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Citizenship Amendment Act Protests in IndiaBlood, tears and the echoes of piercing cries have filled India’s capital New Delhi for weeks now. People participating in peaceful anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India have face the wrath of violent police officers. India’s youth has taken to the streets to fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The CAA allows for the marginalization of the Muslim community by restricting their ability to gain citizenship in India. This has created great discomfort for many of the 138 million Muslims currently living in India, who make up around 13.4% of the total population.

The bill appears to be most beneficial to Hindus, who account for 80.5% of India’s population. Its introduction has caused a national uproar as it highlights century-old religious intolerance in India. Many argue that the bill is in violation of Article 15 of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The public has drawn similarities between the current situation and the problematic partition of Pakistan and India.

How does the CAA actually affect citizenship?

The CAA specifies that illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh can receive Indian citizenship if they have proof of residence for six years under the condition that they affiliate with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities. However, Muslim immigrants from the same countries must have proof of residence for at least 12 years; it is argued this component contravenes Article 14 (equality for all people) and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. The bill reduces the Muslim community to “second-class citizens” based on their religion alone.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his dissatisfaction with the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India. He defended the bill, claiming there was no harm in trying to uplift the religious majorities in India, especially because they were discriminated against in other countries, like Pakistan. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has previously promoted policies and ideologies that favor Hindus and disfavor Muslims.

Further, members of the party have openly labeled Muslims as “terrorists” and have asserted that Hinduism is the dominant religion. Recently, BJP representative Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claimed that the protests are stopping India from becoming a global power. However, he offered no explicit elaboration as to how they are doing so. It is evident that influential parts of the Indian government support and promote anti-Muslim sentiments.

Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in New Dehli with a significant population of Muslim students, is a center for Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, several videos of physical harassment at the hands of law enforcement have surfaced. This footage shows police charging students with lathis; many criticized this act for being unwarranted.

The Path to Equality: Pleas to the Supreme Court

Awareness about the CAA’s unjust components has spread across the country. Because of this, numerous petitions against the act have been filed at the Supreme Court of India. This same method was implemented previously against Section 377 of the Indian Constitution, which criminalized homosexuality. The Supreme Court later repealed the law thanks to the various protests and petitions filed across the country.

As the government continues to defend the bill, the public’s last hope is the Supreme Court, the only institution that can stop the implementation of CAA. On January 22, 2020, the Supreme Court did not issue a stay on the petitions filed against the bill and instead gave the central government four weeks to respond. This further angered the public and has continued to help the youth hold consistent protests all around the nation. However, as of March 5, the Supreme Court announced that it will consider petitions against the CAA after resolving matters pertaining to the Sabarimala issues.

The path taken by the protestors has proven to be effective in the past. The youth of India aim to strike down the CAA in court with the law on their side. Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India display the changing mindset of the country’s youth. These protests also promise hope to those ostracized by the government on the basis of religion. As religious tolerance is now a priority for the majority of India, unfair practices promoting inequality are bound to disappear in the near future. As for the present, the Supreme Court will decide whether CAA can be implemented in India within the next few months.

Mridula Divakar
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

demonetization in India
In 2016, India’s new government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched an initiative that replaced all 500 and 1,000 rupee bills with the new 2,000 rupee bills. The initiative sought to eliminate illegal money, or “black money,” and prevent people from conducting illegal business deals. Unfortunately, the initiative also affected the poor the most. The replacement of bills brought on a massive disruption to the overall economy, especially due to the cash shortages experienced by many throughout the nation. Here are five ways demonetization in India has affected poor communities.

5 Ways Demonetization in India is Affecting the Poor

  1. Market vendors had to shut down their shops. Typically, market vendors farm on a daily basis and sell their production. The drop in customer traffic, however, forced the market vendors to shut down their shops. Since these laborers work without an official employment contract, they make up a part of an informal economy. As a result, without a regular flow of customers, it becomes hard for these people to survive. The majority of this informal economy depends upon cash transactions.
  2. The ban of the 500 and 1,000 rupee bills has tremendously affected migrant labor workers. Migrant labor workers are those who travel to find work every year. Similar to the informal economy, these laborers typically rely on cash transactions. Due to the fact that such cash transactions occur privately, without the interference of the banks, the demonetization policy makes it even more difficult for these migrant laborers who already travel far from home, leaving their families behind, in hope for a decent job.
  3. Demonetization has also negatively impacted small business owners who serve food on streets. Due to the fact that the citizens had only 50 days to exchange their notes, customer flow completed stopped for many businesses. Additionally, many of these small business owners could not afford to stand in the long lines outside of the banks. For a wealthy family, losing an income of a few days does not make a big difference. However, for the poor, losing the income of even two days has an impact. As a result, people began skipping meals to keep their businesses running.
  4. The low-income, working class people suffer from the new policy. Typically, working class people have basic jobs with fairly low wages. Due to the fact that there is a shortage of cash flow, many low-income workers are experiencing delayed salary payments. As a result, it becomes difficult to run households. This especially becomes a problem when there are children who are going to school with high fees, or if there is a wedding in the house. Additionally, young adults getting ready for college also faced difficulties, since their parents were unable to afford to pay high college tuition.
  5. Demonetization in India has also negatively affected daily-wage workers. Since the implementation of demonetization, daily-wage workers, such as maids and housekeepers, have found it increasingly difficult to manage their lives. Cash shortages makes it difficult for them to get paid on time, which leads to skipping meals or working twice as much but for low wages. It also becomes hard for these workers to buy basic necessities or even pay education fees for children. As a result of financial strain, some children might have to do small jobs in order to bring in more money.
While demonetization in India initially had a negative impact on the poor, this was caused mainly by the transition. The Modi government has described the policy as a “fight for the poor against the corrupt rich,” and the problems poor communities faced are alleviating now that the economy is rebounding. Despite the chaos demonetization created, Modi has high approval ratings in India. In the future, it is essential that the government put in place better protections for the poor when making such a significant change, to ensure Indians are not suffering.

– Krishna Panchal 
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in India
India has a population of 1.3 billion and is the second most populated country in the world. While it has a booming economy and democratic government, it has nonetheless struggled with containing its population growth and maintaining an equal distribution of wealth. India’s GDP is worth $2.6 trillion, but so many remain sidelined by their country’s overpopulation and are struggling to find a roof over their heads. Homelessness in India is a growing issue, one that will require multilateral cooperation from various sources to overcome.

The Statistics

India is the second most unequal country in the world, with 55 percent of income going to the top 10 percent of its population. Since India’s population increased exponentially, many cities ran out of space to contain the growing population. According to the Homeless World Cup, there were about 1.8 million homeless individuals living in India as of 2019. Over half of this population was living in urban areas, such as slums on the edge of cities. Unfortunately, the majority of the homeless often experience displacement through government-endorsed city beautification programs or by natural disasters. Due to their lack of resources, those who are homeless and poor struggle to recover from these events.

Conditions

Most homeless people in India live on the streets of cities, under bridges, on highways or in any place they can seek refuge. Some maintain a nomadic lifestyle, where they roam around to find the best area for themselves and/or their families to live. In addition, they often face difficulties from the weather. This is especially prevalent during severe weather conditions, such as rain or snow. They have to use what is at their disposal to protect themselves.

Moreover, women are more prone to abuse, trafficking and harassment, especially if they live on their own or as single mothers. Even in slums, families have very limited access to basic resources and almost no access to sanitation. Additionally, illegal squatting makes up a majority of the slum population, so many families live in fear of eviction.

Solutions

Despite the alarming numbers, the country is making progress to combat homelessness and poverty in India. Each day, 44 people come out of poverty through the work of government initiatives. The Indian government has implemented initiatives to help the poverty-induced with housing. The most prominent example of this is the Housing for All Act, called Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Declared in 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this Act claims to build homes for the entire population by 2022 (when India reaches 75 years of independence). However, there is a lot of criticism about the act in terms of its feasibility.

Many critics claim that the federal government should actually follow in the footsteps of one of its states. In Kerala, the state government put another Housing for All Act in place, granting its homeless population free flats. As of April 2019, the state built the first set of flats that fit 145 families within a 270-flat complex. Kerala’s state government is surveying its homeless population and figuring out who qualifies for need-based housing and then building flats based on its findings. It plans to build over 400,000 flats. The government will cover all funding for the flats.

The Housing for All Act could solve homelessness in India. However, India still has a long way to go in order to achieve this ideal. The government initiatives are the first steps in figuring out how to end this chronic issue that India has had to deal with for decades.

Shreya Chari
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Sex Education in IndiaAdequate sex education in India has been lacking for centuries. However, India has started to make way for a whole new sex education curriculum. Here are five facts about sex education in India.

5 Facts About Sex Education in India

  1. The current Indian Health Minister was against sex education in India. In 2014, India’s Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, declared that he wanted to ban sex education. Instead of sex education, Vardhan declared that yoga should be compulsory in schools. This declaration against sex education was in opposition to a 2007 health education program for adolescents that India’s National AIDS Control Organization and its Ministry of Human Resource Development was promoting. He opposed this education because he believed it was against traditional Indian values. In an interview with the New York Times, Vardhan said, “condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner.” There was a great amount of uproar among opposers because of all his comments on this topic encouraged abstinence over education. After receiving a lot of grief from his comments opposing sex education, he tweeted, “Media got it wrong again. I am against “so-called” sex education not sex education per se. Crudity, Vulgarity out, values in.”
  2. Teachers were threatened with violence if they were to conduct sex education. Around the same time as Vardhan’s comments, the right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti led an attack that included “threats of physical violence against teachers and schools that dared to carry out the 2007 health education program. As a consequence, several different states in India banned sex education.
  3. Better sex education is now a part of India’s school curriculum. After years of sex education being banned in many Indian states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out a sex education program in 2018. This training is vital since India is number three in the world’s HIV epidemic. This education involves role-playing and activity-based modules that are taught by trained teachers and student peer educators. In this training, students learn about sexual violence and sexual health among other topics. The whole training in total is 22 hours. Each week the schools set aside one period for the training.
  4. The Internet Could Be a Key Tool to Provide More Comprehensive Sex Education. Better India conducted research in 2017 and found that 77 percent of males and 54 percent of females use the internet. Projections show that internet usage will reach more than 600 million people by 2021. In a society where sex is taboo, learning about sex education privately online is often times the solution. Media content on sex education in Hindi has become popular. mDhil’s videos on sex and STIs have received 1.2 million views on YouTube. The shareability of this content increases the reach of sex education.
  5. The fight for fair sex education is not over. Despite great strides, sex education is still considered taboo in India. It is considered by many to be a Western influence that corrupts Indian culture. The Family Planning Association of India conducted a workshop on “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All” in July of 2019. The organization hopes to break down taboos around sex, reproduction and homosexuality. India’s Health Ministry is also working to improve awareness about sex and sexuality. In 2017, it stated homosexual feelings are natural. This is a progressive stance for a country with previous laws against homosexual intercourse.

This biggest barrier toward sex education in India will probably be cultural norms against talking about sex. These norms are heavily ingrained in Indian society. However, India is making small but important steps to provide more comprehensive sex education.

– Emily Joy Oomen

Photo: Flickr

Plastic Waste Action and Poverty in IndiaWithin the last year, more information has come out about the consumption of plastics and their mismanagement. The information has spread awareness of the dangers of single-use plastics and encouraged using paper or reusable straws along with a number of other initiatives. Few, however, have been as transformative as one undertaken in India by the NGO Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha (SSVAJKS). SSVAJKS has spearheaded a streamlined process of plastic waste collection and sell to recyclers. Though SSVAJKS may be the only organization connecting plastic waste action and poverty in India, others are joining the efforts to mitigate the problem.

Large Scale Support

At least 16.5 million tons of plastics are consumed annually, 43 percent of which are single-use, packaging material. Around 80 percent of these plastics are discarded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India Drive promises to address pollution in India. In March 2019, India banned imports of plastic waste. By September, it banned single-use and disposable plastic products. Headlined by Modi’s speech on August 15 calling for the elimination of such items by October 2, the Indian government aims to reduce disposable plastics to zero by 2022.

In alignment with this initiative, Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart announced actions to remove single-use plastics from their packaging. They will instead opt for entirely paper cushions and recycled plastic consumption by March 2021. In June 2018, PepsiCo India vowed to replace its plastic Lays and Kurkure bag with “100 percent compostable, plant-based” ones. This was countered by Coca-Cola’s goal to recycle one can or bottle for every one sold by 2030.

Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha

While governments and corporations have addressed the future of plastic consumption, they neglect the areas where SSVAJKS helps the most. SSVAKLS is dealing with the existing plastic that has already been produced. SSVAKLS has the support of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program under the advisement and jurisdiction of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These efforts have connected the campaigns against plastic overconsumption and mismanagement with SSVAJKS’ recycling initiative.

The NGO began linking plastic waste action and poverty in India in the city of Bhopal in 2008. It developed a sustainable integrated waste management system for the city’s five wards, a model that expanded to the state level in 2011. Replicated across India in all of its states, this model relies on ‘ragpickers’ to sift through the waste and pick out plastics returned to municipal collection centers. These collectors come from highly vulnerable, socially marginalized castes and are predominantly poor, illiterate women.

Since partaking in this initiative, the incomes of the ‘ragpickers’ have vastly improved, doubling in many cases. The plastic they collect and submit to the collection centers is recycled into roads and co-processing in cement kilns, benefitting upwards of two million people. The overwhelming success of the NGO led to another SGP grant that enlisted “2,000 unorganized waste pickers” across the Bhopal Municipal Corporation’s 70 wards.

The Endgame

SGP hopes to build a sustainable plastic waste management system and ensure the co-processing of plastic waste. It will also increase the standards of living for 2,000 ragpicker families. New initiatives are introducing vermicomposting along with paper bag and cotton making units. The results are phenomenal. Ragpickers have collected 4,200 megatons of plastic, saving plastic from burning and emitting 12,000 megatons of carbon. Additionally, the ragpickers themselves are able to open bank accounts to accumulate their savings, lifting them slowly but surely out of abject poverty. The success of the SSVAJKS in combining efforts to address plastic waste action and poverty in India demonstrates the NGO’s capacity to tackle multiple issues at once and incentivize the solving of one through the other.

Alex Myers
Photo: Flickr