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Home > 2020 > Letter to The Readers - Mainstream, Sept 12 | Lockdown Edition no. (...)

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 39, New Delhi, September 12, 2020

Letter to The Readers - Mainstream, Sept 12 | Lockdown Edition no. 25

Friday 11 September 2020

On the 15th of August, the Prime Minister announced that his government was considering bringing a legislation to raise the age of marriage for women to 21 years. The rationale for attempting to raise the minimum legal age for marriage beyond 18 is that this will bring down maternal mortality; this explanation is questionable. Studies show that the focus should be on health and nutrition and to curtail the widespread practice of Child Marriage that prevails in over 70 plus districts spread across India. We all know that the state has failed on that front. Men and women in India are both governed by The Majority Act, 1875 as per which the age of majority is eighteen years. There is no reason why there should be any discrimination among adult citizens of India.

In 1978, the legal age of marriage for women was set at 18 years and for men at 21 years. This Act is known as the Sarda Act. But it is clear that this was done to keep the sensibilities of religious and social conservatives at bay. There is an old-world gender stereotype that requires wives to be younger than their husbands. Separate personal laws of various religions have their own standards with regard to the age of marriage. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 treats 18 years as the minimum age for the wife and 21 for the husband. As per the Muslim Personal Law, a Muslim girl can marry when she attains puberty or completes 15 years. Secular laws such as the Prevention of Child Marriage Act of 1929, The Special Marriage Act, 1954 prescribe 18 and 21 as the minimum age of consent for marriage of women and men respectively.

There is variation in legal standards on the age when men and women can marry; this must be rectified. In 2018 The Law Commission had recommended the minimum age of marriage for both genders be set at 18. We feel that this recommendation must be adopted and there should total equality when it comes to gender.

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On September 10 there was a meeting between Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers held in Moscow. According to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, a five-point agreement to de-escalate the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Sino-Indian border has been arrived at. We do hope this leads to cooling down of the tensions between the two countries after their continuing border standoff in Ladakh.

There has been a major build-up of troops from both sides . . . This is a serious situation pregnant with dangers of escalation on the one hand and prolonged stay in the inhospitable winter weather on the other. This prolonged stay would involve a huge financial and social cost. The temperature in the Himalayas goes down to minus 40 degrees Celsius in mid-winter. We need to recall what it has been like to keep the Indian Army troops on the Siachen Glacier area from 1984 onwards. Non-combat fatalities are estimated to have been about four times the figure of combat fatalities. This is the hostile environment that thousands of new troops being deployed by both sides are likely to face. The logistical needs would be massive and the financial cost would be steep.

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We have come to know that on September 9, the Central Government gave permission to the Sudarshan News channel to telecast a show on what the channel termed the “infiltration of Muslims” in the Civil Services. The proposed show by the news channel had provoked much controversy and complaints had been filed following which the Delhi High Court had on August 29 given a stay order putting on hold any telecasts till the government decides on the matter. We fear that the proposed broadcast might violate broadcast guidelines and that the channel will then pay whatever fines when found to be violating norms. A powerful way to circumvent rules, if you have the means. Instead of restraining hateful content, it will set a precedent. The Delhi High Court has now issued a notice on Sept 11 to the Centre, Sudarshan TV, and its Editor on a plea challenging the decision of the Centre to allow the telecast. Courts should keep wider public interest in mind and hold aloft the mirror to the state.

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The Supreme Court of India on August 31, 2020, has ordered the demolition within the next three months of over 48,000 homes of the urban poor in Delhi that had come up on land belonging to the Indian Railways. The order of the Court will affect tens of thousands of families - without any consideration of their right to live a life with a roof over their head. The evictions of 48,000 dwellers at a time when the monsoons have not yet ended and with Delhi winters only a few months away could spur the mass spreading of COVID-19 infections.

A steady stream of intimidation and arrests of teachers, artists and journalists continues by the police and national law enforcement bodies. The latest targets are two university teachers and a journalist, who were served interrogation notices from the NIA in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. They are K Satyanarayana an Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U), Hyderabad and anti-caste activist and Partho Sarothi Ray, an Associate Professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata and senior journalist KV Kumarnath, Deputy Editor, ’Hindu Business Line from Hyderabad.

The NIA has arrested three cultural activists, Sagar Gorke and Ramesh Gaichor, in the Elgar Parishad case. Both Gorke & Gaichor are the members of a cultural troop ’Kabir Kala Manch’. Singer activist Jyoti Jagtap has also been arrested in Pune in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. Close to a thousand scholars have appealed to the government to stop its witch-hunt. The courts must intervene energetically to protect civil liberties and not simply go along with the political needs of the executive.

While very pressing matters of an economic crisis, mass unemployment and uncontrolled rise of COVID-19 infections are playing havoc, the government-friendly media networks are only focused on an endless soap-opera over the suicide of a film star and running a witchhunt against his former live-in partner. Central agencies like the CBI and NCB are being used to handle this case. A woman is being accused and has been arrested. The media has created an ugly spectacle with a smear campaign and its public audience is baying for her blood. All this for TV ratings where all ethical sense is thrown to the winds. It seems as if 21st century India is mesmerised by ’black magic’ and has lost a sense of social reality.

Marijuana / Cannabis or ’Bhang’ is a psychotropic substance used widely across India on the festival of Holi in North India and is sold near temples and also in ’Sarkari thekas’ — officially recognised shops that sell liquor on contract and no prescription is required. Thousands of people consume bhang and this is an open secret. How can somebody be arrested for allegedly helping an addict with known medical problems and for procuring 46 grams of bhang?. The NCB should then be going after large sections of the population in all parts of India. This is a surreal situation. We hope the courts rein in the media and also rap the government on the use of central agencies in a case like this while other bigger social matters are put on hold.

Belarus: The Lukashenko regime appears determined to crush the protest movement

Maria Kolesnikova, part of the opposition trio and member of Tikhanovskaya’s Coordination Council, was forcibly taken away by masked men on September 7 and on the September 8 was arrested at the border with Ukraine ... after she refused to be deported from her own country and tore up her passport. Another leader Maxim Znak was detained. She has described how she has been threatened and intimidated during her detention. On September 9 the Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexivich, who is member of the opposition’s coordination council, told reporters that unidentified men in plainclothes had tried to intimidate her by gathering outside her apartment building and ringing her intercom non-stop. Diplomats from countries including Sweden, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Lithuania joined the prominent author in her apartment in a gesture of solidarity to prevent her from being arrested. Unfortunately, India which was once a shining light in the Third World, doesn’t want to be seen and be counted among those who express support for democratisation.

We call out our readers to remember that on September 11, 1973, a US-supported military coup in Chile overthrew the democratically elected Popular Unity Government of Salvador Allende, initiating the murderous dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. At that time India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Foreign Minister Swaran Singh condemned the coup and the erosion of democracy in Chile.

Tributes:

Award-winning Czech film director, writer and actor Jiri Menzel passed away on September 5. Menzel was a leading figure of the Czech New Wave movement along with celebrated directors such as Milos Forman and Vera Chytilova. He was well known for his satires on high authorities earning the ire of the Czech communist authorities till the velvet revolution of 1989.

Noted South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who defended Nelson Mandela, died in Johannesburg on September 9. Bizos was born in Greece and came to South Africa in 1941 as world war II refugee and settled in South Africa.

Ziauddin Tariq Ali, a prominent public figure in Bangladesh, passed away in Dhaka on September 7. He had been a member of the cultural group ‘Muktir Gaan’, that inspired the freedom fighters through their songs during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. He was later instrumental in setting up the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka in 1996.

Maxwell Dias, the highly respected guitar player and vocalist based in Karachi has passed away. He was born in Chittagong and later grew up in Karachi. He had very large following among Western music lovers of Karachi.

Prof AM Shah, one of founders of the Sociology Department of Delhi School of Economics, has passed away. After his retirement, he was associated with the Centre for Social Studies in Surat.

Swami Agnivesh the former parliamentarian and well known social reformer passed away on September 11. He had been hospitalised in a critical condition due to a liver ailment and was awaiting a transplant. He was the founder of Bonded labour Liberation Front in the early 1980s and later the winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award), 2004. He will be fondly remembered by democrats across India.

We pay our tributes to all of them.

September 12, The Editor

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