According to the website’s developers, around Rs 6,500 crore is disbursed annually by the Union government to all the states that gets diverted due to lack of awareness the students.
Dr Anshu Kataria, chairman of the Aryan group, said, “The objective behind launching the website is to make the students know about their rights. Due to lack of understanding about the schemes many students fail to avail the benefits of these scholarships.”
He added that there are more than 6 lakh SC/ST students in Bihar and Jharkhand who are ignorant about these government schemes and are not getting their benefits owing to which the funds lapse.
Scholarships are to fund higher studies after Class X. Several of the scholarships come in also for students who want to study abroad.
Kataria said former IPS officer and Team Anna member Kiran Bedi was associated with the Aryan Group of Colleges and she came up with the idea to start this kind of a website that will help students about the schemes.
Noni Raja did just what she was supposed to do. She married when she was 20, in 2004, and gave birth to a son a year later. In 2006, she had a daughter. And a year after that brought the second son she needed to fulfill her obligations in the eyes of her in-laws, farmers with a tiny plot in this hardscrabble hamlet in the Indian heartland.
Then Noni Raja did something rather less expected. She got up one day, caught a bus into Mahoba, the nearest town, and presented herself at the hospital for a tubal ligation.
She spent a couple of hours recovering, took the bus home and informed her startled in-laws that she had had “the operation.”
Years later, her mother-in-law is still affronted. “I didn’t like it,” Kiran Devi says as the two women sit in the spring sun on their front stoop. “She went against our wishes.”
At the time, Ms. Raja wanted the best for the children she already had, which meant ensuring there would be no more.
Being surgically sterilized seems an extreme form of contraception for such a young woman, but India’s approach to family planning left her with no other choice.
Even worse, her defiance would come back to haunt her.
India began grappling with the magnitude of its population even before it became independent in 1947; it was labelled a crisis in the 1970s when the government of Indira Gandhi carried out mandatory sterilizations, en masse.
But since those dark days, the country has emerged as a leader in the field, adopting the language of “reproductive health and rights.”
That means, in the words of the World Health Organization, that India is committed to ensuring its people have “the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so” – and that their decision be “free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”
This official position – which contrasts starkly with China’s strict one-child policy – has won India international plaudits; last year, it was invited to co-chair a prestigious international summit on family planning held in London, and feted for its progressive approach.
Yet spend some time talking to women in Kamrora – and dozens of villages like it in the “Hindi belt,” the poor states that span India’s middle bulge and are home to about 450 million people – and you learn something that never came up at the meeting in Britain: The policy this country has on paper is markedly different than what happens in real life.
The reality is harsh and repressive and targets the most marginalized, often the lowest-caste, women. It is also far from effective in areas with the highest birth rates, paradoxically driving the rate up and making poverty worse in the process.
Beijing has been widely criticized for limiting families to only one child, but India has adopted many aspects of its policy. With 1.2 billion people and on course to overtake China as the planet’s most populous country in about a decade, India is taking steps many consider nearly as harsh – but cloaking them in the far more benign-sounding “two-child norm.”
And despite all the government rhetoric about how its citizens have choices and condoms are brought right to village doorsteps, the truth is that, in the northern half of the country, the Indian health service consistently delivers only one form of contraception in the rural areas, where 70 per cent of the population lives.
That is tubal ligation, often performed at “camps,” where dozens of women are sterilized in a day; more than half of them are 25 or younger, and they are often illiterate and unclear about what the surgery means.
Unlike many women, Noni Raja knew exactly what she was doing when she got on the bus to the city: She has been trained in family planning, which she is charge of delivering in Kamrora, and is responsible for distributing a government-funded supply of condoms and oral contraceptives. It is the only access to birth control people here have, as most cannot afford a trip to the city. Yet, in a situation typical of India’s badly managed social schemes, it has been two years since Ms. Raja last received anything to dole out. Today, her kit contains one desiccated packet of prophylactics and an expired pregnancy test.
So, when a village woman confides that her in-laws have given her permission to stop having babies, Ms. Raja knows that the only option is sterilization. To make sure that she promotes it, the government pays her $3 for each woman she brings in – and, if she does not deliver as many as the government expects, she stands to lose the only wage-paying job in Kamrora, other than breaking stones in the quarry.
Ms. Raja is the best-educated woman in the village – she finished 10th grade before her health-worker training – but she says with a sigh that it’s sometimes hard to explain the surgery to her neighbours. Research from the Centre for Health and Social Justice in Delhi shows that state governments aggressively target women from the poorest aboriginal and Dalit (once known as “untouchable”) communities.
Those who undergo the operation may not understand what is being done, but they know that there can be severe consequences if they do not comply with the two-child norm.
“We’re on the track to be just like China,” says Leena Uppal, an earnest activist who co-ordinates the National Coalition Against Two-Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies. “It’s entirely coercive – for the women, for the health worker, who will lose her job if she doesn’t bring in enough people. The whole focus is on closing off wombs, of making sure these women don’t have any more babies.”
China’s one-child campaign, adopted in 1979, forced women to have abortions if they conceived again without state approval, or fined couples heavily, especially in urban areas. India’s policy involves no such direct punishments, but its impact can be harsh in a place such as Kamrora.
Parents with more than two children are denied access to everything from a subsidy for babies delivered in hospital and school bursaries to the right to run for political office. A law now being considered would deny them access to subsidized food – a tactic The Times of India, the country’s largest newspaper, recently reported, favourably, on its front page.
The problem, says Abhijit Das, an obstetrician who runs the Centre for Health and Social Justice, is that, while the government’s policy has changed since Mrs. Gandhi’s era, when the rural poor were seen as strangling the country’s chances of progress, its mindset has not. There is a genuine commitment to ending poverty and a sincere desire to see families better able to care for their children. Yet officials based in air-conditioned offices in the capital still believe that ignorant rural poor people are dragging the country down by mindlessly having babies, and simply do not know what is best.
“The construction of the population problem is a middle-class creation,” Dr. Das says, “and it has caste and class distinctions: The ‘wrong’ people are the ones who have eight kids.”
In this, India is not unlike the West, where there is public debate about the higher birth rate of “welfare moms,” aboriginal people and immigrants. The idea is entrenched, and it results in policy entirely disconnected from the reality of life in a place such as Kamrora, where families have many good reasons for having more than two children.
First, mortality rates remain high – children, as Ms. Raja will tell you starkly, die here. Almost one in 10 do not live to see their fifth birthday. Subsistence agriculture remains the only employment option, so the young are needed to work in the fields and later, in the absence of any real social-welfare net, to care for their parents in old age.
And couples have children because there is no way not to have them: Those unwilling to undergo sterilization – newlyweds, for example – have access to no other form of birth control.
The two-child norm flies in the face of the idea of “reproductive rights,” Ms. Uppal notes. “What is a more basic right than deciding how many children to have – and when to have them?”
It also punishes women when the decision is not really theirs to make. Ms. Raja’s family expected her to have a third child, but when she did, she became ineligible for a central government allowance to provide extra food while pregnant and breastfeeding (a policy supposedly aimed at poor, Dalit women like her). As well, she lost the right to run for the local council, and her daughter was disqualified from a bursary program designed to boost girls’ education.
The policy is enforced by local-level officials, often haphazardly. As part of her health-worker job, Ms. Raja has succeeded in obtaining the bursary for having a baby in a maternity centre for a number of women with more than two children, even though it is theoretically denied. At the same time, she says, other women in Kamrora have been denied a state bonus for mothers who have daughters – a measure designed to discourage sex-selective abortion, an especially grim side effect of the two-child policy. The desire for sons, to carry on a family name and inherit land and assets, is so strong that families may abort girls to get the two boys they want and stay within the limit.
India already has one of the world’s more sharply skewed sex ratios. As in China, millions of women are “missing” from the normal population balance. And yet the mandarins in charge of its population policy reject any comparison with China.
“There is no grounds to call [Indian policy] repressive,” says S.K. Sikdar, who heads the family-planning division at the national Ministry of Health in Delhi. “We learned our lesson [in the 1970s]. … This isn’t a population issue any more; it’s a mother-and-child health intervention.”
Energetic and driven, Dr. Sikdar insists that “we don’t have a two-child norm.” He says that the only message to women from government is about the benefit of having children later and at least two years apart.
“Our only intervention is to give people free access to [child] spacing. … I know our women are quite happy with what they have,” he says, adding that the government has had great success in delivering condoms and oral contraceptives directly to rural doorsteps – that kit of Ms. Raja should be replenished every month.
Many of the more punitive policies in place today have been set by state governments, but the two-child norm also applies to a number of benefits, such as nutritional support for pregnant women, that come from the national government. Dr. Sikdar acknowledges this, but he says that “low-performing states” (the poorest ones with highest fertility) are exempt.
That news has not reached Kamrora – or dozens of other areas where poor women, often Dalit, are denied access to school meals, clean-water schemes, the female-child bonus and the maternity-home payment because they have more than two children. All state family-planning programs are run on money from the central government.
A.R. Nanda, who was once in charge of population policy for India and established its family planning department, says that not only is there a two-child policy, it was explicitly borrowed from China: “The idea of withholding benefits comes from
China … ‘If China can do it.’”
After taking its hard line in 1979, China saw its population growth fall sharply, and many in the Indian government were impressed. But they failed to grasp the basics of population science, Mr. Nanda says: “The highest drop in Chinese population came before the one-child policy; it came from equitable access to education, health care, including family planning, and a rise in income” following the communist revolution. From 1952 to 1979, China’s fertility rate was more than cut in half, falling to 2.75 children per woman from 6.5.
“If you want to emulate, emulate the positive,” Mr. Nanda says. “We ought to focus on equity.”
In the 1990s, he oversaw the adoption of a rights-based approach – only to see it quickly and quietly usurped by politicians who still believed that the key was to move fast and stop the “backward classes” from breeding.
India’s population is rising, but because of what demographers call “momentum growth.” Sixty per cent of Indians are of reproducing age. Even if tomorrow India attained “replacement level” fertility – if people had only enough children to replace themselves when they died – the country’s overall population would keep growing because the number of people being born will exceed those dying for several decades.
Despite alarms raised regularly in the media, fertility rates are, in fact, falling, and have been for two decades. In 21 Indian states and territories – including all of the more prosperous south – average fertility is at or below replacement level of 2.1 children per couple. The problem would take care of itself, says Dr. Das of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, if people in the high-fertility areas had access to jobs, education and, in the short term, condoms, birth-control pills and intrauterine devices.
Sterilization actually pushes population growth, he notes. “The largest amount of reproduction now is young women having their first and second children; sterilization does nothing to change this.
“The message [from government] is, ‘Have your children quickly and terminate your reproduction.’ When you give that message, you speed up the rate of delivery and you speed up momentum.” You wind up with even more reproducing adults.
When India’s policy was overhauled after Mrs. Gandhi, eliminating government-set targets for contraception and sterilization was seen as key to being less repressive.
But bureaucrats and health officials did little more than change their terminology.
“Targets and camps are back with a vengeance,” according to Mr. Nanda, saying he has seen officials who meet their targets handsomely rewarded by, for example, having a government car at their disposal.
In 2011, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh, announced a drive to sterilize 750,000 people a year. Those who underwent the surgery or brought in new recruits were entered to win prizes, including washing machines, DVD players, gun licences and a Nano, the ultra-low-cost Indian car.
Often sterilizations are done at breathtaking speed, with a doctor performing as many as 35 a day; rates of failure and complications are much higher than the international norm.
Dr. Sikdar, as chief of national policy, says the camps are supposed to take place in medical facilities, and organizers of those that don’t face criminal prosecution. But last year in Kaparfora in the state of Bihar, a doctor sterilized 53 women lying on benches in a school without electricity, and charges have yet to be laid.
Research by Dr. Das’s centre consistently finds that it is women from the poorest communities, usually aboriginal people and those at the bottom of the caste system, who are targeted when a region needs to reach its quota. They may have no idea that the procedure is permanent, he says.
Navin Kumar, the health information officer who supervises Kamrora, says the state government gave him a target (for the 875,000 residents of Mahoba district) last year of 4,100 women and 400 men.
And yet, Dr. Sikdar insists: “We do not give targets – we have … ‘estimated levels of achievement’ … It’s a management tool. A doctor has to make a plan based on numbers.”
If local officials, such as Mr. Kumar, are being told otherwise, and health workers, such as Ms. Raja, are pushed to meet quotas, he says, it’s a local aberration: A district politician may be keen to boost his reputation and “if, in his over-enthusiasm, he does something …”
Anjali Sen, director for South Asia with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, says India’s policy was drafted with the best of intentions, but she does not buy Dr. Sikdar’s claim that there are no targets. State family-planning budgets come from Delhi, she explains, and “cash incentives are tacit acceptance [of targets] from the central government.”
Ms. Uppal, the activist, says national officials could easily make sure the system is target-free: “They’re the cops.”
Dr. Sikdar says India is launching a new incentive program under which 860,000 health workers such as Ms. Raja will be paid $10 for every woman persuaded to delay her first child for two years after marriage, and another $10 if she waits two years before having a second.
Left unexplained is just how the women are supposed to avoid getting pregnant.
Certainly no one is relying on husbands to sort it out. During the Indira Gandhi era, most sterilizations were performed on men – there was no way to do a tubal ligation without invasive surgery, and female doctors, whom women patients prefer, were rare.
Vasectomies are still less complicated, but 95 per cent of the operations are now on women. Mr. Kumar says Mahoba district achieved 80 per cent of its target for women last year – but sterilized none of the 400 men.
There is a widespread belief, rarely challenged by doctors, that sterilization weakens a man and “robs him of his powers,” as women in Kamrora say.
All of the government outreach about family planning – all the home visits and chat circles Ms. Raja organizes – focus on women. But ask the women if they actually make the decisions about children and birth control, and they burst into laughter.
Even Dr. Sikdar acknowledges the problem – he oversees a $20-million program that distributes free condoms to women who have “no control over fertility.”
Or as Ms. Uppal puts it: “These completely disempowered women take condoms home to their husbands as if somehow they are going to be able to convince them to use them.”
Dr. Das says the service delivery will not change as long as policy springs from a belief that the “wrong” people are having children.
“Our development priority is not to reduce family size, it’s to raise income. We’re not ashamed of the inequalities, of low education attainment, of poverty – why are we ashamed of population growth?”
Noni Raja has thought a lot about choices, and who gets to make them. Two years after her bold decision to have a tubal ligation, she received a brutal reminder of her place in the family hierarchy.
In 2008, her younger son died at the age of 1 from pneumonia that the local health centre failed to treat. She lost her bold, chattering boy – and something else. Her in-laws were unwilling to accept a daughter-in-law they felt had failed in her most important responsibility.
So they scraped together a small fortune, and took Ms. Raja to Jhansi, a city about eight hours away by bus, where they paid a surgeon to reverse her tubal ligation – a rare and complicated surgery.
The operation went badly. “I nearly bled to death,” Ms. Raja recalls flatly. But she came home and, two years later, produced that mandatory second son. Her place in the family was once more secure.
Today, that last baby is everyone’s mop-haired pet; mother and grandmother compete over whose lap he will lounge in.
Ms. Devi is defensive – but unrepentant about the extreme lengths they went to in the quest for another boy. “All the neighbours said it was not done, to have only one son,” she explains. “We were under pressure.”
The epic proportions of the illegal mining scam that was uncovered by the Karnataka Lokayukta in its 2011 report may actually have been just one act of a much larger, more complex and multi-layered drama.
There is now new evidence to suggest that the Lokayukta’s final report on illegal mining – a political game-changer that sent the powerful to jail and catalysed a regime change in the state – is just one part of the mining story. A six-month-long investigation by The Hindu, with help from whistleblowers in the Railways, the Karnataka Commercial Taxes Department and the CBI, points to losses to the State exchequer between January 2006 and December 2010 that are, at the very least, Rs. 1 lakh crore or eight times the estimated figure given in the Lokayukta report. The investigation also shows that the State lost Rs. 2,000 crore in commercial taxes.
The new information suggests that the dominant narrative on illegal mining, namely, that illegal ore was mainly exported to China to feed an infrastructure boom triggered by the Beijing Olympics, is actually a very partial telling of the mining scam story. The new data with The Hindu furthers the depth and reach of the mining scam, a part of which was so exhaustively covered in the Lokayukta report.
Some our central findings are as follows.
The Lokayukta report says that 12.57 crore tonnes of iron ore was exported overseas from Karnataka between 2006 and 2010. However, documents with The Hindu reveal that nearly 35 crore tonnes of ore was transported out of Bellary in the same period. If one were to deduct the 12.57 crore tonnes exported (as per Lokayukta report), the remaining the 22.43 crore tonnes was sold in the domestic market.
The Lokayukta report estimates the losses to the exchequer at Rs. 12,228 crore. The organisation’s calculation was based on the fact that the government had given permits for extraction for only 9.58 crores tonnes of ore. Subtracted from the 12.57 crore tonnes exported, it meant that 2.98 crore tonnes of ore was illegally mined and exported. The Lokayukta estimated the price of ore exported at an average of Rs. 4,103 per tonne.
What explains the divergence between the findings of the Lokayukta and those of The Hindu? The Lokayukta has relied on Customs Department data on ore shipments exported from 10 ports in Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh between 2006 and 2010, to calculate the quantum of ore that left the country.
By contrast, The Hindu has looked at the total quantity of ore transported out of Bellary by road and rail. Railway documents show that 20 crore tonnes of iron ore was transported out of Bellary from six railway stations and 14 railway sidings between 2006 and 2010. Of this, nearly 19 crore tonnes of ore was marked “for export”.
From data sources in the CBI and Commercial Taxes Department, we know that lorries carried at least 14 crore tonnes of ore out of Bellary by road in the nine months between September 2009 and June 2010. “This was when the Bellary [Reddy] brothers had rebelled against B.S. Yeddyurappa’s government. The rebellion was a smokescreen to intensify illegal mining. At least 20,000 trucks were leaving Bellary each day in that period,” a CBI official told The Hindu.
Leaving out these nine months, on each day between 2006 and 2010 an average of 1,000 lorries left Bellary, with an average load of 32 tonnes of ore per truck. This adds nearly another 4 crore tonnes to the overall tally.
Therefore nearly 35 crore tonnes of iron ore was transported from Bellary in four years time by lorries and railway wagons.
Officers in the Commercial Taxes Department and the CBI concur on the point that 35 crore tonnes of ore could not have been exported from the ports near Bellary. “All the 10 ports [from where stolen ore was being exported] put together simply don’t have the capacity to handle such massive traffic,” said one Commercial Taxes officer.
These sources agree with the Lokayukta report to the extent that only 12.57 tonnes was actually exported. “On this count, the Lokayukta report is accurate as it is Customs Department data on which the report is based,” said an officer.
However, the remaining 22.43 crore tonnes of ore, although marked “for export”, was supplied domestically, he says. This, the officer claims, was done to evade commercial taxes.
Deep inside the Saranda sal forest, Thalkobad lies at the core of what was a CPI (Maoist) “liberated zone” in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district along the Odisha border. Thalkobad, along with 24 other villages, was reclaimed by the Indian state after a massive military operation — Operation Anaconda-I in August 2011 to destroy the CPI (Maoist) Eastern Regional Bureau and several training camps inside Saranda. The village bears scars of conflict — a high machaan used by the then rebel government of the village is intact but the secondary school building the Maoists took cover in to return fire at the CRPF is gone. The rebels blew up the school before escaping.
Saranda is a “laboratory for how to consolidate on security successes,” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, in a recent interview. Mr. Ramesh launched the Rs. 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) in 56 villages here in 2011 and has since announced similar plans for rebel-controlled zones in Latehar and Bokaro districts recovered through recent paramilitary operations. Two years on, Saranda villagers are still awaiting schools and health centres, even as mining companies have lined up to invest in the newly secured forests.
In Thalkobad, the adivasi villagers recall the pitched battle that August: most families fled to Karampada 13 km away for a month, 18-year-old Munna Soya and his father were taken by the Central Reserve Police Force in a helicopter to Ranchi on suspicion, detained and beaten in several police camps and later released, 50-year-old Jarda Honhaga was beaten so severely that he died in the hospital. From the 25 villages, 37 persons were arrested, more than 100 were detained.
The CRPF returned six months later bearing sarees, blankets, and farm implements. In the last few months, the villagers have watched the construction of a security camp next to their village, and then a road connecting Karampada to Jaraikela. Some have found temporary work with the road contractor and in MGNREGA. Others fear new mines will be opened in the forest. “If mines open our land will be ruined. The river will have only red water. We are not literate. How many of us will find jobs?” said Binodini Purti who cooked meals at the secondary school that was blown up.
Red area to ‘Lal paani’
Almost all the villages in Saranda struggle for drinking water. The forest is the catchment of three large rivers — Koina, Subarnrekha, and Damodar, and several streams flow through it. But there are 12 large mining companies operating in 200 sq km of this 800 sq km forest which holds one-fourth of India’s iron-ore reserves. The Ho adivasi living in the forest first launched ‘Lal Paani Andolan’ against the pollution of the streams from effluents and surface-run off in 1978 at Noamundi and their resistance has continued. “All 56 villages are in need of potable water. There is a problem of high iron content in the water,” notes the Saranda Plan outline of October 2011.
Thalkobad, Tirilposi, Baliba lie downstream of Steel Authority of India (SAIL)’s crushing plant at Kiriburu where ore is washed and crushed into uniform pieces. At Kiriburu, SAIL’s Rs. 4.23 crore-slime beneficiation machine meant to extract ore from the water that is discharged back into the river does not work. “It has not worked even once since it was inaugurated in 2010. When the inspection teams come, the guesthouses are full and the orchestra comes from Jamshedpur,” says a SAIL official. SAIL’s mines in Saranda accounted for over 80 per cent of its 15 million tonne production last year.
Downstream, villagers dig shallow pits, a few inches deep by the river to collect drinking water. Farms in Thalkobad, Karampada, Navgaon, Bandhgaon, Mirchgada, Bahada, Kalaita, Jumbaiburu have been ruined by the ore-laden water. “I cannot say about the beneficiation plant but the Kiriburu plant is being modernised. The river is polluted because private mining companies wash 200-250 dumpers carrying iron, oil and grease everyday in the river. I check them when I spot them,” said Dilip Bhargava SAIL General Manager (Mines).
More mining leases
Since January, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has recommended clearance for opencast mining in Saranda forest in areas that form the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve to three private firms. JSW Steel owned by Sajjan Jindal got lease of 998.7 hectares in Ankua forest division, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) led by Congressman and industrialist Naveen Jindal got 512 hectares in Ghatkuri forest. The approval of 138.8 hectares forestland in Ghatkuri to Rungta Mines Limited was nearly completed last month. There are 155 proposals on the anvil for leases in 500 sq km — nearly two-thirds of the forest.
On paper, the proposals must first be recommended from the state government. “We have little say in the recommendations,” says a senior forest official. “There are over 600 elephants in Saranda. More mining may disturb their migration intensifying their attacks on villages,” says state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.K. Malhotra in Ranchi. A proposal by the department of forest to notify 63199 hectares forest in Saranda as inviolate is pending since 2006.
Ironically, the recent approvals to private firms are riding on the back of clearance given to SAIL in February 2011 to mine iron ore in Chiria in Saranda by Mr. Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh, then Minister of State for Environment and Forests had overturned the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant approval to SAIL citing the Public Sector Unit (PSU)’s “Rs. 18,000 crore IPO on the anvil”. Private mining firms have cited the proximity of Ankua and Ghatkuri to SAIL’s Chiria mines to argue they too be granted permits in the already “broken,” what is no longer pristine, forest. Mr. Ramesh in 2011 said that in Saranda, he was in favour of mining only by the PSU but there was no executive order to back this or grant it legal status.
As the government has issued a slew of mining permits, the Minister in interviews to the media asked for a 10-year moratorium on mining in Saranda. “A gap of 10 years will allow the situation to stabilise, will allow building trust among the locals, and allow time to train and educate local people to take advantage of the economic opportunities that mining throws up but there seems to be a desire on the part of the government to allow mining in Saranda,” said Mr. Ramesh to The Hindu. There has been no public reaction from the UPA to Mr. Ramesh’s suggestion.
No new schools, or health centres
While in Thalkobad where the secondary school building was blown up by Maoists, Surendra Purti, a high school graduate from the village volunteers to teach teenaged children in the primary school building. He is not paid any wages. The teachers stopped coming long back and the nearest high school is in Manoharpur, 45 km away. At Tirilposi, the next village 17 km away, there are 90 school-going children but no building. “CRP sahib broke the roof,” explains village munda Budhram Gudiya.
The SDP’s original outline proposed 10 residential schools. Now, that seems all, but abandoned. “There is a plan to build one ashram school at Manoharpur,” says the recently-posted District Collector Abu Bakr. Mr. Ramesh explained the conceptual change in the SDP as both the interiority of the villages and the fact that “education and health are different ministries.”
The plan lists building 10 Integrated Development Centers (IDCs) — each will have a hospital, besides an anganwadi, ration shop, banks — only one has been completed at Digha this April. To improve health services, a mobile health unit has deputed since last October to visit all villages. “The ambulance visits regularly,” say villagers in Thalkobad. But it has not yet been spotted in Tirilposi though a motorable village road exists. In January an eye-health camp was held by a private hospital. “More than a third of over 1000 villagers had pterygium — a painful inflammation which may lead to blindness — because of exposure to mine dust,” said Dr. Bharti Kashyap.
There is hectic activity in all villages to build new Indira Awas houses. This March as part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society’s efforts to provide long-term livelihood security, a team of trainers of Self-Help Groups from Andhra Pradesh visited Saranda. The team stayed 15 days in Thalkobad but no meetings have been held since it left. Villagers say they are unsure what to make of their visitors. “They said “hum se judiye”(join us). That is what the party (Maoists) used to say too, and look what followed,” said Binodini Purti. At Tirilposi, villagers explain it differently. “Most families earn Rs. 60 a day after selling siali leaves in the market in Barsovan in Odisha. What will we save?” asks Budhram Gudiya. Then there are families in debt to pay legal expenses. Guvida Honhaga (60) among those arrested by CRPF got bail last year after his son Bimal, a mine worker, spent Rs. 1,60,000 on legal expenses. “I borrowed Rs. 40,000 each from four people at 20 per cent interest. Now he is required to go Chaibasa court thrice a month and that costs Rs. 900 — a fourth of my salary,” said Bimal Honhaga.
Rubber stamp by gram sabhas
At Manoharpur block office, 40 km away, an official waved a sheet of blank paper with 40 signatures. “This is what the mining firms submit as gram sabha’s consent for mining. They call people to football matches and get them to sign anything,” he says.
Bilarman Kandulna, 25, a political science graduate from a Manoharpur college was elected panchayat representative in Digha in 2010. “Some manki-munda (community leaders) now roam in Scorpio SUVs, but a few boycotted the Electrosteel public hearing for Kudalibad mines last year. Last April, we held demonstrations in the villages. The company then shifted its public hearing in Bahihatu, 20 km away,” says Kandulna. “What is the use of forest pattas when they give mining leases in the same forest?” he asks. Of 812 claims for individual forest rights, 511 were accepted till April, the rest were rejected as they fell in mining lease areas. Though a significant number of community rights — over 1200 — have been granted under SDP.
At Jamkundiya at the house of Laguda Devgam, the manki of 22 villages, there is no Scorpio car, but there are three solar street light poles towering on three sides of his house — the only streetlights in the otherwise non-electrified villages in Saranda. They are inscribed as gifts from Rungta Mines Limited, Usha Martin Industries, and Tata Steel.
At Sonapi, one of the six villages that boycotted the public hearing, there is anger. “If anyone comes to your courtyard, something will be disturbed,” said Mary Barla. “We asked for a written commitment that the company will provide health, education, jobs but they did not do it. Instead they shifted the public hearing site. Now they are back again with blankets.”
Subject: Bring immediate justice to Reigphamy Awunshi and other victims from the NorthEast India.
Respected Sir/ Madam,
We the undersigned would like to bring to your attention some very serious concerns relating to recent tragic death of Reigphamy Awunshi.
We strongly believe that the circumstances that lead to the death of the beautiful daughter of Ukhrul and many insensitive and humiliating incidences following the death are a result of many attitudes and attributes that has been formed through the years.
Sir/ Madam, it is great pain to that many of her loving friends and well wishers have to fight to even register a FIR. Worse is the investigating police officer had total disregard and disrespect even for the death that we were told that we are spa working people and it was reason for such incidences of ‘death’ happens.
We wonder how in the face of such attitude which has strong humiliating and degrading attitude towards the people of NorthEast India, Reignphamy Awungshi can even have a unbiased investigation leave alone justice.
Many of us believe there are very strong evidences of homicidal signs and even possibility of sexual assault leading to the death.
Sir/ Madam, we believe one of most important factor that have lead to these ever increasing of negative attitude towards us, that even disrespect us in death is the absence of voices and solidarity of our own people.
We are deeply hurt and angry that our leaders seem to have left us and ignored us during such challenging and tragic times especially aggravated by a biased investigation and non-coverage by the many institution because of our racial origin.
We wish to request you to please exercise your full responsibility and power bestowed by the people who have elected yourself as leaders and make strong initiatives and actions to bring about justice to Reigamphy Awangshi and take punitive actions against those officials and professionals who have made skewed opinions and decision heavily affected by our racial origin.
We would like you to please take notice of the continuing coverage or wilfully undercoveraged in the national media of many such tragic incidences involving people from our north eastern region, which we believe is because of racial prejudice.
We would like to summarise to please share your words of condolences and help Awungshi and help prevent the fate that poor Awungshi have to experience even in death.
We urge to acknowledge the presence of the dangerous racial stereotyping and prejudice that have not only dehumanise and degraded the life of many but also cause many physical and emotional trauma and even have lead to death.
We would be very grateful to you if you Sir/ Madam could exercise your responsibility and power and held those heinous people accountable and herald a new glorious moment in the history of humanity of Manipur and in NorthEast India in general.
Members of Parliament should make significant steps to bring immediate justice to many victims like Reingamphy awungshi and seriously deal with prejudice that have allowed these crimes to happened and then become a huge obstacles towards justice including even toward registering a FIR and manipulation of forensic study.
MUMBAI: This could be a sign of what the future holds for Aadhaar. Amid an alarming rise in credit card frauds, data thefts and card cloning, a group of bankers will decide in a month the appropriate payment technology for the Indian banking system and retail consumers.
If the group votes for EMV – an internationally accepted technology standard for authenticating credit card, debit card and ATM transactions – Aadhaar, which is comparatively untested and follows a different technology, may face an uncertain future. EVM is a joint initiative between Europay, Mastercard and Visa – the world’s leading payments service providers.
Credit and debit cards that are based on EMV have the card and CVC numbers, which are the key to any electronic transaction, hidden or encrypted. Since encrypted data reduces the risk of cloning or skimming at ATMs and merchant outlets, some of the private banks have started upgrading their systems to EMV standards following recent card frauds.
But, if the group, constituted by the Reserve Bank of India, prefers Aadhaar, banks will have to change their systems, procure biometric machines and prepare for different security standards. Bankers, however, are reluctant to spell out their stand openly because the government thinks Aadhaar can be a game changer in disbursing subsidies to people in far-flung regions.
Besides, banks, particularly the state-owned lenders, are unwilling to take on Nandan Nilekani, the former InfosysBSE 1.05 % CEO who heads the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the state-owned agency that issues the 12-digit Aadhaar numbers.
“Mr Nilekani is pursuing Aadhaar with RBI. He has a standing and has political backing,” said a person familiar with the discussions.
Transition Could Take Some Time
“So, while many banks are in favour of EMV due to rising incidents of frauds, they are quiet, waiting for the committee to submit its report, which is expected by early July,” said the person. If the committee recommends Aadhaar for banks, it will be a victory for UIDAI. Banks will then have to use Aadhaar for not only customer authentication, but also for payments. But even if banks are mandated to implement Aadhaar, the transition could take time and a slice of the market will move back to cash. So, it will be some years before Visa and Mastercard feel the threat.
Indian banks’ payments technology for retail customers is currently at crossroads. ATM transactions are processed through the state-backed National Payments Corporation, which is being positioned as an umbrella organisation for processing all retail payments, while credit and debit card transactions are processed by multinationals like Visa and MasterCard. National Payments Corp, headed by Nilekani’s former boss NR Narayana Murthy, is unable to support EMV at present for its network and will have to change its standards if EMV is implemented by banks.
“What’s drawing banks towards EMV — and many Asian banks have already migrated to it — is the vulnerability of the magnetic stripe technology that’s used for credit and debit card transactions today. Micro devices can be planted in ATMs machines to copy the magnetic stripe and scan the PIN to clone cards. This is not possible in EMV where the data is encrypted,” said a banker.
Highlighting the monopolies in the industry being created, the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC) has recommended the Competition Commission to look into the subject. Meanwhile, the RBI governor has set up a committee to come out with a discussion paper on Aadhaar as an additional factor of authentication for card transactions. While Aadhaar can be used for authentication and KYC purposes, the regulator would like a final answer on whether it can be used for payments.
30 Number of Indian cities where private sector and MNCs have been roped in by civic bodies to manage the water supply.
0 No project has so far delivered on lofty commitments; most continue to face major opposition from the consuming public and civil society.
100 Average percentage rise in water tariff in cities and urban areas with privatisation projects. More to follow?
0 Obligation on water conservation or sewage treatment by PPPs, even as public funds and manpower is being provided to them.
35 Duration, in years, of management contracts being signed by civic bodies, up from pilot management projects for a few years.
Across the road, on the other side of the gleaming new malls of south Delhi, is the older but not quite glamorous settlement of Hauz Rani. It’s summer, holiday time. But every evening, when they ought to be playing, dozens of young children, jerrycans in hand, troop to the nearby colonies and to a public tap near the malls to lug water back home—for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning. The life-sustaining liquid, always in short supply, is evidently scarcer this summer. Not atypical, you’d say, that’s how things are in India.
Now, into this scenario, enters a troika of private companies, promising salvation. Suez, SPML Infra and Degremont, in a consortium, have got a 12-year contract from the Delhi Jal Board to supply 24×7 water over a 14 sq km expanse that includes Hauz Rani. So is salvation really round the corner? Similar projects from across the country have ominous stories to tell. In Mysore, Nagpur and Khandwa, private efforts to ramp up public water supply are croaking under the weight of expectations. Costs are up, supply erratic and discretionary—they have not been above parching the less posh parts so as to cater to the tony neighbourhoods. And in the worst-case scenario, alternative sources of water, like tubewells or public taps, get blocked for good measure. As India prepares to go down the privatised water route, it’s a good juncture to ask, after bijli and sadak, is paani too slipping out of reach of the aam aadmi?
Photograph by Nilotpal Baruah
Model: PPP contract for remodelling of water supply distribution system of Mysore city
Earlier tariff: Rs 125 up to 25 KL @ Rs 5/KL, Rs 8/KL from 25–50 KL and so on
Proposed tariff: Slab starting from Rs 5/KL for domestic connections
Status: Local protest against JUSCO and municipal officials on poor project planning and implementation; Rs 7 crore penalty imposed on JUSCO for various lapses in the project; committee constituted to resolve issues.
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook /Manthan
Three more Delhi areas (Vasant Kunj, Mehrauli, Nangloi) have been given over to the public-private partnership (PPP) model that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tirelessly asserts is the answer to the nation’s ills. All told, the capital is among 30-odd cities where civic bodies have called in private entities, including mncs, to “manage” the water supply. The number is set to go higher as more cities approach the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Mission (JNNURM) which—ironically, considering the man after whom it is named—makes private participation a precondition for financial support.
Civic bodies have been pushed, despite strong protests, into experimenting with the PPP model. The government’s justification has been that the private sector will bring in investments, technology and management efficiency, none of which a cash-strapped public sector can offer. Yet a study of 13 private water and sanitation projects by the Planning Commission has praise for none. In four cases—Latur, Mysore, Dewas and Khandwa—the project viability has itself been questioned.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Model: Build, operate and maintain for 12-15 years in three pilot projects
Current tariff: Rs 600/month average
Proposed tariff: DJB to decide
Firms and cost: Suez, SPML Infra and Degremont (Malviya Nagar); SPML Infra, Tahal Consulting and Hagihon Jerusalem Water (Mehrauli and Vasant Kunj); Suez and SPML combine (Nangloi); Rs 253.30 crore
Status: Survey work has started in proposed areas for improving infrastructure. Activists are questioning the logic of DJB outsourcing O&M while providing all raw material.
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook/Manthan
When the state cedes control of as vital a public asset as water, it allows business to hold the poor to ransom and fleece them.
But the march towards privatisation continues. Current models of public-private water partnerships are diverse, from refurbishing the infrastructure to service contracts for billing, collection and metering. At present, most projects are focusing on distribution improvement. Even so, only a few places have seen experiments with citywide distribution, with hardly encouraging results at that. Many more projects are coming up: Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh has decided to give its water distribution contract to Jindal Co on the PPP model. Kolhapur, Maharashtra, has the distinction of being the first to go in for PPP for sewage treatment.
“Six years ago, activists and residents’ welfare associations in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore were able to stall a World Bank-led move to have the private sector take over water supply projects by making it a condition for granting loans,” says S.A. Naqvi of the Citizens’ Front for Water Democracy. “Ironically, the Centre is now taking exactly the same route through JNNURM.” It’s nobody’s case that India’s moribund water supply system is not in dire need of help, as the Hauz Rani scenario illustrates. It’s also not that its residents would be cussedly averse to paying; anyone who has sampled Delhi’s ‘machine ka thanda paani’ knows service doesn’t come free. But as water PPPs begin to come apart, the question is not whether citizens should pay for unlimited use of a finite commodity like water, but to whom and how much? When Hauz Rani’s saviours, the neighbouring colonies, receive water for a mere two and a half hours a day, the answer isn’t so easy. The Delhi PPP experience is not unique:
In Mysore, JUSCO, a Tata enterprise, has faced severe time overruns, paid penalties and faced pubic outrage
In Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, all indications are of the project being unsustainable in the long run
In Latur, Maharashtra, SPML has been forced to hand back the water supply management to a government entity after local opposition.
“The results of PPP projects in urban water supply in India—even globally—aren’t encouraging. They don’t seem to be the solution that they were thought to be,” says Gaurav Dwivedi of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, a study group. “These are expensive projects and municipal bodies are at risk of losing control of water supply to private companies due to long contract periods from which there is no getting out.”
Photograph by Vivek Pateria
Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh
Model: PPP Build Own Transfer (BOT) concession contract for 25 years
Firm and cost: Vishwa Infrastructure; Rs 115.32 crore
Earlier tariff: Rs 150 per month/connection
Proposed tariff: Rs 11.95/KL
Status: Construction phase ongoing, delayed by around two years. Investigations by JNNURM expert committee on irregularities. Local committee formed to look into people’s objections to privatisation including removal of non-revenue water, loss of municipal control, tariff hikes, etc.
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook/Manthan
On paper, the case for privatisation of water supply, like telephony and aviation, seemed sound. Meeting the growing water demands of growing cities required high investment. Better quality water called for sophisticated infrastructure. The private sector held the allure of money, technology, and also its famed managerial skills in implementation, delivery, accountability. Win-win. In reality, however, the experience has been quite the opposite as the state willingly cedes control over a vital public asset such as water under the garb of a PPP and watches haplessly as the poor are fleeced.
In many cities, private companies have brought little to the table. Naqvi says all the contracts awarded actually “have mechanisms to ensure the private parties don’t have to put in any of their own investments. During the initial two and a half years of the pilot projects, when the consortiums will be doing distribution, Delhi Jal Board will be paying very high management fees, besides the power bill, delivering treated water at the colony and providing its own employees to the private partner free of cost.”
Photograph by Sangeeta Mahajan
Model: PPP contract for distribution, operation and maintenance and uninterrupted water supply (24×7) for 25 years
Firm and cost: Veolia Water and Vishwaraj Environment; Rs 566 crore
Earlier tariff: Rs 150–200 per month/connection
Proposed tariff: Rs 7.90/KL
Status: Several problems arising in project implementation, from steep water tariff hikes, dissatisfaction with meters, increased water consumption in demo zone after project implementation etc
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook/Manthan
“The results of PPP projects in India are not encouraging,” says Gaurav Dwivedi. “They don’t seem to be the solution they were thought to be.”
On top of that, private companies are seen to be tinkering with that invaluable (and often scarce) commodity called democracy. Despite initial hiccups, electricity distribution saw some improvements after privatisation in cities like Delhi due to the presence of multiple sources of power. But private water companies have to depend on a finite number of sources. Diminishing rainfall, depleting water tables and raging wars between states have seen water become scarcer. So, supplying 24×7 water to one area in a city as promised by a private operator means depriving a number of other areas of their rightful due. It also means creating an artificial demand with an eye on the bottomline.
Worse, says Prof U.N. Ravi Kumar, a Mysore-based water consultant who has been engaged in the revival of water bodies. Private water suppliers are not making any effort to look at issues like waste water management or conserving water resources, he says. “All the projects we hear about are presentations by the companies and project promoters. Governments can easily get swayed by promises of 24×7 supply.” In other words, the private players have sold a pipe dream and are getting access to exploit and monetise public water resources without adding to it.
Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 24 June 2013
Model: PPP contract for provision of 24/7 continuous water supply including refurbishment of distribution network
Firm and cost: Veolia Water; Rs 235.10 crore
Earlier tariff: Rs 90 per month per connection
Proposed tariff: Rs 6/ KL for 0-8 KL, Rs 10/KL for 8-15 KL, Rs 15 for 15-25 KL and minimum charge of Rs 48 per month
Status: Questions about the lack of transparency in the project particularly with respect to the tariff structure; uncertainty about financial implications for local people when support is removed.
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook/Manthan
In many cities where private operators have moved in, anecdotal evidence shows that, while the rich and well-off can be assured of better supplies at a higher cost, those defaulting on even one bill end up paying dearly with water supplies being stopped. While private players have been relentless in enforcing the rules on individual domestic connections, they seem to have fallen prey to their political masters while dealing with commercial connections—which usually default on a much larger scale than domestic ones.
Ashok Govindpurkar, a veteran Nationalist Congress Party councillor from Latur, says they were widely supported in their protest against private management of water supply in their city of four lakh population as households having or seeking to instal a handpump needed to get permission. “The cost of a water connection for Rs 1,700 plus a meter cost of Rs 2,400 was a huge burden on the poor,” he says. Adds Gaurav Dwivedi of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, “Water PPPs do not have a pro-poor orientation even though this is the section of the community, especially in urban settings, which needs water supply and sanitation services at low costs on an urgent basis.” It does not call for any particular political bent to see that, in India, this would only worsen the country’s overall indices.
The private companies complain about being demonised. “In Latur, water was supplied once a week before we took over. We improved the situation and supplied it on alternate days,” says Rishabh Sethi, executive director, SPML. “The lack of support and coordination between government entities with respect to their contractual obligation has been the main reason for the project being kept in abeyance. Plus plentiful local opposition, including from local political groups.”
Photograph by Amit Haralkar
Model: Management contract for 10 years
Firm & Cost: SPML; Fixed management fee (IRR of 19.6 per cent)
Earlier tariff: Rs 100/month
Proposed tariff: Rs 150 (plus meter cost of Rs 2,400 + connection cost Rs 1,700)
Status: The first case where a private management contract has been rolled back following three years of protests by people and most political parties barring Congress. The project has now been given to a public sector entity.
The average middle-class consumption of water is 20-30 KL per month; City profiles by Outlook/Manthan
In Mysore, JUSCO’s plea for renegotiation of the contract is meeting with widespread opposition. Despite some benefits having accrued to ‘chronic problem’ localities in the city, many other areas are seeing a drop in supplies. Ditto Nagpur, where the distribution project was extended to cover the whole city even before the assessment of the pilot was done. “I don’t think private participation has worked anywhere in India for a sufficiently long period or provided a credible appraisal performance,” says water activist Himanshu Thakkar.
JUSCO is not the only company trying to renegotiate the terms of its contract, but the Mysore city corporation is in a fix. It is facing a financial squeeze and has no answer to the public ire. Also, there’s little option of throwing out the private company without inviting protracted litigation. With the long-term contracts loaded in favour of private companies, civic bodies are caught between a rock and a hard place. And the only way out, it seems, is to wait like its counterparts in Europe and declare water supply a public sector operation after the contract runs out.
The official poverty threshold is low. Many people above the threshold are also poor and look just like the people below the threshold. As a result, there is no reliable way in which subsidies can be targeted only to the people below the official threshold.
By Ashok Kotwal, HT
Criticism of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) has led to the government dropping the idea of issuing an Ordinance and, instead, saying it would try to get the Bill passed in a special session of Parliament.
But doubts persist over the very concept of the Bill. Is it not extravagant to subsidise food for such a large part of the population when the poor constitute only 30 per cent of the population? Can a poor country afford such spending? Isn’t the Food Bill just corruption by another name? Wouldn’t the Bill lead to a virtual takeover of the grain trade by the central government? As a rising tide lifts all boats, should we not invest in growth rather than spend on consumption? These are all valid questions and we will attempt to answer them.
In a nutshell, we think the Bill is neither populist nor unaffordable. Some of the anxiety over the cost, corruption and the government’s ever-increasing role in the grain market stems from the assumption that PDS will remain forever the main vehicle of delivering the food subsidy. But if the government develops the necessary infrastructure — e.g., UID-linked bank accounts — states will be encouraged to switch to cash transfers. The extra costs of government storage and distribution will then be saved and the problems caused by the distortion of the grain trade will be mitigated. Many worries that arise from the identification of the food Bill with the PDS will disappear.
The Right to Food campaign is right to stress the need for a food subsidy with near-universal coverage but is wrong in its visceral opposition to cash transfers. The result is a food Bill written wholly in terms of an expansion of the PDS. Suggestions for reforms such as cash transfers and the use of biometric ID have been shunted to an obscure chapter despite the fact that the Delhi government has already opted for delivering the food subsidy through cash transfers.
Anyone who has had a cursory look at the food Bill tends to assume it is just expanding the present PDS and, thus, worsening existing problems of leakage, corruption and high costs of storage and distribution. This makes people antagonistic toward the idea of the food Bill. The opposition of the Right to Food campaign to even experiment with cash transfers has harmed the poor by making people sympathetic to the critics of the food Bill.
Cash transfers are often opposed on the grounds of paternalism. “If we give cash to the poor, they might blow it on frivolous things. If we give them food, they will be better nourished.” This can work as an argument for midday meals but not as a justification for PDS, which is nothing but an income transfer: the effect of the subsidy is that households save the money that would have otherwise been used to buy food at market prices.
Why do we need such an income transfer? Because about 90 per cent of India’s labour force makes a living in the informal sector. For inclusive growth, we need to invest in education and skills and remove constraints to the absorption of labour by the formal sector. But we also need to improve productivity in the informal sector, which depends on human capital and access to credit. Financial aid that gives the poor some flexibility in managing their affairs helps improve the productivity of their time. What looks like consumption also works as investment.
But if “the poor” are only the bottom third or so, why offer food subsidy to the bottom two-thirds of India? We often talk about the poor as if it is a well-defined group, but that is hardly the case. The official poverty threshold is low. Many people above the threshold are also poor and look just like the people below the threshold. As a result, there is no reliable way in which subsidies can be targeted only to the people below the official threshold.
Finally, there is the issue of costs. Official projections are that it would cost close to 1.5 per cent of GDP. But even in the most pessimistic scenario, our GDP is expected to grow at 5 per cent per annum in the near future. If we think of the fact that the Bill will cost less than one-third of the growth in the national income next year, it does not seem that unaffordable, especially given its value to the millions who will receive it.
Police informed her parents and asked the girl to stay in the ladies changing room, where she hung herself from a ceiling with her stole. A police personnel spotted her body around 5 pm.
Police said she was depressed as her parents were pressing her to marry against her wishes.
“On Friday, she left her house around 11 am without telling her parents without properly telling them where she was going. When she did not come back, after an hour they started searching and later informed police in the evening,” the officer said.
A case of kidnapping was registered at Vasant Kunj north police station, the officer added.
Vol – XLVIII No. 25, June 22, 2013 | C P Sujaya , EPW
A recollection of the varied contributions of Vina Mazumdar (1927-2013), one of the pioneers of both the women’s movement as well as women’s studies in India.
C P Sujaya (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired IAS offi cer from the Himachal Pradesh cadre who worked as joint secretary in the Ministry of Women and Children from 1985 to 1989. She is Vice President of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi.
My story starts, somewhat incongruously, with the inevitable struggle of an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to get a “good” posting in the Government of India. One needs the pull and push of godfathers and godmothers, especially for postings considered cushy or prestigious (the two words have different connotations).
So, when I decided to opt for the normal five-year tenure in the Government of India, away from my home cadre of Himachal Pradesh, I was aware of these facts of life but did not visualise how difficult it would be. However, I found an unexpected ally in a non-governmental organisation (NGO), who introduced me to Bunker Roy, who in turn became a conduit in my search.
When I was finally informed that I had been posted as joint secretary in the Department of Social Welfare (as it was then called), my heart did sink a bit. “Social Welfare” or “Welfare” postings were not really popular with the bureaucracy, but after sternly telling myself that beggars could not be choosers, I trotted off to Shastri Bhavan in early 1985.
Bunker Roy had apparently done his bit in spreading the word. I came to know this when one day, soon after I joined in Shastri Bhavan, R P Khosla, the secretary of the ministry, called me to his room. There were two women sitting there with him and one of them, who was puffing away on her cigarette, turned around, looked me up and down and said in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Ah, there you are” – as if she knew me (or knew of me) and was expecting me. I was completely mystified. Coming from the boon docks, I had never heard of Vina Mazumdar, or of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). Nor had I heard, except very vaguely, about the women’s movement.
The rest, I would say, is my history. I found a new vocation, a new interest, a new awareness, both of the world around me and of myself. Over the four years I spent in Shastri Bhavan, I discovered “gender”, with all its connotations. Vina-di, as she was widely known, was the guiding light, the reason why I felt myself so involved in this “not so important ministry”, why I began to understood a dictum “the personal is the political”. (All this was in spite of a solicitous junior (male) colleague warning me of the pitfalls of engaging with “women’s groups” – he graphically described how every divorce that took place would be followed by celebrations organised by such groups.)
But what I started to feel was that I had a whole new world to explore, uncover and understand. I had not heard of the Committee on the Status of Women, or of Towards Equality (TE). It was just a report or a book, left on my table in the office, meant for “reading” because it related to the ministry (there were many of these). But the presence of, and my frequent meetings with Vina-di and her persona made TE come alive. This report became my first and primary textbook in Shastri Bhavan, enriched, with running anecdotes provided by one of my personal assistants in the office, S C Bhattacharya, who, coincidentally, had earlier worked as her stenographer when she was dictating the final report of TE. Bhattacharya remembered, especially, the high speed and the high quality of her dictation, which he said, was the best training-learning experience he had received in his career of stenography. I still have with me this old printed copy of TE (first edition), now dog-eared, torn and frayed. In turn, Bhattacharya told Vina Mazumdar that the new joint secretary seemed to be obsessed with TE and had issued instructions that she should not be disturbed in office with too many sundry visitors since “she had to make up for a lot of lost time”. In turn, Vina-di repeated this quote back to me, with some delight.
Vina Mazumdar took me under her wing. I learnt about the International Women’s Year (1975), the International Women’s Decade (1976-85), went through the reports of the Mexico (1975) and the Copenhagen (1980) Conferences on Women, and prepared the ground in Shastri Bhavan for the next (third) upcoming International Conference on Women scheduled for mid-year 1985 in Nairobi. My advantage was that the presence of Vina Mazumdar and her colleagues from CWDS made each of these earlier events come alive, because they, as the representatives of the women’s movement, were actively in pursuit of the implementation of the recommendations made earlier at these conclaves and they made me feel personally involved as well. This would not have happened if the UN reports of Mexico, Copenhagen, etc, were to just “officially” land on my table for me to read, which is what normally happens within the government departments and ministries. It would then have become a duty, sometimes even a chore, for bureaucrats to plough through these “weighty” tomes. (I would probably have told one of my juniors to prepare a “short” summary.) Personal involvement is rare in such a scenario, just official duty.
Education as Empowerment
One day she asked me to go with her to the room of the education secretary, Anil Bordia; a new National Policy on Education was on the anvil. One of Vina-di’s highest priorities related to education, to women’s education, and how it was visualised and implemented. She used to repeat to us a Sanskrit sloka, sa vidyaya vimuktaye – education is that which liberates – (this was long before Freire!). Anil Bordia was planning to arrange a workshop on the proposed “New Education Policy” (NEP) and, of course, wanted Vina Mazumdar’s help, especially for drafting the section on women’s education.
Her imprint is still there in this section of the policy document. Part IV of the 1986 policy, enshrined the title “Education for Women’s Equality”, starting with these memorable sentences:
Education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women…In order to neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past…the National Education system will play a positive interventionist role in the empowerment of women…foster the development of new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers, decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions. This will be an act of faith and social engineering…The National Education System will play a positive interventionist role in the empowerment of women.
It was the first time that the word “empowerment”entered the vocabulary of a government policy document and it was Vina-di’s achievement. I remember that in the official discussions which I attended many eyebrows were raised. Sadly, it has now been debased and trivialised by overuse in all sorts of other contexts, but the original sheen has still not disappeared from my mind.
When this concept of education as a means of empowering women entered government policy, it did not lie dormant, with no practical expression or manifestation. Vina Mazumdar strongly believed that government policies are to be “implemented” and not to be kept as showpieces. The initiation of the Mahila Samakhya programmes in 1988 for rural, poor women (especially scheduled caste and scheduled tribe women) by the education ministry was a direct result of this theme of women’s empowerment in the NEP. It was an unconventional programme, raised eyebrows for its apparent breaking of protocols and government’s “rules of business”. Mahila Samakhya is not a programme which taught the women only the ABCs; it mobilised and organised the poorest women of the locality and village into groups and taught them, what can be termed, “life-skills” using unorthodox teaching-learning methods, so that they developed the ability to fight their own battles and thus become empowered women.
Women and Children
Notwithstanding her priority to the building of a strong women’s movement in the country, Vina-di did not separate or split issues relating to women and those relating to the child. Many feminists – especially radical feminists from the west – looked at the processes of motherhood as patriarchal ploys of diverting women’s attention from their autonomy and their individuality; child-care and child-rearing was seen as a burden that prevented women from an “outside” life, relegating her to the “inside”. In India, the early women’s movements of the 1970s followed this reasoning, by and large. If women and children were clubbed as a dyad by the State, this was more for administrative and management reasons, whereas the Indian’s women’s movements of that time were largely anchored by women and focused on women. Childcare, maternity and maternal health, the population issue, etc, were extremely important issues for the movement, but they were seen from the point of view of women and not that of the child. Vina Mazumdar, however, showed far-reaching and exceptional sensitivity towards the need to visualise the mother and the child in the same frame, but as independent persona, each having separate identities, both of which had to be cared for.
A decade after TE, in 1985 the book titled, Who Cares? A Study of Child Care Facilities for Low Income Working Women in India, written my Mina Swaminathan and published by the CWDS with the feminist publishing house Kali for Women came out. Vina-di wrote the preface, in which she mentioned the connections between TE and the presence of childcare facilities as an important support service for women. The book was written and published with the approval of the executive committee of CWDS, even while Mina made it abundantly clear that she was doing so from the perspective of child needs, not from that of women. CWDS fully supported her in this. In her preface, Vina-di recalled Mina’s own contribution to the setting up of CWDS in 1980.
There was genuine partnership in such efforts between those who worked for the women’s cause and those who worked for the child’s cause. It was not a bifurcated interest or interests. Vina-di had much to contribute to this broader vision of the existential relationship of the mother and the child through her encouragement of those who were looking at children’s needs. Mina acknowledges that it was Vina Mazumdar who initiated the study and supported its completion with utmost interest. In the first chapter of the book, Mina points to the increasing recognition that women and children need to be seen together and the needs of families to be considered as a whole, that facilities for children of working women can no longer be seen in isolation from the need for child development and education, nor could children’s programmes be seen in isolation from the changing position of women and families. The two, she says, should converge and be placed in the larger framework of social and economic change and development. Both Mina and Vina Mazumdar always prioritised the childcare needs of poor and vulnerable women.
Similarly, when Razia Ismail, after retirement from UNICEF, put all her energies into the formation and running of the Indian Alliance for Child Rights, Vina Mazumdar presented the first annual lecture on the girl child in 2001.
Academia and action came together for Vina-di. She did not see any fault line or divergence between them. She was the architect of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) programme of women’s studies, under which for the first time the focus was shifted from middle-class preoccupations to those of the socially and economically deprived. ICSSR commissioned studies on unorganised women workers in the coir, cashew and other industries. She was instrumental in pushing the idea of creating the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS), which she presented during a conference at the SNDT University under the then Vice Chancellor Madhuri Shah. After the memorandum of association was finalised and passed, elections were held to pick the executive committee to conduct the IAWS conferences.
From its inception, the IAWS has been an organisation for both scholars and activists, and as Maithreyi Krishnaraj points out, it has rejected the separate categorisation of these two conventional groups. Devaki Jain says that it has redefined the scholar as an activist and the activist as an intellectual. When the Mahila Samakhya programme was started, the women of the sanghas (i e, the village women) said that “they wanted time to think” according to Srilatha Batliwala, who started the programme in Karnataka. In each of the IAWS conferences, both scholars and activists participated and still do. As Maithreyi Krishnaraj points out, this was a special feature of the IAWS unlike other discipline-based bodies.
Over 600 women attended the first conference and Vina-di’s efforts to get the presence of the members of the women’s wing of political parties brought in Mrinal Gore, Ahalya Rangnekar, Manju Gandhi, Sarojini Varadappan, Sister Mary Braganza, Pramila Dandavate, etc. Vina-di’s attempt was to build a federation across all parties. Though this idea failed, the women’s movement always had the presence of women members of political parties and this was largely due to Vina Mazumdar’s vision. She had created a forum of “seven sisters” which is still remembered with nostalgia.
The Responsibility of Democracy
Vina-di’s insistence on conducting formal, planned elections for selection of office-bearers of women’s organisations is another unique aspect of her faith in democratic values. It is also a tribute to her insistence on formal procedures being consistently followed, perhaps due to her own collegiate experiences. Besides the IAWS (which came into being later), the CWDS, started in 1980, has regularly conducted formal elections for their office-bearers. This formal electoral procedure is not followed by most NGOs and other social organisations where informal procedures such as election by consensus, show of hands or voice vote are the usual modes.
Vina-di has an anecdote that related to one of her many trips to Bankura (West Bengal) where CWDS was working with tribal women. She used to tell us this incident quite often; it had obviously made a deep impression on her. Lotika Sarkar was with her on this trip to Bankura. Lotikadi had just finished speaking to the tribal women of the area (unlettered and poor) telling them and making them understand – as she was asked to – about their rights relating to all aspects of their lives. Her intention was to make the women acquainted with the issue of women’s rights, how they are not powerless creatures but strong beings because they had rights as per the Constitution of India. The women heard her talk with rapt attention. After the talk was over, one of the tribal women (I forget her name) put up her hand and put a question to Lotika Sarkar,
It is wonderful that you have come here from Delhi and told us, unlettered women, about all our rights, about what we can do with these rights. It has made us feel strong; our shoulders are now straight and broad after listening to your talk. Now, tell us what our responsibilities are.
I think Vina-di remembered this small incident all her life because it reinforced her belief in the strength of women, especially of poor women. The women’s movements have always fought against the “welfare” approach to women, against the tendency to see women as powerless, needing protection rather than empowerment.
Vina-di led a multidimensional life, with multifarious interests, as her biography Memories of a Rolling Stone has depicted. To those of us who knew her closely, she will always remain a lasting influence, because she has touched our lives with such strength. It would not be an exaggeration for me to say that my life as an IAS officer took a complete U-turn after knowing her, working with and listening to her, interacting to her and most of all, learning from her.
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