Tragedy of the innocent

BY AISHWARYA KADAM, ALETTA D’CRUZ, RESHMA EMMATTY

Ayesha D’mello (Name Changed) is a 22 year old master’s student in one of the reputed colleges of India. A girl who has everything going for her, right from beauty, to intelligence, self confidence and a personality that pleases all. Ayesha however has her secrets, dark ones as she may call them. She was sexually abused as a child. She was a kid who lost the innocence of her childhood, even before she discovered it.

At an age, where children were supposed to be outside playing and enjoying themselves, Ayesha found herself indoors, allegedly ‘playing’ a different game, that was enjoyed by a man thrice her age.

Ayesha was seven when he first touched her. She was his playmate, as he called her – his doll, whom he would dress up and make pretty. He wasn’t any stranger that just walked into her life. He was a neighbour, a family friend she trusted – a trust that faded with time; a trust that changed a lot for her as she grew older.

India has the largest number of children (375 million) in the world. 69% of Indian children are victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (or read it as every 2 out of 3). New Delhi, the nation’s capital, has an abuse rate of over 83%.89% of the crimes are perpetrated by family members (65%). More than 70% of cases go unreported and unshared even with parents/family. This is the magnitude of child abuse in our country.Abuse against children can be of 4 types, Sexual, Physical, Emotional and Mental. In India, we have just started recognizing child abuse as a problem and of the four types, only sexual and physical abuse are even considered as abuse.

Legally, sexual abuse towards a child is defined as inappropriate sexual behaviour with a child. The sexual abuse of some children can be so brutal, as to induce temporary amnesia.

Nine year old Priya was brought to Jagruti (an NGO working on this issue) by the police. She knew nothing about herself, her parents, or her past, apart from her name. She had cigarette burns all over her body. She had forgotten how to perform basic everyday functions, such as brushing her teeth, going to the toilet and wearing clothes. She would continue eating and drinking until told to stop. She didn’t know the difference between rice and curry. Priya would, however, discard her underwear every ten or 15 minutes and then come and stand in front of the people in the room to indicate that she was ready for sex. It is anybody’s guess how much this child was abused at an age when children are supposed to dream and be carefree.

Emotional abuse is also known as verbal abuse, mental abuse, and psychological maltreatment. It includes acts or the failures to act by parents or caretakers that have caused or could cause, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional, or mental trauma. Less severe acts, but no less damaging, are belittling or rejecting treatment, using derogatory terms to describe the child, habitual tendency to blame the child or make him/her a scapegoat.

Physical abuse is the inflicting of physical injury upon a child. This may include burning, hitting, punching, shaking, kicking, beating or otherwise harming a child. The parent or caretaker may not have intended to hurt the child. It may, however, be the result of over-discipline or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age

Though Ayesha has come a long way from her experiences, her scars still remain. However, unlike most abuse victims, Ayesha has not confined herself. She is a normal girl, with dreams and aspirations. What worries her is the fact that she has no scar.

Could it be that Ayesha’s experiences made her indifferent to her pain? She might just look at it as a normal part of her life – and what could be a bigger danger than that.

Child protection rights talk about  protecting children from child labour, forced beggary, violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, abduction for child marriage, organ trading, superstition etc., Drug abuse, torture and deprivation of liberty, armed conflict, protection from interference with privacy and protecton from discrimination of any kind.

Though these make good statements on paper, we find them being violated at large all around us.

Children should be taught to respect elders, until they act wrongly. Monitor, screen, and filter if necessary, the way your children use the Net. Teach them about the importance of privacy when using instant messaging, email, or social networking sites.

Finally, spread the word. Spread the awareness. We owe it to the next generation.Let every child born into this world enjoy their innocent childhood.

 Picture: google.com/images

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How poor are we?

BY ALETTA D’CRUZ

India, they say is a developing country, described as a nation with a low level of material well-being. However, if the Planning Commission of India is to be believed, then, India should top the list of ‘developed’ countries, as we could easily come across as a nation with almost negligible poverty.

The Planning Commission, in an attempt to redefine the ‘poor’ and classify them as falling below the poverty line, set the new spending limit at Rs 32 per day. So, if one spends more than Rs. 965 per month, they are deemed not to be poor.

Below Poverty Line is a concept that can be defined as an economic benchmark and is the poverty threshold used by the government of India to indicate economic disadvantage and to identify individuals and households in need of government assistance and aid. The poverty line is a concept that includes both food and non-food essentials, hence taking into account the overall expenditure of a person. Those who fall above this line of differentiation can easily be refused the benefits that the Government has to offer to the poor.

The Planning Commission’s new spending limit is completely unrealistic in nature. It comes across as an illusion that the nation would like to believe, where being poor is a novelty of a kind. It gives the idea that food, travel, health, education, housing etc, can all be covered with a mere amount of Rs 32 per day.

What the Government of India has however failed to realise is the fact that we as a nation have moved into the 21st century, and with the increasing prices in every sector of the economy, one cannot afford to depend on just Rs 965 per month to survive.

Have the esteemed members of the Planning Commission turned a blind eye to the economics of the nation, or have they just assumed that nutrition and well-being comes at a very cheap price? Maybe, it is time that these members gave up their comfort and lived the life of a common man, so that they can first practice what they have so conveniently preached.

The new below-poverty-line criteria come across not only as a shock, but also as a disgrace on the part of the Government. It is a mockery of sorts that even bypasses the meaning of ‘living from hand to mouth.’

Communal Violence Bill: Hostile beginnings

BY NIMISHA SRIVASTAV

Drafted by the National Advisory Council (NAC), the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, was introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament in the midst of a big furore itself.

The Bill aims at creating a legal framework for preventing riots witnessed by the country in the past and the provision of relief for victims of such violence. However, the bill was opposed not just by the Opposition but also several secular and civil liberty activists and organizations.

Voicing his contention, BJP’s Arun Jaitely highlighted the discrepancies in the Bill that makes sexual assault punishable only if committed against a person belonging to a minority ‘group’, and not against any member of a majority community.

Also, the Bill was attacked by the allies of the UPA, on the grounds that it revokes ‘law and order’, a state subject, from the State’s purview in the event of communal violence. The Bill proposes the constitution of a ‘National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation’ and makes no provision for a judicial check against any order passed by the Authority.

The Bill fails to define a comprehensive scope for the term ‘Hate Propaganda’. The definition of the term is broad enough to cover almost all the acts under ‘incitement of violence’. Similarly, there is ambiguity related to terms like ‘hostile environment’ and ‘victim’ leading to an opportunity where the act can do more harm than good.

However, the biggest loophole lies in the fact that the Bill vests responsibility with the Centre for determining whether an act qualifies as being tantamount to Internal Disturbance under Section 20 of this Act. This would further impose a serious threat to the very nature of the federal character of the country as this provision gives all the power in the hands of the Central Government and the State Government is nothing but a mute spectator to the Emergency powers of the Central Government. The Bill shapes the nature of offences committed as non – bailable and the accused will be guilty of an offence that he has been charged with, unless that can be proven otherwise. Now, with the definition of ‘hate propaganda’ as wide as given by the Act, almost any act is liable to be culpable in nature. Furthermore, the provisions concerning civilian and armed forces matters are ambiguous and lie within the ambit of the National Authority. With no judicial intervention, these powers can be extended to any extent.

Even though the Bill happens to be the brain child of people of a formidable stature like Mander, Farah Naqvi and Teesta Setalvad, it ends up as myopic and ambiguous. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An unjust law is itself a species of violence.” If a law has to prevail, then it should be universal in its approach and its enforcement should be subjected to analysis and accountability. The present bill regrettably promises none of these and is rather looked upon as a political faux pas.  So, what really is the intention of the legislature ? Is it to promote and uphold the constitutional virtues or to denigrate them on the grounds of religion and linguistic demarcation? The question is left for us, the people, to answer. 

When the earth quakes

BY LEAH GEORGE


Yet another shocking calamity struck the country on September 18th, as Sikkim was rocked by an earthquake that measured 6.9 on the Richter scale. This is the fourth significant earthquake to have hit India in this month.

The damage caused by the earthquake far exceeds the initial estimations. Northern India has taken the most casualties with at least 75 dead, and 60 of them were reportedly killed in Sikkim. Water and electricity supplies around Sikkim have been interrupted. The estimated property damage incurred as a result of this disaster is estimated to be around Rs. 100,000 crore, although this is yet to be confirmed.

Search and rescue efforts have been launched in earnest to bring relief to the affected areas. However, despite the steps taken, rescue measures in the region are a slow and arduous process. Sikkim has always been removed and relatively inaccessible to the rest of the country. Despite the hordes of tourists that flock to the North East every year to drink in the sights, Sikkim doesn’t have a single airport. If it were otherwise, efforts could be delivered quicker and more efficiently. Currently, food and medical supplies are being airdropped into the region. The damage to National Highways 55 and 31 turned into huge impediments to the rescue operations as they were the only major source of access to the region.

Another big challenge the rescue operations face is the failure of communication lines. The rescue teams are facing great difficulty in dispatching food and medical supplies to those in need in the distant regions of Sikkim.

It is a lamentable fact that a region that is so popular with tourists has been ignored in terms of development and infrastructure by the Centre. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the fact that the region is not a part of the mainland and exists on the periphery of the country, it has been ignored to a large extent. And now it pays the price for it. If the centre had taken stronger steps to ensure equal development of the region with the rest of the country, its ability to cope with a natural disaster would have been greatly improved.

If one can say nothing else, it is apparent that the government has learnt little from its experience with the flash floods that hit Leh in 2010. Although the search and rescue missions picked up over time, they were at a virtual standstill for the first few days, limited to airdrops of supplies due to the inaccessibility of the region.

The Government, the Army and other agencies involved do a commendable job when combating unforeseen circumstances such as these. But it must be brought to light that there is much room for improvement. And the first thing they must do is ensure that the country – the whole country – is in a position to combat unforeseen dangers such as this, at any time. 

The Fast and the Spurious

By Shoumeli Das 
How do you refrain from cynicism when Narendra Modi decides to go on a sadbhavna fast for unity, peace and communal harmony? Nine years too late, one would say!

This political circus in Gujarat started when the Supreme Court handed over further investigation of the accusations against Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the Gulbarg Society case to the Special Investigation Team in Ahmedabad. Immediately equated to getting a clean chit, as the judiciary found no evidence of involvement of Modi in the communal riots of 2002, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) began celebrations. After all, their prospective Prime Ministerial candidate has now been rid of years of ‘false’ accusations!

Narendra bhai, immediately pens a rather emotional open letter to his “six-crore Gujarati brothers” discussing unity and communal harmony in the state. His words cannot be ignored. “Hate cannot be conquered by hate”, he says. Thought-provoking indeed. Are we to understand that now that his portion of the hate has been expressed (through the riots) no one else must spew venom (at him, of course)?

The monologue promptly turns into a dialogue when suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt retorts with another open letter. While Bhatt’s accusations against Narendra bhai and his logical deduction of why this is not the end of the case may be the last ray of hope for Zakia Jafri (the widow of Gulbarg Society victim Ehsan Jafri) and thousands of others, their doubts cannot be erased completely.

As much as one would like to believe him, the obvious question lingering in everyone’s mind is how much autonomy does the judiciary in Gujarat enjoy? Does this Supreme Court ruling actually imply what Modi is out to claim?

Even as victims and their families are trying to get over what is in fact a mockery of justice, Modi added insult to injury with his three-day sadbhavna fast. While fasting to prove a point has become the order of the day in the country, there are numerous reasons, including Prime Ministerial aspirations, that could be the reason for this move.

Ironically, none of them are remotely related to communal harmony. At this point, one cannot help but wonder on what grounds L.K. Advani decided to use the argument of ‘misinformation propaganda’ to support the Chief Minister. A little more foresight, when it comes to issuing statements in favour of Modi, may take the party a longer way.

Narendra Modi left no stone unturned during this community-unifying fast in clarifying to the Muslim community their worth in the state. After having accepted head gear in all forms and colours from every community, he refused the skull cap that Maulana Sahi Sayeed Mehendi Husain offered to him. Of course, when something works against Modi, the BJP immediately terms it as a “non-issue”, but the message was loud and clear. Aptly described as the Poster Boy of Hindu Politics in India, the agenda and success of his fast to promote unity and communal harmony now speaks for itself.

One cannot help but shudder at the thought of this undemocratic megalomaniac as the next Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world. Unlikely maybe, but the very fact that it is up for consideration should be a reason for worry for the electorate. It is hard to believe that Indian leadership is facing such a major crisis!

For the people of Gujarat, there is only thing that matters as of now. Justice. Unfortunately, the Realist does not see it being delivered in any form, any time soon.

The Free State vs. the ‘seditious’ doctor

Ramesh Gopalkrishnan | SIMC Ink :

A scrap of undecipherable handwritten paper, a love letter, three unsigned letters and an email sent to Indian Social Institute (because it shares the initials ISI with the notorious Pakistani intelligence agency) to prove alleged terror links are among the bizarre pieces of evidence put out against Dr. Binayak Sen, an eminent doctor, public health specialist, and the National Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

The doctor was charged on counts of sedition and for knowing and helping the Naxals.

The saga that had been ridiculously playing out for three years finally ended on December 24 at the Raipur Additional District Sessions Court, when Justice B.P Verma held Sen guilty of conspiracy to commit sedition, along with Piyush Guha, a Kolkata businessman and Narayan Sanyal, ageing Maoist ideologue and self confessed Naxal, and sentenced all three to life imprisonment.

Sen, a renowned human rights activist got sucked into the vortex of the case in January 2006 when the septuagenarian Narayan Sanyal was arrested in Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh. Sanyal’s elder brother, Radhamadhab, wrote to Binayak Sen asking for assistance in getting legal help as well as medical attention for an extremely painful medical condition, Palmer’s Contracture, that Sanyal suffered from. From there on, Sen intervened and began corresponding with the officials to facilitate Sanyal’s surgery.

The prosecution argues that Sen met Sanyal in jail 33 times between May 26 and June 30, 2007, carried and passed seditious letters from the Naxal leader to Piyush Guha and was thus involved in the act of sedition. This in itself is a tale of ludicrosity as the argument does not answer how Sen could have possibly carried or passed the letters, when all the meetings took place in the jailer’s room under constant supervision and that at all meetings the duo always spoke in Hindi so that the supervising office could hear and understand everything.

As the police continually pull out absurd and incongruous evidence against Sen from the most laughable of things, signs of the Chhattisgarh Police colluding with their Andhra Pradesh counterparts to manufacture evidence come to light. The case, built on a derisory puzzle, slowly falls in place. The hushed whispers that no one is listening to point to a byzantine back-story of scathing reports published by Sen about a series of fake encounters, false surrenders and custodial deaths that exposed the rut in the government. The reports alleged human rights violations during the anti-naxalite movement of Salwa Judum that point to the excesses of the State of Chhattisgarh. Sen’s arrest is widely seen as the government’s retribution against all the embarrassment.

The real story of Binayak Sen is one of a paranoid state that draws remarkable parallels to the George Bush’s ‘War against terrorism’ propaganda. The myopic act of vengeance by a panic-mongering state with its colluding officials and the judiciary, against an individual, under the sceptre of ‘National Security’ paints a sordid picture of the Indian democracy. The idea of political freedom and the concept of Free State, the very foundations of our constitution stand in stark contrast to the life sentence awarded to Binayak Sen. The court’s decision weighs heavily on the truth that everyone sees but magnificently ignores – the putrefaction runs deeper.

UPA sheds tears as onion prices rise

Aaishwari  Chouhan | SIMC Ink

Bribe for loan scam, JPC Probe, 2G Scam… the government had enough on its platter for the onions to add more tears. Beginning mid-December, onion prices which have generally been in the bracket of Rs. 30 – 40 per kg suddenly shot up to Rs. 70 – 85 per kg in retail markets across the country. According to government data, on an annual basis onions became costlier by 33.48%, whereas on a week-on-week basis, the increase was 4.56%.

The reason for the steep rise in the prices of onion is directly associated with the unseasonal rains that have hit onion farmers majorly at the onion hub of Lasalgaon in Maharashtra’s Nasik district. Nearly 70% of the crop has been destroyed in Lasalgaon. As against the earlier yield of 1,000 kgs per acre, the yield this season dropped down to about 15 kgs per acre. Added to this, hoarding has been a major contributor to the sudden price rise.

This sudden jump in prices of onion created panic not just amongst the consumers but also with the government. Rocketing of the prices to as much as Rs. 85 per kg in some markets forced the government to remove customs duty completely on the import of onions which was earlier pegged at 5%. In order to get the situation under control, export of onions was banned with immediate effect. Besides, some imported onions started reaching the market, ultimately contributing to a good fall of Rs. 10 in the per kg cost. Traders say that the ban on exports and duty-free imports can partially ‘fill the gap’ because almost 90% of the demand is met by domestic production.

Earlier last week, onion prices at retail outlets in New Delhi dropped to Rs. 40-50 a kg from an earlier drop of Rs. 50 – 60 per kg. There was a decline in the prices of onions in Kolkata and Chennai too. Prices of the commodity fell by Rs. 10 a kg and were ruling at Rs. 40-50 per kg in the two metros, depending on the quality. However, prices remained high in the financial capital of Mumbai, where the going rate was Rs. 60 – 75 per kg.

Further, it’s not just onions that are getting the consumers teary eyed. Prices of other vegetables like tomatoes, peas and garlic are on an upward spiral too in cities like Mumbai and Patna. This has also been linked to unseasonal rains in the major producing regions. As observed, food inflation has risen sharply for the third consecutive week and it was in this period that the vegetables had become costlier by almost 16%.

Explaining the reason behind the rise in food prices, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “Some fruits, vegetables and milk have an element of seasonality in them and sometimes in the market, there is gap in the demand and supply of products, which leads to the increase in their prices… Ultimately, it depends on the series of the core chain.”

At a governmental level, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar expressed expectation of a much better situation with the arrival of new crops.

It is the mandate of the food and agriculture ministry to ease the supply of agricultural items by way of meaningful intervention (export ban, cut in import duty etc.). However at the same time, caution also has to be exercised so that such policy intervention does not come in the way of international trade in such essential commodities, since it is only such commodities that constitute the all important trade and consumer basket in most sub-continental countries.

With scams to sort out and the inflation issue coming full circle, spiraling food prices was the last thing that the UPA needed to add to its woes. How the Govt. emerges out of this gripping tangle has now become a matter of increasing difficulty.

 

Where nothing is for free

Sampad Patnaik | SIMC Ink

Tremors in the Indian judiciary recently went unnoticed because of the earthquakes in politics. With the Raja-Radia story grabbing half the news space of any paper or channel, a spark that can cause future conflagrations was not even noticed.

Earlier, justice in India was mostly delayed and sometimes in the process, denied.  Now it is openly sold. In 2007, Vodafone acquired a 67 percent stake in Hutchinson Essar to create Vodafone Essar.

The deal, costing Vodafone a staggering 55,000 crores, seemed to be worth every penny as Vodafone International BV is now the fattest cat in the telecom world. Indian income tax authorities demanded 11,218 crores from the deal as capital gains tax which the company refused to pay, citing that the transaction took place on foreign soil.

The Bombay High Court saw merit in the Government’s argument and validated the imposition of the tax. Determined to keep its purse strings closed, Vodafone went knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court.

The apex court asked Vodafone to first deposit 2500 crores within three weeks before the hearing took place. The Director General of International Taxation asked the court permission to withdraw the 2500 crores with the undertaking that should Vodafone win the case; the Government would return the money with interest. However the loophole in this hasty commitment was haste itself.

The SC, agreeing to the DGIT’s demand, made it clear that it too wanted a piece of the pie. A commission of 1 percent or Rs 25 crores was demanded by the SC as fees for services rendered. This sent tax mandarins into a huddle to determine how on earth they were to make such a payment.

The SC has decided to use the money to revamp its own infrastructure which is on the brink of a complete collapse. Though the ends may seem justified the means are still questionable. The very idea of a Court to charge for justice is blasphemous to say the least.

Further, court fee costs collected by the SC in the past have always gone to the Consolidated Fund of the Government of India that allocates budgets for the apex court.

Now, with the SC demanding money for infrastructural needs, it can be safely anticipated that it would not hand over the money to the CFI.

Not only is it a breach of protocol but also a cause for concern as to how much of the money will not be siphoned off into stashes already piled sky high.

So as the Courts start bartering justice, politicos fleece the system with the executive doing the handholding, it is only the common man who is not laughing his way to the bank.

 

Another statement, another controversy

Alisha D’souza | SIMC Ink

In a scam and scandal – ridden economy, stray comments would have needed a resonating quality to be heard. Corruption, self-serving forgery and misappropriation of funds, ensure that news less detrimental takes a backseat. But adjudicate the word ‘terrorism’, prefixed with ‘national’ to headlines, and eyes and ears swivel with attention.

All India Congress Committee General Secretary Digvijay Singh did just that when he took the nation by surprise with his comments on Hemant Karkare. Singh claimed that barely two hours before the Mumbai terror attacks, Karkare, the late Maharashtra ATS Chief, confided in him that his life was “blighted by constant threats” from those opposed to the Malegaon blast probe.

Singh said that he had no reason to lie, even though BSNL is unable to help him prove his truth. He added that his concern lay in the fact that terror is “multi-denominational”.  While he felt that it was never too late to bring to the media forefront the concern of the former ATS officer, he also did not refute Pakistan’s role in the encounter.

In light of Singh’s remarks, it must be noticed that the Indian population harbours various expectations from the Government as far as terrorism is concerned. The Indian voter, in fact, is pressing in his demand that security against terrorism is the prerogative of the Government.

Hence, politicians, who are undaunted in this mission, deserve to be supported to power as they admire this demand. Yet when one scratches the surface of this high regard, an inner quagmire of reasons for their support, unfurl, leaving a nation flummoxed.

Political rivalries, agendas and games are no novelty to the junta. There is a certain proactivity that our politicians galvanise as they court controversy, spewing flagrant remarks. Singh’s untimely outburst hence also seems to carry various other connotations.

While some feel it might have something to do with the shutterbugs, others feel it gave him an opportunity to mud-sling a rival party. Garnering support of the Muslims or diverting attention from spectrum malpractices have also been considered as possible reasons.

Though it is difficult to rule out an element of truth in his comments concerning Karkare, one cannot help but question his sudden deep-seated obligation to divulge the details of the conversation almost two years later. What has urged this new-found honesty? Does it have larger political agenda hidden underneath? While we await the outcome of a further investigation into the case, circles of higher governance and power are rife with speculative uncertainties and the polity with more of it.

UPA and the principle of silence

Malvika Sharma | SIMC Ink

In merely two months, more than a couple of scams have been exposed by the media. First, it was the Adarsh colony housing scam, then the 2G spectrum scandal. In between all this, came the dismissal of Suresh Kalmadi. Even by Indian standards, this was much too dramatic. People expected the authorities to finally plunge into  damage control mode. More specifically, it was expected that the prime minister would come out with a bold statement, and some stringent    action.

In return, we got a rather luke-warm response from the UPA government, which saw most of its own high profile ministers getting caught in this murky pool of controversy. At a time when the prime minister should have been at the helm of clearing this scandal scarred image of his party, he chose to be non responsive. Sadly for us , expecting our leadership to show courage in face of rampant corruption seems too much to ask for.

The expose of scams has brought to light a very grim picture of how even the most well placed leaders are not averse to forwarding their case to make an extra buck. Most importantly, it showed us that we have a prime minister who will not mind fighting his way through great opposition to get India a nuclear deal, but will shy away from coming down heavily on leaders of his own party. His incompetence has led to enough chaos in the parliament as it is.

What is holding back Manmohan Singh and the sons and daughters of Congress- Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from coming forward and bringing to book corrupt leaders even if they belong to their party?At the very least, it could serve as a deterrent to others.

Are they so used to being extorted by their allies and other interest groups that they rather let leaders siphon off money instead of coming forward and stopping the malice when it is exposed?