Thursday, 28 March 2013

Celebrity above the Law?

By Shubhang Srivastava - National Institute of Technology, Raipur
Dear Mr. Katju,

I write this open letter to you on your seeking of pardon of Mr. Sanjay Dutt through the Governor of Maharashtra in the case relating to possession of illegal weapons. Sir, as a distinguished member of the Judiciary and incumbent chairman of the Press Council of India it is disheartening to find you indulging in such activities which amount to undermining of the orders of the Supreme Court.

I must preface my letter with the fact that I have no personal animosity towards Mr. Dutt, whom I find to be an able actor, and henceforth would refer him as the Actor. I write this letter to bring to light the difference created in our society by starry eyed Justices such as Mr. Katju.

In an article published in the Hindu (22-March-2013) Mr. Katju seeks pardon for the actor on the following grounds:
  • That he has not been found guilty in the 1993 Mumbai blasts
  • The Actor has suffered a lot during the period of twenty years of the trial where he had to take permission for foreign shoots and couldn’t get Bank loans.
  • The actor’s parents worked for the good of the society (and were also MP’s), often going to border areas to give support to our jawans.
  • And now the most epitome of ridiculous: Through his films he has revived the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and message of Gandhiji.
To any able headed persons the above propositions are absurd, and that coming from a former Supreme Court Judge they are all the more depressing. That a person whose responsibility had been to uphold law, “equally for everyone”, should pick up one case and use his powers to influence the matter is highly derogatory. Mr. Katju better than anyone knows the number of cases pending in the Indian Judicial system and still of all the people you believe that it is the actor who has suffered a lot? India is famous for a lot of things, judicial process is NOT one of them, and everyone who has to pass through its hollowing walls has to suffer. I respect the ruling of the court which exonerated the Actor in his association with the Mumbai blasts, but nonetheless found him guilty of possession of illegal weapons. Let us say the actor was a victim of the circumstances, caught in an illegal act at the wrong place (Mumbai) at the wrong time (December 1993), even then he broke the law. And this article is not about the actor actually, it’s about the flaws in our judicial process which had vertically divided the society into two: one for whom law is a tool and others for whom it is a fear.

What Mr. Katju has conveyed here is that is you are the have nots of laws then the judiciary is apathetic to you. Your sufferings die down and of course there are no governor given, PCI Chief facilitated pardons, for you. The stand of Mr. Katju is most depressing for a society that is still in a phase of transformation, his reasons downright silly.

Agreed the parents of the actors were great social workers, does that exonerate him from any offence and sentence awarded by the Supreme Court? By the poorest estimate a thousand people or more were involved in the making of Lage Raho MunnaBhai, does that exempt them from any form of offence, criminal or otherwise? And what about the viewers? Do they get a respite from small offence like parking challans if they were to produce tickets of the movie? The points put forward by Mr. Katju are lame, even to a rather under-studied person like me.

And if we were to agree to the validity of the above stated points of Mr. Katju and act upon them then should they also be applied to all individuals? If the Justice so believes then I admire his deep insight and he might just be a man of revolution who would step down from the Chair of PCI and study all such cases in the Indian courts and appeal for the Governor’s clement in cases he finds suitable?

Are you ready to do that? Or have you too become blind to the common man’s plight and focus years of experience into getting royal pardons for the people on the haves of the law? (It must be noted that it was he who pointed out the technicality in the sentence saying that if a minimum sentence is awarded in any case it can be considered by the Governor for clemency).

At a time when the world is keenly observing our law system such endorsements by Mr. Katju who represents the fraternity of Judiciary hangs my head in shame. The message we send across to the world is this: We will come down hard if your marines kill our citizens, even if the case is disputed of being within the ambit of our law (it is disputes if the Italian Marines were in international waters) we will overarch ourselves. If required we will revoke the immunity of your diplomat confronting the Vienna Convention but we have ways of keeping our favorite people (the rich and famous) out of bars.

While this letter may never reach you let me tell you that Mr. Katju here is one youth of the country who is disenchanted by you, is fast losing faith into the judiciary of India. It may never matter to you, for the judicial divide created by you I find myself on the wrong side, one that does not matter, and one that your star gazing eyes cannot see. In one of my interviews I was asked the question of what is wrong with India, today I would have begin with you.

If my letter or its conscience reaches you and you believe in what you said that study all the cases and show that the law is equal for all. But you won’t. Because you know it is not.

Before the letter is published the actor may be granted clemency, my best wishes to him, because even as I write hoards of actor-turned-old-turned-politicians are queuing outside the Governor’s office on the actor’s behalf. Only if they took such vigilance and sympathy in the life of every Indian.

Ps: My parent’s have not done social work, neither have I and for the record I have not watched the Munna Bhai movie in the threatres. God save me if I find myself on the wrong side of law.

Shubhang Srivastava,
Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.
National Institute of Technology, Raipur.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Feel like getting intimate with strangers in Delhi? There's no place like a public bus.

By Amitabh Kumar: Head, Media and Communication- Centre for Social Research
The Delhi Transport Cooperation (DTC) is one of the main arteries that helps Delhi run on time. Or at least attempt to run on some concept of "time". Its buses zigzag over a thousand different bus routes across this maze of a city, serving an area of 1484 square/km. (Just imagine, that's twice the size of Bahrain). The DTC also caters to 33% of Delhi’s population with roughly 5,383,896 ticket holders jumping on and off every year. Now that's just about the population of Singapore. You know where I'm going with this, serving such a large customer-base over such a densely-populated area, the DTC is a behemoth, which needs to be handled properly.

The spread and outreach of the network is as grand as they come and serviced at the cheapest rate one can think of. Let me start out by saying that the price per kilometer ratio is something DTC can really be proud of. However, an aspect DTC seems to have overlooked is the number of people who can and should be able to travel on a DTC bus on any given journey.

The figure above is the structure of the DTC bus currently gracing Delhi's roads. As one can see there are 41 seats allocated, by design, for passengers. Yes, yes 2 seats are technically occupied by a ticket collector so that brings us down to 39 seats for us to choose from. Barring this provision, according to the manufacturers of this fleet of buses (the one and only Tata Motors) there is a standing area of 13 square meters (140 sq/feet) in the event we choose to stand.

Now let's get real about these numbers (and stick with me!). Trust me. Lay out some newspaper on the floor, pick up a regular large ruler (12 inches) and draw a square ( 36 inches each side) and you are left with exactly 3 square feet. Now stand in your square and you'll quickly come to the realization that this represents the minimum amount of space one requires to stand comfortably (also putting into consideration, this bus is moving through Delhi traffic, being driven by people who live by the slogans of Fast & the Furious ). So as per my human (and admittedly homemade calculation), I am of the view that roughly 47 healthy Delhiites can and should be able to stand happily on a DTC bus as they navigate around Delhi.

Nevertheless, if we were to go by the Australian standard for a sheep yard (again stick with me) only 32 sheep could stand and be merry in an area of 13 sq/m . Then again this is India and we are faced with the uphill battle of battling poverty and excessively high population density which goes unchecked on a daily basis. Alas, although we can happily compete with Australia when it comes to wicket keeping and scoring centuries on the cricket pitch, when it comes to notions of personal space, we can't even dream of competing with their sheep. Certainly very pampered sheep indeed.

97. No I'm not referring to the congressional district in Florida or even the first two digits when calling Bhutan. The magical number of ‘97’ represents the ‘crush passenger-carrying capacity’ according to Tata Motors. I'm not entirely sure what the detailed implications are of breaching this threshold, but the name lives up to it. If 97 commuters manage to pack themselves in a DTC bus they will find themselves crushing one another and getting quite intimate.

Undoubtedly, the reality of riding a DTC bus is certainly more ruthless than the theoretical estimates provided as the number of people standing in a bus easily exceeds the one referred to by Tata Motors in terms of ‘crush passenger-carrying capacity’.

Just the sheer discomfort of being enclosed in a limited space, with less than ideal smells engulfing the available fresh air, and being pushed and shoved from one direction to another inevitably leads to certain people opting out of this otherwise amazing form of public transport. Even if each and every individual was well-mannered (and the majority of us are) there is no way of managing a DTC route without rubbing your body against at least 50 other strangers. What presents itself is an amazing opportunity for pleasure for the city's perverts and a climate of torture for the rest of us.

Women are groped and molested on a regular basis, pickpockets are given free rein to make their earnings resulting in most of us shying away towards our ever-polluting private vehicles. As much as I love my car, is it not time we look into creating proper guidelines to regulate these numbers? We need to define the number of passengers who can safely travel in a public bus and make it an enforceable requirement. Yes, yes, I can hear your eyes roll from here. Enforce a law you say? Yes! India has precise laws for governing the exact badge and uniform to be worn by the bus conductor as well as the number of people who can seatbelt themselves into a private vehicle. And yet, no regulations with regards to the maximum number of passengers who can travel on a government-run public transport bus? I think I need to step back into my newspaper square on the floor for a moment.

For all of you eye rollers who are probably already thinking "it'll never happen!", well I have some news for you. We called the DTC, the Delhi Traffic Police, even Tata Motors and not a single person had any clue about bus capacity. Many hours were spent on Google in the search of an official number and in the end we filed a PIL (about a month back and are awaiting a reply). Just yesterday we were in a meeting with the Lt. Governor of Delhi Tejendra Khanna, were I raised this issue, he asked for details. Where I posted to him in a hard copy marked( Special Commisioner Traffic Police Sudhir Yadav Ji, Minister of Transport Shri RamaKanth Goswami Ji & Chief Minister of Delhi Shri Shiela Dixit ji ) right before I posted this blog online. I never said it was great news. A few honest, well-planned steps and I believe we could bring about a major change in Delhi's public transport system. Now back to my newspaper square…

Monday, 18 March 2013

Separate Measures for a Universal Problem

By Blessing Okorougo : AIF Clinton Fellow at - Centre for Social Research
Separate Measures for a Universal Problem: Will Delhi Public Transport Ever Be Safe For Women?

Delhi is an aggressive city. A burgeoning metropolitan city that while expanding forward with its state of the art metro and the widening of its urban sprawls – a push for public security in the city particularly for women has largely stagnated.

In late 2012 after the brutal rape and murder of young Jyoti Pandey ‘Nirbhaya’-a promising physiotherapy internist, India has experienced a watershed moment in the spirit of its mass protest against the mistreatment of women and young girls in Delhi since. With men, women and the youth coming together to speak out against the violent culture of rape, degradation and subjugation towards women and young girls in India- the country has had to address it’s pervasive misogynist culture which lead to the violent end to a young girls life in Delhi and continues to threaten the safety of many others around India.

Everyday women and young girls board over packed buses, crowded trains and metros with fear in their hearts. Whether it is daybreak or sundown- safety can never be taken for granted in a city such as Delhi where men can continue their invasion of women’s rights with impunity. The fear of being groped, harassed or violated on public transport is always a source of tension at the forefront of many women’s thoughts.

With a slow but steady rise of acceptance for women only cars in metros and the growing strength in numbers of women’s only taxies, one must question if women taking charge and providing for the assurance of their own transport security is the answer to the public safety of women in Delhi and around India. Are women conquering the problem or mobilizing a short term alternative that only belies the real problem: the judicial complacency towards the woeful female public safety record of India’s public transportation system.

Certainly the idea is more attractive for those who depend on public transportation, for those that must travel in the night and for those with children or travel alone. However, this short term answer may not be the long term solution or make a dent in tackling the larger issue of how to facilitate a sustainable response to the problem of making public transportation safety and security of women and young girls a priority.

Women globally face such issues when faced with the prospect of using public transport when travelling alone, at night or with children. I have personally been groped on a crowded New York City subway on a morning commute and with no recourse as my perpetrator disappeared in the crowd when I tried to alert an authority. However, the sense of insecurity is still worse in a city like Delhi for women than in more cosmopolitan cities like NY, London or Mumbai. In Delhi the culture insists that it is generally the woman’s fault with Delhi authorities often sweeping these problems under a rug- rendering them unimportant. One cannot help but feel that the situation in Delhi and other parts of India is rather unique.

As to whether installing separate avenues of transport for women is exclusionary, I don’t feel that this the real question. Rather, the question we should be asking is: how will Delhi go about installing measures to improve public safety for women accessing public transport?

If getting a rape conviction is difficult, it is fair to assume that a woman making a case for public safety as a priority would be an equally difficult task. While riding a separate cab or sitting in a women’s only car in the metro might feel safer, there are still nothing in place to ensure a woman’s safety when she gets out of her cab or leaves the metro.

The addition of gender sensitization courses in schools and the work place is a small step towards changing the culture of violence and aggression towards women- the same can be said of women empowering themselves with women only modes of transportation. The root of the problem which both solutions circumvent will ultimately need to be addressed in the creation of a stronger judicial response towards crimes against women, and deeply embedded culture of patriarchy. Sadly, this too may need a watershed moment before this mobilizes to fruition.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Women's rights: a stand alone agenda?

By Noushin Arefadib - Centre for Social Research
Following the recent rape and murder of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi, India and the International community at large, have commenced a more consistent discussion around women’s human rights in India. However, what seems to have fallen off the radar of most is that a woman’s access to human rights in India is often entirely reliant on her geographical location: urban vs. rural, and her social status: caste and class.

While social inequality is still a relevant topic in most countries, India’s long standing caste system continues to play a significant role in women’s ability to access basic human rights. Although the caste system is technically known to have been abolished, the reality is that this is something which is still very prevalent in Indian culture and everyday life. As such, a women’s place in modern day India stands at a crossroad of class, caste, and patriarchy.

Sadly, despite the fact that local, state, and federal policies exist pertaining to caste and gender based violence in India, there remains a significant discrepancy between written policy and policy implementation. Ancient practices that have come about as a result of the caste system and patriarchy are deeply embedded in Indian culture and cannot just be uprooted because of new government policies and legislations. Given this fact, is it really possible for one to discuss gender based violence in India without also exploring existing links between caste and gender, particularly when the subservience of women is central to the preservation of the caste system?

For example, women who reside in rural India face gender inequality on a different level than women in urban India. Such inequalities are further amplified by existing caste and class systems which result in women from rural areas having lesser access to education and health services, while concurrently facing increased levels of gender based violence. Women from lower castes are also more vulnerable to maternal and infant mortality, and have little decision-making power, all of which are indicators of women’s empowerment, or lack thereof.

In an India where the empowerment of women requires a multidimensional approach that recognizes the feminization of poverty, particularly in rural areas, is it enough to simply discuss women’s rights without acknowledging and addressing underlying causes of the current status quo?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Nirbhaya Fund: A flickering ray of Hope

By Shreya Gupta - Intern (Centre for Social Research)
Amidst huge uproar over women’s rights and safety issues within the country, the government on Thursday i.e. 28 Feb released its annual budget with a number of measures focussing solely on women. Projected as an all inclusive budget, it has endeavoured to meet the rising demands and need for upliftment of the usually marginalised and unaddressed groups. The government has proposed to set up an all exclusive women’s bank. This bank will cater to women customers and will lend money to support women self help groups and women- owned businesses. It will mostly employ women and initiated with a capital of Rs 1000 crore. In addition the budget also allocated a sum of Rs 500 crore for programs to combat sexual discrimination especially at workplace. Further, in wake of the recent rape incidents the government has also proposed to set up a special fund of Rs 1000 crore known as the Nirbhaya Fund. This fund has been set up for the empowerment and safety of women. The scope, structure and utilization would be decided by the Ministry of Women and Child and other concerned ministries.

Focussing on the Nirbhaya fund, a potentially loaded move has been made by the government irrespective of the political implications and motivations of the same. The big question is whether 1000 crore enough or is just a symbolic gesture? However the onus of its success now depends on the Ministry of Women and Child on how it plans to utilize this sum. A sincere and innovative effort can go a long way in improving the situation of women within the country.

Admitted it cannot magically transform the country into a safe haven for women but can be an important step towards making it one. I believe the ministry should take a fresh stand by taking into account views and suggestions of the people and experts similar to the setting up of the Justice Verma Committee. Further, I believe that a multi-tier approach should be adopted. The fund should be made open for donation and made a regular feature. The fund can be utilized in dealing both with post incident issues and taking preventative measures. Proper medical attention, provision of shelter homes and counselling are some of the essential requirements of a victim of abuse. Rehabilitation of the victim plays a pivotal role in bringing one back to any semblance of a normal life. Another aspect where this fund can be utilised in dealing with victims is provision of legal aid and facility. Specialised government advocates can be recruited to deal with crimes against women. Also this fund could be utilized in strengthening the women and children department of the police.

To deal with the preventative aspect numerous awareness campaigns can be launched which focus on both gender sensitization and dissemination of legal recourse available. A basic knowledge of legal provisions is a must for every citizen. Another approach that can help empower women is vocational trainings. Providing women with skills to become self reliant infuses a sense of confidence which will facilitate them in helping themselves.

We can all brainstorm and come up with ideas but what is important is how the government deals with it. So let’s wait and watch. Hope we receive a reason to rejoice!!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Delhi Police Recruits Women Officers

By Shreya Gupta - Intern (Centre for Social Research)
A long awaited move has been taken by the Delhi Police. Vacancies have been announced for the recruitment of 500 Temporary Women Constables (Executive). This is a significant move after the city has been plagued with complaints of rape, molestation and abuse. Women centric policing is the need of the hour and hopefully with increased number of women in the force, the situation may improve. At present there are 4,809 women officers of various ranks, ranging from constables to inspectors. Statistics reveal that there are 72 women inspectors – the rank at which they are made SHOs.

In 2011, 460 women constables had been trained as commandos and 25 imparted special training by CRPF. But despite regular presence of women officers in several cities across the country, Delhi Police continues to seriously lag behind. Women officers constitute a small 7% of the entire Delhi Police Force. Similarly other metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai have less than 10% women officers.

Till now women officers were usually involved in inconsequential and low ranks, owing to which their contribution had not been high. The move to recruit women officers at the executive level will thus increase their participation and contribution in policing. This presents a hopeful picture for the city’s future.