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A fiercely contested landscape

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By Vidya Subrahmaniam

If celebrations have broken out in Congress offices across the country, few will grudge it considering that its success in the Hindi heartland comes after four years of defeats, self-doubt and a feeling of being under siege by a perennially turbo-charged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet the Congress’s victory is not without caveats. It swept only Chhattisgarh, was stretched to win Rajasthan, and it sweated to be able to be in a position to lay claim to forming the government in Madhya Pradesh. It was routed in Telangana and Mizoram.

For the BJP, there may not even be a consolation prize, in its biggest electoral set-back since capturing power in 2014. For both the national parties there are also discomfiting portents in the verdict.

 

The one winner without a shadow of doubt is K. Chandrashekar Rao of the Telangana RashtraSamithi, who decimated the Mahakutumi, or the mega alliance formed by the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) as a possible model for future Opposition strategy. A return to power for Mr. Rao, who had played a stupendous role in the birth of Telangana, is remarkable, and all the more for coming against a combined Opposition.

If there is a second man with a stand-out performance, it is Shivraj Singh Chouhan, of the BJP but in many ways more than the BJP — at least in Madhya Pradesh where his writ ran for three terms, unchallenged by the Opposition and, most unusually, almost autonomous of the power duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Mr. Chouhan came within a whisker of winning outright in M.P., which under him had taken on the characteristics of an incumbency-advantage State. The longer he was in power, the more entrenched he seemed to have become. One of the reasons for this is Mr. Chouhan’s invaluable contribution to agriculture in a State where 70% of people depend on it. Even so, the near-miracle story had turned sour in the last year thanks to the Centre’s intervention to stop bonus for farmers, and a demonetisation-induced cash crunch that delayed payments down the line. Hours into the counting in M.P., the suspense lingered, highlighting that Mr. Chouhan was fighting every inch of the way.

The bigger story of this election may well flow from the outcomes in Telangana and M.P. The defeat of the Mahakutumi, if not an irretrievable set-back for the Mahagathbandhan efforts nationally, certainly means that Rahul Gandhi and N. Chandrababu Naidu, the TDP leader, will have to go back to the drawing board to rework alliance strategy for 2019. M.P., on the other hand, is an example of a popular Chief Minister — Mr. Chouhan dominated the posters where he was compared to Lord Shiva — paying the price for decisions that were not of his making but were imposed from above by a government that had unconscionably pushed through measures like demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) without thinking through the double whammy of depriving people of liquidity while simultaneously subjecting them to an arbitrary and ever-changing tax regime.

The Congress has won in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the latter by a landslide. In Rajasthan, Chief Minister VasundharaRaje, written off by most people, held her ground before caving in. The Congress’s near loss in M.P. was brought about by a refusal to acknowledge that it needs partners, in this case the BahujanSamaj Party. The party will have to introspect on its behaviour of seeking alliances where it is too weak to contest by itself and rejecting them in places where it feels it is in a commanding position.

The latest round of elections reinforces the trend of the BJP losing ground, which started with its narrow victory in the Gujarat election. In the Karnataka election that followed, the BJP not only stopped short of an absolute majority but its patented government formation manoeuvres, successful in many earlier instances, too bombed. The party also lost a string of by-polls across the country.

The BJP’s last big victory in an Assembly election was in Uttar Pradesh in early 2017. In that election, the BJP exceeded the most optimistic projections to win 312 of 403 seats. The U.P. election provided an insight into the party’s changed strategy under Prime Minister Modi. In the 2014 general election, which Mr. Modi single-handedly won for the BJP, his image was of a capitalist-reformer. He spoke of prosperity and jobs. However, the Modi campaign’s stress on ‘development’ notwithstanding, it made overt and covert attempts to polarise, as for example in Muzaffarnagar in western U.P, the scene of a horrific communal conflagration in 2013. Indeed, even as Mr. Modi sweet-talked the electorate with lofty promises, Mr. Shah stoked Hindu passions in that sensitive area, which earned him a police case as well as a ban by the Election Commission of India.

In the 2017 U.P. Assembly election, Mr. Modi cast himself as a friend and saviour of the poor to runaway success. He portrayed demonetisation as an effort to downsize the rich in favour of the poor. But as the campaign drew to a close, the old chestnuts came out and the Prime Minister began to talk the language of minority appeasement and Hindu deprivation.

This has since become the BJP’s formula to win elections: a pro-poor approach combined with an unhidden agenda of communal polarisation. In Gujarat Mr. Modi spoke of Pakistan’s interest in promoting a Muslim Congress Chief Minister. He also insinuated that respected Congress leaders, including the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, were in league with Pakistan to destabilise the country. The strategy worked only partially. The BJP barely touched the half-way mark. In Karnataka, the formula was even less of a success.

In the current round of elections, Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah went a step further and unleashed U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with the express intention of dividing the electorate. Mr. Adityanath, whose single claim to fame is his anti-Muslim approach in all things, did exactly that. In M.P., he said the fight was between the Congress’s Ali and the BJP’s Bajrangbali (Hanuman). In Hyderabad, he promised to drive out AsaduddinOwaisi of the All India Majlis-e-IttehadulMuslimeen should the BJP get a majority. It didn’t matter to Mr. Modi or Mr. Shah that Mr. Adityanath had failed the electoral test in his own State and had lost a critical by-election in his home turf of Gorakhpur.

The bad news doesn’t end here for the BJP. In a majority of Assembly elections held since 2014, the BJP’s vote share has dropped well below what it polled in the Lok Sabha election, a pattern seen in the current elections — whether in Rajasthan, M.P. or Chhattisgarh, the BJP’s vote share is nowhere near what it polled in the Lok Sabha.

Assuming the vote shares repeat themselves in the Lok Sabha election, the BJP would lose over 40 seats in these States alone. In north India, the BJP had reached saturation levels in 2014, a feat it will be hard put to replicate. In the south, where the BJP has historically been weak, it looks increasingly like a washout for the party: the TDP has broken with it while the TRS, with a solid Muslim vote to draw upon, is clearly unwilling to play ball. In Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress are going steady.

The disenchantment of the poor is hard to miss, as also the ferment among Dalits and farmers. There’s been an exodus of institutional heads, all of whom have given the thumbs down to Mr. Modi’s disastrous economic policies. But the silver lining for the BJP is Mr. Modi himself. He continues to be popular through the wavering fortunes of his party.


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Opinion

Growing crimes against women

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Aritry Das

For years India has grappled with the tag of being the ‘most dangerous country for women‘. Successive governments introduced measures, but there is increasing evidence that they don’t work – and are counter-productive. Indeed, in key Indian states, cases of sexual violence are on the rise.

The Constitution of India mandates that as a federal union of states, law and order issues remain primarily with state governments, unless there are overarching issues such as terrorism. This results in many states trying different methods to tackle growing violence against women, and creating a range of other problems rather than solutions.

 

States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are the top states for registered rapes and sexual assaults, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a federal body that collates statistics across states. These state governments are introducing new measures to increase women’s safety, but experts say their moves are not addressing root causes and systemic failures in India’s creaking criminal justice system.

As many as 38,947 rapes were reported in 2016, which was a rise of 12% from 2015. The number of cases reported under “sexual assault, harassment and molestation”, was 84,746 nationally. This is the second-most common crime against women after “domestic violence” cases.

When Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, (Yogi Adityanath) came to power in 2017, he decided to tackle the problem of women’s safety by creating the controversial ‘anti-Romeo squad’, with police roaming in civil dress to surveil public spaces to keep a check on street harassers (also known as “roadside Romeos”).

The squad was eventually disbanded. But following a spate of rapes of minors, Bisht directed the police to revive the squad with the new power to issue a warning ‘red card’ to ‘suspected harassers’. If a person is caught twice doing a similar act, he will face criminal proceedings.

The squad had earlier drawn flak after reports surfaced about them targeting and publicly shaming young men, giving moral advice to couples, while some were made to do sit-ups or had their heads shaved in public.

Vaibhav Krishna, a Senior Superintendent of Police in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, told Asia Times that police officers for 23 anti-Romeo squads were receiving gender sensitization and training programs to help them handle cases better.

The squad’s further empowerment has raised concerns. Reports of the squad “moral policing” couples and a subsequent increase in sexual violence cases indicated that the measure was not working, according to PoonamKaushik, a women’s rights activist and general secretary of PragatisheelMahilaSangathan.

In the neighboring state of Rajasthan, crimes against women under all sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) jumped by around 40% and rape cases rose by 30% in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year. This happened despite the government setting up its own version of the anti-Romeo squad in 2018 with policewomen on two-wheelers.

“In Rajasthan, the government has not set up enough women’s help desks or One-Stop Crisis Centers [to assist rape victims]. Instead, they are trying to create these mechanisms [anti-Romeo squad] that are working against women being in public spaces due to moral policing,” said women’s rights activist KavitaSrivastava, who played a key role in the framing of the Vishakha guidelines to address sexual harassment at workplaces.

Now the Rajasthan government plans to set up special investigation units for crimes against women.

Delhi, meanwhile, had at least five rapes reported every day last year, according to NCRB data. So, the state government wants to boost safety by bringing more women into public spaces through free metro and bus rides, and installing 300,000 CCTV cameras. The Delhi Police, which reports to the Home Ministry, also launched a motorcycle-fleet of female cops to patrol the streets called Raftar.

But it is hard to spot this patrol squad on the road, according to Jaya Velankar, director of Jagori, a women’s organization that works to make city spaces safer. She also pointed out that unless roads are safe, free public transport won’t work.

Data from Delhi Police shows that sexual violence against women has only marginally decreased in recent times. In the first six months of 2019, reported cases of rape (IPC 376) were 973, down from 1,005 cases in the same period in 2018, while cases of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (IPC 354) decreased by 172 and insults to the modesty of women (IPC 509) decreased by 101.

Madhya Pradesh was the first state to propose the death penalty for men who rape girls under the age of 12, back in 2017. But violence against women has not gone down. Rape of minor girls in the state made headlines throughout June this year. Now the government has taken an initiative to introduce GPS tracking devices and emergency “panic buttons” in passenger vehicles such as buses and taxis.

Maharashtra assigned a 2.5-billion-rupee (US$36 million) budget for women’s safety initiatives. But sexual violence cases have risen despite this. But a survey by non-government groups Akshara and Safetipin found that 44% of areas in Mumbai, the state capital, were unsafe. It said women were only safe to walk on 22% of Mumbai’s streets.
This year the Maharashtra government finally proposed safety measures such as setting up SOS hotspots, tracking apps and installing more CCTV cameras.

However, feminists are not convinced that surveillance leads to greater safety for women or a loss of autonomy.

The rising number of crimes has put state lawmakers in a difficult position and they have criticized the police, who then discourage women from filing cases, Velankar claimed. But a higher number of reported cases also meant that more women were coming out to report violence and governments now had greater responsibility to assure they get justice, she said.

The implementation of a major national scheme to increase women’s safety is also not faring well. Recent reports revealed that between 2015 and 2018, states and union territories used less than 20% of the 8.5-billion-rupee ($124 million) budget allocated to them under the Nirbhaya Fund, which supports schemes for women’s safety. The fund was set up in the aftermath of a brutal gang-rape of a paramedical student in New Delhi in December 2012. Delhi, which has the highest rate of crime against women, fared the worst by using only 0.84% of the 350 million rupees it received.

“The Nirbhaya Fund is used as per proposals from different departments of the central and state governments. It will not be implemented if there is no will to do so,” a senior federal official of the Ministry of Women and Child Development told Asia Times on the condition of anonymity.

Experts say government initiatives and implementation of laws won’t create change if a culture of impunity has made the criminal justice system weak. Kaushik noted that some of the worst accusations against the police stem from recent rape cases of minors in Unnao and Kathua, where they are alleged to have bowed to pressure from people of influence to bury cases and evidence.

The Unnao rape victim, who claimed she was a minor at the time of the incident, tried to self-immolate last year due to the police not registering her complaint against a BJP lawmaker. In the Kathua case verdict, four police officers were convicted among the six accused in connection to rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kashmiri girl.

Another major hurdle that stops victims of sexual violence from getting justice is the low conviction rate in India, which is a mere 25.5% for rape and just under 22% for sexual assault and harassment, according to NCRB data.

(Courtesy: atimes.com)

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Opinion

Why justice matters in Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Harinder Baweja

Pakistan has for long sponsored terrorism in?Kashmir. But is it enough for India to point to “causality”, without introspecting on the fact that Kashmir has a long litany of documented human rights violations that have gone unpunished?

Think about it. Why does India get prickly each time allegations of human rights abuse in Jammu and Kashmir are placed at its door? Is it because there is some truth in the allegations? Does India have a lot to hide when it comes to violations committed by its men in uniform?

 

Dismissing an updated report by Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which faulted both India and Pakistan for not improving the situation in Kashmir, a ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson said last week, “A situation created by years of cross-border terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan has been analysed without any reference to its causality.”

Reflecting India’s indignation at being called out, the spokesperson said, the report “seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices state-sponsored terrorism.”

Let us get this out of the way first.

Yes, it can be said, with no hesitation at all, that Pakistan has for long sponsored terrorism and will likely continue to practise its “bleed India through a thousand cuts” policy. It has suffered humiliation at the hands of the United Nations Security Council, which recently declared Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, MasoodAzhar, a global terrorist. But that tag too is unlikely to lead to the Pakistani deep State severing its ties with the jihadi outfits it sees as “assets.”

But is it enough for India to point to “causality”, without introspecting on the fact that Kashmir has a long litany of documented human rights violations that have gone unpunished? The Valley, in fact, has erupted in anger each time the men in uniform have crossed the line, but justice – that ever so important balm for a population as alienated as Kashmir’s – has mostly stayed elusive.

Let’s talk about the two occasions when the Valley boiled over with anger.

First, in 2010, Kashmiris took to the streets after the Indian Army, in a fake encounter, killed three civilians and passed them off as infiltrating terrorists. The gross violation was proved beyond a doubt. The unsuspecting civilians had been lured to Machil, a forward sector along the Line of Control, and killed in cold blood. Despite an Army court martial pronouncing five of its men guilty and sentencing them for life, the Armed Forces Tribunal suspended the sentence, arguing that civilians ought not to have been in a forward location, wearing “pathan suits”.

Just like in 2010, when over 100 protesting youth were shot dead, in 2016 too, the civilian toll crossed 100 after stone pelters – angry with the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani – took to the streets. Kashmir gave vent to deep anger and betrayal – not only because Wani was eliminated – but because the trust deficit between the Valley and Delhi had eroded over years, and reached break point.

The pellet gun became the symbol of oppression. It blinded, maimed and killed. The OHCHR report that India summarily dismissed, pointed to the basic tenets of injustice: “There is no information about any new investigation into excessive use of force leading to casualties. There is no information on the status of the five investigations launched into extrajudicial executions in 2016… No prosecutions have been reported.”

Kashmiris live with this reality every day. Why must brazen killings go unpunished? More importantly, why lash out at a report that questions excessive use of force?
The Kashmiri wound is deep and it has festered for too long. One major step forward would be to reduce the repressive security measures. Instead of negating charges of abuse and human rights violations, India ought to take steps towards setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Why not encourage public hearings in which victims and their families are encouraged to speak?

Reaching out and admitting to violations will help rebuild trust. It is not enough to merely look at figures that point to a reduction in infiltration. The problem now centresaround home-grown militants. Violations only fuel the cycle of violence.

Admit, address and provide justice, for Kashmir is not a piece of real estate, to be ruled by force.

(Courtesy: Hindustan Times)

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Opinion

Remove stigma, report psychiatric ailments

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Dr Arif Maghribi Khan

“All patients are mad. All psychiatric medicines cause sleep.” Yes, this is the common perception in Kashmir. While the fact remains that according to easiest classifications of diseases, there are two types of psychiatric ailments – neurotic and psychotic. In neurotic diseases, patient does not lose contact with reality.

The patient can tell you his or her name, address, locality correctly while in psychotic ailments, patient’s contact with reality is lost and he or she lives in world of their own. Such patients often report seeing angels, strange figures, or hearing voices or sounds, which nobody else sitting with the patient sees or hears.

 

One example of psychotic ailments is schizophrenia, the prevalence of which is as low as 0.5 per 1000, while ailments like depression, anxiety, phobia form the bulk of psychiatric ailments. Even in this day and age, when all the world of knowledge and information is at our fingertips, we as a society have not been able to differentiate between the two.

So the stigma remains attached with psychiatric ailments thus delaying diagnosis and treatment. It is because of this stigma, people visit psychiatric settings with faces covered or masked. Young adults and children fear to disclose to their parents if they suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, which leads them to live an impaired life, wherein they struggle with issues like loss of interest in studies or even loss of employment as their inability to concentrate consistently tears apart their social and professional lives.

Parents are there to discipline and guide children but not to make them fear depression. Another problem hitting psychiatric healthcare in Kashmir is the myth that all medicines prescribed by psychiatrists cause sleep, while the fact is that psychiatric medicines work by increasing, changing or blocking activities of neurotransmitters.

Nerves carry information from the body to the brain and vice versa. The brain is composed of roughly 86 billion neurons. Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters carry messages between neurons to help the brain receive the information, decide what it means and execute a reaction. Neurotransmitters are responsible for emotional regulation, pain perception, motivation, concentration, memory energy, mood, sleep patterns, libido. Any imbalance can result in Depression, Nightmares, Mental Fatigue, Anxiety, Impaired cognition, attention, and arousal, Apathy, Lack of motivation, Poor attention, and Fatigue. Most of the time a qualified psychiatrist uses anti-depressants which do not cause sleep, in first few months of treatment depending upon the psychiatric ailment anxiolytics, also known as ‘tranquilizers’ are used.

So let’s stop assuming that all medicines cause sleep and we will be dependent on them for rest of our life.

The biggest challenge faced by doctors today and specially psychiatrists is that due to easy availability of internet most patients start Google searching medicine for 8 minutes prescribed by a doctor who studied medicine for 8 years, fact is that not all information surfers get on medicine by Google search is authenticated. Patients are well advised to seek such information from doctor rather than what is searched on internet or what a specialist from other field like education or engineering has to say!

We need to fight epidemic of psychiatric ailments including drug abuse on basis of science and not search on internet. It’s as simple as that, to aware common people doctors, counsellors from field of mental health need to work vigorously in community to clear myths and mist surrounding psychiatric ailments. We need to give patients of anxiety disorders or drug abuse respect and not scare them with unfounded information. Also next time we label some person as mad for being stressed kindly read this survey of again “Nearly 1.8 million adults (45% of the population) in the Kashmir show symptoms of significant mental distress according to a comprehensive mental health survey conducted by the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) between October and December 2015. The research was done in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Kashmir University and the Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (IMHANS).

(Author can be mailed at [email protected])

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