Govt shuts 27 rehab centres


Dist administration finds many were being operated without licences, while others lacked even basic facilities

BANGALORE : Hospitals and rehabilitation centres for the mentally ill in Bangalore need some tightening of screws, for many of them are operating without licences, psychiatrists and nursing staff. In this direction, the district administration recently ordered closure of 11 centres for operating without licence and 16 of them for not providing even the basic facilities such as toilets and beds for inmates.

In all, the administration had issued licences to 38 centres for treating the mentally ill.

Speaking to Bangalore Mirror, deputy commissioner of Bangalore Urban district M K Ayyappa said, “The decision to order the closure was taken following a direction from the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC).”

The chairman of the commission had issued directions to act tough on the centres violating provisions of the Mental Health Act and human rights.

As per the Centre’s guidelines, a licence is mandatory for running a hospital or any centre for treating the mentally ill. During an inspection, a team of district surgeons found that 11 centres were being operated without licence, while 16 had no proper facilities for the inmates.

Some of the centres that were ordered to close include Muktha Rehabilitation Centre in BEL Layout, Trust for the Betterment for Human Resources in Whitefield, Tehima Sidhva Trust on Bagalur Main Road, Manvanthara in Whitefield, Rehabilitation for Drug and Alcohol, Mental Illness in Mahalakshmi Layout and Abhayam near Agara.

Some of the centres that were ordered to shut down include deaddiction centres.

KSHRC chairman S R Nayak told Bangalore Mirror, “Many centres in Bangalore are known for violating human rights. There were reports of such centres being used to confine people involved in land and family disputes.”

He said there were instances of goons running them for vested interests. “At the time of inspection, it was found the inmates were cut off from the outside world.”

The commission directed the deputy commissioner of Bangalore Urban district to come out with an action taken report on the illegal functioning of such centres. Some of the centres shut down by the district administration were allegedly charging Rs 2,000 to Rs 8,000 a month. Some were even demanding more money for providing treatment.

Suchith Kidiyoor, Bangalore Mirror

Supreme Court upholds verdict matching NREGA pay with state wages


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has refused to stay a recent Karnataka High Court verdict that has said the central government is liable to pay higher wages under the country’s flagship rural employment programme in tandem with that of the state minimum wage rate. It has further asked the government to find a way to end the disparity between the wages paid under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) and state mandated rates under the Minimum Wages Act.

The move might mean an additional outgo of around Rs 900 crore in the current financial year from the central government to six states which have a minimum wage rate that is higher than the MGNREGA rate. The Karnataka High Court had in September directed the central government to match the wages under MGNREGA with the state’s minimum wage rates.

The central government had however decided to file a Special Leave Petition to the SC contesting the order. The SC, however, stayedthe order on the payment of arrears prior to the Karnataka high court order providing the central government some relief. The Court stated that non-payment of minimum wages under the scheme is tantamount to forced labour.

It had further strongly urged the Solicitor General to harmonise the MGNREGA wage rates with minimum wages in a manner in which the state Minimum Wages Act is respected. The court also said that the matter should not be treated in an adversarial manner and asked the government to resolve the issue in a consultative manner.

Earlier rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had favoured softening the central government’s stance by complying with the KHC order while suggesting an amendment to create a special wage rate for MGNREGA under the Minimum Wages Act to tackle the issue on a long term basis.

Ramesh, however met opposition from the Finance Ministry and the Law Ministry and on the insistence of PM Manmohan Singh had to file the SLP. The six states with disparate wage rates are Andhra Pradesh , Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka , Mizoram and Goa.

Caste atrocity in Lathor: Over 50 Dalit homes burnt by upper castes


by-Jadumanilion Boudha & Dhammachari Ratnakumar

An incident involving a small boy led to horrific caste violence in Lathor, Balangir district of Odisha, leaving 50 Dalit families homeless and destitute. On January 22, 2012, at around 3.00pm, Ganesh Suna, a 9th class dalit boy went to a shop to buy a new shirt, which he wore over the shirt he was already wearing. After he left the shop, the shopkeepers Bharat Meher and his brother Daya Meher, called him back and accused him of being a thief and beat him. When the boy was returning home helplessly, he met an old man Gouranga Suna and told him about the incident. Gouranga Suna asked the shopkeepers: why did you beat the boy? If he has stolen the shirt we can pay the money for that but you should not have beaten him. But, the shopkeepers did not listen to him and instead beat the old man (Gouranga Suna) too with their footwear. The old man reported to his family members, and then 4-5 youth from the Dalit community went to the shop and fought with them. These are the facts as they occurred at the beginning of the incident. And this set of events seems to have fueled the feeling of hatred of the upper castes (Savarna) against the Dalits (Asavarna).

reaction to this incident, the upper castes took advantage of being in a heavy majority over the Dalit minority, and attacked the Dalits with their weapons, sticks, and muscles power. Because the Dalit were in a minority, they could not face the violent force of the upper caste mob. So they tried to save themselves from this brutal violence and ran way from their homes. Some Dalit men went into the forest, some went to the nearest villages and some women saved themselves in other untouchable Ghasia Vasti (Scavenger colonies).

In this way, the upper castes created terror among the Dalits. The violent upper caste mob even looted gold ornaments and expensive materials from the Dalit homes. They burnt all the certificates of the students and other kinds of valuable documents. At the same time, they abused all the Dalit women with derogatory language. The upper caste traders, like Marwadi Agrawals, even distributed liquor and petrol freely to burn the Dalit houses. Meanwhile, some Dalits tried to register an F.I.R., in the Lathor police station, but the police refused to register the case and were unable to handle the catastrophic situation. The violence in the wake of the incident became very serious, and so uncontrollable that no one was able to stop the upper castes; the mob even beat up a local news reporter of Kanak TV and threatened the Dharitri reporter, Bhubaneswar Barik. The upper caste mob marched on the roads and blocked all traffic; they burnt tyres on the road and dug up the road so that all vehicles and communication towards Lathor was stopped.

The burning went on upto 6 hours according to OTV news channel, but the fact is that it lasted more than 6 hours, according to the Dalit villagers and other eye witnesses. The upper caste mob fearlessly attacked the fire brigade and burnt their vehicle so that the fire could not be stopped and they could burn all the houses with impunity. Since nobody had the courage to douse the fires, so everything burned to ashes. According to the latest reports, there are no commodities and food grains left in the houses, and nothing could be used until the case is registered and the fire brigade stops the fire. Police reached there at midnight and tried to protect the Dalit victims.

On 23rd January, in the morning, the DIG reached the spot with another battalion and ordered the fire brigade commandos to stop the fire. When the fire was stopped, there was nothing left which could be collected for use. It was only then that the government machinery started following the case, and in the late morning at 10 or 11 am, the administrative officers, the Tahasildar and the BDO, reached the village to investigate the incident. The officers took the Dalits rendered homeless to a Govt School and provided some kind of relief and distributed some Biscuits, Shawls and Chuda. The distributed food items were useless, could not be eaten as they were of a low quality. The rehabilitation programme taken up by the government is insufficient. All the homeless Dalits were crammed in the Govt school of the village, which offers inadequate accommodation. The victimized and homeless Dalits need proper rehabilitation, adequate help and emotional support.

The Dalits of Lathor have lost their homes, property, wealth, clothes, bikes, books and are hopeless and homeless. More than 4 crores wealth has been lost. The whole Dalit Vasti was burnt, where more than fifty families were living, and there is nothing that can be retrieved from their homes: they have lost everything. The children, women and men are displaced from their homes. The rehabilitation programme undertaken by the government is extremely insufficient; all the people are currently rehabilitated in a government school. Their situation is very pathetic, people are crying; after such a brutal attack by the caste Hindus, nobody seems capable of thinking, even the Police and administration are unable to give justice.

From TV reports, it is learnt that the Odisha Chief Minister declared a sum of rs.1 lakh to each victimized family as compensation. These are the facts and data that we collected with limited resources. There are more victims whose names have to be added and more details yet to be gathered.

Update: As of today (January 24, 2012), the victims still face an indifferent administration and unsympathetic police who, for instance, still refuse to give a copy of the F.I.R., to the victims.

Indore psychiatrists admit to conducting drug trials on mentally ill patients



INDORE : Days after several government doctors of Indore were penalised for illegally conducting drug trials on mentally ill patients, some doctors admitted on camera to the ongoing unethical practices in the profession.

Headlines Today conducted a sting operation to exposes how doctors have been actively violating drug trial laws, converting patients into guinea pigs and then abandoning them to die.

The Madhya Pradesh government washed off its hands by imposing a meagre fine of Rs.5,000 each on five doctors for conducting trials on mentally ill patients between 2008 and 2010. It has now passed on the buck to the Centre to take further action.

Headlines Today recorded on hidden cameras how doctors, motivated by blind ambition and greed for money, conducted trials on patients and found out how patients were duped into volunteering for trials and later abandoned to suffer.

Hemant Jain, one of the leading psychiatrists in Indore, shares the credit for inventing the bivalent polio vaccine. However, according to an Economic Offences Wing (EOW) report submitted to the chief secretary of the state, 18 deaths were recorded during the trials conducted by Dr Jain.

Headlines Today asked Dr Jain on hidden cameras what was the scope of making a profit per case by conducting drug trials.

Headlines Today: Doctor, this whole thing about money… Can you give me a rough break up?
Dr Hemant Jain: I will tell you. It is about 18-20 per cent margin.

Amongst several others, Dr Jain conducted a trial on Ajay Naik’s newborn son, Yatharth in 2010 for a polio vaccine. Ajay was informed by Dr Jain’s assistants that the government has started a scheme under which it was vaccinating the newborn babies for free.

“We were not told about the trial at all. Had I known, do you think I would have gone,” asked Naik.

Naik’s son was just two-day-old when Dr Jain tried for a vaccine meant for one-month-olds. The newborn developed white spots all over his body. When Dr Jain was contacted, he refused to acknowledge the side effects. Naik still did not know that it was a drug trial until he started getting his son treated by a skin specialist.

Naik said that when his case was taken up by the media, Dr Jain threatened him and even tried to bribe him.

“After there was uproar in the media, Hemant Jain called me to his clinic and said that writing to the National Human Rights Commission will not help my case. He offered me a help of Rs.40,000 and a job and asked me to keep shut,” Naik said.

He, however, rejected the offer and since then has been paying for it. Now no doctor agrees to vaccinate his one-and-a-half-year-old son for basic ailments. “They ask me to get a written permission from Dr Jain first,” Naik said.

Trials for career progression
While money has been a driving force behind these trials, there was another major factor. Pali Rastogi, one of the psychiatrists who conducted clinical trials on 20 patients, revealed on spy camera that apart from the money that was paid to him per patient for the trial, why the trials were so important for the doctors.

Headlines Today: Apart from the money aspect, how else do the trials benefit you?
Dr Pali Rastogi: Our promotions depend on the number of international researches we have conducted. That is why they are very important.

Death of trial victim
In the frenzy to conduct such trials, patients are often duped into volunteering for the trial. Krishna Kumar Gehlot, 80, died within a week of Headlines Today’s interaction with him. Known as an extremely skilled tailor at one point of time, he was confined to his bed for the last seven years before finally succumbing to death.

In 2007, Dr Apoorva Puranik and his team of assistants told Gehlot that he should volunteer for an asthma trial and it would treat him fully because it was as American medicine.

Gehlot, enticed by the foreign remedy for his lung infection, volunteered. For months on end, he was supposed to use several TFT pumps and record the data. When the trial ended, he could hardly walk on his feet.

“When I told the doctors, they said they cannot do anything. I should go die in my bed and not bother them,” Gehlot, who struggled to survive and with no money to pay for the medical expenses died, had said before his death.

Violation of guidelines
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) rules, all patients should have a copy of the insurance under which they are covered for the trial. Moreover, they should be fully informed about the side effects of the trial.

Niranjan Lal Pathak, 70, suffered a massive heart attack in 2008. He was taken to the MYM Hospital for treatment.

“We were told that his case has been selected for a special government project for free treatment. So we agreed,” said Niranjan’s nephew Alok Pathak.

Headlines Today found that the one-page consent form suggested that it was for a “study” and not for a trial. Headlines Today has a copy of the original 16-page form in English that should be signed by the patients instead. The original form has details about the side effects, risks and the insurance terms. In none of the cases above, the patients were made to sign the original form. Pathak was actually made a part of a trial for cardiac problems. As a side effect, Pathak was later diagnosed with dementia.

“They have turned a hail hearty man into a dependant. Sometimes, he loses the way to his own house, refuses to recognise his family members,” Alok alleged.

Dr Apporva Puranik refused to help him or acknowledge the side effect.

Headlines Today also got exclusive copy of the insurance papers that say that “mentally ill patients are only insured for a physical injury during the trial”. As a result, volunteers are not eligible for any compensation if they suffer from any mental illness as a side effect. When Headlines Today tried to contact the doctors, they refused to comment.

’81 deaths in 3 years’
The EOW report also mentions 81 deaths between 2008 and 2010 due to drug trials in Indore. No post-mortem examinations were conducted on the dead. As a result, doctors are getting away by calling them natural deaths, like Dr Hemant Jain did when Headlines Today questioned him on spy camera.

Headlines Today: Tell us something about the deaths during your trial.
Dr Hemant Jain: There were no deaths.

Headlines Today: But the Vidhan Sabha papers show that there were 18 deaths.
Dr Hemant Jain: They were natural deaths.

Another loophole that is exploited across the country is the Schedule Y of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. It can be used to form an independent ethics committee with a minimum of seven members who can approve a drug trial in any part of the country. Once the trial is approved the doctors conduct them by duping the patients and make money. An ethics committee is also supposed to monitor the progress of the trial, which never happens. Dr Hemant Jain himself admitted on the spy camera that they were ineffective.

Headlines Today: How much can an ethics committee monitor a trial?
Dr Hemant Jain: They cannot do much. It is difficult for them.

Retired judge Justice P Mulye, a member of the institutional ethics committee, said, “We are open to suggestions. We understand there are loopholes and we are contemplating action.”

Despite many people dying between due to drug trials hardly any action has been taken so far and patients continue to be used as guinea pigs in the name of advancement of medical science.

By- Neha Dixt

Grave concerns over security laws in Kashmir


Two days into 2012, a student was killed and two more were injured in a village in North Kashmir when the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guarding a hydroelectric plant opened fire on protesters, shattering a tenuous peace. In the recent past, (and most noticeably in 2010), students who have come out on to the streets chanting pro-freedom slogans – as part of a struggle for self determination whose roots go back further than Indian independence – have been fired upon and killed. This time, the protesters were merely demanding more electricity on an icy winter day during an acute power shortage. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was quick to declare that the CISF did not come under the ambit of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – an extraordinary and draconian piece of security legislation – and sought to raise the pitch for partial revocation of the law.

AFSPA was enacted in 1990, ostensibly to fight the insurgency and armed militancy that surfaced in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and in some parts of northeast India. Although the government admits that militancy has significantly reduced in Kashmir, the law has not been revoked. In October last year Abdullah began issuing statements to the effect that AFSPA must be partially revoked.

Trampling human rights

Activists say there are two disturbing aspects of the law that can grossly trample upon fundamental human rights. One is the de jure abrogation of constitutional guarantees – such as the right to life – because of the extraordinary and unbridled powers it bestows on security troops to arrest, detain, destroy property and even kill on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’.

The other is the shield of immunity whereby it is not possible to prosecute armed forces, even for the most heinous crimes, without the sanction of the Central Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry. The state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government claim there are provisions within the law for punitive action. In practice, impunity is deeply rooted.

Under the guise of defending the nation’s sovereignty at any cost, the police and armed forces have perpetrated huge crimes  .
Khurram Parvez, a rights activist working with Jammu Kashmir Civil Society (JKCS), says that the complete lack of culpability has been so pervasive that it has permeated down even to the police, who do not come under AFSPA. He says that under the guise of defending the nation’s sovereignty at any cost, the police and armed forces have perpetrated huge crimes such as custodial killings, mass rapes and enforced disappearances. ‘But who in the past 22 years has been punished, even when indicted?’ he asks.

Which way now for Kashmir? 

On the contrary, he charges, the state’s policy of handing out incentives in the form of payments for encounter killings has exacerbated the scale of rights violations. A recent example is the Macchil case, when three youths from poor families were recruited by an army unit to work as high-altitude porters. They were cold-bloodedly killed on 30 April 2010 after being falsely labelled as militants. A member of the state’s human rights commission charged the offending army personnel of murdering them to gain ‘undue promotions, awards and rewards’.

Parvez says any talk of revocation of the law from parts of Kashmir is meaningless if the political will to end this culture of immunity is lacking. ‘The crux of the issue is not whether such security laws are good or bad, but that they have engendered complete lawlessness. Armed personnel have violated every standard operating procedure, even within this draconian law. For example, any person who has been picked up for interrogation must be presented before the magistrate within a day or two. This is never done. That is why you have at least 8,000 cases of enforced disappearances, a figure that has been arrived at by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP),’ he adds.

The state has long denied these figures. It maintains that the missing youths crossed the border to Pakistan to train as militants. The state has also declared that many of the anonymous and unidentified graves that lie scattered all over Kashmir contain bodies of militants, mainly foreign fighters from Pakistan or Afghanistan who had infiltrated the state.
Cover up exposed

Significantly, in September 2011 this cover up was blown away. What had been an open secret well documented by rights groups was eventually acknowledged by the state’s human rights commission (SHRC). A team comprising 11 members and led by senior police officer Bashir Itoo admitted, to the state’s acute discomfiture, that graves in North Kashmir contained the remains of locals. There was every possibility they contained bodies of those who had suffered ‘enforced disappearances’.

The state team began in 2008 its investigation of anonymous graves in 38 sites in North Kashmir. Their report states that out of 2,730 unidentified bodies that were buried, 574 were later identified as locals. The report also notes that some of the bodies, besides bearing bullet injuries, were also defaced. At least 20 were charred and five comprised only of skulls. At least 18 graves contained more than one unidentified body.

A local Kashmiri daily recently reported that one of the mass graves in Bimiyar, Baramulla district, contained the bullet-riddled body of a six-month-old infant. Atta Mohammed Wali Khan, a local gravedigger who testified before the state’s inquiry team, confirms burying the baby. All the bodies had been brought in by the police.

It is not possible to prosecute armed forces, even for the most heinous crimes, without the sanction of the Central Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry

It is the norm for security troops to hand over to the police for burial the bodies of those killed in encounters with militants, or civilians caught in crossfire. It is mandatory for the police, in turn, to maintain proper identification profiles, taking photos of those killed and placing them in the public domain. Suspicious deaths, such as those with slit throats, strangulation marks or signs of visible torture, must be investigated. But, as the state report indicates, none of this had been adhered to.

Itoo, who led the investigations despite the challenges of ‘insufficient logistical support’, confirms that the local police did not keep any such identification profiles, and in ‘some cases police claims were falsified’.

Demands have now grown for the investigation into anonymous graves to be extended to the whole of Kashmir. There is scarcely a district that does not contain such graves. Many of them spring up in open spaces adjoining police stations or security forces’ camps. Human rights groups such as the JKCS and the state human rights commission have sought accountability by demanding that all the graves be examined and a comprehensive DNA data base established for crosschecking with DNA samples of the next of kin of people who have disappeared.

What reconciliation?

At least 14,123 families have agreed to such DNA testing in a bid to bring about closure and end the agonizing search for loved ones. ‘But how serious [about it] is the state?’ wonders Parvez. The APDP has expressed concern that although three months have passed since the SHRC’s findings and recommendations, the government has done nothing. The Chief Minister’s only response has been to call for a truth and reconciliation committee.

‘There is no talk about finding the perpetrators of the crimes: the army, paramilitary troops, officers and civil administrators who aided and abetted them. There is no talk of trying them and giving them appropriate, even exemplary punishment’

This leads Kashmiri writer, researcher and legal activist Arif Ayaz Parray to declare that what the state is doing in a ‘legalistic’ sense is replacing ‘justice’ with ‘acknowledgment’. He explains: ‘There is no talk about finding the perpetrators of the crimes: the army, paramilitary troops, officers and civil administrators who aided and abetted them. There is no talk of trying them and giving them appropriate, even exemplary punishment, not only for “disappearing” people, killing them in fake gun battles and dumping them in mass graves, but also for failing to maintain DNA profiles and pictures of those killed and sharing the records with the administration of Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi and Islamabad.

‘The state is absolving itself by pleading the impossibility of such justice – conveniently choosing to gloss over the fact that it is the state itself which has made it impossible in the first place, as a matter of policy – and therefore offering “reconciliation” in its place. What reconciliation?’

He likens this latest example of acknowledgment to a case of ‘double disappearance’. ‘Figuratively, the state took children from their mothers’ laps, killed them and buried them anonymously, creating a void which has hardened over many years. Now it wants to return the skeletons back to the mothers’ laps, force the void shut and claim that restorative justice has been delivered.’

Freny Manecksha is a freelance journalist.

Source- New Internationalist

India & the sex selection conundrum



Published: Hindu, January 24, 2012
Farah Naqvi, A. K. Shiva Kumar
Let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’
What was our immediate response to further decline in the child sex ratio in India? Within days of the provisional 2011 Census results (March-April 2011), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reconstituted the Central Supervisory Board for the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) Act 1994 , which had not met for 3 years, and on November 30, 2011 the Ministry of Women and Child Development formed a Sectoral Innovation Council for Child Sex Ratio. But we are busy dousing flames in haste without looking to dampen the source. This fire-fighting approach is unlikely to succeed, because putting out fires in one district virtually ensures its spread to another. That is what has happened.
The decline in child sex ratio (0-6 years) from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and further to 914 females per 1,000 males in 2011 — the lowest since independence — is cause for alarm, but also occasion for serious policy re-think. Over the last two decades, the rate of decline appears to have slowed but what began as an urban phenomenon has spread to rural areas. This is despite legal provisions, incentive-based schemes, and media messages. Indians across the country, bridging class and caste divides, are deliberately ensuring that girls are simply not born. This artificial alteration of our demographic landscape has implications for not only gender justice and equality but also social violence, human development and democracy.

What is wrong?
So what are we doing wrong — both in the discourse we have created and in the policy route we have chosen to walk? To start with, we have chosen to target one symptom (practice of sex selection), instead of evolving a comprehensive national policy response to a deeply resistant ailment (son preference/daughter aversion and low status of women in India). State policy has, in the main, consisted of seeking to stem the supply of technology that enables sex selection through application of the law — the PCPNDT Act bans the use of diagnostic techniques for determining the sex of a foetus. The rationale (framed within an inverted demand-supply paradigm) is that stopping supply of the technology will reduce the demand — for determining the sex of the foetus and aborting if it is female. So far (not withstanding wide publicity about the PCPNDT Act, including signboards in every clinic, hospital and nursing home), this hasn’t panned out as planned.
Meanwhile, this singular focus on PCPNDT has triggered an unhealthy discourse beyond what the law actually bans (using medical diagnostics to determine the sex of the foetus) to the next step, i.e. the act of abortion. Over the last few years, the hunt for aborted female foetuses appears to have become legitimate media pastime and reportage consists chiefly of stories about “foetuses’ foeticide” and “foetal remains.” Clearly, the goriness of the phenomenon meets the media’s need for just a tad bit of sensation (foetal remains found in gunny bags outside quack clinics, in the fields, in the dark depths of deep wells, etc.).
While national attention on this issue is welcome, this is complex terrain. On the one hand is the right of females to be born, and of society to protect and preserve a gender balance. On the other hand lies a woman’s right under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (enacted in 1971, revised in 1975) to have a safe and legal abortion as part of a whole gamut of reproductive rights. In our zeal to create an environment against one type of abortion (of a foetus only because it is female), we end up stigmatising all abortions. Access to safe and legal abortion for Indian women is already severely limited, and this environment will not improve things. Indeed the very word ‘foeticide’ i.e. ‘killing’ of the foetus (used often without the qualifying ‘female foeticide’) dents abortion rights.

Tackling the demand side
As for tackling the demand side — i.e. addressing the complex reasons that son preference-daughter aversion is so prevalent — our policy response has included marking the National Girl Child Day (declared in 2009) on January 24, sporadically putting up billboards at major intersections telling us to ‘love the girl child,’ ‘beti bachao‘, ‘stop killing girls’, and a slew of ill-conceived conditional cash transfer schemes to incentivise the birth of girls at both the Centre and the State level.
A 2010 desk review of 15 conditional cash transfer schemes (Dhan Lakshmi, Ladli, Beti Hai Anmol, Kanyadan, and others) conducted by TV Sekher of IIPS for UNFPA is revealing. Most of them promised relatively small amounts at maturity, had complex conditions (immunisation, school enrolment, institutional delivery, sterilisation, among others), gave cash amounts at the age of 18 (for dowry?), and were aimed at poor or BPL families. Quite apart from the objectionable attempt to arm twist every imaginable kind of ‘desired’ behaviour (immunise, educate, sterilise) in return for small sums of money, the big problem is that these schemes are targeted largely at poor families. This is not a poor or BPL-only phenomenon. Small cash amounts are unlikely to make an iota of difference to families who have resources to pay for sex selective technology. On this issue, Indian policymakers, accustomed to ‘targeting’ the poor (i.e. BPL) need to bravely enter the unfamiliar terrain of targeting the not-so-poor, the upwardly mobile, the wealthy.
The advocacy and communications around this issue, by both the government and NGOs, has taken the ‘love the girl child’ route. It is unexceptionable, politically correct, and ensconced comfortably in a language of patriarchal protectiveness (ladki ko bachao). Of course, everyone likes to ‘love little girls in pigtails,’ including MPs who will defeat the Women’s Reservation Bill time and again in Parliament.

Cultural attitudes
The problem of ‘demand’ goes far deeper than our communication or policy solutions seem to suggest.Sex selection is located at the complex interface of cultural attitudes, patriarchal prejudice, socioeconomic pressures, the changes wrought by modernity, and the commercialisation and misuse of modern medical technology. The impact of modernity and materialism on the decreased valuation of females i.e. enhanced daughter aversion, the lack of old-age social security i.e. son preference, increasing violence against women, property rights, inheritance laws — each of these and more play a role. We must demand of ourselves an equally comprehensive national policy on the sex ratio, capable of addressing each contributory factor.

South Korea & China
South Korea has beaten the problem by adopting a comprehensive national response. China, whether or not we agree with its particular national framework, at least has one. The Chinese government adopted a series of concurrent policies, strategic actions and laws to promote gender equality, increase female workforce participation, ensure old age social security, in addition to banning the use of sex selective diagnostics. The country’s sex ratio is showing small signs of improvement.
Finally, a national communication strategy is key to a national policy response, and this must rest on acknowledging two things — one, behaviour change communication is a specialised field whose expertise must be harnessed, and two, the nature of reproductive decision-making in India is changing along with immense changes in the Indian family structure. A communication strategy needs to identify primary targets (decision-makers) and secondary targets (decision supporters), and reach them through strategic media platforms — traditional, conventional and new media. As for the core content of messages, a lot can be said, but for now let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’ And recognise that the girl will grow up to be a woman one day.

(Farah Naqvi is an independent writer and activist. A.K. Shiva Kumar is a development economist. The authors are members of the National Advisory Council. Views expressed here are personal.Farah310@gmail.com)

Aboriginal Groups Warily Watch Canada Brothel Law


By Sadiya Ansari, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Groups representing Aboriginal women hope the government will have a partial victory in upholding current prostitution laws. They say female sex workers need to be decriminalized, but they will be endangered if the government stops arresting pimps and johns.

VANCOUVER, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)–The Canadian government is appealing a judge’s decision to decriminalize many aspects of prostitution.

As Aboriginal women’s advocates wait for the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, it’s a time of ambivalence.

While they side with the decriminalizing judge when it comes to the treatment of prostitutes, they agree with the federal government on outlawing pimps and johns, because they often commit violence against sex workers.

“It’s not a question of morality,” said Teresa Edwards, in-house counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which is based in Ottawa and represents 13 Aboriginal women’s organizations across the country. “It’s a question of safety.”

Aboriginal women are over-represented among sex workers, who are often living in poverty, suffering from addiction and have few other choices. Predatory gangs target these women, says Edwards, when they are as young as 9 years old.

A decision on the federal government’s June 2011 appeal–following the Ontario Superior Court‘s September 2010 decision striking down anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional–is expected early this year from the appeal court in Toronto.

Such rulings are typically published within six months, but the Ontario Court of Appeal has indicated in cases as complex as this one, a ruling may take longer.

Meanwhile in British Columbia, sex workers are trying to launch a constitutional challenge to the prostitution laws. The Supreme Court of Canada will decide on whether the group will be able to initiate a challenge based on arguments presented to the court last week.

Related Activities Illegal

While prostitution is not illegal in Canada, related profits and activities are.

Justice Susan Himel ruled the laws outlawing the keeping of a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off its avails were unconstitutional.

Despite the ruling, these offenses remain illegal during the duration of the appeal.

In Canada, women are more likely to be convicted and incarcerated for prostitution offenses than men. A 2009 government study found 32 percent of women found guilty of prostitution were sent to prison as compared to 9 percent of men found guilty.

Aboriginal women, meanwhile, are suffering skyrocketing incarceration rates. A 2010-2011 federal report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that 34 percent of incarcerated women were Aboriginal. Over the last 10 years, the number of incarcerated Aboriginal women increased by 86.4 percent, while the number of Aboriginal men in prison has grown by 25.7 percent.

But advocates say decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution is not a way to reverse this trend. Instead, they say the country should be embracing the Nordic model for addressing prostitution.

Implemented in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, this approach criminalizes buyers and those who profit off the industry while decriminalizing women engaged in prostitution.

“Absolutely you need to decriminalize women in prostitution,” said Janine Benedet, co-counsel of the Intervener Women’s Coalition. “To simply decriminalize and legitimize men’s purchase of women in prostitution goes in exactly the wrong direction if your goal is to protect women.”

The Intervener Women’s Coalition represents seven groups across the country, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers and Vancouver Rape Relief. Its intervener status–given for the purpose of the appeal process–means the court will hear its perspective because the ruling will directly impact its members.

Many Aboriginal advocates echo arguments about risking women’s safety if all aspects of prostitution were decriminalized.
Safer for Some

Decriminalization might make it safer for some prostitutes as they move into brothels and away from some of the dangers of the open streets.

But Samantha Grey, a member of the Vancouver-based Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, doubts this applies to most Aboriginal women.

She says they face more violence, higher rates of HIV, more drug addiction and would probably be excluded from brothels because they would not meet standard criteria for employment.

Benedet says many of these social problems, including prostitution, are a direct result of Canada’s history of colonialism and persisting government policies applying to Aboriginal women. One prime example is residential schools, which were funded by the government and run by churches, aimed at assimilation. Aboriginal children were taken from their families, isolated from their culture and many suffered through physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Edwards agrees and in particular thinks the legacy of abuse in residential schools has taken a toll on younger generations of Aboriginals whose parents have undergone trauma.

“We are taking a position that the government has an obligation not to confine Aboriginal women to prostitution as their social safety net,” said Benedet, adding that the government needs to acknowledge that prostitution should not be a solution for Aboriginal women to ameliorate poverty, educational disadvantage and addiction.

One group within the Aboriginal community has applauded the decriminalization ruling though.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network works with indigenous youth across Canada and the United States. In a statement, it said the September 2010 ruling could reduce street-based violence if women have access to indoor working conditions. The statement also said prostitutes may be able to negotiate safer working conditions, such as condom use, with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested.

But Benedet disagrees. “There’s a lot of other reasons those women wouldn’t want to call the police,” she said.

One of those reasons, according to Grey of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, is the fear that the police, themselves, can perpetrate sexual violence on prostitutes.

Sadiya Ansari is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer, based in Vancouver.

Barrack-room surgery in Bihar’s backwaters


A youth plays the anaesthetist minutes before he was nabbed.

A youth plays the anaesthetist minutes before he was nabbed.

Shoumojit Banerjee in The  Hindu 23rd Jan 2012

The Kaparfora sterilisations expose the State administration’s tenuous hold over NGOs contracted for conducting family planning camps.

About a fortnight ago, as the sun was setting late one cold Saturday afternoon, a crowd steadily trooped into the premises of a State-run middle school in the backwaters of north-eastern Bihar.

The group, comprising mostly of indigent, illiterate women, hailed from the extremely backward classes (EBC)-dominated hamlet of Kaparfora in Araria district and had assembled in anticipation of a sterilisation camp to be conducted by an NGO. After a long wait, eyewitnesses said, the tubectomy (or tubal ligation surgeries) commenced after dusk, lasting barely a couple of hours. The women were called in, operated upon on rough, unvarnished school benches and their fallopian tubes sealed at breakneck speed.

This appalling barrack-room surgical procedure, bereft of prescribed operating theatre (OT) facilities, started unravelling in the wee hours, when three women started haemorrhaging profusely. Further trouble broke out when the “camp organisers” refused to pay the mandatory amount (Rs.600 fixed by the Bihar government) to the women for undergoing sterilisation. Agitated by the turn of events, an irate mob comprising relatives and attendants of the women caught hold of three youths present on the spot and threatened them to make a clean breast of the affair.
Utter mess

When the police, led by the District Superintendent, reached the spot next morning, they found the ‘Operating Theatre‘ in utter mess, with the room a diffuse tapestry of spent needles, syringes and some medicines past their expiry date.

The FIR filed that day notes the absence of the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the block Primary Health Care centre doctor, supposed to be supervising such a camp. The youths, who claimed to be working on behalf of an accredited NGO, Jai Ambe Welfare Society, had barely cleared their intermediate exams, the police said.

The NGO’s tab-sheet detailed the successful completion of no less than 61 tubal ligation surgeries. There was no evidence of any clinical assessment, pre- or post-operative care or decent waste disposal procedures during the entire run of this “successful camp.”

“There was nobody to look after us once the surgery was completed … we were lain on the veranda as if we were dead people,” said Rambha Devi, a mother of three who started bleeding after her operation. The women were lying listlessly on the cold, hard floor “scattered like livestock,” notes the investigating officer in the FIR.

While initial police reports suggested that the youths themselves had performed surgeries (The Hindu, January 10), a confession statement given later to the police by Ramanand Jha, one of the nabbed, states: “the birth control operations commenced after 5 p.m. on 7/01/12 and were performed by one Dr. A.K. Choudhary and his staff in barely two hours, after which the doctor and his team left the place.”
‘53, not 61′

When contacted by The Hindu, Dr. Choudhary admitted the surgeries began at 5 p.m. on Saturday. He said he had performed “53, and not 61, surgeries in an operation that lasted five hours,” following which he and four of his assistants left the place.

Asked whether proper regulations were followed during the duration of the surgeries, Dr. Choudhary said: “I am not aware of all that [Health Ministry rules and regulations] … all I know, sir, that I was requested by the NGO [Jai Ambe] to come for a birth control camp at Kaparfora.” He stressed that he could not be held responsible for any of the rules or arrangements that an NGO had not followed as it was guided by the District Magistrate of that particular district.

In a raid that Sunday, the police tracked down the domicile of the NGO’s promoters to an imposing bungalow in the neighbouring district of Purnea. The raid yielded a rich haul of CDs and forged stamp heads.
Forged stamp heads

Among the 60-odd forged stamp heads seized by the police, one included the seal of Dr. A.K. Choudhary. Other forged seals include those of Block Development Officers and PHC doctors from each of the nine blocks in Araria, and some in Purnea and Kishanganj districts. Police sources said the seized CDs contained morphed images of the same women, displayed against different backgrounds, with dates interspersed to coincide with the genuine dates of a fuzzy camp held by Jai Ambe Welfare.

The women, including minors decked up in saris to pass off as adults, were photographed holding slates detailing their names, their spouse’s names and domicile address in white chalk. The chalk lettering was deliberately obfuscated and the same women used under different names several times over in order to prove that a “successful birth control programme” had been conducted by the NGO on paper, sources said. The CDs further detail harrowing night surgeries conducted by the NGO under torchlight in other blocks of the district.

The NGO’s promoters, Vidyanand Vishwas and Kumar Nath Chaudhary, charged with cheating and forgery, have since been absconding.

Attempts by The Hindu to contact the Jai Ambe trust for its version of the events proved futile as all three of its cell phone numbers returned a “switched off” answer.

At the root of the problem is the State’s all-round lack of capacity in the health sector, including family planning. Bihar’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.9 — the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — is the highest in the country and vastly outstrips the national average of 2.6. According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS– 3, 2005-06), more than 60 per cent of women in the 20-24 year age group get married by the age of 18 in Bihar.

In fact, populous states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have less than 350 sterilisations per 10,000 unsterilised couples with three or more than three children, with a high unmet need for family planning.

Though NGOs can and do play an important role in augmenting the efforts of the State government, the Kaparfora sterilisations expose the tenuous hold of the Nitish Kumar-run administration over NGOs contracted for conducting family planning camps.

According to Central Health Ministry operational guidelines, an NGO receives Rs.1500 for every successful tubectomy and vasectomy operation performed. Bogus or botched up, on-the-hoof operations can be passed off as successful tubectomies, and the money to be made is considerable.
Signs of cover-up

Speaking to The Hindu, Araria Civil Surgeon Husna Ara Begum said the Jai Ambe trust had been operating in the Purnea-Araria belt for more than four years and had carried out more than 4000 sterilisations in Araria alone.

The district has a TFR as high as 4.6. “Araria has a target of 28,000 sterilisations which has yet to be completed. So, we often contract NGOs to organise family planning camps in the district,” she said.

Despite evidence to the contrary, she denied the camp was conducted after dusk. Dr. Begum insisted they had taken place “during the day and were performed by a registered government doctor.” The surgeries had to be performed in a State-run middle school as Kaparfora was located in the remote hinterland, she said.

Incidentally, the Kursakanta block PHC is less than 2 km from the school premises where the tubectomies took place that day.

In an indication of cover-up, the State Health Department hurriedly circulated a prima facie report on the incident to the media, contradicting police investigations and seeking to assure the public that events had transpired quite differently.

The report, drawn up by the Araria District Civil Surgeon, issued by the District Magistrate (Araria) and presented by the Principal Secretary (Health) Amarjeet Sinha, gave a resounding clean chit to the NGO stating: “53 tubectomy surgeries were conducted successfully by Dr. A.K. Choudhary (M.B.B.S.) and his team in 6 hours in the presence of the head doctor at the PHC, Kursakanta block.” It further says “there were no complaints from any of the women who were sterilised.”

This is at odd with the facts as the women who were bleeding profusely had to be later referred to the block PHC at Kursakanta. One of them, Saraswati Devi (aged 25), was discharged only last week.

Tubectomy surgeries are performed using two methods. In a laparoscopic surgery, a laparoscope (a thin veiled tube containing a small camera) is inserted into the abdomen and the operation performed by making small incisions (usually 0.5-1.5 cm). The equipment is more sophisticated and, therefore, the surgery costlier as compared with a Minilap surgery which requires only basic and easily maintainable surgical instruments.

While laparoscopic surgeries can be performed quickly, a conventional tubectomy (or a Minilap surgery, as it is known) as in the Kaparfora cases, takes relatively longer. A Minilap operation can be performed by a trained M.B.B.S., whereas laparoscopic surgery requires highly-trained gynaecologists (MD or DGO) or surgeons (MS). This, and a number of other factors, including cost, have led to a policy preference for Minilap surgeries in densely populated States with a high TFR figure.
‘Not humanly possible’

The Hindu spoke to many doctors from the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists Societies of India (FOGSI), who said that it was “not humanly possible” to perform so many Minilap surgeries without a specialised team or standard medical infrastructure.

“It is next to impossible for 50 or 60 Minilap operations to be performed by one doctor in six, let alone two, hours under such conditions. Only a highly trained doctor can perform an operation in 10-14 minutes at the very least,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupte, ex-president, FOGSI, and Director, Gupte Hospital, speaking from Pune. “I have performed a maximum of three Minilap operations in an hour in a superior medical ambience. So, such figures [53 in six hours] are simply unbelievable” says Dr. P.K. Shah, Secretary-General, FOGSI.
Litany of violations

The camp operations themselves read like a litany of violations of the Standard Operating Procedures set out in the Union Health Ministry’s Standards for Female and Male Sterilization Services and the Quality Assurance Manual on Sterilization (both 2006). According to them, a camp can be held only on the premises of government referral hospital or a primary or community health care centre, with an ambulance service at hand.

No permission was sought from the school authorities at Kaparfora for such a camp. Neither was any attempt made to disseminate information in the form of posters or pamphlets. Importantly, rules stipulate that camp timings must be during the day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), whereas the Kaparfora tubectomies began late in the evening, concluding abruptly at night after a frenzied surgical session.

However, Mr. Sinha said State-contracted NGOs had generally done a commendable job of conducting birth control camps in the past. NGOs like Janani had conducted several successful family planning camps in different parts of Bihar, including Araria, he pointed out.

“We are committed to providing quality healthcare services in the State. In one-off cases like these, there is nothing more we would like but to see the culprits put behind bars. We are not trying to cover up anything,” he told this correspondent.

URGENT: Villagers Protest Against vedanta Red Mud Pond


Activist Satyabadi Naik’s shocking video of police crackdown on a peaceful protest by women of Rengopalli and other villages against Vedanta’s toxic Red Mud Pond in Lanjigarh. This video was recorded on 23 Jan 2012.

‘Make silicosis a notifiable disease’


 

Plight of the Silicosis victims and their family members at Musabani Ghatsila. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment. File photo

Plight of the Silicosis victims and their family members at Musabani Ghatsila. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment. File photo

Special Report- The  Hindu
Health facilities, adequate compensation must be provided

Taking a serious note of the increasing silicosis-related deaths in the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended that silicosis be made a notifiable disease. Once notified, all government and private health facilities will have to report confirmed as well as suspected silicosis cases to the government.

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling of dust containing free crystalline silica. The potential victims of silicosis are poor migrant workers employed in quarries, mines, gem cutting and other hazardous occupations such as construction sites, a majority of whom are likely to die for lack of specialised treatment.

In a special report — a first of its kind — presented to Parliament, the NHRC has suggested that the government should ensure health facilities to all workers employed at places prone to silica and earmark adequate compensation to the families in case of death.

Talking to reporters here on Friday, P.C. Sharma, NHRC member, said the governments often adopted a strange attitude by saying that those employed in such hazardous jobs were migrant labourers and under the unorganised sector of employment, and hence not much could be done.

“This is a grievous violation of human rights because laws should be equal for organised and unorganised sector workers, keeping in mind the fact that a majority of workers in the country fall in the category of unemployed sector,” he said.

Mr. Sharma admitted that numerous laws were only on paper and poorly implemented. Preventive measures and health care facilities should be the responsibility of the employers, he said.

The Commission has also written to all States to identify the hazardous industries and mapping them for silica generation which results in silicosis. The response from the States were not adequate and they had been asked to send specific answers.

The report to Parliament also suggests regular check-up for the workers employed at places where they are exposed to silica and even linking silica treatment with the TB Control Programme.

It was based on the NHRC recommendation that Rajasthan enhanced compensation in case of silica-related death to Rs.3 lakh. It has also set up a corpus of Rs.25 crore for the purpose as instances of silica-related cases are very high in that State.

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