By Rupam Jain and Tom Lasseter
Economic Times | Tue Aug 9, 2016
Two miles down the road from the white marble walls of the fabled Taj Mahal, a heavyset man crouches in the dirt of a cow shed and explains how the future of India belongs to him.
Digvijay Nath Tiwari is commander of a vigilante group that claims 5,000 members in the northern city of Agra, and which cultivates informants, swarms shop owners, ambushes trucks at night and metes out extra-judicial violence, all for one cause: protecting the holy cow, an animal held sacred by Hindu beliefs.
Across the country, hardline Hindu groups have made headlines after being captured on video insulting and beating men they accuse of involvement in cow slaughter.
"Retaliation is important at times," said Tiwari, as he sat with 17 men squeezed around a straw mat on the shed floor. His cell phone contained photographs of stick-wielding men rushing to the aid of fallen cattle.
Local police say they cannot stop Tiwari's actions, laying the blame partly on lax laws.
The "gau rakshaks", or cow protectors, are inflaming tensions among India's religions and castes. They risk undermining Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to focus on economic advancement, even as the right-wing Hindu nationalist forces that got him elected promote their own agenda.
The implications reach far beyond the winding alleyways of Agra. Social and religious stability are key to future assumptions of prosperity in India, currently the world's fastest expanding major economy.
"India will remain one of the strongest growth stories in the region," a Goldman Sachs strategist said in April, echoing the sentiment of many foreign investors.
Yet such outlooks built on macro-analysis risk missing a ground truth: if the right-wing groups empowered by Modi's rise do not stop antagonizing minorities, then the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) plans for nurturing that growth will not easily come to pass.
Cow slaughter is illegal in most of India, an overwhelmingly Hindu nation. However, it had long been tolerated under the Congress party, which ruled the country for most of its independent history and prides itself on protecting Muslims and lower castes who ply the meat and leather trade.
Now the Hindu nationalist BJP is in power, and that is changing as vigilante groups gain prominence. And Modi, while saying he's concerned, has been either unwilling or unable to halt their more extreme actions.
The prime minister was trained and nurtured by hardline Hindu organisations that were instrumental in his rise from the son of a train station tea seller to leader of the world's biggest democracy.
Once at the helm, however, he has focussed on more pragmatic and inclusive economic issues: spurring growth and creating enough jobs for a rapidly expanding workforce.
These initiatives could be derailed by a narrower, Hindu nationalist agenda aimed at protecting symbols made sacrosanct by religious texts and countering a perceived threat of foreign influences.
In a speech on Saturday night in New Delhi, Modi lashed out at the cow protectors.
"I feel so angry at times. Some people who are engaged in anti-social activities for the whole night wear the mask of 'gau rakshaks' in the day," he said.
A senior aide to Modi, who is approaching the halfway mark of his five-year tenure, said at the end of July that while the leader is aware of the social and economic implications, "we cannot do much to stop cow protection forces ... cow protection is integral to our core support base."
DALITS FEEL UNDER SIEGE
The violence of cow vigilante groups this year, some of it caught in disturbing videos on the Internet, has unsettled minority groups.
One clip from Gujarat shows four men, shirtless, tied to a bumper being whipped with rods. The victims were Dalits, or Indians at the bottom of the caste hierarchy who traditionally take away cow carcasses which can then be used for leather.
In another, from Haryana, two people are made to sit on the road and eat a concoction including cow dung. They were reportedly Muslims, and the footage was taken during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
While the BJP does not bank on the support of many Muslims, it does want to secure the votes of the Dalits, a caste formerly known as untouchables.
Together, the two groups account for about 30 percent of India's population, a major consideration with important state elections due next year and a national ballot set for 2019.
Chandra Bhan Prasad, a prominent Dalit writer and adviser to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, compared the violence to that of Ku Klux Klan racism in the United States.
"It's like India's version of KKK – the past was great so long as these blacks were under our thumb, society was beautiful. So, how to control these Dalits?"
"COW NOT JUST AN ANIMAL"
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the nation's umbrella right-wing Hindu organisation which helped create the BJP, does not appear willing to tackle cow protection forces, blaming outlaws for causing the trouble.
"The cow is not just an animal. We have an emotional and religious attachment to it and we want to make it the centre of our economic activity," said a senior RSS leader in New Delhi, who asked not to be named so he could speak more frankly.
"Vigilantes are instructed to follow the rules and they are a disciplined force. We admire their work."
Champat Rai, a leader of the Hindu activist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, a group formed by RSS leadership which oversees cow groups, was more direct.
"I am a cow patriot and want to free cows from the slavery of Muslim butchers," he said. "It's better we shed our blood to save the blood of cows."
In Agra, some 220 km (135 miles) south of New Delhi, there has already been bloodshed, and the threat of more to come.
One prominent Dalit businessmen in the city, H.K. Pippal, said recently at his shoe factory that he had a plan should the cow protection gang try to interfere with his operations and the cow leather it uses.
"I am very powerful, my workers could kill them."
Tiwari, the cow group leader, blames the butchers for much of the problem.
"It's not just that the butchers get beaten," he said. "They attack us and threaten to kill us. It is a serious clash."
Tiwari acknowledged having four criminal cases pending against him, but said he was innocent in all of them.
In February this year, the vice president of the VHP in Agra, who was also a senior member of Tiwari's group, was surrounded by a group of five Muslims while walking from a temple to his furniture shop, according to a police report.
The men had previously been targeted by the cow protectors for allegedly dealing in beef, according to Tiwari.
One of them boasted: "You think that you are a big leader, we'll teach you a lesson today," said the police report.
A pistol shot rang out and the VHP official, Arun Mahour, fell dead in one of the oldest and busiest markets of Agra.
A mob of young Hindu men set out for a Muslim quarter, said the police officer in charge of the area, S.K. Sharma.
Soon, thousands of people were in the streets, Sharma said. "This almost became a riot between the Hindus and Muslims."
The fallen Hindu leader left behind two sons, aged 12 and 16. Asked about the family's future, his widow, Rajni Mahour, covered her face with the edge of a white sari and caught her breath for a moment.
The way forward, she said, was clear: "My family says that we should know to lay our life down for religion."
The data was compiled based on 2,01,997 students of Class VI from 1,011 schools recognised by the Directorate of Education.
Seventy four per cent government school students studying in Class VI could not read a paragraph from their Hindi textbook, 67 per cent could not do simple three digit by one digit division and 75 per cent children could not read a basic Class II level English story. These findings, released on Monday, were part of an assessment by the Delhi government to evaluate students and categorise them based on their level of proficiency and ability to meet the expectations of the academic level that they are studying at.
The data was compiled based on 2,01,997 students of Class VI from 1,011 schools recognised by the Directorate of Education. The assessment was conducted following the launch of the Delhi government’s Chunnauti 2018 policy, which is aimed at enabling students studying in government schools, especially Class IX students, to overcome the problems faced by them due to adverse effects of the ‘No Detention Policy’.
It was conducted by teachers between July 14 to 16 in the form of a handwritten test for students of classes VII-IX who scored more than 33 per cent in the Combined Summation Assessment of their previous class. The test had five questions each of Hindi, English and Math and assessed comprehension, application and problem-solving skills. Hindi and English Reading are sub-categorised into five common levels — beginner, letter, words, paragraph (Class I level competency) and story (Class II level).
For students in classes VI, VII and IX who scored less than 33 per cent in the assessment of their previous class, an oral one-on-one for basic reading (Hindi and English) and Math competency was assessed. In the first round, online data entry of Class VI children was done by the schools. Data entry of Class VII to IX is likely to be completed soon.
Parliament approved India's biggest overhaul of indirect taxes on Monday after the Lok Sabha ratified a constitutional amendment Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a major step to make doing business easier.
The proposed goods and services tax (GST) is one of the most significant reforms since India opened its economy 25 years ago and the revamping of the tax system since the country's independence in 1947.
The measure will harmonise a mosaic of state and central levies into a national sales tax, creating a single customs union widely expected to reduce business transaction costs, with potentially significant long-term growth benefits.
The Rajya Sabha, where the measure was stuck for months, passed the bill last week.
Modi hailed the passage of the bill as a "great step by team India, (a) great step towards transformation, great steps towards transparency".
"Today, an important move to free the nation from tax terrorism has begun," Modi told lawmakers in the Lok Sabha.
The advancement of the new sales tax is the biggest legislative victory for Modi, who swept to power in 2014 promising to nurse India's then faltering economy back to health.
His plans to simplify rules for land sales got scuttled in parliament last year. Similarly, political opposition forced him to put on hold proposed legislative changes aimed at making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.
It has been 13 years since the tax was first mooted, but forging a political consensus has been a bruising process, as the measure would curb the powers of Indian states.
Ironically, the GST is getting closer to the finish line under Modi, who while running the state of Gujarat vehemently opposed it - a fact that drew criticism from opposition benches.
Modi defended his stance, saying his experience as a provincial chief helped him better understand and address states' concerns.
"Lots of flaws have been overcome as far as the GST is concerned," he said. "A trust between the centre and states has developed."
Under the new regime, companies will get offsets for taxes paid at different stages of the supply chain, mitigating the dangers of double-taxation.
The finance ministry aims to roll out the GST from next April. Meeting the self-imposed deadline, however, will be a race against time, tax experts say.
The bill now needs the approval of half of India's state legislatures and central and state legislatures must pass three laws to implement the tax.
(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
60% Indians listed as ‘non-workers’ in Census data, marking a marginal improvement since 2001.
By ZEESHAN SHAIKH
Indian Express | June 8, 2016 1:33 am
The percentage of the non-working population is highest among Muslims in the country, according to data released by the Census office on Tuesday. A massive 11.61 crore Muslims — who make up 67.42% of the 17.22 crore Muslim community — have been listed as non-workers.
The total 72.89 crore Indians have been listed as non-workers — 60.20% of the total population of 121.08 crore. Non-workers are defined as those who do not participate in any economic activity — paid or unpaid, household duties, or cultivation.
Following Muslims in the list of communities with the largest share of non-workers are Jains. There are 0.29 crore non-working Jains, who make up 64.47% of the total Jain population. After them are Sikhs (63.76%), Hindus (58.95%), Christians (58.09%), Buddhists (56.85%) and Others (51.50%).
An analysis of the Census records shows that the percentage share of non-workers fell slightly between 2001 and 2011. In 2001, out of a total population of 102.8 crore, 62.63 crore were registered as non-workers — making up 60.88% of the population. In 2011, the number of non-workers has gone up to 72.88 crore, but they now make up 60.2% of the total 121.05 crore population.
The large number of Muslim non-workers has been blamed on the lack of adequate employment opportunities, and an exceptionally skewed work participation ratio between men and women. Women make up only 15.58% of the community’s main total working population. The participation of women in the main workforce in India is 24.64%.
The only community where more women are confined to their homes are Jains — where the participation of women as main workers is just 10.02%.
“A low work participation rate generally does not mean that a community is poor. It is seen that work participation is higher in communities that are poor and backward. In the case of Muslims, there is a huge distortion… A large section of the community prefers that its women stay at home, which is one reason for low work participation,” Dr Abdul Shaban, deputy director, TISS, said.
Economists are split on why the number of non-workers in the economy is on the rise, but are unanimous that it is not a healthy trend for a growing economy.
“In India traditionally, the participation of women in the workforce has been low. There is some evidence that if the household income goes up women generally withdraw themselves from the workforce,” Dr Pronab Sen, former chairman of the National Statistical Commission had said earlier.
On the Margins: Muslims in a State of Socio-economic Decline
ABUSALEH SHARIFF | Oct 22, 2004
Census 2001 has generated more heat than light on the condition of Muslims in India. Population counts according to religious identities have been regularly published by the census since Independence and even earlier. This year, the unadjusted population counts were liberally used to compute growth rates that sparked off ill-informed reactions on the Muslim community. However, demographic data points to a disturbing decline in the economic profile of Muslims and their marginalisation from the development process.
Muslims in the year 2001 constituted 13.4 per cent of India's population — 12 per cent in rural parts, but a relatively higher share of 17.3 per cent in urban areas. Adjusted for exclusion of Assam in 1981 and Jammu & Kashmir in the 1991 census, respectively, the decadal growth rate of Indian Muslim population came down 3.6 points, from 32.9 per cent between 1981-91 to 29.3 per cent between 1991-2001. These rates for Hindus have been 22.8 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively — a 2.8 points decline, which is lower than that for the Muslims. The rate of decline has been considerably large for Muslims, suggesting that growth rates of Muslims and Hindus would converge over time. The process will be hastened with the spread of mass education especially among women and girls, and a sustained reduction in poverty across all population groups.
While religiosity influences the living patterns of sizable segments of citizens, it does not significantly impact the fertility behaviour of Indian Muslims. The use of modern methods of contraception among Muslims has been on the increase in recent years and is nearing 50 per cent. Over 20 million Muslim couples practice modern contraception; this number will grow if quality reproductive healthcare services are made accessible to Muslim couples. However, the relatively higher incidence of poverty and a growing gap in literacy between the Muslim and Hindu women at younger ages are causes of worry, as this could restrict the decline in Muslim fertility. Research worldwide has established that improvement in female education, associated with declines in poverty levels, will facilitate a faster decline in human fertility and improvement in life expectancy.
Over 60 per cent of the Muslim population in India lives in five states — Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and Assam. Of this, 36 per cent stays in urban India, while urban Hindus constitute 26 per cent of all Hindus. However, it appears that the Muslims are unable to extract any benefit from the concentration of institutional and infrastructural facilities in urban areas. Data from the NSSO's 50th and 55th round suggest that over 40 per cent of Muslims in the urban areas live in poorest 'monthly per capita expenditure class' (MPCE) quintile compared with less than 22 per cent in the case of Hindus. The fact that the situation has worsened for Muslims in urban areas, as only 30 per cent Muslims were in this quintile in 1993-94, is a pointer to their decline in living standards over time. A deeper analysis suggests that the middle class is absent among Muslims, even with the Indian middle class growing at a faster pace during the last decade or so.
While Muslims in 1999-2000 were only a shade more illiterate in rural areas (48 per cent, against 44 per cent of the Hindus), this gap is much wider today — 30 per cent versus only 19 per cent among Hindus in urban areas. Improvements in general literacy conditions among Muslims have been marginal compared to Hindus and other communities. But what is startling is the increase in illiteracy among younger Muslim women. The literacy levels of Hindu and Muslim women were uniform through the 50s, 60s, 70s and even the 80s, but by 2001 the differentials among younger women had widened substantially. Besides, enrolment rates of Muslim girls fell steeply (not increased) especially during the decade of the 1990s and thereafter. What's worse is that the differential with respect to Muslim women increased at higher levels of education, such as completed middle level, matriculation, graduate, postgraduate and high technical level education. These trends are also applicable to the education attainments of Muslim men, but at higher literacy levels.
However, everything is not gloomy for Muslims. They enjoy a better sex ratio in both urban and rural areas compared to Hindus. The percentage of women with anaemia is slightly lower among Muslims (50 per cent) compared to Hindus (52 per cent). Interestingly, Muslims have a lower infant mortality rate than Hindus, a higher proportion of the population in the age group less than 15 years in both rural and urban India compared to Hindus and Christians, and the lowest share of the aged population (60 years or more). The proportion of Muslim population in age group '30 years and more' is less than the other groups. This gives a very young look to the Muslim population in India.
Young Muslims are a critical component in India's socio-economic profile. They need an enabling environment for access to basic and technical education, with opportunities to improve their economic standing. Concerted efforts should emanate from the Muslim community, while governments do their bit. The time is ripe for the UPA government to bring out a White Paper on the status of Muslims in India, and link its efforts with internationally recognised welfare objectives, such as those articulated in the UN's Millennium Development Goals declaration.
The recent District Development and Diversity Index Report for India and Major States by the US-India Policy Institute and Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy provides significant insight into the regional imbalances in India’s development story.
(Indian Express - Jan 29, 2015)
Eight of Delhi’s 11 districts figure in India’s top 20 in composite development — measured in terms of economic development and the indices of health, education and material well-being.
(Odisha Sun Times - Jan 30, 2015)
A joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute and the New Delhi based Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy has found that eight Odisha districts are among the 50 most backward districts in the country.