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Posts Tagged ‘democracy

Chargesheet against a junta

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Since March 2020, beginning with the imposition of the “national lock down” in India, a host of measures have been ordered by the state – central government, state and union territory governments, and municipal corporations – which have been presented as means to control the coronavirus “epidemic”.

These measures are non-pharmacological and non-medical measures, that is, they are presented as controlling the transmission and spread of any disease outbreak or epidemic by halting, restricting, controlling or limiting the routine movement of citizens through the course of their day and week for social, commercial, leisure and faith-related activities.

I have opposed and continue to oppose and reject “lock down” and its host of associated restrictions as a means to address and control a disease outbreak/epidemic. Completely opposite to what their alleged aims are, all these measures cause harm to society and individuals. Moreover, these measures have no place – nor did they ever have any place, at any time during the modern medical history of India as has been recorded from the late 19th century – in elementary epidemiology.

The “national lock down” that was imposed from March to June 2020, and the many state “lock downs” that followed, including those imposed during the alleged “second wave” of March 2021 onwards, together constitute the most serious assault on citizens’ freedoms, civil liberties, inalienable rights, religious and faith-related customs, and livelihoods that post-Independence India has experienced. Not even during the notorious Emergency period (1975-77) were there such draconian measures.

These draconian measures, with no basis in public health whatsoever, gave rise to associated measures such as night curfews, quarantine centres, isolation centres, containment zones, quarantine periods and the like which all were alleged to control the transmission and spread of coronavirus. None of these measures, not a single one, was supported by the epidemiological evidence in India, of which there is a very extensive record.

Worse, not once was any such measure, whether introduced and enforced nationally, in a state or in a city/town/district, subject to review and assessment by any members of the large pool of experienced medical practitioners in India who have worked on public health. Instead, central and state governments, municipal corporations and district administrations either created as bodies to endorse these measure “expert groups” and “expert committees” whose members were chosen and selected opaquely, or issued administrative “orders’ to impose such measures which bore no reference whatsoever to any objective assessments of the situation on the ground.

The cumulative impact of such measures has been devastating to the public at large and the ordinary citizen. This impact is far greater, and has much more long-lasting consequences, than would have been the case had any disease outbreak/epidemic in India run its natural course. I say this unreservedly because never in the Indian public health record have healthy citizens been confined – under risk of penalty – and then subjected to continued and acute psychological pressures.

These pressures took the form, early during the “national lock down”, as compliance demanded by the state at the point of penalties and fines, and also through physical assault by the police, for not wearing face masks and coverings, or for missing curfew deadlines.

During 2021, these pressures have taken the form, especially since early February 2021, of submitting to the illegal and unconstitutional “vaccination drive” (or “tika utsav“, which translates as ‘vaccination festival’, a hideous travesty of public health) that was commenced by the central government, and which quickly thereafter was attempted to be enforced by making vaccination against coronavirus the condition against which employment as a government or public sector employee could continue, against which essential services such as food rations from fair price shops could be disbursed, and against which transport services such as metropolitan commuter trains and buses could be boarded. As I state towards the close of this chargesheet, these wholly authoritarian measures have ignored all democratic scrutiny and oversight.

The wage labour and informal sectors of the Indian economy, which have depended on and continue to depend on daily or weekly wages, were especially from late March until July 2020 reduced to penury and starvation by these draconian measures that had nothing whatsoever to do with public health.

From July 2020 when these measures began to be relaxed in different regions and states, earning daily and weekly wages and monthly salaries once again became possible as commercial and business activity resumed. But by then, three to four months of living off debt for a large number of households proved to be a crushing burden. It has been estimated that between 20% and 25% of all households in India were made poorer, and pushed below the true poverty line, directly because of the “lock down” and associated restrictions.

Whether during the “national lock down” or during the many state-level lock downs and movement restrictions during the 2020-21 period, daily and casual wage labour lost income. Surveys have shown that 6 out of 10 domestic workers did not get paid at all during lock downs, that 9 out of 10 casual labourers (such as those who labour at construction sites) did not get paid. Their capacities to save, already small, were ruined for 20 months and counting, and the great majority of such households have been pushed into debt.

The floor minimum wage in India – which was set at some 18,000 rupees a month about three years ago – has proven during 2020-21 to be wholly inadequate to provide for a family given the steep rise in food and fuel prices (about half the cost of the LPG cooking gas cylinder has been added during only the last 12 months). Even until the start of 2020, the average Indian household paid some 60 out of every 100 rupees of its medical expenses out of pocket. The “epidemic”-related costs of tests and access to basic medical care have only pushed up this already very high out-of-pocket expenditure. I have no doubt that all these factors have contributed to a rate of household indebtedness that has not been seen for two generations.

Other than during war time, which after 1945 are periods that Indians have experienced for short spells (such as in 1971), there has never been such a long period of concentrated deprivation. The cumulative effect of the “national lock down”, the state lock downs that followed, the restrictions placed by municipal corporations and district administrations have caused directly the sharp reversal of all the average standard-of-living and public health gains that have slowly and painstakingly been secured over the previous 70 years.

Not once since March 2020 until now, December 2021, has the central government or state government or municipal corporations or district administrations when imposing “lock down” and associated restrictions, acknowledged the specific needs of large sections of the population: those up to 18 years old (about 240 million male and 220 million female, total about 460 million), the population above 60 years old (about 143 million), the labour force (about 470 million).

The restrictions of all kinds taken together have affected India’s large population of children, adolescents and teenagers severely. Their schools and colleges were shuttered for over a year (and continue to be in some places, while where normal classes resumed, they are limited in frequency and attendance). Children, adolescents and teenagers being snatched away by the tens of millions from socialising settings, where they meet and play and speak to those of their own age group, and also from social and family settings, has caused both psychological and physiological harm to a degree that is still, 20 months after the onset of the alleged “epidemic”, neither recognised by the government authorities nor remedied in any way.

This impact comes on top of the already very alarming situation that was recorded by the central government in 2017 which showed that more than 840,000 children die before completing the first year of their lives. This number is more than that recorded by any other country in the world. India’s infant mortality rate was still 34 per 1,000 live births in 2016, but several states (such as Assam and Odisha with 44 per 1,000, Chhattisgarh with 39 per 1,000, Madhya Pradesh with 47 per 1,000) are very much above the national infant mortality rate.

I stand appalled that for 20 months, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the health departments of all states and union territories have refused to acknowledge or consider the effects of their “lock down” and associated restrictions on so fundamental an indicator as the infant mortality rate.

Moreover, the shuttering of schools all over the country also stopped the provision of the mid-day meals. For pre-primary, primary and upper primary school students from 2001 – and for all children in government and government-aided schools until the age of 14 as per the 2013 National Food Security Act – the mid-day meal programme provides fresh cooked food to 120 million children in over 1.26 million schools (and centres under the Education Guarantee Scheme).

With the schools shuttered the meals to children stopped – directly contravening the provisions of the 2013 Act – depriving them of one of their fresh cooked meals a day. No central or state government authorities have recognised or remedied this effect of the “lock down” and associated restrictions in a country that has over a third of the world’s stunted (chronically malnourished) children.

Ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, diarrhoeal diseases, neo-natal disorders, lower respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, diabetes and cirrhosis were the leading cause of deaths in India in 2019. Yet throughout the period March 2020 until the present (December 2021) health authorities in central and state governments, and in municipal corporations, refused to ascertain, prior to considering any restrictive public health measure such as ‘lock down’, what the effects of such restriction, the curbing of personal mobility (in all situations including medical consultations and routine treatments), and the health effects of reduced income or no income at all were likely to be.

This omission to be one of the gravest committed by central, state and city administrations, an omission whose scale and true impact will not be known as the authorities have refused to monitor it. In India in 2015, as per an assessment by the WHO, nearly 5.8 million people died because of non-communicable diseases such as these. Their causes include physical inactivity, unhealthy food (diets low in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, but high in salt and fats), daily exposure to air pollution (the 2016 Global Burden of Disease report showed that 920,000 premature deaths occurred because of household air pollution and 590,000 premature deaths because of ambient air pollution), tobacco use (smoking, smokeless tobacco), and the harmful use of alcohol. The lock down and associated restrictions, for months on end, strengthened these risk factors. It is inconceivable that the administrative and health authorities were unaware of the increased risks their orders directly caused.

During the period March 2020 until the present (December 2021), central and state governments, municipal corporations and district administrations alike have grossly and continuously abused emergency powers. Their applications of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 together with the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the imposition of sections of the Indian Penal Code (such as Section 144) has in every single instance been abuse of power under the guise of addressing an epidemic.

The necessary democratic safeguards that accompany all emergency powers – they must be invoked only through legislative process, their use must be proportionate, their application must be specific, they must be shown to be necessary, their application must be non-discriminatory, their implementation must not infringe rights and freedoms recognised by the Constitution, they must observe time limits, they must be subject to judicial correction – have in every instance been done away with.

The attempts being made by the state and its partners to accelerate the rate of vaccination rests entirely on the stripping away of judicial and legislative checks and balances, and the blocking of citizens’ oversight. What is alarming is the readiness of the state and its agencies to ignore entirely the directions given in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, and likewise the obligations upon the Republic of India as a signatory to international conventions such as the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights 2005 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

What the state refuses to abide by however is what the citizens of India will defend.

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Written by makanaka

December 8, 2021 at 11:51

We, the rather wealthy, people

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Are those standing for election to the Lok Sabha capable of relating to the needs of those they claim to represent? Many measures exist for testing that claim, and the most base amongst them concerns income and assets.

If your candidates are very much richer than you are, once elected how much of their energies will they devote to enriching themselves (and their sponsors) rather than attending to your civic needs?

The area of the circles represents assets in rupees for 2014. The twin circles for rural and urban households' assets is based on NSSO studies, with upper and lower circles being estimates of household assets using higher and lower growth rates to provide comparisons with candidates' declarations for Lok Sabha 2014.

The area of the circles represents candidates’ assets in rupees for 2014. The twin circles for rural and urban households’ assets is based on NSSO studies, with upper and lower circles being estimates of household assets using higher and lower growth rates to provide comparisons with candidates’ declarations for Lok Sabha 2014.

This chart shows why this should be a matter of democratic procedure. The data has been taken from the excellent work done by the Association for Democratic Reform, which runs the ‘My neta’ website, which has tabulated the statutory declarations of the candidates. Among the set of declarations is the candidates’ assets.

To show the relation between what the candidates to Lok Sabha 16 have declared and the assets of those they say they represent, I have included national averages, rural and urban, for household assets.

There are 12 assets averages to be seen. The candidates (more than 3,200) have been divided into deciles (or tenths) ranked by their declarations. Thus the eighth decile would have candidates in the 80% to 70% positions ranked on rupee value of assets, and the fifth decile would have candidates in the 50% to 40% positions, and so on.

RG_Lok_Sabha_2014_assets_7In between are the average household assets for rural and urban households in India. These are taken from studies based on the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). The chart displays these averages as a pair (lighter and darker coloured circles) to indicate a range. We find the assets of the rural household are between the eighth and seventh deciles of what candidates have declared, and the assets of the urban household are between the seventh and sixth deciles of what candidates have declared.

This chart tells us very quickly that from the sixth decile of candidates onwards, their worth is already at least twice that of those they claim to represent. At the fourth decile, their worth is a stratospheric eight times that of the average rural household. At the second decile, their worth is an astounding 20 times that of the urban household. At the first decile, the equation is meaningless.

This is not based on an exact mathematics. The asset averages for the rural and urban households I have used are broad estimates, and are no doubt skewed by the richer rural and urban deciles and quintiles themselves. But the relative differences are seen starkly, and help indicate why the inequality between Member of Parliament and electors we saw in 2009 has deepened in 2014.

India rises against corruption

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Scores of Anna Hazare supporters arrive to court arrest at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: The Hindu/V.V. Krishnan

The arrest of social activist and anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare has sparked off a massive wave of protests all over India, with reports of people courting arrest in major cities and opposition parties criticising the arrest of Hazare and his associates as a vicious attack on democratic and civil rights of citizens in India. Yesterday, 15 August 2011, was India’s Independence Day. Reports:

In Chennai, Gandhi’s secretary leads pro-Anna Hazare protests – Youngsters in the age group of 18 to 25 turned up in large numbers at a private wedding hall in Chennai on Tuesday to express solidarity with Anna Hazare and his fight against corruption.

Over 3000 detained in Mumbai after protests over Anna Hazare’s arrest – Over 3000 people were picked on the charges of unlawful assembly from across Mumbai on Tuesday after they held demonstrations protesting against the police action against activist Anna Hazare.

Hundreds turn up for anti-corruption protest in Bangalore – Close to 100 people volunteered for the indefinite fast against corruption and in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill here at the Freedom Park on Tuesday. Though not fasting, at least 500 more were present to lend their support to the movement.

Is Anna Hazare’s arrest the right move? – Anna Hazare on Tuesday courted arrest after being detained by Delhi Police at his residence ahead of his indefinite fast against corruption. His asscociates Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia were also taken into preventive custody.

Anna Hazare at Rajghat, New Delhi: Photo: The Telegraph

Anna Hazare sent to 7-day judicial custody – Anna Hazare has been sent to seven days in judicial custody and will be lodged New Delhi’s in Tihar Jail. Hazare’s supporters Manish Sisodia, Arvind Kejriwal, Darshak, Radheshyam, Suresh Pathare, Naveen Jaisingh and Dada Phatare have also been taken into custody.

Bangaloreans protest Anna’s arrest – Hundreds of people Tuesday gathered here in this Karnataka capital supporting a stronger Lokpal Bill and condemned the arrest of civil society activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi. “Such arrests cannot end the agitation against corruption.”

India against corruption: Refuses to offer bail, Kiran Bedi tweets – Former police officer Kiran Bedi tweeted on Tuesday that she has refused to offer bail after being detained with Anna Hazare and that she may be sent to Tihar Jail. “I have been asked to offer bail. I have refused to.”

Anna Hazare’s detention triggers protests across Maharashtra – Responding to social activist Anna Hazare’s call to fill jails as part of his campaign against corruption and demand for a strong Lokpal Bill, his supporters today courted arrests in Mumbai.

Lawyers back Hazare, stage protest – Lawyers on Tuesday staged protest outside the Delhi High Court premises against the arrest of Anna Hazare and his supporters who had planned to hold a fast in support of strong Lokpal Bill. “This is an Emergency-like situation.”

Written by makanaka

August 16, 2011 at 18:13

The streets of Bahrain, Algiers, Sana’a

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A Bahrain woman shows empty packages of tear gas and sound bomb used by riots police in Manama, February 14, 2011. Small-scale clashes erupted in two Bahraini villages as security forces tightened their grip on Shi'ite communities for Monday's "Day of Rage" protests inspired by upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia. Helicopters circled over the capital Manama, where protesters were expected to gather in the afternoon, and police cars stepped up their presence in Shi'ite villages, breaking up one protest with teargas and rubber bullets. At least 14 people were injured in clashes overnight and on Monday. Photo: Reuters

A Bahraini woman shows empty packages of tear gas and sound bomb used by riots police in Manama, February 14, 2011. Small-scale clashes erupted in two Bahraini villages as security forces tightened their grip on Shi'ite communities for Monday's "Day of Rage" protests inspired by upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia. Helicopters circled over the capital Manama, where protesters were expected to gather in the afternoon, and police cars stepped up their presence in Shi'ite villages, breaking up one protest with teargas and rubber bullets. At least 14 people were injured in clashes overnight and on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Yemeni anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. Yemeni police have clashed with anti-government protesters demanding political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Several thousand protesters, many of them university students, tried to reach the central square in the capital of Sanaa on Sunday, but were pushed back by police using clubs. It was the third straight day of anti-government protests. Photo: AP

Yemeni anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. Yemeni police have clashed with anti-government protesters demanding political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Several thousand protesters, many of them university students, tried to reach the central square in the capital of Sanaa on Sunday, but were pushed back by police using clubs. It was the third straight day of anti-government protests. Photo: AP

An anti-government protester chants slogan in front of riot police during a demonstration in Algiers February 12, 2011. About 50 people shouted anti-government slogans in a square in Algeria's capital on Saturday but were encircled by hundreds of police determined to stamp out any attempt to stage an Egypt-style revolt. Photo: Reuters

An anti-government protester chants slogan in front of riot police during a demonstration in Algiers February 12, 2011. About 50 people shouted anti-government slogans in a square in Algeria's capital on Saturday but were encircled by hundreds of police determined to stamp out any attempt to stage an Egypt-style revolt. Photo: Reuters

Written by makanaka

February 17, 2011 at 22:31

How will Tunisia now find itself?

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After enduring more than two decades of Ben Ali's rule, Tunisians became fed up with the stagnant social order and the president's tight grip on power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

After enduring more than two decades of Ben Ali's rule, Tunisians became fed up with the stagnant social order and the president's tight grip on power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

The always reflective and eminently readable Al-Ahram Weekly has several commentaries on events in Tunisia. Its writers have discussed the tricky socio-political questions in Tunisia which seem to have remained unasked, they have touched upon the 20th century history of coups and uprisings (and also what the Americans are used to calling ‘regime change’), and on the difficulties of bringing democracy back to a country that has been ruled by a despot for 23 years.

“It is not so much the events leading up to this climax that are revealing as the subsequent developments, which various media personalities were perfectly prepared to ignore, caught up as they were in the “thrill” of change, revolutionary fervour and the application of the verses of Abul-Qassem Al-Shabbi,” wrote Abdel-Moneim Said. “In one television interview after the other one could not help but be struck by how familiar it all sounded. We saw it all before, in Iraq where there was an opposition that knew exactly what it opposed, which was the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, but that had no clear idea as to what should come next. Also, as was the case in Iraq, the Tunisians did not possess the means to come to terms over an undeniable fact, which was that the order whose façade had just crumbled has its roots in the nature of the Tunisian state.”

“Simply put, the revolutionaries in Tunisia did not differ greatly from their Iraqi counterparts over, firstly, what to do with the “old order”, and secondly, the need to replace it with a “new order” that would be just and democratic, even though they were far from being in one mind as to what these terms meant. What surfaced was a profound spirit of violence and vengefulness.”

“If the revolution broke out because Mohamed Bouazizi couldn’t find a job, how will the new regime create employment for men like him and the 60 others whose deaths ignited and fed the process of change that has swept Tunisia? Of course, the uprising was not only about unemployment. It was also about corruption, poverty and destitution. There were also more obscure factors, though all pointing to rights that were abused and needs that were unfulfilled by a failed regime. However, will the new revolutionaries be able to alleviate these grievances whose very real existence was confirmed by a whole month’s worth of audio-visual testimony? Curiously, no one in Tunisia seems to be asking that question, let alone venturing an answer to it. There is great euphoria because a brutal man has fled, but there is not a single guarantee that an even more brutal one will not replace him.”

Para-military was called out but the demonstrators would not budge. Instead, they demanded that their president step down from power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

Para-military was called out but the demonstrators would not budge. Instead, they demanded that their president step down from power. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

“For observers chronicling revolutions, the implications of the Tunisian uprising will not be lost on other people who continue to suffer the same agonies in Arab police states, or on their tormenting regimes,” wrote Ayman El-Amir. “The first message from Tunisia was that successful revolutions are now more likely to be undertaken by the masses than by the military. When the military intervened they did so to back the people, not the regime. They better understand their role of safeguarding the country against external threats and, domestically, of preserving the established constitutional order, not to protect the dictator who abused it.”

“The Tunisian people’s revolution would have taken a different course if General Rachid Ammar, chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, had obeyed the orders of Bin Ali, the commander-in-chief, to crush the uprising. Bin Ali’s paramilitary police had already shot and killed between 60 and 90 demonstrators in different cities but failed to quell the rebellion.”

Within 29 days, Tunisians were able to force their president out of the country from a position he held on to for nearly 23 years. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

Within 29 days, Tunisians were able to force their president out of the country from a position he held on to for nearly 23 years. Photo: Al-Jazeera/AFP

“Some political analysts wonder if the Tunisian people’s revolution could be replicated in Arab countries with similar grievances. After all, the 23 July Free Officers’ Movement in Egypt is said to have been the precursor of similar army coups in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, all embellished by the term “revolution”. Everlasting dictatorships chew on the same worries, although their surrounding cronies assure them their countries are far from it because their people enjoy freedom, stability, rising standards of living and are averse to revolutionary violence – the same slogans the Bin Ali regime fed on.”

“It’s not going to be easy to turn Tunisia from a police state into a democracy,” wrote Salah Eissa. “As we have seen in recent years, countries that get rid of their dictators don’t become democracies by default. Two things make me argue that the democratisation of Tunisia would be difficult. One is that the people that took to the streets acted voluntarily and without leadership. Their protests took place in the absence of guidance and participation on the part of organised parties and political movements. As soon as Bin Ali left the country, they went home. The protesters were common people, not versed in the art of politics. They are the average citizens of a country that hasn’t seen democracy for decades. Without the help of the country’s political parties and movements, public discontent may not turn into sustainable democracy.”

“The other thing is that the political parties and movements of Tunisia seem to be out of practice. After years of authoritarianism, Tunisian parties are disconnected from the public and estranged from each other. They need to find something in common, some goals for the entire nation to agree upon, and to pursue them. This, too, is not going to be easy.”