Pakistan’s draft Hindu marriage law crosses first hurdle

Pakistan's draft Hindu marriage law crosses first hurdle
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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After decades of filibustering, a parliamentary committee has finally approved a draft law on Hindu marriages in Pakistan, paving the way for registering marriages in the minuscule religious minority.

Five Hindu members of the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament, were specially invited to the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice on the Hindu Marriage Bill, 2015.

Though delaying tactics continued almost to the last, the committee adopted the bill unanimously after making two amendments to fix the minimum age of the marrying male and female at 18, and making the law applicable to whole country, instead of just the federal territory.

Committee chairman Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk regretted the long-drawn tactical delay in framing the family law for the Hindu community.

“It was unbecoming of us Muslims in general and the political leaders in particular. We were required to facilitate the legislation, not obstruct it,” he said. “If we 99% of the population are afraid of 1%, we need to look deep inside what we claim to be and what we are.”

A Hindu marriage law has remained elusive in Pakistan more than 68 years since the country was created. The absence of the law is the bane of Hindu families, especially Hindu women. They are unable to produce a legal document to substantiate their relationship with their spouse in police stations and courts, visa counters and all governance windows that require official identity cards. Some institutions have put in place stopgap arrangements, but these are not always effective.

Wrangles till the last

Virk and National Assembly member Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani had been pushing for bill’s approval, but members of other parliamentary parties who claim to be more liberal persisted with raising objections.

Even on Monday, Shagufta Jumani of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and Ali Mohammad Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf raised many queries about minimum age of a Hindu girl to be married, and the status of marriage if either of the partners converted to Islam.

“The age issue has nothing to do with us – the Hindus are marrying their daughters after attaining the age of 18. Why do you object to it?” asked Chaudhary Virk.

Khan responded: “How will you or anybody determine that the girl is not underage?”

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz told him that people start following the law gradually.

“Under the banner of Pakistan Hindu Council, I arrange mass marriage of around a hundred girls every year and we clearly deny marriage of even an orphan who is under 18. Now people know it and they do not insist on marrying girls or boys below 18 years,” Dr Vankwani said.

He also wanted to drop a clause in the bill that provides for the marriage to be nullified if any of the partners converts to Islam. It was inserted by the Council of Islamic Ideology when the bill was sent for “sharia vetting” about six months ago.

“Why a Hindu and a Muslim or Christian cannot live together as happily married couple?” asked Dr Vankwani.

However, his suggestion to drop the clause met stern resistance from Shagufta Jumani and Ali Mohammad. It was this point that the Committee chairman stopped the discussion to avoid “total collapse” of the meeting.

Dr Vankwani later told Dawn that open-mindedness was wanting in society. “If Hindu boys and girls elsewhere can marry into other religions, why this cannot be a reality here?” he wondered.

After the 18th Amendment, the issues of religious minorities and their family matters became provincial subjects, but the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies passed resolutions allowing the federation to legislate Hindu marriage law.

A similar resolution is pending in the Punjab Assembly while not much has been done in this regard by Sindh Assembly.

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Half full, half empty: 10 years of NREGA

Half full, half empty: 10 years of NREGA
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Workers from a dalit hamlet in Tamil Nadu’s Villipuram district building a road to a cremation ground on the outskirts of the village as part of the rural jobs programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. As many as 86% of NREGA workers in Tamil Nadu are women.

The fruits of a people’s movement and the world’s largest anti-poverty public works, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act last year provided employment to 22% of all rural homes.

At its peak five years ago, it was a lifeline for 55 million, or one in every three rural homes.

But it has yet to expand to its full potential. Up to 70% of interested poor households did not receive any NREGA work between 2004-’05 and 2011-’12, reports the India Human Development Survey 2.

Unemployment allowance, stipulated in the law, has also rarely been paid as a substitute. Nevertheless, for recipient families, 32% of their poverty decline comes from NREGA alone, according to IHDS2.

Why NREGA is currently not an effective drought-relief measure

Under the law, promulgated in 2005, each household is guaranteed 100 days of work every year. But, on average, each NREGA household received only 45 days of work over the last decade – less than half the guarantee.

The lowest average was last year: 38 days. Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal clocked in even less.

So, it is ironic that recently the Central government has expanded the guarantee to 150 days of work in 14 drought-affected states. Odisha further increased the cap to 200 days.

But this does not work as a drought-relief measure, as only 4% of employed households hit the 100-day mark last year. At its peak, too, only 14% have ever received 100 days of work. Worse, the total nationwide person-days–a measure of NREGA employment–almost halved in 2014-’15 (1.49 billion), compared to its peak five years ago (2.84 billion).

The law also stipulates that wages are to be paid within 15 days. Last year, 72% of wages were delayed. This year, no more than 45% of wages have been paid on time. In the midst of a drought, villagers who survive hand-to-mouth cannot afford to wait. Compensation for delayed payment is also rare.

In several states, such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, NREGA wages are lower than the minimum wages for unskilled agricultural work, which makes it difficult to attract workers, especially the youth, who often prefer to migrate to urban areas. Yet, this safety net has bolstered their bargaining power even on distant shores, as scores of Bihari migrants will testify.

NREGA especially helps women, dalits and tribals

“Earlier, we had never seen Rs 500 notes; now we have more than Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 as our bank balance,” Sunil Munda, an adivasi from Sanramlai village in eastern Odisha recounted six years ago. “Now, if we have malaria, we can take an auto and go to the hospital for treatment. Earlier, if herbs didn’t work, we knew we would be dead. We hadn’t seen the doors of the hospital.”

On a more positive front, 40% of households employed under the law are impoverished dalits and adivasis, even without any explicit targeting. The IDHS2 attributes 38% and 28% of reduction in poverty in employed dalit and adivasi (tribal) homes, respectively, to NREGA alone.

As importantly, in India’s patriarchal society, the NREGA has emerged as a torchbearer for women’s empowerment. As many as 55% NREGA workers in 2014-15 were women, and their participation has soared 38% over the last decade.

Predictably (since they are states with high female literacy and social emancipation), Kerala and Tamil Nadu top the charts, with as many as 92% and 86% of NREGA workers being women.

Even before the Jan Dhan Yojana, the NREGA had opened 100 million bank accounts, often used by women for their wages, often for the first time, and on par with men.

Note: In 2006-7 NREGA was applicable in only 200 backward districts, in 2007-08, it was extended to 330 districts, and, from 2008-09, implemented across India.
Note: In 2006-7 NREGA was applicable in only 200 backward districts, in 2007-08, it was extended to 330 districts, and, from 2008-09, implemented across India.
Source: NREGA
Source: NREGA

There has also been much hand-wringing about the quality of NREGA work. A deeper look reveals that 28% of works, even in 2013-14, were to improve rural sanitation, even before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Another 30% were for water conservation, flood control, drought proofing and micro-irrigation.

More than half the works were “green jobs” directly related to improving agricultural productivity.

For example, the Institute for Human Development shows a high completion rate, with a 6% rate of return for about 100,000 wells sanctioned in Jharkhand.

Source: NREGA
Source: NREGA

The Maharashtra government’s Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan to make 5,000 villages drought-free also depends on the NREGA. In another ingenious initiative, Tamil Nadu has employed60,000 Thuimai Kavalars (sanitation workers) under NREGA across three-fourth of villages. In Karnataka, NREGA workers have even been employed to manufacture environment-friendly earthen bricks. These tasks are a far cry from digging and filling trenches.

And so, to the next decade

Despite the Prime Minister’s mockery of the lifeline in Parliament last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party, at the 10th anniversary celebration of NREGA, hailed it as the nation’s “pride”.

Workers at an urban employment guarantee worksite in a slum of Tripura’s capital, Agartala. With the tide turning in favour of the state’s pilot urban-jobs programme, an argument is being made for its nationwide replication.

Workers at an urban employment guarantee worksite in a slum of Tripura’s capital, Agartala. With the tide turning in favour of the state’s pilot urban-jobs programme, an argument is being made for its nationwide replication.
Workers at an urban employment guarantee worksite in a slum of Tripura’s capital, Agartala. With the tide turning in favour of the state’s pilot urban-jobs programme, an argument is being made for its nationwide replication.

Tripura is the only state to offer urban dwellers guaranteed employment. With the tide turning, the clamour has now begun for its nationwide replication.

The next decade holds much promise for the right to work.

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A query for Rahul Pandita: Why are you ignoring the existence of a Kashmiri brotherhood?

A query for Rahul Pandita: Why are you ignoring the existence of a Kashmiri brotherhood?
Photo Credit: Rahul Pandita
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Missing the point

Why are you turning a blind eye to the presence of Kashmiri Muslims at the funeral and the fact that they were in the majority (“The ugly truth behind a ‘heartwarming’ story of Muslims performing a Kashmiri Pandit’s last rites”)? They may not have performed the last rites, but what matters is that they were standing by the side of the family.

Why are you ignoring the existence of a Kashmiri brotherhood, instead of Pandits and Muslims being divided? The reality is that you have ignored Kashmir and Kashmiriyat long ago and are ignoring any good thing happening around the corner in Kulgam or elsewhere.

I hope you have watched Janki Nath’s wife on television and how she is grateful to the community around. What she said and felt cannot be brushed aside by your comments made from afar. Stop playing a spoilsport by trying to act like a messiah. Learn to encourage certain good things that are happening. Jahangir Khan

***

Before making any comment on Rahul Pandita’s post-mortem of a story about communal harmony, I would like to seek some more details from his “sources” who fed him the details about the last rites of the deceased.

I strongly believe that his “sources” were also based outside Kashmir like him, and of the same ilk which is driven by “politics of hatred” with self-centered goals, rather than having any concern for the community.

What was the total strength of mourners who participated in the funeral of the deceased Janki Nath? I believe that Pandita will accept that Muslim neighbours outnumbered the Pandits manifold since they were the ones who took care of the elderly couple living among them, even after the mass migration of the minority community. None of you can understand this bond.

Can Pandita please confirm who carried the body to the crematorium, who arranged the firewood and who remained with the widow of the deceased during the mourning period, consoling and sharing her grief and assuring her of their help when needed? Look beyond the technicalities and open your eyes.

Your rebuttal is self-contradictory at times since you are playing to the gallery. Do you know why you get perturbed by the stories of communal harmony emanating from the valley? Because it pricks your balloon containing a distorted message. How many times you have visited the valley after your migration? Much water has passed down the river Jhelum since 1990 and you need to keep pace with the changing times.

It is ironic that you are only picking up things which suit you and your audience. Look beyond yourself to know the real meaning of living. Tariq Sofi

***

Muslims might not have performed the last rites because they are obviously unaware of the rituals and sermons, but how can the author deny that Muslims accompanied the funeral procession and stayed on till the last rites were performed? Khurshid

***

Rahul Pandita’s depiction of events is revealing. It exposes the ground reality and the attempts by some to misinform people. Kudos to him. Ashok Handoo

***

Thank you for telling us the ugly truth and also for the way you told it. CM Naim

***

I completely agree with Rahul Pandita. Kashmiriyat is a political expression which taunts both Muslims and Hindus of Kashmir. We were never secular because we could not be.

We are two nations, the pomp of media notwithstanding. Both crescent and the swastika are drenched in blood. Farooq Peer

***

A bitter response that is as bad as the crocodile tears of the PTI stringer. This is the tragedy of Kashmir. Jai Oberoi

***

I am very saddened after reading the truth as you claim it to be. Whom should I trust? If it was the case of some local/infamous publishing newsbody, then we might have ignored the original story. But an acclaimed paper like The Indian Express carried such a story and patted the shoulders of the so-called Kashmiriyat. Isn’t it shameful? Apart from eroding the trust of a reader, isn’t it a crime in the name of naked journalism and what not?

Many of my friends swooped on this story and they discussed the change and goodwill of the people there. They made made statements such as “See, things are so beautiful now”.

This matter should be taken up in the public domain more fiercely. Adarsh Agarwal

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After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?

After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?
Photo Credit: IANS
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The popularity of Bhimrao Ambedkar in 2016 is remarkable.

Ambedkar was always a Dalit icon. On his birth and death anniversaries, his memorial in Mumbai draws huge crowds that are much larger than those at memorials of any other Raj-era political leader, including Mahatma Gandhi. But what is remarkable is how mainstream political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have scrambled to honour the architect of the Indian Constitution ahead of his 125th birth anniversary on April 14. Both parties had, last year, announced year-long celebrations in the run up to this day in an apparent bid to claim his legacy. And as the anniversary draws closer, the government is firming up plans for a nationwide commemoration.

These bids to claim the legacy of the Dalit icon continue even as reports of Dalit oppression emerge from across the country with disturbing regularity.

Political icon

Ambedkar’s installation as a mainstream political icon is quite recent. Kancha Illaiah, academic and thinker on Dalit issues, says:

“Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties. The question of the BJP looking at him did not arise at that time. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report, the VP Singh government honouring Ambedkar with the Bharat Ratna and the massive Dalit civil societal celebration of his role across the country triggered a new debate. From 1991 to 2015, emerging civil societal forces acquired definite intellectual status in universities and colleges and became a force to reckon with.”

Ambedkar is today a national icon. However, during his lifetime, he actually had very little to do either with the Congress or the Hindu right wing that later coalesced into the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mutual antipathy

As is well known, Ambedkar blamed Gandhi for suppressing the Dalit political voice. In 1955, Ambedkar angrily told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Gandhi did not deserve the title of Mahatma, “not even from the point of view of his morality”.

Ambedkar signed the 1932 Poona pact – as per which Dalit representatives would not be elected by a separate Dalit electorate but by all castes – after Gandhi went on a hunger fast. The pact is so seminal in the Dalit movement that the late Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, called his book on the Congress party’s Dalit politics post that pactThe Chamcha Age.

Gandhi was wary of Ambedkar too. He wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel a year before Independence:

“The main problem is about Ambedkar. I see a risk in coming to any sort of understanding with him, for he has told me in so many words that for him there is no distinction between truth or untruth or between violence and non-violence. He follows one single principle, viz. to adopt any means which will serve his purpose. One has to be very careful indeed when dealing with a man who would become a Christian, a Muslim or Sikh and then be reconverted according to his convenience. There is much more I could write in the same strain”

Proud identity

Given his politics that revolved around a proud Dalit identity, Ambedkar naturally came into conflict with the Hindu right. In the run up to the Poona Pact, Ambedkar favoured separate electorates for Dalits to exclusively vote for Dalit representatives. But the Hindu Mahasabha signed a deal with a prominent Dalit leader of the time, MC Rajah, to accept joint electorates where caste Hindus and Dalits would vote together (i.e. the current system). Rajah, who compromised with the right wing, is now a forgotten figure.

Vallabhbhai Patel too disliked Ambedkar’s politics, accusing him in 1948 of wanting to divide the country. In the Constituent Assembly, as Ambedkar tried to move an amendment to grant Dalits greater electoral rights, Patel opposed it, and attacked him:

“Let us forget what Dr Ambedkar has done. Let us forget what you [Nagappa, another Dalit Assembly member and an Ambedkarite] did. You have very nearly escaped partition of the country again on your lines. You have seen the result of separate electorates in Bombay, that when the greatest benefactor of your community [referring to Gandhi] came to Bombay to stay in bhangi quarters it was your people who tried to stone his quarters. What was it? It was again the result of this poison, and therefore I resist this only because I feel that the vast majority of the Hindu population wish you well. Without them where will you be? Therefore, secure their confidence and forget that you are a Scheduled Caste.”

The most hated man in India

Patel wasn’t alone in his dislike of Ambedkar’s politics. Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar biographer, wrote that after opposing Gandhi on the Poona Pact, Ambedkar became widely unpopular across India:

“Ambedkar now became the most hated man in India. He was stigmatised as an uncivil, insolent, inordinately rude man, devoid of human consideration. He was represented as a devil, was cursed as a public nuisance number one and was dammed as a reactionary, a stooge of the British government, a traitor to the country and a destroyer of Hinduism.”

Arun Shourie, prominent right-wing intellectual and minister in the Vajpayee government, repeated the “Ambedkar is a traitor” trope in his book, Worshipping False Gods. In the book, Shourie states:

“There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with the struggle to free the country”.

Ambedkar was hated because he took bold positions and did not care for the upper-caste dominated mainstream of Indian politics. He often cooperated with the establishment – with the British during the Raj, and with the Congress after Independence. Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot points out that Ambedkar was supremely practical and did whatever it took to help his community. Thus, in 1939, he tied-up with the Muslim League and Jinnah to mark a “Day of Deliverance” in order to celebrate the mass resignation of all Congress ministries to protest India’s entry into World War II.

Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.
Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.

Allying with the Socialists

In 1951, Ambedkar’s attempts to modernise Hindu personal law met with strong opposition from the Hindu right. One of them was SP Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, who felt these new laws, which promised gender equality, were instruments that would “shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture”.

Frustrated with this Opposition, Ambedkar resigned as law minister from Nehru’s cabinet and allied with the Socialist Party to fight the 1951 general elections. Even during this campaign, Ambedkar went against the mainstream, promising his Muslim constituents that he would fight for separate electorates for them, just as he had for Dalits.

As a further measure of his protest, he converted to Buddhism in 1956, an event that the Bharatiya Janata Party glosses over given its strong opposition to conversion.

Bahujan politics and Ambedkar

Thus, Ambedkar is lionised today, but not for any of the principles he stood for during his lifetime.

His new-found popularity among mainstream political parties can be attributed to the rise of Ambedkarite politics, which uses the Dalit identity to vie for political, economic and social power.

It started with the formation, in 1978, of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation, known as BAMCEF, an organisation of mainly Dalit public sector employees. This later led to the establishment of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which changed Indian politics forever by creating an independent Dalit leadership.

Mainstream political parties now have to woo Dalits, a constituency they have always taken for granted.

For this, Ambedkar is a handy icon. Never mind that it is rare to find a Dalit holding a senior leadership position in these parties, and that ground conditions for this oppressed group remain mostly unchanged. Remember Rohith Vemula?

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