The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 01:45 pm
A common thread of vulnerability, victimization and stigmatization run through disability and caste-based discrimination that makes out a strong case for intersectional and interrelational engagement with both these forms of discriminations. Viewing these two types of discriminations through distinct axis provides for empathy and comradery for concerns of one another.Anchoring the identities of caste and gender with disability helps to comprehend different shades of vulnerability. A Dalit woman with a disability is marginalised both within the disability group as well as from outside, and they are also subject to violence and stigmatization by disabled and nondisabled men within the family and outside. The Supreme Court of India recently amplified this vulnerability by looking at violence against a blind Dalit woman through the lens of intersectionality. An upper-caste disabled man may have hesitation to engage and interact with people with disabilities belonging to lower castes due to prevailing caste consciousness. On the other hand, the antagonization between disabled men belonging to the upper caste and Dalit men with a disability is also well known, with the former deriding the latter for enjoying the “dual benefits”.Presently, the disability rights movement is mostly limited to claiming reservations in jobs and fighting for petty governmental benefits. The movement has not yet been able to come out of the grips of medical and rehabilitation professionals. Characterization of the disabled as ‘Divyang’ by the political establishment merely endorses the Ableist segregation of the disabled by sugarcoating their disability and from thin air implies divinity in their bodies as much as Mahatma Gandhi had purportedly looked at Dalits as “Harijans,” a term reprobated by the community. Unlike the Dalit movement, there is little realisation in the Disability rights movement about liberation or self-determination. Moreover, disability rights movements are fragmentary, with each type of disability having its own chorus and agenda. In fact, barring a few organisations like National Platforms for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), India lacks a cohesive and organised cross-disabilities movement.Alienation by other movements, such as Dalit and LGBTQ, merely compounds the isolation and segregation of the disabled. Commingling of caste and disability issues, apart from generating comradery and solidarity for one another among the members of these groups, would also de-hegemonise the intergroup dialogue by bringing both groups on the same plane. Members of both disabled and backward caste groups would foster the virtues of empathy and interdependence in their interactions. With their politics of liberation, Dalits would revitalise the disability rights movements by salvaging them from medicalisation.In other words, the social justice movements would become less medicalised and more inclusive. I say less medicalised because non-disabled people must appreciate the lived experiences of differential bodies through different impairments. The social justice movement would also salvage the disabled from the caste consciousness. To be precise, if you want to combat caste consciousness and the labelling of disability as mere medical problems, the disabled need to appreciate the stigmatization arising out of caste, and Dalits must come to terms with the ghettoization of the physically and mentally disabled stemming from crude reduction of disability into diseases or state of being worthy of treatment.To what extent and how far the Disability rights movement identifies itself with other mainstream movements is an issue requiring empirical and documented research. Of course, I am aware of many disabled comrades, including Milind Yengde, who took cudgels against casteism and ableism by bringing together various social movements. However, I have not seen mainstream activists from other movements recognising disability rights movements as a social issue. It is one thing to speak on behalf of persons with disability and quite another to assimilate the disability rights angle as part of the mainstream movements. In my opinion, the former smacks of paternalism. A world sensitive to physical and mental disability would be wary of polarising disabled versus non-disabled, by perceiving physical and mental disability and social disabilities not as two extremes of the spectrum but as a continuum.Yearning against ability privileges and perception of normalcy as a quintessence of ableism would drive the world toward the adoption of universal design and would foster the virtues of accessibility and reasonable accommodation.In Dr. Ambedkar, Dalits got a ‘Massiha’ to accelerate their fight against discrimination based on caste socially, politically, and constitutionally. With one stroke of pen, the Constitution initiated an unprecedented measure of abolishing untouchability and visiting the breach of this norm with criminal sanction.In sharp contrast, the social demarginalization of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and characterisation of physical and mental disability as a want and weakness has been simply perpetuated by the Constitution. Time is therefore ripe for Dalits to extend their comradery to persons with disabilities and to embrace this ableism stricken lot as a part of their consciousness. Embrace of the other would nurture politics of authenticity with physical and mental disability being recognised as a part of broader marginalisation in ever-expanding diverse humanity. To conclude, multi-layered oppression caused by the complex intersections of caste, gender, and disability cannot be combated and remedied effectively with single-axis legal discrimination laws and fragmented social movements. The need of the hour is to have an inclusive and progressive coalition of the Dalits and Disabled activists to raise a clamour for de-essentialisation of medicalisation of disability and have compassion and unflinching empathy for the needs of one another.The writer is a disability rights activist and a professor at NLSIU, BangaloreSuraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates Dalitality and is currently at Oxford University
Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut on Thursday blamed the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra for the clashes that broke out in Sambhaji Nagar (previously Aurangabad) on Wednesday evening and alleged that the government was “working to ensure that there would be riots in the state”.Hitting out at Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis, who holds the Home portfolio, Raut said that the home minister and home ministry are “invisible” in the state and alleged that Fadnavis was looking “frustrated and depressed”.“This (the Aurangabad clashes) is a failure of the government. The government wants to have such a situation in different places. The Shinde group is working for this. This government has only one intention, that is to create disturbance in the state and to ensure that riots take place,” Raut said. A clash had broken out between two groups in Sambhaji Nagar’s Kiradpura area on Wednesday midnight with stone pelting and several police vehicles being set on fire.“The government is working to ensure that there are riots in the state and communal disharmony…This is their politics,” Raut alleged.Taking a dig at Fadnavis, Raut said, “In fact, there is a question if the home minister or home ministry exists in the state. I am saying again and again, Fadnavis is not visible anywhere. He looks depressed and frustrated. We should find out the reasons for that. It is not something I can disclose openly.”
THE committee under Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, to relook at pension may not recommend a solution where the gains made over two decades are reversed, The Indian Express has learnt.That’s the big-picture sense from conversations with officials who have to balance the imperatives of politics in a pre-poll year and a reform that has withstood the pressures of time — and partisanship.There are options.One, increase the government contribution to the pension corpus of its employees from the current 14 per cent to such a level that the employee can expect 50 per cent of her last drawn basic pay as pension upon retirement.Indeed, one of the models being looked at is the Andhra Pradesh government proposal which has a “guarantee” that employees will get 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.Officials said the government may also explore ways to make good for the increase in payout (dearness relief announced twice every year increases the pension by a certain percentage taking care of the rise in living expenses) as it happens under the old pension scheme (OPS).The NDA lost elections in 2004, the year NPS was implemented. But the Congress carried it forward. After a decade, when NDA returned under Modi, it consolidated the gains. But in 2019, just before elections, NDA hiked government contribution. Now, a fresh review again just ahead of 2024 polls.Whatever the formula that’s worked out, one thing is clear.The committee and its mandate mark a sharp turnaround in the Modi government’s support of the new pension system (NPS) — where contributions are defined, and benefits market-linked — which came into effect in January 2004, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections.“There was no question of any looking back when the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi returned to power. His political conviction in pension reforms and fiscal conservatism meant the NPS was there to stay,” said an official.And yet there was no escaping the politics.In fact, the BJP’s electoral loss in May 2004 may have nothing to do with pension reforms – the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was convinced of the economic rationale behind the move. But the party’s 10-year loss of power, between 2004 and 2014, is a memory that still stalks North Block.This when, in 2009, BJP’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections had not deterred the Congress from staying the course on pension reforms. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, and P Chidambaram as Finance Minister, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earnestly implemented the NPS, exhorted states to follow suit, and also introduced a Bill to develop and regulate the pension sector. This was one of the many reforms that earned bipartisan support.There were four good reasons the government reformed the pension sector at the time it did: i) with increasing life spans, pension bills were ballooning, putting to risk future finances of the Centre and states, ii) a safety net for a very small percentage of workforce was being funded ironically by even the poor taxpayer, iii) inter-generational equity – the next generation footing the bill for the previous – presented a difficult-to-ignore moral hazard, and iv) India was at the cusp of a 50-year demographic dividend opportunity beginning 2005-05 with the best working age population ratio (workers or those in the 15-64 age group age/ dependents or those under 15 plus 65 and over).However, after the first five years in power, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did not take any chances. Just before Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it increased the employer’s contribution to NPS to 14 per cent of the employee’s basic pay every month from 10 per cent earlier; the employee continued to contribute only 10 per cent of her basic pay.The timing was not lost on those keeping a tab on BJP’s economic thinking; this came into effect from April 1, 2019.Now with just a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is acutely aware of an altered economic and social landscape. The straws in the wind have been there for the past couple of years.Low growth that precedes the pandemic, job and income losses during Covid-19, stretched financial resources of people due to medical expenditure, and high inflation – which works like a painful tax on the poor, have highlighted the inadequacy of safety nets for a bulk of the country’s people. The political class cannot be blind to this. To discount the giveaways in recent Budgets by even fiscally prudent states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as an election freebie will be drawing a wrong message.It is in this backdrop that government employees are demanding a return of the old pension scheme. At least five states (Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, JMM-led Jharkhand, and Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab) have done so, having already notified the old pension scheme.The Congress win of the Assembly elections in Himachal, which most attribute to its promise to bring back OPS, has made the BJP leadership anxious. In Maharashtra, protests by state government employees prompted the Eknath Shinde government, whose finance minister is BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, to set up a committee and address the NPS shortcomings. Some national employee unions continue to protest too, giving calls for rallies demanding restoration of OPS.Then, there is the insider bias. A section of senior IAS bureaucrats – who have the political executive’s ear – feel their juniors who joined service after January 1, 2004, can’t be left to the “mercy” of markets while seniors retire with the assurance of a continuously rising pension kitty.This conversation on NPS has been in the top echelons of power for a while now. Not that the Prime Minister is not aware of these noises around him. But if his preference for fiscal prudence is an indication, he will be happy only with a solution that doesn’t put the future of state finances in jeopardy.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote to the Lok Sabha Secretariat on Tuesday saying he would be vacating his official residence at 12, Tughlak Lane, a day after receiving a notice following his disqualification as MP.However, his party colleagues kept up the attack on the BJP government over the issue, seeing it as part of targeting of Rahul. In his letter giving up the bungalow, allotted to him in 2004 after he won his first Lok Sabha election from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul wrote: “As an elected member of the Lok Sabha for the last 4 terms, it is the mandate of the people to which I owe the happy memories of my time spent here… Without prejudice to my rights, I will, of course, abide by the details contained in your letter”. The last date for Gandhi to vacate the bungalow is April 22.Rahul Gandhi agrees to vacate official bungalow after notice from House committeeRead: https://t.co/2Y2uBg3zxC pic.twitter.com/EokBffRggV— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) March 28, 2023Congress president and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said he would himself provide a house for Rahul if matters came to that. “He (Rahul) can go live with his mother or he can come to me, I will vacate one for him. I condemn this attitude of the government to threaten, scare and humiliate,” Kharge told reporters. “In a democracy, several times we have managed without a house for three-four months. I got this bungalow after six months. People do these things to humiliate others. I condemn this attitude.”Delhi | Rahul Gandhi is not worried about the house. Whatever the government of India is doing with the country’s democracy is a bigger issue, that is what he told. Every Opposition party is together, we had a cordial discussion and we will move forward with the same energy:… pic.twitter.com/7O48eYcUTJ— ANI (@ANI) March 27, 2023Congress general secretary K C Venugopal was quoted by ANI as saying, “Rahul Gandhi is not worried about the house. Whatever the government of India is doing with the country’s democracy is a bigger issue, that is what he said.”Congress MP Pramod Tiwari told ANI: “This shows the BJP’s hatred towards Rahul Gandhi. For a period of 30 days after the notice is served, one can rightfully continue to stay in the same house. After the 30-day time period, one can continue to stay in the same house by paying rent at market rates. Rahul Gandhi comes under ‘Z’ plus security category.”Rahul asked to vacate bungalowTheir conscience has gone on a vacationPetty politicsOf petty men— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) March 28, 2023Rajya Sabha MP and former Congress leader Kapil Sibal called the move “petty politics of petty men”. “Rahul asked to vacate bungalow. Their conscience has gone on a vacation,” he tweeted.Asked about the matter at a press conference, Union minister Smriti Irani said, “The house does not belong to him, it belongs to the common people.”
India’s political system is veering towards a full-blown tyranny. The targeting of Opposition leaders leading to the farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, the hounding of civil society and research organisations, censorship of information, the suppression of protest, are harbingers of a full-blown system of rule where all the interlocking parts add up to the one objective of tyrannical rule: To create pervasive fear.These actions are alarming, not because this or that leader has been targeted. They are alarming because the current BJP government is signaling not just that it will not tolerate the Opposition. It will not, under any circumstances, even contemplate or allow a smooth transition of power. For, what these actions reveal is a ruthless lust for power, combined with a determination to use any means to secure it. Neither the form of power the BJP seeks, nor the ends they deploy to achieve it, knows any constraints or bounds. That is the quintessential hallmark of tyranny.In a democracy, a smooth transition of power in a fair election requires several conditions. The ruthless crushing of the Opposition and the squelching of liberty erodes these conditions. The first is that professional politicians treat each other as members of the same profession, not as existential enemies to be vanquished by any means. Once a regime does that to its opponents, it fears the consequences of losing power. It can no longer rest in the comfortable belief that democracy is a game of rotating power; transitions should be routine. Can you now imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their minions calmly contemplating the prospect that they could ever be in the Opposition, after the hubris they have deployed against opponents and critics? The hallmark of tyrants is impunity in power and therefore an existential fear of losing it.The issue is not whether the government is popular. It may well be. Tyranny can be a stepchild of democracy, as Plato knew so well. The insatiable show and assertion of power the BJP is engaged in traps them in a logic where they will seek to create the conditions in which a fair and open contest is no longer possible. Their institutional imagination is paranoid — desperately trying to shut out even the slightest opening from which light might appear. What else but a paranoid system would target small think tanks or civil society organisations that do social service? What else but a paranoid system would appear to politically orchestrate a disqualification of an Opposition MP?And this same paranoia will make the prospect of even risking a fair electoral contest from now on a non-starter. Paranoia is the seed of all repression and we are now seeing it in full measure.Political parties that situate themselves as unique vanguards of a majoritarian national identity find it difficult to relinquish power. In normal politics there are many sides to an argument, and we can all pretend that different sides are acting in good faith even when we disagree. But when the ideological project is singularly communal and wears the garb of nationalism, every dissent is treated as treason. Ideological parties like the BJP will play by the electoral rules when they are not in a position to wield power, or when they feel electorally secure. But once this regime is entrenched, it will think it is its historical destiny to act as a kind of nationalist vanguard, no matter what the circumstances.In its own imagination, this nationalism will justify everything: From playing footloose with the law to outright violence. It has institutionalised vigilantism, violence and hate into the fabric of politics and the state. But this culture is not just difficult to dismantle. It is also part of a preparation to exercise other options in case a purely political hold on power is no longer possible. Parties that have institutionalised structures of violence are less likely to give up power unless they are massively repudiated.But the logic of tyranny goes further. Increasingly, the issue is not just the weaknesses of the Opposition parties. Even in the wake of this disqualification, Congress’s political reflexes, the willingness of its members to risk anything, and its ability to mobilise street power, is seriously in doubt. Opposition unity is still a chimera, more performative at the moment than real.But has the psychology of tyranny now been internalised by enough Indians to make resistance more difficult? India still has the potential for protest on many issues. But what is increasingly in doubt is whether India wishes to resist deepening authoritarianism.To take one example, India’s elites, broadly understood, have gone well past the quotidian fear of those in power. This kind of fear often expresses itself in a gap between public utterances and private beliefs. But what is happening is something far more insidious, where a combination of fear or outright support for government is so deeply internalised that even private demurring from blatantly authoritarian and communal actions has become rare. Ask any victim, who has been the object of the state’s wrath, whether they are at the receiving end of horrendous violence, or targets of administrative or legal harassment. Even the private shows of support will disappear as swiftly as the state intervenes. This suggests either a deep-seated cowardice or a normalisation of authoritarianism.The hallmark of a successful tyranny is to induce a sense of unreality in those who support it. This sense of unreality means no disconfirming evidence can dent their support for the regime. In this world, India has little unemployment, its institutions are fine, it has ascended to the glorious heights of world leadership, it has not ceded any territory to China, and there is no concentration of capital or regulatory capture. But the unreality centres mostly on the lynchpin of this system of tyranny, the prime minister. In his hands, repression becomes an act of purification, his hubris a mark of his ambition, his decimation of institutions a national service.Institutionally and psychologically, we are already inhabiting a tyranny, even if its violence is not in your face. A regime that is paranoid and full of impunity will overreach. But what is the threshold of overreach? The threshold seems to be shifting higher and higher. Communalism was unleashed. No reaction. The information order collapsed. No reaction. The judicial heart stopped beating. No reaction. The Opposition is being vanquished by unfair means. No reaction. Such is the logic of tyranny that the ogres of oppression roam free, while we look on indifferently as justice and freedom are tied in chains.
Beset by electoral setbacks and legal troubles, the police crackdown in Punjab in the wake of the Amritpal Singh episode has provided the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Badals an opportunity to regain its lost ground in Panthic politics, something that had made the party a strong political force starting in the 1990s.The SAD has been pushed to the margins of state politics since the debacles in the Assembly elections in 2017 and last year, with its tally plummeting to a record low of three constituencies. The party’s decline, in part, is a result of the erosion of its Panthic vote base that occurred because of the way it handled the sacrilege cases.The third incident of sacrilege on October 12, 2015, led to massive protests followed by heavy-handed police action that has remained a political issue in the state ever since. Police firing that day in Kotkapura alone left around 60 people injured, including over 30 police officials. The Badals, who were in power at the time, are still dealing with the legal fallout of the case. On March 16, a court in Faridkot declined the anticipatory bail plea of former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal but granted it to his father and former CM Parkash Singh Badal. Sukhbir then secured interim bail from the Punjab and Haryana High Court on March 22.Amid these troubles for the SAD, came the police crackdown and manhunt for Sikh preacher and Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh. The police detained more than 200 people, but have started releasing some of them. On Friday, the police released 44 youngsters held under preventive detention and handed them over to their families. This came a day after Punjab Inspector General of Police (Headquarters) Sukhchain Singh Gill announced that 177 of the 207 people detained would be let off with a warning and action would be taken against 30 involved in “substantive criminal activities”.But the police action has drawn criticism from the SAD, which announced earlier this week that it would set up a legal cell to help the young men arrested by the police and those charged under the National Security Act (NSA). Former Akali Dal MLA Harinderpal Singh Chandumajra told The Indian Express on Saturday, “The party decided to help young, innocent youth after discussions among the senior leaders that Akali Dal, being the regional party representing the Sikh community, should come forward at his juncture where the youth in their early twenties were detained without any reason. Apart from the Sikh community, the issue also concerns human rights and freedom of speech and expression.”On Tuesday, announcing the move to provide legal help for the youths arrested Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “It is shocking that scores of youth are being arrested indiscriminately merely on suspicion.”“Many Sikh youths are being implicated in fake cases,” Akali Dal MLA Manpreet Singh Ayali said in the Assembly on Wednesday. “Over the years Punjab has gone through tough times. Sikhs in Punjab are being made to feel like slaves by invocation of the NSA.” Ayali’s party colleague Virsa Singh Valtoha has said the Amritpal episode is “an ordinary law-and-order situation” and condemned the use of the NSA.On Thursday, Parkash Singh Badal expressed concern over the “sequence of recent events in Punjab” and called for “an end to the ongoing wave of repression against innocents”. He also called for “maximum vigil” to preserve the hard-earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state. “This is a critical hour and it calls for an exercise of optimum restraint, sagacity and far-sightedness by those in power,” said Badal.Course correctionThe SAD’s statements and actions in the wake of the Amritpal episode illustrate its attempts to re-establish itself as the pre-eminent political party representing the interests of the Sikh community. But these actions have not come about in a vacuum but are part of a strategy the party adopted following a review conducted last year after its poll debacle. Among other recommendations, the review committee suggested a course correction and an overhaul in the functioning of the party to win back Panthic support.In November, Sukhbir attended the wedding of the grandson of Khalistani militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was killed in the Golden Temple in the Army’s Operation Bluestar in 1984. Then, in the first week of January, Sukhbir attended two events within days that signalled a shift in the party’s strategy. On January 1, the former Deputy CM visited the house of Satwant Singh, one of Indira Gandhi’s assassins, in Gurdaspur district’s Agwan village and also went to a local gurdwara constructed in Singh’s memory. Five days later, Sukhbir became the first Akali Dal president to visit the Golden Temple on January 6, which is the death anniversary of Satwant and another of Indira’s assassins, Kehar Singh.Professor Jagrup Singh Sekhon, a former head of the Department of Political Science at Guru Nanak Dev University, is sceptical about the political mileage the Akali Dal can derive from offering legal assistance to the arrested Sikh youth.“The Akali leadership has lost political sense. First, they condemned Amritpal on the Ajnala incident, then they initially kept mum after the police crackdown and later announced the offer of legal assistance to the arrested men. The Akali leadership appears to be cut off from the grassroots realities. Everyone is against the idea of Khalistan. The villagers who were the main support base of the Akali Dal were the ones who suffered the most during the days of militancy and terrorism. The (AAP-led state) government has said it will release 177 of the 207 detained and will proceed legally against 30 hardcore criminals. Who will the Akali Dal help? The ones involved in heinous crimes?”