February 2016 marks a decade since India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA) came into force. NREGA is both revolutionary and modest; it promises every rural household one hundred days of employment annually on public-works projects, but the labor is taxing and pays minimum wage, at best.
Society & Culture
Last week, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan, commented on the need to reconsider India’s extensive system of caste-based reservations. Citing Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the noted Dalit jurist and social reformer, she said, “Ambedkarji had said, ‘Give reservations for ten years and after ten years, do a rethink. Bring them to that stage.’ We have done nothing.” She went on to note that, despite over fifty years of affirmative action for India’s most marginalized communities, caste-based inequality and discrimination persist in India.
In mid-October, the Supreme Court of India raised questions against the practice of commercial surrogacy. Later that month, the Central government responded with a ban on allowing foreign couples from hiring surrogates in India, permitting only altruistic surrogacy for infertile Indian couples. Although these changes are not surprising given the recent ban on commercial surrogacy in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Nepal, the justification of such a move needs greater scrutiny.
In an assessment of the quality of India’s implementation of anti-poverty programs in 1985, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi famously said: “For every rupee spent by the government for the welfare of the common man, only seventeen paise reached him.” That state of affairs was one of the motivations for the 1993 passage of the 73rd amendment, which decentralized the implementation of government anti-poverty programs to local governments.
In India, legally established Protected Areas have historically been the most important means adopted for biodiversity conservation. Protected Areas (PAs) primarily include National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, and more recently, Community Reserves and Conservation Reserves. Today, there are as many as 703 PAs all across India, covering almost 5 percent of its land area. With burgeoning demands on land and water, and a high population density of 382 people/square km, the area commitment to PAs shows the national importance placed on biodiversity.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are flying robots that provide some of the benefits of manned flight without its attendant risks and inconveniences. Commonly known as drones, they’ve entered the limelight in the past two decades due to advances in electronics engineering and computer science. Having proved their worth on the battlefield during both the 1973 Yom Kippur and the 1982 Lebanon wars, numerous military forces began implementation of their surveillance and weaponized drone programs.
Healthy mothers give birth to healthy children who grow up to be productive adults. By contrast, women who begin pregnancy too thin and do not gain enough weight during pregnancy are far more likely to have low birth weight babies. In India, low birth weight is the leading cause of neonatal mortality, or death in the first month of life. Indeed, neonatal mortality accounts for about 70 percent of infant deaths in India—and is far higher than would be predicted by India’s GDP. India’s high neonatal mortality rates is a symptom of widespread maternal malnutrition.
It is a universally-acknowledged truth that human beings experience their lives as embedded not just in time, but in history. To interpret history, they employ a variety of instruments: personal experience and cultural memory, political ideology and historiography, even (and sometimes especially) myths and stories. Among these instruments, a somewhat late-arriving one in India – only 150 years old – is the novel.
In late June, the Indian government launched an ambitious and forward-looking urban program, a centerpiece of Prime Minister Modi’s developmental agenda. The Smart Cities Mission will involve building state-of the-art new cities and modernizing old ones. It has generated reams of newsprint and massive anticipation. India is urbanizing rapidly and haphazardly, and is expected to add four hundred million new city dwellers to its urban population over the next three decades.
The ambush of Indian Army forces in Manipur, signing of a peace accord with the NSCN-IM in Nagaland, and Gurdaspur attacks have put internal security at the center of Narendra Modi’s agenda. India has a long history of dealing with armed groups, whether Naxalites, tribal separatists, or Kashmiri militants. Yet many of the lessons of India’s experience are consistently ignored in the popular and policy discourses on how to respond to armed groups. This history reveals important insights that have received insufficient attention.