News & Events
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1. Ideal Indian woman, work outside home
Brave women’s rights activists and giggly teenagers will celebrate March 8 as the International Women’s Day in India. The average woman in the house (can she dare to be out in the street?) will find little to celebrate, amidst reports of sexual assault, judges who pontificate on marriage as penance for rape and Covid-induced job losses and paycuts more severe on women than on men. Labour force participation rate, the ratio of those of working age, above 15 and less than 65, who are either working or searching for work, to the total population has been falling in India for both men and women.
Between 1990 and 2019, says the World Bank, male LFPR fell from 84% to 76%, that for women fell from 30% to 21%, after rising to almost 32% in 2004-05. India’s female LFPR is the worst in South Asia, even Pakistan and Afghanistan faring better, participation rising in these countries over the years. India’s median age has been falling, and more young people, both men and women, stay on longer in education and training. That is one reason for LFPR to fall. It is also plausible that growing informalization of work makes lots of work invisible to the official eye, particularly in the case of women. That, too, would depress LFPR for women. But there is little doubt that cultural mores are more to blame than any other factor: the woman’s normative place is the home and deviation from that is deemed a sign of either strained economics or a stained character. This oppressive culture has to change. India shortchanges itself on its vaunted demographic dividend when it keeps half the potential workforce repressed in domesticity.
If women, too, enter the workforce, will they compete with men for the same set of jobs and push wages down, or will they create new work and add to the total output? The experience of other countries suggests that the net effect of more women working is to raise the overall level of output and income, benefitting everyone. In India, too, the culture must change, so that women can realise their potential, and the nation, its.
2. Add port capacity as demand evolves
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited foreign investors to take part in massive projected investment of $82 billion in the Sagarmala programme, which includes ports, port connectivity, port-led industrial development and coastal community development. It makes sense not just to distribute the investment across these areas but also to sequence their construction in such a manner as to not let capacity idle.
Neither exports nor imports are booming. In fact, they have been stagnant since 2013. Merchandise exports in 2013-14 were $312.5 billion, and in 2019-20, were still just $ 314.3 billion. Similarly, imports were $450 billion in 2013-14 but had hardly risen to $467 billion in 2019-20. The prime minister said India’s major port capacity had already expanded from 870 million tonnes in 2014 to 1,550 million tonnes today. If port capacity has almost doubled at a time of tepid trade growth — the growth in volumes would be more impressive than the growth in value terms, given the near halving of crude oil prices over the period— Sagarmala should prioritise the non-port bits of its project pipeline. India aims to greatly increase domestic coal production and minimise coal imports. Iron ore mining and exports have been hobbled by the courts. All this reduces port tonnage. Imported crude, pumped in from offshore moorings, does not require additional port berths.
Progress on the drive to raise manufacturing output under Aatmanirbhar schemes and other trade trends must be reassessed, and port capacity tailored accordingly.
3.Whose porn is it? OTT era gives India’s culture industry great global opportunities. Censorship will kill them
Even as the streaming industry was grappling with all the dampening implications of the Centre’s new IT rules, a Supreme Court bench has gone further by asking for “screening” of content on OTT platforms. To the court’s complaint that the new rules for intermediaries and digital media “are lacking in teeth”, solicitor general Tushar Mehta granted that “no censorship, and self-regulation seem to be the idea behind the new regulations.” But then, worryingly, he offered that the government could come up with another draft factoring in the court’s suggestions. After the pain inflicted by the pandemic India’s entertainment industry is resourcefully clawing back. But state censorship will hobble it even more brutally.
The challenge of censorship becomes clear in terms of the court’s other plaint, that in some cases OTT platforms are showing pornography in the name of movies. These platforms take Indian content to over 200 countries, a prodigious market opportunity. Unlike cinema theatres, this consumption is enveloped in privacy. In 2020 4G subscriptions surpassed 700 million. When the same content is varyingly received by this multitude as erotic or pornographic or romantic or artistic etc, a government led oversight authority making judgment on all their behalf would be dangerously undemocratic, besides destroying market opportunity.
This conversation was taking place in the context of Amazon Prime’s content chief seeking pre-arrest bail in the case against the web series Tandav, a plea that had been turned down by Allahabad high court despite the concerned scenes having been deleted. This is just one of the episodes in which a small but loud pro-censorship lobby crying hurt to its sentiments, easily derails a project that provides entertainment and livelihoods to many more constituencies. From thin-skinnedness of religion and caste to politics and sex, if India doesn’t self-correct it will damage our soft power incalculably. At a time when cultural industries from Korea to the UK are cracking the global game, let’s not shackle our storytellers. Let them also compete and win laurels worldwide. China may have beaten us in manufacturing, but this is one area we can beat China hollow. Let’s not seek to emulate China in this respect.
The way forward lies in OTT platforms implementing a self-regulation code, which includes global best practices in age-appropriate certification. Meanwhile the apex court that has been the beacon of individual liberties and freedom of expression, must continue to protect them. Give wings to creativity, not manufactured outrage.
4.Return to Nandigram: It looks like a faceoff between Trinamool’s A and B teams, real change is uncertain
The most riveting electoral contest in Bengal assembly elections is in Nandigram. CM Mamata Banerjee, also founder of TMC, will face off against BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari. This constituency encapsulates the main subplots of this election. Adhikari was not too long ago one of Mamata’s key political associates. But he has become a high profile defector to BJP, and an aggressive campaigner against Mamata. It’s understandable that some voters wonder if this election is a contest between Trinamool’s A and B teams.
Nandigram is the location of a proposed SEZ by the erstwhile Left Front government which flamed out 14 years ago in a burst of violence. It became a lightning rod, along with Singur, for the things that were wrong with the Left Front administration. The area provided a springboard for TMC’s subsequent ascent to power and Adhikari played a key role in it. Today, the contest in Nandigram is a metaphor for disenchantment among a section with the TMC regime. It’s also a symbol of the unmet challenges of economic development that Mamata once seemed to herald.
The campaign of the main poles, TMC and BJP, is however conventional. It’s centred on personalities, emotions, identity and fear. If Mamata has used the ‘outsider’ tag to combat BJP, Adhikari is following the same approach in Nandigram. A decade after TMC came to power the election rhetoric has a familiar ring. One Sunday, PM Modi addressing a poll rally in Kolkata promised that a BJP government would bring about ‘real change’. Change is the recurring theme in election campaigns but the fluid switchovers of Bengal’s politicians underline that the state needs something more than just rhetoric to witness meaningful poriborton. India’s economic renaissance needs Bengal at its centre.
5. Why individual freedom matters
There are grave injustices that women continue to face in 21st century’s version of a patriarchal society — gender-based violence (on the internet too); lack of effective representation in political parties and in legislative bodies (despite a push for 33% reservation); falling labour force participation (though a majority work in informal sectors); and State and socio-religious control over choice of partner. Yet, the only real way to address these problems is to not see them as women’s issues alone. Women’s rights are human rights; to ask for the former is to ask for the latter. This means categories of the vulnerable and the marginalised need to be reformulated.
In a society divided by caste and religion — with divisions stoked further by political parties — a woman’s cause is inextricably linked to how Dalit men and women experience systemic caste-based discrimination from upper caste men and women, alike; or, to the State’s insistence that a family unit cannot comprise same-sex couples; or, to the suspicion that consensual adult inter-religious partnerships now attract. These issues are interlinked at a very basic level. The Indian Constitution guarantees every individual the right to life, liberty, equality and dignity. Yet, socially, the fundamental unit is not an individual, but either an undivided family, or heterosexual coupledom, or a religious community, or a caste grouping. This is the fundamental contradiction at the heart of any struggle for human rights — fighting for an individual’s rights must necessarily take into account their various social affiliations. Thus, it is not enough to think of women’s issues as only issues that affect women. Nor can one draw a line in the sand to demarcate where women’s issues end, and the issues of others begin.