The central government, On Saturday, passed an ordinance that allows stringent punishments for sexual violence against children, including the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 years. Minimum prison sentences for rape against girls under the age of 16 and women have also been raised. The government has also laid down measures for speedy investigation of rape, stipulating that probes have to be completed within two months. The stringent punishment for rapists came after details emerged of the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in a Hindu-dominated area of Jammu and Kashmir. Local leaders and ministers of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) publicly offered support to the men accused, adding to the public disgust. During the same time the details about the rape of a 16-year-old girl by a BJP lawmaker in Utter Pradesh became public triggering nationwide outrage and protests. More recently, a sexual attack on an 11-year-old girl was reported in Prime Minister Narednra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The post-mortem revealed the girl had been tortured, raped, strangled and smothered. Initially Modi maintained silence which fuelled criticism that his government was not doing enough to protect the women. The criticism was not misplaced as the BJP leaders and ministers publicly supported the rape-accused in Kathua case. And in UP case a BJP leader was directly involved. This made Indian government butt of international condemnation. This serious-most embarrassment came from International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who described the rape and murder of Kathua girl as “revolting” and asked that the Indian authorities, starting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would pay more attention to such grave issues. With a general election due next year, Modi moved swiftly to remedy that negative perception by holding the emergency cabinet meeting as soon as he returned on Saturday morning from an official visit to Europe. But the question that haunts the minds is can a mere law stop excesses against women?
At least, five more incidents of rape have been reported from BJP-ruled states, UP and Haryana since the inclusion of stringent provisions in the rape law. The most gruesome of these incidents is the rape of yet another 13-year old Muslim girl in BJP-ruled Harayana. The girl was sleeping with her siblings at home (girls parents were not at home) when four Hindu men barged in and kidnapped her on Suday. The men took the girl to a temple nearby and allegedly gang-raped her. They smashed her head on the wall before fleeing. Neighbours found the unconscious girl in the temple premises. The same day, three girls were raped and four minors were sexually assaulted in separate incidents in Uttar Pradesh. Three cases were reported in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur, Amroha and Kannauj districts and a fourth one was reported in Muzaffarnagar. In Rampur and Amroha, the accused were juveniles, between 11 and 12 years. This makes it abundantly clear that the problem is not with the law but in the system. Before the Saturday amendment, the anti-rape law had enough provisions to work as a deterrent. There are agencies to enforce the law and order. What is needed only is the mandate of the government to ensure these agencies work, which is not there. Government seems unwilling to act against the rapists. There are 14 ministers in the union cabinet who are facing criminal charges including rape in one or the other court in the country. Nihalchand Meghwal—accused in a rape case in Rajasthan—was the first to get a berth in Prime Minister Modi’s council of ministers. Rajasthan police reported him “missing” when the trial court summoned him for appearance. He dropped from the council of ministers months later after national uproar. Prime Minister Modi condemned the rapes only after they had generated international headlines. When he did so, his words were vague and tinged with the patriarchal attitude that “Our daughters will get justice.” Now listen to what Union minister Santosh Gangwar says: In a nation as big as India, one or two incidents of rape should not be hyped. This is complete collapse of humanity in the country’s political and social order. No law, howsoever harsh it could be, can stop crimes with such people in the offices of authority. There is need for change in the societal mindset to restore the dignity of women, and the political class in the position of authority need to told loudly and clearly that immoral corrupt minds are not tolerable in any way.
The highway blues
The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway is no more a freeway. The 290-km long road, the only surface link between the valley and the rest of the world, is in the worst condition with landslides, shooting stones and road sinking becoming a regular feature. After every two or three days, the road is closed for general traffic due to one or the other reason. The reasons are not only natural but man-made too. The haphazard and unplanned human interference in the mountainous region in the name of road-widening is the main of cataclysms in major parts of the highway. The 51-km Banihal—Ramban—Naushri patch and 25-km Chinani—Udhampur stretch are in the worst condition. On a normal day when there are no landslides or any other hindrance, it takes a passenger vehicle 8 to 10 hours to cross over the danger zone. For truckers, it is normal for them to take three to four days to cross over the highway. In case of blockades in the shape of landslides or shooting stones, it can take days together even a light vehicle traveler to reach the destination. There are around two dozen spots on Banihal—Naushri stretch—including Bali Nullah, Amar Cheshma, Naushri, Karool, Ramban, Seri, Kelamore, Fagmoola, Digdool, Khooni nullaha, Pantihal, Magarkoot, Ramsoo, Nachilana, Chamalwas and Shatani Nullaha, which are prone to land-sliding, shooting stones or sinking of road. On Monday the authorities closed the highway for any kind of vehicular movement following landslides at Ramso. As the landslides were cleared by the evening, another blockade struck the highway. Large cracks developed in the road at Ramban near JK bank office causing scare among the residents and travelers. The building housing the bank also developed cracks. The vehicular movement was immediately suspended on the highway and the Bank staff was shifted to a safer place. The local residents staged protest against the Construction Company and concerned government officials for their lackadaisical attitude towards management and repair work of the highway. Hundreds of light vehicles and trucks loaded with essential commodities have been stranded on the highway. Latest reports said that some of these vehicles have been allowed to move towards Srinagar after the repair work was completed. Almost a similar scene is witnessed daily on Chinani-Udhampur patch. Even more hazardous moments scare the travelers due to traffic jams. This predicament is a regular feature on the highway. Even in absence of landslides and other natural blockades, the traffic jams make a daily scene on the road. This is primarily due to ill-management of the vehicular movement. The highway is open for one way traffic only but one finds always a two way movement. It is generally alleged that the police, responsible for managing the traffic on the highway, do allow vehicular movement from the opposite side as well against bribes by the truckers. This two-way traffic causes jams at important bottlenecks. At times travelers get stuck in jams for hours together. Last week, the vehicular movement got blocked at a bottle neck at Udhumpur for around six hours. The passengers who had touched the Udhumpur bypass naka point at 8am were allowed to move forward at 4pm. Passengers complained that it took them 40 hours to reach Srinagar. The passengers and drivers too are responsible for the plight on the highway. They overtake each other, in their bid to make it first, and form several lines leaving little space for vehicles coming from opposite side to pass on. This is the main cause of traffic jam on the road which, on occasions, takes hours to clear. As the highway is the sole link, it is the responsibility of everyone to adhere to traffic rules to make it a safe and smooth journey.
Give peace a chance
South Asia is one of the poorest regions in the world. The human development ranking for India and Pakistan is at 130 and 150 respectively. Hunger index of India is at 103 and Pakistan at 106 out of 119 countries. About 40% of the world’s stunted children and 53% of all wasted children live in South Asia. Around 34% of the population has no access to sanitation. Investments in health and education remain less than 4% and 3% of respective GDPs. Yet successive governments and military establishments have escalated military spending in India and Pakistan to US$ 64 billion and US$ 11 billion annually in 2017, respectively. India’s defence expenditure is 1.62 % of its GDP, while its central health budget is 0.26 of GDP, six times less than its arms budget. Pakistan’s spending on arms is equivalent with budgetary allocation 8.9 billion USD. With Pakistan worth 300 billion USD economy its defence expenditure comes to 2.9% of the GDP.
Increase in spending on arms race causes serious resource crunch on health, education and development. The developing countries and poor in these countries are worst affected. Whatever resources are available are diverted away from common people. We have an example of Bengal famine where around 40 lakh people are reported to have died because the British government under Winston Chrchill at that time in mid 1940s diverted the food material to its soldiers in Burma thus depriving the people in Bengal and Odisha of their basic sustenance diet and landing them into extreme malnutrition and death.
While hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, the nuclear-armed nations spend close to US$300 million (Rs.2000 crores) a day on their nuclear forces. The production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces diverts vast public resources away from healthcare, education, climate change mitigation, disaster relief, development assistance and other vital services. Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$ 105 billion – or $ 12 million an hour. The military industrial complex is overtly and covertly promoting and supporting conflicts in different parts of the world through its influence on the political structure to make huge profits.
It is time, steps are taken for complete nuclear disarmament and end to arms race. The Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) passed by the UN General Assembly on 7th July 2017 is a big opportunity for complete nuclear disarmament and save the world from nuclear catastrophe. It is time the nuclear armed states realize this and join the treaty without any ifs and buts. The role of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 1985 and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 2017 in their consistent efforts to get the TPNW through by highlighting the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons has to be carried forward to achieve the goal of a nuclear weapons free world. IPPNW has designed the task to meet decision makers in different countries over this issue. A delegation of IPPNW affiliates from south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal met the Foreign Minister of Nepal, Speaker of their Parliament and advisor to the Prime Minister. They appealed them to take initiative as they have friendly relations with all countries of the region and their opinion will be valued. There are some events in history which can bring perceptible change. TPNW is the opportunity which should not be lost.
India claims of being harbinger in the peace movement. India’s role under the leadership of Nehru in founding Non Aligned Movement has been path breaking. Rajiv Gandhi action plan for nuclear disarmament is still relevant. We must take initiative to join the TPNW. Let peace and disarmament become a leading factor in the region instead of jingoism for electoral benefits. The missing of the issue of nuclear disarmament from the election manifesto of the political parties in the present Parliamentary election in India. It is also unfortunate that political discourse is centredaround sale and purchase of weapons instead of humanitarian impact war and violence particularly the nuclear weapons. Role of peace movements is very vital in the present context.
Polls and opinion polls
The Lok Sabha elections that kicked off on Thursday are a democratic exercise the likes of which the world has never seen. In the world’s largest democratic practice, around 900 million voters – more than the combined population of all the European countries, across 543 constituencies will cast their votes to decide the fate of political parties.
The media coverage, like every election season, is being ruled by opinion polls. Surveyors and pollsters have jumped into the maze of deciphering future election results by making use of statistical models that forecast the vote share and the seat share of political parties based on surveys conducted among electorates. These forecasts have become fodder for everyday conversation.
However, it is difficult to trust the results of opinion polls as the results differ significantly from poll to poll. Given this situation, many researchers have examined the results of opinion polls and claimed that they have failed repeatedly to predict election outcomes.
A recent study presented in the book ‘The Verdict’ demonstrates that the success rate of such polls in estimating the number of seats that the winning party may bag is just 62 per cent. On similar lines, a study conducted by India Today raised concerns over the fact that day by day, opinion polls are drifting away from reality. One of the main findings of that analysis is that the errors in predicting LokSabha elections are on the rise since 1998-99.
In such a situation where the gap between opinion poll predictions and actual outcomes is widening it is important to have a better statistical model in place to make sense of what factors are driving the outcomes behind elections. This can be done by indicating which types of economic and political data most meaningfully correlate with election outcomes.
An attempt to develop such a holistic model that can provide precise estimates of voting behaviour must take into account all the factors that citizens keep in mind while casting their votes. In most democracies, a common belief is that good economics makes for good politics. This belief suggests that an incumbent party’s chances of winning elections increase if the region experienced positive economic growth during their term. In India, however, this popular notion is not supported by data. A simple correlation analysis between the growth rate of GDP per capita and the incumbent party getting re-elected reveals a negative relationship between the two, implying that in most cases despite higher growth incumbent does not get re-elected. This observation helps us in concluding that support base and vote bank for parties in India is dependent on a host of factors other than economic development.
The two other factors that shape voting decisions of Indian voters might be social issues and public sentiment towards the government. A broad spectrum of the social issues from shelter to sanitation, education to health, personal rights to inclusion must be considered. This is important because of presence of diversity across Indian regions. For some living below the poverty line or on bare minimum income, social wellbeing would mean better shelter facilities, free healthcare, improved nutritional facilities, etc. For rich people, this would mean new opportunities to grow and improve their life.
The sentiment towards the current government can be captured through two aspects. One, the vote share of the national ruling party in the state elections held during their tenure. Second, the narrative build by traditional media platforms about leaders and political parties and social media engagement of the political parties. The traditional media platforms provide voters with the facts and figures that can help them to make informed choices. And the increased exposure of voters to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter has provided a direct link between voters and leaders. More and more candidates are relying on social media campaigns to win elections. By serving as the source of information, media has the power to impact voting behaviour of citizens.
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