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February 17, 2022, at 3:03 pm
Reflections On Indian Muslim Women’s Struggle Against Triple Talaq
Zakia Soman, Founder member, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan & Core Committee Member of SAAPEWomen continue to remain second class beings everywhere and particularly in South Asia although there is a greater degree of awareness about womens’ rights and need for empowerment today. We celebrate Women’s Day annually but the condition of women in most countries remains bad. On the one hand, the grip of patriarchy is getting tighter as is visible in all spheres of life. The silver lining is that there are increasing number of women who are standing up to injustice, violence and subjugation. Women are demanding to be heard at home and outside of homes. In India the muslim women joined the fight against patriarchy in the last over ten years in large numbers.In the current decade, legal victories in the Haji Ali women’s entry case and the triple talaq case have become important milestones in Muslim women’s struggle for gender justice in my country. These legal battles were won because of sustained efforts and engagement by thousands of women who wanted to be heard and to be treated as equal human beings. India muslim women have been unequivocal – I am an equal muslim and equal citizen of India. Personally, I look at this journey with excitement and a degree of exhaustion. There have been many factors that contributed to the excitement and equally to the sense of exhaustion. For me, it began as a personal journey to freedom and self-worth in the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat. The collective thinking, collective experiences, collective emotions – the ehsaas, the collective energies and bonding of muslim women for gender justice made it a fulfilling and enriching mission. We have come a long way from 1986 when a lone voice of Shah Bano was crushed by all – family, community, society, government. The muslim women’s movement today is about making all of these forces accountable to gender justice injunctions of the Quran as well as the Constitution.Indian muslims have been living with poverty, educational and economic backwardness, social backwardness and political exclusion and manipulation. Despite the constitutional safeguards India’s largest minority is marginalized on all human development indices and has suffered communal violence consistently since independence. Not surprisingly, nobody wants to talk about the condition and injustice to muslim women. But that changed with muslim women themselves deciding to take up their own issues democratically through education, dialogue, campaign, legal battles and pressurizing the elected representatives. Our initial years were devoted fully to activism around education, livelihoods, relief for riot-affected families, lobbying parliamentarians, preparing draft family law etc. It was around 2009 and 2010 when few thousand women had enrolled as members and we had made some ground level impact when women started coming to us with the complaints about being thrown out of homes after unilateral instant divorce or triple talaq. We could not continue to work on obtaining educational scholarships or filling widow pension forms while shutting our eyes to this social malaise. It became clear that abolition of triple talaq should be the first step in the reform of muslim personal law. The triple talaq petition reached the Supreme Court much later in 2016. The ground was prepared by ordinary women who were active towards social reform and education. Post cards by thousands of women were mailed to the President of India in 2010. Over 500 women survivors from different states participated in our national conference calling for abolition of triple talaq in 2012. In a national study conducted by us in 2015, an overwhelming number of women called for abolition of triple talaq.The excitement was about women coming together and demanding change. The excitement was also about women challenging patriarchal male authority over religion and demanding equality. The women were rejecting the misinterpretations and distortions that had led to triple talaq becoming the commonest method of divorce in the community in our country. Women questioning triple talaq were aware that this method is not sanctioned by the Quran. They were educated about the Quranic stress on dialogue, mediation and arbitration between husband and wife before a divorce takes place. They were educated about the Quranic injunctions of justice and fairness in divorce. They knew that they were entitled to justice as Muslims and as citizens and therefore the petition in the Supreme Court. The support of the Indian public to the triple talaq campaign was truly heartening. We were flooded with phone calls, emails, speaking invites, donation offers by several unknown Indians. Not only did more and more Muslim women and men join the struggle, an overwhelming support came from those from different faith backgrounds. Several women in the media made it their personal cause as did so many men!This excitement was not shared by all; this included some secularist friends. They kept on saying, where is the need to enter religion when the Constitution offers equality to all! It was hard labour to explain to them that the same Constitution also allows for right to religious freedom. They failed to appreciate the social and cultural milieu in which ordinary women live! Indeed the patriarchal forces such as the Muslim personal law board would have been happiest if we were to cede the religious realm to them like earlier! There were personal attacks on many of us. They did not spare my husband and my son whom they dragged in Whatsapp messages that were circulated widely. According to them my husband being a Hindu and my son being self-declared atheist on his Facebook page proves that I am a puppet of the RSS. The Congress and other so-called secular political parties maintained silence or ambiguity on the triple talaq issue. The BJP’s desire to take credit for abolition of triple talaq is not surprising given the fact that none of the political parties cared to come out openly against triple talaq! Some well-known scholars had trouble accepting new leadership coming up! They were unable to accept that Muslim women were leading their own struggle without dependence on their scholarship. They stand thoroughly exposed and their insecurities are now public! Lastly but importantly, a huge brouhaha was made over the fact of the right-wing BJP government being at the Centre. But the question of gender justice for Muslim women within family predates 2014. Besides no time is the right time for gender justice! Triple talaq, polygamy, halala have been prevalent amongst Indian Muslims despite the Quranic injunctions of 1400 years ago. Muslim women have been demanding justice much before 2014. The legal discrimination of Muslim women in family matters is singular. The Indian parliament has passed multiple laws beginning 1955 to protect Hindu women in marriage and family. The parliament also enabled amendments in marriage and divorce laws to benefit Christian women. India’s elected representatives have failed Muslim women and indeed all women by non-enactment of a Muslim family law. The politicians, religious leaders and legal scholars who jumped into the fray post 2014 were nowhere in the picture when Muslim women were struggling for justice all these years. The democratic struggle of Muslim women for gender justice provided a befitting reply to the hypocrisy and double standards practiced by all the dominant sections of society. And the fact that Muslim women were supported by all Indian women made this struggle historical.
February 17, 2022, at 3:02 pm
Nepal Needs Total Debt Cancellation To Face The COVID-19 Crisis
23 April by Praman AdhikariThe devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic is a serious threat which has brought our civilisation and economies at the brink of collapse. The current crisis in every sector of our lives has revealed how weak our system is when it comes to fighting back and containing the spread of the virus. As we are observing the devastation of the pandemic in Europe, China and the United States of America, the gradual increment of active cases in South Asian countries is very much alarming especially, considering the public health care system and infrastructure of the eight countries of the region.Though surrounded by two big giants and emerging economies of the world, China in the North and by India in the rest, Nepal is highly incapable to cope with the pandemic situation at present and in the future. Nepal also, is one of the Least Developed Countries(LDC) out of four countries of the region. After having 48 coronavirus cases as on the morning 24 April 2020, people’s fear of being susceptible to the pandemic and its looming devastation in Nepal is gradually increasing. The poor status of doctor-patient ratio, 1724:1, is below the prescribed limit of 1000:1 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) [1]. The availability of ventilators for the critical condition in the case of a mass outbreak is also dismal having 1:114000 people [2] and also 50 beds per 10,000 population [3]. The government’s plan to graduate from LDC status by 2022 is hugely impacted because of the type of vulnerabilities that the country is facing due to the outbreak of the coronavirus across the world. The devastation caused by predatory neoliberal policies is apparent unmasking its inhuman and profit-mongering nature. The neoliberal policies have already weakened the state mechanisms and plundering people’s money and resources making them vulnerable by imposing conditionalities to cut subsidies and ultimately dismantling the basic services that every human being is entitled to receive, easily and equally.The World Bank estimations suggests that the economic growth of Nepal will range between 1.5 to 2.8 per cent which is rapidly slowed down by the lower remittances and trifling trade and dismal state of tourism [4]. Nepal’s heavy dependence on remittance which contributes 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of the major challenges to reboot the dream of having a double-digit economic growth as the COVID-19 crisis has equally impacted the economies of the labour receiving countries and most of the migrants workers are losing and going to lose their jobs soon. At the time, when global economic slump is in motion, even if Nepal manages to control the mass outbreaks, it will still be impacted by the economic fallout remaining at the risk of a debt crisis. In the richer countries, with much more developed public health systems, the combined effects of 40 years of neoliberal policies and the lack of preparedness of public authorities have had tragic effects. It is easy to imagine what this can lead to elsewhere. Countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia have begun to be heavily affected by the health crisis [5]. According to Oxfam, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty unless urgent action is taken to bail out developing countries [6]. Under the most serious scenario – a 20% contraction in income – the number of people living in extreme poverty would rise by 434 million people to nearly 1.2 billion worldwide [7].Nepal needs more medical staff, more hospitals, more medical supplies and more resources to stand and to walk for the better preparedness in the time of crisis like COVID-19 pandemic has brought. The so-called top economies and self-proclaimed top countries having better health facilities are miserably losing their fight against this pandemic. The so-called immediate response by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to help poor countries fighting the COVID-19 pandemic through emergency assistance is another debt trap which ultimately weakens the basic and essential services of those countries. Even in the crucial time when the whole world system is at the brink of collapse, the IFIs are concerned with the debt trap that they have installed across the world. The urgent call of the time for action is to cancel all external debts, bilateral, multilateral (public and private), so that the LDCs like Nepal can concentrate their resources and funds on building basic infrastructures to strengthen quality basic services to the people rather than reducing the essential costs to repay the debts.As the renowned historian and political scientist Eric Toussaint has opined on the importance of debt cancellation, states which are aggravated by the underfunding of public health in the global South and in the North due to debt repayment and budget cuts in basic services could utilise those resources to strengthen their public health system, for example, staffing, medical equipment, medicine stock, infrastructure, research, production of medicines etc. which could have reduced the number of infections and fatalities and limit the spread of the virus which is taking place so drastically [8] at present.In 2015, immediately after the devastation caused by the Gorkha earthquake on 25 April, the call for immediate cancellation of external debts was raised by various civil society organisations to get more support on the relief and reconstruction programmes, but sadly, nothing happened. Following the recent call from the UNCTAD to cancel $ 1 trillion owed by the developing countries [9], the decision of IMF Executive Board to provide immediate debt relief to 25 IMF member countries, including Nepal, under Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) [10] is not enough to fight the current pandemic and its grave impacts on the sustainability of the development. This much touted IMF grant will, actually, be needed to be reimbursed. In Nepal, the external debt stands at 56.49 per cent of the total government debt. Total debt to GDP ratio is 30 per cent in which the external debt accounts 16.98 per cent [11]. The call from various civil society organisations ( [12], [13], [14]etc.) at national, regional and global levels for the cancellation of external debts is a welcome step which needs deeper engagements to make it a reality because the debt cancellation opens the new avenues for the hard-hit countries to rise from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.This situation is not normal. The current crisis is bringing fundamental changes to the context that we had in the past. Local and national economies are devastated, regional and global economies are in a slump, the dreary state of basic public services raises its ugly head time and again. The COVID- 19 has posed a serious threat to the population and because of this, the situation needs a concerted effort from the government of Nepal which demands a larger amount of money and resources to strengthen its battle against the possible mass outbreak and pandemic situation. The legal concept of ‘the State of Necessity’ makes the much-needed action by the government to unilaterally declare the suspension of debt repayment possible. Similarly, the ongoing COVID- 19 crisis is bringing fundamental change in the circumstances which makes the situation uncontrollable to the debtor disabling them to adhere to the contractual agreements. Invoking debt repayments and conditionalities due to the shocks that are out of debtor’s controls to survive the devastation is also known as Force Majeurein which the state can unilaterally decide to suspend the debt repayment.The process of total debt cancellation will also address the people’s demand of cancelling all illegitimate and odious debts that are amassed and misappropriated by the various autocratic rulers and governments in the past which were mostly used against the people’s interest and wellbeing. The most important basic requirement to make the debt cancellation just and effective is the non-payment of the debt is used to fight the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis the pandemic has brought. In this stage, the role of people in strict monitoring of the government’s action is extremely important if it is being mobilised and used for the best interests of the people [15] Footnotes[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]*The author is engaged at the SAAPE secretariat, Kathmandu.Source:
February 17, 2022, at 3:01 pm
Inequality In South Asia
-By SAAPE SecretariatInequality on a historical march is even more rising on a world scale and South Asia is no exception. South Asia has been appropriating a significantly large share of global income. During the last decade, the share of income poor in South Asia has increased, despite the share of multidimensional poverty showing only a marginal decline. Multi-dimensional poverty refers to deprivation of more than one dimension such as health, education, living standards, etc.According to studies such as Bourguigon & Morrison, Inequality among World Citizens: 1820-1992 published in 2002, the global poverty rate dramatically dropped from 94% (1820) to 10.7% (2013) during the last two centuries. Strangely enough, South Asia’s share of global poor has increased from 21.3% to 33.4% during the period of 1990-2013, only ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa which accounts for the largest share (50.7%).This despite the fact that  the number of poor people living in South Asia actually fell by 248.8 million during 1990-2013.All accepted standard indicators, viz. the Gini Coefficient, Quintile and Palma ratios points to acute inequalities in the region. Several studies and reports reveal the absence of equitable access to resources, jobs, market and development. A deadly combination of these factors has resulted in a disproportionate share of the poor people compared to other regions of the world. According to the World Bank, the quality education received by the poor, and access to secondary school for girls, remain important challenges. The same applies to access to health services and sanitation, with rural areas which are at serious disadvantage.This serious growth of inequality in South Asia is a result of government policies and programmes that benefit only a handful of rich leaving behind a large section of society who are denied access to basic human rights and needs. Existing welfare policies, practically negligible have been vastly inadequate to improve the lives of the marginalized people, the millions suffering at the bottom for generations. Poverty and exclusion are the outcomes of the exclusive policies of the states as well as parastatal agencies favouring the rich and neglecting the poor and vulnerable groups. The fruits of the economic gains have been limited to the elite who have monopolistic access to resources and market participation. Not only have public policies in South Asia failed to deal with structural inequalities, but they have also been constantly shaped and reshaped to serve a minority at the top (the 1%).Extreme inequalities of wealth are destroying much of the region as in other parts of the planet. The region is in the throes of a downward spiral as disparities of wealth and power compound and worsens. While the economy surges, inequality subverts democracy, culture and security with a tiny elite at the top owning the wealth almost entirely. This is most visible in the urban landscapes. A number of studies show that class, ethnicity, religious and caste inequalities represent the growing axis of residential segregation in urban South Asia. The expanding middle class and rapid urbanisation in South Asian countries also corresponds to the widening of income gap, which is manifested in growing unemployment, rural-urban migration and slum-dwelling, where millions are deprived of the basic amenities to life.Most South Asian countries are ranked low in the Gender Inequality Index (GII). Indicators like average years of schooling, per-capita income and labour force participation rates indicate that women in the region lag significantly behind in comparison to men. One in every two women in South Asia faces violence in her home. There is significant gender discrimination between a girl child and a boy child. In South Asia, there are 50 million fewer women in the population. Girls and women in South Asia die prematurely through neglect and violence. 56 percent of women in South Asia are illiterate and one third of all maternal deaths in the world occur in the region.South Asia has the world’s most skewed gender wage gap in terms of income inequality by gender. This region falls among the few regions in the world where the gender labour force participation gap is both tremendously large and continuously growing. Gender gaps in labour market participation is very wide in South Asia. It is anticipated to remain so in the near future, primarily due to the exceedingly low participation rates of women in the labour market Implicit in this trend, there are apprehensions that owing to restrictive gender and cultural norms, women in South Asia are more constrained in terms of their choice to seek paid employment.South Asia has emerged fast as one of the most unequal regions of the world. Earlier, it was believed the size of economies was inadequate to ensure a dignified and decent living for its high population so as to bring prosperity in the region. However, this is not the case so, anymore. The last three decades have witnessed huge economic growth and interestingly, has been coupled with a surge of inequality, too. Interesting changes occurred in South Asia between 1980 and 2015, Afghanistan moved from a status of low inequality to medium inequality; Bangladesh moved from medium inequality to high inequality; though Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka remained within the medium inequality range, Sri Lanka was at the border of high inequality; India moved from high inequality to very high inequality and both Bhutan and; Maldives moved from very high inequality to medium inequality.Inequalities are expanded by the democratic deficit in the region and the prevailing neo-liberal regime, despite all criticism generated by its impact. Proponents of neo-liberalism take advantage of poverty, unemployment and periodic economic crises and blame it on labour unions, the state, and a multitude of social practices rooted in culture and history. They prescribe and adopt market-friendly policies that includes clipping trade-unions helping employers to hire and fire at will; privatisation of state and public-sector enterprises, abolition of protectionist measures for both markets and the capital. The international institutions, especially, trade and financial institutions, are self-appointed to oversee this process for the good of the world, and particularly for the good of the poor. Needless to say, all these exacerbate the prevailing inequality in the region.Inequality in the region is not incidental but structural, the outcome of a state system driven by pro-rich and pro-elite legal, regulatory and related institutional setups. The need of the hour is rethinking in dealing with structural inequalities – both economic and extra economic. South Asian countries need to thoroughly revamp and reorganise their welfare policies to address these structural causes. This needs to be changed towards people-centric progressive provisions both in the constitution as well as law. Universal access to basic services and genuine equal opportunities for all should form the cornerstone of the process to form an equal society. The state must guarantee access to land, water and other natural resources that are vital to sustain people’s livelihood.
February 17, 2022, at 3:01 pm
Cancel The Debt
April 2020, Mustafa Talpur*Last week, the G20 group of rich countries decided to postpone the debt payment that is due to be paid to G20 governments up to the end of 2020 for developing countries.This will help Pakistan free up some resources to tackle the pandemic. However, this is still not a matching response to the scale of the crisis we face. The debt owed to rich countries is only a small part of the overall debt; huge sums are owed to private banks and investors. Rich countries and multilateral institutions must push these private lenders to cancel these debts. Large payments are also owed to the IMF, World Bank and ADB, and these too must be cancelled for the year.Earlier last week, Oxfam estimated that developing countries need $2.5 trillion to tackle the pandemic and prevent global economic collapse, proposing $1 trillion debt cancellation, $1trillion issuing Special Drawing Rights and rest $500 billion mobilized by increasing aid. It is a big disappointment that the world’s rich countries did not agree on issuing additional Special Drawing Rights at this critical time.The IMF is encouraging countries for an upsurge in spending. Increased spending, though important, will further pile on debt if the amount payable in this year is not permanently cancelled. Therefore, the G20 must not allow the suspended debt payments to accrue into the future; they must cancel all the 2020 debts of all countries, especially highly indebted ones like Pakistan.At this unprecedented public health and economic crisis in history, Pakistan is estimated to repay debt about $14.8 billion current fiscal (estimated from the trend of the last two quarters). Debt cancellation for the year 2020 alone will spare Rs2,418 billion. This will provide the much-needed resources to the government of Pakistan at this critical time. The government needs to provide protective equipment to frontline health workers, arrange key medical equipment necessary to save lives, ensure food supplies, provide cash to workers who lost their jobs, and extend support to small businesses to prevent them from collapsing.These are enormous challenges but they can be tackled with the additional resources. Therefore, debt cancellation is key at this critical moment to free up resources. Lender nations are wealthy and have already introduced large-scale economic stimulus packages to support business and workers, but countries like Pakistan lack that firepower to follow suit.The government of Pakistan should also use its sovereign power to stop paying debt and work with other like-minded countries to put pressure on lenders, especially G-20 members, the Paris Club, and multilateral donors to cancel the debt payment forever rather than rescheduling it.Fcor the last two years, Pakistan’s economy has been facing low growth. Earlier this year, the IMF projected 2.4 percent economic growth in 2020. However, after the pandemic WB estimates economic growth in Pakistan will be in the negative and it will fall into recession.The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities to both the health system and economy. With the lockdown and reduced economic activity, tax collection will certainly drop for which the government has already lowered its ambition from Rs5.5 trillion to Rs4.8 trillion but under the current circumstances it seems a daunting challenge to even collect Rs4.8 trillion. In a few weeks millions of people have become jobless, requiring immediate assistance to survive.On the other hand, the resource requirement for the health system has increased to cope with the pandemic. Pakistan’s investment in health has been very low in the past, affecting its capacity to deal with any large-scale catastrophe. As a result, Pakistan lacks cash, but also the capacity to raise money or use debt to respond, as the rich countries are doing.Despite all these challenges, the government of Pakistan has announced a Rs1.2 trillion economic package to support its poor people and provide essential support for businesses to survive. But given the scale and longevity of the crisis and its impact, this is not enough.The emergency and the immediate impacts of Covid-19 are happening now, so it is urgent to have resources available as soon as possible. Using money reserved for debt repayments to fight the Covid-19 pandemic is the smartest thing to do.If the debt payment for the year 2020 is cancelled, the government of Pakistan will have additional resources of Rs2,418 billion (about half of the revenue collection in the current fiscal year) , twice the amount of the announced relief package (Rs1200 billion).In 2020 Pakistan’s estimated population is 220 million and per capita debt payment stands at $67.27 which is Rs10,992 @ 163.40/1 USD. If debt is cancelled there will be instantly Rs10,992/- available per capita. Assuming that the bottom fifth quintile 44 million people are poor, there will be Rs54, 961 available for each poor person with only one year’s debt cancellation.This is a very critical time for the government of Pakistan to support its vulnerable citizens, especially people who have lost their work and were hardly a single medical bill away from slipping into poverty.The devastating economic consequence of the pandemic on small businesses is also visible when a country enters the fourth week of lockdown. Small businesses were already under severe trouble and the Covid-19 crisis has further shattered them. Small businesses will require targeted government support to survive.The recent G20 announcement, and IMF, World Bank and ADB support is a welcome step but insufficient and even mere window-dressing given the scale of the crisis. The World Bank painted a very dire picture of economic growth for three years, therefore rescheduling debt or fresh loans will only add to the heavy debt portfolio and push millions into poverty and desperation. The only solution is complete cancellation of debt.It is incumbent upon the government of Pakistan to ensure that the entire additional money availed through debt cancellation or aid is spent on social protection, boosting health expenditure and supporting small business. The government must put in place a strong, transparent monitoring and accountability mechanism to avoid waste and slipping of resources on anything other than the pandemic response.*The writer is an Islamabad-based environmental and human rights activist.Source:
February 17, 2022, at 3:00 pm
Movement Of Peoples In South Asia Calls For Building Solidarities, Collective Action
Shared-destiny of migrants in the region has become all the more prominent during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The failure of state mechanisms to provide a modicum of income support, social security benefits and healthcare to migrants was glaring.Written by Babu P. RemeshLabour migration is a central phenomenon in South Asia, where a large number of citizens of various countries in the region (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan) are continuously on the move, essentially in search of a living. While a good chunk of these job seekers move within their countries, some of them travel across borders.The countries in South Asia have many commonalities in their migration profiles. Internal migration is a striking feature for all South Asian countries. In recent decades, intensified poverty and widening inequalities have been propelling large-scale urban-bound migration from rural areas. Though employment prospects and higher wages boost such migration, the most palpable driving force is the deepening employment-crisis in rural labour markets. The recent spike in rural distress throughout the region is destabilising the erstwhile rhythms of seasonality in rural-urban migration. Landlessness, debt-bondages and farmer suicides have increased considerably. In some countries, socio-political tensions, climate change and resource-depletion have compounded the agrarian crisis.Familial/societal norms based on deep-rooted patriarchal values shape the patterns and trends of women’s migration. The governance frameworks of migration in South Asian countries are also influenced by gendered notions. The controls imposed on women’s migration range from banning migration for certain categories of employment to keeping job-specific age-restrictions for women. Even in countries like Sri Lanka, where women migrants outnumber their male counterparts in the international migration stream, the situation is not different. The recently introduced Family Background Report (FBR) system in Sri Lanka stipulates that the women obtain clearance from a local official. Due to restrictive practices, women’s migration (especially international migration) is considerably low in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other countries (Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) such restrictions are found prompting employment-aspiring women to take illegal routes. Often, these undocumented migrants fall prey to pernicious practices of illegal recruiters, including trafficking and sexual abuse.GCC countries are the most prominent migrant destinations for most South Asian countries, with the exception of Maldives and Bhutan. In the Gulf countries, migrants from different parts of South Asia are found competing for jobs by mutually under-cutting wages and accepting deplorable working and living conditions. In many other destinations (for example, Jordan, Singapore), workers from different South Asian countries share work-conditions and worries.Inadequate support from the state to facilitate informed and rights-based migration is yet another feature of South Asian countries. Most of these countries do not even have reliable data on migrants. Inadequate social security systems, absence of effective protective legislations and regulatory systems are also common features.Shared-destiny of migrants in the region has become all the more prominent during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The failure of state mechanisms to provide a modicum of income support, social security benefits and healthcare to migrants was glaring.Large scale migrant-receiving countries in the region like India, Pakistan and the Maldives can ensure that immigrants from their South Asian neighbours are provided fair conditions at work. Ensuring dignity to intra-regional migrants also requires considerable efforts in terms of establishing peace within the region and finding amiable solutions on long-standing disputes around legality and citizenship of cross-border migrants within South Asia.These countries could collectively negotiate with major migrant-receivers like the GCC countries. For this, there is a need for reviving larger solidarities in the line of SAARC. Strengthening of protective frameworks, including labour laws, and signing/honouring of relevant international labour conventions and guidelines on migration are equally important.This article first appeared in the print edition on September 10 under the title “We The Migrants.” The writer is Dean, School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi and lead author of the recently released ‘SAAPE South Asia Migration Report, 2020’.Source:
February 9, 2022, at 5:57 pm
South Asia Dogged With Poor Health Facilities, Erosion Of Democratic Rights: Report
South Asia dogged with poor health facilities, erosion of democratic rights: ReportSunday, December 06, 2020 By Our RepresentativeA recent report by multinational advocacy groups, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Bangkok, and South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), Kathmandu, “Human Rights in South Asia in Times of Pandemic”, has expressed concern that lack of basic health infrastructure has been one of the main reasons why the countries in the region are unable to fight Covid-19 crisis effectively.A recent report by multinational advocacy groups, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Bangkok, and South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), Kathmandu, “Human Rights in South Asia in Times of Pandemic”, has expressed concern that lack of basic health infrastructure has been one of the main reasons why the countries in the region are unable to fight Covid-19 crisis effectively.Quoting data, the report says, “Bangladesh has 112 ICU beds and 400 ventilators for a population of about 165 million. Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, has a bed-to-population ratio of less than one per 1,000 when the recommended average by the World Health Organization (WHO) is five per 1,000.”Pointing out that “the WHO also mandates a doctor to population of 1:1000, while in India it is 1:1,404”, the report states, “For people living in rural areas and completely dependent on government healthcare facilities, the doctor to patient ratio is abysmally low with 1:10,926.”The report believes, “In South Asia faces public health challenges on a demographic and geographic scale that is unmatched in the world. The majority of the people depend on the public health system. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are home to nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with two-thirds of the world’s population living on less than USD 1/day, and have high infant mortality rates.”Noting that things have worsened because of “the present condition of poor access to improved water and sanitation, poor maternal health and poor access to healthcare services”, the report says, “South Asian countries spend less than 3.2 percent of their GDP on health. As a consequence, South Asian countries do not have the capacity to protect the lives of people if Covid-19 spreads widely.”In fact, the report says, instead of treating people humanely, South Asian states are using the current public health crisis “as a pretext to infringe upon people’s rights by imposing on their fundamental freedoms and civic space.”It says, “There has been an increase in the use of fake news; abuse of security forces; arrests, fines, detentions; abusive acts against doctors by the community people, killings, racist behaviour, increased violations and abuses against the freedom of expression through the controlling of digital spaces of human rights defenders.”The report says, “Several South Asian countries have controlled the flow of public information in order to contain fear and scepticism related to the virus and the devastation that it may bring. The diversity of responses from South Asian countries shows a disproportionate and uncoordinated approach in the region despite the creation of the Covid-19 Emergency Fund.”Thus, “The governments of India and Pakistan have used repressive laws to control the flow of information and misinformation in an attempt to mute peoples’ legitimate expressions of doubt and queries in relation to the actual situation of Covid-19 within their country. This has led to increased speculation and misinformation about Covid-19.”Based on virtual interaction with experts across the region, the report quotes John Samuel, President of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies in India, as especially objecting to “a new kind of legitimacy of state apparatus because of insecurity and sense of fear in the society”, adding, “Although Covid-19 is a public health emergency, it seems to of had the effect of a political emergency.”Objecting to the use of the ‘war’ metaphor, the expert states, it “is generally used to promote or incite nationalistic and jingoistic feelings, that has been applied in the response to Covid-19 throughout South Asia. It has allowed the police and security forces, including the armed forces, more power than ever before and has allowed them to enforce lockdowns.”The report quotes Pradeep More, deputy director, Dalit Foundation, India, raising concerns regarding Dalit women and children, who, he believes, “will now be facing extreme marginalisation due to ‘social distancing’.” Objecting to the term ‘social distancing’, he said, instead, ‘physical distancing’ should be used, noting, Dalits in India “have long been considered ‘untouchables’ and have been facing social distancing for a long time.”Source: