Category Archives: National Affairs

Do we need a college degree to be successful?

It is true that skills, and not degrees, take us far in life. But it is also true that we need degrees to enter into the job market in India and in many other countries. This debate of “whether we really need a degree” is also common to other countries, even to the USA. In the present scenario, to be eligible for a professional job, it is a must to have a degree to back your credentials as it supports the job applicant’s resume. Certain professional fields which are too much subject-specific such as law, medicine (MBBS, MS), academia (teaching) necessarily require a degree and it is not possible to embark on such professions without them. While certain other professions such as public speaking, entrepreneurship, sports, do not require educational degrees as such.

Only 2 per cent out of the 15 million workforce which is added per year is job-ready. Other than the problem of an ever-increasing population, a big part of this problem lies with our education system. Since school we are taught and encouraged to be hard-working individuals who can add to the workforce of the country, and not so much on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. The reason why creativity and innovative thinking are not encouraged in our school and university education can be attributed to the following reasons. One, students in schools (especially after entering secondary and senior-secondary classes) are under a constant pressure to perform in regularly-conducted tests and assessments. Two, teachers in private and government schools and colleges, many of whom are disinterested in their professions, are not periodically evaluated and assessed so that they can be trained on their teaching skills (communication skills, audio-visual presentations, conducting smart classes, etc.) which they might be lacking in. If a university teacher is disinterested in teaching or considers her profession as a burden which is to be transferred onto the students, or is lacking in communication skills, how can she motivate and generate interest among the students to think outside the box? Encouraging thinking outside the box will lead to innovative ideas, some of these ideas will be acted upon and that will lead to job creation. Three, tendency to streamline the system by laying over-emphasis on grades. Students end up studying just for marks with little guidance by parents/teachers to help them see the bigger picture.

Parents, in turn, just reciprocate what our education system demands. Every other parent wants his/her child to go for engineering education so as to be able to secure a well-paying job which indicates their concern borne out of insecurity for livelihood and sustenance. As an example, engineering education has failed terribly in India because of its degrading quality and low-quality output. Too many entrants has lead to too many colleges compromising the quality of engineering education. Engineering colleges have ended up producing generalists instead of specialists – how much of these generalists are job-ready?

To tackle unemployment, other than job guarantee schemes like MNREGA, the government has focused on imparting job-specific skills (eg. schemes like Skill India). Entrepreneurship, which does not require educational degree and which can create multiple jobs at a time, has also been encouraged through schemes like MUDRA and Startup India. Renewable energy sector, especially the solar energy sector, has seen an amazing growth in Asia since 2011. Around 60 per cent of global jobs in renewable energy sector have been created in Asia, with China topping the list.

Degree’s role is limited to validating skills and ensuring eligibility for a particular set of jobs. Job-specific skills, and not degrees, will help us in progressing in our careers. As students, one way to ensure our future in this insecure world is to work very hard on our skills, both the soft and the hard ones.

Reinventing the sanitation projects in India

One of the deterrents that could prolong or possibly halt our dream of becoming a “developed” nation in the coming years is the lack of health and hygiene and the absence of widespread ground-level actions. It is this lacking that is also responsible for widening and retaining the gap between the wealthy in a clean surrounding and the poor in a city slum, the urban formal settlements and the urban informal settlements, in our country. Proper sanitation has a crucial role to play in bridging this gap as it is directly linked to the physical health and subsequent well-being of the people living in that area. In India the practice of open defecation is still prevalent both in urban settlements and rural areas. India has the world’s largest number of people defecating in the open (around 600 million in 2012) which includes approximately 70% of its rural population. This figure is particularly alarming because open defecation has a much more adverse effect on a densely populated country such as ours. It causes and spreads diseases like diarrhea, typhoid and intestinal infections, etc., and is responsible for increasing child mortality. Other far-reaching effects include fatality, undernutrition and stunted growth in children, loss of dignity for women and increased rates of crime against women as they are forced to go out in the open in secluded areas, river pollution and soil pollution.

Government initiatives such as Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CSRP) and Total Sanitation Campaign (Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan) have achieved limited success in their terms. Even though government surpassed its own target of building 6 million toilets by constructing 8 million toilets in 2015-2016, sanitation largely still remains a widespread problem in India. This calls for participation of more private companies as well as common people to end this problem. Two of the major reasons for people still practicing open defecation are non-availability of toilets because of poverty and “behavioral mindset” of the people who still do not realize the importance and interlink between water, sanitation and hygiene.  While the former can be tackled by providing more and more infrastructure for toilets, the latter requires creating awareness among the people about this evil practice and change in their mindset, who are still traditionally bound to defecate in the open air.

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The Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) was renamed Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan by Manmohan Singh, and later restructured as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan by Narendra Modi in September 2014. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was officially launched on 2 October 2014.

Sanitation projects in a populated country like India require participation of people to be popular and successful. Integrating the two approaches of simultaneously building infrastructure and creating awareness among people can help in making Indian villages and slums “open defecation free”. Providing sustainable sanitation facilities by incorporating affordable toilets which are easy to use and clean, strong and all-weather resistant, building toilets inside or in very close vicinity of households can help eradicate open defecation. Building easy-to-use toilets integrated with a composter will prevent spread of diseases, water and soil pollution. Designing mobile toilets, toilets with an in-built alarm system for women, toilets with provision for urine diversion and providing recyclable toilet bags for people in remote areas can also be effective in reinventing the sanitation project in our country.  Another aspect of the sanitation project is to teach people about the importance and necessity of maintaining hygiene in their surrounding through audiovisual presentations, as spread of diseases is more prominent in a densely populated area lacking awareness. Encouraging people, providing more incentives and awarding households for installing toilets, even if on a time-bound basis, will increase the participation of people as well as popularity of these projects. Educating women and school going children in rural areas about the benefits of cleanliness and its healthy impact on mental and physical well-being will cause awareness among the rural masses.

The objective of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) to make India open-defecation free by 2019 can be achieved if we are willing to engage ourselves to contribute our part to tackle the sanitation problem. With all these efforts it will be a matter of time when every Indian truly experiences that “Cleanliness is Godliness”.

The Good Samaritan Law in India

Good Samaritan Law provides legal assistance to those people who help save road accident victims by reporting the accident to the police or by helping the victim reach to the hospital. Often it is seen that the helper is wrongly accused and harassed by the police personnel as the perpetrator of crime. It is in these situations that police authorities are required to follow certain guidelines and regulations while dealing with a good Samaritan or witness of the accident.
According to the Law Commission of India, 50 per cent of road accident deaths could be saved if immediate assistance is provided. As per a study conducted by the SaveLIFE foundation (which filed a PIL for the enactment of Good Samaritan Law in India), 3 out of 4 people hesitate to help a road accident victim and 88 per cent out of these cite unwarranted police harassment and questioning.
The Supreme Court in March 2016 approved the guidelines issued by the Centre for enacting Good Samaritan Law. It is sad to know that till now majority of the population has not been sensitized about this law. Even more saddening to know is that many police chaukis are not aware of such law. Following action steps can be taken by relevant authorities:
  1. Since police is now the most evident hurdle in enactment of law, police chaukis on roadways should be sensitized about such provisions.
  2. Provision for appraisal and reward for those who save accident victims
  3. Sensitizing through TV advertisements, social media, Mann ki Baat, etc.
  4. Integrating Duty to Rescue with Good Samaritan Law
  5.  Toll-free helpline numbers to nearby hospitals on highways for immediate response. Dedicated division for handling such emergency cases
  6. Signboards and posters on National and State Highways especially in the accident-prone areas
  7. Making sure that Police Stations follow SOPs and government guidelines, eg.  not forcing the Good Samaritan to disclose her/his name, limiting the witnesses’ visits to police stations, treating the witness with dignity

Triple talaq debate in India

Islam has two sects – Shia and Sunni. These sects emerged owing to differences in opinions following the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD as to who would lead Islam, which was then a new and a rapidly growing faith. Some section within the Muslim faith wanted Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law (Muhammad’s descendant), Ali, to be the rightful successor (known as the “caliph”). While another section believed that the leader should be chosen by consensus. The end result was the election of Abu Bakr as the successor, causing differences and rift between the people. Thus the sect comprising followers of Ali came to be known as Shia while the other one loyal to Abu Bakr was called Sunni. Two successive assassinations after Abu Bakr’s election ensued and Ali eventually did became the caliph only to be assassinated at the Battle of Karbala.

Triple Talaq

Talaq is an Arabic word meaning divorce. The custom of triple talaq is followed by Sunnis and it states that a husband can divorce his wife by enunciating the word “talaq” thrice.

Shias, although belonging to the same religion of Islam, oppose this custom citing its total absence in the Holy book of  Quran. Just like any other custom, triple talaq apparently evolved in the Sunni society and culture with time. It finds a mention in the Sharia, the religious law which governs the members of the Islamic faith and this forms the basis for support to this practice. However, many countries including the Muslim-majority ones have laws which render “triple talaq” a not-so-effective law, paving a legal route to register for a divorce.

What can be a more happier moment than waking up to see your phone flooded with Whatsapp and Facebook notifications? But what if you could be divorced by a mere Whatsapp message or over a Facebook post?

Triple Talaq in India

India still needs to fight a tough battle to end triple talaq for its Muslim population. It is a custom which renders women powerless and voiceless, as they face rejection and isolation from their community, for no one really wants to talk about it openly because of fear of strict opposition from the hard-lined community members. Reports of women receiving talaq over Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp have been surfacing in social media and some news channels. As amusing as it may sound, the women has to live under a constant fear of receiving an instant divorce. Recent instances of Muslim women groups, particularly All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, coming out to protest against this practice has to be seen as welcome sign by all those who are against gender-based discrimination, from people from all walks of life.

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Instant talaq with a text message

Sadly, in our country it is difficult to find full political support because of the quantum of vote bank involved with triple talaq as it amounts to politics of appeasement of religious communities. Favouring triple talaq equals support to hard-lined clerics and scholars who can influence the Muslim population. I believe that non-Muslims in India can be the biggest helping hand in the fight to ban triple talaq as they have nothing to fear. By supporting this cause in the name of human rights, they can voice their opinion to scrap this traditional law which snatches away dignity of women. They can protest loud and give voice to tens of millions of Muslim women in India. This rising voice against triple talaq should not be seen as an unwanted interference in the functioning of a particular community but as a movement to bring reform to its centuries-old and obsolete laws. A mass movement on social media can give a big push to this movement to ban triple talaq.

Since triple talaq finds its basis in the Sharia, Sunnis and Shias should collectively analyse and debate on Sharia laws. Definitely a solution and a common ground can be reached if they are serious about the future Muslim generations. Just as it is true for Hinduism, those clerics and scholars who are strongly opposed to progressive reforms have deep-rooted insecurities for their positions and roles if they witness these reforms in their lifetime. I wonder what will these clerics do if their daughters and sisters are divorced by triple talaq, would they still support it in letter and spirit?

A “surgical strike” to end triple talaq would not the serve the entire purpose of putting an end to the practices of demeaning women in Islam. But an initiation has begun which is a good sign. What more evil mental conditioning can you see than the defendant, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) saying that triple talaq prevents the wives from being murdered or burnt by their husbands. I don’t understand what act or mistake by a Muslim woman would force her husband to burn her. This speaks of the patriarchal setup and male-dominated thinking that is rooted in our society (mind you that many similar customs exist in Hinduism which need urgent reforms). Nothing new. Opposing the legal route as a substitute to triple talaq, the AIMPLB opines that the Judiciary is too slow in these matters. Triple talaq is definitely not in line with today’s modern thinking – where is gender equality here? To counter the defendants of triple talaq – why not give triple talaq to women to divorce their husbands?

Whatsoever be the logic behind the birth and continued practice of triple talaq, since it is not mentioned in the Holy Quran and since Islam espouses justice, kindness, compassion and wisdom, a healthy debate should definitely shape the opinions in a progressive (and not regressive) direction. As Victor Hugo said, “Nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. This idea must meet its logical end.

Television news media is shaping our perception

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

Famously regarded as the fourth pillar of the Indian democracy, the television media in India has expanded both in its purview and responsibilities. It appears to be diverting from its presumed duty of divulging unbiased and neutral information, and from existing as a platform where people can raise and share their opinions — a phenomenon that has caught the attention of news viewers. Primetime debates on TV news channels look no longer like debates, and resemble more like an entertainment show catering to a man in search for a mood change after the day’s tiring work. Arguably, not every panellist’s point of view is addressed in these debates, resulting in a discussion that is heavily biased and sometimes confusing. Surprisingly, viewers tend to be more attracted towards the rhetoric of host and the speakers rather than the outcome of these debates.

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All eyes on you!

Shortcomings of the Indian television media

The quality of reportage by TV channels have raised questions by many sections of society. An instance of astonishing reportage by the TV media is the consistent impression of a fellow politician’s character upon the viewers. While a politician’s actions might be suggesting a positive assertion, such a reportage does not allow time and space to alter the negative image in the eyes of the people. Another shortcoming is the range of news coverage by some of the Hindi news channels, ostensibly labelled as “mainstream” and “national” news channels. Their coverage is remotely pan-India and grossly inadequate — in case it is not known — the 2015 Chennai floods took 3 days to hit the headlines of these news channels; environment issues and tribal affairs fail to find a space in their news ticker. Rarely does one see a news from the Northeast in these channels, and if the Northeast seems far enough, a state like Odisha (which is among the most neglected by the Central government, but the most mineral-rich in India) has a similar story to tell. Little coverage of these areas amounts to little public awareness, leading to reduced scope of outreach and development in these areas. No wonder the organization National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is, to this day, demanding a separate flag and passport for their proposed Greater Nagalim region. Apparently, the only time a person in the north hears of Kanyakumari is in the phrase Kashmir se Kanyakumari tak, most popularly pitched in political speeches in Hindi. Compare this with coverage of the NCR and the North India, and the difference will be all too clear to justify. In all this, the fundamental problem is in the news coverage, and to a greater extent in them being labelled as “national” news channels. How can a channel with a grossly limited coverage be dubbed as a national channel?

It is not only the political affairs that lack their due coverage. Various sports in India marred by minimal coverage have a similar story to tell. Undoubtedly Cricket has a massive fan following in India, perhaps more than all other professional sports combined. Is it then not the right time that other sports like be popularised and promoted? No doubt, the government and the various sports bodies have a role to play, but the media can play an even larger role because of its wide reach and popularity. This assumes greater importance at a time when our country is sending the largest-ever contingent for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

Shaping our perception

While a person is entitled to her opinion on a personal level, the same is not true for a news channel which is expected to be all-encompassing to as much an extent as possible. News is expected to be presented as it is without manipulation, and the final judgement of a right or a wrong should be left for the media audience to decide. Moreover, hunting down a single person or a group, for more TRP, and not giving them their due time and space to defend, sets a bad precedent for journalism in our country as this diminishes the distinct roles and responsibilities of the media. In light of the recent controversy regarding the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, the media trial against him was regrettable. Several TV news channels stepped out of their expected roles of unbiasedness and left no stones unturned in shaping public’s opinion against him. Another incident involved the comedian Tanmay Bhat’s video that went viral in the social media. Though it might be too late to comment on this issue but it still stands relevant: Tanmay Bhat was already made a scapegoat before he could appear in the public to defend himself. The same thing happened in the case of the JNU incident where one of the students, Umar Khalid, was lambasted in a live TV debate and not allowed to put forth his argument. The media trial that followed is known to all. In such incidents, common questions arise: Is this kind of action by media justified? What is the TV news media creating — an informed public or a misguided mob?

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Is this a debate? (cartoon by Vignesh Rajan)

It should be noted that is the same media which airs a high-level coverage on Salman Khan’s acquittal from the Bombay High Court but fails to discover about Kailash Satyarthi and his works until he is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Because of incident such as this, there is a high chance of the public missing out on issues of social importance. Isn’t it the responsibility of the media to make more and more voices heard, and not just the popular ones?

In this age of globalization, it has become all the more important for us as citizens to be aware of the prevailing situations and develop a tendency to engage, if not appreciate, a different perspective, even on a non-permanent basis. We should not let ourselves be derailed by the decibel level while watching a TV debate. And so far as the role of television news media is concerned, the lines by the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall fits appropriately — I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

Should India withdraw its troop from Siachen?

Siachen is the highest battlefield in the world at 20,000 ft (6000m) covering a contentious area in the range of 2,300 to 2,600 sq. km. The conflict arises due to the unclearly demarcated line in The Karachi Agreement (1949) and The Shimla Agreement (1972). During Operation Meghdhoot (1984), India was able to capture key Pakistani strategic points and an area of over 3000 sq. km. previously under Pakistan’s control. Since then both the countries have maintained soldiers on a permanent basis, though India occupies better higher and key strategic locations. UN has called for both the countries to stop the fight over this inhospitable and barren land.

More than 2,000 soldiers have died at the Siachen because of the extreme conditions and natural hazards. Last year, around 120 Pakistan soldiers lost their lives in an avalanche and this year 6 Indian soldiers died.

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Indian Army men at Siachen

Keeping in mind the extreme difficulties faced by soldiers and the value of their lives, if India withdraws from the glacier, then it will lose the key location advantage that it has since 1984. Also, even if both the countries decide to withdraw their troops, Pakistan’s word cannot be trusted since the latter is hell-bent on taking each and every inch of Kashmir (Pakistani Army was considering withdrawal after the 2015 Avalanche which killed 120 soldiers). It is a matter of pride and satisfaction for Indian soldiers who complete their requisite period of training at Siachen. The government can consider reducing that duration so that risk of fatality is reduced. Other possible solutions and analysis are:

  • use of remotely Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but Pakistan may take up this issue with the UN.
  • use of snipers from less vulnerable locations; it will be a safe bet presuming Pakistan will not send its troops in hundreds all at once to capture the Indian side.

~Utkarsh Singh

Nationalism and Patriotism

It is the critical difference between nationalism and patriotism and misunderstanding of the definitions that still confuses many people as to whether to call themselves nationalists or patriots or both of them. The idea of “nation” or “nation-building” or “nation state” was a concept alien to the world until the struggles of people across European territories began to inspire others within and without the continent. It was during this time that the masses began to draw collective feeling of nationhood – that they belonged to an area with defined boundaries encompassing a population, majority of whom shared similar ideas and thoughts – and the ideas of equality, liberty, etc., began to take a comprehensible form. The idea of patriotism – the love for one’s own land and collective pride in its traditional and cultural values, was not foreign for the Indian subcontinent. Centuries of evolution of culture, language, art, religion, dance and architecture automatically, and passively, imbibed a sense of patriotism in the people of Indian subcontinent. This was further fueled by the dynastic rule in the subcontinent followed by the “pre-colonial” Mughal invasions, under which art and literature reached newer heights.

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Protest against the JNU incident in New Delhi.

It was during the colonial rule in which the British directly interfered with the core economics and functionary of India, trying multiple routes to exploit India and its people of its riches, a strategy unlikely of the pre-colonial rule. The collective struggle against a common “enemy” lead to the rise of nationalist sentiments in India. The British brought the Western Education to India to serve the intended purpose of building local managers to serve the British administration, people aware of its know-how – this turned out to be a paradox! Access to western education brought with it the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality – ideas which once formed the core of the French Revolution. These ideas helped create the necessary paradigm shift in the minds of people to realize the strength of unity and a common objective. Although, the admixture of past experiences of shared cultural and traditional values of the Indian subcontinent and the western notion of nationalism lead to a rise of nationalism radically different from the European type. This one was based on the belief of inclusion and accommodation of various sections of people- a trait which was absent in European-aggrandizing Nationalism. The testimony of this interim development can be the Karachi Congress Resolution of 1931 which included numerous resolutions still much relevant in the present times.

Perhaps our Constitution makers realized the situations existing then and could foresee the problems of the present times. Through a number of meetings of the Constituent Assembly and carrying out extensive and exhaustive discussions over a period of years, they framed a Constitution which could stand strong with its core values as enshrined in the Preamble, still subject to amendments in keeping with the changing times. In view of the recent turmoil on the nature and form of nationalism and patriotism to be practiced arising because of incidents like suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. scholar and a dalit student unable to receive studentship and an event in JNU commemorating execution of Afzal Guru, 2001 Parliament terrorist attack convict which was accompanied by alleged anti-India sloganeering by the university campus students, the whole nation seems to be caught in a web of ideological battles among various factions – the opposition accusing the government at the centre of imposing its Hindutva ideology and branding the defaulters as anti-national; institutions questioning the role of television and print media in shaping popular public opinion, etc. In my opinion, the only solution to end this problem is through more and more debates and discussions, for these, as is evident from the past, form the essence of a time-tested process known as democracy.