S o then, India completes another year, and steps into a new time cycle. The journey wasn’t easy, for it was fraught with many lamentable instances. Instances that clogged our minds with fear and apprehension; that sullied the country’s otherwise pristine image among the community of tions; and which invited widespread dissent from the progressive citizenry. But, there was a flip side to that. India, in the past year, was also marked with several positive incidents. While some of those reaffirmed the country’s commitment to finding a way out of many long-standing problems that it is mired in, the others tracked India’s evolution into a leading power.
The republic of India has been a victim of casteism since ages, i.e., stratification of the society based on origin of birth rather than merit. Cases of oppression of Dalits, euphemized as Scheduled Caste, are galore. Though constitutiol provisions like Article 46 (Directive Principle of State Policy) have gone a long way towards improving their socio-economic conditions, their miseries are far from getting over. The 2016 tiol Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, released in 2017, showed a sharp increase in the crimes against Dalits in cities like Lucknow. It even shed light on the reprehensible injustices meted out to the Dalit women. However, in stark contrast to these, past year saw a refreshing change when the Travancore Devaswom Board of Kerala created history by recruiting six Dalits as temple priests. Such a gesture was a strong indicator of the changing mindset of the society.
The tion has long been accused of being discrimitory to women. Such an outlook, the critics say, is a departure from the ancient Vedic age that witnessed women participating in the sabhas and samitis. Controversies surrounding the restricted entry into the Sabarimala Temple and marital rape continue to this day. The former was, in fact, underpinned with a Kerala High Court ruling of 1991. Taking a clean break from such cases, the Supreme Court of India, last year, gave two landmark verdicts aimed at empowering women. One was declaring instant triple talaq or Talaq-e-biddat void and illegal, and the other was rendering sexual intercourse with minor wife, a rape. While the first is expected to act as a bulwark against impetuous divorces, the latter would reduce the cases of child marriage. 2017 also saw the Nobel laureate, Kailash Satyarthi’s ‘Bharat Yatra’ – a procession from Kanyakumari to Delhi, calling for a war against child sex abuse and child trafficking.
Much has also been said about the growing economic inequalities in the Indian society. The World Inequality Report 2018 shows that the top 1 per cent of income earners receives around 22 per cent of the total income of India, confirming concentration of wealth in a very few hands. The fact that a huge population of the country is still uneducated is one of the prime causes behind the current state of affairs. Hence, in line with the existing ‘Education for All’ policy of the government, a group called Shaktiman did some amazing work last year in West Bengal. A joint effort involving the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the state government, an NGO med Save the Children, and local body representatives, Shaktiman was able to put many school dropouts back on the path of education. In another innovative approach to bring more children within the realm of education, Heritage Assam, an NGO of Assam, brought a ray of hope in the life of hundreds of children in the tea gardens by making them comfortable with the Assamese language – something that impeded their progress in schools. Moreover, there was also a rise in the number of girl toilets in schools last year, a move that will prevent the girls from opting out of schools midway.
Last year was also about cracking down on superstitions. While on the one hand, we heard of a Dalit woman being beaten to death on the suspicion of being a witch who went around chopping women’s hair, on the other hand, the state of Kartaka passed a bill against black magic and evil practices emating out of superstitions. It became the second Indian state to pass such a bill after Maharashtra. Another major highlight of the same kind was the Supreme Court’s judgment against the blatant discrimition shown towards the leprosy patients, despite the malady being completely curable. Questioning the relevance of 119 statutory laws that justify such discrimition on the grounds of the disease being incurable, the apex court asked the centre to repeal them.
Pollution gripped the attention of all in 2017. The ever-increasing pollution levels in the country, especially Delhi, made the headlines on multiple occasions. As a matter of fact, Delhi became one of the most polluted cities in the world. A study revealed that children in dire polluted conditions like that of Delhi are born with lungs half the normal size. Well, no one can refute the fact that the problem had snowballed last year. But the authorities weren’t a mute spectator to it. All three organs – Legislative, Executive and the Judiciary- did their bit to control the mece. The court’s verdict to ban the sale of fire crackers during Diwali in Delhi and NCR region was one such example. The Petroleum Ministry’s decision to bring forward the implementation year of Bharat stage-VI to 2019, as unrealistic as it may be, indicated some positive animation on its part. India also enjoyed the global spotlight when it assumed the leadership role in the Paris Climate Agreement after the USA surprisingly backed out from the accord. With such a step, the country certainly came across as a power to reckon with. Despite being a developing country, it outdid the superpower in the sphere of environment and ecology.
Even in the domain of diplomacy and Intertiol Relations, 2017 proved to be a good year for India. That India has a set of pragmatic diplomats was reflected in the way the Doklam issue was handled. In spite of the high-octane rhetoric from both sides of the border, they kept their cool and maged to allay the territorial dispute. As Nitisara, a celebrated ancient treatise on statecraft, puts it, “A diplomat should be able to bear the abuses of the enemy and control his anger.” The country may have failed to take a stand against the atrocities on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, but it did stand up for the Palestinian cause and voted against the USA’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It may not have been able to extradite Kulbhushan Jadhav from its adamant neighbour, but outmanoeuvred Pakistan by sending its first wheat shipment to Afghanistan via Chabahar port in Iran. Similarly, while India fared poorly in the Global Nutrition Report 2017 with around 38 per cent of its children being stunted, the socialist country succeeded in keeping its Public Distribution System (PDS) uffected at the recently held 11th Ministerial Conference of World Trade Organization (WTO) in Buenos Aires, Argenti.
One has to agree to the fact that 2017 wasn’t the best year for India. The long-held secular image of the country was put to test with the instances of mass lynching going up. The members of minority communities, especially the deprived and less-educated ones, had to live amidst fearful expectations. But, at the same time, we also had countless peace-loving people, of all faiths, coming out vociferously in support of the victims. We must appreciate that democratic India still has a lot of space for dissent, unlike Chi, for whom democracy is a mere lip service - the Tianmen Square protests of 1989 is a case in point. Moreover, being an armchair critic to the developments around us won’t do any good to us. As George Eliot propounded, “It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”