On 21 July, during the parliament’s monsoon session, CR Chaudhary, the minister of state for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, stated in the Rajya Sabha
that the government has issued around 231 million rations cards covering almost 80 crore beneficiaries to food subsidies under the National Food Security Act of 2013
. The NFSA aims to make food a legal entitlement in India by providing monthly subsidised food grains to at least 75 percent of the country’s rural population and 50 percent of its urban population.
In mid 2011, Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, both visiting researchers at Economics and Planning Unit of Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi and also assistant professors at the University of Texas at Austin, moved to Sitapur, a district in Uttar Pradesh, to conduct a study on poor early-life health and process of stunting among many Indian children. While Coffey attempted to understand the challenges of raising a baby in the district, Spears compiled government and demographic data to understand the correlation between stunting, cognitive development of Indian children to sanitation. Their findings—that due to poor sanitation, children in rural India die young and those who survive grow up physically and cognitively stunted—raised a further unexplainable question: how is open defecation in rural India different from the rest of developing countries? Coffey and Spears discuss the answer to this question in their book, Where India Goes Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste. They found that the primary reason for poor sanitation in rural areas is the persistence of caste prejudices or caste hierarchies, which relegate any work involving proximity to human waste to those considered lower-caste, and perpetuate practices such as manual scavenging. (The Caravan published an extract
from the book, in which the writers discuss this finding, on its web-exclusives section, Vantage.)
“The situation has been the same since we moved here—the water makes us fall sick, and women here have to use tiny tents in the open for all things one would do in a bathroom,” Firdoz Ali, a 40-year-old woman residing in Munawwar Hassan colony, a transit camp, told me. The camp is located on the outskirts of Kairana town in Shamli district. Firdoz, formerly a resident of Sherpur village in Muzaffarnagar district, left the village in 2013. “I am yet to receive a ration card and that is why I have to depend on others in the colony for grain to cook for my two children,” she added.
On 18 July, the senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta resigned from his post
as editor of the journal, the Economic and Political Weekly. Guha Thakurta’s resignation followed a meeting with the board members of the Sameeksha Trust, which owns and runs the EPW. In the meeting, the members of the board asked Guha Thakurta to take down an article that was published in the journal in June, concerning Adani Power, a subsidiary of the Adani Group. The article
, which Guha Thakurta had reported and written along with three others, examined whether the power conglomerate received an undue refund of nearly Rs 500 crore from the finance ministry under the Narendra Modi government. A lawyer representing the Adani group had sent a notice
to the EPW, claiming that the article, along with another report
published in the journal, was defamatory towards the group and its chairman, Gautam Adani. The letter further demanded that the June article be taken down. Guha Thakurta had employed a lawyer to respond to this notice on behalf of the EPW. Both the notice and the EPW’s response
were then published on its website—along with the article, they were taken down following the board’s directive to Guha Thakurta.
Diane Coffey and Dean Spears are visiting researchers at the Indian Statistical Institute in Delhi. In their book, Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development and the Costs of Caste, Coffey and Spears investigate why more than half the Indian population defecates in the open in India, and why, despite schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission
—the central government’s flagship sanitation project—the use of latrines in rural India remains low. As part of the research for the book, the writers, along with a research team, traveled to various parts of rural Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. They found that the primary reason for poor sanitation in rural areas is the persistence of caste prejudices—most Indians, especially upper-caste Hindus, continue to associate defecation with impurity or “dirty” practices, and are often unwilling to have latrines constructed in their otherwise “pure” homes. This prejudice is a by-product of caste hierarchies, which relegate any work involving proximity to human waste to those considered lower-caste, and perpetuate practices such as manual scavenging. “Open defecation in rural India is a globally special case that helps us understand how social inequality constrains human development,” Coffey and Spears write in their introduction to the book. “It may not be possible to accelerate India’s future without engaging with the illiberal forces of caste and untouchability that are still part of India’s present.”
Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist who has reported for papers such The Pioneer, the Indian Express, the Telegraph, and Asian Age, and is currently the editor of The Citizen, which she founded. Mustafa’s grandfather, Shafi Ahmed Kidwai, was a freedom fighter, and her grandmother, Begum Anis Kidwai, served as a member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha from the Congress party for 12 years. Her father, Lt Col Syed Mustafa, served in the Indian Army, and her mother, Rafia Kidwai, was an editor, one of the first Muslim women to be employed at the National Herald. In her memoir Azadi’s Daughter, she writes about her experiences as an Indian Muslim: from her childhood in Delhi and Lucknow; to reporting on the ground in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir; as well as living through the communal tensions in 1984 and the early 1990s. “I am a Muslim, culturally but not religiously,” Mustafa writes in the preface to her book. “It is an identity that I decided, very consciously, to adopt along the way to help counter the stereotype of the Muslim that was being created by the political parties, and even governments, in India.” “I find all my identities under threat today,” she adds. “As a woman, as a journalist, as a Muslim, as a secularist, as a liberal and even as an Indian, because the Idea of India … is under threat.”
On 19 July, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, caused a stir in the upper house. Azad said that
the recent spate of lynchings in the country was “not religious,” but was the “[Sangh] Parivar’s battle against everybody.” “In all the cases of lynching now, someone or the other belonging to the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar is involved,” Azad said. He further alleged that “there was an understanding” between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the central government, to allow such lynchings to continue.
The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, or HJS, was established on 7 October 2002
for the “Education of Dharma, Awakening of Dharma, Protection of Dharma, Protection of the Nation and Uniting Hindus.” The group is known to be associated with the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, which was founded by Jayant Athavale in 1999. The Sanstha’s website states
that it was established to “present Spirituality in a scientific language to those curious about Spirituality.” After the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare—on 20 August 2013 and 16 February 2015, respectively—both these organisations and their rhetoric in support of Hindutva came under public scrutiny because of the alleged roles that their members had played
in the killings. On the day Dabholkar was murdered, after the news had broken, the HJS uploaded a photograph of the activist with a red “X” over his face onto its website—it later took down the image on the direction of the Pune police. In a statement that was published on the Sanstha’s website the next day, Athavale wrote that “such a death for Dabholkar is a blessing of the Almighty.”
A sheet of tin that served as the gate to a makeshift colony of domestic workers, daily-wage labourers, and other workers, in Sector 78 in Noida, was bent and broken in half. The colony is adjacent to Mahagun Moderne, a sprawling residential complex spread over 25 acres, around 50 kilometers from the national capital. It is one among several such workers’ settlements in the area. The houses inside the colony were single-room constructions, made of similar tin sheets. On 13 July, when I visited the colony, it appeared deserted—most of the houses were bolted from the outside. I approached a group of young women and men who were standing at one end of the quarters, huddled around a man speaking on the phone.
On 17 July, the election to the office of the president of India shall be held. A total of 4,896 representatives
—the elected members of parliament and legislative assemblies in India—will elect the person who, for the next five years, shall be under an oath to
“preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law.” On 20 July, we citizens will learn the name of the person who will be charged with this task. But what we will not know is the why: on what basis did the electors choose one candidate over the other?