Thursday, December 15, 2011

Define freedom!

You, the owner of a free will, have chosen to struggle.
You are the possessor of moral might.
You snatched away the mask of benignity that the power-holders wore.
You are reciting.
You are chanting.
You are singing.
Bahrain, you are marching to the light today

Sphere: Related Content
Define freedom!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Seething -
Turmoil took over the streets
"The Arab Spring"                                                                     

Flickering -
Fear crossed his face as the crowd  impersonated him

Dancing -
They moved and were laid to rest
“Children of Syria                                                                                        

Spreading -
Flame to flame words multiplied mocking boundaries
“Crack Down on Internet Freedoms”                                                           

Slowly -
Joining hands they walked
“The Arab Women”                                                                          

Energetically -
They led from the front
“Young Men and Women in the Arab Region”                  

Sphere: Related Content
F I R ESocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Equality in Corruption: A Myth or A Reality?

Photo: The Hindu
I have often heard that corruption:
(1) treats people equally, woman or man,
(2) hits all poor equally, woman or man,
(3) does not discriminate between poor of the minority or the majority,
(4) further marginalizes all poor whether from they are from the marginalized socio-political/ethnic groups or from the dominant/mainstream communities, and
(5) lacks ‘consideration’ for age, that young and old are affected in the same manner

Let’s look at corruption from three different angles: first, as an intention to defraud; second, as it affects individuals and groups; and third, as it affects the larger the society/country/organization:
(1) Corruption, as an effort to do wrong or gain something for personal benefit by means which are illegal or not approved in a transparent manner with the wider public knowledge, is indeed the same for all in its intention to misappropriate.
(2) Beyond this intention and in so far corruption is practiced at various levels and in various proportions, its impact on different genders, economic groups, socio-political and ethnic groups, and age-groups is different.
(3) The overall impact for the larger country or an organization may be the same, ie, public resources generated through public contributions, direct and in-direct taxes and public sector profit, being siphoned off for the personal interests of an individual or a group through extraction of bribes, exchange of benefits, undue favour, national or transnational deals by duping the regulatory and oversight mechanisms. Sometimes, the regulatory and oversight mechanisms also become a party to such misuse or fraud.

It’s the second point which is of concern to this discussion. Let me focus on how corruption affects the broader category of women (however, it is to be remembered that the effect is different based on economic status, family background, culture, religion, political and legal system, age, community of origin, etc).

Photo: Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry

In most parts of the world, women are responsible for taking care of the household – procuring food, fuel, and other consumables, education of children, care of elderly and the sick, getting utilities like electricity and water for the family, and so on. In this role, many women, especially those who lack support of men in meeting the role and poor women come across corruption. They face overt or covert demands for bribes for being able to get food-ration or subsidy, school admission or fee exemption, accessing utilities and public services like health facilities and medicines. Since women constitute 66 percent of the world’s poor, it is not difficult to imagine who is affected the most by this kind of corruption. This estimate is often considered dodgy but it can’t be far from the reality as even in the supposedly egalitarian part of Europe, almost 55% of the poor are women. It is not surprising that in context of acute poverty induced by harsh economic conditions, inequitable social order, conflict, displacement, natural or human-made disaster, etc the level of sexual exploitation and abuse grows very high. In such circumstances, women are forced to provide sex in order to meet their household’s basic needs and rights.

Women are still not considered equal in terms of their professional abilities and employability. Studies and assessments in different countries suggest that women continue to earn 17 to 19 percent less than men in similar/same work. Women access to the white collar, technical and security jobs are restricted and where they do get access, they meet with what is termed as the ‘glass-ceiling’ or the invisible limit beyond which organizations/companies do not promote or hire women. By and large women are concentrated in low-wage, low-skill fields or in jobs which are poorly paid like, school-teaching and nursing. This implies that women not only suffer gender-based exclusion from participation in various jobs, which are considered the ‘man’s job’ (for example, employment with the armed forces, policy, mining, etc), they are also not present around the tables and hang-out joints where decisions about employment and career growth are made. So in a nepotistic system, women are more likely to lose out on the employment and career advancement opportunities. Since women earn less their ability to pay bribes needed for either staying in the job or for growth is also limited. Therefore, without affirmative action, they are more likely to continue to suffer from the gender-wage gap and segmentation into low paid jobs/positions.

Photo: Insaf
Similarly, many of the economic and business support sub-sectors continue to treat women as dependents, rather than economically capable individual citizens. In many instances, women do not get a loan or insurance till they have a male family member to provide collateral. This form of discrimination is specific to certain countries but where it prevails, it affects women’s ability to be economically self-sufficient. When this type of gender-based discrimination is twined with higher poverty, exclusion from decision-making and corruption, women’s inability to meet the demands for bribes or exchange of favours worsens. This is one of the reasons why so few women owned businesses get selected as contractors/vendors at the end of public and private sector procurement processes.

Today, with so much noise about quotas for women in representative politics and growing openness of the political systems, women continue to be far under represented, and by and large, ordinary women face tremendous barriers to participation. In politics, men are regarded as politically savvier than women. In countries, where political parties are not subject to strict oversight and regulatory mechanisms and financing of election campaigns are not open to public scrutiny, black money or unaccounted-for and untaxed cash generated by dealings in a under-cover economy, black market or organized crime, is used to fund them. In other words, candidates receive money from businesses, which are corrupt or potentially corrupt or from money generated from under-cover deals. Since politics is a male-stronghold, most beneficiaries of such party or campaign funding also happen to be men. This sort of corruption is usually coupled by nepotism and nepotistic access to the government resources. In countries where the practice of political patronage is not checked, the politicians, most of whom are men, have allies in the public/civil services. The civil servants often serve their political patrons by abusing the public infrastructure, resources and control authority, like, government buildings, stationary and utilities, giving undue favour in allocation of public spaces like parks, etc. In this kind of covert and convoluted system, women are more likely to be left out when party nominations take place or when they contest elections as independent candidates. They are more likely to lose elections because often they do not have money and access to power to fund their campaigns or bribe/buy [and more than often, threaten] voters.

Fed up with abusive husbands and corrupt officials,
India's Gulabi Gang fights back!

When the entire electioneering process is corrupt and fails to have measures to ensure that women voters are able to exercise their right to vote ably and without threat, voter level corruption disfranchises many women. From my childhood, I remember how men would take to burqa and go to the polling stations using the names of their female relatives and cast votes. More than often, women voters are told by their male relatives who to vote for. Women voters, knowing the complicity among the party workers at the polling station, their male relatives, and election officials, comply with the dictate. They know that if they do not for the dictate, the information about who they voted for will be leaked to their male relatives and they may face physical or other forms of violence at home. Another practice, which I witnessed, was faking the age of the young persons so the number of voters could be increased and influencing these voters to cast their votes or casting votes on their behalf for specific candidates. The party workers are found complicit in this or actually they are the ones who plot this. The election officials, if corrupt and know that they can get away with corruption, do nothing to prevent or do not hesitate to become a part of this arrangement at the polling stations. Sometimes, in a political constituency where a dominant politician with huge access to money and power is involved, even the honest election officials fear for their lives and do nothing. This kind of corruption usually involves high profile traditionally dominant leaders from various communities/castes/religions, who, more often than not, are men. The possibility of a woman getting elected in such a situation is remote.

These are just some of the ways, corruption impacts negatively on women and compound their gender-based vulnerabilities. The traditional forms of gender-based discrimination and gender-stereotypes have kept women out from many economic, social and political fields. Corruption prevents women from overcoming those challenges and gaining access to services and opportunities. It hinders and sometimes completely prevents women’s abilities to meet their households’ and their basic needs. Corruption further weakens women’s ability to compete with men on a level ground. This is of major significance because their abilities are already weakened as a result of gender based discriminations in education, empowerment opportunities, skills training, and resource allocations by the families, etc.

Sphere: Related Content
Equality in Corruption: A Myth or A Reality?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have not reached here alone
Walking the path of reason
I carried a baggage
A load that prevails over the idioms of sanity

I journeyed along passion
Delighting in pain and anger
I have been rooted in emotions
Attached to the warmth of frustration

I could not fill normative spaces
While walking with a desire to belong
I must set out my agenda
A ripple in the calm water

Sphere: Related Content
IdiosyncraticsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leadership Crises, are they?

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn saga has left the International Monetary Fund (IMF) preparing for a new leadership by this month. The list of candidates is not long but there is a list. There was a rumour that Hillary Clinton would like to be next president of the World Bank. Although Hillary Clinton rubbished the rumour with the same speed as it emerged. The United Nations (UN), on the other hand, seems to be preparing for the continuation of Ban Ki-moon for another five years.

Bank of Mexico Governor, Agustin Carstens, and other contenders have been touring the world to mobilise support for the post. The southern part of the world, at least some of it, is not quite warm to the idea another European taking over the position as it seems imminent from the European bloc’s support to France’s Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde. As of now it seems she is likely to keep the post for Europe. In terms of support mustered so far, Agustin Carstens seems to be the only candidate from the Southern world who could offer her competition.

The European bloc through the European Union (EU) seems to suggest that a candidate from the Southern world can the IMF some other day because they need a European to help them deal with the current financial crisis in Europe. How far this argument can be held valid can be gauged from the fact that neither the EU nor any European country even once raised the issue of leadership by a region that is facing an economic crisis when Latin America was reeling under the debt crisis, the peso crisis damaged Mexican economy like nothing before and the whole of Asia suffered the financial crisis, Based on the justification being put forth by the EU, one can claim that the various economic crises mentioned earlier were perhaps worsened because they lacked ‘region-specific’ leadership. I don’t think so but stating so to demonstrate the ill-logic of the EU justification.
Another kind of bank,
not international, nor world but close to
the needs and for building financial discipline
Countries like Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa had made their displeasure clear about the fact that the IMF has been led by Europe since its creation in 1946. But politics of leadership of the institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the UN being part of the politics of the member states, it would not be surprising if these countries may warm up to Christine Lagarde. Sometime big sacrifices get made for small but immediate gains. My own view is not really firm, yet, though I am not really averse to Christine Lagarde. I believe in bringing in representative leadership. It is a fact that the international financial institutions have been macho outfits in terms of the way they have excluded certain groups of people from leadership. From this angle, the most underrepresented group by far is women.

The point of the above is that there is some level of competition and the countries and their candidates are trying to strengthen their positions.

In contrast, the UN seems to have agreed to another term for Ban Ki-moon. The four of the five Security Council members, namely, China, France, UK and USA, have already publicly voiced their support for the continuation of Ban Ki-moon. As of the 6th of June, no member state of the UN had come up with the name of a candidate who could be a contender to Ban Ki-moon. So given the fact that the Security Council recommends the secretary-general and the General Assembly approves the appointment and that there is no contender, Ban Ki-moon is set to remain in the position.

There is, indeed, a leadership crisis. But not because there are no people with the leadership qualities, rather because the old guard does not like change, and when it agrees to a change, it brings in a new leadership that is quite like itself.

Sphere: Related Content
Leadership Crises, are they?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 9, 2011


The Not-So-Easy-to-See Frescoes at the Citadel of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
500 painting of women wiped out when the citadel became a monastery (again)
so that they would not disturb meditation.

I was
suffused with the inside out
but what your fleeting glance could discern
if not the embodied absence

Every time the pain of being surfaced
I quickly averted the glance
why should it be so
if not to look for the pleasures of ephemeral

I am who I am
able to withhold
unable to contain

So what you discern is the key
to let me recognize you

I must tell you
each glance that dwells fleetingly
leaves an imprint

Sphere: Related Content
GlanceSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Migrant Women Workers

Image: MS Office
Migration ceased to be a venture of a select few looking for better avenues long time back. One can safely say that since medieval period it has become a compulsion for farm workers, domestic workers and small landholders workers who are simply looking for a source of income to survive. It is estimated that 1 out of every 6 persons, that is, more than 1 billion persons, are migrating within countries and internally, in search of employment. Of these 1 billion, 72% are women[1]. This is even more so when it comes to women migrant workers, whose numbers have been increasing, now constituting 50 percent or more of the migrant workforce in Asia and Latin America[2]. According to a study that focuses on women’s migration labour from and between six countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region[3], the numbers of women who undertake migrant labour in Southern Africa have been increasing significantly over the past decade. Most people when they think of migrant labour, usually imagine a male face. But over the years, due to several socio-economic and political changes the face of the African migrant labour is changing into a twin woman-man face. Women now make up almost 50% of migrants in the SADC region.

Globalization of labour:

Globalization has contributed to an increasing flow of migrant workers from countries with limited economic opportunities to fill gaps in nations with a dwindling labour supply, for eg, from Somalia to Canada, or in nations which may offer better remuneration for the same work, for eg, from Afghanistan to Iran. Globalisation has also opened up markets for skilled workers and the decrease in traditional labour employment areas such as mining and agriculture. This has provided new entry points for the migrant labour into economies, for example in the service sector. Women are increasingly participating in the trans-national informal sector (for eg, as construction workers in countries other than theirs), and cross-border trade (for eg, between Tanzania and Kenya). This said, since globalization of labour is also characterized by increasing demand for skilled workers and is, therefore, leading to job losses and further impoverishment of unskilled workers. Globalization, in this sense, has created a complex tension between the demand for skilled labour and constraints imposed on unskilled workforce.

Globalization pushes the States to open up the borders for economic transactions. This is leading to increasing number of free trade agreements between countries, emergence and growth of multinational corporations and common markets such as the one mooted and promoted by the East African Community (EAC) for the free flow of products. While the borders are opened for the free flow of products, the borders remain closed for the labourers. Globalization, in this sense, has created another kind of tension between the rich and the poor countries. The developed countries, more than ever before, are banging their doors shut on those seeking refuge or work. Since global concept of production is based on comparative advantage, production sectors within developing economies are losing the diversity of production and labour employed in subsistence production, which benefitted from the diversity of production, is forced to cross borders hiding in trucks and boats or clinging to lifeboats adrift in the oceans.

Within Africa both rural to urban and cross-border migration has been significant due to domestic economic reasons as well as due to colonization. Colonization crated new boundaries, divided communities and separated families and clans. These separations had the effect of increasing cross-border movement. Since the end of colonization, intra-regional migration in SADC includes temporary migration, including workers and seasonal migrants, permanent migration, forced migration and refugee or asylum-seekers. Refugees/Asylum-seekers usually come from politically unstable countries such as Angola, Mozambique and more recently from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as countries that do not belong to SADC.

Recent trends in migration are increasingly marked by movements linked to cross border-trading and related businesses and street vending, and less by formal employment because, as mentioned earlier, formal employment opportunities are becoming more and more demanding on skills.

Women as migrant labour:

The migrant labour endeavour is a double-edged sword for women. On the one hand, becoming a migrant labourer can mean the acquisition of new skills and uplifting one’s family and community financially, but on the other, women migrant workers expose themselves to several risks during this process.

While globalization may foster the acceleration of trade and investment, it does not create an environment that protects migrant workers’ economic, social and physical security. By creating new economic opportunities, migration can promote economic independence and status for women workers, who provide safety nets that sustain communities at home. But here’s the flip-side of the story: Many of the smugglers of human-labour are part of a growing ring of sex-traffickers. Huge numbers of poverty-stricken girls and women accept the promise of a good job or forced into so-called marriages with financially well to do husband but find they have been tricked into sex work as has been revealed from several cases in the South Asia. Cases noted from Nepal and Philippines suggest that some girls are even sold to smugglers by poverty-stricken families who see them as their only hope for an escape from poverty. Most women trafficked for sex work come from Asia, but increasingly Eastern European women are also getting into ‘international sex trade’ due to the hardship created after the erosion of the social safety nets in their countries.

The chain of exploiters for migrant workers, especially those seeking unskilled jobs include the brokers who facilitate passport, etc, recruiters who find employers and help obtain visa, employers who secure work-permit, and migration officials. Migrant workers are often illiterate or semi-literate and often have limited knowledge about and access to information regarding their rights. Women migrant workers are vulnerable as women, and like the rest, as foreigners and as unskilled labourers, and are exposed to possible abuse and exploitation such as physical and social isolation, and sexual and physical violence. Countries, where the migrant workers migrate to, also resent them when they have to pay for medical and legal services required by the migrant workers.

Marginalization, racial discrimination and suspicion are all too well known to the migrant women workers. Some countries do racial profiling on grounds of suspicion of a threat to security or sex work. Many women, unable to understand the bureaucracy around migration, find themselves declared ‘illegal’ and in detention centres for months or even years at a time, imprisoned for reasons not known to them. Women and girls going for either domestic work or sex-work, are usually left high and dry by the brokers, recruiters or employers who take their passport and a large chunk of their income. It is not unknown to find cases of women migrant workers being kept imprisoned, unable to escape. When the police of the receiving country reaches them, women migrant workers are usually hesitant to speak out about abuses they suffer because of the fear of deportation or greater sense of economic insecurity.

Combinations of poverty, gender discrimination, abuse, armed conflict, HIV & AIDS and climate change push women to seek employment in other countries. Though there is no data to establish, migrant women have been noticed to be more likely to be divorced, separated or have been abandoned. Similarly, migrant women are also more likely to be widowed than men. The study of migration of women from SADC countries suggests that increasingly, women migrant workers are primary economic providers and heads of households. They often travel alone and need to return to migrant occupations repeatedly.

Key sectors in which women migrant workers are involved:

Image: Christian Aid
As far as unskilled of semiskilled women are concerned, women and girls from all over the world are recruited to be domestic workers. In Africa and Asia girls from rural areas are often expected to move to urban areas and become domestic workers in order to help support their families financially. In North America and Europe, women from South America and Asia and in the Middle-east, women and girls from South-east Asia and South Asia work in the homes of the rich sending money back home to their families abroad. Common experiences of domestic workers include low wages, long working hours, no time off, loneliness, verbal and sometimes physical abuse, being forced to wear uniforms and act in roles of servitude, heavy work demands, homesickness, the denial of a family life of one's own, racism, and vulnerability to sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS[4].

Many women are involved in cross border informal businesses, crossing borders for small periods of time or even daily. Their daily life, therefore, is marked by daily saga of exploitation and abuse.

Migrant women in SADC region, usually find employment as domestic workers or entertainers, or other fields that are not regulated by labour laws. The agricultural sector absorbs a large amount of migrant workers, but its seasonal nature does not make for a stable year-round income. Thus a combination of elements, such as local conflicts and global restructuring of work, result in an array of migration patterns in Southern Africa.

Women migrant workers and economic development:
Image: Christian Aid
Studies indicate that migrant women workers contribute to the development of both sending and receiving countries — Ethiopians in diaspora sent a total of $591 million to Ethiopia in 2006, which is nearly 4.4% of Ethiopia's GDP and Eritrea received $411 million in remittance money, which amounts to 38% of Eritrea's GDP[5]. In Somalia, remittances are regarded as the ‘lifeline to survival’. In 2008, remittances were estimated by the World Bank at US$305 billion. These monetary investments — used for food, housing, education and medical services — along with newly acquired skills of returnees, can potentially contribute significantly to poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals[2].

Some women acquire new skills through their migrant occupations, which they use to contribute to both the host and their own countries’ economies. The sending and receiving countries benefit from the remittances women send and the productive investments they are able to make with their earned income. In households, which receive remittances, the bulk is utilized to cover basic needs and services, with differences depending on the country. Most remittances are spent on education in Zimbabwe (57%) and Mozambique (57%), while a significant portion is also spent on medicine in Zimbabwe (40%), Swaziland (39%) and Mozambique (31 %). Recipient households reported having contracted loans to purchase food, etc also use the remittance to pay-off debts. These examples suggest that the households of migrant women workers are highly dependent on external sources of income. In general, remittances seem to be protecting human development because they allow families to pay for education, health, electricity, water and other services, when they are not provided by the State. It can be said then that poverty reduction and community development could be aided by these remittances. Examples from Kerala in India shows that these benefits include improved local physical infrastructure, growth of local commodity markets, development of new services, changes to cultural practices that harm girl children and generation of local employment opportunities.

Migration and the UN:

The UN has adopted several conventions to protect migrant workers including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. However this convention is not in effect because it has not been signed by enough countries. There is also a UN protocol dealing with the rights of trafficked women and children under the International Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and the Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

To learn More:

For more information on migrant workers see the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Fact Sheet on and violence against women migrant workers on   


[1] Enaskhi Dua. "Beyond Diversity: Exploring Ways in which the Discourse of Race has Shaped the Institution of the Nuclear Family" in Enashki Dua and Angela Robertson. Eds. Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Feminist Thought. Toronto: Women's Press, 1999. pp 237-260. Quoted in Helene Moussa "Global Surge in Forced Migration Linked to Colonial Past".
[2] United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM - now part of UN Women).
[3] United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW - now part of UN Women) and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). “Gender, Migration and Remittances in Selected SADC Countries: Preliminary Findings”.The study focuses on cross-border migration to and from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, although it refers to other countries when there are notable trends, particularly related to the relatively unexplored subject of gender
[4] Abigail Bakan and Daiva Stasiulis. Not One of the Family: Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.
[5] UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Sphere: Related Content
Migrant Women WorkersSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Opiates Business

Afghanistan remains a major producer and the hub of drug business extending into Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s geo-political location, the country has become the hub of drug business as well as a major transit point for drug trafficking in South Asia and Persia. Drug business, however, rarely thrives only on drug trafficking operations. Given the nature of crime, it thrives on supportive criminal practices and a larger crime tolerant environment. The difficult to monitor border with Afghanistan, high movement of people across the North-West Frontier, and vast stretches of desert and barren land across Kashmir to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India facilitates flow of opium and other substances. The economic harshness of the region and the extreme conditions in which people have to live in these parts also makes them easy drug-carriers and traffickers and even the elderly, disabled and women can be found involved in drug related criminal activity for income. The population involved in drug trafficking are fluidly organized across borders and are dependent on weaker border controls, governance and poor administration of justice. The drug trafficking routes and people involved are marked by a degree of violence and corruption unsurpassed by any other criminal activity. It is due to reliance on violence and corruption that the organized crime groups, attempt to build and maintain an environment in the region in which the illicit activities could be sustained.

There is an urgent need to address drug trafficking by bringing priority focus to illicit trafficking and border management, criminal justice, and reduction in drug demand and HIV/AIDS. The issue of illicit trafficking of drugs and humans who either are carriers or organizers of the crime cannot be checked without expanding the border controls measures among Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. As of now, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have opened a network of Border Liaison Offices to increase cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies, however, require considerable support, particularly, border police reform and structural and policy reform for enhanced coordination among various police service and to be effective.

Law enforcement agencies in themselves will not be able to address the problem till the criminal justice system of the countries joins hands to end the larger tolerance of drug and other crimes by bringing the criminals under the rule of law and ending the sense of impunity. It would be important to drive the criminal justice system reform agenda with an eye to individual and social reform though. The criminal justice system also needs to be accountable and mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring civilian oversight and inspection of conduct. This process too requires other supportive features such as improved legislation which are compliant to the international normative instruments. This calls for passage and implementation of new legislation as well as amendment to the relevant laws to end the anomalies.

Being tough on drug trafficking and crime alone, however, will not end the demand for drugs or minimize the impact of these on socio-economic life, including family life and individual health. The above will require programmes and project which address issues of people’s livelihoods and which provide the policymakers and implementer with viable options and demonstrative models that can be put to practice. An environment of drug-trafficking and abuse is accompanied by wider socio-economic disparities and psycho-social and gender based vulnerabilities, which make exploitation of the poor, women, children and other vulnerable groups possible.

The countries in the region have low annual rates of economic growth and economic inequality is ever increasing. Weak leadership at the central/national and local levels and pervasive corruption are realities that have inhibit economic progress and further marginalize certain groups of people, while reinforcing an atmosphere of political instability throughout the region. These call for close collaboration among the government and private sector institutions to address persistent food insecurity, empowerment of groups of women and men who provide the deterrence to crime from family to community levels. Each country’s engagement in periodic recurrence of food emergencies that often befall on the countries in the region, will also help minimize the potential groups vulnerable to become involved in human trafficking or both drug and human trafficking.

While action is needed to address the priority issues of insufficient and weak transportation and communication infrastructures, major policy and bureaucratic obstacles would need to be addressed so traditional intra-regional trade and other forms of livelihoods are not affected adversely and poorer people left without any means to survive.

However, in the absence of policies & implementation mechanisms, an environment of distrust among the neighbouring countries, it is easily said than done. Vested interests within the governance structures, elite of the society and businesses more than often hinder progress of the interventions targeted to end drug trafficking and related crimes. These issues would be addressed better if small models can be established through regional cooperation. Such models can be built around better and greater investment in rural economies and collaboration among multiple actors, including the governments, private sector, and civil society organizations by giving them efficient tools to design targeted security policies and interventions for the most vulnerable. Small successes that show the link between a reduction in drug trafficking and crime, with social and economic and gender development and reduction in AIDS will go a long way in building a case for scale up interventions for reducing and preventing crime and violence.

Sphere: Related Content
The Opiates BusinessSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Live in a World of Ineffective Efforts; Well, Most of the Time!

Union Carbide Gas Leak on the night of
the 2nd and 3rd of Dec 1984 in Bhopal,
was perhaps, the worst industrial disaster
in the human history. 25 years on, the
survivors are still denied justice.
 Image: India Protest
Nobody denies that established and efficient justice systems are essential for getting justice. The ‘established’ part is not the problem. Using the development and humanitarian world jargons, there exist all sorts of ‘formal’ [implying a state run system] and ‘informal’ [implying a plethora of systems that exist and operate based on tradition, customs, religions, a mix of some or all of these]. The significant difference being the appointment of the judges in the case of the former is by a state authority and in the case of the latter, by community elders/elite/religious heads or even by heredity.

‘Established’ does not mean an ‘efficient’ justice system. Both the formal and informal justice systems are fraught with not only the most serious disturbing practices, corruption being one of them, abuse of authority to harass the petitioners being another.
A mother and child left dead by
the Union Carbide Gas Leak in Bhopal.
Image: Avaaz
Neither ‘established’ nor ‘efficient’ mean ‘effective’ in terms of upholding and standing for fairness and equality in the application of rights. One of fundamental flaws of both the systems has been their damaging role in the unjust distribution of rights, responsibilities and power to those who seek their intervention as well as those who are subjects of the implementation of the judgments delivered by them. Don’t we remember the Bhanwari Devi case and denial of justice to her and many more injustices that she had to suffer because of the failure of the state justice system? We do. The increasingly notorious Khap Panchayats or the traditional caste councils, which rule on who can and cannot marry and who should be penalized for what and how, stare into our faces. No woman can afford to forget the Imrana Rape case the misogynist roles played by the local Muslim Panchayat and the Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband.

Notwithstanding some good examples of how the formal or informal justice systems can deliver public services fairly and uphold rights applying the principle of equality in rights and equality before law, by and large they have failed to evoke a degree of trust among those who need the justice systems the most. The groups which need the justice systems the most are the dalit, poor, children, women, religious marginalized and others who continue to be discriminated, exploited and abused.

Bhanwari Devi and Her Spouse: Inspirational.
Image: Tehelka
There is no dearth of knowledge about how to mediate conflict, whether at the family, social, economic or political levels to establish equality and justice. The challenge continues to be with the lack of the governance system’s will to facilitate institutional change and to take action against those in the justice systems who are rotting the justice systems.

The engagement with the informal justice systems is turning into a fad in the international development and cooperation sphere. This growth is without much attention to how un-equitable the foundations of the traditional or religious justice structures are and how growth in their strength would promote the powers of the traditional and religious elites. The idea to establish context specific justice systems is laudable but the efforts to apply the idea are too simplistic and shallow. Often this results not in development of equitable and accessible justice systems rather in making of a bigger monster out of the traditional and religious justice structures.

Imrana, the victim branded as a sinner.
Image: Outlook
 The overarching governance structure of a country needs to recognize that the formulation, application and adjudication of laws and delivery of justice in plural socio-religious contexts is far more complex and personal biases of judges, lawyers and others in the justice systems is more likely to damage not just the individual rights-holders but also the social harmony and development. This implies that the reform of the justice system structures without a reform of the people who work in those structures will not make these structures contribute to democratization and improved governance in the country. Any effort to reform the people in the justice systems needs to further recognize that the knowledge of law per se is not adequate that these people need to learn to analyze their own internalized beliefs and behaviours, how the laws came about and what kind of thinking promoted formulation of the law, what was the political climate and what imperatives left to the particular laws, and so on. This is needed for them to have the intellectual capacity to understand the laws from various angles and apply them in a manner that delivers on equality in justice.

The other efforts of researching justice system, analyzing the role they play and of engaging them in a dialogue for reform, need to be strengthened by intensive public oversight, especially oversight by the citizens groups who need the justice systems the most. There is need to understand where these investments in the informal justice systems are leading and what type of trends with regard to long-term consequences are emerging so lessons can be learned and applied in the current and future reform related engagements.

Sphere: Related Content
We Live in a World of Ineffective Efforts; Well, Most of the Time!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, May 8, 2011


In a yet another ‘new’ place
Sense of being tied down to nothingness remains
Roving freely into unknown lanes
Searching for a place to sleep sound, I stare
A desire to be obscure stays
Deepened by the familiarity unattained
Known-unknown probe go unrestrained

I know the migrant birds
I notice them always
Pigeons, the rooted survivors, are known too
I look for expanse, for existence unshackled
The lack of conviction disturbs
The movement of the migrant birds
Instigates a desire to move on

Sphere: Related Content
FlightsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Usual Story

In the continuum of life and death, power in the fraternal order is mandatory

Blood ties draw blood from blood ties, forcing submission ordering conformity

The design of an active will, depends on succour of servility

Fear folded into corporeal bodies, weigh differently depending on who’s the owner

Life at stake some can exist only in shadows, most sign a pact with fear

Being born as we are we instinctively submit, the status as derivative gets naturalized

Fluid as water fear trespasses, intensity accentuates to numb the surroundings

Sphere: Related Content
The Usual StorySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Marriage?

Some years back, we faced this question in a development course. Two of the discussants divided the question into two: Why Women marry? Why men marry? One of them kept the discussion to the basic issues and the other went in-depth into negotiation, survival needs and social and cultural options. Both peeked at the household economic models and theories like the ‘Black Box’, Neoclassical, and Bargaining/ Co-operative, etc. Both came to the same conclusion that women and men marry based on a personal perception of well-being. This perception, according to one of them, is a result of a negotiation between a woman/man’s survival needs and socio-cultural constructions of what ‘personal well-being’ means.

Taking Amartya Sen’s example of a rural Indian woman, who is not likely to extract her own welfare from that of her household and conceive of her own well-being as separate from that of her family’s, the discussant argued that the household, therefore, is the locus of inequality where discrimination and exploitation of women’s labour get naturalized. In other words, a woman from my part of the world is likely to marry based on what she considers to be her well-being but which may not necessarily be her well-being. Does this mean a North American or European woman is more likely to marry based on her sense of ‘personal well-being’, which is more individual centered and that she is more likely to be able to deconstruct the larger structures of inequality and thereby better placed to negotiate her position in the family? This is another debate and we shall come to it some other day. For today, so far, we have one reason which may make women and men inclined to get married. Let's look at some other reasons also.

The brokers of the सात फेरा, मंगलसुत्र, गठबंधन, सिंदूर, the wedding ring, et al or those who market the practice of marriage as ‘the holy state’ of matrimony tend to ascribe some sacredness and centrality of this practice for the institution called family. These brokers, in general, have a big say in the decision to marry, whether to be taken by the individual or the relatives, and/or the family. In some contexts, even when people have little more than a token affiliation with a religion, they tend to stick to the religious boundaries when it comes to marriage. This is not always based on a fear of reprimand or being ostracized. Rather it is based on deep seated belief in the advantages of segregation based on religious affiliation. This belief has a profound influence in the decision about who is fit to mate or is sacred enough to be a partner in personal and family life.

The brokers insist that all the matches for ‘this world’ are made in the ‘other world’ and that it is the duty of the follower to accept the person who the god selected for them. Marriage itself is regarded as a religious obligation by them. Among people who have an inclination to accept that they have a duty to marry, procreation has special value attached to it. Children are the gifts from the god or marriage and children come as a package gift from the god. In other words, religious brokers emphasize shared beliefs in religion, marriage and procreation as a foundation for the continuation of particular faiths, beliefs and way of conducting life. No wonder divorce is a taboo subject in the books of the brokers because ‘What God hath put together, let no man [or woman] put asunder’. But divorce is another [related] issue, not to be brought into today’s discussion [though an interesting one to understand how even when religion says yes to divorce, how religio-legalities disallow it].

The sociologists believe that marriage is a practice to establish a social order. Through marriage women and men are put together in a relationship of social and legal obligations to fulfill social and economic objectives. It is believed that marriage is a good way to put people’s mental and physical health, sex life, solid and liquid assets in an organized state. It is an institution that allows people to meet their sexual desires in a manner that doesn’t harm anybody [or so we like to believe]. It also helps bring together people with greater commitment and therefore provide a safer ground for procreation and responsible environment for bringing up children.

There is no doubt about the economic value of marriage [albeit disputed by some men]. Women have been free labour, partly thanks to the practice of marriage [remember, the complimentarity argument]. The many justifications for marriage advanced through centuries have one angle which has to do with ‘value’-based labour which leads to communal and family wellbeing and another angle of ‘income-based’ labour which brings income to the community and the family. The history of these arguments have subordinated the ‘value’-based labour and elevated the ‘income-based’ labour. The economic argument in an age when the ‘income-based labour has been making more sense to more and more number of women and there is considerable increase in educational and political equality, seems to be fading away. We will come back to this point a little later.

Then there is the whole economy of marriage where the marriage is seen as a contract. This particular reason for marriage does not quite stand on its own. Rather it stands as a dimension in all the above arguments and will remain, in my opinion, a factor in any other current or future reasons for marriage. A marriage contract can be visible or invisible; stated or assumed; or legal or social. For centuries, marriage has involved contracts like the dowry that a bride’s family gives to the groom’s family, the bride price that a groom’s family gives to the bride’s family [they are not to be confused as the same because the theories behind are completely different], exchange of women through marriage for settling disputes between families, giving a daughter or a sister in marriage for settling a debt or to earn goodwill and so on. These practices may sound like buying, selling, discounting and writing off or collateral and the kind that takes place in a market place. Indeed, these practices are exactly that. These contracts also create a lot of employment for people willing to serve as brokers [who are often clan members, church leaders, mullahs, priests, village or community elders, and the like].

In a secular legal context, the terms and conditions of a marriage contract may not have so much of economic angle but does have implications for how responsibilities will be attended and by whom. It is also a way to safeguard the rights of the contracting parties by registration and legitimizing by the state.

In many societies since history began and in the larger visible societies in the last century or so, there have been some departures from the above-mentioned reasons. Marriage here is seen as a relationship between individuals for mutual comfort and assistance and so the personal compatibility issues are as important as procreative and contract aspects of the practice. Now with the lessening of the some other dimensions of the marriage, the centrality of this practice to a family and communal life of an individual has also weakened. Alternatives to marriage are growing as a practice and marriage is increasingly being viewed as essentially an additionality that strengthens the emotional bonding and trust because of some level of social and contractual security that it brings with it.

The alternatives to marriage tend to require a lot of other things but often less commitments of social and contractual/legal nature. This is one of the reasons why some men are a game for the alternatives because they get comforts of a relationship without being responsible for it. Some of them, on the other hand, resent the women’s preference for the alternatives because they stand to lose out on the ‘value’-based labour or the fact that a woman is not willing to commit makes them feel insecure. But alternatives to marriage do not necessarily make the relationships any more egalitarian. Individuals, due to these two factors among several other possible reasons, find themselves participating in inequitable relationships, which leads to both emotional stress and stress in the relationship. The more inequitable the relationship, the more stress they face. So in a nutshell, if not the reasons related to community and family, marital-economics or contracts, the individual needs of emotional security and commitment bring the focus back on marriage in the alternatives to marriage because it is seen as a demonstration of those two qualities. But even without marriage, any real or perceived emotional or material inequity in the relationship has an effect on intimacy and continuation of the relationship. But breakup is not something that we will discuss today!

Sphere: Related Content
Why Marriage?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend