Thursday, December 12, 2013

Discriminatory Indian laws promote gender inequality

During the month of November when a young journalist was allegedly sexually assaulted by the editor of a magazine where she worked (at Thinkfest in Goa), a report on gender prejudice of Indian laws was launched by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New Delhi. Written from a gender perspective by senior advocate Kirti Singh, the report entitled 'The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check' claims that most Indian laws be it prevention of dowry law, anti sexual assault law or inheritance law, actually go against the interests of women. Some Indian laws instead of curtailing actually perpetuate gender discrimination in the society.

The UNFPA report has reviewed through gender lens laws relating to women including dowry, inheritance, child marriage, sex-selection and sexual assault so as to assess the inherent flaws in them and how they promote gender injustice. It finds that the laws themselves, and their interpretation, non-implementation or absence, may directly or indirectly propagate son preference in the society. Laws such as the Goa Law on Polygamy that permits a second marriage for the husband when there is no son from the first marriage, actually promote gender injustice and son preference. As a result of the prevailing gender discrimination in India, child sex ratio, defined as number of girls for every 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group, has worsened over the decades.

While in some cases laws that promote gender equality are not effectively implemented (such as the PCPNDT Act* and Dowry Prohibition Act) by either the central or state governments, laws are missing in critical areas like honour crimes and marital property rights. A separate law on honour killings is essential to ensure that khap panchayats and families victimizing couples are brought to book. Since there is absence of community of property law in India between a husband and a wife and the non-financial and financial contributions of a woman to a household are not recognized, a standalone comprehensive legislation in this area should be urgently enacted, recommends the present report.

Throwing light on the Sexual Harassment Of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 that came into force in April 2013, the report is critical about a section in the Act, which penalizes ‘malicious’ complaints (made by victim woman to the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Complaints Committee) and complaints, which the complainant knows are false. As per the anti sexual harassment law, if the complaints made are false then the Internal Complaints Committee or the Local Complaints Committee can recommend to the employer that action be taken against the woman ‘in accordance with... service rules’ or ‘in such manner as may be prescribed’. But the present UNFPA report opines that this goes against the Vishaka judgement, which clearly states that no action should be taken against a woman for making a complaint.

As per the amended rape law, the report clarifies that if a woman remains passive, this alone will not imply consent to the sexual intercourse in question. Marital rape is still not recognised in the law and only sexual assault of girls below the age of 15 years within marriage is considered a crime under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

* Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PCPNDT Act)


The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check -Advocate Kirti Singh, United Nations, November, 2013

New Report Reviews Key Laws on Women and Girls and Their Impact on Son Preference In India, 18 November, 2013,

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013
Some Indian laws reinforce gender inequality, UN study finds -Nita Bhalla, Live Mint, 14 November, 2013,

Study cites Goan law to show tilt to sons-Ananya Sengupta, The Telegraph, 15 November, 2013

Separate law against honour killings sought, The Times of India, 15 November, 2013,

Law often ineffective against gender discrimination: Study, IANS, 14 November, 2013,

It's not only about Tehelka -Kalpana Sharma, The Hoot, 22 November, 2013,

The Limits of Female Agency -Aardra Surendran, Vikalp, December, 2013,

UNFPA report reviews laws on women, impact on son preference, The Business Standard, 14 November, 2013,

Two-thirds of women journalists face intimidation, abuse: Survey-Aarti Dhar, The Hindu, 4 December, 2013,

Friday, November 1, 2013

A roadside story

Way back in 1993, my father bought me a bicycle when I passed the Class X Board exams. It was a gift that I long cherished. Despite initial resistance from my mother, I and my Mathematics tutor could convince that biking in Salt Lake (a township in Kolkata) attracted no danger. In those days there were a few cars seen running on roads. However, empty roads rarely titillated the drivers to gear up for top speed.

Had the year been 2013, my father would never have dared to buy me a bicycle. The reason is simple: A ban on cycling on most streets of Kolkata by the present West Bengal Government. Due to the enormity in rash driving, my mother would not have allowed me the pleasure of ‘magic carpet ride’ either.

Innocence gave way to intelligence in my quest for knowledge as I grew up.  I learnt that bicycle is an election symbol of a political party with whom the Trinamool Congress (TMC) once wanted to work hand-in-glove that did not materialize ultimately. In 2012, the Samajwadi Party (SP) did a U-turn and supported UPA’s candidate Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential elections, thereby leaving the TMC leadership furious. From this incident, some of us may conclude that it could have triggered the TMC-led Government to put a ban on cycling. But the official stance is: Cycling slows down the traffic in Kolkata. And therefore, the ban on wheeling on approximately three dozen streets in 2008 under the Left Front’s rule was further extended to 174 roads under TMC (as reported by The Guardian dated 29 October, 2013).

During my stay in Delhi for more than a decade I could realize that more and more cars are adding up to the traffic every day, thus, polluting the air we inhale. A plain way of measuring this is to put one’s index finger inside the nostrils and pull out the dirt and mucus after coming back from office. I know that some of you may dislike my terrible idea. But believe it or not: the number of registered cars and jeeps in Delhi jumped by 59.8 percent from 14.67 lakhs in 2005-06 to 23.4 lakhs in 2011-12. However, the number of registered buses (including ambulance & other passenger vehicles) in Delhi rose by 47.2 percent from 43500 in 2005-06 to 64033 in 2011-12.

My guess is people are now shifting from hatchbacks to diesel guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs), multi utility vehicles (MUVs) and light utility vehicles (LUVs). If ever you go to South Delhi and Gurgaon, foreign brands are a common sight. Often carrying not more than two passengers at a time, I could reason out why these vehicles are responsible for our high import bills. Such high-end vehicles are low in efficiency in terms of per capita fuel consumption as compared to a bus or an auto, I always felt.  

In Delhi, I find that cycles are used by members of cycling clubs and the laboring masses. Unlike those who live on the fringes of the economy, a handful among the well-to-do sections including the politicians pedal for health reasons. Most city dwellers prefer a motorized vehicle than a bicycle. In the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, the percentage of households having scooter, motor cycle and moped (i.e. 38.9 percent) exceeded the percentage of households having bicycle (i.e. 30.6 percent), as per the Census 2011. Nearly, 20.7 percent of households have car, jeep and van. Underlying these figures is the revelation that residents of Delhi prefer motorized to non-motorized vehicles not just because they are richer than people of other states but because they are afraid to pedal on roads. They are afraid of being mowed down by raging SUVs.


Kolkata cycle ban puts squeeze on health and livelihoods at risk -Annie Gowen, The Guardian, 29 October, 2013,

Delhi Statistical Handbook 2013,

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Epilogue to a man-made disaster

What I really missed in those heart wrenching media reports on the disaster that struck Uttarakhand in June this year, caused by flash floods and human negligence, was a single, sane voice that could have yelled: "And all those things were happening under the garb of religion and God, and perhaps politics". Cremating the corpses to avoid epidemic became the concern of the majority after a few days and I, being a minority, am still thinking what all led to this disaster. 

When I see the economy of Uttarakhand, I find that so many businesses flourished around God and love and fear of God—tourism, hotel industry to name a few. Even the thali or the prasad presented before God is part of that business. The priests, the pandas and the guides who take you to the house of the Omnipotent, are all 'Godly' creatures serving the economy. Being a ‘money order’ economy, Uttarakhand could not create enough opportunities to absorb its workforce. Influx of tourists is a good sign as long as it oiled the local economy.

And then was unleashed before everyone, in dry, printed words filled with caution and rationality, the warnings made by the CAG report (Report No. 5 of 2013) on India's disaster (un)preparedness. Although the report, released in April, 2013, said little about God, it presented us with hard facts on what all was happening in the name of development. The state of Uttarakhand did not have a disaster management plan prepared. The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) was stuck in the quagmire of inaction. It never met once since it was created. The 2009 CAG audit report of hydropower projects in Uttarakhand indicated that environmental protection was the last thing that came to the minds of our planners and engineers. The fragile ecology of Uttarakhand got more vulnerable due to excessive construction of hydropower dams, deforestation and of course, development.

Ramchandra Guha in his well intentioned piece titled "When expedience trumps expertise" (published in The Hindu, dated 11 July, 2013) informs that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was devoid of experts and scientists. Most of its members were ex-bureaucrats. Guha has tried to bell the cat but can the government wake up in the aftermath of this tragedy? So far enough of crocodile tears have been shed without walking the talk.

Raising concerns about environment and ecology is a serious no-no amidst growth-oriented bureaucrats. What makes me bite my nails is that early warnings of heavy rains and landslides made by the Meteorological department fell on deaf ears of the state's administration. After I came to know later that somebody was toying with the lives of victims, my faith on governance capabilities of our esteemed bureaucracy has dwindled down a lot. After all, who is going to jump from the mountain cliff if s/he is informed of the consequences? In the age of information and communication, the state's bureaucracy could not take adequate steps to rein in the people from getting near the well of death.  

People who mix religion with politics went to Uttarakhand to shower their sympathies for the victims. They tried to garner support as a part of strengthening their base. That added spice to the news that was daily being broadcasted by the media. Every time there is a bomb blast that kills pilgrims and devastate innocent victims psychologically, the political class takes advantage by reaching the affected site and consoling the victims. They never even bother to know how their VIP presence creates trouble for the probing authorities. My question to them is: Couldn't you have taken prior steps? I also question myself: Are we guys so dumb that we elect such people who could get us killed anytime, anywhere?


When expedience trumps expertise-Ramachandra Guha, The Hindu, 11 July, 2013,

Dams and disasters in the Himalayas -Anirudh Burman, Live Mint, 9 July, 2013,

CAG had warned last year about Uttarakhand crisis in making-Himanshu Upadhyaya, Governance Now, 27 June, 2013,

Watershed moment -Himanshu Upadhyaya,, 29 June, 2013,

Uttarakhand disaster plan doesn't exist, CAG warned in April -Subodh Varma, The Times of India, 21 June, 2013,  

CAG had warned three years ago about damage to hills -Pradeep Thakur, The Times of India, 20 June, 2013,

Report no.-5 of 2013-Union Government (Ministry of Home Affairs) - Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on performance Audit of Disaster Preparedness in India,

Performance Audit Report of Hydropower Development through Private Sector Participation, Uttarakhand for the Year 2008-2009,

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A reason to die for

The Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2012 (ADSI 2012), produced by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), provides 22 different causes behind suicides. Family problems (25.6%) and illness (20.8%) accounted for 46.4% of total suicides in India during 2012. Insanity/ mental illness accounted for 6.4 percent of total suicide deaths.

The country witnessed 69 suicides per day due to illness, 11 suicides per day owing to love affairs, 6 suicides per day due to poverty, 6 suicides per day due to failure in examination, 5 suicides per day owing to unemployment and 5 suicides per day due to dowry dispute.

Most number of suicides caused by family problems in 2012 were reported from the states of Maharashtra (6496), Tamil Nadu (4842), Kerala (3743) and Karnataka (2782).

Most number of suicides caused by illness (insanity) were reported from Kerala (1182), Andhra Pradesh (1162), Maharashtra (1096) and Gujarat (713).   

Suicides caused by poverty were mostly reported from Andhra Pradesh (1096), Karnataka (364), Maharashtra (245) and Assam (219). 

In the industrialized states of Maharashtra (258) and Gujarat (224), suicides caused by unemployment were the highest. 

It must be noted that the state of West Bengal did not divulge any information for the classification of suicides by different causes for the year 2012.

Out of the 23398 number of suicide deaths among young males (15-29 years of age) in 2012, most were caused by family problems (23.3%), other causes (18%), causes not known (16.4%), illness (15.2%), love affairs (6.4%), failure in examination (4.2%), drug abuse/ addiction (4.2%), unemployment (3.1%) and poverty (2%).

Out of the 18395 number of suicide deaths among young females (15-29 years of age) in 2012, most were motivated by family problems (27.8%), illness (15.7%), other causes (14.1%), causes not known (12.4%), love affairs (7.6%), dowry dispute (7.5%) and failure in examination (5%).


Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2012,