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Indian Parliament roundup, 23-27 November 2009 November 30, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , comments closed

Manu Sundaram

The following is a roundup of some of the interesting and far-reaching outcomes from the Indian Parliament for the week of 23 November to 27 November 2009. The article includes legislative and parliamentary processes that may or may not have caught the mainstream media’s attention.

The winter session of the Indian Parliament got off to a brisk start with the Government coming good on its election promise to extend reservations to women in urban local governance bodies (i.e., municipalities and corporations) to 50%. This enhancement to the already existing 33% reservation was done to “ensure their increased representation and participation,” said the Union Minister for Urban Development Mr Jaipal Reddy while introducing The Constitution (One-Hundred and Twelfth Amendment) Bill 2009. This move is significant as it follows an identical increase in reservation for women in rural local bodies (i.e., panchayats) in the previous session and sets the stage for the much anticipated introduction of women’s reservation in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Currently, there is no gender-based reservation in Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies and the earlier attempt to introduce the One-Hundred and Eighth Constitutional Amendment met with stiff resistance and dramatic scenes within the Parliament.

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Students: Canberra views – metropolitan reality November 29, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Amidst the hubbub of the federal Opposition political ‘meltdown’, the first report into the uproar over international student welfare of a few months ago slipped quietly into view.  Sadly, it will do little if anything to calm the nerves of students themselves, current or prospective, and its recommendations do nothing but tinker with the present settings that are in many ways the root of the problem.

The main lesson is that Australia’s politicians and their public servants seemingly know little if anything about the inner workings of what they keep trumpeting as Australia’s third biggest export.  Provocatively, it might be said that the Canberra collective knows far more about the few hundred political irritants known as asylum-seekers than they do about the now almost 300,000 fee-paying international students who have entered the country legally and voluntarily and who have the potential to boost national productivity at a time when such stimulus is greatly needed.

As a case in point, the terms of reference for the report specifically framed the Indian student experience, yet nowhere in the document are the number, scope and level of Indian students detailed even though they are now the second largest single group.  That points also to a situation where for this committee all international students are the same.  At a superficial level that is true in that basic services and support need to be guaranteed, but as even this report suggests the cultural specifics related to any group need careful attention.

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Climate change made simple November 27, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : South Asia - General, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

Climate change debate is now sweeping Australia.  The difficulty for people who are not researchers in science disciplines is that there is always a spread of interpretation among scientists at the core of the research on any scientific issue – even ones that seem simple.  Global warming science is highly complex.  Therefore, it is easy for outsiders (particularly those with strong interests) to pick on isolated comments and even the exasperated comments of those on the inside and conclude that the science is therefore wrong.  Science is never wrong, and never right.  Each scientific contribution comes from one or more individuals who only see part of the issue, and therefore each needs to be interpreted in the light of that. (more…)

India’s string of pearls November 26, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Brewster, David, India, Maldives , comments closed

David Brewster

A recent deal to establish an Indian air base in the Maldives is an important step in India’s goal of creating a network of military facilities and relationships across the Indian Ocean.   In August, India signed a defence pact with the Maldives involving the use of the old British airbase on Gan island by Indian naval aircraft and the establishment of a system of electronic monitoring facilities across the country.   According to the Maldivian President, the installations are to protect the Maldives’ large EEZ from illegal fishing.  Perhaps India is also mindful of the unique position occupied by Maldives, astride the major sea lines of communication between the Middle East and East Asia.

The Maldives base is the latest in a string of military facilities established by India outside of South Asia.  In continental Asia, India operates an air base in Tajikistan and electronic monitoring facilities in Mongolia.  In the Indian Ocean, India has built a major naval and air base in its own Andaman Islands as well as electronic monitoring facilities in Madagascar. India has also entered into security agreements with Indian Ocean states as far afield as Oman , Mozambique , Mauritius, Seychelles and Indonesia.

India’s strategy in the Indian Ocean arguably has two motivations.   First, India is following its ‘manifest destiny’ of gaining naval predominance in the region. Whether India is capable of achieving this ambition remains to be seen. Second, and perhaps more worrying, is India’s strategy of ‘countering’ what it perceives as China’s illegitimate incursions into the Indian Ocean – what has been called China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy.   The ‘String of Pearls’ – a term coined in a 2003 report to the Pentagon by the Booz Allen consultants – posits that China is building its own string of naval bases and security relationships in the Indian Ocean, including in Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  The ‘String of Pearls’ has become a clarion call among many in New Delhi for the need to develop India’s naval capabilities to counter China’s ‘strategic encirclement’ of India.  In some quarters, maps of the Indian Ocean are covered with Chinese (and not Indian) flags. (more…)

A media-driven view of the Australia-India relationship November 25, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

With a bilateral relationship that is barely warm according to the Indian media, Mr Rudd’s first visit to New Delhi in mid-November advocating a stronger relationship with India was greeted by a hostile press and headlines such as The Times of India’s on 11 November: “Aussie PM to arrive on damage control”.  A comment in the same newspaper proposed that Rudd had a “formidable task” in laying the basis for a strategic relationship between the two nations.

The Sydney Morning Herald echoed this message a few days later, adding that the “stop-start” progress of the past had to be overcome.   The Rudd Government stated early in its period in government that it was committed to engagement with India, but Canberra appears to have chalked up a negative score in the Indian media since its election, and this is not a new problem.

Over time Australia has ignored India for lengthy periods and this has been reciprocated, casting a long shadow over the bilateral relationship since the early days of Indian independence. A shadow never quite dissipated, the right signals proving elusive, the right moment to engage substantially never quite there. (more…)

Cracks along a quiet frontier November 24, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

A recent journey to the Karakoram Mountains, the roof of the world on the border between China and Pakistan, provided insight into the nuances of the relationship that gave birth to the famous highway.  The two countries recently agreed to widen and strengthen the highway originally opened in the mid 1980s.

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A Chinese semi-trailer crawls southwards between Hunza and Gilgit. Photo by the author

Chinese engineers have started reconstruction work on the northern Pakistan section between the Shangri-La road house east of Chilas and the Khunjerab pass on the border.  However, to the traveller, the distinction between reconstruction and destruction is a fine one.  Instead of a progressive work plan upgrading a few kilometres at a time, the Chinese contractors have excavated hundreds of massive gaps in the highway to build culverts along the entire 200 km stretch.  The culverts which allow floods to pass under the highway have to be rebuilt before the new roadway can be laid over the top.  Every few hundred metres, all traffic has to negotiate a rough bypass track made from rocks, mud and sand.  The 85 km journey from Gilgit to Hunza which would normally take 2-3 hours has become a nightmare boneshaking experience of six hours or more.  These challenges are compounded by the almost complete lack of apparent maintenance along the rest of the road by the Pakistan military Frontier Works Organization.  Driving from Gilgit to Islamabad  takes around 20-22 hours.  Gaping potholes in between go unrepaired, forcing drivers to follow a slalom course to avoid them.  Many culverts have been allowed to become completely blocked so flash floods wash the road away instead.  The cost in delays and vehicle damage is spreading to the entire community. (more…)

Early Masses in Malabar: the St Thomas Christians of India November 19, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Jaison Mulerikkal

Not many people know that Christianity in India is as old as Christianity itself, and older, in fact, than many of its European counterparts. Indian Christians are well-integrated in Indian society and have flourished on Indian soil.

India, along its southern Malabar Coast, developed maritime trade links with the ancient Greco-Roman world from as early as the 10th century BC. Roman coins have been unearthed in different parts of South India, providing evidence of this early contact. During this period, the ancient port of Muzaris on the Malabar Coast was a principal export hub for various spices bound for the Greco-Roman world. Muzaris is today known as Kodungallur and was a major port on the Malabar coast until a great flood in 1341, which created a new harbour called Kochi, now the economic capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. Jewish merchants arrived in the region from the 5th century BC and built settlements in various towns along the Malabar Coast. Even today a synagogue exists in Kochi and a handful of Indian Jews can be found around Jews Street of Fort Kochi.

According to the lively traditions of the St Thomas Christians of India, St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, came to the port of Muzaris in AD 52. The main intention of St Thomas seemed to preach gospel to the Jewish Diaspora in Malabar Jewish settlements. However, Apostle Thomas went beyond this, preaching gospel to local Hindus and gradually forming seven and a half churches, or communities, on the Malabar Coast. Interestingly, all of them were near Jewish settlements. This marked the beginning of a church with apostolic traditions in India in the very first century of Christianity. Its followers called themselves St Thomas Christians. Later, Apostle Thomas died as a martyr in Mylapore near Chennai (Madras) and today a beautiful cathedral marks the site of his martyrdom. (more…)

Sri Lanka: towards a more inclusive political process? November 18, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Perera, Jehan, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jehan Perera

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was expected to utilise the ruling party’s special convention on November 15 to announce the dates of both the general elections and presidential elections.  The speculation centred on whether he would declare that the presidential election would be held prior to or after the general election, or that the two would be held be held concurrently.   It was widely held that, as the President is more popular than the rest of his government, he would confidently go in first and notch up a big victory.  He would then lead his team to another resounding victory at the general elections and possibly even obtain a two-thirds majority that would enable constitutional change to the government’s advantage.

At the convention the President made no categorical statement as to which election would take place first, but there was a hint that it would be the general election.  Taking a statesmanlike approach, he said that he would not alter the election schedule as other political leaders had tried to do.  Since Parliament ends its six-year term in April of 2010, and the next Presidential elections are not due until November 2011, it seems fairly certain that general elections are to come first.  On the other hand, there was always an element of doubt about the holding of Presidential elections in the immediate future.  This was due to the shortening of the President’s first term of office by two years. (more…)

Right to Education: reservations, reimbursements and repercussions November 16, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , comments closed

Manu Sundaram

By passing the landmark legislation guaranteeing elementary education as a fundamental right, the Indian Union Minister for Human Resource Development – the Hon’ble Kapil Sibal – has stirred the education system into action. Even though The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was passed by both Houses of Parliament unanimously and expeditiously, it met with opposition from sections of civil society.

While the single-minded commitment to universalising education is commendable and bureaucratic efficacy desirable, the challenges facing the operationalisation of the Right to Education, as it is commonly known, are extraordinary. Nearly 200 million children aged 6 – 14 years, comprising students currently enrolled in government and public schools along with those who are ‘out of school’, will be affected by the legislation.

Section 12 of the Right to Education – reservation of at least 25% of seats in government-aided, private unaided and special schools for children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups – provides the clearest indication of the Government’s vision of social inclusion. This section stands out as the harbinger of educational equality by creating opportunities for underprivileged children to study in private schools. Some liberal commentators have welcomed this provision since it resembles a voucher scheme, while a number of school leaders have rallied against the implementation of this Section on the grounds that it interferes with the management of private unaided schools. A closer look at the prospects and pitfalls of this contentious section in the Right to Education bill is presented here. (more…)

Can privatisation help? November 12, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest authors: Elizabeth Hill, Anuradha De and Meera Samson, Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD), New Delhi

This article first appeared in The Hindu, 30 October 2009

With the Right to Education Bill now awaiting only the signature of the President to become law, children between the ages of 6-14 across the country are about to be guaranteed access to a neighbourhood school. This is good news indeed! But as with all visionary Bills, the question of who will pay for and provide the new schools required to implement children’s newfound right to education remains. While work continues to be done on costing the Bill, those working in the area of education policy have long debated how to best provide quality education for India’s children. There are many who argue that the state alone cannot provide adequate schools for India’s children and that private providers must be allowed to contribute. Some argue that private providers not only relieve pressure on the state but that they also deliver a higher quality of education than that offered at government schools. The private provision of education is well established in India’s cities and towns, though less well established in her villages.

A field survey was done in 2006 to capture changes in the primary school experience in the previous decade by revisiting villages covered by the PROBE study in the low-literacy states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Between 1996 and 2006, we found that total enrolment rates for 6-12 years olds have increased from 80 percent to 95 per cent. In the same period, we found that there has been a large increase in the number of new government and private schools, and the proportion of government to private schools has shifted from 83:17 to 75:25. But even with private schools making up an increased proportion of schools in the villages surveyed, government schools still educate 8 out of every 10 enrolled children. This figure has remained stable over the decade. Nevertheless there is a view that private schools are superior to government schools. This discourse is well established in the cities but is fast catching on in the rural areas too. But is this perception true? Are private schools able to provide high quality education to children across India? Our research shows there are problems of access and quality.

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