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Issue 23 Issue 7

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Lens and Education Policy

In September 2020, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) and the Directorate of Education initiated a joint project called the Early Warning System that utilizes school attendance records to develop interventions to curb dropouts by identified at-risk children. 

Prolonged absenteeism can lead to failing the course, especially in rural areas where students lack the financial resources to learn externally. Studies have shown that students who regularly attend school tend to perform better than those who are always absent, as frequent practising of skills helps build one’s ability to perform better than infrequent learning. It is thus essential to note absences and their reasons to ensure a balanced and consistent education for all.

DCPCR developed the policy expecting that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a rise in school absenteeism. The pandemic delayed the policy’s roll-out, but a pilot was initiated in October 2021, and the Commission fully implemented the policy in April 2022. DCPCR chairman Anurag Kundu explained that reduced or prolonged attendance as a metric would help gauge whether a child was facing a crisis at home that is affecting their education. The primary causes for absenteeism detected in the pilot included sickness in the family, moving back to the village, lack of parental awareness, labour, early marriage, taking care of household chores, and death. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian of any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than seven days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and enter the details in the system. If the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk”, home visits will be conducted and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in girls’ cases compared to boys. While the policy remains ungendered mainly, it is crucial to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the most significant cause of missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since counselling and encouraging them to go to school may help, but the families still need their income. Amongst girls, on the other hand, the most prominent causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters, ages 15-17, married. The parents were counselled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy could become fully functional only in April since its implementation depended on students physically attending school, which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online schools or helping those facing difficulty accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device, with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

Unicef released an alarming report predicting that 10 million more girls would be at risk of child marriage by the end of the decade due to the pandemic. Education is a protective factor against child marriage. Still, with school closure and increased economic strain, girls are pushed into marriage as a last resort to help ease the family’s financial burden. Strict policies, ensuring access to health services and providing social support to families are vital to ensure girls stay in school. Similarly, another significant problem faced by girls attending school is menstruation. 

A 2018 Delhi based study found that 40% of girls didn’t go to school while menstruating. The fear and embarrassment that breeds from the social stigmas around menstruation and the lack of proper sanitary materials, no privacy at school, restrictions imposed on girls, and their mother’s education lead to a drop in attendance which hampers education. Not addressing these things in policy means that little will be able to be done when the issues arise. Interventions to reduce social taboos, increase awareness, provide healthcare and expand the curriculum to provide sound information are essential to combat this problem. The Early Warning System, like other policies, should find ways to implement interventions that account for these factors and include clauses that aim to address these gender-specific issues. 

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced a similar backlash. Specific provisions might promote girls’ education, such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy, however, encouraged public-private partnership in education which might lead to more schools turning private and becoming inaccessible and unaffordable. Increased tuition would make it harder to convince families to spend on girls’ education and lead to them dropping out. 

While the EWS didn’t mention digital education, the NEP pressed on it without making any provisions for the infrastructure required. The policy’s consolidation of school complexes provision would increase dependence on Open School, the national distance learning program. Any emphasis on this for girls would lead to increased domesticity and curbs on their freedom where they would have a degree but not be able to do much with it. Here, not including girls’ education and other marginalized communities in the policy leads to exclusion. It is crucial to look at policy-making from a gender lens and make gender-specific policies to ensure genuinely equitable education for girls. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than 7 days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and will enter the details in the system. Home visits are conducted if the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk” and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in the cases of girls as compared to boys. While the policy remains largely ungendered, it is important to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the biggest cause for missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since councelling and encouraging them to go to school may help but the families still need their income. Amongst girls on the other hand, the biggest causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters ages between 15 and 17 married. The parents were counseled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy was able to become fully functional only in April given that it can only be implemented when students are physically attending school which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online school and helping those who were having a hard time accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced similar backlash suggesting that while there were certain provisions that might promote girls’ education such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy however might lead to schools becoming inaccessible and unaffordable and girls dropping out. It is crucial to look at policy making from a gender lens as well as make gender-specific policies to ensure truly equitable education for girls. 

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture credits: Unicef

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 18

On the Fence: The Sino-Indian Standoff Continues

On 12th  January 2022 , commanders of the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army of China met for the 14th round of Corps Commander Level talks with the aim being “resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector.” The first round of talks between the respective division level commanders of both armies was held on 18th June 2020, following violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan valley. This clash represented the most deadly outbreak of violence between the two nations in nearly 50 years,  resulting in 20 casualties on the Indian side, and an indeterminate number of casualties on the Chinese side. Since this flare up of violence, both sides have ramped up military presence across the entire length of the Sino-Indian border, and the question of how to de-escalate and chart a response going forward has been on the minds of multiple stakeholders. 

After 14 rounds of official talks at the military, diplomatic and political levels, the question of the future of Sino-Indian relations still remains standing. The heart of the issue goes back to the boundary shared between the nation. The boundary question is however, very complex.  “The alignment of the LAC has never been agreed upon, nor has it been delineated or demarcated. Remote and uninhabitable, the contested territory has no significant natural resources or population centers. The terrain varies from dry and desolate in the Western sector to hilly and dense in the Eastern sector.” Notions of history, culture, and civilization differences present their own set of problems that have to be considered. This is not to say that concentrated efforts to resolve the crisis haven’t been made, or de-escalation hasn’t happened before. The 2005 agreement signed between the two governments, marked a step forward by recognising that “the boundary settlement must be final, covering all sectors of the India-China boundary.”

At the same time, this ongoing crisis represents a new turn. Simply put, the repeated talks have failed because while either side does not want further violence, each side also differs in how exactly they see de-escalation and the terms of resolving the larger border issues. A key demand for the Indian side as a precursor to the normalization of the relationship between the two nations has been the “complete withdrawal from all the friction points and status-quo until restored as it existed before May 2020.”

This stated aim has not been achieved so far and seems unlikely to be reached for the simple reason that it is not in China’s interest to withdraw and let the issue quietly die down.  China’s new strategy at the border is a mix of strategies that have been successfully used in other flashpoints. It is a mixture of not only salami-slicing tactics, but also gray zone warfare, both working to China’s benefit.

Gray zone warfare often relies on deniability, remaining below an adversary’s response threshold, and achieving a cumulative effect through seemingly minor actions.” One can see instances of this approach all across the current crisis. One major area is the effort to solve each hotspot, or area of tension on its own, as a piecemeal approach with the aim of de-linking certain hotspots from a larger political settlement of the issues. The history of the various talks is littered with such examples. Of the various flashpoints, it was during the 9th round of talks that troops were disengaged from the Pangong Tso lake area, from the Gogra region during the 12th round of talks, and the focus of the failed 14th round of talks was the Hot Springs area in Eastern Ladakh.  Experts and news media have pointed out that certain areas are no longer on the table for even the base process of ‘disengagement’. For example, the ongoing standoff in the Depsang and Demchok in Eastern Ladakh. While the Indian side has pushed for resolution here, the issues at play, i.e., denial of patrolling routes of the Indian army by the Chinese have been delinked and cast as ‘legacy issues’. Such an approach, however, masks the fact that the Chinese side has successfully used the 2020 crisis to block access of the Indian side to areas it historically used to patrol in. Further, for the Indian side to recast ongoing flashpoints as ‘legacy issues’ that cannot be talked about even for ‘disengagement,’ shows that the onus of escalation firmly lies on the Indian side, and secondly, gray zone warfare is indeed in effect.

China has also sought to recast the border issue in terms of sovereignty. Statements such as those made in regard to Arunachal Pradesh, seem to confirm that the aim of the Chinese side is indeed to split up the boundary question into sector-wise chunks, and not deal with it as a political whole, going back from what was previously agreed upon, such as the 2005 agreement. As Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Advisor points out “unlike past confrontations and face-offs, the framing of the crisis by China as a sovereignty dispute — rather than as a border dispute which would be solved by give and take — makes it harder to settle.”

The other Chinese strategy that dovetails perfectly with the advent of gray zone warfare is that of putting the onus of escalation on the Indian side. Chinese efforts such as occupying territory, building infrastructure, aggressive patrolling, disputing agreed-upon boundaries, or denying patrolling routes portray tightly controlled moves designed to put the serious onus of escalation on the other side while quietly accruing the benefits of this carefully scripted brinkmanship. The question for the Indian side is whether it can bear the costs of a steady level of escalation by the Chinese without resorting to any new levels of violence. 

The costs of managing and operating the armed forces in brutal and inhospitable conditions, against a hostile neighbor, are happening during a time when the Indian Military is considering reforming its force structure to a Joint Theater Command System. This move, while argued by many as necessary, especially in light of China’s own military reforms, has its own set of myriad challenges and delays for policy-makers. Another area of concern is the issue of budgetary allocation for the Armed Forces. While the 2022-23 allocation of Rs 5.25 Lakh Crore represents “a 9.8% higher [increase] over the Budget estimates of last year” it “masks the challenge of the availability of resources … this increase is barely keeping up with the inflation and the demands of the three services”. More importantly, as pointed out by General Naravane, the ultimate solution to the problem lies at the political level. However, considering the increasingly strained personal relationship between Modi and Xi, one is unsure of the political vision of Indian policy makers. It is important to point out that while the Indian side as a response to Chinese aggression has “initiated a build-up of troops and weaponry along the border”, the more important question is till what point  such an aggressive posture is sustainable. 

In conclusion, one definitely hopes for the introduction of new confidence building measures, based on an approach that recognizes changed political and ground realities, while working together to solve long standing border issues between these two Asian giants in the spirit of mutual cooperation. What is more likely, and is disturbingly seen on the ground, is the fact that the relationship going forward between the two countries will depend on whichever of the two sides blinks first.

Shauryavardhan Sharma is a Graduate Student at Ashoka University. He graduated with a degree in History and International Relations, and is currently pursuing a Research Thesis on India’s Nuclear Programme. His interests lie in the field of Security Studies, and the analysis of India’s foreign policy.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 12

An extract from India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present

Chapter 1: page 16-18

“The postmodernists would like us to believe that Indian history is what we make it or are the narratives that we choose to tell ourselves and believe. I beg to differ. History is like a map, an imperfect reflection of a larger objective reality that, over time and with improvements in the historian’s art, becomes clearer and more representative of an objective reality that did exist and certainly seemed to exist to earlier generations in history. That map is important to us in looking at India’s foreign and security policies because we choose, decide, and act on the basis of the map of our own experience, or the history, that we carry in our heads. Perception matters. And when perception does not match objective reality, policy errs or fails.

The problem is that several generations in India have been taught a version of history that ignores that India has for much of its past been well connected to the world and its prosperity and security have waxed and waned in direct proportion to that link. That may be because the regions that undertook these contacts with the rest of the world, what historians call coherent core areas, that is, areas characterized by stable, long-term political and cultural institutions, such as Bengal and Gujarat and the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, have been ignored or downplayed in these historical narratives in favor of the relatively insular Indo-Gangetic plain and the region around Delhi, partly because a version of Indian history written by those loyal to the British empire dominated the field. It is only in the last few years that younger scholars have begun to study these less recognized regions seriously.

The simplistic history written by historians loyal to the British empire legitimized British rule by making Indian history a continuous sequence of alien empires and conquerors. This saga of empires was periodized by religion, and caste was emphasized, disregarding the fact that the ruling elite was always of mixed religious persuasion and origins, and that assimilation and social mobility were both possible and practiced.

It amazes me that some Indians—despite having been shown alternative and more cogent lines of enquiry—persist in this religious characterization and accept the simplified history foisted on us. Certain historians and writers in India still contribute to the misrepresentation of India in history as an autonomous world apart, driven by religion and its own logic, and different from the rest of the world. One has only to look at the practice and the linkages with the world of the Mauryas, Kushanas, Guptas, Delhi Sultanate, and Moghuls to see how misleading this representation is. And these entities were carrying on a tradition of engagement stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the Middle East, the Roman empire and the Mediterranean Sea, central Asia, China, and southeast Asia inherited from the Indus valley civilization in the third and second millennium BCE. India was not “a world apart,” but a complex civilization involved in myriad exchanges—of goods, ideas, and peoples—with the surrounding world.

But this is only one part of India’s true geopolitical inheritance. Kalidasa described the ideal rulers of the Raghukula as asamudra kshitiesanam, or those whose territories extended to the sea shore. The Satavahanas used the title Trisamudrapati, or Lords of the Three Seas. Including the history of the other regions in our consideration gives us a very different historical legacy that forms an increasingly important element of our strategic culture and driver of our policy choices. If you see Indian history as Delhi-centered, you will make the mistake that many of us make, of believing, as K. M. Panikkar said, that “India has, throughout history, had trouble arousing much interest in the world beyond its borders,” which he contrasted to British attentiveness to developments around the Raj. The coastal tradition in India, on the other hand, has seen outward projections of power, influence, and culture throughout its history.

Once you include southern and western India and Bengal and Orissa, the strength of India’s links with the rest of the world, going back to 2600 BCE, become clear. Ptolemy attests to this in the second century CE, while Pliny in mid-first century CE grumbles about gold and silver draining away to India from the Roman empire for luxury goods, a problem that the British also had in the early days of trading with India, until they discovered the uses of opium.

The reach and extent of the soft and hard power of non-Gangetic regions of India in both mainland and archipelagic southeast Asia are visible to this day in the great ruins of Angkor Wat and Borobudur, on the walls of the Vaikuntha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram and in Hampi, and in the living culture of our countries. The Cholas’ activist external policies and willing militarism enabled them to last from the third century BCE to the thirteenth century CE, longer than any dynasty in the Gangetic valley. Their example was actively followed by the Pandyan (sixth century BCE to twelfth century CE) and Pallava (third to ninth century CE) dynasties. The same is also true of the reach and influence of some Gangetic or Indus valley-based political entities like the Mauryas or Kushanas as the spread of Buddhism overland to the Pacific and the Mediterranean attests. Vijayanagara flourished and grew prosperous on its trade with central, west, and southeast Asia. The Mughals, for their part, played an active role in central Asian politics, too. This is a strong, continuous, and abiding legacy of engagement beyond the subcontinent. As long as the Indian Ocean was an open, competitive space, peninsular India was relatively secure. The Mughals punished the Portuguese for piracy by limiting their activity on land, advantaging their competitors, the English, French, Dutch, and Danes. When Britain managed a relative monopoly on trade in the Indian Ocean following the Carnatic Wars with the French, it became possible for Britain to translate maritime control into predominance on land.”

Shivshankar Menon is an Indian diplomat, who has served as the National Security Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister from January 2010 to May 2014. He has previously served as the Foreign Secretary of India (2006-09), High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka (1997-2000), and Pakistan (2003-06) as well as Ambassador of India to Israel (1995-97), and China (2000-2003). He is the author of “Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy” (2016), and “India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present” (2021). He is currently a Visiting Professor at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 12 Issue 13

It is the ‘Tax-the-Rich’ hour!

On 31st March 2021, The Guardian reported that New Zealand was raising its top rate tax for the country’s highest earners to 39% and also raising its minimum wage to $20 an hour. On 9th April, the New York Times reported that the budget for the coming fiscal year includes a long-overdue increment in the income-tax cuts of people making more than $1.078 million. Back in April of 2020, Landais, Saez and Zucman proposed a Progressive European wealth tax to fund Europe’s COVID response. However, the idea of taxing the rich started reappearing in mainstream media a little before the pandemic itself hit. In the recent US Presidential race, two candidates, namely Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, proposed two separate models of progressive wealth taxation as a policy suggestion in their campaigns. These models were also designed by UC Berkeley Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. But despite Europe’s failure with the wealth taxation system, one may ask the very obvious question, ‘Why expend time, effort and resources on a failed policy?’

The progressive wealth tax model presented by Saez & Zucman is widely lauded for its striking approach towards countering the flaws persistent in the European system and coming up with a more effective system suitable for the USA. They argue that a wealth tax is a potentially more powerful tool than income, estate, or corporate tax when it comes to addressing the issue of wealth concentration. This is because the wealth tax goes after the stock rather than the flow, i.e., it does not target the annual income, but rather the accumulated wealth of the individuals. The two striking features of their model are that a) they propose a fairly high threshold, beyond which wealth will be taxed, which ensures that it doesn’t lead to the problems of illiquidity (as was the case in many European countries) and b) they can find ways to counter tax evasion, which was one of the main reasons behind the failure of European countries’ wealth taxation systems. They argue that since the USA’s taxation system is citizenship-based, it makes the USA’s system much less vulnerable to mobility threats than other countries.

One of the major contentions against any sort of wealth tax or taxation targeted on the rich is that it disincentivizes them from working hard and/or innovating. However, Smith et al., argues that most top earners derive their income from human capital rather than financial capital. And while credit constraints could perhaps be a problem, a wealth taxation model with a high exemption threshold like the one presented by Saez & Zucman, by definition, spares the credit constraint. Moreover, they also argue that it is the established businesses that gate-keep innovation in their industries by fighting any new competition in order to maintain their dominant position. Moreover, it has a significant impact on income inequality, because wealth taxation prevents maintenance and growth of people’s existing accumulated wealth, and specifically reduces consumption inequality.

Although wealth taxation may seem like a good idea on a solely altruistic basis as well, it might actually be very instrumental in poverty targeting policies, especially for countries that face a severe lack of resources, like developing countries. In fact, a targeted and strictly enforced wealth taxation model could be very helpful for a country like India. Saez & Zucman argue that tax evasion depends only on the design of the taxation system and the strength of enforcement, both of which are active policy choices. The long-run revenue-maximizing wealth tax rate according to their model is about 6.25%, which they categorize as a fairly high rate. According to S Subramaniam, if India’s top richest 935 families’ wealth was taxed at a flat rate of 4%, it would be able to generate revenue that is equivalent to 1% of India’s GDP. This money could then be used to fund more targeted schemes such as a Quasi-Universal Basic Income (QUBI). There could be various QUBIs like ones that provide a guaranteed income to women or one that seeks to provide a basic income to people that have lost their jobs owing to the pandemic, or even to automation.

It is certainly no coincidence that policies targeted at taxing the rich are making a comeback, it has taken relentless effort on part of activists around the globe to bring this up to the forefront. The New York Times reports, about the increment in income taxation on rich in New York, that: “In January, 170 grassroots organizations along with dozens of legislators formed the Invest in Our New York coalition, which in the subsequent months made close to one million calls to lawmakers, sent more than 260,000 texts to residents across the state, held 100 teach-ins and placed hanging cards declaring “Tax the Rich” on 120,000 doors.” And while the debate about taxing the rich has been around for long enough, it does seem like the world is finally ready to embrace radical measures to reduce inequality and make the world a more equal place to live in (at least in economic terms).

This article has been republished from LiveWire with permission of the author.

Ishita is currently pursuing her postgraduate diploma in Entrepreneurial Leadership & Strategy, and has recently completed her undergraduate studies in Economics & Finance, from Ashoka University. When she’s not stressing about the next thing and over-planning her coming activities, she can be found discussing issues related to politics, managing her page @angrybrowngal.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 11

Examining India’s Falling Rank on the World Happiness Index

Sydney J. Harris rightly said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place” and today all economies in the world are struggling to walk in this direction. A step to achieve this was taken in the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in 2012 when they adopted resolution 65/309: Happiness: Towards a Holistic Definition of Development. This was done to invite the 149 member countries to measure the level of happiness among their population and use these numbers to guide public policy. Although the World Happiness Reports have been based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, which is unique in the range and comparability of its global series of annual surveys.

Finland has been ranked number 1, being the happiest country in the world for the past few years. India has always been very low on the happiness index, averaging around 125th. In fact, in 2021, India was ranked 139 out of 149 countries. The results of the happiness index are correlated with a lot of factors including GDP, social security, personal freedom, life expectancy and opinions of residents among others. 

As former President, Dr Pranab Mukherjee commented, “Despite our country’s economic progress, India is constantly going downwards in the happiness index. This indicates a lack of a holistic approach towards development.” According to him, the best step that the policymakers of the country should take is to adopt the ‘triple bottom line’ accounting framework. It focuses on all essential aspects of holistic development of individuals including social, ecological and financial development. This also implies that happiness is weakly correlated with wealth and the economic growth of a country. 

According to the economist and author Jayshree Sengupta, India has been ranked poorly on the happiness index due to various reasons. Some of these are rapid urbanization and congestion in cities, concerns about food security and water safety, rising costs of healthcare, women’s safety, and environmental pollution, which itself is linked to poor mental wellbeing. These conditions have worsened over time and were amplified due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The ever-growing inequality between the rich and poor of the country is another crucial reason for the chronic unhappiness. During the Covid crisis,  India reportedly added 40 new billionaires to the global list while about 57% of the working class in the country were on the verge of losing their jobs. This growing pay gap in the population has worsened the mental wellbeing and hence the happiness of the population. 

A statistical exercise using variables like GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption and dystopia was done to understand the relationship of these indices with the happiness index. It found that all these variables are statistically significant and thus have  significant explanatory power. They  illustrate that on average richer countries fare better on subjective evaluations of life circumstances, as do nations with more social support, lower levels of corruption etc. 

Why India, despite its high level of economic growth ranks so low is because it ranks very low on some of these indices. For social support, India is ranked 142nd out of 149 countries. However, if we consider Pakistan’s ranking on all of these individual indicators, it is very similar to India and worse in some cases. According to this, India should be ranked one spot above Pakistan but that is not the case. Pakistan is ranked 105 while India is ranked at 139. This points out to predictive anomalies that this model has. 

One reasonable explanation for this could be that people in India have higher expectations and thus also have greater disappointment. This is one of the very crucial reasons for the low happiness ranking in India in addition to the increasing income inequality and feelings of injustice and unfairness because of the structure of the society and its history. Thus, better political leadership and public policy framework in India are essential for improving the happiness index of people in India. 

Picture Credits: Visual Capitalist

Aanya Poddar is a third year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing a BSc. (Honors) in Economics and Finance. She is the President of the Ashoka Economics Society.

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Issue 3

Putting Civil Society In Its Place

Much has already been said on the most recent amendments to India’s Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Op-ed writers have opined. Editors have pontificated. Civil society leaders have cried themselves hoarse, warning of the threat the amendments pose to both development and democracy.

Graphic from an article by Forbes India.

They all agree that the amendments are ill-conceived, ill-timed and probably ill-intentioned. It’s clear that the new provisions will deter international donors, cut smaller organisations’ access to overseas support, render nonprofit work in research, policy analysis, advocacy and capacity building more difficult and add considerable friction to transactions involving international funds. Few NGOs would survive the 360 days the law now afford enforcement agencies to freeze their finances and operations while they mount a prosecution, even if they are eventually proven entirely innocent of the charges. Many have pointed out the stark contrast between the ostentatious welcome provided to Foreign Direct Investment in the private sector and the minefield which international funding to civil society must traverse. Others have remarked on the relative opacity permitted to funds contributed to political parties via electoral bonds compared with the stringent scrutiny required of nonprofit incomes. For those seeking ease of doing philanthropy, one channel remains – the PM CARES Fund.

Graphic from The Hindustan Times

Less has been heard on the intent of the additional constraints the amendments impose. The government claims that international contributions to NGOs in India have been misused and that compliance with the onerous reporting required for such funds has been lacking. It has not, however, provided any evidence that the pre-amendment 2010 law was inadequate to the task of remedying such malfeasance. The cancelling of over 23,000 FCRA registrations since 2010 suggests otherwise. 

Coming on the heels of the praise lavished on NGOs by senior government functionaries for their outstanding humanitarian response to both, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide distress caused by the summary measures taken to control its spread, the creation of new impediments to civil society work is nothing short of mystifying. As recently as October 17, 2020, the Prime Minister has sought to include civil society as a key partner in the plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to all Indians.

What might one infer from these contradictions? Some clues might be discerned in the arguments put forth by senior government functionaries. They posit a ‘pure’ form of voluntary civil society action unsullied by formal organisational structures, partnerships with government or the addition of policy advocacy to the civil society repertoire. The government’s warmth towards this form of civil society action is manifest in its outreach to ‘service delivery’ NGOs for both, input to policy and to fill in the vast gaps in last mile public services from healthcare to education, skill development, sanitation and the like. It is also visible in the boundaries defined for the deployment of corporate philanthropy in the form of mandatory CSR. On the other hand, its intolerance for civil society work that focuses on human rights, environmental justice, amplifying muted voices, holding government or business to account, and defending democratic freedoms is equally evident in the kind of NGOs that have been singled out for punitive action, a list that includes Amnesty, Greenpeace, INSAF, Lawyer’s Collective and the like. 

The message is crystal clear. Comforting the afflicted is good, afflicting the comfortable is absolutely not. Silent, unquestioning delivery of services by nonprofits, and the philanthropy that supports such work, is fine, even praiseworthy. Any challenge to policy, in design or implementation, is unacceptable. Most Indian donors have proven themselves amenable to these restrictions, either because their own goals are in sync, or to protect themselves, their assets and their interests. International donors focused on augmenting government plans and programmes too will face no significant barriers. It is only the ‘black sheep’ who must be deterred, closely monitored, and made vulnerable to intimidation and harassment through a maze of regulatory hurdles.  

It is precisely for these reasons that the International Commission of Jurists has roundly condemned the new amendments to the FCRA as unconstitutional and in violation of international law on freedom of association. They echo the 2016 criticism by the first UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association who described the 2010 version of the FCRA as failing the test for allowable restrictions on the right to association developed by international human rights bodies.

It completes a vision of state, and executive, supremacy with every institution designed to counteract such untrammelled concentration of power reduced to cheerleader status at best, subservience at worst. At another time and place this vision was embodied in a slogan that has since come to signify some of humanity’s darkest deeds: ‘Ein Volk. Ein Reich. Ein Führer.’

Parliament, the media and, arguably, the judiciary have all been corralled to varying degrees. Women, Dalits, Muslims and other minorities are regularly reminded of their ‘aukat’. Civil society too, is being shown its place.

Ingrid Srinath is Director of the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Ashoka University. The views expressed here are entirely personal.

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Should India’s environment laws give the State so much power?

By Mansi Ranka

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) rolled out the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in March 2020 and introduced changes to environmental governance for the country. These changes focus on making environmental clearance a swift and easy process while giving public consultation a backseat.

The draft has led to widespread public concern. About 100 environmental groups and individuals have opposed draft EIA 2020, calling it anti-environment and anti-people. One of the main causes for distress in the new draft is an exemption from prior environmental clearance to about 40 different industries like clay and sand extraction, solar thermal power plants and common effluent treatment plants. This ex post facto environmental clearance puts aside the primary goal of environmental protection to focus on achieving ease of business. In April, the Supreme Court held that such practice would be detrimental to the environment and that development must be approached through an “ecologically rational outlook”.

The other main cause of concern is the dilution of public consultation. The new draft exempts projects from the public hearing, an important opportunity for local communities to learn about the project and demand social obligations from them. This gives the corporations power to officially evade local development needs, which were anyway rarely met. environmentalists have accused the government of using EIA to expand their own political control by favouring corporations by legitimising environmentally degrading projects.

The new EIA draft incorporates systemic weakness into the law, making environmental violations the norm for corporations. The Ministry does not even pretend to see EIA as anything more than a bureaucratic instrument to make environmental clearance (EC) easier. 

Environmentalists have been arguing for the need to strengthen environmental law more than ever, as we are already experiencing climate change in the havoc wreaked by floods nationwide. The letter sent to the MOEFCC also proposes that we go back to the EIA 2006 notification. But in reality, that is not all that better either.

The MOEFCC is currently reviewing the public comments that they have received on the draft. Right now, it is important to think about what it is that will really help strengthen the environmental law in our country. How can the law ensure that big corporate profit does not override people’s welfare and environmental protection?

The state controls the distribution of state-owned natural resources. What is the safeguard against the exploitation of this power? What if the government allocates natural resources in a way that contradicts public welfare?

A similar question was brought up before the Supreme Court, in the 2011 public interest litigation after the 2G scam. The PIL raised questions about the State’s ownership of natural resources and their fair distribution. The judgement clarified the Supreme Court’s position on who distributes natural resources by saying, “Natural resources belong to the people but the State legally owns them on behalf of its people and …  is empowered to distribute natural resources.” So, the State has the power to decide what happens to natural resources. But on what basis does the state decide? The judgement goes on to say, “while distributing natural resources, the State is bound to act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust and ensure that no action is taken which may be detrimental to the public interest.”

Thus, as long as we trust the Indian State to “act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust”, we can be certain that it will distribute natural resources for the “common good”. The judgement concludes that the State should be the trustee or guardian of the people in general, and hence be responsible for natural assets.

Trusteeship is a Gandhian socio-economic idea, which holds that wealthy people should be the trustees and ensure the general welfare of the poor people. The theory relies on Gandhi’s conviction that capitalists aren’t beyond redemption and the wealthy could be persuaded to help the poor by becoming more egalitarian.

Now, the Indian State is supposed to act as this trustee and ensure common good. How does the state define this ‘common good’? Historically, the state has not acted in ways that can foster this kind of trust. The state has often wished to ascertain huge profits through corporations by allowing them to monopolise. This is obvious in the draft EIA 2020. The “common” good then becomes economic development by few big players. This is excluding the very people it was supposed to act as trustee for. And yet, the State can claim to handover natural resources for exploitation to a few players in the name of common good and public trust.

Furthermore, the draft EIA is pushing for people to be excluded from participating in this process, making the idea of common good paternalistic. The tilting of the scale to give the trustee unchecked power is possible under this idea of trusteeship. This is because in Gandhi’s theory it heavily relies on subjective goodness in the capitalist, the trustee, to act for general welfare. It is necessary to question this of trusteeship. Can the state function as a true trustee without mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency?

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

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National Education Policy 2020: Implications for Students with Disabilities

By Monika Bhalvani

Since its inception, the Indian education system has been primarily built on an ableist framework. A multiplicity of factors, including inaccessible infrastructure, lack of inclusive teaching and learning practises, rigid academic curriculum, have played a contributing role in systematically leaving out a majority of students with disabilities from the education system early on. The detrimental effects of these are shown through a steep decline in the enrolment and retention rate of students with disabilities after completing their primary school. Because of this, about 45% of people with disabilities are uneducated and  62.9% of them between the ages of 3 and 35 have never attended regular schools.

While this form of an education system structurally denies students with disabilities their basic right to education, the recently drafted National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) provides a ray of hope. The draft states, “Children with disabilities will be enabled to fully participate in the regular schooling process from the Foundational Stage to higher education.” This focus on creating a thorough support system right from an early age opens up multiple avenues for students with various forms of disabilities to be integrated into the regular schooling system. The new NEP is built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability, that promises a learning environment that is conducive to the learning needs of students with various disabilities. 

The NEP 2020 endorses the recommendations from the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, and states, “Barrier free access for all children with disabilities will be enabled as per the RPWD Act 2016”. This recognition of the RPWD act and its provision to enable an inclusive system that is adapted to meet the learning needs of students with various forms of disabilities is in itself a major form of victory for the disabled community. Along with this, the draft explicitly talks about how the inclusion of students with learning disabilities will also be ensured, and teachers would be helped to identify such learning conditions early on. The emphasis laid on the need for developing an inclusive education system that caters to the needs of students with both visible and invisible disabilities prompts that we have indeed come a long way in our fight to promote inclusion in the education system.

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons ( changes made)

While laying this foundation stone for inclusion, the NEP 2020  brings forth certain points that would be taken into consideration during the planning and implementation process. Some of the important recommendations include recruitment of teachers with cross-disability training, usage of assistive devices and appropriate technology-based tools to integrate students with disabilities into classrooms, providing flexibility for all students with different disabilities to learn and grow at their own pace with appropriate assessment and certification. While enabling this, it also gives due importance to training teachers on inclusive pedagogies that cater to the varied needs of students. Focusing on the need for implementation of peer sensitization programmes, it says, “The school curriculum will include, early on, material on human values such as respect for all persons, empathy, tolerance, human rights, gender equality, non-violence, global citizenship, inclusion, and equity.” Implementation of all these points could create a stimulatory environment for students with disabilities to integrate and grow in a regular classroom setting. 

While we have come this far in terms of policy documentation and it’s surely a welcome step, there is still a long way for us to go. Given the complex nature of how different disabilities manifest, we need to take into account multiple factors at both the planning and implementation stages in this process. In doing so, we need to take into consideration a lot of issues that the NEP 2020 misses out on, and discuss how it can be tackled and developed further. 

Firstly, the NEP emphasizes on how teachers will be trained and students will be sensitized. However, what is majorly lacking here is the involvement of students with disabilities themselves in the process of devising policies. Time and again, the disability rights campaign, “Nothing about us, without us”, has emphasized the need to allow full and active participation of people with disabilities while developing or implementing any policies for them. Thus, it is extremely crucial to actively involve students with various disabilities in understanding the specific areas of concerns and plan strategies to tackle that during the planning phase. 

Secondly, we need to pay utmost attention to the way the changes in NEP 2020 pertaining to students with disabilities will be implemented. Our existing education structure, built on an ableist framework, provides very limited scope for students with various disabilities to engage and fully participate in any classroom setting. There needs to be due thought and consideration given to how the proposed changes in the new NEP will be integrated into the existing education structure that we have in place. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, the NEP 2020 completely misses out on the various intersections that exist in the disabled community itself in terms of gender, caste, class, and socio-economic backgrounds. While making a comprehensive policy for students with disabilities, it is important to ask questions that cut across all these aspects. For instance, given that gender is one of the big determinants of increase in drop-out rates from school, we need to consider the provisions that will be made for female students with disabilities to retain them in the education system. Therefore, using an intersectional lens to rethink the existing education policies and the NEP 2020 would help in bringing about desired outcomes in the education system. 

It can be said that the quest for developing an inclusive education system has just started, but there is a lot more that needs to be achieved moving forward. After all, it is the inclusive mindsets and increasing focus on grassroots-level research in this area that would determine if we are moving in the right direction in building an inclusive education system– a system that embraces the differences that each student brings and fosters positive growth right from the beginning.

Monika Bhalvani is the assistant manager of the Office of Learning Support at Ashoka University.

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