Another ‘interesting’ two weeks...

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Another ‘interesting’ two weeks...

Friday, 14 September 2018 | Ajoy Kumar

Another ‘interesting’ two weeks...

A bimonthly recap of the strange times our country is going through will provide some entertainment. But ludicrous comments by BJP leaders, which they utter without any filters, take the cake

The past week has been momentous. The Supreme Court examined the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, an archaic law that continued for longer than it should have, and held that actions between consenting adults are outside the ambit of this penal provision. By its decision, the Supreme Court gave a fresh lease of life to millions of Indians who had to suffer due to the stigma, the fear and the abuse of being classified as criminals for nothing other than the right to love a fellow human being. While this fortnight was one to celebrate in one respect, in other it was another week of comments from the Centre that can at best be called amusing and at worst be considered worrisome.

National Commission for Men: This past week, Harinarayan Rajbhar, the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Uttar Pradesh said, “There is a national commission for women. But, there is no such commission for men. Men are committing suicide on being harassed by women, and false cases are being lodged against men.” This is not the first time that Rajbhar has discussed his passion for a ‘purush aayog’. In fact, he brought the issue up in the month of August as well in the Lok Sabha where it caused much amusement and laughter. While the suggestion may seem laughable, the fact that the Member of Parliament from Ballia is absolutely unaware about the status of women in India is far from laughable. The statistics on crimes against women is useful to examine because it is a fair indicator of where women stand compared to men in Indian society. Not to ruin the surprise for Rajbhar but the statistics are damning and do not aid his argument for a National Commission for Men.

In this regard, the report published by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2016 is illuminating. As per this report, the rate of crimes against women, i.e. crimes per 1 lakh women was up from 41.7 in 2012 to 55.2 in 2016. Furthermore, it is telling that a majority of the crimes against women is usually by people who are known to them because of which women are in any case hesitant about filing criminal cases against their abusers or are coaxed out of it by the family of the victim. What may be of interest to Rajbhar, however, is that despite incidence of crime against women, the conviction rate for crimes against women in 2016 at 18.9 per cent is at its lowest since 2007. This is especially discouraging as even if a woman does have the courage to report a crime, she, however, has to withdraw the complaint (which is common in cases of cruelty by husbands or relatives, where the parties agree to a divorce, subject to the withdrawal of the complaint). There is often a stigma that is associated with the woman by society for no fault of her own.

In any event, if the argument is that some women are exploiting the legal process to punish men, then as the conviction rates seem to show, the legal system does appear to take into account such cases as well because the burden which is required to be discharged by the accuser is fairly high. Furthermore, the argument against a ‘purush aayog’ is not that there are no cases where there have been bogus cases filed against men for crimes against women. In fact, the argument is as follows: Firstly, in India today, due to a culture of victim blaming, the odds are stacked against a woman who decides to approach the legal system for a remedy from the start. Secondly, India like any other country does not have an unlimited supply of funds or resources. Therefore, as a responsible democracy, it must decide to allocate funds and personnel towards its most urgent and immediate causes. So, while it may be important to be congnizant of such isolated instances of abuse, the current state of women is far worse than that of men and, therefore, more focus, attention and resources are required to ensure that women are subject to a just system.

Raghuram Rajan responsible for low growth: As you may have noticed, India has not yet seen any ‘acche din’ and the state of the economy proves as much. In this regard while talking about the low lending rates and hesitancy in the economy, Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of NITI Aayog, said, “The new mechanisms instituted [under the previous RBI Governor’s regime] to identify stressed or non-performing assets and these continuously continued to grow up which is why the banking sector stopped giving credit to the industry.”

Such comments, unfortunately, follow the same irresponsible policy of the Government to blame everyone other than itself for the ills of the economy, including the rising fuel prices, the spectacular fall of the rupee, the low employment rate and the low rate of growth. There are, however, two issues with this message. First that it lays the blame on the foot of a policy that places emphasis on a clean-up of non-performing assets that had accumulated with banks and ignores that this clean-up process is necessary for any economy to grow since it shows what the true state of banking in the country is.

The Modi Government, however, obviously favors obfuscation when reality does not suit the Government and grandiose overstatement when the data is mildly in favour of the Government. An instance of this was the change in the base year to calculate GDP data which made the Modi Government look acceptable. However, what the BJP did not contemplate was that by using the same standard, the performance of the UPA during its tenure looks far better than any growth clocked by the Modi Government.

The second issue with this message is that it continues with the narrative that India’s low rate of growth has been caused due to external factors rather than due to the incompetence of the Government. This can be seen when arguments against high fuel prices are brought against the Government or the falling rupee. Astonishingly, as per this Government, demonetization, which must count as one of the biggest economic blunders in the world, played no role in the economic slowdown of the country. It’s completely ignored by the Government that the move cost India 1.5 per cent of GDP or that in the first four months 1.5 million jobs were lost during just the first four months of 2017 and left the unorganised sector, which primarily operates on cash, reeling from the move. As a reader, I would recommend you consider this to be your bimonthly recap of the strange time our country is going through, where any form of intellectualism is equated with anti-nationalism. While I hope this recap did provide some entertainment, I think it is important to recognise that some of the ludicrous comments by BJP leaders that I mention from time to time are only the ones that they say out loud after presumably filtering them. One can, however, only imagine and truly fear what thoughts do not pass through this very porous filter.

(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views are personal)

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