Poor education holding back India: World Bank

The poor quality of education, reflected in low learning levels, in India and other South Asian countries traps many young people in poverty and prevents faster economic growth and shared prosperity, the World Bank (WB) said on Monday. In the first comprehensive study to analyze the performance of South Asian educational systems in terms of student learning, the World Bank said governments in the region had recognized that they must do more to improve the quality of education in schools—after having achieved significant progress in access to schooling over the past decade. “Just spending time in school is not enough. There has to be a significant gain in skills that requires an improvement in the quality of education,” said Philippe Le Houérou, World Bank vice-president for South Asia. “This will help countries in the region to reap the full expected returns on their investments and generate gains in productivity and economic growth,” Le Houérou added. The report—Student Learning in South Asia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Priorities—said many governments in South Asia had invested heavily in education to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all children by 2015. This investment resulted in an increase in the net enrolment rate in South Asia’s primary schools from 75% to 89% from 2000 to 2010, bringing the region closer to enrolment rates in Latin America and the Caribbean (94%) and East Asia and the Pacific (95%). Sri Lanka is a clear outlier, having achieved near-universal primary education decades ago. Afghanistan and Pakistan still lag significantly behind other South Asian countries, the world Bank said. However, a human resource development ministry official said India will achieve universal access to elementary education by 2015. According to official data, nearly 98% of children in India are now registered in schools. The report was concerned about the disappointing outcomes, as measured by student learning, of South Asia’s education systems, which it said in part reflected attempts to cope with a large influx of children who were first-generation school-goers. Much of what South Asian students are taught is “procedural” or rote-based. Students are poorly prepared in practical competencies such as measurement, problem-solving, and writing of meaningful and grammatically-correct sentences. One-quarter to one-third of those who graduate from primary school lack basic numeracy and literacy skills that would enable them to further their education, it added. Several other studies have also highlighted this poor learning outcome in India. The Annual Status of Education (ASER) 2013 report by education non-profit agency Pratham found that the proportion of all children in Class 5 who can read a Class 2 level text has declined by almost 15 percentage points since 2005. Similarly, the portion of students in Class 8 who can do divisions has declined by almost 23 percentage points during the same period. While three out of every five students in standard 5 were able to read the text books prescribed for pupils who were three years junior in 2005, only one out of two is up to the task now. “The poor quality of education in South Asia is a major obstacle to the region’s future economic prospects,” said Halil Dundar, lead education specialist at the World Bank and one of the report’s authors. “Raising education quality in South Asia is an urgent priority that could transform the region’s economic landscape.” The report recommends a multi-pronged strategy that includes initiatives outside the education sector to address the challenge. Some of these include ensuring young children get enough nutrition or investing in early life nutrition, and raising the quality of teachers, which is also a key concern in India. It also suggests bringing more private investment to the sector and improved measurement of education outcome.

By Prashant K. Nanda
Live Mint

http://www.livemint.com/Politics/PeGjQGgniLr5GAb9NJ4paN/Poor-education-holding-back-India-Wo rld-Bank.html?utm_source=ref_article

Posted on: July 3, 2014


Indian Toilet-Cleaners Break Free From Centuries-Old Caste

In a small city in India’s north, a community of illiterate women have broken free from the profession they were born into: cleaning rich people’s toilets. Now, they’re learning to read and write, speak English, and provide for their children’s education.

In the community of Chumars in Rajasthan state of India, these women traditionally had only this single profession. Because they did such filthy work, they and their families had to live in separate colonies.

“Since the age of seven, I started to accompany my mother who cleaned toilets everyday. Just as mothers teach their daughters to do various chores, my mother taught me how to clean other people’s toilets. She said, ‘After you get married this will help you earn a living,’” said Usha Chumar. Usha was married at age ten. She is now 35.

For centuries, people in India like Usha had little choice about their careers. Their birth determined their caste and their caste determined their profession. Thus, the son of a priest became a priest, the son of a warrior became a warrior, and the daughter of a manual scavenger became a manual scavenger. About one in seven Indians belongs to the lowest caste, the “Dalit”—or Untouchables. Among them are people like Usha who clean toilets.

While the affluent were able to break through this vicious cycle decades ago because of better access to education, the lower classes largely have not. People in Usha’s community continued to clean people’s dry lavatories even after India’s Dry Latrine Prohibition Act of 1993 banned the lowly profession.

“We couldn’t even take a holiday. Even when I was sick, I couldn’t take a rest, as they would come to my home looking for me,” said Usha. “I would tell them I’m sick, but they would say, ‘The filth is accumulating. It will only take a few minutes. Clean and go.”

Usha and the other manual scavenging woman had no means to break free from their derogatory profession. That is, until an NGO, Sulabh International, started mobilizing them. They gave them a formal education, job skills training, and more importantly a monthly stipend to work at their livelihood center called Naye Disha. It means “New Direction” in Hindi.

So far, the Naye Disha center has given a new direction to 112 women from the Chumar community of Alwar.

“[Naye Disha] is like a breath of life. When I told my mother-in-law about it, she said there’s no one who can help us break free from our profession. But now even she believes in it,” said Usha.

Usha was chosen as the President of Sulabh International by the organization’s founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. Now she has become the global face of the NGO and its work on sanitation and hygiene. Pathak is a well-known social reformer and an expert in low-cost sanitation.

Sulabh International established the Nayi Disha center in a rich residential area so that the women can psychologically break free from the sense of being Untouchables and feel dignity in mainstream society—something they have been denied for generations.

Apart from reading and writing skills, Naye Disha provides livelihood skills like tailoring, embroidery, food processing, and beauty care. The food products they produce at the center are sold in the local market and nearby cities like Delhi and Jaipur. They provide tailoring, embroidery and beauty care services to the rich residents nearby.

A woman named Vimla Sarvan works at the center. She lives in a mud hut beyond the concrete houses of the more affluent villagers. Vimla gave birth to a son 15 days earlier.

“I’m on a three-month maternity leave. My life changed after coming to Naye Disha. Earlier I just earned about 1500 rupees cleaning people’s homes every month, now I earn 3300,” Vimla said. Her husband earns 100-150 rupees everyday selling recyclable trash. “We are thinking of saving for our children’s education.”

Working at Naye Disha ensures Vimla a stipend during maternity leave, something that would have been impossible otherwise.

Inside Vimla’s house, on the mud wall, hangs a poster of a city harbor with tall skyscrapers. In the blue sky above is written, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it.”

By: Venus Upadhayaya
Epoch Times
http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/756653-indian-toilet-cleaners-break-free-from-centuries-old-cas te/?photo=2

Posted on: June 25, 2014


India’s courts ‘condone’ Dalit atrocities

Twenty two years ago, in Bhateri village in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped by five men. The reason was neither lust nor just patriarchy. Devi’s fault was that as a lower-caste woman, she had dared to transgress the age old strictures of caste – by protesting against the practice of child marriage, which was a staple among the upper-castes. Hence, he was meted out a “deserving punishment”.

When the matter finally reached the court, the judge acquitted all the five rapists, holding, among a host of other reasons, that since the upper castes practised strict untouchability, it was inconceivable that any of the five would touch a lower caste woman. Till today, Devi remains deprived of justice.

Now that there is a tidal wave of opprobrium and condemnation against the gang-rapes and murder at Badaun in northern Uttar Pradesh state and the gang-rapes in Bhagana, Haryana, the next question one is confronted with is – will justice be done? And if so, how?

While investigations are still on, and arrests have been made, it is only the first step. The final outcome in the courts is all that matters, and it is here that there is cause for much alarm and disappointment. For, India’s courts have consistently failed the Dalits (untouchables) by steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that sexual violence is perpetrated because of a woman’s caste.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, commonly known as PoA Act, recognises rape and other forms of sexual violence as an “atrocity”- an aggravated offence, as opposed to the general crime of rape. The reason is that an atrocity, as philosopher Claudia Card defines it, is a “gross evil – the widespread toleration of wrongfully perpetrated intolerable harm to individuals”.

Because Dalit women’s bodies are stigmatised – they are considered expendable and justifiably available for recreational (pleasure-seeking) or punitive purposes of upper-caste men, the law seeks to bring in substantive equality by recognising the lived reality of the victims.

Therefore, it is imperative for courts to recognise that the sine qua non for the deeming rape as an atrocity under the law is that the violence was perpetrated on the ground that the victim hailed from a lower caste.

Tragically, it is here that the judicial record is one of abject failure. Not only have the judges refused to acknowledge the reality of caste, but have also attributed reasons such as “unrequited passion”, “exploration of sexuality” and let off the accused. Even if there is a conviction for rape, an acquittal from the charges of atrocity renders justice not only incomplete, but also as a travesty.

Khairlanji village in western Maharashtra state stands out as the most infamous example in recent times. On September 26, 2006, four members of Suresh Bhotmange’s (a Dalit) family were killed in the most gruesome manner. His wife and daughter were stripped, thrashed, and paraded naked through the village, before being subjected to a fiendish gang-rape.

Nothing was left….knives, iron rods, spikes of bullock cart wheels- everything was thrust in their private parts. Bhotmange’s “crime” was the police complaint that he had lodged against the upper-caste Hindus grabbing the plot of land that was rightfully his.

The autopsy was done in the shoddiest manner – no efforts were made to test for rape, even though the naked bodies of the two women lay in the village for a considerable period of time. All the accused who were arrested were convicted by the trial court of murder and other offences, but not for rape.

Worse was in store in the Bombay High Court. In its 2010 judgement, the court put down the atrocities to reasons of personal rivalry and individual revenge. Shockingly, the court went to considerable lengths to hold that because there was no evidence, no rape had been committed – completely ignoring the harsh reality – that there would be no witnesses, and that the trial court had committed a glaring omission by ignoring evident facts. If the naked and badly mangled bodies of Dalit women did not stir the court to acknowledge sexual atrocity, perhaps nothing else could have. The appeal against the high court’s judgement remains undecided till this date.

The case of Hanamath was an appeal to the Karnataka High Court against the conviction of four men for gang-raping a 15-year-old Dalit girl. The court upheld the conviction of rape because it could have done little else – all the proof – eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence were stacked against the accused. But when it came to holding the culprits guilty under the PoA Act, the court not only demonstrated its blindness to caste, but took the “boys will be boys” line of reasoning, holding that the gang-rape was “a lustful act of misguided youth”.

Leave aside convictions. How does one prove to the court that a rape was committed because the perpetrators wanted to exercise their upper caste power and pelf? There cannot be any rule of evidence, except that of social reality – that the caste system, in all its vicious manifestations, exists.

Hence, the Supreme Court’s judgement in Ramdas (2006) rankles, and rankles hard. In the dead of night, three men dragged out a young woman of the low-ranking Pardhi caste and raped her. This was after she had refused to obey their summons, belonging to a landowning upper-caste, who wanted her to satisfy their carnal desires.

Of course, they wouldn’t have had the temerity to exercise the same obnoxious power on a woman of their own, or a higher caste, but then, Dalit women are fair game!

But the court was not inclined to accept this, and held – “The mere fact that the victim happened to be a girl belonging to a scheduled (lower) caste does not attract the provisions of the (PoA) Act.”

When a judgement of the Supreme Court deals a body blow to the very foundations of the law which aims to protect, impunity will certainly continue, unabated.

By: Saurav Datta
Al Jazeera

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/india-courts-condone-dalit-rape-20146101032 7959421.html

Posted on: June 11, 2014


Why India’s sanitation crisis kills women

The gruesome rape and hanging of two teenage girls in the populous Uttar Pradesh state again proves how women have become the biggest victims of India’s sanitation crisis.

The two girls were going to the fields to defecate when they went missing on Tuesday night.

Nearly half-a-billion Indians – or 48% of the population – lack access to basic sanitation and defecate in the open.

The situation is worse in villages where, according to the WHO and Unicef, some 65% defecate in the open. And women appear to bear the brunt as they are mostly attacked and assaulted when they step out early in the morning or late in the evening.

Several studies have shown that women without toilets at home are vulnerable to sexual violence when travelling to and from public facilities or open fields.

The evidence is glaring.

A senior police official in Bihar said some 400 women would have “escaped” rape last year if they had toilets in their homes.

Women living in urban slums of Delhi reported specific incidents of girls under 10 “being raped while on their way to use a public toilet” to researchers of a 2011 study funded by WaterAid and DFID-funded Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity.

Women in one slum said when they went out in the open to defecate, local boys stared at them, made threats, threw bricks and stabbed them. Others said they faced “lewd remarks, physical gestures and rape when they relieved themselves in the bushes”.

“We have had one-on-one fights with thugs in order to save our daughters from getting raped. It then becomes a fight that either you [the thug] kill me to get to my daughter or you back off,” a helpless mother told the researchers, pointing out to the chilling frequency of such assaults.

By one estimate, some 300 million women and girls in India defecate in the open. Most of them belong to underprivileged sections of the society and are too poor to afford toilets. The two girls from Badaun, who reportedly belonged to the lower-rung of a group of castes called Other Backward Classes (OBCs), were among them and paid with their lives.

“This vicious, horrifying attack illustrates too vividly the risks that girls and women take when they don’t have a safe, private place to relieve themselves,” says said Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid. “Ending open defecation is an urgent priority that needs to be addressed, for the benefit of women and girls who live in poverty and without access to privacy and a decent toilet.”

Experts believe that India needs to scale up its war on sanitation with a special emphases on women.

It needs to build more private toilets with sewerage connections when space is available and shared toilets when space is scarce. Community toilets have worked in many places and flopped in others like the city of Bhopal, where, a study revealed, only half as many women as men used the toilets because of their distance from home.

This is not a problem in India alone: violence against women on the way to or from public toilets have been reported from countries like Kenya and Uganda. But for a country which aspires for superpower status, lack of toilets is an enduring shame.

On his stump, the new prime minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP had promised, “Toilets first, Temples later”. He needs to do that sooner to save lives of more women.

By: Soutik Biswas

Posted on: May 30, 2014


India’s lowest ‘untouchable’ caste rejoices as ratcatcher sworn in as Bihar chief minister

Thousands of India’s lowest “untouchable” caste celebrated the election of a ratcatcher as Bihar’s chief minister on Tuesday amid hopes that their days as the country’s most backward and marginalised minority might finally be coming to an end.

Jitan Ram Manjhi, 68, who was born into the blighted Musahar community and grew up catching and eating rats, was sworn in as chief minister in a ceremony that marked the most extraordinary rise of any politician in the history of India.

While Narendra Modi’s rise to prime minister was aided by his origins as a tea boy and several Dalits have broken through the caste barriers to become powerful political figures – B. R Ambedkar, the revered author of the Indian constitution, and Mayawati, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh – none of them can match the rise of Mr Manjhi.

His ratcatcher Musahar caste is the very lowest of India’s 900 Dalit sub-castes who do the dirtiest jobs considered the most repellent to higher castes.

India’s Dalits or ‘untouchables’ live below the four Hindu castes of Brahmin priests and teachers, Kshatriya warriors and rulers, Vaishya traders and Shudra servants, and have suffered routine violence and discrimination for centuries as a ‘polluting’ presence.

They are excluded from Hindu temples, banned from drinking water from wells used by higher castes and their children are forced to eat separately at school. Those who demand equal rights are often made outcasts and evicted from their homes.

But while all Dalits suffer inhuman and brutal treatment, none of them are quite as marginalised as the Musahar.

They account for almost half of Bihar’s 80 million population, but hardly any of them have a government job, while literacy rates are among the very lowest in the whole country – six per cent of Musahar men can read and write and only two per cent of women.

Many of them now work as bonded farm labourers.

Campaigners for Musahar rights said on Tuesday they believe the election of Mr Manjhi as chief minister will finally roll back the prejudice they suffer and allow them to take their place in mainstream society.

“It’s an empowering development for the millions of Musahars of Bihar. We have been oppressed for centuries by the upper classes and his appointment as the chief minister of Bihar is a historic step”, said Umesh Kumar Manjhi of the Rashtriya Musahar-Bhuyian Vikash Parishad group.

“Musahar are landless agricultural workers and are treated as outcasts even by Dalits. Traditionally we are a community of rat catchers and we continue to do so now because of poverty. Jitan Ram Manjhi is a first generation literate and the only one to reach the top.

“He has struggled like any other Musahar. His parents worked on farms and hunted rats to feed themselves. Jitan, in his early childhood, worked with his parents and hunted rats”, he explained.

Dr Shaibal Gupta, director of the Asian Development Research Institute, said the Musahar are untouchable to other “untouchables” and their exclusion is so widespread that many of them have joined a Maoist insurgency.

He said Mr Manjhi’s appointment as chief minister was part of Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United)’s strategy to win over the majority ‘Mahadalit’ community – the lowest Dalit castes – and prevent Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party winning power in the state.

“They have never had representation in the system. One cannot even find a Musahar peon (messenger) in government. It is a historic moment for breaking India’s caste barriers”, he said.

Mr Manjhi’s fortunes changed in the early 1980s when he became a Congress member of the state assembly.

He later became tribal welfare minister in the Janata Dal (United) government and urged people to eat rat meat when rodents were blamed for eating 50 per cent of the state’s grain stocks.

By: Dean Nelson
The Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/10844037/Indias-lowest-untouchable-caste-r ejoices-as-ratcatcher-sworn-in-as-Bihar-chief-minister.html

Posted on: May 20, 2014


‘Atrocities against Dalits increasing’

Water conservation minister and Dalit leader Nitin Raut on Monday took his own government to task over the spurt in cases of Dalit atrocities. He said that such cases have been increasing in Maharashtra. He has asked chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to call a special Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue in detail.

Mr Raut visited villages of Osmanabad, Buldhana and Ahmednagar where cases of Dalit atrocities have been reported recently. Referring to them, Mr Raut said, “Such cases have been on the rise. In Ahmednagar alone, this is the second case of Dalit atrocity within a year and the state government had to take it seriously.” He was referring to the murder of 17-year-old Nitin Aage at Kharda village of Ahmednagar.

The minister has written a letter to the CM for a special meeting of the Cabinet to discuss the issue and said he would raise the issue in the meeting on Wednesday.

On whether the state has failed to curb such incidents or is it a failure of the home department, he said, “You can interpret it as you like, but all I can say is that the cases of atrocities against Dalits have increased in Maharashtra and this needs to be stopped.”

He also expressed shock over anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare’s silence. “I am shocked as to why a senior social worker like Mr Hazare is mum even when Ahmednagar is his home district. In less than a year, this is the second case where a Dalit youth was brutally murdered and he has not uttered a single word on it,” Mr Raut said.

“I believe all political parties and social activists should come together to solve this problem as the mentality of the people needs to be changed. We have laws and the accused will be convicted, but such incidents will be curbed only when the mindset changes,” he said.

Asian Age

Posted on: May 6, 2014


Dalit kids made to eat last, Muslims insulted in schools: Report

Children from Dalit, tribal and Muslim communities are being blatantly discriminated against in schools in rural areas in several states of the country, says a shocking report released by an international rights group on Tuesday.

The discrimination, the Human Rights Watch report titled ‘They Say We’re Dirty’ says, includes “teachers asking Dalit children to sit separately, making insulting remarks about Muslims and tribal students and village authorities not responding when girls are kept from the classroom”.

The report also says “teachers and other students often address these children using derogatory terms for their caste, community, tribe, or religion”.

“In some schools, children from vulnerable communities are not ever considered for leadership roles such as class monitor because of their caste or community. Many are expected to perform unpleasant jobs such as cleaning toilets. Schools in marginalised neighborhoods often have the poorest infrastructure and least well-trained teachers; many have fewer teachers than required,” the report said.

The report was prepared with interviews with more than 160 people, including 85 children, to examine obstacles to implementation of the Right to Education Act, said Human Rights Watch.

Here are some of the instances of bias the children face on the basis of caste and religion, as cited in the report:

1. This is what a student from the Ghasiya tribal community studying at a school in Sonbhadra district in UP was quoted as saying: “The teacher tells us to sit on the other side. If we sit with others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately … The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says we ‘are dirty.’ The other children also call us dirty everyday so sometimes we get angry and hit them.”

2. The principal of the same school in Sonbhadra said this about the tribal children: “These Ghasiya children come to school late, come when they want to come, no matter how much we tell them to come on time. Their main aim is to come and eat, not to study. Just see how dirty they are.”

3. A 14-year-old boy, working at a brick kiln, recounted: “The teacher always made us sit in a corner of the room, and would throw keys at us [when she was angry]. We only got food if anything was left after other children were served… [G]radually [we] stopped going to school.”

4. A dalit girl from Bihar said this: “Other children don’t let us sit with them. Some of the girls say, ‘Yuck, you people are Dom [street sweepers] – a dirty caste….’ The teachers never say anything even when we complain.”

5. A 12-year-old boy, from the Muslim community in Delhi, said this: “The teachers don’t let us participate in any sports. Class monitors are always chosen from among Hindu boys and they always complain about us Muslim boys.”

6. Sharda, a Dalit girl, said she was withdrawn from school by her parents because they were worried about her safety. She was married at age 14 against her will. Before her wedding, when she went to school despite her parents’ refusal, she found that her name was no longer in the school register. While some villagers cautioned her father against marrying her at such a young age, no local authorities or members of the gram panchayat intervened.

India Today
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/dalit-kids-made-to-eat-last-muslims-insulted-in-schools-repo rt/1/357043.html

Posted on: April 22, 2014


5 reasons you should be following India’s jaw-droppingly enormous elections

It’s been argued that 2014 will be the biggest year in the history of democracy, with more people than ever before going to the polls to decide their own fate.

Nowhere is that tag more obvious than in India, which is seeing a truly enormous number of people voting between April 7 and May 12. After the votes are counted May 16, we’ll know who Indians have elected to their parliament. Whatever party has a majority, or is able to form a majority coalition, will form a government from which a prime minister will lead the country.

Even for those who know nothing about India, this really looks to be one of the most fascinating political events this year, and not just because of its scale. The election is taking place in an increasingly important tech-savvy country, with vital issues of economic problems and nationalism at stake, and a choice between a world famous name and a controversial outsider. It’s a fascinating moment in democracy, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s what you should know.

The staggering numbers

As we mentioned before, India’s election is ridiculously huge. For example, on Thursday, the biggest day so far, the BBC reported that more than 110 million voters were eligible to cast votes. That’s almost double the number of people in the United Kingdom, and 30 million less than the entire population of Russia.

Crazier still, Thursday’s figure is just a small part of the broader whole. In total, 815 million people are eligible to vote, as shown in the graphic below, produced by the Indian Embassy in Washington.

As you can probably imagine, organizing 815 million people to vote is a difficult procedure: More than 930,000 polling stations are being set up around the country, with 11 million personnel. In the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, the election will cost 3.7 billion rupees, or $61.5 million, the New York Times reported. That also helps to explain why the election has been staggered on nine days over about a month.
It’s an election of firsts

As the graphic above explains, for more than 100 million people, it’s their first chance to vote. That is a big factor, and the candidates are aware of it: This map, produced by the 545, shows where election rallies are being held vs. the number of new voters in each state:

In another new twist, the election will be the first to allow non-resident Indians to vote (though they will still have to travel to India to vote), and voters will be allowed to answer “none of the above.”

One of the most interesting shifts, however, is the sudden role of technology in the election. Five years have passed since the last election, and in that time circumstances have clearly changed: An SMS alert system called COMET will be used, for example, and Facebook is believed to have been a key factor in getting young, urban voters more engaged that in previous votes (read more about that over at Buzzfeed).

The price of an onion may play a key role

Indian laborers carry onions toward waiting vehicles at a wholesale market yard in Hyderabad in August 2013. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

Readers of the financial press may have noticed a lot of headlines coming out about the price of an onion in India over the past few months. “Rains may defeat govt’s efforts to calm onion prices quickly” ran one Reuters headline in October. “India to Import Onions for First Time Since 2011 as Prices Surge” Bloomberg wrote a couple of months before.

It sounds strange, but we should remember these questions now, as onions might be a good way to think of one of the key issues in the Indian elections: The economy.

While India was one of the famous BRICS (along with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa), it’s lagged behind the expectations of others, especially China (the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the label later said that India was the biggest disappointment of the lot).

In 2013, a record 35 percent of Indians polled felt that the national economy was getting worse, according to Gallup, and Pew reports that 89 percent of people felt that rising prices were a “very big problem.”

As Soutik Biswas wrote for the BBC this month, the wildly varying price of an onion in India (it’s reported to have inflated 270 percent over 2013) is one very clear example of the weakness of the Indian economy: in particular, highlighting how India’s farming economy is reliant on favorable weather and how prices are inflated by a complex supply chain.

It’s become a political issue, with the 2010 “onion crisis” still held against the ruling Congress Party, but onions have a history in India. When Indira Gandhi was swept back to power in the 1980 election, her rallying issue was the price of the onion, and when she won, people called it “the Onion election.” Within two years of her election, rising onion prices caused her own political crisis.

The familiar name: Rahul Gandhi

Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters during a public rally meeting for the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Bangalore, India, 07 April 2014. The world’s largest elections began in India 07 April with millions of voters casting ballots in the first phase of the five-week long polls, officials said. Over 76 per cent of the 7.7 million eligible voters exercised their right to vote in six constituencies of the north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura, deputy election commissioner Alok Shukla told reporters in New Delhi. About 815 million Indians are eligible to vote in the elections to choose lawmakers to the 543-member Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament. The elections staggered over nine phases are due to end May 12. Votes are to be counted on May 16, and results expected to be known the same day.

Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters during a public rally for the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Bangalore, India, on April 7. (Jagadeesh NV/EPA)

You probably recognize the name here. Rahul Gandhi is often referred to as the “heir apparent” or a “scion” of India’s most prominent political dynasty. His grandmother and father were both prime ministers of India. Now, as head of the Congress Party, Gandhi is facing his biggest test, as he is expected to carry the party into the elections during a time it has been marred by economic incompetence and damaging corruption scandals.

Gandhi, who has been a member of India’s parliament since 2004, was elevated to the head of his party last year. Since then, he has tried to distance himself as a different candidate, indicating a generational shift of sorts in India’s politics, in which a majority of politicians are 60 years and older and have been in politics for decades. Although many in his party wanted him to have a prominent role sooner, he was seen as someone who was shy, often being referred to as the “reluctant prince.” Gandhi’s campaigning in some of the most important states during the state elections last year was seen as a failure, as the Congress party performed poorly, raising doubts about his leadership abilities.

Earlier in January, Gandhi appeared for his first formal interview almost a decade after entering politics. During his interview, he expressed his vision for India, focusing primarily on empowering women and mobilizing the youths, but he failed to address why his party was unable to tackle corruption.

Gandhi has campaigned aggressively this year, trying to woo younger voters. During his speech in Rajasthan last month, he promised that his party would give opportunities to new and young faces to represent their people. With polls showing rival Narendra Modi in the lead, Gandhi has lately launched a series of blistering attacks on his opponent. “He will divide the nation into pieces, and make people fight against each other,” he said of Modi during an election rally in Chhattisgarh.

With a faltering economy, his party’s reputation is already in jeopardy. If Gandhi loses to Modi, which many say is bound to happen, that would likely mean the long-held family grip on one of India’s most powerful political parties will also slowly start to slip away.

The favorite: Narendra Modi

Chief Minister of the western Gujarat state and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi© is surrounded by commandos during an election campaign rally in support of the BJP candidate for Darjeeling constituency, on the outskirts of Siliguri on April 10, 2014. Indians have begun voting in the world’s biggest election which is set to sweep the Hindu nationalist opposition to power at a time of low growth, anger about corruption and warnings about religious unrest. India’s 814-million-strong electorate are forecast to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years and led by India’s famous Gandhi dynasty.

Narendra Modi is surrounded by commandos during an election campaign rally in support of the BJP candidate for the Darjeeling constituency on the outskirts of Siliguri, India, on April 10. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Gety Images)

The man who will most likely become the leader of world’s largest democracy sleeps only about 3.5 hours a night, admits to being a workaholic and says he has no time to read books and no pastimes or any other activities except for early-morning yoga.

For some in India, Narendra Modi is a role model, a muscular administrator who has the competence to turn around the nation. As a chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi was credited for rooting out corruption and promoting rapid economic growth, making it an investment hub for international companies.

But for others, Modi is an extremely controversial figure (as our former colleague Max Fisher puts it, much of the world seems afraid of him) with a worrying Hindu nationalist history. During the riots in Gujarat in 2002, Modi was accused of not only failing to prevent them, but going as far as encouraging Hindu mobs to massacre nearly 2,000 Muslims. Modi’s visa to the United States was revoked in 2005 and has been denied one since then for largely that reason. However, if Modi wins the election, it would put the United States in a difficult position because he would automatically qualify for a diplomatic visa (A-1 status) as head of state.

India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has in some measure gambled by giving Modi the candidacy for prime minister, with a belief that the wounds of the 2002 killings have healed and people have moved on. So far, it has proven to be a good gamble for the Hindu nationalist party, as India has seen massive support for Modi. But at the same time, there are fears that in taking a risk with Modi, BJP is alienating the Muslim population, who make up 15 percent of India’s voters.

But if his campaigning across the country is any sign, Modi seems to have done his homework. According to the 545, Modi is the only candidate who has visited several key states that are home to a total of about 23 million first-time voters. Drawing that demographic to support him will be key, as his competitors Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are also seeking to attract young voters.

That’s it for now. India’s voting will continue until May 12. The votes will be counted May 16.

By Adam Taylor and Anup Kaphle
Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/04/10/5-reasons-you-should-be-following- indias-jaw-droppingly-enormous-elections/

Posted on: April 11, 2014


Stinker for the political class

The SC directive asking the Centre and states to end manual scavenging and offer compensation to the workers might finally restore dignity to three lakh Dalits

In spite of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, passed in September last year, the Supreme Court had to step in to put an end to the degrading vocation of manual scavenging. Its directives to the Centre and states to strictly implement the Act are scathing reminders of how little the rest of India cares about those who carry out the dirtiest of jobs at grave personal risk. Without them, our ‘civilised’ world would have crumbled long back.

According to government estimates, there are about three lakh Dalits, mostly women, engaged in the medieval practice of clearing excreta from dry latrines — declared illegal since 1993 — and cleaning drains.

The impact of the 1993 law can be gauged from the 2011 Census report which mentions the existence of 7,94,390 such toilets in the country.

Like most meaningful legislations, the 2013 Act too remains only on paper. The Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS), which offers vocational training, cash subsidy and loan, is slow to deliver and prone to corruption, with middle men being the prime beneficiaries of the cash component of the scheme. The SC’s March 27 order for rehabilitation, which also includes providing education and residential plots or houses will make a significant difference in the lives of valmikis.

The other critical issue is the hazardous nature of the vocation. Asphyxiation is common even as the anti-manual scavenging act makes protective gear mandatory for a person entering the underground tunnels.

The death of 30 workers in Tamil Nadu since February 2012 points to grave laxity in safety measures. In such a milieu, the apex court’s decision to award Rs10 lakh compensation for each sewer death occurring due to lack of safety gear is only human. It will now make negligent waste management companies, employing people on a temporary basis, value human lives. The court order doesn’t spare the Railways, the biggest employer for such jobs, either, as the latter is now being forced to look for suitable alternatives for its workforce.

The failure to end manual scavenging points to an even bigger failure in tackling India’s toilet problems. For a country aspiring to be a world leader and an economic giant, its 640 million people defecate in the open, producing 73,000 tonnes of waste every day. The utter disregard for sanitation results in 768,000 deaths every year and a loss of US $54 billion due to various factors such as medical bills and missed work. After all these years, India’s toilet revolution is still a pipe dream.

However, at the root of it all is society’s criminal indifference to its own people. That a fellow human being, a Dalit, has to bear the waste of a privileged person for livelihood is a violation of the human spirit. It negates the cardinal principles of equality and the dignity of labour. Right from the days of Gandhi’s Harijan movement, scavenging has been publicly denounced — even Manmohan Singh has called it “one of the darkest blots on India’s development process”. Yet it has continued, right under our nose, and much to our relief, because it has spared us the ignominy of getting our own hands dirty. We have conveniently dumped the responsibility on the underprivileged who for generations have been subjected to such humiliation.


Posted on: March 31, 2014


Dalit manifesto focuses on land rights, education

Even as major parties are fine-tuning their political manifestoes for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kerala will get a dalit manifesto, drafted by four young dalits, following a successful Facebook campaign.

The final version will be available online (https://www.facebook.com/dalitmanifesto) on Wednesday after a nine-day Facebook campaign that began on March 10.

In its approach (relying exclusively on social media) and focus this would be a rare step in Indian electoral arena.

The dalit manifesto sets a six-point agenda for political parties in Kerala. It broadly focuses on land, education, housing, health and entrepreneurship. The key demands of the dalit community are:

1. Land for agriculture in villages and commerce and industry in urban areas.

2. Educational stipends and grants should be increased not merely nominally, but corresponding to price index and inflation.

3. Wherever government, semi-government and private organizations set up industrial and commercial shopping complexes on land given free by the government, dalits should be given a stake in real estate

4. In IT parks and corridors, there should be an exclusive incubation park for dalit entrepreneurs.

5. Extend reservation rights to dalits among Christian and Muslim communities.

6. Make Ambedkarism part of the curriculum, deviating from the current practice of treating Ambedkar as the architect of the Constitution.

The campaign is the brainchild of V B Ajay Kumar, a rights activist; Jeevachaithanyan, a software engineer; P S Pradeep, a multi-media student; and Prashant Koliyoor, an activist.

“A manifesto is an important document in governance even though the common man as well as political parties tend to disregard them. When we began this, we wanted to collate the aspirations of the dalit community. This has been an encouraging exercise. It’s the first campaign among Kerala’s online dalit community and we have received overwhelming response, close to 5,000 daily,” said Ajay Kumar.

Kerala has two reserved Lok Sabha constituencies for dalits – Alathur and Mavelikkara.

Both LDF and UDF, the two leading political alliances in the state, have fielded dalit candidates in these mandatory constituencies but have ignored dalit community in the remaining 18 parliament seats.

Ajay Kumar, director of RIGHTS, an NGO based in Thiruvananthapuram, said the project has not been carried out with the backing of dalit organizations. “We will not hold a press meet (since it costs a minimum of Rs 3,000), but will release the document online. It will be interesting to watch the response of frontline parties such as Congress, CPM and BJP,” he said.

By: John Cheeran
Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/Dalit-manifesto-focuses-on-land-rights-education/ articleshow/32259952.cms?cfmid=11000000

Posted on: March 19, 2014


Low cost private schools may solve India’s problem

Low cost private schools may provide education to all children, educationist James Tooley said Thursday, adding that attention is not being given to such schools.

Recounting his experience in Hyderabad, Tooley, a professor of education policy at the Newcastle University in Britain, who has served as a consultant for the World Bank, said he was struck by the ubiquity of private schools in a slum area.

“The parents in the slum did not want to send their children to government schools, but they sent them to a low cost private schools,” he said.

“This is not just the case in India, it is so in the entire developing world,” Tooley said participating in a conference on school education organised by industrial body CII.

Toby Linden, lead education specialist at the World Bank, stressed that Indian government has not been trying to find new ways to use finance education.

“The same pattern has been repeated over years, they are not thinking of creative ways to use finance for the education sector,” he said.

A recent report by NGO Pratham released earlier this year showed the enrolment level in schools has made significant strides with 97 percent of children now in schools, compared with 93 percent in 2005.

However, the quality of learning as measured by reading, writing, and arithmetic, has not shown much improvement as per the report.

The study also noted that there has been a steady increase in private school enrolment from 18.7 percent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2013.

Business Standard
http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/low-cost-private-schools-may-solve-india-s-p roblem-114031300824_1.html

Posted on: March 14, 2014


India’s Christian and Muslim Dalits say they are more ‘untouchable’ than Hindus

India’s Dalits were once known as untouchables in the days when the caste system had no laws against it.

Although the federal government has tried to give Dalits a lift-up with affirmative action legislation, some Dalits says they are more untouchable than Dalitis from the Hindu majority.

These are Christian and Muslim Dalits.

Human Rights Watch in 2007 entitled the situation for Dalits: “India: ‘Hidden Apartheid’ of Discrimination Against Dalits.”

National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) member churches expressed deep concern over discrimination faced by Christian and Muslim Dalit communities in their country after a meeting they organized on Wednesday.

The churches, which belong to the World Council of Churches, were, demanding protection of the right to freedom of religion in a meeting with Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

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“Both Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslim are not considered Dalits by our government, and hence, they are denied affirmative action programmes that empower marginalized communities,” said Samuel Jayakumar, the NCCI’s executive secretary for the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness, who chaired the meeting.

“We see this as religion based discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits in India,” he said.

Their meeting took place while pollsters were predicting a sweeping national election win in two months time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which some of its opponents say has a “Hindu nationalist” agenda.


Father Z. Devasagayaraj of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India said that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are denied affirmative action programmes to which they are entitled in education and employment.

He too cited examples of the difficulties these communities face as they do not come under the legal prevention of atrocities act; they do not have access to special programs of the government for Dalits; nor can they contest in certain elections.

Due to all this the development of the community has been seriously affected.

The meeting was attended by church leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, leaders of the Muslim community and representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and was organized by the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI).

Bielefeldt was visiting India until February 27 invited by civil society organizations including the Indian Social Institute and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

The NCCI said that Ramesh Nathan from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights spoke about numerous forms of “untouchability” resulting from the caste system practiced in India.

Nathan noted that Dalit Christians are most vulnerable to caste-based violence but are not protected by the Prevention of Atrocities Act in the Indian constitution, which is meant to prevent atrocities against the scheduled castes, one of the classifications of Dalits.

The Indian constitution includes Dalits in the list of scheduled castes as the most marginalized communities who need protection.

However when converted to Christianity or Islam, these individuals and communities are excluded from the protective and affirmative measures offered by the Indian government.

Leila Passah, general secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of India also raised with the Special Rapporteur the “inhumane treatment meted out to the Dalit community by the Indian police, when they organized a peaceful protest in Delhi.”

Passah said, “The police beat up protestors with sticks as Christian and Muslim leaders marched towards the Parliament House to hand over to the prime minster of India a memorandum of demands.”

Media reports said some 30 people were injured in this incident and several protestors including church leaders were detained in a police station on December 11.

Bielefeldt said he recognized issues of discrimination against Dalits in India, calling religious conversion a test case for freedom of religion. He noted that the right to equality has been denied to the Dalit community in India and they cannot be forced to follow a particular religion.

By: Peter Kenny
Ecumenical News
http://www.ecumenicalnews.com/article/indias-christian-and-muslim-dalits-say-they-are-more-unto uchable-than-hindus-22756

Posted on: March 4, 2014


NGOs hail SC directive to stop Devadasi system

It’s an open secret that has come to haunt the Karnataka government again. Taking note of the Devadasi system in the state, the Apex Court recently directed the Karnataka Chief Secretary to take necessary steps to prevent women from being forced into it. In spite of a ban on the age-old system, which human rights activists term akin to slavery, Devadasi dedication is still prevalent in the country.

Traditionally, a Devadasi is a woman dedicated to the worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life, but the system is believed to have allegedly become illegal prostitution. “It’s a shameful and sad reality. The Devadasi system is still prevalent in various pockets of Karntaka. After reading an article in a newspaper about the plight of former Devadasis, I decided to make the Kannada film Thippaji Circle, which is based on the real-life story of a Devadasi named Thippaji. She had revolted against the social evil and opened a small shop to provide education to her daughters. In Chitradurga, a circle is named after her, as a mark of honour to the brave lady,” says director Aditya Chikkanna.

The film, starring Pooja Gandhi in the lead role, faced legal trouble after the family of Thippaji took objection to the subject of the film. The shoot for the film was stopped after the team received a stay order against its making. However, the case was withdrawn in January, and the director says that the film is set to release in a month’s time.

Incidentally, the system has been banned by the state government for over three decades, when the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982 was implemented. But members of the Mahila Abhivruddhi Matthu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS), a society for and run by former Devadasis in Belgaum district, say that without the support of the government and society at large, the system cannot be eradicated.

Founded in 1997 by Shobha Gasti with about 2,500 members (that has now grown to about 3,600), the society aims to sustain the momentum of a project initiated by the Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation and Bangalore-based non-governmental organization MYRADA to bring social justice and equality to Devadasis in Belgaum district.

Seethavva Jodahatti, a former Devadasi and member of MASS says that the organization has managed to stop the practice in Belgaum, and is looking to achieve the same in 10 other districts of the state.

In fact, members of MASS recently demanded that the project to rehabilitate former Devadasis be returned to them. According to reports, the project was handled by Shobha’s team at MASS between 2002 and 2010, but was later handed over to a retired Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), leading to problems in its implementation.

Shobha has been quoted as saying, “We are people who have ourselves suffered as Devadasis and best suited to ensure that the system is completely rooted out. We don’t want just economic independence. We also want our children to be treated well.”

Besides Karnataka, the Devadasi system flourishes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. To ascertain the exact number of Devadasis in Karnataka, the women and child development department conducted a survey during 1993-94 and found that there were 22,873 Devadasis spread across 10 districts.

By: Maitreyee Boruah
Times of India

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/kannada/movies/news-interviews/NGOs-hail-SC -directive-to-stop-Devadasi-system/articleshow/30500056.cms

Posted on: February 19, 2014


Childhood lost

Child trafficking is the recruitment, transport, transfer or receipt of a child for exploitation.

The International Labour Organization estimates that globally, 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.

The US State Department ranks countries by how they adhere to anti-human trafficking laws. They are categorised as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 watchlist, Tier 3 and Special Case, with Tier 1 as the best ranking. India falls in Tier 2, which means it does not completely adhere to the minimum standards but is making significant efforts to change the situation.

The main reason for child trafficking is poverty. With industrialisation, the loss of traditional means of livelihood in rural areas forced people to migrate to cities for work. This leads to exploitation of children for commercial sex and cheap labour.

The belts of exploitation
India is a source, route of transit and destination for trafficked women and girls. Interstate trafficking accounts for 89 per cent of trafficking in India.

Bihar, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh procure the largest number of minor girls. The biggest buyers of minors are West Bengal and Maharashtra. Punjab and Haryana are popular for ‘arranged’ marriages.

Pre-pubertal girls from scheduled castes are dedicated to different deities for religious prostitution. After living a few years with priests, they are sold to traffickers. Their market value falls after puberty. This is mostly practised in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Sex tourism is the exploitation of young boys and girls, especially street children, by international and Indian tourists. It is prevalent in the Agra-Delhi-Jaipur belt, as well as south and south-west India—Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Orissa. Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan are emerging as destinations. Sex tourism is facilitated by travel agencies, tour operators and hotels. Reports indicate that young boys are brought from Gulf countries to south India for prostitution.

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