ENGLISH BAZAAR PATRIKA

Dear Madams of FICCI,

From reports in media we have understood that our Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi has impressed you all with his hard-hitting eloquence. On reading and hearing report of the speech, we, the women of Gujarat were wonder-struck ! Was he speaking of women in Gujarat? Was he revealing the whole truth? Certainly not. So we thought that we could enlighten you all about the reality in Gujarat.

In Gujarat's population the number of women has gone down. In 2001 there were 921 women against 1000 men. In 2011, three more were lost per a thousand, 918 were counted in the census. This is the ten year period during which nine other States recorded increase in the number of women, from 45 in Delhi to 4 in Rajastan. Gujarat kept losing.

Mr. Modi was speaking of female foeticide, an old 18th century practice. In Gujarat the sex ratio in the age group of 0 to 6 years in 2001, was 886 girls as against 1000 boys. In 2011 it was 883 girls as against 1000 boys. Difference of only 3 gained over ten years! It was only in late 2011 that the news of the government having closed 101 sonography clinics was heard; thereafter a few were reported closed in 2012. In 2013, so far, no penal action under PCPNDT Act is reported. That is the Governance in Gujarat! Does the Government care?

Latest surveys (2006) concerning married women's health note that 55.5% women were anaemic in the age group of 15 to 49 years of age. In the same age group 60.8% pregnant women were malnourished and anaemic. In 1998-99, 74.5% of dalit and tribal children in the age group of 6 months to 35 months were reported as malnourished. In 2005-2006 the number of such children increased to 79.8%. 49.2% children have not developed to normal height, 41% do not have the weight normally children of their age group could have. During the last election this issue was taken up and the minister in charge had rushed to find out where the fortified food packets had gone! That is Governance in Gujarat! Maternal mortality rate and Infant mortality rate do not come down; mothers and children keep dying in Gujarat or continue to survive as weaklings.

To refer to women as mothers all the time is pretentious. We have noted how young mothers die of malnourishment. Lack of treatment (because no government dispensary, block or district hospital has a gynecologist appointed, large city hospitals provide such facility) is one more obvious reason.. No wonder that many women deliver babies in the ambulance like buses known as 108 service. Governance of Gujarat's government does not seem to follow any policy for saving young women's lives. Even young men's lives. Very recently, a resident doctor died of Dengue fever in Ahmedabad's large Civil Hospital and many more are now dying of Swine flu in Gujarat. The deaths seem to argue absence of good governance.

Education for girls was free. In last couple of years the government has stopped encouraging continuation of such schools and colleges. Now girls have to pay hefty fees if they choose to get 'good' education. That is the Governance in Gujarat.

Mr. Modi spoke of the Bill for 50% women members in Local-Self Government which, the Governor of Gujarat, Dr. Shrimati Kamalaji, despite being a woman herself did not sign. The Governor of Gujarat did not sign it because the provisions in the Bill were mixed up with another issue, that of compulsory voting. The Bill was returned by the Governor asking the Government to separate the issues, get the Bill for 50% reservation for women passed again and then she would be prepared to sign it. The Governor is found fault with which is emphasised by adding 'despite being a women herself'. This is Modistyle. The details of why she did not sign it are not spoken of, so the listeners are led to believe that the Governor of Gujarat is insensitive towards women's rights despite being a woman herself. Half-truth is the hall-mark of Modyism.

Mr Modi had to belittle the Governor of Gujarat because she took steps to appoint the Lokayukta in Gujarat which he did not approve of. So a long drawn battle is being fought in the Supreme Court. If Mr. Modi had only wanted to speak about his contribution for women he could have spoken of village panchayats formed fully by women members. In May, 2012, 422 panchayats were organised through consensus wherein all members were women. Such organising denies democratic election and it is implied that only those who command village level polity can have their say. One of the women attending the State function held to congratulate their becoming important office bearers in their villages, had told a reporter that her husband asked her a few days earlier to be Sarpanch in his place and he asked her to attend the function, so she had come up to Gandhinagar, Gujarat's capital, Mr. Modi could have proudly spoken of women-headed Panchayats but, unmindful of her status, self-respect or sense of decorum he preferred to take a venomous dig at the woman who holds a high constitutional office in Gujarat. A rabble could greet such comments with claps and laughter, but I believe, that you, Madams of FICCI, did not appreciate such remarks. All said and done Dr. Srimati Kamalaji is an octogenerian who commands such respect that she could be rightfully addressed as 'Ma', the mother. But this is how the people are won in Gujarat, by using half-truths and by debunking known persons without caring for their status in public life or without spending a thought on his own personal dignity. As long as the crowds go home laughing he is assured of votes, so why should he care about such silly issues like dignity of the speaker himself. That is how Gujarat is gained. And it is governed to gain accolades for him who got the votes. As long as that is gained, governance in Gujarat does not seem to matter.

Increase in crimes in Gujarat is phenomenal during last decade. Robberies and murders of old people, including women are reported every other day. 235 rapes were registered in 2001, in 2011 the number is 413. Kidnappings have increased from 731 in 2001 to 1329 in 2011. All other crimes appear to have gone down. The police stations do not want to register crimes because they are reprimanded if the number of crimes increases. Gujarat has to be shown as Crime Free State so less registration is better from governance point of view. We are aware of circulars that ask the policemen down the line not to register women's complaints in the first instance, they take 'applications'. Reduced crime rate could vouch for good governance in Gujarat. It is followed by possibilities of less punishment / justice and freedom to commit crimes.

Business is in the blood of Gujarat's people. Many women run their own business, not only in food items but also as designers, boutique owners etc and are doing very well. Many women are employed as retailers in various markets. But 'Lijjat' papads are not produced by tribal women. That is misinformation. Business by women has flourished for a long time in Gujarat, despite Mr. Modi.

Yours sincerely,

Ila Pathak

(Dr. Ila Pathak is a founder President of Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG). After seeing media reports and speech of Mr. Narendra Modi CM of Gujarat, as he was addressing 29th session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ladies’ organisation, FICCI, New Delhi. Dr. Pathak had written a letter to Madams of FICCI.)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Democracy and Indian Muslims

Tufail Ahmad
11-04-2013

The organising principles of Indian polity and society are the same that define a western country: a multi-party system, individualism, liberty, a free press and rule of law

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the self-confessed leader of the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, may think that Pakistan is the best Islamic nation for the Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan to move to, but it is India that is arguably the best Muslim country today. Muslims in India enjoy complete political and religious liberty, a free legislative environment to undertake economic and educational initiatives, a vibrant television media and cinema that teach liberal coexistence, and access to a vast number of universities and institutes of modern education. There is absolutely no Muslim country that offers such a vast array of freedoms to its people.

India is able to offer these freedoms to its citizens because it is a successful democracy. It was good for India to lose the 1857 war; if the British had lost, Indians would have continued to be governed by kings and nawabs, and under shari’a courts that existed during the Mughal era. At the time of independence, the British left behind a justice system that was blind to religious and caste inequities in Indian society, an inclusive democracy that guaranteed equal rights and religious and political freedoms for all; English language that opened doorway to enlightenment and scientific education; and a civil service that treated everyone as Indians rather than Muslims, Hindus or Christians. Muslims in India enjoy these freedoms because India is a thriving democracy, unlike Pakistan that chose a discriminatory constitution, barring its own citizens from holding top positions such as the president of Pakistan because they are Hindus or Christians. Over the past half century, hundreds of millions of Dalits and women have found political empowerment and social freedoms in Indian democracy.

Religion cannot be a good model of governance for modern times because it fails to imagine situations in which non-Muslim citizens could be trusted to govern a Muslim country. Conversely, democracies trust their citizens irrespective of their faith. In a democracy like India, any citizen could compete to be the elected ruler. As democracy matures, India has appointed its Muslim citizens to top positions, currently Hamid Ansari as vice president, Salman Khurshid as foreign minister, Justice Altamas Kabir as Chief Justice, and Syed Asif Ibrahim as the chief of the Intelligence Bureau. It is also true that Muslims lag behind in India’s collective life, but this is because they are under the influence of orthodox ulema or because Muslim politicians fail to imagine themselves as leaders of all Indians. A Muslim politician will be the country's prime minister the day Indian Muslims begin to view themselves as leaders of all Indians and not only of Muslims, much like Barack Obama who imagined himself as a leader not only of blacks, but of all Americans.

Effectively, India is a ‘western’ country. In the popular imagination, the west is viewed as a geographic concept, covering mainly the United States, Britain and parts of Europe. However, the ground realities are otherwise. Several countries, notably Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, are situated in the east, but in terms of their values and politics are firmly part of the west. Conversely, countries such as Russia and some in Latin America are geographically in the west but cannot be called a western country as their citizens do not enjoy the social and political freedoms available to free people in the west. The organising principles of Indian polity and society are the same that define a western country: a multi-party system, individualism, liberty, a free press and rule of law. As in a western country, consensus about governance, politics and society is moderated by media and political parties and is derived from differences rather than similarities of religion and ideology as in Saudi Arabia or North Korea.

Early this year, Shahrukh Khan wrote a long article in which he discussed how “stereotyping and contextualizing” determine the way societies treat us as individuals as we interact with others. Khan narrated that he is loved as a Bollywood star in every country, but is also questioned by officials at US airports over links to terrorists, as his surname is shared by an unknown terrorist. Khan also observed: “There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation [Pakistan].” Hafiz Saeed reacted to this statement, suggesting that Khan, and presumably all Indian Muslims, should move to Pakistan. If Khan were to move to Pakistan, think of the images he would witness everyday: the genocide of Shia Muslims; the Taliban bombers shooting girls and namazis; Karachi up in flames and Pakistani businessmen leaving the country; plight of Hindus and Christians and lawlessness everywhere.

Saeed and his cohorts must bear in mind that terrorism that affects Muslims in India originates from Pakistan: the jihad in Kashmir through the 1990s or the attacks by Indian Mujahideen collaborating with their controllers in Pakistan. Like any country, India has its own share of extremist Hindus as well as Islamic and naxalite militants, but the courts are taking care of them.

Indian democracy is a model for all Islamic countries. It is the only country where Muslims have experienced democracy solidly for more than half a century; the other countries where Muslims have had some democratic experience are Indonesia and Turkey but their experiences have been limited to just a few decades. Democracies trust their citizens and are accountable to them. Democracies also bring freedom and economic prosperity for their people. In his book, Development as Freedom, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen demonstrated that famines have occurred only in countries governed under authoritarianism while freedom available to people in democracies has ensured economic welfare of their entire populations. Indian democracy has a large Muslim population, about the same as in Pakistan. As democracy matures and economy prospers, Muslims in India are beginning to benefit from a sea of economic and educational opportunities opening before them.

Islamic and authoritarian countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea do not trust their own people. Islamic terrorists, jihadists like Hafiz Saeed and other Taliban-like Islamists think of defending their religions and ideologies rather than the interests and welfare of their people. It is due to such thinking that 180 million people of Pakistan are today literally buried under the weight of a failed education system, a rapidly collapsing Pakistani economy that is forcing business leaders to move their money to countries such Sri Lanka, lawlessness that makes common Pakistanis insecure in their own homes and a future that fails to offer hope. The Inter-Services Intelligence, a friend of Saeed that imagines itself as the ideological guardian of the Islamic state of Pakistan, could do a favour by trusting the Pakistani people and letting them decide their own course of life and governance.

(The writer is a former BBC Urdu Service journalist, is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.)

http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013\03\16\story_16-3-2013_pg3_5

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features