Sunday, 7 December 2014

Sex work: To criminalize or to decriminalize?

National Commission for Women is pushing for a bill to legalise sex work. Activists argue that it will not address the problems faced by the women in flesh trade. According to them, it will increase the exploitation of sex workers by those who manage brothels as well as by the law-enforcement officials, as it is happening now. They are concerned that in a country like India where farmers are driven to commit suicide and tea workers are literally dying of hunger, legalisation of sex work will increase trafficking in women and children. It will be difficult to determine who are forced into the trade and who have freely chosen it as an occupation when they are living in a condition of famine and slavery.

By the way, speaking of free choice, I am reminded of the public stand of present NCW chief on the matter. She is on record saying that women should not assert their autonomy because they may face backlash from the biased society. It is another matter that the statutory body headed by her is mandated to protect the rights of women against the prejudices of society and not the other way around.

This NCW wants to legalise sex work apparently to protect rights and interests of women in the trade.

However, before we take any legislative actions we need to understand what is involved in flesh trade and how it is infringing rights of women.

Radical feminists hold that prostitution and pornography are aspects of male violence against women. Not only the individual women involved are subjected to degrading treatments and dehumanisation but the women as a collective is dehumanised by the practice of prostitution and pornography.

However, I feel more inclined to agree with the understanding of prostitution by the Swedish lawmakers. They say "In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem... gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them."

And their solution?

In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed a legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex.

I think India can effectively deal with the problem in Swedish way.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Stopping supply of subsidised foodgrains for tea workers causes serious concerns

The Union Government of India has decided to stop supply of subsidised foodgrains for tea garden workers through FCI.*
This is a very very unfortunate development. It may cause mass starvation deaths of tea workers in Assam. Particularly in those tea estates which are closed now.
Even in the gardens which are producing, labourers are paid as less as Rs 75/- per day. It is barely possible to maintain physical existence of a family of 4/5 persons on this money. They get some help from ICDS, MGNREGA and PDS rations. If MGNREGA is reduced and ration is stopped there is nothing to stop mass starvation deaths, I am afraid.
In a span of a few months in 2012/13 we documented as many as 32 hunger deaths in a single tea estate in South Assam. The estate was closed. After our intervention it was opened. A compensation to the tune of Rs 1700000/- was provided to the next of kins of some of the deceased workers. Some other ameliorative actions were also taken. It was a temporary relief in practical sense. Technically the government closed the chapter.
During documentation we came to know that due to the closure of the work provisions of government subsidised rations were also stopped. The foodgrains were provided to the owner of the tea gardens under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and who in turn distributed it to the workers who were the intended beneficiaries.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) heard and disposed of our complaint about these hunger deaths in its camp sitting in Guwahati last year. In the second day of the camp, the commission had a sitting with the local human rights defenders where I raised the issue and among other things I specifically stressed that the ration should be directly given to the labourers through their panchayats and not through the owners. The commission apparently was convinced and directed the officials present (a deputy home secretary and others) orally to consider my proposal. Though the state government kept giving us assurances but no change in the practice was made.
And now the Modi government decided to stop altogether the supply of rations to the labourers.
I am really very concerned about the tea labourers of Assam.
* As reported by the Assam Tribune accessed at

Friday, 5 December 2014

Why I Support Indo-Bangla Land Boundary Agreement?

The Indo-Bangla Land Boundary Agreement is a mere formality. But this formality will end virtual statelessness of more than 51 thousand people.

According to a report, 37,334 Indians are residing in 111 enclaves in Bangladesh that spread over 17,000 acres and 14,215 Bangladeshi people are residing in 51 enclaves in India that spread over 7,110 acres. As these 51,549 people are living in land-locked parcels of land situated within another country they can not exercise and avail any of the rights and amenities which citizens are provided with by the constitution and laws of their respective countries. They are virtually stateless people.

The Land Boundary Agreement was first signed by Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1974 stipulated that both countries would exchange the enclaves of land that both countries had within each other's territory. India even agreed to forgo compensation for land that would be transferred to Bangladesh. India would lose about 40 square kilometres of land. But it is a matter of formality since there is no sensible ways to use these lands as they sit in small enclaves within another country.

As per the agreement, people living in the enclaves would be given a choice either to go to their country or to stay where they were living by becoming the citizens of that country. It is reported that no significant exchange of population would be involved as people reportedly wanted to stay where they were living for generations.

Bangladesh parliament ratified the agreement but India did not. When, after decades, the Manmohan Singh government attempted to move the constitutional amendment bill required for ratification of the agreement in parliament in 2013, it was strongly opposed by BJP and regional parties like TMC and AGP.

But now that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs tabled its report in which it recommended that the constitution amendement bill be moved to end the boundary issue between the two nations and the Prime Minister also announced his intention to go ahead with the bill, I hope, it will be passed and these 51 thousand odd stateless people will get some relief.