Group Blog: The Indian National Interest
U.S. military ready to strike Syria
The U.S. military stands ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said as the United States prepared to formally declare that chemical weapons had been used in the Syrian civil war. The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria’s civil war began more than two years ago. Britain could join a possible U.S.-led military strike. Moscow, on the other hand, has warned that any foreign intervention in Syria without a UN mandate would be “a grave violation of international law”. Reuters reports that U.S. strike would aim to teach Assad and Iran a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war.
Communal violence escalates in Myanmar
Buddhist mobs went on a rampage burning Muslim shops and houses at the weekend leaving hundreds homeless. Violent episodes like this show how far anti-Muslim anger has spread in the Buddhist-dominated country. Attacks against Muslims who make up at least four percent of the population have exposed deep rifts in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, overshadowing widely praised political reforms since military rule ended in 2011. The communal conflicts are a part of emerging conflicts Myanmar faces today.
China rules out top-level talks with Japan at G20
China has ruled out a top-level meeting at the September G20 summit with Japan to discuss a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. China’s deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong noted that Japanese leaders are ignoring historical facts and unwilling to face existing problems in China-Japan relations, while remain reluctant to hold substantive discussions on the Diaoyu Islands.
Sri Lanka criticizes the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay is on a five-day visit to assess human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Members of the majority Sinhalese community protested in Colombo, calling on Pillay to get out of the country and stop criticising its rights record. Pillay’s seven-day visit comes after a second United States-sponsored U.N. resolution in March this year urged Sri Lanka to carry out credible investigations into killings and disappearances during the war.
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The ‘rights-based approach to development’ is immoral and illiberal
Why was there ideological collusion in the passage of a bill that promises ‘food security’ but is certain to severely undermine India’s development path? Several reasons can be adduced—from the electoral to the conspiratorial—but what gave both the terrible bill and the even more terrible scheme it seeks to implement the impression of inevitability was the underlying narrative of a “rights-based approach”. And, as Narayan Ramachandran writes, “[the] apostle of the rights-based approach in India is the National Advisory Council (NAC).”
Over the last decade, the NAC’s narrative of a “rights-based approach” to development has acquired dominance. It has pervaded government policy because Sonia Gandhi, its chief and Congress party president, in all likelihood, genuinely believes in it. The power of narratives is such that even if you replace Mrs Gandhi and her NAC with another political leader and his or her own clique, they will be compelled to persist with the same policies as before, or undertake the Hanumanian task of countering the rights-based narrative before rolling back or changing tack on the massive entitlement schemes. (See my previous post on this).
Narayan argues that the rights-based approach is the wrong development model for India. In fact, “rights-based approach” is a misnomer. It is a clever way to refloat the failed policies of socialism under a new, fashionable but dubious political philosophy. In essence, this ‘development model’ identifies an ever-growing list of life’s needs and necessities, declares that they are ‘rights’ and suggests that these be provided by the state.
A lot of well-meaning people are fooled by this sophistry. Since few good people will dispute that people need food, education, healthcare and jobs to live in this world, they become susceptible to the argument that such necessities are rights. Moreover, since a lot of famous people, including Nobel laureates and rock stars, advocate this approach, the notion that such things are rights acquires wings.
Yet for all the celebrity endorsement, warm fuzzy feelings it creates, the so-called rights-based approach is immoral and illiberal. The only true rights are those that do not come at anyone else’s cost. Preetam’s right to life, equality, freedom and property do not come at Palani’s cost, and vice versa. The state might have to incur a cost to protect these rights, but not to provide them. [Meet Preetam and Palani, in Redistribution as Theft]
The entitlements that the NAC-types call ‘rights’ are different. It costs someone something to provide them. If Preetam and Palani are the only two citizens in a hypothetical state, the cost of providing Palani’s right to food, education, healthcare and jobs must be borne by the state. If the state, in this example, is financed by Preetam’s tax payments, Palani’s entitlements come at the cost of further infringing on Preetam’s rights (in this case, the right to use his money as he pleases).
It is sometimes reasonable to argue that Preetam must be made to pay for Palani’s necessities in order to have a equitable society. Or because Palani might be contributing to Preetam’s welfare in other ways. What is wholly wrong, though, is to contend that food, education, healthcare, internet connections, jobs and suchlike are ‘rights’, in the same way as life, freedom and property are rights.
However desirable, however necessary, if it costs (someone else) to provide, it is not a right. It is an entitlement. Liberal democracies can agree to make some entitlements obligations of the state. But it is important to keep these obligations distinct from rights. The framers of the Indian Constitution made this distinction when they separated Fundamental Rights from Directive Principles. Unfortunately, their successors in parliament lacked the same moral clarity, and proceeded to undermine Rights even as they attempted to rightify the obligations that fall under the Directive Principles.
Because it violates (someone else’s) rights, the rights-based approach is universally immoral. India cannot afford the luxury of this ‘international development’ fashion. The cost of providing an ever-growing list of entitlements is prohibitively large, and will severely undermine India’s future. Right-minded people and political parties (no pun intended) should reject the rights-based approach.
1. The Two-Person Test to determine what is a right (also known as the Preetam & Palani Test). If it costs Preetam to provide Palani something (and vice versa), then, however desirable it might be, it is not a right.
2. If we accept the rights-based approach, then we urgently need to legislate the “Right to Richer Spouse.” If every citizen has an enforceable right to marry a richer person, then poverty will disappear fairly quickly. Such a right will take away some freedom from the richer persons, but that’s no different from the rights to food, education, jobs and suchlike. If you find the Right to Richer Spouse absurd or repugnant, just remember that it is based on the same logic as the right to food, education, healthcare, jobs, internet connections and so on…
3. A storified series of tweets on the topic.Tweet
The Broad Mind is restarting its daily updates on international news for the Indian reader. Expect updates every weekday.
Syrian President Al-Assad denies use of chemical weapons
On the alleged use of chemical weapons, President al-Assad said that the statements by the US administration, the West and other countries were made with disdain and blatant disrespect of their own public opinion. However, the U.N. inspectors that were sent to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus came under fire. A BBC news correspondent writes that the dire predictions made months ago by some regional analysts that the Syrian situation could spiral rapidly into World War III are starting to look a little less fanciful.
Karzai meets Sharif
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seek support for the revival of peace talks with Taliban and to improve frayed ties. It is Mr. Karzai’s first visit to Pakistan since the new government took office in June. The leaders signed two agreements and the Afghan President called for a joint anti terror campaign. Earlier in the month, Pakistan’s special adviser on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz met with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in Kabul at mending relations between the two neighbors.
OVL to buy 10 per cent stake in a Mozambique gas field for $2.64 billion
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Ltd (OVL) set to buy of 10 per cent stake in a giant Mozambique gas field from Anadarko Petroleum Corp of US for $2.64 billion. The New York Times states that this is the latest example of how Asia’s biggest emerging economies are zeroing in on Mozambique’s vast offshore energy resources. Reuters reports that the purchase is to offset diminishing supplies from domestic gas fields by buying overseas assets and boost India’s energy needs. East Africa has become one of the world’s most promising areas for energy production in the wake of large natural-gas discoveries off the coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Bo Xilai’s trial concludes
Bo Xilai, a former Politburo member faced trial on being charged for bribery, graft and abuse of power. He denied the charge of abusing power to cover up a murder case involving his wife and to sack a police chief without proper procedures. He presented his closing case by stating that he was a victim of “fabricated” evidence and of a close relationship between his wife and his police chief. There may or may not be any chance of a lenient punishment.
Thousands of Filipinos rally against corruption: Is Philippines headed the Turkey way?
Tens of thousands of Filipinos protested in a park in Manila demanding the scrapping of a development fund that allows lawmakers to allocate government money for projects in their districts. Police said about 70,000 protesters were at the peak of the rally. The government corruption is linked to a program that is accused of having diverted an estimated $141 million away from the poor and into the coffers of politicians and their associates.
Daily updates are brought to you by Divya Gangadar at the Takshashila Institution.
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Protection for women should not be seen separate from protecting individual rights and liberties
My colleague Karthik tweeted today that the
fundamental problem about rape in India is people think it’s about “loss of marriageability”. ignore it’s fundamentally assault and invasion
— karthik (@karthiks) August 26, 2013
I do agree that the idea of binding together marriage, honor and rape ignores the brutality of rape and makes the individual invisible. There is a need to extend the argument though. To confine it to the idea of loss of marriageability, risks not acknowledging marital rape, rape within the family, by in-laws, the act of sharing wives without consent, and fails to acknowledge homosexual rape.
It is not about rape before marriage. The problem is the heavy burden on the women to prevent herself from being harassed, abused or cornered in any way. It is in the idea of an imagined honour that a woman is supposed to carry, no matter what her situation in life. Any small deviation from a set path results in a incessant chatter of how the girl should have known better, dressed better or been in a better profession. A married woman sometimes has it worse. Given our cultural importance to the idea of husband and in-laws and the burden of another “kaandaan” resting on her shoulders, even a random public harassment often becomes a case for severe ostracism.
Part of the media focus after this Mumbai rape has been on questioning the idea of how safe a city Mumbai was. Statistics, random surverys are being examined in greater detail and the idea of a safe haven reconsidered. The rape has as many moan brought down the image of a city. Problem is this, a rape is not an indication of how low a city or a society has fallen. Sexual harassment is. Rape is an indication of how much worse it has become. A person who is being sexually harassed, groped, cat called and teased in public without any help or interference from the public whatsoever, that is an indication of how unsafe a city is. Complaints on sexual harassment being pushed under the rug should be a measure of how safe a city is. A rape in broad daylight is an indication of the further descent of the city into savagery. By these standards, I doubt if Mumbai or any city for that matter could have measured up to being a safe city.
More esteemed commentators have called for educating students, about rape and gender equality. They forget that quite a few of kids barely get a regular education and are often treated to a childhood that even adults would flinch at. They also forget that for the most part it is not children, but adults who require an education on gender equality. These adults are the ones who continue to pass laws that seek to protect “their” women and to add addendum’s to court ruling on a alleged rape, abduction and marriage case involving a 16 year old girl and 22 year old boy by saying “that it would not be good for the girl’s health if her husband is sent to jail.”
We still see women as part of a species that needs to be protected, as part of a standard for a society, as someone who carries honour in her family and a symbol of sacrifice and virtue in a marriage. We have left very little for the woman to be treated as an individual with equal stake and vote and as an individual whose actions are hers alone.
The point is not about stronger laws, we have them. The point is about implementing them and citizens taking the onus of being aware and taking upon themselves a degree of responsibility to prevent crimes like these. If a person in a public place witnessing sexual harassment cannot stop it from happening or support a girl struggling to deflect unwanted attention, what are the chances of that person reporting rape! To tell a girl she should have taken the next bus, or should have worn a dupatta or should not be walking around at that time is not the answer. People who do that are the ones apologizing on public forums for a rape they have no connection with. Democracy, and individual safety and liberty rests as much on a responsible, aware citizen as it does with a government entrusted with a job.
Rape and sexual harassment are at its most basic an attack on individual liberty and violence against an individual citizen. Once we work on that and prevent violation of that liberty, gender quality and better rights for women will follow.
P.S Do read my colleague Pavan’s take on Indian Marriages, Rape and Law here
Excerpts from my review of Revolution from Above : india’s Future and the Citizen Elite by Dipankar Gupta.
Should democracy be a mere reflection of the will of the people or should it be shaped by individuals with a vision towards attainment of greater fraternity and common citizenship? In his latest bookRevolution from Above: India’s Future and the Citizen Elite, Dipankar Gupta provides a compelling argument for the latter. He calls the individuals who take this mantle of shaping democracy as “citizen elite” or “elite of calling”. If democracy is viewed only as a reflection of the given, then it will eventually get caught up in the forces of inertia and restrict the imagination of the leaders to be aspirational. In the contemporary political scenario where retrograde concessions are enforced to appease identities and restrictions on individual freedom are justified as political realities, the need for the citizen elite who can bridge the barriers of multiple identities and foster common citizenship is a refreshing argument.
The driving force of the citizen elite could be necessary and sufficient to bring about political transformation and the author lucidly connects the concepts of fraternity, citizenship and the influence of the citizen elite in a democracy. However, the extension of the influence of the citizen elite to address the issues of public services is a hyperbole and the book loses its direction in the second half. It is from this point onwards that all the economic reasoning goes for a toss and the author offers simplistic policy prescriptions. Professor Gupta accurately identifies the problems when he says that most of the spending in the education and healthcare sectors is private or when he laments the lack of social security for a majority of the workforce. The shortage in both the quantity and the quality of public service delivery systems has indeed resulted in extensive privatisation of education and health care. These public services, which ought to be a platform for greater fraternity, have actually become a source of class based compartmentalisation.
But leadership alone is not enough for delivering public goods; it should be backed by sufficient resources and calculated tradeoffs. Professor Gupta calls for universal polices in the social sector as targeted policies make little sense with a huge population group being poor. He Argues that the money for these services, is not a problem because “when the growth rate is about 8 percent, there is a lot of money around” and in any case “welfare systems in Europe and Canada, as well as in East Asia, were set in place not when the countries were rich, but when they were poor”. Hence India should also implement universal policies without assessing its resource constraints.
For full article, click here
During my talk at the Takshashila Chennai Shala in 2011 (related Pragati article here), I had argued that the underlying reason for market failure in Chennai autorickshaws was regulatory failure. Despite costs for auto rickshaws going up significantly, I had argued that the regulated fare was a lowly Rs. 7 per kilometer, because of which no auto rickshaw in Chennai traveled by meter.
In the same talk I had argued about the benefits of having a regulated fare (no time wasted in haggling, etc.) so this new move by the Tamil Nadu government to regulate auto rickshaw fares is welcome. Note at the end of the article that someone from the Auto Rickshaw Drivers union has welcomed the new fares. This, and the fact that the fare has been set rather high (compared to other Indian cities) should hopefully lead to wide uptake in the use of meters among auto rickshaws in Chennai.
This stabilization in price, I argue, will lead to greater use of auto rickshaws by the general public (since there is no uncertainty now) and should also contribute to greater revenues for the drivers, thus creating a strong ecosystem.
The graph below compares the per kilometer auto rickshaw fares in different cities in India. Note here that Chennai is the most expensive. My argument, however, is that given the unregulated market that is in place now, this higher fare is a reasonable price to pay for good regulation and fair fares.
Following up on a set of observations by my colleagues and friends on twitter, here are a few thoughts on rape in India:
Marriage in India largely happens between families rather than individuals. The social compatibility of families often matters a lot more than that of the bride and groom. Caste is the principal determinant of that, but it goes beyond that to class, social connections, wealth and more. The bride ends up marrying the groom’s household, for all practical purposes.
As Karthik Shashidhar observes, people often think of rape in India as a problem that results in a ‘loss of marriageability’, rather than what it really is: the assault of an individual. This also explains the rather mind-warping suggestions heard again and again: let the rape victim marry the rapist, and all will be okay.
The loss of marriageability is of the family, but the physical and mental trauma is that of the woman alone. It should be of little surprise to anyone that the latter goes unaddressed most of the time. Worse, the woman ends up getting blamed for getting into a position where the family honour gets lost.
Reporting cases of rape, seeking help and receiving support is difficult even in far more liberal societies. But as long as marriage remains the primary aim and raison d’être of a woman in society, rape will be an extremely difficult problem to address.
The Indian extended family can act as either a champion of individual liberties or an anchor that drags it down.
PS. Do read my colleague Priya Ravichandran on ‘Let’s talk about rape.’
A harmless musical concert may become embroiled in separatist politics of Kashmir.
Zubin Mehta expressed a desire to play in Kashmir while visiting the German embassy in Delhi for receiving an award. The German ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, took this up seriously and has managed to put together a show where Zubin Mehta will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra from Germany in the Mughal Gardens by the Dal Lake in Srinagar. Zubin Mehta believes music can bring peace to the people. Notably, Germany was also the first major country to relax the travel advisory to its citizens for visiting Kashmir in 2011.
The concert, called Ehsaas-e-Kashmir (loosely translated as ‘feeling of Kashmir’), will be telecast free all over the world. Like the famous concert by Yanni at Acropolis, this also has the potential to combine the beauty of the location and the music to enchant everyone. The boost to the tourism in Kashmir and also its appeal as an exotic locale will be incalculable. The cost for doing it is being borne by our German friends.
However, as expected the separatists have already fired the first salvo protesting against hosting this concert. Any high profile event which has the potential to better the lives of folks in Kashmir is surely not good for the separatists. Their reason for existence gets bolstered by any hardship that the people of Kashmir face since it can be linked to the separatist cause. Prosperous and a peaceful Kashmir will be a big impediment for separatists and they will not miss any chance of disrupting such events. This event started as a non-political, cultural event with positive local economic spin-offs. By converting this into an opportunity for political gains, the separatists are doing a disservice to Kashmir.
Break a leg, Ehsaas-e-Kashmir.
Saurabh Chandra is a Bangalore based technology entrepreneur with an interest in public policy. He tweets at @saurabhchandra.
I write in DNA on the PSF (Passenger Service Fair), terrorism and the urgent need for judicial and police reforms in India. Read the full version of the article here.
To create a sense of security for her citizens, India has to implement Police Reforms.
“If you cannot eliminate the source of terror, the next best option is to mitigate its flow to India. Newer institutional structures like the NCTC, Natgrid and NIA can help but even they are not sufficient. There is no spigot which works only for terrorism. Terrorism flows in the same pipes which are used by other criminal activities. If you can get a mobile SIM card activated on a false ID for your classmate, so can someone else, even terrorists. It is the whole ecosystem of casual criminal behavior. The supply chain which allows the neighbourhood shop to give you the latest pirated video game for Rs 200 can be easily used by the terrorists to move explosives and timers. Unless you close the tap of crime completely, you will have terrorism coming through the same pipeline. You can’t target terrorism in isolation. To succeed, the whole system of governance, particularly our criminal justice system, needs to be reformed.
There are two components of the criminal justice system that demand immediate reforms– the judiciary and the police. Not only is our legal system dated, the judiciary itself suffers from a multiple shortfalls. At present there are more than three crore pending cases in various courts. Consequently, 67 percent of inmates across prisons are now undertrials. For the few cases that are decided, the rate of conviction remains abysmally low. The answer lies in speeding up litigation. The archaic methods of handling these cases can’t continue any longer. Only by incorporating modern technology, replacing paperwork and removing multiple bureaucratic barriers can the judiciary restore its credibility and supremacy.”
This piece was first published in DNA on 22 August, 2013. I am grateful to some of my colleagues at the Takshashila Institution for reviewing this piece prior to publication.
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Reforms to prevent and deter rape and sexual harassment have to be put in place immediately.
Point and counter point has been made on the ireport site on CNN after a visit from an US university to India went bad for a girl. Two girls, as part of the same group, experienced India differently and they made their points.
The first post detailed the harassment “RoseChasm” faced in India.The extreme abuse and threat of sexual violence explained in detail led to severe PTSD after her return to the US. There have been a lot of commentators who identified with her. There were also a lot of comments that indulged in empty acts of self flagellation and commiserated about how miserable a breed Indian men are.
The counter post written by another girl, who was also part of the trip, argued that “RoseChasm” was in the wrong to have resorted to blanket statements that made all men in India predatory and potential rapists. The comments on this veered towards a sort of vilification of the first writer “RoseChasm” for stereotyping and for pushing the argument towards a racist attack on Indians. The argument was that rape and sexual harassment happens in the US too. The second author, in her defense of the trip, did make some valid points on mass stereotyping . Her view on negative typecasting and judging a whole people based on the actions of a few argues for informed awareness and to not be led into the pitfalls of racist arguments.
These posts come at a time when foreign travelers, especially women are being warned to be extremely careful or worse not make the trip at all. More than one foreigner has been raped in the past year and gruesome stories of rape and sexual violence dominate the media. Meanwhile, justice for the Delhi Rape victim is still being dealt. This is as good a time as any to figure out what we really need to talk about when it comes to sexual harassment, rape and sexual violence in our country.
Rape and sexual harassment are a potent weapon often wielded to ensure control by a more dominant species. For a victim, man or woman to be caught in that moment of fear and vulnerability when the most private of emotions is being exploited and your body is being treated callously and violently is a horrifying experience. It is worse when the screams you think the world should hear, remain as echoes within your head.
Governments, all over have recognized this pain and torture of being sexually harassed and moved to pass laws that acknowledges a persons right to their body and a personal space that they can control. The minutiae differ, but the basic idea remains. In a country with efficient law and order, a person can turn to the justice system in the event of sexual harassment and expect some measure of empathy from the system for failing to protect the victim and for not ensuring the security of the victim. Adequate punishment for the perpetrator of the crime is also to be expected. The law and its urgency in responding to these cases by themselves should and have often proved to be enough of a deterrent to the crime.
That rape and sexual harassment exists everywhere is recognized. The Steubenville case in US was one of the worst ever cases to come out of America that showcased the very deep and little acknowledged “Rape Culture” that exists in the US. The statistics that come out of the US are quite damning for the country too. The warning that we give to our daughters are given to girls there too. That women have to constantly look over their shoulder and always be aware and careful is sadly as universal a message as exercise everyday and take your vitamins. However, to compare the rape culture in the US to that in India is however misguided and a desperate attempt to universalize the nature of the crime and to, in some convoluted way, justify the existence of sexually motivated violence in the country. US has more incidents of rape and sexual harassment by relatives, friends and acquaintances. In India, rape and harassment within our homes is just a starting point. The severity and deeply rooted nature of the problem means we can’t afford to be lackadaisical about our attitude towards women and sexual harassment or take comfort in the fact that rape happens everywhere.
We have to start by examining our language and the way we talk about men and women. In spite of the furor and disgust around the word “eve teasing”, this despicable form of harassment is still seen as a rite of passage in many places in India. Boys who are not yet men have been repeatedly exposed to systems that tells them that wolf whistling, singing songs, name calling and stalking a woman is the easiest and most heroic way to feel masculine. Movies, songs, books, repeatedly exploit the system where it normal is having a boy stalk a girl until she agrees to fall in “love”. Girls who are not yet women are bombarded with images that tell them they should be flattered and this “eve-teasing” is but an acknowledgement of their feminine charms. We have, in India, managed to for so long silence our rape culture and have also successfully spun narratives that sexual harassment like these have become an enduring, and charming memory of our college days.This has been dialed down in recent years, but our criminal and justice system has not reached that point where this can be deterred nor have we talked or explored enough the impact of this crime on women.
We have reached a stage in our lives that a woman cannot walk alone or with company, be out in a crowd for a party, travel alone or with company, wait for buses or autos alone in the evening, board buses, auto, taxis without protection, drink or dance at parties, or worse even stay at home alone without fear of being raped, sexually groped, harassed, mauled or abused. Nothing, absolutely nothing in our law or in our criminal justice system deters these men from doing this repeatedly. Nothing, absolutely nothing in our law or in our criminal justice system gives victims the confidence that they will be given their due.
We have also in moments of incredible callousness and apathy led ourselves to perpetuate a rape culture that makes men and women who are raped, victims two times over. They are first raped and violated sexually and then society continues the violation by stressing on the idea that the victim brought it upon themselves or they deserved it. The Delhi rape and the many more publicized cases before that has brought out the ugly specter of slut-shaming and justifying rape to the forefront. The questions raised about a victims character and more are justified in the halls of the supreme court and laws diluted even as women ministers are called names in the halls of our parliament. The perverted nature of our society and our justice systems and the terrible backwardness that ministers have regarding the status of a women are a black mark on our democracy.
While the rest of the world seek to build a security system that would enable women to enjoy the privileges of being an equal citizen, we have consistently taken steps to secure the women herself. Self flagellation starts sounding trite and useless if nothing is ever done on the ground. We don’t have a system that acts, we have a system that reacts and slowly at that. We can vilify foreigners as much as we want when they talk about sexual harassment, we can support the people who insist that there is more to our country if only they could ignore the hand creeping up their waist. Truth though is by not pressing for more action, by being silent when talking should count, by agitating only when it suits our purpose, we have dug our own quagmire. Both the women were right. The psychological impact of sexual harassment or even the threat of rape can be demoralizing, but mass negative stereotyping does not help. What will help is internalization of how much we have contributed to this culture. The privileged few in the top have had the luxury of not suffering the ignominy of standing in a public bus and being stripped by half a dozen eyes. They choose not to know, and we have chosen to not talk about it.
We need to start talking now. We need to talk in a measured, informed and systematic way about rape and its consequences, in our homes, in our schools and universities. We need to educate men and women, girls and boys about sexual harassment, rape, gender violence, and equality.
We also need to start demanding reforms at all levels. We need to acknowledge people when they say they have been raped or abused. We need to reform ourselves to see sexual harassment and rape and not pretend to ignore it. We need reforms starting from the police, to the judiciary. We need reforms that will not force us to choose molesters and rapists as ministers. We needs reforms that will not force women into glass houses as a means of protection. We need reforms that can ensure a rape no matter what the situation or who the rapist is acknowledged and action taken. Protests and meaningless agitation on social networks will not and have not helped. We need to sit, talk and quietly demand.
You won’t like any of them
No one really knows how much the Food Security Bill (or Act, if it becomes law) will cost the exchequer. Given the way the legislation is framed, it is impossible to make an accurate assessment of its costs. That doesn’t mean we are short of proponents who argue that it should be (or, worse, normatively must be) affordable. We also have a few opponents who argue that it’s more expensive that what the proponents suggest. We’re talking about numbers whose order of magnitude is in the range of single-digit percentages of GDP.
The scheme is open-ended: there’s no expiry date, no sunset clause. It covers around two-thirds of the population—even those who are not really needy. This means that the outlays will have to increase as the population grows.
Obviously, finding the money to keep this scheme going year after year will be a big problem. There’s worse news though—this programme is over and above other open-ended spending commitments like the NREGA, fuel and fertiliser subsidies which are in the vicinity of 2%-3% of GDP. These are the explicit subsidies. We will not even attempt to calculate the implicit subsidies and opportunity costs in this post.
Many of these schemes work such that the subsidy load will increase when growth slows down. In other words, at such times, subsidies as a fraction of GDP will increase—tightening the government’s budget constraints and reducing its fiscal space.
The nature of these schemes is such that governments will be scared to cut them during times of distress, forget ending them altogether. So how will the Indian government finance the gargantuan entitlement economy and what might be the consequences?
First, through new and higher taxes. This has already happened. Didn’t you notice the ‘education cess’? Didn’t you notice the higher marginal taxes on high income earners? Expect more of the ‘Good Cause Cesses/Surcharges’, a fiscal sleight of hand to raise new taxes by citing a plausible good cause. (See this post on education cess for more). As the economic and fiscal situation gets worse, expect higher tax rates lower down the income pyramid. Corporate profits are also an easy target—so they too will be taxed in increasingly creative and extortionary ways.
The consequence of higher taxes are lower investments and higher tax evasion. Lower investment means lower growth. Higher taxes when you are already in a low growth phase is a recipe to stay in the low growth phase longer than otherwise.
The second way for the government to raise resources is through borrowing. It can borrow money abroad (and incur foreign debt) and borrow money from the domestic market. The former puts the Indian government at the mercy of its foreign lenders to the extent of its borrowings. If you do not recall the days of the 1960s-80s, when India was mired in foreign debt, ask someone who does.
The Indian government can borrow from Indian citizens and corporates through the bond market and other instruments (a new -Vikas Patra can be invented quite easily). While it transfers money into the government’s budget, it crowds out the private sector. Interest rates will rise because of the large government demand for funds, making it harder for entrepreneurs and businesses to raise funds to expand their economic activity. This too puts the brakes on economic growth. Higher interest rates during an economic slowdown will prolong it.
The third way for the government to raise resources is to get the Reserve Bank of India to print more money. This has the effect of increasing inflation and depreciating the value of the rupee vis-a-vis other currencies. Higher inflation makes people poorer. It makes poorer people even more poorer (because they do not own assets like real estate, shares or foreign exchange that can weather inflation). A drop in the value of the rupee will make it tougher to service foreign debt, both for the government and for private firms. If the rise in exports on the account of a cheaper currency does not outpace the higher cost of imports, the current account deficit will grow. It could even result in a balance of payments crisis, like the one seen in 1991.
The fourth way is what is termed an “austerity drive”—for the government to cut expenses. Because politics will not allow cutting back on salaries, pensions, subsidies and entitlements, the government will cut two things: office expenses and capital expenditure. So you’ll probably get to see ministers photographed coming to work on bicycles and civil servants working without air-conditioning. Other than schadenfreude, these measures achieve nothing substantial. Cutting down on capital expenditure—roads, power plants, defence equipment—does create fiscal space, but at the cost of future growth.
Where does this leave us? Well, at the edge of a vicious cycle of low growth, high inflation, low investment, higher unemployment, higher taxes, greater evasion and higher out-migration of talented individuals and firms. We’ve been there before. It’s unconscionable that we are being taken there again.
The only way to avoid this vicious cycle is to suspend entitlements and rekindle growth. It is unlikely that growth can be rekindled without sustained pro-growth measures: greater liberalisation, simpler taxation and coherent economic governance. The Delhi Straitjacket must be dismantled.
Related: INI9 Conversation with V Anantha Nageswaran on the falling Indian Rupee.Tweet
An article in live science points to evidence of three millennia old trade between South India and the Israelites.
Researchers analyzing the contents of 27 flasks from five archaeological sites in Israel that date back around 3,000 years have found that 10 of the flasks contain cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, indicating that the spice was stored in these flasks. At this time cinnamon was found in the Far East with the closest places to Israel being southern India and Sri Lanka located at least 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 kilometers) away. A form of it was also found in the interior of Africa, but does not match the material found in these flasks.[Evidence of 3,000-Year-Old Cinnamon Trade Found in Israel]
Cinnamon was one spice that was a used for embalming dead kings as well as for manufacturing perfumes and holy oils. One line in that article mentions that this discovery raises the intriguing possibility of long distance trade from the Far East. The article also mentions that this was not direct trade and could have happened using intermediaries.
In fact this long distance trade is not intriguing at all as there has been plenty of evidence for commodities from India appearing in far away places, even further back in in time. Archaeologists in Dhuwelia, a seasonal hunting site in Eastern Jordan found cotton thread embedded in lime-plaster dating to the fourth millennium BCE. Cotton is not native to Arabia and that particular species could have come from only one place in the world: Baluchistan, where it has been cultivated since the fifth millennium. Queen Puabi, who lived in Iraq during the Mature Harappan period (2600 – 1900 BCE) had Harappan carnelian beads in her tomb. Following her, Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279 BCE) boasted about ships from Meluhha, mostly identified with this Indus region), docked in the bay. This suggests that ships from the Indus region made journeyed all the way to Iraq about 5000 years back.
Burial sites in third millennium BCE Mesopotamia had shell-made lamps and cups produced from a conch shell found only in India; Early Dynastic Mesopotamians were consumers of the Harappan carnelian bead. By 2000 BCE, the trade between Africa and India intensified. While crops moved from Africa to India, genetic studies have shown that the zebu cattle went from India via Arabia to Africa. Around 1200 BCE, among the dried fruits kept in the nostrils of the mummy of Ramses II was pepper which came from South India. If you are familiar with the trading hubs of the old world (1, 2), there is nothing unusual about this trade from both North and South India.
- 5000 year old cows By 2000 BCE, the the Harappan maritime activity shifted to Gujarat. Around that time the trade between Africa and India intensified. While crops moved from Africa to India, genetic studies...
- The Israeli Connection The largest number of tourists to Jammu and Kashmir are from Israel and Muslims in the Kashmir Valley even started writing boards in Hebrew to attract them. One of the...
- Recreating an ancient trade route According to Romila Thapar, the trade via the maritime route between the west coast of India and west Asia go back to the third millennium B.C. At that time the...
- Trading Hubs of the Old World – Part 1 Lime plaster fragments found in Dhuwelia (Eastern Jordan), around 4000 BCE had remains of a cotton fibre attached to it. The only place from where that particular sample of cotton...
- First farmers of South India Pick any book on ancient India and you will find pages and pages on the origins and decline of the Harappan civilization. You will also find details on the Aryan-Dravidian...
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The New York Times and Washington Post carried stories today (August 20, 2013) about Saudi Arabia emerging as the main donor to Egypt in the latest crisis. A pan Arab fund (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait & UAE) of $12 billion is to replace $3-5 billion that Egypt receives in foreign aid primarily from the US but also from Europe.
The articles refer to the Saudi aid as a quest to retain regional power relative to rivals Qatar and Turkey. They also refer to a ‘crossing’ wires on the Saudi relationship with the US.
With the US slowly withdrawing from the Middle East and with the prospect of the US dependency on Arab oil declining with the natural gas boom in the US, this type of action is likely to be the norm rather than the exception in the future.
The AK party scored a seminal victory over the strong Turkish Military only last month. In the famous Ergenekon case, former Military Chief General Ilker Basbug was awarded a life sentence. This is a very important development, and in my view, signifies a new era in which the dominant power has switched from the Kemalist Military to the Islamic AK party.
Qatar has had a very pushy foreign policy for the last ten years. It was the most visible supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood with a $5 billion financial assistance package announced as soon the Muslim Brotherhood lead by Mohammed Morsi was sworn in. With the military overthrow of Morsi and political losses in Syria (Chairmanship of the National Coalition has gone to the Saudi backed candidate) Qatar is on the back foot.
Saudi Arabia, usually the quiet operator, is taking a very high profile lead in Egypt’s case. Both King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Faisal have been vocal critics of the Muslim Brotherhood and strong supporters of the overthrow.
While the newspaper chatter is about Arab allies crossing the US, it appears to me that the US is having the best of the rivals. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are strong US allies, and the US can now deflect ‘democratic’ opposition by cutting Egypt aid but ensuring that Egypt continues to get aid and more importantly from a US point of view, remains subject to influence.
India needs to stay on top of an evolving dynamic in the Middle East. Historical and rigid perspectives should give way to live analysis and an open strategic mindset . Our best current tactic may be to be friendly to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia while they duke it out for regional domination. As the new player in town, Qatar has been reaching out to India already, so this may be an easier game to play. The relationship with the Saudis is more complex with several cross currents, positive ones like trade, business, and labour versus less positive intersections like fundamentalism, kashmir and India’s evolving relationship with Israel.
The whole of the Middle East is in the midst of a ‘regime’ shift. India would do well to study this shift and stay on top of it to further its national interest.
Narayan Ramachandran is Fellow for Economics, Inclusion & Governance at the Takshashila Institution.