Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Deconstructing Racism and Regionalism in India

Racial Thinking

The Hindu
India is a country with diverse regions, languages, castes, religions and races. As a nation, India has been in the forefront for propagating values like ‘unity in diversity’ and pride in multiculturalism, both in the national and international forums.  India’s contribution to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa can never be forgotten. But in practice, Indians have failed to accept and respect its heterogeneity resulting in the social exclusion of ‘others’. This social exclusion is often the result of discrimination based on race or differences based on physical attributes such as colour of the skin, facial structures etc.

Though racial discrimination is prohibited by law and may not be practised at the institutional level, but its effects in everyday life are regularly experienced by people from ‘other’ ethnic groups who live in a different geographical or social landscape. For example, there is an anti-Bihari sentiment across the country, a South Indian is called “Madrasi” and a person from North East is called ‘chinki’. These are just few of the many cases. There is also a never ending prejudice against black or dark-skin, always giving preference to a fair-skinned person, in India.

To exclude racism, various groups and experts have demanded the enforcement of an exclusive anti-racism law. However this demand is much in debate as the other side of the argument is that racism is a social problem that exists in the minds and attitudes which cannot be addressed unless the minds of the people are connected through integration and promotion of cultures of other ethnic groups.

Injustice inflicted by racism

Indians often see themselves as victims of racism, inflicted particularly by the West. However time and again, Indians have themselves been perpetrators of race based violence towards others whom they consider as inferior.

State of North Easterners in Metro Cities
Death of a 19 year old student Nido Tania; physical assault of an engineering student in Bangalore and attack on two youths by few locals in Gurgaon are still fresh in our memory. Though these are three different tragedies, what is common to all these incidences is the shameful fact that these are racist crimes committed against the North East people in mainland India.

According to a police record, the national capital has witnessed a rise in racial crimes against people from the North Eastern Region (NER). Out of 847 phone calls this year (till mid November), the police received 650 calls concerning racial discrimination against the people from NER.  The Bezbaruah Committee that was set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Bezbaruah to look into the racial issues faced by the North Easterners, highlights that over two lakh people have migrated to Delhi from North Eastern states between 2005 and 2013 and about 86% of them have faced some form of racial discrimination.

Anti-Bihari sentiment
There have been several racial attacks against people from Bihar who migrated to other parts of India mainly for employment. However they have been subjected to severe social exclusion in other states. Between 2000 and 2003, anti-Bihari violence led to the deaths of upto 200 people and created 10,000 internal refugees (MS Academic, 2012).

In February 2008, migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who settled in Mumbai for jobs were charged of being ‘infiltrators’ and accused of spoiling the Maharashtrian culture. Orchestrated riots and anti-migrant political campaigns routinely target migrants from other states and protest their presence in the city, even today.

Outsiders vs Tribals in North East
There have been series of massacres and bomb attacks on migrants from other states even in the North East. Discrimination and violence faced by ‘outsiders’ or ‘non-tribals’ in the North East have continued for a very long time, resulting in declining population of ‘non-tribals’ in Meghalaya, from 20% when the state was formed to below 10% (Tehelka).

An ‘outsider’ is called a ‘Dkhar’ in khasi, a pejorative term for people from other ethnic groups including Bengalis, Nepalis, and Biharis.

Targeting ‘Black’
African nationals are stereotyped as drug peddlers or sex workers in India. They are made victims of derogatory remarks like ‘negro’ or ‘kale’ (black), physically abused on the streets, and are also made victims of administrative (like police) apathy. The most recent demonstration of this is the brutal assault of African students in one of the metro stations of Delhi. These students protested being photographed by few local youths. In response, the African students were attacked by the locals and alleged of misbehaving with a woman, without any evidence. The victims sought police protection, but in vain.

Anti Racism Law in India: the debate

Need for an anti racism law
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution prohibits any race-based discrimination by the state. Such a fundamental right like Article 15 guarantees protection to victims of racial crimes committed by the state but fails to guarantee protection from private individuals. Additionally, anti-discrimination legislation also fails to acknowledge racism that is ‘invisible’ and executed through certain tone or gesture.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is one of the foremost anti-discrimination legislations in India. Though the act protects significant number of persons from the North-East as majority belong to the Scheduled Tribes, it fails to protect non tribal from the region and other communities in India who are victims of xenophobia.

Recognising these gaps in the existing domestic laws, there have been demands for an anti-racism law from various groups and activists. However, the prospects of an anti racism law should be looked at holistically, such that it is able to tackle the issue and protect the interests of every vulnerable individual and group, both national and non-nationals, without being biased towards a particular group. One has to also see whether an exclusive law like this can eradicate every form of racism? Xenophobic exclusions and other forms of ethnicity-based discrimination are legally forbidden in the United States, yet it continues through indirect forms of expression, prevalent as ‘symbolic racism’ or reflected in socioeconomic inequalities like employment opportunities, homeownership, and income levels etc. For example, there is disparity in homeownership between African-Americans and the Whites, which is an indicator of the racial wealth gap, according to a recent study from Brandeis University.

The other side of the debate- need to strengthen existing legislations
Contrary to the advocates of anti-racism law in India, there are activists and groups who suggest correcting and strengthening existing legislations on anti discrimination. According to Mr. Bezbaruah, the chairperson of the Bezbaruah Committee, “We need a quicker solution because these crimes are increasing rapidly, when they should be decreasing.” In his views, the “introduction of fresh legislation would be lengthy; the government must consider swift reform of existing laws.”

The Bezbaruah committee recommended adding sections to India’s Penal Code, including making a “word, gesture or act intended to insult a member of a particular group or of any race, punishable with a maximum of three year jail sentence and a fine.” The other recommendation from the committee includes setting up designated courts to deal with racial conflicts, making Police more responsible and increasing role of media, NGOs, private sector in addressing the issue together. Promotion of other cultures and spreading awareness amongst people about various social groups and culture is necessary to curb the problem.

In a survey poll carried out by the Morung Express, a Nagaland based newspaper, majority of the people said an anti racism law is unlikely to protect the people of North East from racial discrimination. “Racism is a social problem and it can only be solved at the societal level……………Only a paradigm shift in societal attitude will minimise racial discrimination.”
Racism is a social problem

Racism originates from intolerance towards other cultures to faulty prejudices against them. Since the ethnic minority or an individual belong to a different social landscape, their behaviour and lifestyle is absolutely unknown to others who develop wrong perceptions about them. There is an utmost need to address racism not just through legal discourse but also through sensitising people about other ethnic groups and cultures. It is essential to deconstruct faulty perception and half truth that have been passed on through incorrect narratives.  Role of universities, media, sports and tourism become crucial in creating awareness and integrating people (both national and non-nationals) of different background.

Racism is India has a very long history; however there has been lack of voice against such injustice. We all have to accept our share of the responsibility in supporting racism either by pretending that it does not exist or by preferring to stay silent on the issue. There has to be zero tolerance towards racial discrimination not because it is against ‘our’ people but because it is against human dignity. Academics, thinkers, artists, writers, activists, journalists, professionals and students must challenge any form of discrimination through debates, discussions, writings, complains and protests.

Strengthening law enforcement agencies and institutional support also becomes significant.  Attitude of the police, who are often charged of harassing victims of racial slurs, needs to change. As also recommended by the Bezbaruah Committee, concerned state and central government bodies like state bhawans, should play a more proactive role in providing support to migrants. Fast track courts should be set up in States, exclusively to handle crimes committed on grounds of race.

Time to put an end to ‘Racism’

India's contribution to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa has been highly acknowledged globally. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, as a national ideology, India has shown an uncompromising attitude towards any form of institutional racism. However this pride and India’s own freedom struggle becomes meaningless as long as racism exists, even if at an individual level.

Racism is a form of exploitation and it will continue to exist as long as we deal with the problem half heartedly. Resorting to legalistic means cannot be ignored, but complete eradication of this problem is only possible when people develop solidarity towards their countrymen and also non-nationals, by destroying artificial differences on the grounds of culture, language, physical features and colour.


Abhishikta Roy

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sahariyas and their Vulnerabilities

Source: Action Aid India
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan together have more than 2.45 crore tribal population divided into 46 and 12 groups respectively. Seven tribal groups in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan what is termed as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups or PVTGs (earlier called Primitive Tribal Groups or PTGs). Sahariya is one among these PVTGs inhabits   eight districts of Madhya Pradesh and few places in Rajasthan. According to Census 2011, Sahariya is the largest community in the list of 75 PTGs with a population of more than seven lakh. Around 85 per cent of Sahariyas live in Gwalior, Guna, Shipuri, Vidhisha, Datia, Bhind, Sagar and Tikamgarh districts of Madhya Pradesh. The government of India recognized the vulnerability of Sahariyas in 1975-76 by including them in PTGs but in the late end of the 20th Century, the enforcement of environmental laws, insensitive displacement, schemes for mainstreaming and ignorance of their vulnerabilities as PTG marginalized them further.

Livelihood of Sahariyas:

Traditionally Sahariyas are forest dwellers. They practiced shifting cultivation, hunting gathering, pastoralism, and a quiet nomadic life. Similar to many other PTGs, Sahariyas had also close link with forest and forest product for their livelihood. They practiced agriculture in mountains and during non-agricultural season, they collected forest products. According to a study conducted by Vikas Samvad, Bhopal in 2007, Sahariyas used to barter forest product like Gums and Chironji with that of cereals and also used to prepare baskets out of ‘Siari’ wood to store their half yearly requirement. Sahariya’s economy before the enforcing of environmental laws was self-sufficient and was in harmony with the local ecology.

After government took over the control of forest, Sahariyas lost their main source of livelihood. Vikas Samvad in its study of Madhya Pradesh argues that the government policy on forest wiped them from forest and forest products. According to the Census 2001 data, more than 70 per cent of Sahariyas are non-cultivators. Most of them are agricultural labourers. A study by the Centre for Tribal Development in 2002 reported that the annual per capita income among Sahariyas was Rs. 2,691, or about Rs 7 a day, less than one-third of the national poverty line figure of Rs. 26 a day in rural areas. Curtailing forest rights of Sahariyays, through environmental policies, what they were inheriting since ages destroyed their existence. On the other hands government’s un-planned, insensitive and shortsighted rehabilitation and development plan for Sahariyas pushed them to further deprivation.

Major Visible Vulnerabilities

Modern development initiatives in India in last few decades undermined socio-cultural diversities of PTGs such as Sahariya. Despite recognizing the vulnerabilities of PTGs in 1970s their voices remain unheard in developmental programs targeted to them. It seems that in last few decades their vulnerability increased instead of decreasing. Some of these vulnerabilities are discussed here in brief.

After losing control over production of grains and accessing food item through their traditional barter system in last few decades, Sahariyas are now facing starvation situation on every day basis. Due to scarcity of food, they rely on ‘tubers’ and ‘leaves’ collected from nearby forests. When drought hits and there is nothing to eat, Sahariyas depend on bread made of ‘Sama’ (a locally grown wild grass) and soup made from its seeds. Very often even this grass is not fit for consumption as it doesn’t ripen due to lack of water , which make them difficult to digest.

High Malnutrition:
Insufficient food has led to wide spread malnutrition amongst every age group of Sahariays. Action Aid India reported that the malnutrition level among Sahariya children under three is as high as 66.3%, which is much higher the national average of 47%. Many such other studies of Sahariyas revealed high level of undernourishment and hunger deaths. According to a paper inquiring status of women and children of Sahariyas of Madhya Pradesh published in Indian Medical Journal in 2013 found that Chronic Energy Deficiency (CED) affected 42.4 percent women whereas 90.1 percent women were anemic. In their study, Kapoor et al (2009) noted that CED amongst males was about 48.8 percent. As per World Health Organization a CED of 40 percent exhibits a critical health problem.

Poor Health:
Curative health care is not an option for most. In most cases, health centers are very far away from Sahariya villages. Moreover, many report being callously treated at the health centers by the staff. Many times Sahariyas are not aware about what they are being prescribed. Therefore, most times,’ quacks are preferred. Empirical studies have found that major causes of death include pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, gastric problems and diarrhea. Low standard of living, poor food habits, low socio-economic conditions, lack of portable water and unfavorable environment all contribute to poor health standards. 

Low Education and Child Labour:
Sahariyas do not have access to education; Census data reveals that only 2 per cent of Sahariyas have studied until the secondary level. The literacy rate of Saharia both in Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh is the lowest amongst all the tribes in these states. In Rajasthan the tribal literacy rate is 52.8 whereas Sahariya literacy rate is 48 percent. Similarly, Madhya Pradesh has a tribal literacy rate of 50.6 whereas the Sahariya literacy is recorded at 42.1 percent. Women literacy amongst the Sahariyas is much less with Madhya Pradesh at 32 and Rajasthan at 33.7 percent respectively.

Hindustan Times recently reported that children, instead of being sent to school are working to sustain their families. Increasing debt due to crop failure and food insecurity forces families to send their children  to work for wages ranging between INR 2000-6000. The children are employed to herd sheep and other animals in the jungles of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.


Even after being identified as a PTG group, policies dealing with Sahariyas have not kept in mind the features that make them an especially primitive group. However, continuous ignorance of their culture continuous to feature in the way government is formulating response to them. As mentioned earlier, they are frequently ill treated, which marginalizes them further. Moreover, when they access government services, the nourishment provided is not suited to their dietary practices. Children cannot digest or do not prefer panjeeri and soya buffs. The reason a special category of tribes was created was so that policies are customized to their lifestyle. Thus, the developmental approach of Saharaiyas must emphasize an effort to understand their social, cultural and economic conditions that make them a Primitive Tribal Group.

Jeet Singh and Shriyam Gupta 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Women’s Autonomy and Demography: Women pay the price for population control

Prevelance of female sterilisation over male sterilisation

India is one of the first countries in the world to have formulated family planning programmes. Family planning programmes like mass sterilisation in India were introduced in response to the booming population . However it is female sterilisation (tubectomy) which has always been prevalent over male sterilisation (vasectomy) or other contraceptive methods.

Recently, in one of the worst medical disasters in India’s history, many women lost their lives in a mass sterilisation camp organised in Chhattisgarh. Family members of the victims have reported how women were pressurised to undergo sterilisation. Mahesh, brother-in-law of one casualty, told the Indian Express newspaper, “They [health workers] said nothing would happen, it was a minor operation. They herded them like cattle.”

However, this is not one of the rare cases where mass sterilisation camp has killed women. Between 2003 and 2012, as estimated by various reports, thousands of women died in sterilisation camps organised in various states including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Violating all medical guidelines, sterilisation camps like the one in Chhattisgarh and others are often found to have used contaminated medicines, rusted surgical equipments and unhygienic environment. Guidelines which set the maximum limit of surgeries to 30 a day, have often been ignored by doctors in sterilisation camps, were the operations outnumber the limit. The cause of such tragedies can be related to sheer medical negligence, apathy of doctors towards patients, poor state of health services in India and above all violation of women’s rights over their bodies.

The District Level Household and Facility Survey (DLHS)  in 2007–08 revealed that over 35 per cent of married women in  the the reproductive age group ( 15–49 years) had undergone tubectomy, as against 1 per cent of men who have undergone vasectomy. This is despite the fact that Tubectomy as an irreversible method of birth control is a more complex procedure than vasectomy.

In this light, it is important to comprehend the relationship between family planning in India and female sterilisation.

No choice for women: Social pressure, national targets

The DLHS data in 2012-13 have also indicated State Governments preference on female sterilisation over other contraceptive methods in India’s family planning programmes. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, during 2007-2008 and 2002-2013, 60 and 63 per cent women in the fertile age range had been operated respectively. However, during the same period, the number of men who underwent sterilisation, came down from 4 to 2 per cent. A similar trend was observed across many states in India.

This trend can be traced to the deep rooted social belief that the primary role of women is that of  reproduction and child rearing. Instead of looking at family planning as a responsibility of both men and women, family planning programmes in India have been directed at women by and large.  Added to this there is a tremendous social stigma attached to male sterilisation. Along with the fear of impotency, physical weakness, “it becomes a question of manhood”, says Rukmini, a District Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) Officer from Karnataka. “Unfortunately social stigma nearly always ensures the fairer sex is the subjugated lot…………….where women are more likely to go under the knife rather than men.”
(The Hindu)

In a patriarchal society, women usually have little autonomy within and outside the household; they also have limited control and no voice over their own reproductive and contraceptive choices. Hence they are always made easy targets of family planning programmes. For most women, sterilisation is not a choice, it is a diktat. Thus women are forced to undergo sterilisation, sometimes without their knowledge or opportunity to provide consent. According to the DHLS 2007-08, 40 per cent of women who got operated across India were illiterate. When women are poor and uneducated, they are more vulnerable, and are easily persuaded to accept the painful and irreversible contraceptive method through financial or other incentives. They are forced to undergo sterilisation either by authorities responsible for family planning programmes or by family members who are in need of monetary benefits. Women are convinced to undergo surgeries by luring them with cash incentives. “The husband of a Baiga tribe woman who died after undergoing tubectomy at a government-organised sterilisation camp in Bilaspur district alleged that health workers put pressure on them and also held out a promise of money for consenting to the operation.” (India Today) This is nothing but grave violation of women’s rights.

In 2012-13, the District Level Household and Facility Survey highlighted poor quality family planning services which were offered to women. Women were not informed about the side-effects of sterilisation or about other methods of contraception. Even where women were counseled, the staff strategically refrained from giving adequate and correct information. For example, in Maharashtra, only 17 per cent of the women were told about the side-effects, while in Punjab and Haryana only 14 per cent and 11 per cent women respectively were given any information related to other methods of contraception. Hence majority of these women could not have provided "informed consent" due to lack of awareness and knowledge.

“The government of India denies that there are targets but they’re clearly set and when it goes down to the district or village level that’s a real problem. Extreme pressure is the crux of the problem,” says Sona Sharma, joint director for advocacy at the New Delhi-based Population Foundation of India. Senior officials sometimes threaten health workers of reducing remuneration or suspending them from work. “Health workers who miss sterilisation targets because they give proper counseling and accurate information about contraception risk losing their jobs in many parts of the country,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

To achieve the desired target, in some districts, more than the prescribed numbers of tubectomies are performed single handedly by a medical practitioner in unhygienic and inappropriate conditions. As a perk, compensation is given to service providers as well as acceptors of sterilisation. Unofficially material benefits are also given to health workers and agencies organising sterilisation camps.  In 2011, service providers in Rajasthan were reported to have been offered motorcycles, television sets, even Tata Nano cars.

Reproduction and contraception is for women: the social perception
In a study carried out in central India about the men’s perception of contraception, it was found out “Men viewed "family planning" as synonymous with female sterilization, whereas they saw "contraception" as referring to spacing methods, knowledge of which was limited. Thirty-four percent of men reported that their wives had been sterilized; 79% of men who did not rely on any permanent method said they wanted their wives to be sterilized. In focus group discussions, most men reported themselves as their family's sole decision maker about reproductive health.” (Male Perceptions on Female Sterilization: A Community-Based Study in Rural Central India by Arundhati Char, Minna Saavala and Teija Kulmala).

Female sterilisation being dominant, use of other spacing methods like Intrauterine Device (IUDs), condoms  are limited,  despite the fact that there is a high unmet need in spacing. According to DLHS III, all the spacing methods together account for just 25.5 per cent of the current contraceptive use, compared to female & male sterilisations which account to 75.5 per cent. Social and cultural acceptability of female contraceptives over male contraceptives have also set a high competitive bar on pharmaceutical industry and research that is prepared to invest more on the former than the latter. According to RH Reality Check (a daily publication providing news, commentary and analysis on sexual and reproductive health and justice issues) “research on male contraception is 50 years behind research on female contraception.”

Need to re-look at nation level population programmes from women’s perspective
It is a common perception shared by society that reproduction, and therefore contraception, is the responsibility of a woman. Despite all talks of empowering women and their reproductive autonomy, the right to choose whether to have children or not and the freedom to choose the methods of fertility management, based on access to proper information, has been largely denied to them. This gets translated in the family planning programmes and practices as well. It is sad that it is only by the death of several women in a botched up attempt at sterilisation that the whole issue has been bought to the fore.

It is time for the nation to understand that fundamental to the success of any family planning programme is the enhancement of women’s freedom and it should involve both men and women in its population stabilisation goal. More men should be involved in family planning programmes “not as targets for vasectomy but as partners within a gender-equality paradigm,” says Dr Abhijeet Das, Director of CHSJ and an assistant professor at the Department of Global Health, University of Washington.

The need of the hour is to look at India’s population programmes from the perspective of the women who are forced to suffer its consequences. In addition, there is an urgent need to improve public health services in India, make doctors and health agencies more accountable and eliminate coercive family planning porgrammes, to ensure that women in Chhattisgarh or any other place do not become victims of faulty sterilisation drive!

Abhishikta Roy