliban in a forest allows Bhutto to raise important questions—the logic and rationality behind their attacks and ideology– but somehow she fails to delve into them or attempt to answer them.
Samarra, a tomboy as a child, obsessed with her father, eventually turns into a freedom fighter in her own right. Initially Anum Erum’s childhood romantic interest, Samarra is eventually paired with Hayat. While her character evolution is existent in the novel, it is not evident. The loss of her father, Anum Erums’ departure to the USA, Hayats influence and being brutally tortured by the army—shapes her—but how and when, is left to the readers imagination.
While Bhutto’s characters are strong, she fails to delve into them or their psychology, leaving much to be imagined or assumed. Among the brothers, Anum Erum is the eldest of the three. Driven by an ambition to leave Mir Ali, his detachment with the village is so pronounced that he is effortlessly willing to betray his own family and people in exchange for a life abroad. One wishes Bhutto explored Anum Erum—his character, his decisions, and its ramifications more—but instead, Anum Erum remains a cardboard figure. The middle brother, Sikandar is a placid doctor. The danger, pressure and tragedy that he faces because of his profession in Mir Ali, is juxtaposed against his mild temperament. The youngest brother Hayat, is an important foil in the larger scope of the novel. A member of a separatist group, he wants the liberation of his town from Pakistan. The closest and most beloved of his father, somehow, his oneness and patriotism for Mir Ali does not emerge, as it should.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon touches on multiple issues faced by this village in Pakistan—drone attacks, kidnapping and disappearances, Islamist fundamentalism, the dichotomy between the state and the locals, military violence and the divergent perceptions of freedom. But somehow, it only briefly skims the surface of these complex issues. It does not delve deeply into any of them at a generic level or explain their intricacies within the scope of the novel.
The novel struggles between being fierce and at times mundane. There are passages in the book that are poignant and make one understand the reality of the lives that encompass the lands of Mir Ali. The depiction of authority in this novel is distinct– whether the Army, the Taliban or even those at the American consulate. Simultaneously, there are often unnecessary descriptions that spoon feed the reader with too many details and images of the setting. While Bhutto portrays the geography of Mir Ali in intricate detail, describes day-to-day banalities, along with the decrepit and dilapidated surroundings, she fails to etch out her characters and their history leading to their actions and the plot in the three hours that form the crux of this novel.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is fast paced, and its strength lies in the fact that despite its deficiencies, the reader wants to get to the end and understand what happens and why. Bhutto’s writing is clean though the narrative is often (on purpose) confusing. The village of Mir Ali is inked into the readers mind, along with its cinematic descriptions and imagery. Bhutto’s success as a writer lies in the fact that she creates characters, who one wishes were explored further and given more space. Overall The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is a good book. If you just want a book to read, it is a viable option. But if you want a book to think over, understand and get lost in, it leaves you unsatisfied. For a novel so political in its nature and its theme, by an author so seeped in the political landscape of Pakistan, it leaves one disappointed because it offers little explication and only deep narration.
How should we read Indian history and Nehru’s contribution to India?
It is fashionable these days to criticise Nehru or to invent an imaginary rift between Nehru and Patel, of course, for obvious reasons. Without having to experience the burden of past and with all the benefits of hindsight, it is easy to find faults in any person. Nehru is also a human being and was bound to have had some strengths and weaknesses. But some of the criticism regarding dynastic politics and economic policies that is now attributed to Nehru, I think, is grossly unfair. But unlike political analysts and commentators, Nehru had to deal with enormous challenges like the effects of partition in which, according to some accounts a million people were slaughtered, the millions of refugees reminding him every day what ‘freedom’ really had done to them, the Hyderabad problem and more importantly the Kashmir problem, the burden of the past, the expectations of a new and free country, the highly charged communal environment and many more. Nehru had to deal with all of these problems simultaneously and it is difficult to imagine any other leader in his place handling these issues with similar equanimity.
Even if we criticise Nehru for everything, we should forever be grateful to him for one thing: that he did not let India become another Hindu-Pakistan. Despite strong provocations from West Pakistan, East Pakistan and even from our own nationalist leaders, his unwavering commitment to protect and reassure minorities and the manner in which he agonised over any communal incidents shows his extraordinary secularist character. Not to forget how he used every single opportunity to get global recognition for India or how he contributed to the Indian higher educational sector.
So how should we read Indian history and Nehru’s contribution to India? Well, in his book Glimpses of World History, Nehru himself wrote about how we should be reading history. We should display similar standards while reading about him now. To quote Nehru:
I have given you the barest outline; this is not history; they are just fleeting glimpses of our long past. If history interests you, if you feel some of the fascination of history, you will find your way to many books which will help you unravel the threads of past ages. But reading books alone will not help. If you would know the past you must look upon it with sympathy and with understanding. To understand a person who lived long ago, you will have to understand his environment, the conditions under which he lived long ago, the ideas that filled his mind. It is absurd for us to judge of past people as if they lived now and thought as we do. There is no one to defend slavery today, and yet the great Plato held that slavery was essential. Within recent times scores of thousands of lives were given in an effort to retain slavery in the United States. We cannot judge the past from the standards of the present. Everyone will willingly admit this. But everyone will not admit the equally absurd habit of judging the present by the standards of the past. The various religions have especially helped in petrifying old beliefs and faiths and customs, which may have had some use in the age and the country of their birth, but which are singularly unsuitable in our present age.
If, then, you look upon past history with the eye of sympathy, the dry bones will fill up with flesh and blood, and you will see a mighty procession of living men and women and children in every age and every client, different from us and yet very like us, with much the same human virtues and human failings. History is not a magic show, but there is plenty of magic in it for those who have eyes to see.
On Nehru, the final word must go to his one-time colleague and later, his staunch political opponent, C Rajagopalchari. When Nehru passed away, Rajaji wrote the following obituary in Swarajya:
Eleven Years younger than me, eleven times more important for the nation, and eleven hundred times more beloved of the nation, Sri Nehru has suddenly departed from our midst and I remain alive to hear the sad news from Delhi – and bear the shock. Sri Nehru was ill and we knew it was a serious form of illness, but we did not imagine he would be snatched away so unceremoniously and so swiftly.
The old guard-room is completely empty now.
I am unable yet to gather my wits. I have been fighting Sri Nehru all these ten years over what I consider faults in public policies. But I knew all along that he alone could get them corrected. No one else would dare do it, and he is gone, the most civilized person among us all. Not many among us are civilized yet.
God save our people.
Not many among us are civilized yet. God save our people. Those words were said in 1964. But they sound so true even today.
The timeline of the Campa Cola demolition issue and the how the recent intervention by Supreme Court has serious negative consequences.
The Supreme Court (Justice G.S. Singhvi) took suo moto cognisance of the Campa Cola demolition and stayed its own order. There are many talking points about this order but before that a brief timeline of the events as noted by the Supreme Court in its Judgment on 27-Feb-2013 (Esha Ekta Apartments Co-operative Housing Society Limited and Ors Vs Municipal Corporation of Mumbai and Ors):
1. The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai leased out the plot in question under ‘General Industrial’ category to M/s. Pure Drinks in January 1962.
2. The lessee after using the land for manufacturing cold drinks under brand name ‘Campa Cola’ for 16 years made an application to convert the plot for construction of residential buildings, the request was rejected in 1980.
3. The lessee made an application to change the land use from ‘General Industrial’ to ‘Residential’ and obtained approval for construction of 6 buildings comprising of basement, ground and 5 upper floors (in 1981).
4. In 1983 the lessee secured permission from Chief Minister to raise the height of the building and modify the construction but the revised plans were rejected by the Planning Authority in 1984.
5. The builders continued the construction even when the revised plan was rejected and Executive Engineer of the Corporation issued ‘Stop Work’ notice to the builder also indicating that if construction is not stopped then it will be forcibly removed.
6. While the buildings were sold, it was clearly mentioned in the agreement that revised plans have been submitted for approval and sanction (which means there is no approval at the time of purchase and buyers are aware of it).
7. The Housing Society formed by the residents approached Bombay High court (writ petitions) to give direction to Corporation and its functionaries to supply water to the building occupied by its members. (Note : Had they not asked for Corporation water, this issue would not have even surfaced!!!)
8. Bombay High Court during the hearing of this case observes that even when the construction is in violation of the sanctioned plan, the corporation had not taken action and asks Additional Commissioner of the Corporation to appear in court.
9. The Commissioner of the corporation appeared before High Court and gave an assurance that action will be taken in the next two months and issued notices in Nov/Dec-2005, giving illegal structures proposed to be demolished.
10. The replies submitted by the housing societies were rejected by the corporation and they approached the court for relief.
11. The trial court initially stayed the demolition but eventually dismissed the petition and noted that the architect repeatedly told the builders that the sanctioned plan was illegal and the members of housing societies were very much aware of this.
12. The appeals were dismissed by Bombay High Court also.
13. The housing societies challenged the order in SLP and Supreme Court felt that the petition can be dismissed but as the demolition would adversely affect the buyers, the writ petition pending before High Court to regularize the disputed construction was transferred to Supreme Court on 29-Dec-2012
14. The lessee and builder informed the court that purchasers of the flats were very much aware of these issues and they cannot claim ignorance now.
15. The Supreme Court after hearing the counsels (Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Ravi Shankar Prasad included) observed that the trail court and High Court were correct in not granting any relief to the petitioners and directed the corporation to go ahead with the corrective action. The Court also explicitly directed the State Government not to put any hurdles in the process. To quote :
The Courts are also expected to refrain from exercising equitable jurisdiction for regularization of illegal and unauthorized constructions else it would encourage violators of the planning laws and destroy the very idea and concept of planned development of urban as well as rural areas.
46. In the result, the appeals and the transferred case are dismissed and it is declared that there is no impediment in the implementation of notices issued by the Corporation under Section 351 of the 1888 Act and order dated 3/8.12.2005 passed by the competent authority. The Corporation is expected to take action in the matter at the earliest.
47. We also direct that the State Government and its functionaries/officers as also the officers/employees of the Corporation shall not put any hurdle or obstacle in the implementation of notices issued under Section 351 of the 1888 Act.
16. Another petition was filed in the Supreme Court for relief bringing in new facts but the court did not allow it at this stage and dismissed the SLP.
17. The petitioners informed the court that 75% of the occupants of the illegal construction vacated the buildings and requested the court to give another four weeks time for the remaining occupants to vacate (upto 11-Nov-2013).
This would be subject to the condition that they shall not file any litigation in any Court in the State of Maharashtra including the Bombay High Court except for recovery of the amount paid to the developers / builders. At the same time, it is clarified that this liberty shall not entitle the petitioners or anyone else to file any case and seek injunction against demolition of the illegally constructed portions of the building.
18. On 13-Nov-2013, just before the demolition started the Supreme Court issued a stay of 6 months and asks for all demolition to be stopped based on media reports and out of compassion!!
Now the real questions:
What kind of jurisprudence is this when a Judge takes Suo moto cognizance of an issue out of compassion, based on media reports and stays his own earlier order? It is one thing to reconsider the order if there are any new petitions or facts before the court but is it appropriate for Judges of the Supreme Court to arbitrarily change their own orders, not based on legal principles but on the basis of emotions?
Relying on this verdict, Bombay High Court in Shubh Apartments CHS Ltd. Vs Greater Mumbai Corporation and Ors issued similar orders. What will happen to this verdict? Should it also be stayed on compassion grounds?
Will all illegal demolition residents not approach the court for similar relief and what is the rationality of these orders and from which provisions of the constitution does court derive this authority and legitimacy?
There are some reports that the Supreme Court agreed to consider the proposal for constructing a separate building in Campa Cola premises for the affected people. In this particular case the court itself repeatedly mentioned that the buyers were aware of the irregularities before the purchase and if such extraordinary relief is extended to them, why not similar relief to slum dwellers or to those whose land has been disposed by the state for industrial use?
When 75% of the occupants of this illegal construction obeyed the court orders and vacated the buildings, instead of initiating contempt proceedings against the other 25% for disrupting the demolition process, what signal is the court sending by granting special and exceptional relief? Does this mean that we can chose to disobey the orders of the court and ultimately court itself will modify them if we can generate enough media hype?
Whatever the final outcome is (if ever there is one), I think it is fair to say these kind of arbitrary orders from Supreme Court are disturbing.
The authorities find well meaning but informal means to get by, hence allowing for no long-term change or solution.
Bangalore does not have an Observation Home for girls. This translates to the fact that if a girl child is to be handed over to an Observation Home for a crime or to be kept under the observation of the Juvenile Justice Board or to be given protection by the state– there is no government run centre to shelter her. According to the law, she cannot (and rightly so), be kept in a police station or in any facility home for children. In such a situation, how does the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) take decisions with regard to criminal cases pertaining to the girl child, where the child is under trial?
At times the JJB grants the child bail, even if it is unwarranted. At times, they keep her in homes of people they know and trust or sometimes, they send them to the Child Welfare Committee homes. None of this is formally prescribed. But given the rampant sexual and domestic abuse meted out to girl children, it is better to do these, then to send the child to an affiliated NGO or to the boy’s Observation Home. Given the lack of basic infrastructure, the decision of the authorities is hence, ostensibly right.
But these decisions throw light on a larger problem that plagues the implementation of every law and policy within India. This can loosely be termed the chalta hai mindset. When I interacted with an official with regard to the lack of Observation Homes for girls and the informal decisions taken for the keep of girl children involved in criminal cases, she replied that if at the end, the child is protected and taken care of, sab kuch chalta hai (everything goes). Instead of advocating aggressively for a change in the overall implementation of the law—demand for the construction of a new Observation Home, discover formal, standardised and rigidly safe alternatives, and create a tangible systemic change– the well-meaning authorities reduce this profound problem to a case-by-case one.
Agreed, those who deal with such cases at the ground level, try to handle them to the best of their capacity. Empirically, the number of girls involved in criminal cases is usually lower compared to the boy’s cases. The authorities hence base their decisions as an exception, simply on the fact that these cases are not prevalent. But the need for an immediate solution for a particular case then dominates the need for a long-term solution that could create a robust system for this entire population. Additionally, keeping a girl child under trial, under the aegis of the JJB is a procedure and not a judgment. Hence the need to have formal standards, irrespective of the authorities, for each case becomes necessary. The well meaning but unofficial decisions taken by authorities only reduce the gravity of the situation.
In the chain of bureaucracies, departments, committees and fund flows, the reality is that the state lacks the basic infrastructure that is formally mandated and funded by the primary law governing children in India. Instead of using cases with regard to the girl child, to emphasise on the lack of the basic infrastructure for her, to highlight the poor implementation of policies and the deficiencies that go hand in hand with this (i.e. what happened to the allocated budget for the girls Observation Home?) the system finds informal means to get by. It hence feeds the chalta hai attitude, allowing for no long-term change or solution.
Made in Pakistan, Supported by China, but still Saudi Arabia’s nuclear weapon
This week, a major Western media house discovered that the Saudi Arabia has already paid Pakistan for the bomb and can have it home-delivered pretty quickly. This is perhaps the first time that news of the Saudi-Pakistan nuclear arrangement is getting media coverage. This topic was something that Western mediapersons and analysts would determinedly avoid discussing in public. Even the most committed advocates of the nuclear non-proliferation regime still do not write or talk about the relationship, which makes their advocacy and intent a lot less credible than it otherwise might have been.
Regular readers of this blog will recall analysis suggesting that Pakistan’s rapid stockpiling of fissile material is linked to Saudi Arabia’s needs in correlation with Iran’s nuclear advancements. China’s grandfatherly nuclear largesse makes Beijing an accomplice in this nuclear weapons manufacturing and transfer business. This is plain and simple nuclear proliferation, no matter if the self-appointed guardians of that term choose to ignore it.
Given this background, the fact that BBC’s Newsnight is now revealing that the Pakistanis might transfer the bomb to Saudi Arabia on demand suggests that the Saudi Arabian government wants it to be revealed. This is understandable: with chances of a Iran’s rapprochement with the West increasing this year, the likelihood that the world will eventually accept a nuclear Iran is also rising. Letting it be known that Saudi Arabia also has nuclear capacity—albeit in an outsourced model—serves to reinforce Riyadh’s prestige, proto-deterrence and adds pressure on its Western allies to not cut deals with the Iranians. It also helps prepare the ground for an eventual coming out of the nuclear closet.
What Western analysts of nuclear proliferation have to answer for is when exactly did the Saudi-Pakistan-China nuclear arrangement start? If it predates Tehran’s own decision to develop nuclear weapons capacity, then shouldn’t part of the responsibility for Iran’s move accrue to Riyadh, Islamabad and Beijing? Recriminations of the intellectual kind are futile in geopolitics, but to the extent that the United States recognises Iran’s security challenges, it might be able to negotiate for better outcomes with Iran, for the international community.
The emerging problem in the Middle East is one of shaping a stable nuclear deterrence relationship primarily involving Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the United States, Pakistan and China as actors in a supporting role. Getting facts out into the open is the good way to begin addressing it.Tweet
Handling the Nigerian kerfuffle in Goa
Only the credulous will be surprised that there are a number of organised criminal groups involved in the drug trafficking business in Goa. Russian, Israeli, Nigerian, Chinese and presumably local syndicates have carved out the market geographically, in terms of the drugs peddled and so on. Again, only the credulous will believe that this state of affairs can exist without connivance of the local politicians and law enforcement authorities. As Mayabhushan Nagvenkar reported in FirstPost last month, a report tabled in the state legislative assembly says as much.
It is in this context that we must see the murder of a Nigerian and the subsequent events it triggered. To be sure, not all Nigerians in Goa are involved in drug smuggling, just as not all Goans are anti-Nigerian racists. Yet the existence of Nigerian criminals, crooked cops, corrupt politicians and racist Goans is undeniable in this case.
On Thursday, a mob of over 200 irate Nigerians, who police allege are part of a narcotics gang, blocked a national highway for several hours and attacked locals and policemen, protesting the murder of their compatriot, allegedly by a local rival gang operating from Chapora, a coastal village and “hub” for the drug trade.
What followed the blockade was a bloody and sordid episode where one Nigerian was nearly beaten to death in police presence and a sustained outpouring of racist tripe against the ebony-skinned Africans on the social media network, the mainstream media as well as the public at-large.[Nagvenkar/DNA]
Policing in India is not known for its sensitivity or, well, discrimination. After the state government ordered a ‘crackdown’, police have been out and about the place looking for foreigners and verifying their papers. Now, because there are a number of foreigners — of several nationalities — in Goa without proper documentation, the business of police verification has caused, as of now, something bigger than a kerfuffle and smaller than an upheaval.
It is a diplomat’s job to be concerned about the well-being of a country’s citizens in foreign lands. Given the consular problems concerning Nigerians in India — from undertrials to deportees –, accusations of maltreatment by Indian authorities and further accusations of racist attitudes, it is fair for the Nigerian consular officials to take a proactive role in managing the tensions in Goa.
What Jacob Nwadidia, reportedly a Nigerian consular attache in India, said transgresses all norms of civilised diplomacy. If the Goa state government’s crackdown does not stop in 24 hours, he threatened, “that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria.”
If you have heard of the order of the authorities, especially Michael Lobo who is the MLA of Calangute, I am giving him 24 hours from tonight to cancel his ‘order’ that Nigerians should be thrown out on to the streets. If he does not cancel (it), I am telling you that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria. And I’m serious about it. India is five hours ahead of Nigeria. There is still enough time to reach my headquarters and tell the Nigerian government that Nigerians in Goa have been thrown out on the street,” he said.
“If Michael Lobo does not cancel that ‘order’ I am telling you that news will come that Indians in Nigeria have been thrown out on the street. That’s what I’m telling you and I mean what I’ve said,” he told Herald. Referring to the ongoing police verification drive in Parra and surrounding areas, he added: “Police should stop from going house to house to eject and evict Nigerians. If that does not stop in 24 hours then Indians should bear responsibility for what happens in Nigeria,” he said.
“There are only 50,000 Nigerians in India but over one million Indians live in Nigeria. Several thousand Indians will be on the streets if forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop,” Jacob Nwadidia is reported to have said.[Herald]
If Mr Nwadidia indeed made the threats as several media reports indicate, New Delhi should declare him persona non grata and expel him. Diplomats don’t threaten mass violence against innocent people. Thugs do. The Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi would do well to repudiate the comments made by one of its officials.
Mr Nwadidia was not only wrong in form but also wrong on facts. According to the Indian High Commission in Abuja, the size of the Indian community in Nigeria is around 35,000 persons, of which 25,000 are Indian citizens and the remaining persons of Indian origin. India has demonstrated that it can evacuate such numbers of its nationals if the need arises.
The threat is especially dangerous because of Nigeria’s deteriorating security situation. In January this year, the Indian mission issued a security advisory noting that “Indians living in Nigeria came under unprecedented level of insecurity and were, occasionally, unfortunate victims” and calling upon nationals to take precautions.
In a subsequent advisory issued in May it said
“(in the recent past), security situation in some parts of Nigeria has deteriorated. There have been violent incidents in the north, north-centre and north-east of the country. A sharp increase in cases of kidnappings in coastal belt, particularly by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, has also been noted. These instances of insecurity have occasionally involved Indian nationals as unfortunate victims. While in most cases they were passive victims of a situation or a criminal conspiracy, there are cases when they were specifically targeted for kidnapping or physical harm.”[IHC Abuja]
India is among Nigeria’s top trading partners, not least due to oil and gas imports. Indian companies are increasing their investments in West Africa and Nigeria is a big recipient of Indian investment. Last year, 40,000 Nigerians received visas to visit India. The nature of bilateral relations indicates that there is a lot that the two countries have to lose if irresponsible talk leads to violence on the ground. If memories of Idi Amin’s actions against ethnic Indians are brought up to scare the Indian government, the Nigerian government can’t be unaware of the more proximate example of Robert Mugabe’s ruinous policies in Zimbabwe.
It is unclear if the Goa government is committed to a clean-up of the criminal activity in the state. If so, expect more such kerfuffles involving other foreigners. Given the international effects, the government ought to employ a lot more sophistication in its law enforcement activities. Beyond that, it would be out of place for one of India’s most open-minded and cosmopolitan states to allow racist sentiments to dominate the public discourse over this issue.
For New Delhi’s part, action against the errant Mr Nwadidia ought to signal its rejection of the suggestion that Nigeria is holding Indian nationals hostage. That should get saner heads into the equation.Tweet
By Shoikat Roy
The South China Sea (SCS) area consisting of various reefs, rocks, atolls and small islands is contested by the 6 littoral states of the region (China & Taiwan, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei) primarily because they serve as legal base points for states to project their claims for exclusive jurisdiction over the waters and resources around it. The SCS, a rich fishing ground, is believed to harbour extensive oil, natural gas and hydrocarbons assets and is a critical trade route through which about half of all world trade passes. As the importance of securing trade routes and accessing fast-depleting energy resources grow, the region is experiencing greater volatility and tension over the territorial disputes in the SCS. China, in particular has been an increasingly aggressive actor, using its political and military might to dominate smaller states at different points.
Although India is not a littoral state, India is widely recognised as an important stakeholder in the security of the region. Recent joint statements with ASEAN have expressly alluded to “India’s role in ensuring regional, peace and stability… addressing common challenges on maritime issues, ensuring maritime security and freedom of navigation”. India’s entry into the geopolitics of the region has been welcomed by almost all states with the exception of China. Simply put, “The South China Sea is becoming a factor in India’s own strategic calculations and strategic debates, and India is becoming a factor in the strategic calculations of South China Sea states.”
This research paper attempts to answer three simple questions: What factors determine India’s interests in the South China Sea? What sort of a role should India seek to play in order to protect those interests? How can India’s foreign policy be calibrated in order to advance the attainment and realisation of our national interest vis-à-vis the SCS region?
India’s interests in the South China Sea region have geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic dimensions.
- Role of China – The acceptance and prevalence of the term “Indo-Pacific” among strategic commentators as well as diplomats has become synonymous with India’s entry into South East Asia and the Pacific theatre. Some analysts posit that India’s involvement in the South China Sea is reflective of Indo-Chinese Great Power rivalry. What repercussions would Chinese dominance in the SCS have on Chinese emergence in the Indian Ocean region where India has traditionally enjoyed pre-eminence? Officials often repeat that this dispute is just one part of the broader relationship. But can India’s relations with China with respect to the South China Sea region be analysed in a vacuum or does it necessarily influence and is influenced by developments in other parameters of the relationship (such as the border dispute, POK etc.)? What lessons (if any) can India draw from Chinese aggressiveness and threat of use of force in its approach towards maritime disputes in the SCS when evaluating our own border disputes with China?
- Role of ASEAN – What expectations does ASEAN have of India as a non-littoral player in the region? What are the dynamics governing India’s relationships with individual ASEAN states and with ASEAN as a whole?
- Role of Other Major Powers – What is the importance of the SCS to India in the context of increasing Indian engagement with Pacific powers like Japan, USA and Australia, especially in a Naval context.
- India as a Great Power – Should India take on greater responsibilities commensurate with its power status and enhance its prestige?
- Trade – 55 percent of India’s trade with the rest of the world passes through the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea. How important is freedom of navigation through the SCS for Indian trade and global trade at large? What would be the economic consequences of a conflict or disruption of sea-lanes in the SCS? How will changing global sea-borne trade routes affect the importance of the SCS? Will India’s economic reliance on trade through the SCS increase or decrease in the foreseeable future?
- What is our economic relationship with claimants to the SCS region?
- Energy Security – What is the importance of the SCS to India’s energy security in the context of our overseas hydrocarbons acquisitions and access to energy supplies from other States?
- Look East – The Look East policy has been one of the pillars of Indian foreign policy in the preceding decades. How is the SCS related to our Look East policy? Is involvement in the SCS a natural extension of Look East?
- Naval dimension – Indian ‘military diplomacy’ in the form of naval exercises, friendly port calls etc. have increased in frequency since 2000. What is the Naval dimension of India’s look East policy? What are its objectives? What is the relative strength of the Indian Navy compared to the PLA Navy? How is that expected to change given attempts at rapid military modernisation on both sides?
India’s “Look East” policy has strengthened our relations with several ASEAN nations, both economically and militarily. Efforts to increased bilateral trade receive constant mention in joint statements and communiques. Only a few weeks ago, India announced the opening of a separate full-fledged mission to ASEAN. As noted, Indian naval activity in the waters has also been on the rise. Despite such developments, India seems to lack a defined strategic direction. In many cases, India responds in an ad-hoc manner, reacting to Chinese concerns, actions and provocations; as opposed to charting a proactive path itself. India’s vacillation in the face of Chinese hostility to ONGC’s joint exploration of oil with Vietnam in Vietnamese waters (claimed by China) is a pertinent example.
My research will attempt to formulate foreign policy priorities for India proceeding from a detailed and nuanced understanding of Indian interests in the region based on the parameters defined above. It will also assess India’s military capabilities and strategy. Should India forge closer defence relations with the littoral and non-littoral states of the region? Does India have the strength to project Naval power in the SCS to protect its investments and SLOCs? On a broader geopolitical level, the recommendations of this project will grapple with questions such as: Who are the partners that need greater diplomatic engagement? Does India need to change the way it articulates its interests? What are the steps India can take to maintain peace, security and freedom of navigation in the region without directly intervening in the territorial disputes themselves? Can India afford to be proactive in the region at the risk of arousing Chinese chagrin?
Located very close to the southern tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the South China Sea is very much a part of India’s “extended neighbourhood”. It is of critical geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic importance and has a direct bearing on our relations with a host of strategically relevant countries. Current geopolitical realities afford India space to manoeuvre in the Indo-Pacific and address its lack of clearly defined foreign policy priorities in the region. This research aims to correct that lacuna.
Shoikat Roy is a Takshashila Scholar.
Four questions posed by Amia Srinivasan are presented as a moral dilemma for the reader and are reproduced below.
Amia Srinivasan recently posed some interesting questions for free-market moralists. The key duality presented by Amia is a Rawlsian view arguing that John Rawl’s theory of justice will imply a redistributive society and a Nozickian view (named for Robert Nozick) that would counter this with a just society in which only voluntary transactions between individual will take place (redistribution implies an involuntary transfer from one person to another).
Notwithstanding the fact that in reality, all our societies are more Rawlsian today than Nozickian, Amia argues that there is a trend towards Nozickian thinking. Four questions are presented as a moral dilemma for the reader in the post and they are reproduced below:
1. Is any exchange between two people in the absence of direct physical compulsion by one party against the other (or the threat thereof) necessarily free?
If you say yes, then you think that people can never be coerced into action by circumstances that do not involve the direct physical compulsion of another person. Suppose a woman and her children are starving, and the only way she can feed her family, apart from theft, is to prostitute herself or to sell her organs. Since she undertakes these acts of exchange not because of direct physical coercion by another, but only because she is compelled by hunger and a lack of alternatives, they are free.
2. Is any free (not physically compelled) exchange morally permissible?
If you say yes, then you think that any free exchange can’t be exploitative and thus immoral. Suppose that I inherited from my rich parents a large plot of vacant land, and that you are my poor, landless neighbor. I offer you the following deal. You can work the land, doing all the hard labor of tilling, sowing, irrigating and harvesting. I’ll pay you $1 a day for a year. After that, I’ll sell the crop for $50,000. You decide this is your best available option, and so take the deal. Since you consent to this exchange, there’s nothing morally problematic about it.
3. Do people deserve all they are able, and only what they are able, to get through free exchange?
If you say yes, you think that what people deserve is largely a matter of luck. Why? First, because only a tiny minority of the population is lucky enough to inherit wealth from their parents. (A fact lost on Mitt Romney, who famously advised America’s youth to “take a shot, go for it, take a risk … borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”) Since giving money to your kids is just another example of free exchange, there’s nothing wrong with the accumulation of wealth and privilege in the hands of the few. Second, people’s capacities to produce goods and services in demand on the market is largely a function of the lottery of their birth: their genetic predispositions, their parents’ education, the amount of race- and sex-based discrimination to which they’re subjected, their access to health care and good education.
It’s also a function of what the market happens to value at a particular time. Van Gogh, Schubert, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Vermeer, Melville and Schubert all died broke. If you’re a good Nozickian, you think that’s what they deserved.
4. Are people under no obligation to do anything they don’t freely want to do or freely commit themselves to doing?
If you say yes, then you think the only moral requirements are the ones we freely bring on ourselves — say, by making promises or contracts. Suppose I’m walking to the library and see a man drowning in the river. I decide that the pleasure I would get from saving his life wouldn’t exceed the cost of getting wet and the delay. So I walk on by. Since I made no contract with the man, I am under no obligation to save him.
According to me, Question1 and Question 2 are actually market failures since the actors do not have access to the right markets (to sell their labour or unique talents). The question then is, should the state be working towards making markets more accessible or removing the dependence of such actors from the market? This is what dole does; it removes the necessity of an individual to participate in the market. Played to its true ends, this can potentially destroy the very market that is creating the wealth for the redistributive dole. It would have served the author better to choose the example of a severely disabled person (say deaf and blind). The moral dilemma is starker for a Nozickian purist in this case.
Currently, both the choices (support using dole or leave to one’s abilities) look bad to me. Supporting disadvantaged individuals (say the deaf, blind person) is the humane thing to do. Intentions matter and social mores are important in shaping behaviour. If the person receiving this grant accepts it reluctantly with gratitude and the society offers it grudgingly since it could not offer better ways to engage the person’s talents, that would matter. I wish there was an option between taking a handout and potentially letting someone die, that is not a slippery slope to one of the extremes. However, I must confess that it eludes me.
On Question 3, life is about luck and skill. Deal with it. Van Gogh might have died poor but he did have a rich brother supporting him. Do we grudge the brother he had since another unknown talent might have not survived in its absence? The fact that Japan opened up art exports during that time allowed Van Gogh to evolve a technique inspired from Japanese woodblocks. Do we grudge the time Van Gogh was born in history?
However, luck should not allow some market participants to dominate the market. The answer to prevent this has been regulation. Today, almost all-regulatory intervention has done exactly the opposite. The barrier for new participants to come and disrupt older wealth gets higher every day due to regulation. It is ironic that mostly the regulation is intended to keep the rich in check but only ends up cementing their places. This doesn’t mean that regulation is not required but that we need to consider the side effects. Skewing the market towards new participants rather than incumbents would be the right way in my opinion.
Q4 is an individual’s choice. Some choices are despicable but are for that person to live with.
Saurabh Chandra is a Bangalore based tech entrepreneur with an interest in public policy. You can follow his tweets on @saurabhchandra
The idea of taxing junk food to tackle obesity is silly at best and dangerous at its worst.
Nivedita Kashyap pointed me to intriguing news coming out of Mexico yesterday: the middle-income country has just approved a tax on junk food in response to an overwhelming majority of its population suffering from obesity. There is to be about 8 US cents of tax on a litre of soft drinks, and 8 percent sales tax on high-calorie foods. [New York Times]
At first glance, this looks like a welcome idea. Frequent intake of sugary and high calorie foods is extremely unhealthy, and a tax can ostensibly start weaning people off of them, even if in small steps. But once the idea is interrogated with a little more care, it starts falling apart.
Taxes can be deft instruments at influencing behaviour. In a country like India where we routinely ban things that we do not like, taxation can look like a surgical scalpel to the chainsaw that is a blanket ban. Wherever there is a strong economic motive or human desire behind a particular action, banning it only drives it underground. Sports gambling is illegal in India, but it happens any way, and without any regulation. Ditto with the supply and consumption of liquor in states like Gujarat, Mizoram and Nagaland – where alcohol is currently prohibited.
However, there is an inherent assumption of elasticity when taxes are used to influence behaviour. The assumption is that the demand for junk food or alcohol will reduce meaningfully with a modest increase in the cost of it. This assumption is very valid in many cases. The higher price with taxes can make alternatives more attractive. Unfortunately, the assumption fails quite spectacularly in known cases similar to junk food: tobacco and alcohol. Both of these are taxed quite heavily in most economies for precisely the opposite reason – not because people start consuming less of them, but because the demand remains steady and high. In the name of curbing ‘socially undesirable’ habits, states can pocket reliable sources of large revenues. To Mexico’s credit, its lawmakers admit that the tax on junk food was “necessary to reduce rising rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as to raise revenue.”
Note the use of the word modest earlier – overzealousness in taxing goods with inelastic demand like alcohol or junk food can have disastrous consequences. About 170 people died in West Bengal in late 2011 by drinking adulterated illicit liquor, as the excise duties on alcohol were between 30 and 49 percent in the state then. The very high taxes forced many to subvert the process and try to distill liquor at home, to disastrous consequences. For all we know, heavily taxing soft drinks and fatty foods at restaurants and supermarkets could drive people in Mexico to start deep-frying more food at home. Further, if frying oil were to be regulated (as a diligent authority keen on reducing obesity might) enterprising individuals could turn to dodgy substitutes again.
An alternate defence of taxes on undesirables is that the money received in taxes could be used to offset the effects of it. This makes sense in cases like asking polluters to pay, where the tax is almost a compensation that can be legitimately redistributed to those adversely affected. But in a case like junk food, what states usually end up doing is running ad campaigns trying to change people’s behaviour. There appears to be a poetic sense of justice to this – taking money from junk-food-eaters to tell others not to do so. Please permit this blogger to guffaw a little though, having watched decades’ worth of ineffective commercials and warnings regarding tobacco smoke or alcohol. As to taxing sugar making sugar-substitutes more attractive: I am yet to see a single person use artificial sweeteners who was sensitive to its price. What they are usually sensitive to is diabetes or obesity.
There is also nothing inherently moral about taxing something like junk food just to raise a lot of revenues for the state. The moral imperative with taxation is that the state extract as small a levy as it can from its citizens to perform its expected and unique functions. There is nothing moral about asking smokers, drinkers or junk-food-eaters to finance the profligacy of a state.
As humanity evolves, we find new challenges that we are biologically and socially ill-equipped to tackle. While food, calories and sugar have been extremely scarce for hundreds of thousands of years, they have become ubiquitous in the last century or two. It will require great feats of innovation and creative thinking, and not incremental taxation to address problems like obesity.
Postscript. Taxation is closely linked to the idea of redistribution – which is the notion of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. This is often hailed as the hallmark of a compassionate, welfare-oriented society. But as The Acorn puts it, taxation for redistribution is theft: the act of taking from Preetam and giving to Palani. The grand conceit is that Preetam is necessarily richer and that Palani is necessarily more deserving, and progressive taxation on income usually gives us that impression. However, redistribution also happens from all the aforementioned taxes: from beer drinkers to non-drinkers, from cigarette-smokers to teetotallers, and now from the fat to the not-so-fat in Mexico. Similarly we also see redistribution from one state to another, from cities to villages, sector to sector and more. It is time we started acknowledging redistribution as theft and allowing it only where absolutely necessary.